Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What If Wednesday: The British Republic, No Iraq War and the Hong Kong Diaspora

For this What If Wednesday, I have THREE short scenarios for all of you based on news articles I shared with you last week. Lets begin with...

#1: What if Napoleon turned Britain into a republic?

Last month Martin Kettle complained on The Guardian of liberalism and democracy's defeat after Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo. While criticizing the anti-liberty forces that came to power after Napoleon's final defeat, he also shared this tidbit from Napoleon himself regarding what would he have done if he had successfully invaded England:

I would have hastened over my flotilla with two hundred thousand men, landed as near Chatham as possible and proceeded direct to London, where I calculated to arrive in four days from the time of my landing. I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the House of Peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me amongst my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people.

As great as this sound to British republicans, I am not convinced Napoleon would have done this. He had tendency to put his family into positions of power rather than establish republics. Even if he really meant to create a republic in Britain, to do so after a victorious Waterloo was extremely unlikely, but I have already said as much elsewhere. If Napoleon had successfully invaded and conquered England, he would have likely put some family member or willing stooge up as king, but this king would only survive on his throne as long as Napoleon was alive. After Napoleon died I expect his empire would have collapsed around him. Now perhaps the rebellious British may welcome back the Hanoverians, but then again they could easily form a republic instead, much like the French did after Napoleon III was overthrown. Then again there are probably more plausible points of divergence for a British republic than any involving Napoleon.

Once again thanks to Bill Weber for recommending this article to me. Don't forget to check out his contributions to The Update.

#2: What if the United States does not invade Iraq in 2003?

Maybe this what if is a little too soon to speculate on, but God knows we hear people do it on the Internet all the time. A recent example is from Robert Farley who speculated on The National Interest about what would happen if the United States had not invaded Iraq in 2003. Among other things, Farley argued that without the Iraq War the Middle East may have been more stable with Hussein's Iraq acting as a buffer to the influence of Iran, the United States would have been free to focus fully on Afghanistan (maybe even destroying the Taliban in the process) and the US could have had access to more advanced military technology than it does today.

That all being said, Farley's article is more thought experiment than counterfactual as he doesn't have a specific point of divergence, instead relying on "saved game" analogy from the computer game Civilization. Thus Frank P. Harvey's argument in his book Explaining the Iraq War that presidents tend to follow the foreign policy of their predecessor regardless of what they said on the campaign trail, means that simply starting over won't cut it. The United States will invade Iraq if all the circumstances that led to it still happen, thus the choices Bush, Gore or whoever else is in the White House could make would be severely limited. In fact, Frank said in an interview I conducted with him that perhaps the only way to avoid the Iraq War was to somehow avoid 9/11 as well.

That is pretty much all I am going to say about that scenario, since the issues stemming from the Iraq War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks are still touchy subjects. So lets move on to our last, and most bizarre, what if...

#3: What if the UK settled 5.5 million Hong Kong Chinese in Northern Ireland?

Owen Bowcott of The Guardian reported that in 1983, at the midst of The Troubles, someone in the British government suggested settling the then 5.5 million inhabitants of Hong Kong in Northern Ireland before it reverted back to Chinese control in 1997. If this sounds like a was, or at least that was how it was treated through the official channels. It was simply an attempt at some levity by people trying to resolve an extremely difficult situation. Then again, what if someone did take the plan seriously?

To be honest, it is completely unlikely the plan as is would have been carried out. Moving a population of 5.5 million people to an area that today only supports 1.8 million people sounds like utter madness. My guess is the plan would be paired down simply to generous aide packages to any Commonwealth country that would take in any Hong Kong Chinese who wanted to leave. Would all 5.5 million choose to go? Probably not, but enough might go that China might not bother with the "one country, two systems" and today Hong Kong would be far less capitalist and democratic. That being said, Hong Kong is an important part of China's economy and if some or most of its population immigrates to the Commonwealth nations, China's present day economy in this alternate timeline could be weaker.

And what about the Chinese populations that settled in the Commonwealth? How would they effect their new homes and how would the original inhabitants take to their new neighbors? I have no idea, so I will leave that speculation to someone more knowledgeable than myself. If you have any ideas or comments for any of the above what ifs, please let us know in the comments.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Re: Naploeon in Britain; surely we can all recognize war propaganda, and not take all promises made to the population of an enemy nation at face value? Not to mention that, as you pointed out, Napoleon didn't have a good track record in establishing representative governments. He was liberal in the sense of spreading opportunities to previously disenfrancished groups, but not in letting those people have much say in how their countries were governed. Besides, by Waterloo I think conquering Britain would be as much about retribution as anything else, considering what a thorn in his side that country had been.

    Re: Chinese in Ireland; sounds crazy, but then again, so does the premise of the "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," which is nearly the same thing only with Jews in Alaska. I'd read a story set in this alternate history timeline.

    1. To your first paragraph, agreed. I think the issue with the article stems from the common mistake people make when they create alternate histories because they are unhappy with the present. I believe the authors wants there to be a British Republic and so ignores the inherent implausibility of Napoleon creating one.

      For your second paragraph, me too. Anyone out there want to write it for us?

    2. Even before reading the comments, I'd made a note that the HK diaspora has a lot of story potential. Might well give it a go.

    3. Awesome! Look forward to seeing it.