Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Imagining The Long Century

Guest post by William Weber.

Rather than exploring the infinite permutations of the “century of total war” that began in 1914, the 100th anniversary of the First World War should prompt us to imagine how the “the long century” of relative peace and prosperity might  have continued.  Let me unpack that.

For French historian Raymond Aaron, the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War created a “Century of Total War” where the “immediate causes” and “remote origins” of conflicts have preoccupied historians –and provided alternative historians with a seemingly endless supply of counterfactuals.

Over the Top: Alternative Histories of the First World War is a good recent example of this literature. This anthology presents ten alternate scenarios in which the course of the war is changed forever. How would the war have changed had the Germans not attacked France but turned their main thrust against Russia; had the Greeks joined the allies at Gallipoli; or had the British severed the communications of the Ottoman Empire at Alexandretta? What if there was a more decisive outcome at Jutland; if the alternative plans for the Battle of the Somme in 1916 had been put into effect; or if the Americans intervened in 1915, rather 1917?
On the other hand, for British historian Eric Hobsbawm, the 125 years before the eruption of World War I in 1914 were dominated by the flowering liberal ideals of the French Revolution and the concurrent spread of material progress brought about by the industrial revolution. What events and actions might have carried that period forward into the 20th and 21st centuries?

The Long Century: The Congress of New Niagara, 1920 envisions this alternate history. It is the first installment of a trilogy with the yet-to-be-written second and third installments set, respectively, in 1970 and 2020. The story opens with an announcement of a second great power summit to convene in the City of New Niagara. There, Mayor Roosevelt, who accepted—rather than refused as he did in history—industrialist King Camp Gillette’s one million dollar offer to be the titular executive of the new futuristic metropolis, plans to host a conclave of the heads of state and government of the major powers. Roosevelt has the full support of his successor, President Hiram Johnson, who is running for reelection and present at the summit.

The book is presented as a compilation of the articles, notes, and letters of two reporters from the Philadelphia Public Ledger.  My inspiration for this approach was Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston. David Woodhurst who covers Buffalo, New Niagara, and Niagara Falls, focuses on tensions between Roosevelt and the city manager, who actually runs the city. Gregory Sheridan, posted to London, provides the perspectives of the European delegations that sail for America. This approach allows readers to “connect the dots” for themselves as the conclave convenes, deliberates, and adjourns, and as the subplots unfold.      

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