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Friday, 15 May 2015

What If: Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was the 32nd President of the United States and during his four consecutive terms as President he organised the New Deal reform program to improve the situation for poor Americans during the Great Depression, helped improve civil rights with the Fair Employment Practice Committee, put women in major roles for the first time in US history and led the USA through the Second World War while all the time fighting polio. However just over a month before he was inaugurated as President (winning the 1932 election easily) he was almost assassinated by a man called Giuseppe Zangara. What would have happened if Zangara had succeeded in assassinating FDR? This was the first point of divergence in the brilliant The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick although this one differs heavily. This could be one way history diverged if Zangara shot FDR.

The assassination- Giuseppe Zangara was an angry, discontented person who felt angry at the government for his poor condition and his acute abdomen pains started to drain his mental health. On the 15th February 1933 before he was inaugurated FDR was going to give an impromptu speech from the back of an open car in Miami, Florida. Zangara decided to take his rage out on FDR by buying a pistol. Zangara took his seat where Roosevelt was going to give his speech but due to his short height he couldn't see over the hat of the woman in front of him. He stood on his chair, which was wobbly, and his five shots all missed Roosevelt. A woman wearing a hat saved the life of FDR. In this scenario that woman (Lillian Cross) does not wear a hat so with a clear shot Zangara shoots FDR. The President elect dies of his wounds on the way to hospital. Like in our timeline Zangara is executed to death on the 20th March (in our timeline he shot the Chicago mayor Anton Cermak who was travelling with FDR). On March 4th instead of Roosevelt being inaugurated his would be vice-President John Nance Garner is sworn in as President.
A New Deal?- Roosevelt was famous for being the architect of the New Deal, a program of reform projects with the aim of helping the poor and ending the Great Depression. However the way US electorate works it is very easy for a President and vice-President to be elected when they could have very different ideologies. Where Roosevelt pushed for the New Deal legislation Garner was against it. As President Garner would be very against installing the quasi-benefit system that the New Deal legislation brought in so most likely Garner would not install this legislation. His ideas were more similar to that of his predecessor Herbert Hoover where ideas of 'rugged individualism' and laissez-faire economics would continue although the banks most likely would be liquidated in order to remove their debt. Roosevelt declared an eight day bank holiday to ensure that the banks had some time to rectify their situation after hundreds of people withdrew all of their money causing the banks to close. Garner's liquidation of the banks would lead to many more people losing most of their savings if not all of them. More emphasis would be put on the stock market rather than improving the banks, employment and monetary reform with Garner keeping the gold standard. Deflation would continue to drain the economy as the rigid gold standard would cause the value of the dollar to continue to drop. With deflation making the dollar becoming more and more worthless unemployment would rise as protectionism (coupled with the Depression) stops a demand for US goods abroad and the public would simply be unable to afford the goods. In 1933 unemployment was just over 20% so as the first term of Garner drags on this rate would rise dramatically. Garner at least was for prohibition repeal so the economy could benefit from not enforcing prohibition and taxing alcohol.
 Civil rights, labor rights and foreign policy of Garner- Garner was not pro-labor rights (but more pro-labor than Hoover) so we would not see a National Industrial Recovery Act which would later issue in better protection for labor unions. With the continuing strength of industrialists and no protection of unions or no recognition of their right to collective bargaining unions would be in increasing decline. Union membership was at only 11.6% of the workforce in 1930 and as the 1930s go along this would drop and possibly the largest union federation, the American Federation of Labor, would dissolve. We would also see increased federal action in ending strikes which Garner supported. Meanwhile African-American, Hispanic, women and Native American rights would remain the same as in the first years following the Wall Street Crash. All these groups of people benefited thanks to the New Deal, such as the Social Security Act helping poorer families through welfare benefit and the Indian Reorganization Act giving more power to Native American tribal courts as well as improving the conditions on reservations so much that Native American birth rate increased at a much more rapid rate than other citizens. Roosevelt also worked closely with the NAACP to help civil rights (although he never introduced standing legislation to aid them) and he installed many women into high profile roles such as Nellie Tayloe Ross as director of the US Mint and Frances Perkins as Labor Secretary. No New Deal meant that all this would not have happened but Garner himself was not pro-civil rights, Garner even suggested a poll tax to force the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. This would definitely rule out any talks with the NAACP so weakening it and delaying the civil rights movement. The idea that the USA was isolationist is an overstatement. Yes it was against intervening in the affairs of Europe, and to an extent Asia, but it was interested in influencing the affairs of American nations. Roosevelt had a 'Good Neighbor Policy' which meant that he would stop intervening in Latin America but quite likely Garner would not follow this policy. Garner would increasingly send US soldiers abroad to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama to enforce US power in those areas.
1936-1941- As Garner's Presidency turns into a disaster through longstanding deflation and unemployment the Democrats would be split into two. One side under conservative Democrats supporting Garner while more liberal Democrats supporting Louisiana Senator Huey Long. As the 1936 election draws closer Long would split from the Democrats and run as a third party candidate. The Republican candidate most likely would be Alf Landon as in our timeline. In our timeline Roosevelt won 60.8% of the vote but this alternate election would be much closer with the Republicans edging out through the split in the Democrats although Long most likely would still be assassinated as in our timeline for his constant harassment of his assassin's family (Dr. Carl Weiss). Still this would not save Garner and Alf Landon would become President with a narrow margin (roughly 51% of the vote with the rest split between the Democrats and Long's flailing party). Landon would still be ineffective to rescue the nation from economic woes. Being seen as a puppet for the Republican Party he would do marginal reform that would slightly improve the situation. This would include abandoning the gold standard to reduce deflation and try to reduce taxes on businesses in a trickle down economics pattern. The economy would slowly start to improve but it would be nowhere near as improved as the one in our timeline (although in our timeline unemployment and poverty was still widespread). Labor rights would continue to be poor with no National Labor Relations Board which in turn would mean that A Philip. Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids (BSCP) would remain a small union and would collapse in 1940.
World War Two- In 1940 the Democrats under Henry Wallace would win the election but unlike the Presidency of John Nance Garner Wallace would be more interested in the progressive ideas of the New Deal and during the war unemployment levels would drop as acts similar to the Social Security Act and Tennessee Valley Authority (aiding the poor farmers in the Dust Bowl who would be suffering still) would be passed although they would be heavily diluted. Congressional elections would allow more Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives which would block too much reform legislation while Democrats in the Senate would block acts which would benefit African-Americans. Wallace was a much more adamant pacifist compared to Roosevelt so as war broke out in Europe and Asia Wallace would try and steer the US out of confrontation. Inevitably no Lend Lease Act would be passed and Wallace would avoid the oil embargoes that Roosevelt placed on Japan. This in turn would mean that there would be no Pearl Harbor (for Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in retaliation for the US embargo). In Europe the war would remain the same with Soviet Russia storming Berlin but in Asia the Japanese Empire would dominate. The main reason why Japan invaded Hong Kong, Burma and Indochina after Pearl Harbor as they were fearful that the US would intervene if they did beforehand so with a still economically weakened US declaring neutrality Japan would likely invade these areas regardless. The US was the main fighter in Asia against Japan so the Japanese Empire would be far stronger and would conquer Burma, Eastern China, Indochina and Indonesia (leaving the Philippines to US rule) but war exhaustion and overextension would halt the conquests there. With no US entry into the war and a pacifist President would mean that there would be no Manhattan Project so nuclear weaponry would not be created until years later which could spare the lives of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another positive from no US entry into the war would be that 110,000 innocent Japanese-American citizens were evicted from their homes and their loss of employment following Executive Order 9066. This is commonly seen as Roosevelt's biggest and darkest action (alongside not supporting an anti-lynching bill and doing nothing to help Jews during the Holocaust) where thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps because of their heritage following Pearl Harbor, many never having been to Japan or having little support for the empire. It is scary how a man who helped so many people doomed so many others to internment camps and squalor.

Post-war era- Japan would remain the major power in Asia following the war having puppet nations in China, Indochina and Indonesia as well as conquered land in the Pacific. Quite likely the US would grant the Philippines its independence in order to keep independence movements from siding with the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (an economic unity of Asia countries under a Japanese empire that never came to fruition in our timeline). Post-war Europe would resemble our timeline except Germany would be split directly between France, Britain and Germany although with slightly altered spheres of influence which would form East and West Germany following Cold War tensions. A form of NATO would be made to challenge the perceived threat of the USSR but Britain and France would be the main players. Similarly Britain and France would embrace their former enemy of the Japanese Empire as the Cold War escalates. The USSR would detonate its first nuclear bomb in 1948 with Britain, France and Japan detonating their own by 1953; something that the USA would also copy in the 1960s as it starts to branch out of its traditional sphere of influence of the Americas. The Cold War in Europe, Africa and the Middle East would remain the same but in Asia Japan would be facing guerrilla warriors fighting for total independence who will be funded by Britain, France and later the USA fearing that some like Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh would want to install communist states. However with Japanese influence on the mainland Mao Zedong's communist guerrillas would take until the eventual collapse of the Japanese Empire in the early 1970s to install a people's republic while Mao's bitter rival Chiang Kai-Shek would die in exile in the USA.

Domestic USA- As there was no four consecutive terms for FDR there would be no 22nd Amendment limiting a President to two terms. Wallace would be seen as a mediocre President serving two terms and minor social reforms but with an abysmal foreign policy record by allowing the USA to be sidelined by two empires (Japan and Britain) and communists (the USSR) on the world stage. Civil rights though would be pushed back decades. Although FDR did relatively little for civil rights with legislation because he was either disinterested or had his hands tied by a reluctant Congress his impact greatly aided civil rights. The Indian Reorganization Act allowed Native Americans some brief respite while Eleanor Roosevelt's actions helped increase awareness of the rights for African-American and women. Roosevelt creating the National Labor Relations Board helped A. Philip Randolph lead the civil rights movement by propelling him to cultural significance and through him there was Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963 (King got the idea based on an abandoned march idea that Randolph had). It was Randolph who pressured Roosevelt into creating the Fair Employment Practice Committee to end employment discrimination in the government and FDR's talks with the NAACP undoubtedly strengthened it. No FDR meant no Truman who desegregated the army and FDR appointed more liberal judges to the Supreme Court (although originally he tried to put more judges in the Supreme Court to get what he wanted passed) which set off a trend of pro-civil rights verdicts such as Gaines v. Canada which let an African-American go to a white school. The US involvement in the Second World War let Dwight Eisenhower later to be easily made the Republican candidate and when he was President he made Earl Warren Chief of the Supreme Court who helped civil rights such as with Brown v. Board of Education which declared education segregation unconstitutional and Miranda v. Arizona which created the Miranda rights. Eisenhower even enforced desegregation at Little Rock, Arkansas by using the National Guard to escort African-American students into a white school. When Lyndon Johnson becomes President whether the Jim Crow laws are downed in one fell swoop with the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which would have to include transport, education and army desegregation) or whether each Jim Crow law had to be challenged individually it is hard to tell.

What do you think the world would be like if FDR was assassinated? Do you think the world would be better, worse or the same? Do you think I'm talking rubbish and are fawning over FDR or is some of what I'm saying seem somewhat plausible? Please leave your opinion and next week it'll be the first anniversary of the blog! I'll be doing a redux of one past alternate history scenario. I'll give you a clue about what it's about: a series of unfortunate events allowing a homicidal racist with a mustache to crush the world under his boot...

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