The Reagan Era from the Iran Crisis to Kosovo

The Reagan Era from the Iran Crisis to Kosovo

The Reagan Era from the Iran Crisis to Kosovo

The Reagan Era from the Iran Crisis to Kosovo


The legacy of Ronald Reagan is the subject of debate across the political spectrum. But most politicians agree that the modern Conservative movement that has been so successful in American politics in recent years began its rise with the election of Reagan. But what if he hadn't been elected? What if the pivotal events of the Reagan Era - the assassination attempt, negotiations with Gorbachev, Iran-Contra, the Persian Gulf War - had unfolded differently?

The Reagan Era explores a time that saw the rise of the political conservatism that has dominated U.S. politics in recent years, as well as the end of the Cold War, which drove American foreign policy for nearly a half century.

What if Jimmy Carter had successfully navigated the energy shortage and the Iranian hostage crisis? What if the assassination attempt on Reagan had succeed? What if Iran-Contra had not become a scandal? These are among the specific topics examined in the book, which looks at 11 crucial events and speculates on the effects of alternative outcomes. By showing how easily the world might be different, The Reagan Era reveals the lasting impact of that era's defining moments.


I … regard the chief utility of all historical and sociological
investigations to be to admonish us of the alternative possibilities
of history.

—Oscar Jaszi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy

There is nothing new about counterfactual inference. Historians
have been doing it for at least two thousand years.

—Philip Tetlock and Aaron Belkin, Counterfactual
Thought Experiments in World Politics

The question, What would have happened if …? is asked all the time as historians, students, and readers of history examine past events. If some event had turned out differently, the whole course of history from that particular turning point forward could have been affected, we are often reminded. Important outcomes frequently hinge on an individual decision, an accidental encounter, a missed piece of information. Such events stimulate our imagination, accentuating the role of luck, chance, and individual decision or character at particular moments in time. The examination of such key hinge points is one of the reasons that the study of history is so fascinating.

“Alternate history” has become a fictional genre, similar to science fiction, in that it proposes other worlds, spun off from the one we live in, derived from some key hinge point in the past. Harry Turtledove, among others, has produced novels along these lines. Turtledove has written a widely sold sequence of books that follow an alternate past from “counterfactual” Confederate victory at the battle of Antietam, resulting in the rise of the Confederate States of America as a separate nation, with consequences well into the twentieth century.

Alternate or counterfactual history is more than a form of imaginative speculation or engaging entertainment, however. Historians are able to highlight the significance of an event they examine by pointing to the consequences of the event. When many significant consequences flow from a single event, the alternate history question is implicit—the consequences would have been different, and a strange and different history would have flowed from that time forward if the specific event in question had turned out differently. Those events that would have made the . . .

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