Did Tom Marry Alice?


I was once part of a conversation where the topic was What would have happened to the United States had there been no slavery. Most argued that nothing much would have changed, but I maintained that the United States would have been a different country with a different history had there been no slavery, because had there been no slavery there would have been no Civil War. My reasoning was that almost 600,000 men died in that war, most of them young, most before they had produced children. Had there been no war those childless young men would have married and had children, but because they were dead the women they married wed someone else and had children who would not have been born had the man she would have married not been killed in the Civil War. But it goes much further than the number of children directly related to the dead soldiers. Every woman who married a man she would not have marred had her soldier not been killed caused another woman to marry a different man than she would have. Example: Had there been no Civil War young Tom marries Alice and has five children; but Tom is killed and Alice marries Ben and has five children, entirely different people from the ones she would have had with Tom. But what happens to Ben when Tom isn’t killed? Ben marries Ann and has five children, but because Tom is killed Ben marries Alice and Ann marries Zeke. This chain is a very long one, difficult to break, and is not confined to the first generation, for all those children who would have been born had there been no Civil War continue the chain. The chain is exponential, and in four or five or six generation the country is populated by an entirely different group of people. Some immigrant groups might not have been greatly affected, but remember O. O. Howard’s luckless Germans who got rolled up by Jackson’s men at Chancellorsville, and Meagher’s Irish Brigade at Burnside’s Bridge. In one of Ray Bradbury’s time travel stories a mouse is accidentally killed a million years ago by time travelers, and everything changed because the chain of life was broken for mice and for everything that depended on mice for food, and everything, including man, that depended on an unbroken food chain. Bradbury was right, as he was in so many things. Each of us is alive because the chain is unbroken, often extending back hundreds if not thousands of generations. Contrary to the oft repeated statement that you can’t beat arithmetic, each one of us has beaten the arithmetic.


The cave where often I met Ogg
Lay open to the rain and wind
The land he farmed was now a bog
And to a nearby log was pinned
A note from Ogg that told the tale
Of how he never had been born
Of how his parents, Tom and Dale
Had disappeared one sunny morn
His ancestors had been erased
Deleted, gone, each child, each spouse
His generations now replaced
And all because of some dumb mouse

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