Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Secret Alternate History of Earth 2

Guest post by Ben Ronning.
First and foremost, I would like to congratulate Alternate History Weekly Update and Matt Mitrovich on the website’s fifth anniversary. It has been my pleasure to contribute to it and I was flattered when Matt asked me if I wanted to write a guest post for the anniversary. For those that remember my previous posts to The Update, I wrote “Alternate History and Superheroes” three years ago, which explored the occasional intersection between the superhero and alternate history. I return to that well because we saw such an intersection in the second season CW’s The Flash. If you are familiar with the history of the Scarlet Speedster, you would know that the concepts of time travel and the multiverse are deeply entwined with the character. The first season of the show primarily dealt with time travel, the second season introduced parallel Earths with Earth-2, and the as-of-yet unnumbered Earth from the Supergirl series when the shows crossed for last March.

For those curious about the show, I will refrain from spoiling important plot points from both seasons wherever I can, and focus on the parts that relate to speculation of the alternate history of the Earth-2 seen in the television series. From what the episode, “Welcome to Earth-2” has show us despite being more technologically advanced than Earth-1 (based on the real world), Earth is aesthetically similar to the 1920s and 30s in terms of fashion and architecture. However, there is much to suggest that the history of Earth-2 is much more different than ours.  Most of this speculation comes from throwaway comments made by various characters in the show, I have my doubts that the producers and writers of the show made an extensive history for this world.

The most important comment was Jay Garrick’s (played by Teddy Sears) iconic helmet belonging to his father, who fought in the “War of the Americas.” From that I can extrapolate two possibilities. The most obvious one is that the United States of Earth-2 fought a war against the Mexico and/or Canada in their late 1970s or early 1980s.  Another possibility is that the North America from Earth-2 is a classic “Balkanized America” trope where several smaller states take the place of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. I find the latter possibility more like as a later episode mentioned a “Royal Bank” in Earth-2’s version of Central City. From that I extrapolate that perhaps Thirteen Colonies from Earth-2 avoided their break from mother Britain.

The United... Kingdoms of America?

In the interest of length, I will make broad strokes when it comes to constructing the alternate history of Earth-2, hence will refrain from referencing individuals unless necessary. This essay will largely focus on North America as my intent is elaborate on “War of the Americas” mentions in-show. Comments made by characters from that parallel world confirm that the fabled city of Atlantis not only existed, but never sank. Therefore it is still accessible to the outside world. Its presence alone would have a point of divergence going back thousands of years. For the sake of argument, I will assume that the nation-state trades with Europe prior to the 18th century, but does not involve itself in the continent’s affairs. Onward, to the Americas!

For the thirteen colonies to remain loyal to the crown, we will need to remove some of the causes of the American Revolution in our timeline, and presumably the timeline of CW’s Earth-1. To this end I would say that perhaps the Intolerable Acts and the Quebec Act of 1774, which extended Quebec’s border to the Ohio River and shut out the other colonies from westward expansion. Another factor would be the Great Britain’s reaction to the colonists’ demands. Suppose Parliament decided to give the colonies a degree of autonomy and an earlier version of “peace, order, and good government” similar to OTL’s British North America Act of 1867. Each colony gets its own legislature and British North America exists as a loose confederation of kingdoms until the early 19th century.

This would have effects in Europe as the expenses incurred by French assistance in the American Revolutionary War contributed to the fall of the House of Bourbon during the French Revolution. So it is more likely that the Bourbons remain in power without a costly war to drain the treasury, but the population still simmers with discontent. Without the revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte remains an obscure figure and the Napoleonic wars never happen, thus the Holy Roman Empire stays intact (for the moment) and Spain holds on to her colonies.

However, the first rumblings of discontent come when United Kingdom passes the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. While the legislatures of the northern kingdoms, including Virginia, pass similar laws while the southern kingdoms refuse. Meanwhile, American encroachment on Spanish Louisiana also creates tension between the Spanish and British empires as well as right of navigation of the Mississippi River. The slaveholding class begins its rebellion against the British crown, aided by Spain and France, but erupts into open hostility when the southern legislatures declare their independence from the United Kingdom in 1835 as the Union of American Republics, thus begins the North American War. Britain and her allies (let’s say the Netherlands and Portugal) win, and gain more territory. Britain and her North American kingdoms gain all Spanish territory north of the 36th parallel along with Florida, Hispaniola, and much of the French Caribbean, the Netherlands gains French Guiana, and the Portugese colony, Brazil gains more territory from Spain.

The most direct consequence of the North American War, or The Planter’s Rebellion, is that the constituent kingdoms of British North America gain a collective sense of identity. As such, they reorganize into the United Kingdoms of America via act of Parliament in 1837 with a member of the House of Hanover as Viceroy of America.

Brave New Continent and the Nations That Inhabit It

With their loss in the North American War and the expenses incurred, many of the problems that plagued the French come to roost for the Bourbons and the kingdom’s nobles. Assuming that the ideas of the French Enlightenment evolve even without the revolution, France’s dire economic straits and a possible poor harvest are enough to ferment a revolt against the King, who refuses to abdicate citing the “divine right of kings.” The descendants of the enlightenment become more radical and despite the initial support from the third estate, its anti-religious views cause it to lose some support. The radicals attempt to create their own republic and France finds itself embroiled in unrest for several decades. People seeking to flee the unrest immigrate to the New World. Some move to the Kingdom of Quebec in the United Kingdoms of America while some nobles flee farther south.

While the North American War battered Spain, it managed to hold on into its New World possessions, but finds itself facing a new conundrum. Members of the defeated slaveholding class from the former Union of American Republics settle in what is today Texas with their slaves. New Spain also opens its doors to the French nobles fleeing and increasing radical France. The two groups (Anglo-Saxon Protestants and French Catholics) initially distrust each other, but generations of bitterness over what they lost and intermarriage create a white-supremacist society like S.M. Stirling’s Draka, but technologically arrested. The latter half of the 19th century is one of relative peace. The United Kingdoms of America expands and prominent cities like Central City, Keystone City, and Starling City dot the expansive nation with the construction of a transcontinental railroad as one of the nation’s great projects.

Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Quebec, fearful of Anglo domination and influenced by radical immigrants from the French Civil War petition both the American and British Parliaments for separate dominion status within the Empire. They narrowly achieve it, but the Empire is concerned with the Bleus, who are making noise about their irridentist claims on the kingdoms north of the Ohio. The butterfly effect also changes Russian designs for their empire in the New World. While Britain and the United Kingdoms of America claim the Pacific Northwest and northern California in our timeline, Russia successfully creates colonies at Fort Ross and what is OTL Victoria, British Columbia. Relations between the two powers remain tense, war does not break out until this timeline’s equivalent of the California Gold Rush. After a negotiated peace, Russia cedes its Ross colony to the British, who delegate administration of the territory of United Kingdoms of America with the Columbia River as the southern boundary of the Alaska Oblast.

After the discovery of oil in the New Spanish province of Tejas, the upper class begin their war for independence from an increasingly feeble Spain, resulting in the death knell of the centuries-old Spanish Empire. A grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte, who served as a senior officer in the French Army during North American War and whose Royalist son fled to New Spain during the French Civil War, inherited his grandfather’s military prowess and becomes the acknowledged “founding father” of the Empire of Tejas. Seeing himself as a latter-day Julius Caesar, the alt-Napoleon III, has his own ambitions for formerly-Spanish America and begins his own program of modernization, albeit with slavery intact.

The Road to the War of the Americas

The world itself might have avoided a war on the scale of OTL’s World War I, but it only delayed the inevitable. The French majority of the Kingdom of Quebec decides to break formal ties with the British Empire and declares itself a Republic. While the British Empire are slow to recognize the independence of the fledgling Quebecois Republic, they maintain trade and somewhat frosty diplomatic relations despite concerns towards their treatment of their anglophone minority. Meanwhile, in the wake of the collapse of Spanish rule in the New World, the British and United Kingdoms of America assumed joint-administration of Nicaragua with the intentions of building a canal, which brought them into conflict with Tejas. The Tejans, despite never having actually held the territory, claim all of former Spanish America as their version of Manifest Destiny and start rattling sabers until open hostilities break out after the canal’s completion. Tejas loses the Nicaraguan War, which strikes a blow to Tejan pride and blunts their territorial ambitions.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the lack of the Napoleonic Wars and the Revolutions of 1848 mean that OTL Germany and Italy did not become unitary states by 1914. Thus three states divided Germany amongst themselves. Prussia more or less occupies the most of the north and eastern territories of the region while southern kingdoms like Bavaria exist in a loose confederation with the increasingly multi-ethnic and liberal Danubian Confederation. Britain, with the House of Hanover producing male heirs due to the butterfly effect, consolidates their hold on the Kingdom of Hanover and bring it into closer union. Prussia, having adapted the radical ideals of this timeline’s French Revolution and subsequent civil war to their own reactionary ends, has designs for a greater Germany. As such, an intricate alliance system forms with OTL adversaries Prussia and France becoming allies. Desiring a chance at revenge Tejas allies itself with Prussia in hopes regaining lost pride and perhaps some territory. Quebec, having regained affection for their “French brothers” aligns with France. With Prussian and French investment, the two countries rapidly modernize their economies and militaries.

Alaska remains a quiet corner of the continent though American settlers trickle in faster than Russian settlers after several gold rushes and the populace of the colony agitates for greater autonomy as such. The Russian Empire itself modernizes much more quickly with British and American investment, though still lags compared to the rest of Europe and North America. This timeline’s version of Alexander II emancipated the serfs and avoids assassination. Though still an autocrat in Russia proper, he still makes Alaska an autonomous oblast with the empire along with representative government that becomes the template for the future Imperial Eurasian Federation.

The World War breaks out in 1942, between the Dual Alliance of France/Prussia and the Concord of Britain/Danubian Confederation with their respective junior allies, including the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Alliance. Tejas and Quebec honor their obligations and jointly attack the United Kingdoms of America for force the British Empire to fight on two fronts. Much like OTL World War I it results in a stalemate in Europe, but the war in the Americas is a different matter altogether. Though the Tejan/Quebecois invasion of the United Kingdoms caught the Americans by surprise and forces them into a two-front war, the United Kingdoms bring their superior industrial base and higher population to bear on their opponents. While the first years of the conflict result in a bloody stalemate and trench warfare on both fronts, the Americans make a breakthrough on the southern front and make their drive into the Tejan heartland.

With the war going poorly for Tejas and facing slave revolts, Emperor Louis Bonaparte grows increasingly erratic. An incident where a Tejan warship sinks a Alaskan merchant vessel in American waters results in the Tejan emperor insulting a Russian diplomat, and his refusal to apologize prompts the previously neutral Russia to declare war on the Alliance. With Allied help drying up, the Tejan and Quebecois war effort collapses, and both sue for peace.

The peace in North America is as harsh as the Treaty of Versailles with the United Kingdoms of America imposing demilitarized zones adjacent to the St. Lawrence and the Tejan border with territorial concessions, reparations, and limitations on their militaries.

The Flashpoint

Here is where I will inject some familiar DC characters into the mix; while the United Kingdoms of America emerged from the World War as the undisputed power in North America, Tejas and Quebec have not forgotten their humiliating defeat. Reparations have crippled both economies and chronic slave uprisings led to instability in the Tejan empire. However, market crashes in London, Metropolis, and Vienna lead to the Long Depression that lasts from the 1960s and into the 70s. Hyperinflation exacerbates the instability on the continent. The 1950s saw the rise of Gerard Shugel (known as the Ultra-Humanite in the comics) whose vast intellect and scientific prowess secured him a prominent role in Louis Napoleon II’s cabinet as his Minister of Science. However, his ambitions go beyond a mere cabinet position.

Through guile and intrigue, he sways many government officials and generals into executing a “secret coup” where Shugel implants his consciousness into the the body of the Tejan heir, the future Louis Napoleon III, and quietly assassinate Louis Napoleon II. Now with the resources of an entire nation behind him, the self-styled “Ultra-Humanite” begins his plans for world conquest. With the United Kingdoms of America distracted by labor unrest and a sluggish economy, the Ultra-Humanite begins a covert military buildup and several weapons programs, including mind-control techniques and rockets, for peaceful purposes like quelling slave riots,  of course. He also secures alliances with an ultranationalist and irridentist Quebec as well as quietly stoke discontent and rivalries across the New World, though he eyes them for later conquest. On July 28, 1974, Tejas and Quebec attack the United Kingdoms and begin the War of the Americas.

Rockets rain down on American cities while Tejan and Quebecois make their blitzkreg and advance quickly into in UKA territory. However, as the case was for the Confederate States of Harry Turtledove’s Timeline-191, neither power is able to quickly knock the giant down. American Prime Minister Terrence Sloane refuses to give into their demands for surrender. With their industrial heartland still intact and the geniuses like Theodore Knight and Robert Crane, the Americans reverse engineer much of the Ultra-Humanite’s technology, including their own rockets and nuclear weapons. It takes years, but the United Kingdoms of America fire their own nuclear-armed rockets at Quebec City and Louisville (OTL Dallas, Texas.) Tactical use of these weapons on the battlefield also cause the enemy’s war efforts to collapse. When American forces march into the Tejan capital of Calhoun, they find the body of the Ultra-Humanite, but with his brain missing from his body. The government claims that he is dead, but fear that he transferred his consciousness to a new host and thus hide the truth from the populace.

The War of the Americas ends in 1980. However, the United Kingdoms of America permanently occupy a rump Quebec and dismember the former Tejas into smaller, much more manageable states. One of the most immediate effects is the rapid advance of technology in the wake of the war, despite the retro 1920s aesthetic, the United Kingdoms of Earth-2 are slightly more advanced than its Earth-1 counterpart. Notes left by Ultra-Humanite inspire new scientists, among them Harrison Wells, who establishes STAR Labs in 1991. The world is at peace once more until a particle accelerator experiment in 2012 goes awry and creates a phenomenon known as metahumans, including the murderous speedster known only as Zoom. It is Zoom who rallies (and in most cases coerces under pain of death) this world’s metahumans and begins his reign of terror. The world’s only hope is a mysterious helmeted vigilante who calls himself “The Flash,” but even he is not able to stop Zoom until the skies begin to open.

In Conclusion

As you can see, this scenario omits several details. Notably a more nuanced look at European events without the Napoleonic Wars and how it would shape the continent’s future. While I have made reference to a Danubian Confederation as a reorganized Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire’s evolution into the Imperial Eurasian Federation, they were mostly passing references while I focused on North America. Africa and Asia likewise get neglected, which brings up the question of which divergent colonial empires arise. For example, Japan avoided falling under foreign domination as India, China, and every place in between did in the 19th century. Were they that fortunate on Earth-2? None of this does not take the presence of Atlantis into account, which could have far-reaching impacts as to how the fabled landmass would interact with the rest of the world.

That only proves the rich potential of alternate history within the Arrowverse. The Flash’s Earth-2 provides a rare opportunity for alternate historians to speculate. I do not claim to speak for the producers of Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and now Supergirl, so I cannot authoritatively say that this is the history of Earth-2. However, they made went the extra mile to make it a distinct world from Earth-1. As an alternate history aficionado, I can hope that perhaps we could see more of this particular Earth-2 in print form, but after the season 2 finale of Flash, I doubt that we that world in greater detail in the show’s third season.

But a fan can dream, can’t he?

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Ben “Pyro” Ronning is the author as-of-yet unpublished superhero fiction with a deep affinity for alternate history. His current works in progress are Archetype Academy and Beyond Imagination. He is currently not maintaining a blog, but plans his triumphant return to the blogosphere.

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