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What Might Have Been

March 08, 1995|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Writer

But much of the work had to be redone.

After the theft, students became so cautious that they created backups to the backups, causing further confusion.

Fortunately, the teacher said, Ms. Tyson and Janine Mok, a junior, have superb organizational skills. Last year they brought order out of the near chaos and kept the book on track.

"Learning by doing can be pretty tough, so there's a lot of trial and error in this," Mr. McKibbin said.

To get the book published, Mr. McKibbin enlisted the assistance of Peter A. Jay, a Havre de Grace farmer and Sun columnist. Mr. Jay's son William, now a Harvard freshman, was involved in the final editing and layout of the book.

The elder Mr. Jay, who did some editing and arranged the actual publication of 1,000 copies, said it was a remarkable experience.

"What If?" is available for $20 at Greetings & Readings in Towson or by mail by writing to What If? McDonogh School, P.O. Box 380, Owings Mills, Md. 21117.


Through their book, McDonogh's young writers invite students everywhere to join in a unique approach to the study of history: Look at some of the defining events of history and focus the examination by asking "What If?":

* "What if the Germans had captured the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, France, in May 1940 instead of allowing the troops to escape to England?"

The "Dunkirk miracle" allowed the British soldiers to form the nucleus of the Allied forces and let Britain hold on until the Americans and the Russians entered World War II against Germany.

* "What if the Japanese naval code, JN-25, had been broken before Pearl Harbor?" Although American cryptographers had broken several Japanese codes, JN-25, which carried 90 percent of naval-movement messages, wasn't broken until after the Dec. 7, 1941, sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that crippled the U.S. fleet and gave the Japanese an early advantage in the Pacific war.

* "What if President Truman had not supported France's re-conquest of its colony in Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) after World War II?"

The United States rebuffed Ho Chi Minh's offers of friendship, and when the "Red Scare" swept the United States by 1950, Truman gave France $10 million to fight Ho's Communist Vietminh. Instead of befriending newly independent Vietnam after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the United States entered the war the French had already lost. The next chapter of the story was 58,000 American dead, 750,000 Vietnamese dead and a bitterly divided United States.

Although many of the 51 chapters pose questions about American involvement in wars, some touch on other areas, including politics:

* "What if Richard Nixon had not given the Checkers speech and had been dropped as President Eisenhower's running mate?"

* "What if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy had not driven off the bridge at Chappaquiddick and ruined his hopes for the presidency?"

* "What if Ronald Reagan had been a better actor and had not entered politics?"

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