The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Alternate histories

Ryan Sydlik | Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A fascinating type of entertainment is alternate history.

It is written to address current policies, like New York Magazine’s counterhistory of a world without 9/11. It exists for dark humor such as in Kevin Wilmot’s mockumentary “C.S.A., Confederate States of America.” At other times a possible future, such as in Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising,” becomes alternate history when global realities change. And still at other times, it exists for mere curiosity, such as in the famous “What If” series.

However, one aspect that is commonplace in all alternate histories is a point of divergence, as this is what links alternate history to real history. The point of divergence is when the author changes, adds or eliminates a single event from real history. From this point on is when the author’s imagination takes over and the alternate history begins.

The classic alternate history case is in World War II.

The real history: German bombers go off course and mistakenly hit women and children instead of factories. In response England bombs German cities. Hitler is outraged and German bombers go after civilians instead of strategic targets. England’s war machine is left intact and wins the Battle of Britain. A frustrated Hitler invades Russia instead and the Allies end up winning the war.

The fake history: The bombers stay on course. Germany continues bombing industrial and military targets, crippling the English war effort. England surrenders. Germany, satisfied with its victory, sits back building jets, nuclear bombs, and other wonder weapons. Hitler invades Russia and annihilates America. Those of us left end up speaking German.

Sometimes, real history can even repeat itself but diverge in a similar way. On two occasions, a President named Bush faced the prospect of war with Iraq. One proceeded cautiously consulting with his generals and the other did not. One had a three day ground war and was surprised to find Saddam Hussein had a nuclear program. The other had a three year ground war and was surprised to find that Hussein did not have a nuclear program.

This brings us to the topic at hand. There were two ND coaches facing MSU who had had 9-4 records two games into their second season. One lost and ended up walking into mediocrity. The other won one an intensely close game. Where the second’s career will go is not set, but history tells us that we have a good reason to hope for a better future.