What if Germany had won in 1915?

The central disaster of the twentieth century, and the creator of almost all the troubles that followed it, was the Great War. The first world war derailed the development of clean, modern transport technologies in favour of aeroplanes and trucks built on modified gun assembly lines or after the spur of war, for instance. It radicalised a whole generation of young men to death and uniform. It broke five empires, but replaced them with unstable and shifting states, and it led directly to the temporary but bloody successes of the Nazis and the Soviets. It lit nationalism in big countries and destroyed the nexus of world markets and trade.

Against that, what did it achieve? Four years of bloody fighting to stop the Second Reich from replaying Bismarck's defeat of France and the Russian Empire. The League of Nations was born from the rubble, and the limited freedom of small states like Ireland and those within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

But these things were on the cards anyway, except for the League. And a very good case can be made that it was misconceived to start with.

So, a little counter factual for the lull before New Year. World War One starts, but is merely the second Franco-German war. Germany wins easily in the west, because the Schlieffen plan works, and then defeats the Tsarists in the east. Lenin stays in Switzerland, Ireland gets home rule, a south Slav kingdom within what is now the Triple Monarchy is created, and Kerensky's liberal government beds down in Russia. Maybe the Social Democrats win in the German elections, because the post-war slowdown boosts their already strong popularity and because the war has not proven to be the patriotic neutron-bomb the Junkers hoped for. Jews would still be German patriots in love with the second Reich.

In addition, Europe's history would almost certainly have been written by leaders of whom we have never heard. The flowers of all classes fell in the great fallings of 1916 and 1917. No world war one--no Verdun, no Ypres, and a much different Somme.

What's bad about that?

This is the time of year for these sort of games, and this sort of counter factual is usually the one played out. For one thing, Britain could quite easily have gone fascist. Subject to inflation and with the North of Ireland in civil war, the Conservatives and Lloyd George Liberals would have reacted very badly to defeat, but if Britain had stayed out maybe less so.

In any event, a well-armed and now global challenge to the UK would have been on the cards. Woodrow Wilson would still have been around to argue for global law, but with less chance to just impose it. Poland, Serbia and Hungary (within the Hapsburg Empire) would still be either suppressed or oppressed; and a new but devastating world war may still have been on the cards, but with more devastating chemical and technological weapons.

I think it may well be the case that within about ten to fifteen years a new global war between Britain and German Europe, kicked off by small nations, would have caught fire but this time on devastating terms for Britain. Liberal democracy of the twentieth-century English speaking sort would certainly have been knocked back, and the middle east with a reinvigorated Ottoman settlement would have looked very different.

Perhaps, in some parallel universe where the Germans did win, some other red-haired muppet is wondering how such a disaster could have been allowed, and why the British and Americans did not engage and fight the Great War to the end.

The list of things that were associated with world war one is not wholly negative either, which does not say much for humanity. Female suffrage? State health care? The breaking of Empires? The semblance of international law?

Mind-games and counterfactuals are fun. Does anyone else have any suggestions as to what could have happened to while away this grey day of the waning year?


Popular Posts