History
5:40 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

A Farewell To Carrot Cake (And Other Things Lost Without World War I)

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 3:18 pm

This is the conclusion to an All Things Considered series that imagines a counterfactual history of World War I.

This year marks the centennial of the outbreak of World War I. What started as a beef between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia unleashed a clash that brought in Russia, Italy, France, Germany, England and eventually the United States.

All Things Considered has been underlining the war's historical importance by imagining the world if it had never happened: How would politics, science, literature and music have been different without that conflict?

We asked listeners to carry this idea of a counterfactual history and received more than 1,500 thoughtful — and often hilarious — stories.

We've included a small selection below; some have been edited for length.

World Leaders

Josef Stalin would never have been more than a hairy, disaffected Georgian coffee shop habitue. He might have owned a shop in Tbilisi, and helped to care for his aging parents. He would have married a village girl and possibly become a drunken lout. At best, he would have become a town alderman.
— Marcy Troy

Without a revolutionary cause, Fidel Castro focuses on improving his fastball and becomes a journeyman pitcher for the Chicago White Sox of the American League, helping pave the way for more Cubans to play in the United States.
— Rich

There is no Harding "return to normalcy," and Gov. James M. Cox of Ohio is elected president in 1920 and Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected vice president. As vice president, Franklin Roosevelt does not vacation in Campobello and does not contract polio, or, if he does, he receives treatment and does not become paralyzed. Cox is remembered as a better-than-average president, and Franklin D. Roosevelt is forgotten as someone who was vice president in the 1920s.
— James Norquist

Benito Mussolini eschews teaching and politics, choosing instead to open up a small coffee/pastry shop in Switzerland called "Bene, Bene!" He goes on to write several dessert cookbooks, which become very popular in Spain and Italy. While on a book signing tour he is given the nickname "Il dolce" by his fans.
— Charles Foerster

Woodrow Wilson's nativism policies destroying all hyphenated Americans' culture never happens. He loses midterm elections and falls into obscurity. German-Americans continue to help create and build 20th century America, resulting in a dual language nation with strong ties to more European homelands other than England.
— Roland Kerner

People

Gavrilo Princip gets hooked on sandwiches, loses 50 pounds and lands a lucrative endorsement deal advertising Subway sandwiches. Gavrilo becomes immortalized as a weight-loss icon, forever relegating Jared to the dustbin of history.
— Robert Tobey

Albert Einstein stays in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1914 instead of moving to Berlin without Maric and his sons. Zurich becomes a world center for physics. Einstein spends the rest of his life there — never marrying Elsa and never teaching at Princeton. With no World War II, atomic and nuclear warfare do not occur until after his death in 1955.
— Jon Werner

Eugene V. Debs is never arrested for making a speech in Canton, Ohio, urging resistance to the military draft of World War I. He is a founding member of many unions in the United States and runs for office under Democratic tickets. Finally, he is brought on board FDR's administration as secretary of labor to ease tensions with unions and business leaders.
— Derek Wilmott

Roy Disney served in the Navy, and his younger brother Walt Disney, too young to join the military, found a ticket to the action as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. So I am going to go out on a limb here: No World War I, no Mickey Mouse!
— Dan Lovelady

Without World War I, T.E. Lawrence would have continued his career in archaeology in the Middle East without pause. Without British encouragement to weaken the Ottoman Empire as part of WWI, the Arab revolts would have withered on the vine as the Ottoman Empire would have no external conflicts to keep them from dealing with their internal ones. Lawrence would not have become Lawrence of Arabia but instead Lawrence of Oxford, a traveling professor with extensive ties to the Ottoman Interior Ministry.
— David Thompson

No World War I means no influenza pandemic in 1919. Among the millions who do not die is American intellectual Randolph Bourne, advocate of rights for the handicapped (a term he coined) and opponent of U.S. military intervention, which he condemned in his work "War is the Health of the State."
— David Hostetter

Baron von Richthofen would not have become a flying ace and folk legend, leaving Charles M. Schultz at a loss for what to do with his Snoopy cartoon character. We would have been spared bad novelty songs by the Royal Guardsmen and at least one frozen pizza company.
— Keith Osterberg

World Power

Canada would have maintained stronger ties to the political and economic powerhouse of the time, England, rather than gravitate toward the U.S. sphere of influence. As a result, Canada (with the support of England and its European allies) would control the Arctic and dominate North America.
— Pieter O'Leary

Without World War I and hence, II, Britain would still have a strong military presence in India and have continued its colonial rule in the subcontinent for more years. There would not have been a partition of India in 1947, and Mahatma Gandhi would have lived longer.
— Kalyani Chaganti

I imagine that if the Bolshevik revolution had failed, then Communism might have failed to find a major foothold in Europe or elsewhere; without Cold War sentiment or McCarthyism, there may have not been a conflict in Vietnam, which was focused upon stopping the spread of Communism in that region.
— Rob Ross

As the 20th century progresses, the colonial territories of Asia and Africa enjoy a steady improvement in standard of living, but over time simmering nationalist movements turn into terrorist cells. The United States, after briefly flirting with Imperial possessions gained in the Spanish-American war, becomes a supporter of many of these nationalist movements and by the end of the century is widely vilified in the world community for its steadfast opposition of colonialism and for tacitly supporting anti-imperial movements all around the world.
— A. I. Michalus

The Ottoman Empire would not have fallen. At least, not the way it did. The nation of Turkey would not have had Kemel Attaturk to pull it into the 20th century. Maybe no Armenian genocide, either.
— Phillip Gathright

China would probably not be a world power. The first world war greatly weakened Western powers such as France, Great Britain and the United States, all of which were engaged in China at the time. Had their power remained considerable, the Beiyang Government, the entity that controlled China between 1912 and 1928, may not have fallen to Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang forces.
— Desmond Molloy

Equality Movements

The civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s would have been delayed by decades. Black soldiers would not have been able to showcase their bravery, or experience a more tolerant Europe. The soldiers would not have become frustrated at the ironic indignity of fighting for freedom abroad while serving in a segregated military and returning home to Jim Crow. That frustration help lay the groundwork for the movement.
— Darlene Millender

Without WWI, USA doesn't ramp up its production capacity, which brings women into the workplace and sets into motion the sweeping changes in career and employment opportunities for women. Contraception is not promoted as a liberating option for women, and birthrates of American women continue to rise.
— Lauren

Food & Drink

This is a very minor thing, but potato bread and carrot cake would not be common if WWI did not happen, because they were popularized as K-bread, or Kriegsbrot — war bread, a type of ersatz material. Germany had to use ersatz (or substitute) materials since they were a food-importing country and the British blockade cut off a majority of the food supply.
— Katherine Lynch

Without World War I, the Progressives continue their push for nationwide prohibition but fail because there is no anti-German (beer-makers) craze or war effort shortages of grain that is used in the production of alcohol. The final vote in Congress on the proposed 18th Amendment is barely defeated. As a result, there is no reason for Al Capone to move to Chicago to start his bootlegging and prostitution rings. Capone remains in New York where he is appointed as a judge and eventually is elected to the U.S. Senate.
— Kathleen Jackson

Without the two world wars, we may not eat turkey for Thanksgiving. Turkey is an Army tradition for Thanksgiving, and the popularity of turkey really didn't start until soldiers, who had acquired a taste for turkey during the war years, came home and requested turkey during the postwar Thanksgiving.
— Steve Pilger

If the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) wasn't sparked, Forrest E. Mars Sr. may not have begun making hard-shelled chocolates called M&Ms. The main success of this product was the chocolate's resiliency in the Pacific Theater's warmer climate, making them a staple for C-rations.
— Joseph Barber

Transportation

The development of the airplane was greatly accelerated and influenced by the aviation needs of the war. By the end of the war, aircraft were being designed with enclosed cockpits and metal fuselages.
— Karen Kubal

In the U.S. it would be unlikely that the interstate highway system would have developed as it did. Instead of the U.S. system being modeled after the Autobahn, and built in a furor over 20 to 30 years with standardized construction, likely our highway system would have evolved piecemeal with little cohesion, and connectivity would likely have remained robust only on a regional level.
— Chris Chaney

Without WWI, German zeppelin production was not halted in 1918 and planes were not advanced as quickly for use in warfare. There was open trading between Germany and North America, allowing the German-based Zeppelin company to procure sufficient helium supplies. Consequently the Hindenburg disaster never occurred, and zeppelins became the travel method of choice well into the 20th and 21st centuries.
— Kenny Byers

There would have been no need to nationalize the railroads during WWI under the United States Railway Administration. There would have been no standardized locomotive designs, and we would be without some truly beautiful steam locomotives.
— Keith Hayes

Sports

World War I was a watershed in golf. When it was over, for the first time, the best British golfers were no longer the best golfers in the world. Surely, many potential British golfing stars were lost, outright, in the war or injured in ways that ended their competitive careers. Where golf before the war was dominated by the British, Americans took over the heights of the British game.
— Curt Fredrixon

Without WWI (and hence WWII), the ski industry in the U.S. never takes off. With no 10th Mountain Division veterans coming home after WWII, major ski resorts across the U.S. would never have existed.
— Steve Ascher

Science & Technology

Our understanding of weather and climate would not be nearly as robust without satellites looking back at our planet and less powerful supercomputers to model the complex interactions. Climate change would probably still happen, but our ability to understand and model its effects would likely be diminished.
-- Bryan Dagerman

Health care delivery would likely follow a different path: Employer-based health insurance came about, in part, due to wage limits in the 1940s during WWII. To recruit workers without increasing pay, companies began adding health insurance packages.
— Alex

There would be delayed introduction of home radio, absence of the crucible that gave birth to modern electronic news reporting and an America different from ours in untold ways — one where the socio-political imperative that gave us National Public Radio may not have existed.
— Chuck Howell

There would not be the necessity of developing a military need to communicate within computers (Internet), hence the World Wide Web would had been delayed probably 20 more years and you would be receiving this piece of information in the form of a written piece of paper.
— José Rivadeneyra

When soldiers who had been exposed to mustard gas during WWI came home, doctors noticed nitrogen mustard had adverse effects on bone marrow and white blood cells. At the time, hematologists were looking for ways to combat blood cancers, and the idea of using small doses of nitrogen mustard to treat leukemia was one of the first forms of chemotherapy, and it was surprisingly successful.
— Andrew Fiedler

The science of geophysics would never have come to be. During the fighting on the Western Front, scientists attempted to triangulate the location of enemy artillery fire by placing sound microphones on the ground and using time and distance calculations to determine their position when they shook the earth firing shells.
— Daniel Bille

Without World War I, farmers did not overinvest in infrastructure to feed the warring continent. Instead, their growth remained slow and steady with attention to the health and well-being of the soil. They did not suffer catastrophic debt in the 1920s but continued to refine techniques, save seeds, breed culturally appropriate animals and transition farms from generation to generation. The petrochemical industry grew at a similarly modest rate and thereby did not need to rapidly transition production and marketing from the military industrial complex to domestic agriculture. Synthetic fertilizers would eventually become one tool in the farmer's toolbox rather than the predominant method of crop production.
— Laura Edwards-Orr

Art

Hitler's rise to power included a stigmatization of most modern visual art by labeling it "degenerate." How would European modern art be viewed if this hadn't happened? Certainly more artists may have remained in Europe. Would the modern art movement of Expressionism become German Expressionism? Would Dada have been born? The migration of European artists to the U.S. influenced our first homegrown modern art movement: Abstract Expressionism, which led to New York becoming the center of the art world.
— Robert Tavani

As a visual artist, I realize how much less zany Western art would have been. Sure Picasso and others got Cubism started before the war, but it could have remained a minor movement like Futurism or Rayonism and other not-so-famous offshoots.
— Terry Ward

Without World War I, Marcel Duchamp never would have moved to New York City, exhibited his controversial work Fountain in 1917 (a urinal he signed R. Mutt) and changed art history. He might have stayed in France and been remembered as a Cubist painter and chess enthusiast.
— Vicky Pass

Architecture would be much more decorative. WWI spelled the end of the aesthetic movement in architecture, and spurned us into the modern age of sleek and simplified design due to a lack of artisans and money to pay for the cost of aesthetic design.
— Robert Thomas

Literature

Agatha Christie might not become a world-famous detective novelist and playwright. Christie worked in a hospital dispensary during the first world war. It was here that she began to plan her first detective novel, in response to her sister's earlier challenge to write a mystery that the reader could not unravel before the end of the book. The ample time the dispensary job gave her to ponder her sister's challenge and plan the story, along with the knowledge of drugs and poisons she had gained on the job, lent themselves to the writing of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the novel that launched her career as a mystery writer and introduced the world to Hercule Poirot.
— Michael J. Haas

We would not have the powerful verse of poets like Wilfred Owen, nor would we have the heartbreaking and wasteful loss. War defined so much of the macho literature of the 20th century from writers like Hemingway. No Great War would have left more room for women's literary voices to rise to the heights of Hemingway, because those voices would sound like so much macho posturing.
— Janet Williams

Without World War I, science fiction writers create radically different futuristic worlds. Dystopias based on the horrors of alien invasions, repressive regimes armed with obliterating or all-seeing technologies and post-apocalyptic survivors are absent. Instead, science fiction relays on themes like fear of death or disease and humanity's problematic relationship with progress. Less War of the Worlds and more World War Z.
— Luisa Flores

J.R.R. Tolkien does not fight in the trenches in France, and is not exposed to the horrors of war. Drawing on his linguistic studies at Oxford, he writes a stunning reimagination of the folktales of northern Europe, producing a new synthesis, drawing on diverse, obscure, and often startling tales of magic, heroism and suffering. The thread combining his narratives is an earthy, rootless man, somewhat short and given to epicurean delights, who journeys throughout Europe, writing down his experiences just for the pleasure of doing so.
— Steve Shea

Music

If no war for the U.S. to enter, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels might not have closed down Storeyville, the red-light district in New Orleans near the port. If that had not happened, jazz musicians might have stayed instead of traveling to Chicago; as a result, jazz would not have been disseminated throughout the country in the 1920s.
— Sandy Small

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein would not have lost his right arm to amputation, thus eliminating the left hand concerti of Ravel, Prokofiev and others. It's also highly unlikely that Stravinsky would have written "L'histoire du Soldat."
— Brian Hughes

Without World War I, a man by the name of James Reese Europe would never become the "Martin Luther King" of music. Europe was the bandleader for the 369th Infantry Regiment (the "Harlem Hellfighters") Regimental Band. His unique jazz-influenced arrangements introduced American jazz to both French citizens as well as American soldiers who would later return to the U.S., thus giving rise to the "Jazz Craze." This laid the foundations for musicians including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and many other early Jazz pioneers.
— Dean Wiseman

Culture

Without World War I and its inevitable successor, World War II, there would have been no GI Bill. My father was a veteran who came from a poor Italian immigrant family in Hartford. Thanks to the GI Bill he was able to attend college and buy a home. He was one of thousands who was lifted from the working class to the middle class and built the exceptional country America became in the last half of the 20th century
— Arlene LaPenta

World War I traumatized a generation worldwide. If it hadn't happened, there would have been no Spiritualist Movement, which grew out of this trauma, as thousands of people, in search of solace, desperately tried to contact their lost loved ones through seances conducted by mediums.
— Pat Sachs

I can imagine a world where Superman and any hero based in science fiction does not appear. Captain America, a hero based completely in World War II, does not exist since there would be no need for an American-based hero whose costume is very based on the American flag. The later heroes of the Marvel universe of the 1960s, which were based in science fiction or were Cold War heroes, might never have come to thought.
— Andrew DiNunzio

The United States would be much more polyglot than it is. Without World War I, the German language (and, by association, other immigrant languages, like Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and Greek) would never have been banned from schools in the American heartland.
— Michael Erard

Without the horror of the Holocaust, eugenics would continue to flourish. The United States, Britain and other countries had eugenics-influenced policies in place before World War II, and these policies didn't stop until we witnessed the resulting genocide.
— Jeff

Film & Television

Without WWI and no need for German Jewish refugees to escape to the U.S., many of the great studio leaders, directors, screenwriters and film composers would not have made the journey to Hollywood.
— Pamela Starr

Without World War I, the horror genre in films would never have been born. The horrific injuries of returning vets gave rise to films such as The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man -- creatures who were essentially sympathetic but whose disfigurement made them repulsive to society.
— Bill Shriver

Downton Abbey wouldn't have existed and I would have hours of my life back. Damn you Princip!
— Beth Simpson

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This week, we've been reminding you that one hundred years ago the First World War began. We've been underlining its historical importance by imagining the world if it never happened. How would politics, science, literature, music have been different without that conflict?

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We tossed this counterfactual conceit to you. And many of you came up with fascinating ideas. Heather McMahon, of Charlottesville, Virginia, suggests that had Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife not been assassinated in Sarajevo, in 1914 by a Serbian nationalist...

HEATHER MCMAHON: Then the archduke and archduchess would have returned to Vienna chastened by their near death experience; encouraged the emperor to enact more enlightened reforms to quell nationalist separatism in the Balkans. And eventually, when they assumed the throne, quietly converge the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a parliamentary-based union of equal states with a monarchical figurehead.

As a global leader, rather than an assemblage of off-forgotten Central European nations, the United Kingdom of Middle Europa would set cultural tastes.

BLOCK: Waltzing would be popular well into the 1990s and sachertorte would be commonly found on menus throughout the world.

SIEGEL: Mussolini eschews politics, choosing instead to open up a small coffee and pastry shop in Switzerland called Bene, Bene, predicts Charles Foerster, who continues: Benito goes on to write several dessert cookbooks which become very popular in Spain and Italy. And while on a book-signing tour he is given the nickname Il dolce by his fans.

BLOCK: Science comes in for a retro-reshaping without a great war in 1914. Many of you point out how much slower the advance of technology would have been, including this program's very existence. Chuck Howell of College Park, Maryland, says that radio technology improved exponentially during the Great War. He writes, the radio boom of the 1920s was fueled by a flood of returning service men newly trained in the art of wireless by the Army and Navy. Without the war, radio may not have moved to the nation's living rooms until years later.

SIEGEL: Absent World War I, says Fernie Reyes of Austin, Texas, airplanes wouldn't have developed so quickly. She suggests meanwhile zeppelins establish a monopoly in luxury transatlantic crossing. This is due to Germany remaining friendly to the U.S. and its ability to obtain large quantities of helium to use in their airships. Of course, it was the use of highly inflammable hydrogen that led to the demise of the Hindenburg.

BLOCK: No war in 1914, no Hobbits writes Steve Shea. Tolkien does not fight in the trenches in France and is not exposed to the horrors of war. Thus, Shea imagines, the tales of magic, heroism and suffering in "The Lord of the Rings" would never have been written.

SIEGEL: Another casualty of a no First World War from Dan Lovelady of Orlando, Florida.

DAN LOVELADY: I'm going to go out on a limb here, no World War I, no Mickey Mouse.

WALT DISNEY: (As Mickey Mouse) Want some candy?

SIEGEL: Walt Disney, too young to join the military, experienced action as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Walt came out of the war creating patriotic political cartoons for a local paper in Missouri leading to the creation of the animated rodent. Mr. Lovelady, in full disclosure, mentions that he works for the Walt Disney Company.

And then, there's this from...

KEITH OSTERBERG: Keith Osterberg from Herculaneum, Missouri. Baron von Richtofen would not have become a flying ace and folk legend, leaving Charles M. Schultz at a loss for what to do with his Snoopy character. We would have been spared bad novelty songs by the Royal Guardsmen and at least one frozen pizza company.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG, "SNOOPY VS. THE RED BARON")

THE ROYAL GUARDSMEN: (Singing) Up in the skies, it's a man in plane, Baron von Richtofen was his name. Eighty men tried, and eighty men died. Now they're buried together on the countryside.

BLOCK: And there were further culinary consequences of peace. Katherine Lynch of Westbrook, Connecticut, claims potato bread and carrot cake would not be common if World War I did not happen because they were popularized as K bread, or Kriegsbrot, war bread.

SIEGEL: We had some letters disputing the story that the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was eating a sandwich as his target approached. Some people say that is as fictional as our counterfactual histories, but that didn't stop Robert Tobey of Cohasset, Massachusetts, from imaging Princip getting hooked on sandwiches. As he puts it, landing a lucrative endorsement deal advertising Subway sandwiches.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Please let us know what you like about the program and what you don't. You can write to us, just go to NPR.org and click on the word contact. It's at the very bottom of the page. We may read your comments on the air.

SIEGEL: You can also follow us on Twitter. I'm Robert Siegel @RSiegel47.

BLOCK: I'm Melissa Block @NPRMelissaBlock and you can follow our co-host Audie Cornish @NPRAudie. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED known in the Twitterverse as @NPRATC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.