Forces shaping human history are complex, but the course of history is undeniably changed on many occasions by conscious acts. These may be premeditated or responsive, calmly calculated or performed under great pressure. They may also be successful or catastrophic, but how are historians to make such judgements and appeal to evidence in support of their conclusions? Further, and crucially, how exactly are we to distinguish probable unrealized alternatives from improbable ones? This book describes some of the modern statistical techniques that can begin to answer this question, as well as some of the difficulties in doing so. Using simple, well-quantified cases drawn from military history, we claim that statistics can now help us to navigate the near-truths, the envelope around the events with which any meaningful historical analysis must deal, and to quantify the basis of such analysis. Quantifying Counterfactual Military History is intended for a general audience who are interested in learning more about statistical methods both in military history and for wider applications.
- This book demonstrates how modern statistical techniques can measure the impact of counterfactual decisions.
- It examines the importance of counterfactual reasoning for both modern scholars and historical actors.
- It combines historical narrative, mathematical precision and data to create a straightforward presentation of both factual and counterfactual military history.
- It provides an original contribution to the debate over the validity and rigour of works of counterfactual history.
- It is written in a manner accessible to readers who have no formal training in History or Statistics.
1. Could History Have Been Otherwise? 2. Could the Germans Have Won the Battle of Jutland? 3. Could the Germans Have Won the Battle of Britain? 4. Could the United States Have Prevailed in Vietnam? 5. The Road to Able Archer: Counterfactual Reasoning and the Dangerous History of Nuclear Deterrence 1945–1983 6. Conclusions
“A series of compelling demonstrations that counterfactual history need not be a 'parlour game.' If we carefully assemble the facts and honestly lay out our assumptions, we can apply sophisticated statistical tools that yield deep insights into key 20th century conflicts—and how they might have played out differently."
- Phil Tetlock, University of Pennsylvania
"Well-written, concise prose, ground-breaking approach to using counterfactuals in historical analysis. Points out that counterfactual analysis is inherent in almost all investigations of causal relationships (laying out an explanation for why something happened almost always implies reasons why something else didn’t happen – this is quite compelling). This sort of strong defense of counterfactuals could go a long way towards 'normalizing' the method, convincing others that this isn’t just the realm of alternative history/Harry Turtledove novels. This book lays the groundwork for future work."
- Matthew Tattar, U.S. Naval War College