I think almost everybody has wondered what would have happened if they had made a different choice in life, taken a different path. If you didn’t think of it by yourself, seeing “It’s a Wonderful Life” a few hundred times has probably driven the point home by now.

Many authors have applied this idea to big turning points, writing about alternative histories in which Hitler won World War II (Fatherland) or the South won the Civil War (Bring the Jubilee). The notion may not be pure fantasy: the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests that these Worlds-of-If may really exist, although forever unreachable.

Or maybe not so unreachable. A very odd pattern of statements by prominent supporters and members of the Bush administration suggests that we may have some truly unusual visitors—literally out-of-this-world.

You see, the president and his associates keep referring to historical events that never happened, at least not as they did in the fields we know. And they keep referring to the same ahistorical events. Over and over, the secretary of state and the (now former) secretary of defense have referred to guerrilla warfare in Germany after the Nazi surrender. But there just wasn’t any. You can’t find it in the history books or in the memories of people who were there at the time. My uncle was in Bavaria in the summer of 1945: no trouble. Secretary Rumsfeld repeatedly talked about the similarities between today’s Iraq and America after the Revolutionary War, but again, I’m pretty sure that there aren’t any. I don’t believe we found tortured corpses in the streets of Philadelphia every morning back in 1784. And why does President Bush keep saying that Saddam refused to admit those UN arms inspectors back in 2002 and early 2003? Why did Condoleezza Rice, in 2000, say that Iran was probably backing the Taliban, when in fact the two had almost gone to war in 1998?


Now some might say that these statements were just talking points—that is, lies—but I sure wouldn’t want to accuse anyone of lying. More to the point, there have been many ahistorical statements that are just strange and don’t seem to advance any particular political agenda. For example, when President Bush said that the Japanese lost two carriers sunk and one damaged at the Battle of Midway (instead of losing all four, which is what actually happened), who gained? When POTUS said that Sweden has no army (it does), what political argument was advanced?

We’re talking about the rulers of the most powerful nation on earth. It can’t be that they’re just pig-ignorant—of their own history, yet. There has to be a deeper, more subtle explanation.

We can learn more by examining these statements in detail, including those of the administration’s close supporters. They too keep diverging from the history we know. Recently, Rep. Don Young of Alaska quoted Lincoln as saying, “Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged.” Lincoln never said that, of course. Cliff May, at National Review, said “President Roosevelt waited until after World War II to put in place a commission to investigate what mistakes led to Pearl Harbor.” Pretty fly for a dead guy: FDR passed on just before Germany surrendered, well before the Japanese quit. And anyhow, the first of many Pearl Harbor investigations—the Roberts Commission—started only 11 days after the sneak attack.

More and more, I get the feeling that Bush and his friends come from one of the Worlds-of-If—a sad place, even worse than the one we actually live in, a world in which their odd statements are true.

When tired or stressed, they refer to the history that they lived and learned in school. But their briefing books recount an alternate history in which Iraq in 2002 was not a poor and backward country but the coming threat, as our Germany was in 1938. A history in which America, after the Revolution, was a flaming cesspool like Iraq today, a world in which Lincoln executed unruly legislators. One in which World War II dragged on long after the indecisive Battle of Midway. One in which our occupation of Germany was plagued by guerrilla warfare. One in which we’ve been fighting World War IV with Iran and Syria for 25 years, as Jim Woolsey has repeatedly said. One in which a hostile Islamic Caliphate has bothered to go through the formality of coming into existence.

Close study of such statements might eventually give a rough sketch of that other world’s history. This would be of immense value, for it would allow us to learn much about the inner workings of the historical process, just as the discovery of a different kind of life on Mars would be an epochal event in biology. The fact that a history that diverged from ours at least 200 years ago, judging from the differences in the Revolution, still bears some resemblance to ours—still had a battle of Midway, just not the same battle—suggests that unknown overarching forces constrain the course of events. But the story is never the same in detail.

The casual mention of World War IV strongly implies that these interlopers also had a World War III. They must have suffered greatly—maybe bombed out, likely short on resources such as oil. I would guess that those disasters irretrievably darkened their political perspective, just as our World War I left an entire generation embittered and disaffected. Certainly some kind of civilizational blight is needed to explain Vice President Cheney’s “Dark Lord” shtick.

Somehow they came here, so there must be a gate or portal. Judging from the spatial clustering of identifiable visitors, it’s somewhere in Washington, probably very close to the AEI building. Possibly inside. It may be an accident of nature, or it might be a scientific wonder used for judicial exile, just as bad Kryptonians were sent to the Phantom Zone. You have to wonder about that when you consider the kind of guys they’re sending.

If two-way transfer is possible, there could be vast business opportunities. There are reasons to suspect that science and engineering took a very different path over there: their limited understanding of nuclear weapons—they seem to think that nukes are roughly as easy to build as bottle rockets—suggests that nuclear fission may never have been developed on their timeline. But even if they’re behind us in some areas, they’re likely to be ahead in others. I’d guess that they know far more about torture than we do. Practice makes perfect.

Even if they’ve never split the atom, they have much to offer. The very existence of such a portal is the most significant new scientific result in a century, far more important than any result expected from the most advanced accelerator. The sheer physical presence of Condoleezza Rice on this plane suggests, indeed demands, new physics that may lead to the long-desired marriage of quantum mechanics and general relativity. It’s either this or string theory.

Of course this means that we need to corral some or all of these visitors for study and experimentation. Such experiments would, I suppose, interfere with their civil liberties, if they had any, but they’re obviously not citizens of these United States. Technically they’re illegal aliens. Gitmo’s a-waitin’.

And perhaps we can do more. Obviously this other world is in a sorry state and could stand some saving. They’re our closer-than-brothers—our other selves living in a world gone bad, a world in which the toast always falls butter-side down, a world where Mr. Potter owns the Building and Loan. Undoubtedly an irrepressible desire for freedom burns in every heart there. As soon as possible, we should begin preparing for their liberation.

It will be a cakewalk.


Gregory Cochran is a physicist and evolutionary biologist.