I had not intended to devote this much space to Middle East issues when FP launched this new site, but events in the region have made that resolution rather hard to keep. Here are a few more "thought experiments" (not mine).
First, over at Mondoweiss, Jerome Slater of SUNY-Buffalo offers his own Swiftian alternative history of the situation. Find it here.
Second, from Israel, Uri Avnery presents a typically sharp-edged set of historical alternatives. I don't have a link to it yet, but here's a short excerpt of a longer column:
NEARLY SEVENTY YEARS ago, in the course of World War II, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called "the Red Army" held the millions of the town's inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centers. The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.
Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.
This is the description that would now appear in the history books if the Germans had won the war.
Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as "hostages" and exploit the women and children as "human shields", they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured."
And finally, via e-mail from a correspondent in Florida, yet another thought experiment from a rather different perspective:
Here is an analogy you may find interesting... very real...and a little closer to home.
If after the second World War - all the Germans were evicted from Germany - litteraly [sic] - their population decimated - their people scattered
As the Germans were away (the brandenberg gate still standing there, and the main city is still called Berlin) the French and the Poles then move in and create a country called "FrancoPol".
As the Germans find themselves without a home, always labeled the "The Hitler people" - they are shunned, killed, and scapegoated - even after 1800 years
After @ 1800 years, the Germans realise that the only way to survive, and thrive again, would be to return home to Germany...
So they begin to settle small tracks of land in "FrancoPol"...their lands thrive, and they are happy - their goal is to restore Germany - all of it
The Francopolians are not very happy about seeing the Germans again, they call them "Settlers" and "Occupiers" and begin to kill them...
The Germans begin to fight back, and repell attacks, and yes, begin to "reclaim" more German land - always accused of stealing "francopolian" land
The UN decides to split the land between the Germans and the francopolians - the Germans Accept - the Francopolians dont - and continue to attack them
As the more land comes under German control, the Francopolians do everything they can to destroy this re-born Germany..but to no avail..
As the German people finally return to Berlin, reclaim it, rebuild it, makes it live and thrive again...
Would the Germans be "Occupiers" of Berlin?
Would the Germans be "Colonisers" of Berlin?
Would the Germans be "Usurpers" of Berlin?
Comment by me: There are plenty of obvious ways one could challenge each of these "thought experiments," but I still find them useful spurs to our thinking. This is a subject area where people's views frequently get etched in stone -- and all the more so when violence is raging and the PR machines are working overtime -- and that makes it even more important to look for devices that force us to think more carefully and critically.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.