"Power Without Knowledge...": President Haig and the Era of Bad Feelings

Second Time's the Charm: The Ghost of Hoover and the Third Red Scare
Just as the Haig administration was characterized by an incredibly... active anticommunist foreign policy, historians studying the time period are quick to note a concurrent rise in domestic measures following a similar theme. Much of the shaky legal ground that facilitated this system has since been clarified or actively counteracted, but that is likely of little comfort to all the activists and organizers harassed, arrested, humiliated or otherwise discredited for the sake of countering a nebulous web of sinister communist infiltrators.

Although the new system did not have an official name, it persisted nonetheless, hidden under the umbrella of executive authority and within the cracks and crevices of the federal law enforcement bureaucracy. Students of this sort of authoritarian strain in US domestic policy typically draw a straight line through the twentieth century, from Wilson's use of the Alien Enemies Act in World War I, through the First Red Scare, and on to Japanese internment, McCarthy, and COINTELPRO. The latter had been in the ground only a little over a decade before it came roaring back, the ghost of Hoover come up out of the grave.

During the portion of the Era of Bad Feelings commonly called the "Third Red Scare", the massive uptick in FBI plants in "subversive" organizations was also supplemented (some would say camouflaged) by a veritable flood of public and private money to finance a morals crusade. The War on Drugs ballooned into a quagmire, with ever-expanding fronts against a whole host of social evils that were undermining America. The reds were a mass of godless degenerates, and what true god-fearing American would give them an inch, after all?

As details of the true scope of the program would become know following Haig's departure from the Oval, certain tactics pioneered during his adminstration would be briefly revived twice before being killed off for good. The first would occur in the 1990s, used by a man who most detested them, and the second just after the turn of the century, finally breeding enough backlash once the public sobered up to see these unsavory avenues closed for the foreseeable future, despite the pleas of some in the Executive....
Mountains of Madness: The Last Blank Spot on the Map
Signed on December first, 1959, the Antarctic Treaty System was the first arms control agreement of the Cold War. Meant to balance competing claims on the southern continent and set the vast land aside for peaceful and scientific purposes, the treaty would begin to degrade during the period of escalating ideological conflict that characterized the early phase of the Era of Bad Feelings.

The initial signatories of the Treaty System all had colonial claims on parts of Antarctica, or, in the case of the US and the Soviet Union, a significant vested interest in the goings on on the ice. Although the colonial claimants agreed to freeze their claims for the duration of the System, the two superpowers reserved the exclusive right to make a claim on the continent in the future. Here was the rub. Contrary to expectations given the Haig Doctrine more generally, however, murmurings of a claim would come from an unexpected direction.

It had seemed obvious, to those interested in the minutia of Antarctic history and policy, that the claim, when it came, would be an American one aimed at Marie Byrd Land. Explored and named by Rear Admiral Richard G. Byrd, who contributed greatly to early American Antarctic policy more generally, the region was even listed in some early textbooks and government maps as an American territory. Given a long American interest and lack of competing claims it seemed natural, but it was ultimately misinformed.

The USSR was reeling in the late 80's as the increasing costs of the Cold War were beginning to cause cracks in the system that would ultimately blossom, bringing it the closest it would come to collapse since its inception. The US was pushing, first with Reagan's monstrous SDI, and then with the Haig Doctrine, to bring the Motherland to its knees. There were those in the Soviet system who began to look to their leaders and see weakness, to argue that bold steps were needed to counter "bourgeois American imperialism".

As the first arms control treaty of the Cold War, the Antarctic Treaty System was the perfect target for a propaganda victory. Using a planned series of curriculum reforms as a vehicle, these hardliners were going to make a nationalistic claim to the entire continent. History classes began to emphasize that it was a Russian explorer, Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, who had discovered the continent. The Soviet Union had long claimed to inherit all the lands held by the old Russian Empire at the time of the Revolution. Antarctica was not even a proper name. By rights of discovery and translatio imperii, the continent of Bellinsgauzenia, in its entirety, was the rightful property of the USSR.

The fact that the Soviets had no ability to enforce this claim was irrelevant, news of the expansive claim sent the American government and the other Treaty System signatories into an uproar, with Secretary of State Bush denouncing the move as "a shameless attempt to violate the Antarctic Treaty System to erode the postwar order and allow the degradation of a bastion of pristine nature and scientific internationalism."

Despite pain in the short term, the gambit worked, reassuring true believers that (at least elements of) the Soviet government could take bold risks to counter the US, and also ensuring that the US would not attempt to press a claim on Marie Byrd Land to avoid rightful charges of hypocrisy. But the damage was done. The fact that both superpowers were ready to press a claim to spite the other would have far reaching consequences, with the misbehavior of a future signatory to the System laying the groundwork for the great ideological conflict of the twenty-first century...
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As details of the true scope of the program would become know following Haig's departure from the Oval, certain tactics pioneered during his adminstration would be briefly revived twice before being killed off for good. The first would occur in the 1990s, used by a man who most detested them, and the second just after the turn of the century, finally breeding enough backlash once the public sobered up to see these unsavory avenues closed for the foreseeable future, despite the pleas of some in the Executive....
Now this I gotta see.
This looks interesting. I’m liking the hints that America’s political system is gonna shatter by the dawn of the 21st century and there’s plenty of ominous buildup around Haig. I’m curious to see where Cosmicism goes too:
This looks interesting. I’m liking the hints that America’s political system is gonna shatter by the dawn of the 21st century and there’s plenty of ominous buildup around Haig. I’m curious to see where Cosmicism goes too:
Yeah, Haig gets nine years in the Oval and his idea of honoring Reagan's memory and America's interests is literally close to a decade of Iran-Contra style end runs around Congress, CIA-backed foreign meddling, and COINTELPRO 2: Repression Boogaloo. Details will leak out after he leaves office, but the true scope of it all won't be known until he dies (like Reagan in OTL) in 2004, an effect of lingering tissue damage from being slightly too close to Kaczynski's last bomb.

While that leads to a backlash and some steps in government reform we haven't made in OTL I'd consider positive, it'll be quite a while before all these expansive authorities and prerogatives he's pioneered can be purged from government and American society. It's somewhat similar to the Watchmen series in that even though Redford has completely flipped Nixon's priorities and made reforms, a lot of the same techniques are in place.

As for Cosmicism and the great political shatter, there are a few more ideological developments that will set the stage, but I won't spoil what they are. Anticipation (or creeping dread, as the case may be) is half the fun, right?
Media Matters: Watchmen and the Fall of the Big Two
Released in 1986, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen (originally by DC Comics) would go on to have a massive impact on the medium of comic books, although it was impossible to know how deep it would be at the time. Taking place in an alternate history setting where costumed adventurers exist, Ronald Reagan was never assassinated, and civil war seemed imminent, Watchmen would come to be well regarded as a complex and layered analysis of the comics medium, the politics of the time, and the social fractures that would grow so all consuming in the next century.

There was just the lingering question of ownership. Because the characters were original, the contract with DC stipulated that rights would revert to the creators after the series went out of print. To keep from losing the smash hit, DC responded simply by trying to keep the series from ever going out of print. Crying foul, Moore and Gibbons responded by suing the publisher, and after a winding legal battle would come away with the rights to the story in a surprising underdog upset. Moore and Gibbons would become early talent for Image Comics and, buoyed by sales of Watchmen reprints and the golden age reconstruction Minutemen, the publisher would swiftly grow to rival DC and Marvel in the comics arena.

Although some Image creators had interconnected superhero universes (most notably Rob Liefeld), Moore argued successfully that the new publisher avoid what he saw as the mistakes of the Big Two, creating stories and characters that could stand alone, where consequences mattered. Aside from getting back to the roots of the comics medium in some ways by eschewing massive company-wide sprawling continuity, he also argued that this approach would allow writers and artists to tell new stories, and that this would bring in new readers.

Although all the comics companies would be damaged by the collapse of the speculation market in the late nineties, it was this approach that would be credited with keeping a steady flow of new creative talent and customers interested in the Image brand. Requests for film rights would follow, and with a media climate primed in some ways by the Dune Chronicles, the mid-2000s would see the release of several successful adaptations of Moore's work in particular, benefitting from a good blend of faithfulness to the themes and motifs of his stories, auteur directors, and a public far more willing to sit through a complex epic-length movie.

It's not out of the question to suggest that Watchmen had shown the way for comics to grow into a respected art form in the United States similar in many ways to the medium's treatment in Europe, as the comic book medium began to grow out of "children's stories", to tell serious stories without overindulging in bleakness and adolescent angst. Looking back on his career, Moore would express the opinion that "despite those bastards [at DC], it was really Image that restored my faith in the medium, that it was a place where people could put aside corporate concerns and get back to the root of things, the simple art of telling stories." This is the same approach that would later be embraced by Guillermo del Toro, pioneer of the modern cinematic universe.
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There you have it, TTL still has a comics adaptation movie boom in the 21st century, just one that avoids the cinematic universe and the Marvel/DC franchise rivalry. Marvel tried to make an Avengers movie in the late nineties that never really took off, while DC stuck to standalone Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman movies mostly popular among comics nostalgics. On the other hand there's a short franchise of excellent Fantastic Four movies from the early 2000s, so Marvel at least has that going, and there's a trilogy of really faithful Hellboy adaptations from later in the decade. For the record I'm personally a fan of comic book movies, I just think a wave of more experimental unconnected adaptations rising and falling on their own merits would be interesting.
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Born on the Fourth of June: The PRC and the State of Emergency
It's an understatement to say that events in the United States were seen with alarm by democratic advocates the world over, who had looked to the United States for decades as a beacon of freedom despite its flaws and now saw a nation seemingly driven to the edge of authoritarianism out of irrational fear of an ideological enemy. The shining city on the hill was caught in the grips of a mentality that Chinese democratic activist Liu Xiaobo would famously term "the State of Emergency", and it gave democratic movements throughout the world a sudden and gripping sense of urgency.

This would be especially clear in the People's Republic of China, and would serve as a particularly tragic historical example. The initial protests would be sparked by the reports that General Secretary Hu Yaobang had fallen into a coma, the first protests quickly ballooning as long suppressed calls for reform exploded. Initially fragmented and disorganized, President Haig saw a golden opportunity.

Egged on by voices from the public, particularly a fiery series of columns written by Pat Buchanan, Haig saw the Chinese protests as a perfect vehicle to strike a fatal blow against communism in Asia. He gave the order, and the CIA began using fronts to funnel money and supplies to the protestors. Although the Communist Party couldn't prove anything, they had plenty of suspicions when it became obvious the fractious movement was cohering. They were left with a choice: crack down, or give in. Then the unthinkable happened: Hu Yaobang woke from his coma.

There was no other choice now. He was an old man and accidents do happen, but for the General Secretary to be ignored or suppressed now with a mass movement having rallied to support him would be unthinkable. It would mean a second Chinese Civil War less than fifty years after the end of the last one. With the people behind him and the Party begrudgingly kept in line, Hu would begin implementing a series of social and political reforms meant to bring about "the revival of the People's Republic for the new era". He would live to 1991, to see reform die in the Soviet Union and his grand attempt to save his nation for the sake of the people begin to fracture. So it goes.

Elements in the Soviet government, meanwhile, looked on in alarm. They saw Washington meddling with a neighbor, with the rightful Soviet sphere of influence! Political tensions aside, the West was inserting itself with an ideological fellow traveler. Despite Gorbachev's best efforts to pursue reform, elements of the bureaucracy had made up their minds and dug in their heels. They would not compromise in the face of Haig's subversion. There was no way.

God help us all.
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I wonder how Haig views Gorbachev. Probably poorly.
Haig suffers from a persistent US Cold War problem, namely that he sees "the Reds" as a monolith. He looks at Gorbachev and all he sees are the actions of the reactionaries and hardliners, doesn't exactly leave the best impression. The fact Haig is quietly suffering from damage from the bombing doesn't exactly help.
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The Great Divide: Industrial Devolution and the Rise of the Regressives
As stated before, fragments of the so-called "Unabomber Manifesto" would circulate through the cultural underground for years in the wake of the Reagan assassination, gathering a small cult following in certain radical environmental circles. That's where it all might have stayed if not for two important developments. The first would be the death of Ted Kaczynski, and the second would be the start of the 13th five year plan.

Officially reported as an act of random violence, Kaczynski would be beaten to death by a prison guard in May of 1990 after allegedly attacking him. The guard was investigated, briefly suspended, and would ultimately leave the prison after being found not guilty of murder. The small core of acolytes that had been accumulating at the fringes would immediately suspect that the murder had been politically motivated. That the guard was a former Marine with a cousin that happened to be a moderately prominent Republican donor at the state level only added fuel to these wild speculations.

The next year would see the beginning of a massive attempt to restructure the economy and industrial base in the USSR. Given events in the country beginning in that year, the Soviet regime knew it had to adapt or perish. What this would mean in practice would be an intense (even by Soviet standards) process of industrialization to help keep pace with the advancing West. While this approach would ultimately bear fruit, it was clear to all outside observers that the environmental degradation unfolding behind the Iron Curtain was too much.

While many reacted with alarm, the US had also been rather slipshod with environmental protections during the Haig years, and most were merely concerned that their old enemy seemed to be building itself up again. Not so with with the radical ecologists and neoprimitivists. They saw the havoc wrought in the Soviet sphere as an affront. But they were only a loose movement.

Published anonymously in 1993, Industrial Devolution was the spark that would ultimately knit together a new political and social force. Combining the fragments of Kaczynski's manifesto and extrapolating from them, the text would become the core of the so-called Regressive movement, far more militant than the more orthodox environmentalism embraced by the Western mainstream. The Regressives went beyond calls for protecting the environment, arguing for aggressive measures to curb human population growth and actively deindustrialize.

Regarded as extreme when they appeared, it was only a matter of time before the Regressives would radicalize further, spurred on by what many in the movement saw as apathy in the face of extinction. Depending on the Regressive strain you studied, you could find people seriously advocating eugenics and terrorism. What was the bomb that killed Reagan, after all, but propaganda of the deed?

It was these siren songs of the disenfranchised that would see the ideology spread around the world, sowing the seeds of future tragedies in its wake. It's been said by some that Marx was the author of the twentieth century. If that was the case it was no doubt that (for awhile, at least) Kaczynski would be regarded as the author of the twenty-first. And all that that implies.
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The Tiger and the Peacock: The (First) Levant War
The conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 had satisfied no one, although both parties had claimed victory. Iran had failed in its goal to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and for its part Iraq had likewise failed in the goal of annexing neighboring portions of Iran with largely Arab populations. This simply wouldn't do. In the halls of power in Iraq it was clear that steps would have to be taken to better prepare the Arab nation for a second coming conflict with the Persians. When the answer came it seemed heaven-sent, with the death of Hafez al-Assad of Syria.

It was perfect. Both nations followed a variant of Ba'athist Arab nationalism, and as the center of policy making his death, after what had been believed a full recovery from a period of ill health several years before, threw the military and governing establishment of the nation into disarray. Several people then and now believe the Iraq regime had a hand in the death, but in either case Saddam was not about to allow a crisis to go to waste. The invasion began on the second of August.

Quickly overrunning the scrambling Syrian government with the help of a notable number of local collaborators, the Iraqi army was able to seize roughly a third of their neighbor nation before stalemate set in, with heavy opposition from both Assad loyalists and a wide spectrum of groups that had previously been suppressed by the regime. This wasn't at all to plan, with the fever dream of "a unified Ba'athist Mesopotamia" turning into a hellish meat grinder. Saddam knew the war had to be brought to a decisive end, before Iran attacked his nation's flank.

Of course they were considering it. It was plainly clear that the Saddam regime was attempting to build itself up for another war. At the same time, the Haig Administration had reached the same conclusion, firm in the belief that a war between "Greater Iraq" and Iran would destabilize the entire balance of power in the region, not to mention potentially unbalance the entire world economy. Although the US would eventually put boots on the ground as part of a 22 nation coalition, their earliest forays into the conflict were covert.

Money and weapons began to pour in to the "free" areas of Syria, but the most lasting impact would be an effort directed within Iraq. As part of a perfectly sound plan to create a US-allied buffer between Iraq and Iran, a decision was made to provide enormous help to Iraq's Kurdish population. A separate ethnicity historically deeply persecuted by its neighbors, Haig secretly promised the Kurds what Woodrow Wilson had failed to deliver all those decades ago. They would get their own state.

And with that, American soldiers landed in Iraqi Kurdistan, opening a second front and checking Iran at the same time. It was all too much for the overstretched regime, and the Levant War ended within three months. It was clear the resolution of the war hadn't actually solved anything. Although Saddam maintained his grip on power, Iraq had to surrender all claims in Syria (which subsequently coalesced under Rifaat al-Assad) as well as Iraqi Kurdistan. In the chaos, Syrian Kurdistan seceded to join the independent Republic of Kurdistan, alarming Iran but especially Turkey, which would begin drifting away from NATO as a result. The infrastructure damage was immense in both Iraq and Syria, and both sides had resorted to torching oil wells in land they could not hold, causing immense damage and planting the seeds of a militant Regressive movement in the Middle East.
As this update makes clear, the moral of the story is "Think through your geopolitics gambits". That's basically TTL (and OTL, come to think of it 🤔) in a nutshell.
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The Second Anschluss: The Road to the PEC and the Year of Calamity
In 1990, the Soviet sphere was in turmoil. With Gorbachev attempting the Herculean task of holding together the USSR, several of the Warsaw Pact nations were facing internal troubles of their own. In Poland, the Solidarity movement was agitating for democratic access to the government, only held back by a sinister web of Communist officials with backing from the Soviet bureaucracy. The Baltic SSRs were making discreet overtures to one another "if the worst should happen". And East Germany was in the midst of a crackdown.

The events that (in a better world) had led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 had in this timeline resulted in a massacre in East Berlin, and a spreading seizure of unrest that was destabilizing the entire nation. The Federal Republic of Germany was apoplectic. The best hope for national unity since the end of the war had been dashed, and the massive police action in the east filled many observers with unease. Suddenly the prospect of absorbing such a wellspring of unrest seemed daunting, and the retrenchment of hardline regimes behind the Iron Curtain put fear into the hearts of the political establishment in Western Europe.

In a move that would have previously been considered unthinkable, it was announced at the culmination of a series of secret bilateral meetings that Austria would renounce the so-called "Austrian victim theory" and would begin the process of a political unification with West Germany "to better keep the flame of a free society alive in the hearts of all the German people" in the words of Austrian president Kurt Waldheim. It was all considered a bit ominous among a vocal opposition within both nations, and throughout Europe more generally.

To many in the European Communities, this German-Austrian merger was nothing short of an attempt by a two-time World War belligerent to build itself up again, in a move that was also harshly criticized by the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. (Greater) German officials would make the case publicly and privately, however, that the move was a vital necessity to reinforce what many within the new union saw as a massive border with an existential threat. The American public was likewise divided, but Pat Buchanan and others lobbied the administration to tacitly support the move. Secretary of State Bush would visit within a month of the announcement, declaring in a speech that "the continued threat of the Unfree World is readily apparent in Germany, and must be clearly seen by rest of Europe as well, if there is any hope for lasting peace and stability on this continent."

The long-term impact of the Second Anschluss would prove two fold: on the one hand, it would embolden Soviet radicals going in to what would be known retroactively as the "Year of Calamity", while it would simultaneously presage the further integration of Western Europe, leading ultimately to the birth of the Paneuropean Community.
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So, because 1991 is a pretty busy year with a lot of major long-term consequences, it'll be told in a series of updates covering an overlapping time period, rather than in strict chronological order. Some stuff will be self contained to that year, while others span over several years but are traced to an origin point in this year, hence the rather dramatic name.