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The Mountain Flip Flop

By Colin Salt

Switzerland and Afghanistan do not share much in common. The biggest similarities between the two are lots of mountains on their territory and a reputation for being impregnable, unconquerable lands. While definitely a pop-culture trope, it's backed by examples in recent modern history. Many people won't know about Switzerland being rolled up during the French Revolution, but they do know how it stayed neutral and uninvaded in the World Wars. Likewise, far fewer people know about the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom than who know about the recent struggles of both the Soviets and Americans. But a considerably more fun exercise is to flip around their reputations/records. In other words, in terms of economic performance, Afghanistan does a lot better and Switzerland does a lot worse. Since this is a soft alternate history exercise with no regard for "plausibility", the question of how they changed is not going to be dwelled. What will be important is the final result of states within the historical boundaries of those two countries having vastly different outcomes and reputations. So in the borders of current-day Afghanistan, a Dari-speaking state arises in the mountains. Its proximity to trade routes and geography gives it great defensibility, and that combined with a reputation for staying calm and out of regional conflicts aids in the rise of a massive financial sector. From this base, it becomes known for its luxury goods as well, with handcrafted artisanal contraptions being a hallmark of its manufacturing exports. Meanwhile in Europe, an artificial grouping of many different peoples in the Alps becomes a western Yugoslavia, a tumultuous and war-torn nation that at its best is one that is barely held together by external aid and pressure. Its proximity to a nuclear-armed regional power means that permanently securing it is a politically impossible task, as militants can always duck back across the mountains into a France that seems to alternate between a mere inability to stop them and active support-if not always from the regime, then in many ways from its people. This is no one's idea of a hard counterfactual. But I had fun writing about it, and alternate history is built as much on these kinds of soft literary what-ifs as it is on serious analysis.


Colin Salt reviews other genres at his blog: Fuldapocalypse Fiction and has written The Smithtown Unit and its sequel for Sea Lion Press


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