"No matter how silly the idea of having a queen might be to us, as Americans we must be gracious and considerate hosts."

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It's bad enough to suggest the U.S. would have been better off without its independence. To hinge your case on the idea that we would have gotten into World War I earlier—that's just perverse.

[Via Jim Henley, who actually takes the time to argue against the scenario while I'm just sitting here sticking out my tongue.]

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  1. Yglesias doesn’t usually cross quite this far into barking mad territory. Maybe claiming a better world based on earlier US WWI entry is just a displaced longing for national health care? Maybe he’s a closet Marmite fan?

    Edmund Burke said in one of his speeches on American policy during the 10-year-long crisis prior to Lex and Concord that the 3,000 miles between England and the colonies made them very, very difficult to control, and that the colonies had to be governed with this distance and fractiousness in mind. It seems hard to imagine that, given the rapid economic and demographic expansion going on in the colonies during the mid-eighteenth century, the drive for independence wouldn’t have happened sooner or later.

  2. There’s also the possibility that throwing more bodies earlier into WWI would have just resulted in more deaths and not really changed anything.

    It’s a rather simplistic view that just throwing more bodies at the problem is a defacto solution in warfare.

    I think Yggie might still be drunk from yesterday.

  3. I read a pretty interesting argument awhile back that the US would have eliminated slavery without the Civil War if we hadn’t gotten our independence from England.

    The secondary benefits of that would have been pretty astonishing.

    US entry into WWI might have terminated the bloody trench warfare stalemate. Earlier entry might have terminated the stalemate earlier, which strikes me as a plus.

    Considering what a near thing the US Revolution was, it is astonishing to try to imagine what different world it would be if it hadn’t happened.

  4. Let’s keep in mind that America would have been as innovative or prosperous had we not broken away. A somewhat different culture and economy could have emerged. Prosperity and innovation certainly gave us an extra edge when we entered WWI, an edge that numbers alone cannot provide.

    Then again, if the scenario that R C mentions is right, perhaps an earlier (and less bloody) end to slavery could have unleashed the talents, energies, and creativity of a large segment of the population. There’s no telling what sort of benefits we could have reaped from that.

    All I know is that it’s been a long, strange trip, often very ugly but still full of wonderful things. I’m reluctant to assume that it would have worked out any better had we gone down a different path.

  5. Counterfactual conditionals are so much fun! If we had eggs, we could have bacon and eggs for breakfast, if we had bacon.

  6. As I already posted over there:

    I’m surprised no one at TPM Cafe has mentioned the world war that actually occurred when most of the major figures of the Revolution were still alive – the French Revolution/Napoleonic wars. Since the U.S. (or rather the British colonies) only had about 3 million people at this time, their addition to the British side would not have been as great an impact as in World War I or World War II, but it would have had some effect. If Napoleon had been deposed at an earlier date, or never even come to power at all, the Holy Roman Empire might have existed past 1806, inhibiting German and Italian unification and possibly leading to no World War I or II. But far be it from me to argue that independence was wrong, since a different outcome for the Napoleonic wars could perhaps, by some scenario we couldn’t even begin to sketch out, have led to something as bad as (or, if possible, even worse than) Hitler and Stalin. And come to think of it, without our inspiration and the bankruptcy of the French treasury from funding us, there might not have been any French Revolution at all, and who knows what would have happened then? The point is, a scenario in which the world in 1914 or 1939 is exactly the same, except Britain owns the U.S., is an absurd one.

  7. RC Dean,

    Yeah, I’m sure that the Southern colonies wouldn’t have seceded from the British Empire if they were told to free their slaves. They would have just done as they were told without any bloodshed. I mean, it’s not like there’s any evidence that they would rather have fought a war than free the darkies, right?

  8. Finally, I get some respect around here.

  9. R.C. Dean,

    I read a pretty interesting argument awhile back that the US would have eliminated slavery without the Civil War if we hadn’t gotten our independence from England.

    Civil war and violence were intimately involved in the end of British slavery, so that argument doesn’t seem to hold much merit.

    US entry into WWI might have terminated the bloody trench warfare stalemate.

    How so? What technoligically, strategically or tactically would the U.S. have brought to the conflict that wasn’t already there by 1914? Greater manpower? That didn’t win the war in 1918, so how would it have won the war in 1914?

  10. Why do people keep publishing Yglesias? I don’t hate on the guy or anything, but he needs about 10 years of real-world experience to knock the silliness out of his ideas.

  11. James Kabala,

    All the American Revolution did (or rather France’s involvement in it) was to make the French financial situation more dire; a crisis was brewing whether France entered the war or not (keep in mind that France had underwent several bankruptcies since the 17th century).

    As to “revolutionary inspiration,” there was enough of that in France already due to the efforts of both the “republic of letters” and the “grub street” press; the American Revolution didn’t tip the scale in other words.

    thoreau,

    …innovation certainly gave us an extra edge when we entered WWI, an edge that numbers alone cannot provide.

    Actually it didn’t. The U.S. in WWI wasn’t some technologically creative powerhouse (at least when it came to weapons technology); that’s why we had to borrow aircraft and artillery from the French. Basically the most important aspect of the American involvement in WWI (before and after entry) was the willingness of American banks to generously loan France and Britain lots of money.

  12. If England had respected the rights of Englishmen and corrected its mistreatment of its colonies without the sharp smack on the nose of losing the ones that became the US, things might have worked out nicely. The problem is, even if things had been papered over at the time of the historical Revolution, the conflict may have come up again later in the 1800s.

    Even if it hadn’t, that would have been a very different 19th century.

  13. So, would a Greek defeat at Marathon have made WW1 happen sooner or later?

  14. Actually it didn’t. The U.S. in WWI wasn’t some technologically creative powerhouse (at least when it came to weapons technology); that’s why we had to borrow aircraft and artillery from the French. Basically the most important aspect of the American involvement in WWI (before and after entry) was the willingness of American banks to generously loan France and Britain lots of money.

    There was one other factor that the U.S. brought to the Front. Riflery.

    The European military thinking of the time held that the common infantry soldier was too incompetent to aim a rifle. Therefore the commanders used the tactic of unaimed “barrage fire” to the point that consideration was given to removing rifle sights and substituting a level device that the officers could set to the range they desired. After all, the main infantry tactic remained the mass bayonet charge.

    One French drill manual said, “Brave and energetically commanded infantry can march under the most violent fire, even against well-defended trenches, and take them.”

    The test came in the early days of World War I, at the first battle of the Somme. British troops went “over the top” following officers who showed their contempt for danger by carrying riding crops instead of guns, and kicking soccer balls across no-mans-land. Thanks to the German Maxim machineguns, by sunset more than 58,000 Englishmen lay dead.

    President Wilson named another competitive marksman, General John “Blackjack” Pershing to head the AEF. Besides being expert with pistol and rifle, Gen. Pershing was the son-in-law to a future NRA president, Warren E. Frances. U.S. National guard officers and NRA directors convinced Wilson and Pershing that aimed fire was the way to end trench warfare.

    The difference: To men who can’t hit an enemy helmet at 100 yards a machinegun nest is an impregnable obstacle. To a trained rifleman it’s a stationary target.

    In the Argonne Forest Sergeants Alvin York and Sam Woodfill won Congressional Medals of Honor knocking out German machineguns. Between them they killed 49 gunners with 49 shots. Sgt. York captured 132 enemy soldiers who were terrified of his rifle fire. Sgt. Woodfill took out two machinegun nests with long-range pistol fire.

    At Belleau Wood Germans posted artillery observers in trees at a “safe” range from AEF troops. U.S. Marine riflemen simply adjusted the sights on their Springfield .03s. Surprised German officers reported, “Isolated Americans lying flat in the field caused us very heavy casualties.”

    Now, would that kind of innovation have been possible had Pershing commanded the forces of a British Colony? I think not.

  15. Larry A,

    I would point out that the British were and are extremely adept at taking advantage of the natural talents of their colonial soldiers – the Gurkhas leap to mind. I would imagine that a savvy British officer would have recognized that the hillbilly marksmen of their Southern North American colonies could be far more effective as riflemen than machinegun fodder. A colonial officer like Pershing in the ranks might have sped the process along. But, it probably would have taken longer for them to make that leap. I doubt it would have been as sweeping a shift without the independent streak of a purely American force to shake up the old doctrine. Which in turn pokes yet another hole in the idea that if an Anglo/American colony had entered WWI earlier it would have ended faster.

    I think Yglesias?s premise is lousy, but let’s say we stayed a colony. I don?t think the innovative nature of Americans would have been terribly stunted. Australians and Canadians have a character quite distinct from the British. The Old World class system might have put a damper on upward mobility, but our frontier lifestyle would have kept American ingenuity flourishing.

  16. I would imagine that a savvy British officer would have recognized that the hillbilly marksmen of their Southern North American colonies could be far more effective as riflemen than machinegun fodder.

    Not the same thing at all. Persing trained the typical infantryman (including those from urban areas) to shoot, which is not all that difficult. I can teach any reasonably motivated soldier to hit at 100 yards with a rifle in two or three days. Doing so with a handgun may take a week or two.

    With that marksmanship comes a fundamental shift in infantry tactics that British officers could have learned during the Revolutionary war.

  17. Larry A.,

    There were plenty of snipers on both sides of the front long before the U.S. was involved; see:

    Jeo, Sniping in France 1914-18

    If snipers (the ultimate purveyors of marksmanship) were such war-winning innovations then Britain should have won it single-handedly in 1916 when Britain advanced far past Germany in the techniques of sniping.

  18. If snipers (the ultimate purveyors of marksmanship) were such war-winning innovations then Britain should have won it single-handedly in 1916 when Britain advanced far past Germany in the techniques of sniping.

    Once again, Persing’s innovation was not a few snipers. It was training every rifleman to hit a German helmet at 100 yards or better. This led to tactics of supporting fire and fire and maneuver toward enemy positions rather than the mass running bayonet charge of the early war.

    Once you knock out the machineguns and take any portion of a trench, it becomes a killing field instead of an impregnable obstacle.

  19. Larry A

    Good point. It’s not like the British hadn’t already felt the effect of a few well-positioned Kentucky Long Rifles. You wouldn’t have seen the massive shift in tactics like you are describing without across the board marksmanship training. It might have bubbled up from the ranks eventually, but certainly not in time to change the tide of WWI. Still, in this alternate timeline we’re discussing one could picture the Blue Ridge Rifles Regiment giving the Bosch what for.

    In your opinion, why didn’t the British place greater emphasis on marksmanship after their experiences against the Americans? Did they just assume that the American’s shooting prowess was something natural that couldn’t be reproduced with your average British conscript?

  20. Balls!

    We could shoot and did shoot. At Mons the Hun thought we had machineguns.

    At the Somme, we used simpler training and tactics for a simpler Army, Kitchener’s. It might have worked if the gunners and red tabbers hadn’t let the infantry down (one of our traditions, I’m afraid).

    If the standard of marksmanship of ex-colonials was so high, how come your lot lost 28,000 dead in the Meuse-Argonne alone? Against a beaten and demoralized enemy, that’s hardly impressive.

    Always think you’re the best at everything and you whine when you’re not … wankers.

  21. In your opinion, why didn’t the British place greater emphasis on marksmanship after their experiences against the Americans?

    It was the firearms of the time. The round ball for a muzzleloading rifle has to be forced down through the rifling, so it takes much longer to load than the smoothbore musket. Even though the rifle is far more accurate, the superior firing rate of the musket made it the prime infantry firearm until the U.S. Civil War.

    It was then that the Minie Ball was invented. This was a conical projectile which expanded when fired to fit the rifling. Suddenly rifles could be loaded as fast as muskets. Civil War generals didn’t understand how much that changed things, and persisted in marching their troops in ranks, as they always had. That’s one reason our Civil War was so bloody.

    Even at the beginning of WWI most of the generals running the U.S. Army were still using barrage fire and massed attacks. That’s why Pershing’s training, carried on after the AEF was already in Europe, was so innovative.

    Fighting the last war is common in all armies.

    Old Sweat, my estimation of the British army comes from professional interactions with some damn fine officers and men, a history of actions like Roark’s Drift, and the opinions of Rudyard Kipling’s Tommy, (1890)

    I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
    The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ‘We serve no erd-coats ‘ere.’
    The girls be’ind the bar they laughed and giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again, an’ to myself sez I:
    Oh, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Tommy, go away’:
    But it’s ‘Thank you, Mister Atkins,’ when the band begins to play –
    The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
    Oh, it’s ‘Thank you, Mister Atkins,’ when the band begins to play.

    I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
    They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
    They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
    But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Tommy, wait outside’;
    But it’s ‘Special train for Atkins’ when the trooper’s on the tide –
    The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
    Oh, it’s ‘Special train for Atkins’ when the trooper’s on the tide.

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
    An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
    Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
    Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?’
    But it’s ‘Thin red line of ‘eroes’ when the drums begin to roll –
    The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
    Oh, it’s ‘Thin red line of ‘eroes when the drums begin to roll.

    We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
    But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
    An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
    Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
    While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that , an’ ‘Tommy, fall be’ind,’
    But it’s ‘Please to walk in front, sir,’ when there’s trouble in the wind –
    There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
    Oh, it’s ‘Please to walk in front, sir,’ when there’s trouble in the wind.

    You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
    We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
    Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
    The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
    For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
    But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot;
    An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
    An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!

  22. I’m sorry to sound like some knuckle-dragging, redneck, reactionary here but if Yglesias thinks that the British Commonwealth is so superior to the USA to the point that our independence was a “mistake”, the he should renounce his American citizenship and apply for citizenship to the UK, Canada, or other English offshoot.

    That way, he can have his socialized medicine, draconian gun control, and heavily regulated business climate and stop pestering the rest of us who don’t want any of it!

  23. Kipling’s “Tommy” is a great poem — possibly my favorite.

  24. Larry A.,

    The British didn’t train “a few” snipers.

    British and French tanks were what knocked out the German trenches, not American marksmen.

    ralphus,

    In your opinion, why didn’t the British place greater emphasis on marksmanship after their experiences against the Americans?

    Because Kentucky long rifles and marksmanship didn’t win the Revolutionary War; “traditional” armaments and tactics did.

  25. Larry A,

    Now, would that kind of innovation have been possible had Pershing commanded the forces of a British Colony? I think not.

    The sort of great marksmanship found in the Canadian forces in WWI.

  26. Suppose the British had been completely sincere about freeing the slaves if the American colonies lost the war. That alone would seem like justification for siding with the British. What’s a worse form of tyranny, taxes without representation or chattel slavery? Granted the former is wrong, but Jefferson and his Virginia dandies were hardly oppressed – they had freedom to invent, make enormous sums of money, and live like kings. Compare that to the lives of slaves. I have to agree with Johnson – “you hear the loudest cries of liberty from those who are holding the whips to slaves” (something to that effect): it would have made much more sense to free the slaves first, then rebel from the British. And I submit that if we had done so the word “liberty” would not be met with such derision in some quarters. The possibilities for a true libertarian future would be much less remote.

  27. Phil: Lip: “I read a pretty interesting argument awhile back that the US would have eliminated slavery without the Civil War if we hadn’t gotten our independence from England.

    Civil war and violence were intimately involved in the end of British slavery, so that argument doesn’t seem to hold much merit.”

    Sorry, what? No, they weren’t. You are very confused. The English and Scottish Civil Wars were in the seventeenth century, not the nineteenth, and had nothing to do with slavery.

    Slaves in Britain were emancipated by the Somerset and Wedderburn cases in the late 18th century. The slave trade was legally abolished in 1806, and declared to be piracy in 1827; slavery in British dominions and colonies was abolished in 1833. None of these events provoked anything close to “civil war”.

    I’d speculate that, while the Southern states might have been upset at abolition, they would no more have revolted than the Jamaica planters did if they knew that they would have to fight the Empire. People tend not to fight wars unless they think they can win them. Against the North, the South thought (especially with foreign recognition) that they had a chance. Against the North, Canada, India, South Africa, and the mother country? Not a hope. Look what happened in the Mutiny, for heaven’s sake.

  28. Because Kentucky long rifles and marksmanship didn’t win the Revolutionary War;

    Who said they did?

  29. limeylubber: The British never said they would free all American slaves if they won the war; in certain areas (such as Virginia) they promised (and did keep the promise) to free slaves who fled to their lines and fought for them. Theoretically, I suppose, every rebel-owned slave in those areas could have done this, but since the British would never have freed the slaves of Loyalist owners (a fairly large group in South Carolina and Georgia), had no objection at the time to importing new slaves (they didn’t abolish the slave trade until 1807 and had vetoed American attempts to do so before the war; the U.S. federal government also did not abolish the trade until 1808, but most states did so before then) and didn’t abolish slavery in their other possessions until 1833, it would hardly have been the end of slavery in British North America. Also, don’t the forget that the northern states abolished slavery in the immediate post-Revolutionary decades, which they might not have been able to do under pre-1833 British rule.
    ajay: On the other hand, the Americans of 1775-1783 took on the Empire and won!
    Phileleutherus: Point taken, but things still probably would have worked out somewhat differently, and a small change could have potentially large long-term reprecussions.
    Akira: Oddly, just the idea Yglesias was mocking the fact that Britain still has a monarchy. I guess he wants to be part of a worldwide Anglophione republic.

  30. I meant to write “just the other day,” not “just the idea.”

  31. Larry A:

    It is worth noting that the BEF that went to France in 1914 was a sound professional army. The British Tommy litterally “shot for his pay” as those that could fire (IIRC) most rapidly and acurately received higher pay. “Old Sweat” is quite right about the German reaction to the fast and highly accurate fire from the Tommies at Mons. They assumed they were under heavy machinegun fire from the huge casualties inflicted upon them.

    It is also true that the American military had an emphasis on individual marksmanship that you would not find in the French and German militaries. But I must dissagree that this was a deciding factor. The great preponderance of casualties inb the Great War were caused by artillery, not rifle fire.

    Phil-Lis: Is also a bit off in that American innovation or industry played no significant role. It is true that as we went to War we had little in the way of combat aircraft, so French and British machines were aquired. However, the American “Liberty” aircraft engine WAS considered to be a major contribution to the war effort.

    Also, American industrial mass production played as significant a role as it would a generation later in WWII.. American Merchant Marine ships brought huge quantities of ammunition to Britain and France. Not a few of the cartridges in the Vickers and Lewis guns of the BEF sported Remington and Federal headstamps. Much of these war supplies were carried to and fro along the battle edge in Ford trucks.

    Old Sweat said:

    If the standard of marksmanship of ex-colonials was so high, how come your lot lost 28,000 dead in the Meuse-Argonne alone? Against a beaten and demoralized enemy, that’s hardly impressive.

    Hardly beaten and demoralized. We lost so many in that engagement because we didn’t learn from the past experiences of the French and BEF. We learned the same lessons your boys did on the Somme.. There is little to be gained by attacking machineguns with the chests of men.

    Also, “ex-colonials” is both inaccurate and insulting. The Revolution was 141 years prior, and not every American has English ancestry.

  32. Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,

    Kentucky Long Rifles and Indian tactics may not have won the war outright, but they certainly were a contributing factor. The nice white cross in the middle of a Redcoat’s chest made a hell of a bull?s eye. If we had simply matched traditional tactics and armaments with the British we’d be living in Yglesias’s Anglo/American wonderland today. Our ability to fight ungentlemanly helped tip the balance in more than one battle.

    Also, I don’t think anyone is arguing that the English, French, Canadians, Germans etc. didn’t have their share of deadly marksmen and snipers. Larry A’s point, I believe, is the concept that every infantryman should be a proficient marksman didn’t come into it’s own until Pershing. It may not have been the only deciding factor in WWI, but it clearly made enough of an impact that forces across the globe adopted the doctrine.

  33. At Mons the Hun thought we had machineguns.

    Largely due to the faster action and ten-round magazine of the Lee-Enfield rifle. The US Army had the advantage of a similar action in the Enfield rifle, which was made under contract by Remington, Winchester and others, which actually saw greater use in WWI than the Springfield, which the Army could not produce fast enough in its own arsenals.

    Because Kentucky long rifles and marksmanship didn’t win the Revolutionary War; “traditional” armaments and tactics did.

    Indeed, while American forces made more use of the rifle in running skirmishes, these were harassment and holding actions at best. In the age of black powder (ie until the late 19th century) once the first volleys of musketry had been fired the battlefield was a hazy mess and precision fire became impossible.

    The sort of great marksmanship found in the Canadian forces in WWI.

    The Australians and New Zealanders also had large numbers of good marksman. It came with the rural lifestyle at the time. The Australians so valued precision rifle fire over mass fire that when they replaced the SMLE with the FN rifle in the 1960s they ordered a semi-auto version without selective fire.

    Also in both WWI and WWII Britain still got a lot of recruits from the country who were still accustomed to handling firearms even before their enlistments (Mind you, this familiarity can, to some extent, cause problems for trainers who have to break all the bad habits the recruits have developed, whereas with a raw “city boy” the trainer has a blank slate to work on).

  34. I guess he wants to be part of a worldwide Anglophione republic.

    I met an official with the Australian agency that handles their version of social security, and we talked about a small movement within Australia to create one big Anglo-nation, with Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. joining up. I think the primary motivation for the Australians was security against the Asian hordes, but I could be wrong. It was an interesting discussion, anyway, even if none of those countries is likely to give up its sovereignty at this juncture.

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