The Great Irony: Introduction and Chapter 1
I originally posted this on Alternate History Weekly Update, but I think this a better place. What follows is the introduction and first chapter of the rough draft to my novel: The Great Irony.
Some background: long, long ago when I was just a wee lad, I posted on Changing the Times a timeline titled For Goodness Sake, No More European Empires. It was pretty bad and I hope you will not judge me too harshly if you do decide to read it. I do not know what I was thinking at the time, I was just a dumb teenager and thought people would actually want to read the timeline (spelling/grammar mistakes and all).
Fast forward to 2011, I happen to be browsing through Map Thread VIII on AH.com when I cam upon this map by B Munro:
It was a map based off the same timeline I posted years ago at Changing the Times. Once I got over the initial horror that someone found that old timeline, I became intrigued by what elements Munro kept from the timeline when creating his map. The fact that I did not agree with all of his ideas caused me to start doing some research and before I knew it I had written over 30 pages of text. I thought I was writing something I could release on AH.com, the AH Wiki or elsewhere. Then after finishing When Angels Wept I realized I was thinking too small. Since I always wanted to be a writer, now was my chance to make that dream a reality.
The book is written from the perspective of a history professor in his timeline’s 1983 (there will be a small section at the end written by another historian from that timeline’s present). I appreciate any comments or questions.
One of my favorite history professors in college always began every class, and I mean every class, asking everyone to define history. Feeling it was unfair to answer that question, since I have had this same teacher for several classes, I stayed silent and watched as my fellow classmates attempted to answer the questions. The novices would propose definitions and he would strike them down with an ease that showed you that he heard those all before. Eventually we would get to the truth: history is the study of the written past. Ruins are for archaeologists and oral histories are for anthropologists. But historians, true historians, deal with the written word. It was that man’s definition of history that convinced me that research and lecturing were not enough, I must write as well.
One cannot write, however, just for the sake of writing. One must be inspired to put ink to paper and convey a message to the readers. Yet for those of us of my generation, conveying a message was exceedingly difficult. We never know when the General-President’s censors would find that message seditious by promoting “alien values”, as if truth and justice were evil, foreign ideas. In the end the patriots of my country ended the military dictatorship that has governed this country for close to a century. At first I felt proud, doing my part by manning the barricades on the Grant Bridge over the Illinois River. Now, however, in my somewhat old age, I feel it may have been all for naught.
This book describes world history from 1850 to the present day. Why did I choose to begin in 1850? I believe, and I hope to convince you as well, that it was in the 1850s that our modern era began. It was a revolutionary era fraught with wars, rebellions, radical ideas and the rise and fall of empires. It was also during this period that a group of anti-imperialists managed to unite the squabbling states of Central America and set in a motion a chain of events that ended with the demise of European and American imperialism. It is ironic, however, that their dreams of freedom and self-determination that became the basis for American nationalism, resulted in the Age of the Four Powers.
In the present, the course of human civilization is decided by the Four Powers: the American Union, the Empire of Brazil, the Indian Federation and the Empire of Japan. These four empires hold our fates in their hands, regardless of whether your nation is allied with them or not. Their conflicts on Earth and in Space threaten to ignite the nuclear holocaust that literature, television and films have been predicting for decades. The size of each of their nuclear missile stockpiles would cause untold casualties even for neutral nations, such as my own Mississippi Federation. In our multi-polar world, one wrong move could mean the death of billions.
How did we come to this point? How did the idealism of men like Juan Santamaria lead us to this point? Can we still pull ourselves from the brink of destruction? In my humble opinion we still have time to save ourselves. We still have the chance to learn from our mistakes. Before we can do that, however, we need to learn where we came from, we need to learn our true history. This book will describe the decisions and events that brought our world to this point. As educated and knowledgeable human beings, we can make an alliance for peace to save our world from a fate worse than the biblical flood, the plagues of Egypt or the Red Sands of Algeria. For without knowledge we will keep making the same ignorant mistakes, pointing figures and assigning blame without acknowledging our own. This path can only lead to our doom.
I would like to thank everyone who helped bring my dream to reality. For my research assistants Aaron and Luke for having infinite patience in dealing with their crotchety professor. For my fellow professors for having no mercy with me when reviewing my first drafts. And, of course, my wife, who loved me even when I ignored her as I worked on my humble contribution to history. How she can remain married to me after all of this is one mystery I may never be able to answer.
Nicholas D. Moran
Professor of History, Bradley University
Peoria, Illinois, Mississippi Federation
September 29, 1983
Chapter 1: Walker’s Legacy
In the 1850s, the United States of America stood as giant across the continent of North America. Though it would soon be torn asunder by sectionalism, America at the time seemed destined for greatness. The country stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. Industrialization went forward in the Northeast and a rail/telegraph network linked the nation economically, opening up new markets and making many people rich. Immigration brought millions of European workers and farmers to the North. In the South planters shifted operations (and slaves) from the poor soils of the Southeast to the rich cotton lands of the Southwest. Despite the increasingly heated debate over slavery, Americans looked forward to fulfilling their “Manifest Destiny”.
Manifest Destiny was the 19th century American belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. It was used by Democrats in the 1840s to justify the war with Mexico (1846-1848). Coined by John L. O’Sullivan, advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion was not only wise but that it was readily apparent (manifest) and inexorable (destiny). The concept was denounced by the Whigs, the main opposition party to the Democrats before the rise of the Republican party, who wanted to deepen the economy rather than broaden its expanse. John C. Calhoun was a notable Democrat who generally opposed his party on the issue. As the 1850s were coming to an end, the belief in America’s destiny to expand was falling out of favor with the majority.
Nevertheless the idea of Manifest Destiny inspired many American imperialists, most notably William Walker. Walker was born on May 8, 1824 to James Walker and Mary Norvell. An intelligent young man, he travelled and studied throughout Europe during the revolutions of 1848. The ideologies of the time inspired Walker with the idea of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as “filibustering.” Finding support from pro-slavery and imperialist Americans, Walker first attempted filibuster was in Mexico in 1853. He was declared president of the short-lived Republic of Lower California after wresting control of Sonora from the Mexican government. This first filibustering expedition ended in failure, but Walker was not deterred. He would find more success in 1855 when he launched another expedition, this time aimed at the tiny Central American nation of Nicaragua.
In 1854, a civil war erupted in Nicaragua between the Legitimist party (also called the Conservative party), based in the city of Granada, and the Democratic party (also called the Liberal party), based in León. Nicaragua was important to American interests at the time. Before the Nicaragua Canal was built, a major trade route between New York City and San Francisco ran through southern Nicaragua. Ships from New York would enter the San Juan River from the Atlantic and sail across Lake Nicaragua. People and goods would then be transported by stagecoach over a narrow strip of land near the city of Rivas, before reaching the Pacific where they were then shipped to San Francisco. The commercial exploitation of this route had been granted by Nicaragua to the Accessory Transit Company, controlled by Wall Street tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The Democratic Party sought military support from Walker who, to circumvent U.S. neutrality laws, obtained a contract from Democratic president Francisco Castellón to bring as many as three hundred “colonists” to Nicaragua. These mercenaries received the right to bear arms in the service of the Democratic government. Walker sailed from San Francisco on May 3, 1855, with approximately 60 men. Upon landing, the force was reinforced by 170 locals and about 100 Americans, including the well-known explorer and journalist Charles Wilkins Webber and the English adventurer Charles Frederick Henningsen, a veteran of the First Carlist War, the Hungarian Revolution, and the war in Circassia.
With Castellón’s consent, Walker attacked the Legitimists in the town of Rivas, near the trans-isthmian route. He was driven off, but not without inflicting heavy casualties. On September 4, during the Battle of La Virgen, Walker defeated the Legitimist army. On October 13, he conquered the Legitimist capital of Granada and took effective control of the country. Initially, as commander of the army, Walker ruled Nicaragua through puppet President Patricio Rivas who handled the day-to-day affairs of the government. Perhaps Walker’s greatest diplomatic success was getting the American President Franklin Pierce to recognize his regime as the legitimate government of Nicaragua on May 20, 1856.
Despite his success at being recognized by the United States government, Walker’s actions would soon alienate the only nation that could realistically ensure the success of his expedition. C.K. Garrison and Charles Morgan, subordinates of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company, provided financial and logistic assistance to Walker. In exchange Walker, as ruler of Nicaragua, seized the Company’s property (on the pretext of a charter violation) and turned it over to Garrison and Morgan. Outraged, Vanderbilt successfully pressured the U.S. government to withdraw its recognition of Walker’s regime.
Walker had also scared his neighbors and potential American and European investors with talk of further military conquests in Central America. Juan Rafael Mora, President of Costa Rica, rejected Walker’s diplomatic overtures and instead declared war on his regime, beginning what history would come to know as the War of Unification. Walker sent Colonel Schlessinger to invade Costa Rica in a preemptive action, but his forces were defeated at the Battle of Santa Rosa in March 1856. A military coalition of Central American states, financed by Vanderbilt (still angry with Walker) and led by Costa Rica, soon was established. In April 1856, Costa Rican troops penetrated into Nicaraguan territory and inflicted a defeat on Walker’s men at the Second Battle of Rivas, in which future President of the American Union, Juan Santamaría, played a key role.
Combat was fierce during the Second Battle of Rivas and the Costa Ricans were not able to drive Walker’s men out of a hostel near the town center from which they commanded an advantageous firing position. On April 11, General José María Cañas of El Salvador suggested that one of the soldiers advance towards the hostel with a torch and set it on fire. Some soldiers tried and failed, but finally the 24-year old Santamaría volunteered on the condition that, in the event of his death, someone would look after his mother. He then advanced and was wounded by enemy fire, but still continued on. He succeeded in setting fire to the hostel, thus contributing decisively to the Costa Rican victory at Rivas. Santamaría survived the ordeal, but would continue to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. The injury would only enhance his heroic stature among Central Americans.
Walker, however, had yet to give up. Walker took up residence in Granada and set himself up as President of Nicaragua, after conducting a fraudulent election. He was inaugurated on July 12, 1856, and soon launched an Americanization program, reinstating slavery, declaring English an official language and reorganizing currency and fiscal policy to encourage immigration from the United States. Realizing that his position was becoming precarious, he sought support from the Southerners in the U.S. by recasting his campaign as a fight to spread the institution of black slavery, which many American Southern businessmen saw as the basis of their agrarian economy. This move did increase Walker’s popularity in the South and attracted the attention of Pierre Soulé, an influential New Orleans politician, who campaigned to raise support for Walker’s regime.
This last ditch attempt by Walker to salvage his empire was all for naught. Walker’s army, weakened by an epidemic of cholera and massive defections, was no match for the Central American coalition. On December 14, 1856 as Granada was surrounded by 4,000 Salvadoran and Guatemalan troops, Charles Frederick Henningsen, one of Walker’s generals, ordered his men to set the city ablaze before escaping and fighting their way to Lake Nicaragua. An inscription on a lance reading Aquí fue Granada (“Here was Granada”) was left behind at the smoking ruin of the ancient capital city.
Following Walker’s defeat, the coalition of Central American states began to break up. Yet the idea of a Central American state, so often a failure throughout the early history of the region, began to gain traction. Santamaría, who served alongside other soldiers from the Central American nations, spoke up in support of a united Central America to protect their lands from the Americans to the north. A powerful orator, Santamaría’s ideas spread like wildfire across his home in Costa Rica. President of Costa Rica, Juan Rafael Mora Porras, reveling in his position as a national hero for the defeat of Walker, adopted the idea and began approaching other Central American leaders into reforming the Federal Republic of Central America.
President of Honduras José Santos Guardiola was initially opposed to the idea, having fought Francisco Morazán’s version years earlier. Nevertheless, fear of future American invasions and pressure by Vanderbilt who hoped to take advantage of lucrative trade deals with the new republic, eventually convinced Guardiola to throw his support behind a reunified Central America. Negotiations between the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica began and eventually bore fruit. On July 1, 1857, the Federal Republic of Central of America was reestablished with its capital at a rebuilt Granada and José Santos Guardiola being elected as the first president, with this new Moderate Party taking a majority in Congress.
The early years of the FRCA were a time of reform for much of Central America. Freedom of press, suffrage and movement were granted everywhere in the member states. Meanwhile, relations between the church and the State were regularized. Electoral rights were also guaranteed to all of age male citizens who were born in the Federal Republic, regardless of wealth. The army was increased and professionalized thanks to European advisers. The navy was also increased in size thanks to ships purchased from Britain and France. The economy improved thanks to investments by Vanderbilt and other wealthy American and European businessmen who wanted to be in at the ground floor of this new nation. Meanwhile, Juan Santamaría became a member of the Liberal Party and gained fame across the Federal Republic for his powerful speeches. Some ideas even found their way into the rest of the Latin America, laying the groundwork from which a larger union of Latin Americans could emerge.
Walker’s dreams of empire never came to life. With Central America united against him, Walker spent years attempting to raise support for an expedition to Cuba, but to no avail. When the War of Southern Independence began, Walker enlisted in the Confederate Army and was killed at the Battle of Sharpsburg in 1862. Yet his legacy as the embodiment of Anglo-imperialism would continue to live on in Latin America and influence the decisions of powerful men and women for generations to come.