Terra – An Alternate History, Part 1: The Great War and the Invasion of Manchuria

And now for something completely different.

Terra is an alternate history version of Earth. It forms a “meta-setting” that connects several of my worlds because the Terrans eventually discover a way to travel between parallel universes, but it’s easy to just consider it as an alternate history and to use it as a setting for more traditional “modern” stories or role-playing adventures if you want to use something a little less like our mundane world.

The history consists of a lot of text, so I’ll split the setting up into several postings.

Point of Divergence

Napolean’s war against Russia didn’t occur until 1813. The outcome was the same – Napoleon’s Grande Armée was decimated in Russia, but it delayed the fall of the French Empire to 1815 instead of a year earlier.

Summary of Subsequent Developments

As the British continued to be occupied by the war against Napoleon, the war of 1812 ended with an American victory and in partial annexation of Canada by the US. The enmity arising from this strained US-British relations and led to greater confidence in Germany that the Americans would not enter the war on the allied side. The Zimmermann Telegram was never sent, removing an important justification for war for Woodrow Wilson.

The US finally did enter the war, as a victory of the central powers was seen as undesirable, but later and more cautiously; the Great War ground on until the Spanish Flu ravaged the world. The post-war situation was radically altered, the League of Nations was strengthened and eventually became a de-facto world government after a brutal war against Communist Russia and Imperial Japan.

The War of 1812

With England unable to focus on the war with the United States due to the ongoing Napoleonic wars, the Americans had the opportunity to organize more effective attacks against the Canadian provinces. They reached the St. Lawrence River and occupied Nova Scotia, in an attempt to break the British blockade. Great Britain, defeated in the Battle of New Orleans, and weary that a continued war with the United States would lead to the ultimate conquest of all of the Canadian provinces by the United States, agreed to cede Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to the United States. America celebrated a “second war of independence”, while Britain fortified Canada, which was re-organized as the United Provinces of Canada. Anti-American sentiments remained high for many years after the war both in Canada and Britain.

The Great War

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the so-called Great Powers of Europe were competing for global dominance. They were locked into an intricate web of diplomacy and treaties and constantly attempted to outmaneuver each other, waiting for an opportunity to wage a decisive war against their respective historic rivals. Each had drawn up elaborate contingency plans that they hoped would help them win any war decisively and quickly.

On June 28th, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Serbian agents. Serbia desired to break Bosnia from Austria-Hungary, and to include it in a Greater Serbia. Austro-Hungarian government quickly arrested the perpetrators, who revealed involvement of Serbian officials under interrogation. Serbia and Russia refused calls for investigating these links, and rejected an ultimatum Austria-Hungary issued on June 23rd, 1914 and mobilized its army. Austria-Hungary responded by mobilizing its military, and declared war on July 28th.
Events quickly spiraled out of control after this point. Russia honored its promises of support to Serbia, while Germany honored its alliance with Austria-Hungary. It saw a chance to deal with both Russia and France, and declared war on Russia on August 1st, and on France two days later. German forces invaded Belgium as a way of circumventing French defense lines, and this brought Great Britain into the war as a French ally, as Britain had pledged to protect Belgian neutrality.

The Germans missed their chance of an early victory due to several unfortunate command decisions, but managed to entrench their forces in a good defensive position inside France. The war on the west front quickly became a war of attrition; neither side was able to mount a successful offensive.
Meanwhile, Germany attempted to cut off supplies to Great Britain by using its U-Boat force to attack shipping in the Atlantic. This also led to the sinking of some neutral ships caught in the crossfire, and the death of civilians traveling between the US and Britain. In May 1915, the RMS Lusitania was sunk, and 128 American citizens were killed. President Woodrow Wilson resisted calls to enter the war.

The tide of the war began to shift in favor for the Germans when unrest in Russia caused Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate in March 1917. The Bolsheviks led a successful revolution in October and took over control of the Russian government in November. Eager to get Russia out of the war, they agreed to German terms. This allowed Germany to redeploy experienced soldiers to the west front. Meanwhile, unrestricted submarine warfare had caused enormous problems for allied shipping.

Woodrow Wilson, who had won his re-election on the promise of keeping the United States out of the war, anticipated Germany’s victory on the east front and feared that Europe – and thus world politics – would be dominated by a victorious German Empire. After an intensive propaganda campaign in the States, he managed to convince Congress of the necessity to enter the war, and the United States declared war on Germany in October 1917. The United States began to draft and train troops to be sent to Europe.

In 1918, freshly reinforced German troops managed to mount the first successful offensive in two years. The so-called Spring Offensive brought German forces within 80km of Paris. Allied forces managed to halt the advance, but Paris was shelled from several huge railway artillery guns, demoralizing the French while giving the German public hope that the war would soon be over. However, as American troops began to arrive at the front, the Germans had to fall back once more.
In July 1918, the Germans attempted to encircle Reims in Operation Marne. This offensive, too, was halted, but the allies did not have sufficient strength to mount a counter-offensive. As increased numbers of American troops arrived, the balance of power shifted, and by December 1918 the Germans found themselves on the defensive.

The Spanish Flu

In March 1918, a new form of Influenza was first observed in Fort Riley in Kansas, and in Queens, New York. Nobody was particularly worried about it, until a much more virulent strain of it appeared almost simultaneously in France, Sierra Leone, and in Boston in August of the same year. This new form was very dangerous and killed quickly. By October, it began to affect the war. Censorship prevented warnings of unaffected countries, and thus prevented effective quarantine measures. By November the disease had reached Spain, and the Spanish released news about the disease to the world. It became therefore known as the “Spanish Flu”.

The epidemic reached its peak during the winter months of December 1918 to February 1919. It raged through the cities of Europe, through Asia, and through the trenches. Shipping ground to a halt, as all countries imposed strict quarantines. Tens of millions died. Combat operations in France slowed down as more and more soldiers on both sides succumbed to the disease.

The epidemic had run its course by February 1919, but the warring nations were in no condition to resume hostilities. Demoralized citizens protested, and in many locations unrest, riots, and even civil war followed. Many governments fell, several monarchs were forced to abdicate. New leaders rose and quickly began to negotiate an official armistice. The Great War ended when an armistice came into effect on March 30th, 1919.

The League of Nations

“A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

– Woodrow Wilson, “Fourteen Points for Peace”, 1918

As the chaos caused by the war and the devastating plague ended, the political landscape in Europe began to change. Monarchies were overthrown, republics declared. Social trauma affected all nations involved in the war; and as a consequence nationalism became reviled and pacifism increasingly popular. It was Woodrow Wilson who picked up on ideas by British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey and who proposed the creation of an international organization tasked with the prevention of war. The Paris Peace Conference of 1920 accepted the proposal, and formally created the League of Nations. Its charter was signed by 44 states. The same treaty officially ended the Great War.

The first meeting of the League was held in 1921, in London, and the League moved to convene in Geneva in Switzerland thereafter. The founders of the League equipped it with a strong charter intended to prevent repetitions of the Great War. Most notable was the provision of allowing the League to intervene with military force, if needed, to end regional conflicts. The charter also established an international court of justice to try war crimes and other grave “crimes against humanity”.

The League of Nations enjoyed some early successes in settling disputes that arose from the new political realities after the Great War. It was aided by the fact that most people of Europe were thoroughly tired of war, and local leaders felt obliged to follow diplomatic solutions proposed by the League for fear of intervention.

The Invasion of Manchuria

In 1937, Japan attempted to strengthen its political and economic position with an invasion of China. The League imposed sanctions on Japan, but these did little to discourage the Japanese. Many of the League’s principal members were worried that a strong Japan might attempt to occupy European colonies in East Asia. Reports of severe atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers gave these nations a reason to intervene in the conflict under League charter.

The mobilization of forces for use by the League was extremely slow, as most member nations squabbled over their rights and privileges. It took the League almost a year to send forces to the far east, and after initially stiff resistance from the Japanese, China was “liberated” and placed under League (European) administration in early 1939.

While China was not eager to become a de facto European colony, League control ensured that the Chinese were treated a lot better than they had been under Imperial Japanese rule, and the League forces were actually seen as liberators.

For the League, the war meant a “trial by fire”, one that proved without a doubt that the League would engage in military action to enforce the “new world order”. However, while it had obtained a victory, it was an open secret that things had gone far from perfectly. The League response had been slow and the nations providing the military forces had quarreled over strategy and responsibilities. League officials needed that this had to be improved, but rivalries between the European nations prevented reforms.

Next: The World War

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