Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What if Wednesday: The German-American War of 1902

The title is a tad misleading, but I want to talk about the secret German plans to invade America almost two decades before World War I, as reported last week by George Dvorsky at io9 (whose work I have linked to on numerous occasions). A brief background, essentially Kaiser Wilhelm II had dreams of gobbling up Latin America, but to do that he needed to get the United States out of the way. He ordered the German military to come up with a plan to invade the United States and several proposals were drafted between 1898 and 1903. As history tell us, however, no such plan was put into action...but what if it had?

I am not going into too many details about why the war would happen, how it would be fought and who would won. Coverage of these plans and the expected result can be found not only in Dvorsky's article but also in Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex (and I am not talking about the Whoopi Goldberg movie) and Robert Conroy's 1901. I think we can skip pass this issue by saying Germany would have ultimately lost. Its fleet would be defeated and its soldiers would be forced to surrender after being left trapped a half a world away surrounded by hostile forces. What I really want to talk about is what happens next.

The United States would come out the war feeling elated having defeated not just one, but two, European empires. This victory also wouldn't have the moral ambiguity of the Spanish-American War. The United States was attacked and they defended themselves. Whoever was president at the time, McKinley or Roosevelt, would be able to ride the popularity surge to get whatever policy they wanted adopted with almost unanimous approval. Presumably certain measures would have to take precedence. Fear of another invasion would mean money spent on more troops, more ships and more fortifications along the East Coast.

We may even see a more interventionist version of the Roosevelt Corollary to defend the western hemisphere from future invasions. There may be increased interventions into Latin America affairs and we may even see America taking a larger role in governing struggling countries. Outright annexation is probably unlikely, but formal protectorates and commonwealths like Puerto Rico aren't out of the question.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Germany would be humiliated. The Kaiser and the military would lose a lot of prestige and perhaps the Reichstag would take advantage of the situation to gain more power. The Social Democratic Party would see a growing support among the populace and could potentially turn Germany into a constitutional monarchy and end the rising militarism. Of course the military, not wanting to lose their influence, could just stage a coup, but then again after such a humiliating defeat against America, they may lack the popular support to pull it off.

Depending on how domestic issues play out, Germany's foreign policy could change. They navy smashed and their army defeated, Germany may be less likely to make risky ventures that could lead to another costly war. So if, shall we say, a crisis arose in the Balkans, Germany may just stay out of it or at the very least use some of the Realpolitik from Bismark's era and try to mediate a peace. A Germany unwilling to risk a large scale war could potentially create a world not dissimilar to Richard Ned Lebow's Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! Then again if there is a coup in Germany, peace in the long run would be impossible. That being said, a general European war may see the early involvement of a more militarized United States, ready and willing to take down the country who launched an unprovoked attack against them recently.

What do you guys think? What would the future hold for the United States and Germany in a world where they went to war before World War I? And do you want to see more What If Wednesdays? 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. Perhaps we should also look at another historic parallel - the Zimmerman Telegram in 1917. Mexico actually considered the proposal before rejecting it, partly because they knew they would not receive any military or financial aid from Germany. In 1903, Diaz was still president of Mexico, but starting to lose his grip. He also had ambitions. If the German war plan was combined with a proposal for Mexico to "regain" its territories lost in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, would add another twist to the proposed conflict.

    1. That's an interesting alternative to the plan, although probably wouldn't help Germany. My guess is America would focus on driving the Germans out of the more valuable East Coast and take care of Mexico afterwards.

  2. I think an attempt to take the Caribbean away from America is a fascinating thought experiment. I can't see a scenario that doesn't involve Germany losing. They could easily have been isolated. If Britain got involved, the whole operation would have been over in a matter of days. What this operation does is focus on Germany's weakest link (navy) at the expense of its strong point (army). Kaiser, get your priorities straight and invade France!

    1. Haha, yeah but looked how that worked out for everyone in OTL. Actually some have made the argument that the Kaiser shoulders most of the blame for what happened to Imperial Germany. Would things have been different if someone else took the throne or what if he and Bismark never had a falling out?


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