It's taken some time and effort to work out (and the layering isn't exactly perfect). But here's a new map and scenario of a world where World War I played out and ended very differently from how it did in Real Life. Namely, among other differences, there's no Treaty of Versailles, no protracted trench warfare, a surviving Austro-Hungarian Empire and a possible German-British Cold War.
Also, if you're interested, here's the Wikipedia page for Charles/Karl of Austria-Hungary ([link]
), who's been described as one of the only "sane" leaders in that bloody way. Coincidentally, the premise follows what might have happened had he risen to the throne in 1915 (early on in the War) rather than in 1917 (when his Empire was all but collapsing).
Just to be safe, though, this is NOT a propaganda/ideological/political/hardliner piece by any means. This is a work of alternate history fiction. So please feel free to critique to your heart's content.
Some would say that the Great War was inevitable. That the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo on August 1914 was merely a trigger setting off a convoluted network of alliances, geopolitics and barely tested technologies into action. What surprised the world however, was a chain of events that would lead to a changed yet familiar landscape shaping the rest of the 20th Century. And it began, most scholars argue, with the unexpected passing of Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary just before Christmas in 1914.
Many expected that the aging monarch would die at some point, but what transpired still came across as a shock even to those in the Imperial court. It had been decided by then that the throne would pass on to Karl, who at the time served as a liaison officer in the army. Even as the orders were given to send the heir-apparent back to Vienna, divisions were beginning to emerge within the government on continuing the War and enacting measures that would risk the Empire’s very stability. But having seen the battlefield firsthand, the Habsburg thought otherwise. Taking heed from sympathetic soldiers and his advisors, he knew that as much as justice for Sarajevo had to be served or that the Dual Monarchy needed to appear strong to the world, feeding the growing bloodbath was not the answer.
Thus not long after a hastily-arranged but reverent coronation ceremony on January 1915, the new Emperor-King enacted a series of reforms that sought to ease the strains of the War on his people, while using his military ties to engage in and only
in defensive actions. Behind the scenes however, he sought to persuade not only his German allies but even delegates from the Entente of the futility in continuing a conflict that was fast becoming pointless in anything but taking more lives. Though it is known that he used dynastic connections stretching across the Continent and that talks were intensely heated, little else is certain about those proceedings. What is sure was that on 15 August of that same year, the trenches lining the Western Front suddenly fell silent as a ceasefire was announced. Soon after, representatives from both sides gathered for a final, public round of discussions in what has come to be called the Congress of Vienna. The Mutual Peace Accord signed on 1 November was met not so much with loud acclaim but a collective, accepting sigh of relief. And although some fighting continued in East for some time after, many have since come to consider it the formal end to the War to End All Wars.
One has to wonder what might have happened had it gone even a few years longer. Nonetheless, the results were both welcome and utterly unexpected. Emperor-King Karl’s reforms promoted greater autonomy, equality and democratic representation across the Habsburg dominions as well as a move towards relative neutrality, which would continue under his son Otto after his death in 1924 (although it retains the Austro-Hungarian name out of tradition and convenience). The Empire not only survived the wave of change but also grew in prestige, especially since the Belgian Congo Partition in 1926 and a more successful Serbian containment plan. Germany meanwhile went on to consolidate its growing international power and alongside an increasingly decentralized (and federalized) British Empire is poised to become one the world’s leading powers. But though the Hohenzollerns in Berlin still consider their “part-German” allies’ actions, including their support of a rather nationalistic Poland’s independence to be counterproductive to their goals, they have since come to consider them decent compromises, especially if the alternative meant renewed bloodshed. Elsewhere, the Ottomans have managed to hold together despite the setbacks of the Great Arab Revolutions in 1917-19. With aid from their former Central Powers allies as well as a compromise between the Sultan and secularist elements, reforms similar to those in Austria-Hungary were enacted, with at least some success.
Others in the Old World however had different stories to tell. The more protracted skirmishes in Russia put a toll on both Tsar Nicholas’ rule and his subjects’ willingness to uphold the throne. A St. Petersburg riot in 1916 soon turned into open rebellion as various factions rose up to depose the Romanovs. But without the relatively unifying influence of Lenin and his Bolsheviks, much of the country slid into infighting. By the time order was restored under a restored (and partly foreign-backed) Russian Empire in 1929, only two major obstacles stood in the way: one a republican state based from Kiev, the other a Siberian stronghold modeled on a mixture of Marxist, Leninist and Syndicalist ideals. Further east, Japan, which had largely stayed out of much of the War, took advantage of both Chinese and Russian weaknesses to expand its influence and territories. With no significant militarist powers emerging to seize the Diet, the Rising Sun found itself content with its holdings, at least for the moment. While closer to home, a series of economic and social upheavals in Italy in the 1920s resulted in more desperate measures by its government to keep an upstart group (led by one Benito Mussolini) from assuming power. Indeed, this was what prompted the Habsburgs to "guarantee" Venetia's separation from the Italians. And by 1936, the move was on the verge of failing.
If anything, the more pressing concerns of the time were in the New World. Having never been involved with the Great War, the United States remained concerned with upholding its professed neutrality on any “Continental messes.” But as a more concentrated and prolonged campaign in Mexico proved, Americans were growing more fervent in upholding the Monroe Doctrine. Which in turn coincided with a revived interest in expanding its so-called Manifest Destiny to include not just Latin America but possibly both continents under the Stars and Stripes. By 1936, however, this has come into conflict with a resurgent Argentina’s plans of forming a South American bloc as a stepping to fulfill what Bolivar failed to do. And with plans of forming an International League still in progress at the time, some fear that not even the Accord would stop the two nations from coming into conflict. Especially with different powers considering the thought of propping up either side…