“There is no Tsar! There is no God!”

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A Painting Of Bloody Sunday

January 22nd, 1905.

This is the day the Russian Empire fell.

Oh, the corpse shambled on for another twelve years, but it’s soul was dead, gunned down by soldiers outside the Narva Gate and on the Nevsky Prospect.

Let’s start at the beginning.

1904 had not been a good year for Russia, for reasons that were not new. The rapid pace of industrialization had created a peasant proletariat in the cities, beaten down by the managers and owners and seething with resentment. The bourgeois middle class that should have supported the state against the poor resented the Imperial Government’s autocratic grip on power. Strikes and labor stoppages became more and more common in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as did support for socialists, anarchists, and other subversive groups. Meanwhile, the children of the privileged increasingly turned to revolutionary terrorism, and the number of nobles and generals shot down or blown up increased exponentially. Finally, the spark: war with Japan had begun in the Far East and it was not going well. The Russo-Japanese War was supposed to be, in the words of Interior Minister Plehve “a short, victorious war” that would restore the people’s confidence in the Tsar and his government. Instead, Japan had delivered a series of humiliating defeats to the Russian armies and was even now driving deep into Manchuria. Casualties were reported to have been in the hundreds of thousands. Plehve did not appreciate the depth of his failure, as a Jewish terrorist had thrown a bomb into his carriage last July.

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Woodrow Wilson Was The Absolute Worst

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Worse Than Hitler

I am a man who hates Woodrow Wilson. That is a central part of my identity. This may not be a thing to be proud of, but it is a thing that is true nevertheless. There’s been a shift in recent years, with President Wilson’s prior status as a progressive icon substantially revised, but I don’t think this revisionism goes far enough. Thus, I will take on the heavy burden myself. Today, in my magnum opus, I will attempt to enumerate the many reasons that Wilson was a Bad Person.

(1) Woodrow Wilson Was A White Supremacist: Wilson believed in the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race, and as President, he took actions to secure it. Under his administration, the Navy Department, the Treasury, and the Post Office were segregated for the first time. He was an open supporter of segregation throughout the south, declaring that “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen” when African-American leaders protested the discriminatory treatment of Black soldiers in the U.S. Army during the Great War. Though 100,000s of African-Americans served during the war, they were kept segregated in units with all-white officers and the vast majority were placed in noncombat positions. Wilson also wrote defenses of the KKK and of public lynchings, believing them to be necessary for the defense of the South during Reconstruction. Internationally, Wilson opposed all efforts at decolonization or self-determination for anyone who was not white. Misconception over this in East Asia had unfortunate results. W.E.B DuBois refereed to the Wilson Administration as “The worst attempt at Jim Crow legislation and discrimination in civil service that blacks had experienced since the Civil War.”

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The Roads Not Taken: Part Two

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More Alternate History! Huzzah!

For every decision made, there was an alternative. For every plan put into action, for every policy enacted or project begun, there was another option that was put aside instead. History is littered with the desiccated remains of these alternatives, each one bearing within it the seed of another history or timeline. Their details are unknowable, but we can often catch glimpses of what might have been. This of course is the basis of alternate history, one of my favorite genres of fiction. However, alternate history scenarios usually start from a new reality and work their way backwards to a divergent point in time that could have created it. ‘What if the South won the Civil War?’ ‘What if the Nazis won World War II?’ In this series, I’d like to do something a little different.

Instead of looking at different ways events could have turned out, I’ll be examining specific, concrete historical proposals that would have radically changed the direction of history but, for whatever reason, were never carried out. Each of these schemes were put forward at historical junctures, were examined and considered, and then–cast by the wayside. Usually for good reason, if I’m being honest. In today’s edition, we’ll be looking at proposals that were big, both in their execution and in their implications. I hope you find these as fascinating as I do.

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The Greater War

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An Excellent Book

This is not one of those blog posts where I astound my loyal audience with my feats of insight and original thought, this is one of those blog posts where I say “Hey! I read this book, let me tell you about it at great length”. I trust you will forgive me.

In my junior year at Brandeis University, I attended a conference on ‘World War One And The Aesthetics of Empire’. Held in an auditorium on campus, it was attended by a few dozen professors, graduate students–and I, the only undergrad to wander in. I had come because there was free food and a lecture on zeppelins, I ended up staying for the entire day because the first presentation, by Professor Erz Manela, completely changed the way I thought about the First World War. Later, I bought the book of essays that he based his lecture on (seen above), and was fully convinced. The idea he and his compatriots argue on behalf, sometimes called ‘The Greater War theory’, is deceptively simple. Contrary to what we all learned in school, WWI did not begin in August of 1914 and end on November 11th, 1918. Instead, it began in September of 1911 and did not conclude until July, 1923. Or rather, the global crisis of Imperialism that the First World War is merely the epicenter of began and ended on those dates.

I like this theory because I think it fully grasps the magnitude of World War One. This was not just a Great Power War like the Napoleonic Wars or the Seven Years War or the War of Austrian Succession, this was a cataclysmic crisis that shook Western Civilization to the core. No Great Power War before this had ended with the outright collapse of four of the world’s most dynastic empires or had so profoundly changed the global geopolitical situation. But I also like it because I think it speaks to a fundamental truth: between 1911 and 1923, there was pretty much constant warfare in Europe and the Near East. It seems almost silly to carve out four specific years from that decade of death and say “Here. These are the true war, nothing else is important”. But this post isn’t really an attempt to ‘prove’ the Greater War Theory–I don’t have the qualifications for that–it’s an attempt to explain it, to lay out what I think is is so interesting and important about it, and to draw out some of the implications. That said, let’s look at these thirteen tumultuous years in some more detail.

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The New Eighteenth Century

Among those concerned by the incoming Trump Administration, one of the most common appellations for our time has become “The New Gilded Age”. This is quite apt, what with plutocratic interests on the verge of rolling back worker’s rights and protections across the board, supported by a subservient ruling political class. But I would argue that the situation is perhaps even worse. The clock is not just being turned back to the late 19th century, in many ways we are returning to the 18th century. This is not true in every way of course–I do not foresee the return of outright slavery or the monarchy–but the likely outcome of the various GOP assaults on the franchise is a version of ‘democracy’ in which the various reforms made to Western Democracy over the last two centuries are abolished.

More simply put, rural constituencies will have vastly more representation than urban constituencies, districts will be well-shaped so as to be dominated by a few families and businesses, the voter rolls will be well purged of People of Color, students, and anyone else who falls afoul of the increasingly restrictive laws, and an aristocratic class will dominate our political affairs. None of these concerns are new to Americans. But while we talk of gerrymandering and voter suppression, we fail to realize that these are merely new words for rotten boroughs and property requirements. Or at least, while they may differ in the technicalities, they retain virtually the same function: to maintain electoral power in the hands of the elite.

Much of the political history of the 19th century is the story of how brave reformers fought to take the inchoate democracy of the parliaments and assemblies of the 18th century and hammered it into something actually democratic. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll (mostly) restrict myself to one example: the Representation of the People Act of 1832. This was the first step in the (very, very long) process of reforming the British Parliament, and virtually everything it tried to fight against is something advocated by the modern Republican Party.

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First Page of the 1832 Reform Bill

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Napoleonic Victory Fragments

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The League of Europe, 1815

I’m currently working on a real post about Napoleon Bonaparte filled with actual history but as that has been delayed due to various reasons, I’ve decided to tide over my hordes of screaming fans with some creative writing. These are my Napoleonic Victory Fragments! The conceit is that they are excepts from history books written in a world where Napoleon won. I hope you find them amusing. 

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CHAPTER THREE: THE CONGRESS OF FRANKFURT (1814)

The degree to which the Continental System and associated French economic warfare brought about the British capitulation has long been debated, and this volume will not abstain from that discussion. Still, the deciding blow to British counsels certainly came on the 21st of June, 1813, at the Battle of Vitoria. When news reached London that the largest British army yet put into the field had been routed, and that the Marquess of Wellington was dead, financial markets plummeted. When, mere weeks later, word arrived that American troops had destroyed York, the capitol of Upper Canada, spirits sunk even lower. The news that Sir Thomas Graham had surrendered the remnants of the Anglo-Spanish army at Bilbo on July 11th was the final straw, and the Cabinet voted to agree to discuss the possibility of a peace settlement. It was not that British war capacity was exhausted that brought about this decision, but that it had become apparent that a British victory would take decades more. No more continental powers remained to take the field against the Corsican: Prussia was broken beyond recovery, Austria was bound to France by ties of marriage, and the Franco-Russian Alliance had proven surprisingly resilient. Finally shorn of puppets, British arms had dared take the field against the Titan—and had been cast down. Today, Britain’s concession seems foredoomed, but we should remember that even then peace negotiations could have broken down…… Continue reading

The Roads Not Taken: Part One

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Alternate History! Wheeeeeee!

For every decision made, there was an alternative. For every plan put into action, for every policy enacted or project begun, there was another option that was put aside instead. History is littered with the desiccated remains of these alternatives, each one bearing within it the seed of another history or timeline. Their details are unknowable, but we can often catch glimpses of what might have been. This of course is the basis of alternate history, one of my favorite genres of fiction. However, alternate history scenarios usually start from a new reality and work their way backwards to a divergent point in time that could have created it. ‘What if the South won the Civil War?’ ‘What if the Nazis won World War II?’ In this series, I’d like to do something a little different.

Instead of looking at different ways events could have turned out, I’ll be examining specific, concrete historical proposals that would have radically changed the direction of history but, for whatever reason, were never carried out. Each of these schemes were put forward at historical junctures, were examined and considered, and then–cast by the wayside. Usually for good reason, if I’m being honest. In today’s edition, we’ll be looking at proposals that were unknown until their recent rediscovery, decades after their creation. I hope you find these as fascinating as I do.

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The Final Definitive Ranking Of All U.S Presidents

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United States Presidential Seal

It’s what it says in the title folks. As Barack Obama is the very last president of the United States of America, THERE’S NOBODY AFTER HIM, NOPE, THAT’S IT, THAT’S THE END, I thought it worthwhile to compile a final ranking of all of our presidents. The list is divided into four tiers:

(1) ‘Presidents Who Made America Better, Mostly’: 1–12

(2) ‘Flawed Presidents Who Still Did Alright I Guess’: 13–20

(3) ‘Presidents Who Just Showed Up And Did Their Job’: 21–33

(4) ‘Presidents Who Made America Worse’: 34–43

This list has been devised with scientific precision, based on a combination of gut instinct and quick scans of numerous Wikapedia pages. It is a 100% objective historical fact, and will not be gainsaid.

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Don’t Turn Your Back On A Bureaucrat

Lavrentiy Beria was the longest-serving head of the Soviet secret police. As head of the NKVD in the 1930s, he supervised the final act of the Great Purge, bringing Stalin’s justice to those who had torn the heart out of the Soviet army and government. During World War II he built the Gulag system, and populated it with tens of thousands of political prisoners and members of ‘unreliable’ ethnic groups. In Eastern Europe, his death squads carried out the initial stages of Stalinization, exterminating bourgeois elements in Poland and the Baltic States. When off duty, he used his position to carry out a sexual reign of terror, being responsible for dozens if not hundreds of sexual assaults and rapes. At the Yalta Conference, Stalin jokingly introduced him to F.D.R as “Our Himmler.” For twenty-five years he was the most feared man in the Soviet Union. When Stalin died in 1953, he became the most powerful man in the Soviet Union too.

Nikita Khrushchev was a party apparatchik from Ukraine, with a good record of loyalty to Stalin and success. Though he served as a Commissar during the Great Patriotic War and was responsible for purging the Ukrainian Party during the 1930s, most of his career was in mining engineering and agriculture, attempting to rebuild the Ukrainian economy after the twin disasters of the Holodomor and the Nazi Occupation. He was generally successful at this, and was promoted to a position in Moscow in 1949, where he continued to focus on agriculture and housing policy in the city. When Stalin died, Khrushchev was demoted, relieved of his responsibilities and relegated to a ceremonial position.

One of these men would go on to rule the Soviet Union for twelve years.

The other would die screaming in a prison cell.

This is the story of how that came to be.

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State Emblem of the Soviet Union

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Port of Call: The Revolution Will Be Critiqued. A Guest Post.

This is a a guest post I did for my friend Cooper’s blog about a year ago. (It’s a great blog. Check it out! https://theairshipchronos.wordpress.com/). It’s about politics in Legend of Korra and what the show gets right and what it gets wrong.

The Airship Chronos

Legend of Korra is about politics. It’s about other things too, of course, but the exploration of different political ideologies and structures forms a core theme of the show, running from beginning to end. This is in contrast to its predecessor show,  Avatar: The Last Airbender, where Aang spends the entirety of the show engaged in the relatively simple tasks of stopping the expansion of a militaristic empire and ending a war. The thorny questions of post-war recovery are relegated to later. When the series ends, the Air Nomads and Southern Water Tribe have been irrevocably shattered, and most of the Earth Kingdom has been under a military occupation for nearly a century. Merely ending the Hundred Years War doesn’t repair the damage. Many of those unresolved problems show up here. In Legend, Korra spends each season engaging with and ultimately rejecting a form of radical political ideology…

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