It is fascinating to discover American military historian Robert Crowley's collections of essays on counter-factual history known as "What If..." He edited three volumes between 2000 and 2004, in which prominent historians explored some of the close calls of history. Among the eminent historians contributing to these volumes were Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough, James McPherson, and Robert Dallek.
The American Revolution, Civil War and World War II provides many plausible alternative histories. Crowley, et al. explore:
- Thirteen ways the Americans could have lost the revolution.
- What if Britain had kept the 13 colonies? Historian Caleb Carr makes a number of assumptions about how the 19th and 20th Century would have been different and in some ways, better off.
- What if the South had won Antietam (Sharpsburg) in 1862? Instead of a battle to a draw, the South could have inflicted devastating losses on the North if Gen. Lee's plans had not been leaked to Yankee Gen. McClellan. What if the South had won Gettysburg? Heavy losses in either/or both of these battles could have put enormous pressure on President Lincoln to negotiate a settlement with the South, allowing the Confederacy to survive.
- Journalist-historian Tom Wicker asks what would have happened if Lincoln did not make the emancipation proclamation or if the 14th amendment granting full citizenship to freed slaves in the South was not enacted.
- What if Lee had not surrendered at Appomatox? What if the North, in John Wilkes' Booth's wildest dreams, imposed such harsh punishment on the South that guerilla warfare broke out? America might resemble Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
- How Hitler could have won the war. What if Hitler had not attacked Russia when he did? He might have moved into the Middle East and secured the oil supplies the Third Reich so badly needed, helping it retain its power in Europe.
- Could the wartime pope, Pius XII, have prevented the Holocaust?
- What if the Battle of Midway had been won by Japan? Or if Japan had never bombed Pearl Harbor? Would Americans have entered the war?
- What if D-Day had been a failure? The Soviet Union might have controlled all of Europe. Ambrose suggests that Allied defeat on D-Day would have meant nuclear devastation for Germany in the summer of 1945.
- "What if" Eisenhower ordered American forces to seize Berlin ahead of the advancing Red Army in the spring of 1945 and Stalin quickly retaliated by firing on Americans? World War III could have developed quickly from the ashes of World War II.
The World's Foremost Historians Imagine What Might Have Been.