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WI: Balkanized America as a result of a worse Great Depression

#1
This is a topic which has come up many times before, but I haven't really seen it done well, so I wonder what you guys may think of this. If a worse Great Depression had caused America to collapse, and then balkanize, what new countries may emerge? How would they be run? What would their relations with the rest of the world be? How would the rest of the world react, and how would it change history altogether?
 

d32123

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#2
I think any sort of early 20th century civil war in the US is going to be ideological rather than regional. American economic unity, political identity, and civic nationalism was too strong by then for separatism to really take root within the continental US. Instead you would get broad ideological factions or coalitions fighting each other which identify themselves as the legitimate central government, as in Spain or China. And eventually one side or the other would probably triumph because the US is just too big for a foreign-imposed military stalemate to take hold like in Korea. I know it's cool to have an independent California or whatever but I think you're going to have to look to the 19th century or earlier if you want true American balkanization.
 

MAC88

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#3
I think you're going to have to look to the 19th century or earlier if you want true American balkanization.
There's a so-so AH work, Climb the Wind by Pamela Sargent, that presents a flawed yet still interesting scenario as to how that would happen in the 1870s: Plains tribes unite under a single leader to create a truly indigenous nation that resists all U.S. encroachment; Grant dies early and Colfax becomes President; the South rebels again, with a harsh response from Colfax that draws troops away from the Plains campaign; Texas and California declare independence for some reason; other rebellions (maybe connected to the 1877 Pullman Strike and other industrial unrest) break out across the rest of the U.S.; the country finally ends up, in the words of one reviewer, "more of a NATO-style alliance than anything else," with its future and that of the Native nation left uncertain.

Two other and IMO better "Balkanization" scenarios with a 19th century POD to check out would be Michael F. Flynn's The Forest of Time and Turtledove's Disunited States of America.
 
#4
I think any sort of early 20th century civil war in the US is going to be ideological rather than regional. American economic unity, political identity, and civic nationalism was too strong by then for separatism to really take root within the continental US. Instead you would get broad ideological factions or coalitions fighting each other which identify themselves as the legitimate central government, as in Spain or China. And eventually one side or the other would probably triumph because the US is just too big for a foreign-imposed military stalemate to take hold like in Korea. I know it's cool to have an independent California or whatever but I think you're going to have to look to the 19th century or earlier if you want true American balkanization.
Maybe the ideological factions decide, after years of bloody war, to have a truce, which leads to an American balkanization consisting of the areas those factions control? If homogeneous countries like Korea can be divided based on ideology, the same might happen to America.
 

BClick

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#5
I think any sort of early 20th century civil war in the US is going to be ideological rather than regional. American economic unity, political identity, and civic nationalism was too strong by then for separatism to really take root within the continental US. Instead you would get broad ideological factions or coalitions fighting each other which identify themselves as the legitimate central government, as in Spain or China. And eventually one side or the other would probably triumph because the US is just too big for a foreign-imposed military stalemate to take hold like in Korea. I know it's cool to have an independent California or whatever but I think you're going to have to look to the 19th century or earlier if you want true American balkanization.
Mid 19th century was absolutely ripe for balkanization and I think it's something few Civil War AHs delve into deeply enough - but yes it's a lot harder to see by the 20th century.

I just finished Break It Up by Richard Kreitner, a history of secessionism and disunionism in America, and would highly recommend it. But I think it's very telling that his pre-Civil War chapters go into exquisite detail about social movements for disunion but the chapters afterwards are shorter and focus more on disunion as a rhetorical device. New Afrika was probably the last serious secessionist movement in America, and that would have faced an uphill battle to say the least!

(And I say this as someone who's not particularly committed to union myself...)
 

SenatorChickpea

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#6
I do think there's a fascinating cultural what if there- how does a mid 19thC balkanisation get treated by intellectuals?

So one of the lesser known things about the Imperial Federation movement- a movement, to be clear, that never had any serious traction- was that you often had invocations of Germany and Italy. Just as the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a moment where you had quite serious invocations of international politics as a social darwinian state, where weak nations would be pulled down and swallowed by the victors, you also had a sense that now at last disparate peoples were fulfilling their destinies and coming together.
I think there's even a loose parallel to the kleindeutschland (Britain's empire unifies) and the grossdeutchland model (as above, with America!)

What happens to the intelligentsia of the English speaking world if the United States disintegrates? Does this mean that the 'Anglo-Saxon Race' was somehow older and more tired, falling apart when other nations were coming together? Whose fault was it?* Is there some golden opportunity for Britain to persuade some of her lost colonies to rejoin the fold?**

For America's part, what's the lesson? That the experiment in democracy doesn't work? Or that they were betrayed by planter aristocrats?

You might even see a tendency towards greater centralisation of the Empire in response, though I've always believed that would strengthen the centrifugal forces that broke up Britain's empire, not weaken them.

It's not without the realms of possibility that you see Filibusters within what we think of as America, people dreaming of themselves as Garibaldi, out to bring the nation back together- John Brown, maybe?

*The answer will be black people in the South, unfortunately, proving that the presence of such a population is incompatible with a unified and modernising state. On the left, I expect Jewish capitalists to be blamed for profiting from division.


** Nope. Though informal dominions a la Argentina aren't out of the question.
 

d32123

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#7
Maybe the ideological factions decide, after years of bloody war, to have a truce, which leads to an American balkanization consisting of the areas those factions control? If homogeneous countries like Korea can be divided based on ideology, the same might happen to America.
Korea was arbitrarily divided by outside powers after decades of colonization, so not really analogous. And as I said, the US is just too big for that to be practical here.
 

Venocara

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#8
Mid 19th century was absolutely ripe for balkanization and I think it's something few Civil War AHs delve into deeply enough
On Reddit, I found a potentially interesting scenario about the aftermath of a Confederate victory in the ACW which sees both the USA and CSA collapse in 1893. The lore attached to the map was intriguing and sounded potentially plausible but I don't know enough about the period to judge for myself...

https://www.reddit.com/r/imaginarymaps/comments/iaqb7i
 

BClick

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#9
I do think there's a fascinating cultural what if there- how does a mid 19thC balkanisation get treated by intellectuals?

So one of the lesser known things about the Imperial Federation movement- a movement, to be clear, that never had any serious traction- was that you often had invocations of Germany and Italy. Just as the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a moment where you had quite serious invocations of international politics as a social darwinian state, where weak nations would be pulled down and swallowed by the victors, you also had a sense that now at last disparate peoples were fulfilling their destinies and coming together.
I think there's even a loose parallel to the kleindeutschland (Britain's empire unifies) and the grossdeutchland model (as above, with America!)

What happens to the intelligentsia of the English speaking world if the United States disintegrates? Does this mean that the 'Anglo-Saxon Race' was somehow older and more tired, falling apart when other nations were coming together? Whose fault was it?* Is there some golden opportunity for Britain to persuade some of her lost colonies to rejoin the fold?**

For America's part, what's the lesson? That the experiment in democracy doesn't work? Or that they were betrayed by planter aristocrats?

You might even see a tendency towards greater centralisation of the Empire in response, though I've always believed that would strengthen the centrifugal forces that broke up Britain's empire, not weaken them.

It's not without the realms of possibility that you see Filibusters within what we think of as America, people dreaming of themselves as Garibaldi, out to bring the nation back together- John Brown, maybe?

*The answer will be black people in the South, unfortunately, proving that the presence of such a population is incompatible with a unified and modernising state. On the left, I expect Jewish capitalists to be blamed for profiting from division.


** Nope. Though informal dominions a la Argentina aren't out of the question.
Great ideas. I think that "slavery and planter aristocracy are incompatible with democracy" will probably be the take in the Northeast - some people might adopt William Lloyd Garrison's position that the Constitution was a fatally flawed compromise with slavery to begin with, but a vaguer "the American project was worthy but was betrayed by the planters" is more self-exculpatory and thus palatable to the public! There will certainly be some who will blame the failure on the presence of Black people, which will lead to conflict with folks like Garrison who wanted an independent North to encourage and welcome people fleeing slavery.

West of the Mississippi, there had always been a notion in circulation that settlers too distant from the Eastern Seaboard might found their own republics based on, but independent from, the United States. I don't think it would be too jarring to most folks' historiography or sense of self. They would certainly be unhappy about a lack of military backup in their conflicts with Native peoples, though, and might have the most to lose materially from an American balkanization. I could see your hypothetical unionist filibusters emerging from the West.

The South is more interesting. They certainly would call the collapse a betrayal by the Puritans and capitalists of New England, interfering with their freedoms. But how long would that kind of animosity be kept alive? It's a pretty limited foundation for a national identity.

One answer which might find support everywhere is the old Enlightenment notion that republican government can only work on a small scale, as in the city-states of Ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy, and that if stretched over too large and diverse a population it inevitably devolves into corruption and empire.
 
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BClick

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#10
On Reddit, I found a potentially interesting scenario about the aftermath of a Confederate victory in the ACW which sees both the USA and CSA collapse in 1893. The lore attached to the map was intriguing and sounded potentially plausible but I don't know enough about the period to judge for myself...
I think that lore is a good justification for a pretty map, but not particularly plausible.

(Most of the polities on there don't have a history of real secessionist movements, and even though it looks like some are supposed to be warlord states I just have a hard time seeing America split that much.)
 
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Venocara

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#11
I think that lore is a good justification for a pretty map, but not particularly plausible.

(Most of the polities on there don't have a history of real secessionist movements, and even though it looks like some are supposed to be warlord states I just have a hard time seeing America split that much.)
Do you believe that the build-up to the civil war is plausible at all?
 

Charles EP M.

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#12
If a worse Great Depression had caused America to collapse, and then balkanize, what new countries may emerge?
This is forever tricky when the divides, as people have said, were mostly ideological - you wouldn't get a tidy "all of New England are friends and he a name we recognise", you'd get a big mess. Maybe a big chunk of the South would call itself the Confederacy just because that's the obvious name, iconography, and popular memory you'd harken to if you're aiming to form a breakaway South.
 

Mumby

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#13
Not so much a 'worse' Depression, but I've often wondered about a scenario where the Dust Bowl is never tackled with the concerted efforts of windbreaks and tree planting of OTL, and its expands across much of Middle America. Rather then any actual secessionism, you could have a very depopulated region of North America and increased polarisation between the coasts, which have little connective tissue between them.
 
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#14
I think to get a fragmented North America, you probably need to start before the creation of the continental USA. I'm looking at the impact of no Louisiana Purchase for example, which if it stays out of the USA's hands has the potential to divide the continent between the English speaking east, the central strip where the main language historically could be English French or Spanish and the Pacific West, which could be English, Spanish or even - with some very big assumptions - Russian or French.

http://forum.sealionpress.co.uk/index.php?threads/wi-no-treaty-of-fontainebleau-1762.3105/

Other opportunities seem to be limited. Could a Republic of Texas survive for example. The war with the Western Confederacy might have gone worse, especially if Britain or Spain were fully active in support for the Confederacy. The War of Independence might have gone badly for the USA, especially if there was more friction between the 13 colonies. Other possibilities include the war of 1812, or the Civil War. I've read TLs based on the Trent Affair leading to war with Britain. Any of these might chip off bits of the US but are unlikely to lead to Balkanisation.
 
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Japhy

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#15
Not so much a 'worse' Depression, but I've often wondered about a scenario where the Dust Bowl is never tackled with the concerted efforts of windbreaks and tree planting of OTL, and its expands across much of Middle America. Rather then any actual secessionism, you could have a very depopulated region of North America and increased polarisation between the coasts, which have little connective tissue between them.
Harold Ickes actually wanted to just relocate the populations in the greater dust bowl region and hope to get the grasslands back and shut it down to human settlement permanently. Ive been thinking about that a bunch lately because of what it it would mean for Federal Precedent, the fact that the fight with Henry Wallace who said that was unacceptable is what basically set Wallace up to become VP and because of just what such a massive evacuation could mean.
 

Alex Richards

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#16
Harold Ickes actually wanted to just relocate the populations in the greater dust bowl region and hope to get the grasslands back and shut it down to human settlement permanently. Ive been thinking about that a bunch lately because of what it it would mean for Federal Precedent, the fact that the fight with Henry Wallace who said that was unacceptable is what basically set Wallace up to become VP and because of just what such a massive evacuation could mean.
So that's, what, half of Kansas, a quarter of Colorado, the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and some change?

Blimey that really would be a vast chunk of the country.
 

Japhy

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#17
So that's, what, half of Kansas, a quarter of Colorado, the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and some change?

Blimey that really would be a vast chunk of the country.
Basically. Its about a Million People before the dust bowl of IOTL. 750,000 more people then who exodusted in actual history too. Including a few decently sized small cities.

Also wild is that in 1937 a decent chunk of farmers who had clinged on in the region were calling for martial law and land seizures by the Federal Government do deal with the crisis.
 

Mumby

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#18
Basically. Its about a Million People before the dust bowl of IOTL. 750,000 more people then who exodusted in actual history too. Including a few decently sized small cities.

Also wild is that in 1937 a decent chunk of farmers who had clinged on in the region were calling for martial law and land seizures by the Federal Government do deal with the crisis.
direct rule from A R M Y C O R P S O F E N G I N E E R S
 

Alex Richards

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#20
Basically. Its about a Million People before the dust bowl of IOTL. 750,000 more people then who exodusted in actual history too. Including a few decently sized small cities.

Also wild is that in 1937 a decent chunk of farmers who had clinged on in the region were calling for martial law and land seizures by the Federal Government do deal with the crisis.
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