10 Ideas for Alternate History Scenarios

The following are ten ideas for alternate history scenarios. These are all fairly simple and open-ended ideas, and they are missing the specific details that make alternate history settings so fascinating and so clever, but you can’t expect me to do all the work for you now can you? Basically, these are just designed to get your imagination working. Feel free to discuss any of the potential historical details and implications in the comments section below.

1. The Nazis Developed the A-Bomb

The Nazi’s are known to have been developing nuclear technology along with other advanced weapon systems. Fortunately for the world, America got there first, Hitler’s nuclear program being delayed by German military losses and the growing focus of German scientists on aircraft development and the development of the V-2 rocket. But what would have happened if the Nazis had won the nuclear race? Might this have turned the tide of war in favor of the Nazis even at a late hour?

Nazis bomb New YorkIf Hitler had his own way, he would have used his nuclear arsenal against the city of New York. Developing a long-range offensive capability to hit New York was something of an obsession of his, but the Nazis were never able to build a bomber capable of effectively striking at such a distant target. Instead, it is perhaps more likely that Hitler would have turned his nuclear arsenal against London or Moscow. It’s fair to say that the destruction of London would have affected both Britain’s ability and will to wage war, and this would have been bad news for their American allies too. In such an eventuality, it is likely that the Allies would have sought some form of peaceful compromise with Hitler, redrawing the map of Europe.

Another way in which Hitler might have used his nuclear arsenal is in a “scorched earth” campaign against his own country, or at least those captured countries from which he was forced to retreat. Striking Paris might have seemed tactically sound following the D-day landings, for example, but he is far more likely to have focused this firepower against the invading Russian army, perhaps denying them certain cities by wiping them from the face of the Earth. Hitler’s eventual suicide might have even become a huge nuclear funeral pyre, taking Berlin with him. Of course, that is assuming that a few nukes (combined with V-2 rockets!) wouldn’t actually allow him to win the war.

2. Killing Hitler

When presented with the opportunity to change history, the first thought that springs into most people’s heads is “let’s kill Hitler when he was a baby”. Had the Hitler problem been taken care of much earlier, it seems fairly obvious to think that a lot of suffering might have been averted, but that’s the thing about altering the timeline – you can never be sure there won’t be unforeseeable consequences.

Britain America War alternate history scenarioFor example, through the declassification of military documents, it has been revealed that in the period leading up to World War II America considered Britain to be the greatest threat to its continued existence. American leaders feared that Britain might attempt to retake its former American colonies, and they were making preparations just in case. It seems unlikely that Britain would have made such a bold and aggressive move, but the US army began constructing secret bases along the Canadian border just in case. It has even been suggested that the US might have considered a preemptive strike, swiftly securing Canada (and preparing for a protracted naval war) before Britain could make its move. Without the threat of Hitler and Nazi Germany, is it possible that a clash between these two super-powers might have plunged the world into an entirely different Second World War?

Another consideration for this alternate history scenario is that killing Baby Adolf might alter the spread of Communism. Without the threat of the Nazis to contend with, Soviet Russia might not have developed into such a formidable military force. Alternatively, Communism might have become an unstoppable force without the ferocious opposition of National Socialism to counter it. Remember that the decision to invade Russia was Hitler’s alone, and many of his contemporaries strongly advised against.

3. The War of 1812 Got Interesting

War of 1812The War of 1812, fought between the British Empire and the USA, never really had the chance to become as interesting as it might have done. From the British perspective, it was little more than a B-story to the larger Napoleonic Wars being fought in Europe. While some Americans might still be sore about British forces setting fire top the White House, or feel a lump in their throat when they imagine “bombs bursting in air” over Fort McHenry, many Brits aren’t even aware that this footnote of a war even took place. However, had different decisions been made, Britain might have continued and expanded its North American campaign following the defeat of Napoleon, and perhaps retaken its former American colonies as a result.

The decision to end this war in America was made through sheer exhaustion after fighting one of the largest wars Europe has ever seen. The British government had planned to send their most celebrated and effective generals, the Duke of Wellington, to take charge of the American front as soon as the French had been dealt with, but Wellington was tired of war and it turned out that the rest of the country was too. Of course, if the famous and heroic Wellington had said “sure, I’ve got nothing better to do”, the full force of the British Empire’s military would have been placed at his disposal. Could America have withstood a full-on war with their former colonial masters? It would certainly be interesting to find out, and if you’re looking for a single decision that would have altered the course of American history, this could be it.

4. Fractured America

I’ve always thought it’s kinda strange that such a large landmass as the United States of America managed to unite under one government so quickly and so easily, and with only one major war threatening to disturb its unity, especially considering that the original East Coast colonies were settled by no less than five separate and culturally distinct nations. Obviously, peace and unity are good things, and there’s no denying that, but wouldn’t the history of North America have been so much more interesting if the United States and Canada had been less united and more fractured.

Alternate history North AmericaFor the sake of story-telling interest, I’d like to see a North America in which the French had retained a portion of their territory (perhaps establishing the Principality of Acadia or the Louisiana Republic), in which the Spanish held on to Florida (before a series of inevitable revolts), in which New England remained a British colony (eventually becoming an autonomous dominion or principality). I’d like to see the Chinese and Japanese create colonies on the West Coast, and the Danish claim Canada’s northwestern islands. I’d like to see the important trading hubs of Manhattan and Roanoke, coveted by the various regional powers, establish itself as independent city-states and switch allegiance depending on who can best protect their trading fleets. I’d like to see some Native American groups adapt and flourish in this new timeline, eventually competing on an equal footing with the new powers. I’d like to see competing ideologies and cultures draw new boundaries on the map, and I’d like to see isolated communities developing into micro-nations (like the Republic of Indian Stream). Now wouldn’t all that be interesting if successfully combined?

5. Mars is Habitable

Imagine a universe in which everything is the same, except that Mars is habitable. It orbits slightly closer to the sun and thus is warmer, it’s atmosphere is breathable, and there is simple plant and animal life on its surface. OK, so it would probably still be cold compared with the Earth, but its equatorial regions are temperate, fertile, and actually rather nice. We’re not talking about terraforming here, just imagine it’s just the way things are.

habitable MarsWhat would the impact of this on human history be, and how would this affect the future? Did the space race play out differently and on a larger and more protracted scale? Perhaps the Nazis set their sights on this new world. They might focus on the development of space-flight and colonization rather than choosing to invade Russia. This might lead them to win the war in Western Europe, win the space race, and become the first interplanetary colonial super-power. Of course, some people thought there might have been life on Mars back then anyway, but there was no way of proving it, so perhaps the changes might not occur until later – during the Cold War era, for example.

Of course, all this might be different if Mars really were home to a civilization at least as advanced as our own.

6. The Soviet Union Won the Space Race

The space race was a close-run thing. In fact, you might even say that it was a draw. The soviets were the first to put a satellite into orbit and the first to put a man into space. What if they’d continued with this success? What if the Soviet Union did not fall apart, and instead went on to colonize Mars? Might the Martian colonies become the new battlefront in an increasingly warm Cold War?

7. Hitler Really Was Contacted By Aliens

Hitler meets an alienThere are a lot of conspiracy theories about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis making contact with an advanced alien species and being given information on how to build a UFO. It’s all a it silly really, but what if Hitler really had been in contact with aliens and signed an interplanetary alliance? What if the outcome of World War II had been determined by new, advanced, alien weaponry? Perhaps more interestingly, what if Hitler’s alien allies decided to turn against him (or more likely he turned against them), would the Nazis be Earth’s best defense against an invading alien armada?

8. Nikola Tesla Was Contacted by Aliens

Why is Hitler always cited as the person that aliens would like to talk to? There have been many other equally fascinating, equally influential, and equally bonkers people in history. Nikola Tesla, for example, who was probably the greatest geek whoever lived.

In 1901, Tesla claimed to have received radio signals from outer space (he believed them to be from Mars, specifically). While he turned out to be a little overenthusiastic in announcing his beliefs, and possibly a little nuts, wouldn’t it have been great if he were right? I think the story of Nikola Tesla being the first person to speak to extraterrestrials would be incredibly compelling, and how this might have effected history would be fascinating.

To put alternate history aside for a moment, I think the story would be all the more compelling if nobody were to believe Tesla, at least initially, turning this into a story about madness and obsession. Whether he really is speaking to aliens could be left open to interpretation, or perhaps the question could be brought to a point at the end of the story.

9. The Romans Discovered the Americas

The Romans weren’t known for their maritime exploits; they preferred to stick to the calm waters of the Mediterranean whenever possible, and they relied heavily on their Greek, Egyptian and Phoenician subjects for their naval expertise. But with the Phoenicians  exploring the West African coast as far as the Gulf of Guinea as early as 500 BC, colonizing the Atlantic coast of Morocco  visiting the Azores, and (according to Herodotus) even circumnavigating Africa, it’s not such a stretch to imagine them stumbling upon the unknown continent before the Romans were still in diapers, and later passing on the knowledge of a secret land to the West to their new Roman rulers.

If the Romans were to discover the Americas, it’s very difficult to imagine any attempt at colonization being a particular success, with voyages to and from the Americas being extremely difficult to achieve with primitive maritime technology, and with there being no obvious incentive for them to try. But before I put you off this idea entirely, consider this; wouldn’t it be interesting to place a bunch of Romans on a Caribbean island, or on the American mainland, armed with Roman ingenuity, technology, and discipline, and see what happens?

Would they build a colony, conquer local indigenous people, even build a new American Roman Empire? Would they succeed in reestablishing contact with Rome and set up trade routes? What would the impact on history be? Might the American Roman Empire out-last the Roman Empire in Europe?

10. The Vikings Colonized North America

Viking Ships CanadaThe Viking settlement of Vinland (Newfoundland) is successful, and they go on to colonize a large area of Canada, subjugating the native population. They build a great city on an island they call Thule, which trades furs and other goods with Scandinavia and Europe.

This would make a great setting in itself, but the possible ramifications for the future of world politics is immense. Perhaps the Vikings of Thule build a large empire in North America, spreading their cultural influence and technology among the various Native American nations, conquering and winning allies. While medieval European politics probably would not be greatly effected by these distant events, the British and French colonization of North America certainly would be. Does ‘Thule’ remain under Scandinavian control, or does it become independent? How far across the continent does its influence spread? More importantly, what effect does this have on world politics and culture?

Viking Vinland exploration

This article was written by Mark Ball.

Image sources:

Alternate history of North America map – http://www.alternatehistory.com

Viking longboat – CityPaper

Nazi bombing of New York – Gino Marcomini

  • Jay042

    Following the War of 1812, it was First Lady Dolly Madison who spearheaded the reconstruction of Washington. Many in Congress considered just abandoning the city all together and moving the capitol back to Philadelphia. If it wasn’t for her commitment to saving the city, it’s likely that might have happened.

    So, you have another historical turning point right there. If Dolly hadn’t convinced Congress to save the city, or if she had been killed in trying to escape (She and a number of servants were late getting out of Washington because she was trying to save several valuables from the White House, including the famous unfinished portrait of George Washington.) It might be that today Philly would be the center of American politics.

    • Interesting, Jay. Do you think this would have had wider implications?

  • Interesting list, though a noticeable majority consists of World War 2 scenarios and about only 4 dealing with deep history for lack of a better term. Of course, dealing with alternate history closer to our own contemporary times (and especially a moment well documented) would be easier to extrapolate the consequences of such actions, though personally I find that the overuse of “Nazi this” and “Hitler that” have almost marginalize the other Axis Powers: Italy and Japan. In regards to the latter, I had teased on the idea now and then of a divided Japan not unlike Korea but with an Imperial “Enclave” right smack in between them. But that’s a story for another time.

    As for Scenario 4, historically North America was fractured, but a successive series of wars (with arguably the biggest turning point would be the Seven Years War or the French and Indian War as it is more popularly known over here in the States) made it less fractured and arguably allowed the American Revolution to occur.

    And before I forget, on Scenario 10 there was a plot point I’ve heard about on a History Channel documentary called “Holy Grail in America” which postulated that there might have been an earlier European expedition deep in the very heart of the continent to which Templars went to North America following old Norse routes to make land claims. One could postulate if there was anything developed from this little twist to lost history, possibly even culminate in the medical styled “Templar States of America (Or Thule if you really wanna go technical)” with the capital being “New Jerusalem” being where Chicago would be in our world for starters. The consequences and possibility of such an idea are effectively boundless if one puts their mind to it.

    • Yeh, a lot of cliched Nazi stuff on here. I wrote most of this a while ago, and I’ll admit I wasn’t completely happy with it, but I thought it worth sharing none the less.
      I’ve always been a fan of the pre-columbian contact thing. In researching #9, I read that the Phoenecians visited the Azores. That’s almost half way there!

  • Well there were a great many people and civilizations that have reached the shores of the Americas before Columbus and I don’t mean the Vikings. From what I recall from that History Channel documentary “Who Discovered America”, nearly every civilization have had circumstantial and hard evidence of having visited such as the Chinese and a lost Israel tribe to which a group of Cherokee claim that they were descended from for starters.

    Though I’m surprised that you didn’t add into that list two other more popular alternate history points in the english language: The American Revolution and the American Civil War.

  • KoKoKo

    @ Scenario #1, the NAZIs were working a ‘NYC’ project that had the endurance to bomb the East Coast. It was the “Amerika Bomber” project. It was canceled by mid-1944.

  • Bryan Neeley

    ive heard of the lets kill hitler game. it turn out that in real life there were 47 attemtps to killll him and they all misssed. and the movie Valkyrie pointed out it’s not enough to just kil hitler you also have to take out hitlers command staff too or you wind up with someone worse then hitler coming to power.and a little while ago i saw what an america divided would be like england would take the new england states canada would take the mid west,mexico would take texas. china would take california. japan would take hawiie russia would take alaska. utah idaho newmexico colorado and arizona would form a mormon theocracy state i lov e that idea.

  • Daryl H

    I like the fractured America and habitable Mars ones.

    Though I’m sure Deseret would be much larger than that. AN independent country of Deseret was actually proposed and it went from Idaho into Utah and Nevada down into Arizona and California.

  • Daryl H

    Another good scenario is one where Caesar is never assassinated, the Roman Republic never fractures and the Roman Empire never falls, the Classical Era thereby never collapsing into the Dark Ages and we end up landing on the Moon in 1200 planting an SPQR Roman Banner on the surface…

    • Grimm1314

      i think it take a little longer then that though my guess would be close to yours, maybe 1400 or 1500

  • Damian

    “For example, through the declassification of military documents, it has been revealed that in the period leading up to World War II America considered Britain to be the greatest threat to its continued existence. American leaders feared that Britain might attempt to retake its former American colonies, and they were making preparations just in case. It seems unlikely that Britain would have made such a bold and aggressive move, but the US army began constructing secret bases along the Canadian border just in case. It has even been suggested that the US might have considered a preemptive strike, swiftly securing Canada (and preparing for a protracted naval war) before Britain could make its move.”

    Where did you get this??

  • I’ve been thinking about an failed American Revolution following a failed French and Indian war, where the Cherokee and Iroquois made a treaty and kept the Western Appalachian lands with only a few European settlers and some French trappers around.

    If I added in a few successful slave revolts in Charleston and let the Spanish keep Florida, it would make for a very different sort of New World. And while I’m at it, I think I’ll let Princess Charlotte, daughter of the British Regent live, and Victoria might be implicated in plots to do away with her.

    Just been reading some European history of late.

  • Of course, somoene would have to take Napoleon out or find a way to defuse the French Revolution, which might not have been so successful without the American one. Just a thought.

  • Grimm1314

    The viking idea leaves a lot open for ideas to make a whole entire new country.

  • Michael Spurling

    What if in 1965 if Rhodesia was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II and Ian Smith had Robert Mugabe executed. What would Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi be like under Smith. Would Rhodesia be better off under Smith or under Mugabe.

  • Blake T 1

    Another good scenario is what if Pan-Africanism succeeded and the countries of Africa united under a single government? The continent of Africa produces a large amount of precious metals and is the second most-populated continent after Asia. Perhaps Africa would be a superpower alongside the US (though there is talk in real-life that certain nations interfered in the governance of countries of Africa to try and prevent this).