Roads Not Travelled

dc_Capitol-BuildingToday I arrive at the 23rd Amendment, a piece of legislation wholly designed to give Washington, DC a say in the Electoral College similar to the 50 states.  Previously excluded from the process of presidential election, this amendment sought to correct the situation.

Fairly straightforward.  What it does bring to mind, though, is the fact that the United States has numbered itself at fifty stars for about 55 years now, which I’m pretty sure is the longest it has gone without adding any new states to the Union.  The days of expansion and Manifest Destiny are over.  People sometimes throw around the possibility of DC becoming a state at some point.  Puerto Rico is in the mix.  Guam too, I suppose.  One day this may happen.  Then again, maybe not.  Anything is possible.  It’s interesting to consider…and not only for the requisite changes in the flag.  I sometimes think about what America was, is, might be in the future… or could have been like if things had been different.800px-us_51-star_alternate_flagsvg

There have been a number of points in history where the possibility of additional US expansion has been possible or at least desired.  These have not always been positive developments.  Many–most, if not all–have been tinged by imperialism and/or war.  For that matter, a significant portion of the territory the United States now possesses and governs was not exactly procured by the most….peaceful of procedures.  Just ask the British.  The Mexicans.  The Native Americans.

8937264765_5bafd41cd1_cThis is all history, of course.  Engaging, enlightening, informative, and often tragic all at the same time.  In light of this, it is interesting to consider some of the ways it might have gone.  What if the United States were larger, having added all or most of Mexico to its territory after the Mexican War?  What if the Philipines were the 51st state?  What if the Louisiana Purchase never happened?  What if the divisions of the Civil War were permanent?  All of these “what-ifs” of history are part of a genre called “alternate history.

At once factual and science-fictiony, stories or projections in this genre can be powerful to consider.  Sometimes they can be quite plausible (What if World War The_Man_in_the_High_CastleII started a few years early?) and at other times they can be nonsensical (What if John F. Kennedy starred in the 1960s television show “Star Trek?”).  When done well, they can help us to think outside the box a little, remind us of the contingencies of history, and give us insight into our own present.  And then sometimes, they can just be strangely goofy explorations.

If you’re interested in learning more from a more academic point of view, take a look at What If?  For a classic in the genre, try Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  For a more popular approach, check out the (often scandalous and R-rated) Harry Turtledove.  Lastly, www.alternatehistory.com is a good place for some quick reads and continuing discussion.  It is also one of my favorite sites to kill some time. 

And to think, all of this from the 23rd Amendment.

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