Thursday, April 14, 2011

What if there had been no Civil War?

Alternate histories are a well-known genre of fiction, with "What if the South had won the Civil War" a common topic of speculation.

This was on my mind lately because I live in Alabama and the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War was marked just a few days ago.

I started wondering, though, not what if the South had won, but suppose there had been no Civil War. That when the Southern states began to secede, Lincoln and the Federal government had instead said: We don't like it, we think you're wrong, but we're not going to go to war over it.

What kind of alternate history would this country, these countries, and the world, have seen?

First, we can take as a given that slavery would have continued through the 1860s and '70s. Following these decades, between the Abolitionist movement and the mechanization of agriculture (which drastically reduced the amount of manual labor needed for farming in the predominantly agricultural South), slavery might well have become, well, to put it bluntly, no longer cost-effective.

The following decades of alternate history are ripe with story lines:
  • Suppose slavery had been maintained into the 20th century, perhaps then a Civil War did still eventually occur, say in 1905. And with increased weaponry and mechanization, might well have been even more bloody and destructive to North and South.
  • If slavery didn't end as a result of later civil war, did it end abruptly, or was it phased out? How does a country and its people manage something like this? Surely more than the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, even if it doesn't approach the full intensity of a civil war. Or maybe it did and happened as a result of a full-scale revolution.
  • Or at some point in the late 1800s slavery was abolished, but rather than "freedom", the Confederate States of America (CSA) becomes an apartheid state, not unlike South Africa, and perhaps persists well into the 20th century, like South Africa. Perhaps the two nations, both having eventually become pariah states, would have allied out of necessity and common culture.
  • How much would the remaining USA's economic and technological growth be stunted?
  • Would there have been ongoing friction with the occasional flareup between the two countries, similar to Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East? Would there have been a "Cold War" of sorts? What about immigration issues, legal and illegal, between an industrialized USA and an agricultural CSA?
  • How would the World Wars have been affected without the unified economic might of the USA? Given that the Civil War affected foreign nations to some degree large or small, what sort of effect on other nations would a separate USA and CSA have had in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s? Would Germany in WW1 have sought alliance with the CSA against the USA, as they attempted with Mexico? That's assuming that something resembling WW1 even still occurred.
  • What, if any, effect would a separate USA and CSA have had on the establishment of the Soviet Union? Any? What about the Cold War? The space program? Would the Soviets simply have taken over Europe piecemeal, with no military bulwark to oppose them? Is this what drives the USA and CSA to rejoin into a single United Confederated States of America?
I can't write fiction worth a flip, so...just thinking...