Against the Grain
An Improvisational TLIAW by @Enigma-Conundrum @Oppo @Vidal @Wolfram
From Wolfram: Henry Agard Wallace gets a bad rap in alternate history, and it's only mostly his fault. Son of a successful farm journalist and Secretary of Agriculture, Wallace brought modern biology to bear on corn yields and transformed American farming as a private citizen, helped revolutionize American agricultural policy during his New Deal service in his father's job, and was then tapped by Roosevelt to serve as VP - but in this modern era, permanently changing the way Americans farmed and rural Americans lived is a topic of relatively little interest to a mostly-urbanized readership. Instead, in large part due to the foundational soc.history.what-if timeline For All Time, a dystopia only rarely matched in its thoroughness and depth, Wallace's reputation in alternate history is that of a useful idiot for the Soviets. A sympathetic President, perhaps - deeply committed to peace, civil rights, and the task of common prosperity for all Americans - but ultimately too naïve to join the ranks of Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, and Paul Wellstone as one of the liberal heroes many of us number among "the best Presidents America never had".
There's good reason to see him that way. His association with controversial Russian exile Nicholas Roerich, an artist and peace activist known for his unusual spiritual views, was bad enough to the Democratic establishment - his friendliness to the Soviet Union (including a heavily sanitized tour of labor camps in Kolyma and Magadan, which Wallace compared to the Tennessee Valley Authority), led many to think of him as a useful idiot for Stalin. They were, perhaps, proven right; after being dropped from the ticket in favor of Truman, Wallace was ultimately fired for a speech in which he promoted American quietism with regards to Soviet designs in Eastern Europe, then ran a Presidential campaign under the Progressive banner that received more Soviet support than the actual Communist Party ticket. Though, to his credit, he did eventually spurn his former idols, in 1952 writing a lengthy mea culpa in which he stated that "if the Soviets continue along present lines they may possibly cause disaster to the whole Western World--but in the process they will certainly... bring misery to the people of Russia and her satellites", it is worth noting that he only came to that conclusion after - and partly as a result of - seeing the results of the Soviet coup in Czechoslovakia he had previously argued against American intervention in.
This has led many alternate historians to use him to paint dystopias - sometimes from a position of lack of sympathy for a man who spent the heights of his career in apologia for a brutal regime, sometimes from a position of sympathy for a man who (they assess) deluded himself, due to his own innate optimism and belief in the ideals the Soviets only professed, into a disastrous and inhumane course of action that would have been brave and right and moral if the world had really been what Henry Wallace thought it was. Contrariwise, a smaller but still non-trivial number have tried to rehabilitate Wallace - the greatest and worst feature of alternate history, after all, is the fact that it allows us to reveal our own worldviews and narratives of history by changing the facts to better frame them. Maybe Wallace's assessment of Moscow really had been more accurate than, say, George Kennan's, and maybe there had really been a chance for peace - as Oliver Stone put it in his Untold History of the United States, a President Wallace might have brought about a world with "no atomic bombings, no nuclear arms race, and no Cold War".
We find both of these portrayals too convenient and too simple. Wallace was a complex figure, too complex to reduce to an amorphous mass of principles or a metonym for his political community. He deserves, if nothing else, better than to be used as an instrument by which another world could be made for other people's stories - we have enough to figure out with his own world. It's time to try to tell the story of Henry Wallace himself, and the world he would have created given his own chance at the Presidency, without setting any particular outcome in mind. However, this is a spiritual successor to All Along The Watchtower in another sense; we think the process of trading off chapters between different authors, and thereby reducing the impact of any one author's perspective or ability to guide the narrative, is a useful and fun way to bring alternate history closer to the real world.
That's our thesis statement; now, on with the show...
###Some minor housekeeping items: We've elected to keep most of the same rules as before. Posters may choose the method by which their president leaves office, but they may not name the successor. We will aim to post within 72 hours of the previous post. We will continue to the present day.
A random generator determined our order. Yours truly was assigned the job of writing the first presidency, Wolfram will follow me, Enigma will follow them, and Oppo will follow Enigma. After Oppo has posted, I'll get to go again.