24A013 "What If...?" by Jim Davies, 4/9/2024


It's lot of fun - and soberly educational - to pose that question about key turning points in history. That may be why government schools don't like teaching that subject. Great numbers of human lives hang on rulers' decisions - and those choices may not seem vital at the time they are made.

But the fact that there are rulers - governments, making decisions on behalf of millions of people - makes that result inevitable. When that arrangement has finished, each person will make his own choices, so even when they prove wrong they will affect very few.

One that struck me recently was the BritGov's decision to lobby for US help in WW1. Not only did it decide to join the fight, egged on by young Churchill, when there was no defensive or contractual need to do so, but HMS Alert immediately cut the phone line under the North Sea that linked Germany to North America. That was done after careful planning by the Royal Navy and it was of enormous value; it meant that lobbying could be intense and well managed, whereas the Germans, who also wanted US intervention but on their behalf, had to rely on messages that took days or weeks and could be (and were) tapped.

So the Brits won the begging race and in 1917 US troops were ferried to France and did tip the balance of the long and exhausting war. But "what if" that help had not been provided or even expected?

The stalemate and slaughter were such that the war would have ended in 1916, on both fronts, West and East. That means that the Russian collapse of 1917 would not have taken place, and so that the Bolshevik Revolution, which took place because of the chaos, would never have happened. Seventy years of Communist misery would not have blighted Russia, which would have recovered and moved towards a more liberal and prosperous society.

In the West, British forces in France ran short of ammunition in 1917 and in desperate need of explosives the BritGov turned to an industrial chemist who had developed a new way of making them; one Chaim Weizmann. He just happened to be also a fervent Zionist, eager to obtain a home for Jews, at the very time that Britain had captured Palestine from the Ottomans, then allied with Germany. So a deal was struck; the Brits got more shells and eventually the Jews got Israel. Not sure which side of the deal was the more explosive.

But had US help not been on the way, in 1917 the need for shells would not have arisen so the Balfour Declaration would not have been made and so an Israeli State would not have been formed. Individual Jews would have continued to migrate there, but the outrage of Arabs, when in 1948 the UN thrust one down their throats, would not have arisen.

Such is "what-if"; but there's more. If a peace had been patched up in 1916, Germany would not have been humiliated (as they were, by the 1919 diktat of Versailles) and so the Nazi Party would not have arisen, nor Hitler as Führer; hence, WW2 (and the Holocaust) would not have occurred.

One further adverse consequence followed HMS Alert back to port: by placing itself as beggar, the BritGov mortaged the Empire to its US savior. It may be that Churchill and his Cabinet colleagues did not foresee that, in 1914; but they should have (and it seems likely to me that they did, for why else would they so urgently cut the phone line?) Four years later, their country was broke.

All the evil that stemmed from those events, including the 60- to 80 million killed in that second war, would not have taken place. But it did, all because the USGov came to intervene in a non-defensive war, which it did because the BritGov implored it to do so after cutting its adversary's cable.

British influence was built by merchant adventurers, who sailed the seven seas for centuries in search of fortunes. It was lost after Admiral Churchill ordered a government ship to sever a phone line. For one man to act for millions is a very bad idea.

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