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

  • "Power without knowledge is power lost!"
    - Montesquieu

    "Much has been said in these uncertain times about 'generational conflict' in this country and the world, between the generations thinking in and longing for a lost past, more a golden-hued fever dream then an objective view of history, and the generations pushing back against this attitude with the characteristic disorganized rebellion of youth, decrying the past as irrelevant, their elders as out of touch and their societies as behind the times, yet all the while imagining a future that is depressingly mundane. This is a false premise. The true generational struggle that should concern us is the one between the present and the future. The coming future, the evershifting dynamic mass of potential, is a frightening thing to some. It projects itself backwards, so that with every passing moment the world we live in becomes more like the world we will live in. This is naturally terrifying to the kyriarchs of the world, who fear the dramatic shifts that the coming future will force on them, and the loss of privilege they will suffer as a result. And so they dig in their heels, ground themselves in the eternal present, and try to fight the future. They know it is a holding action, and so these corrupt nihilists seeks to poison the future as it comes, seeking to bind and limit it, seeking to turn that potential toward the goals of the preservation of power and the status quo at the expense of the true flowering of humanity as a whole. The essential feature of the kyriarchy and of the oligarchal populism that is its vehicle is that it corrupts knowledge of the past to bolster its legitimacy, and uses the power this affords to corrupt the coming future as well. This is an affront, nothing short of an existential threat to the whole of human endeavor. Something must be done..."
    - From the introduction of The Cosmicist Manifesto, Ultima Antarctica centennial edition

    "I am in control here, in the White House..."
    - President Haig, in a 1984 televised address to the nation after his emergency swearing in following the assassination of Ronald Reagan.

    President Haig's first address to the nation in the early days of 1984 would go on to set the tone for the remainder of his time in office. Vowing to "press on with the important work begun by my fallen friend" Haig promised the American people that he would be a steady hand guiding the ship of state, confronting enemies of freedom wherever he would find them. His actions for the remainder of the (only) Reagan term, and the following two won in his own right would have wide and far-reaching impacts around the world, propelling geopolitics into a strange new age. To his supporters Haig would usher in what he himself fondly called the Reagan Revolution but to his many detractors at home and abroad his policies would mark the start of the Era of Bad Feelings.
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    A Horse of a Different Color: Political Colors in America
  • Given how deeply ingrained specific colors are with political parties in the modern imagination it comes as something of a surprise to those short of memory how tied to chance those colors are. While the Reform Party and its ideological descendant (for lack of a better term) the AFP have used yellow since the Perot administration, the colors of choice for the older parties and their successors are of slightly more recent vintage, dating no earlier than the 2000 election.

    While red and blue were convenient color signifiers during the days of two-party politics, which was assigned to whom was essentially random, with each news station picking a different color when reporting results, and local politicians picking their own colors and symbols besides. By the 2000 election steps were taken to standardize the system, and by chance red was used for the Republicans and blue for the Democrats. What was at the time a random choice would come to leave a lasting impact on American party politics.

    The 2000 election was incredibly hard fought, culminating in the infamous Florida recounts. The constant use of maps and graphics for months on end would sear these particular colors into the public consciousness, and the unofficial association would continue well into the decline of the three-party system. This can be clearly seen in the color scheme embraced by several of the modern parties, particularly the reddish copper color embraced by the Freedom Party, or the sky blue taken up by the Progressives.

    From a counterfactual perspective it is improbable that, in a scenario where the parties organically chose colors for themselves (as Reform did) the Republicans would use the same color associations as the Union Communist Party in the USSR or the Mountain faction in the PEC, or that the Democrats would use the same color as the Constitutionalists in the ROC. It's easy to imagine a world where American exceptionalism didn't triumph over common sense in this regard, a world where red Democrats and blue Republicans had remained the dominant parties in a more stable, albeit less diverse, system. But it was not to be.
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    Writing on the Wall: Slogans from the Manifesto
    -Part I: First Principles

    -Part II: Zeitgeist


    -Part III: The Coming Race
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    The Clock Strikes 13: The Assassination of Ronald Reagan
  • It's no exaggeration to say that the legacy of Ronald Reagan would be cemented by his death. Although his principled 1976 primary challenge to Gerald Ford had won him great acclaim on the political right, all but guaranteeing him victory in the 1980 Republican contest, the art of being president was far more challenging than the art of running for it. Although making his closest challenger in the race his VP had helped to mend fences within the party, there were several factions in the Republican party, and the country more generally, that felt he wasn't getting enough done, especially in the wake of the 1981 recession. Getting closer to the 1984 election it seemed as if he would surely lose as his base splintered. Walter Mondale wasn't a terribly exciting candidate for a lot of Reagan supporters, but if too many of them stayed home he could still squeak out a win. And then the bomb went off.

    Although by his own admission "a staunch and committed anti-leftist", there was one sin of the Reagan administration that Ted Kaczynski could never forgive. It was the Strategic Defense Initiative, and fear of the consequence of its deployment would drive the man known as the Unabomber to kill a president. Compared to OTL (and in spite of Reagan's middling reelection prospects) the SDI had considerably more robust support in this timeline, thanks largely to the constant work of Vice President Haig, who personally argued that his former position as Supreme Allied Commander had convinced him of the necessity of such a program in light of Soviet aggression.

    For Kaczynski it was a bridge too far. It didn't take a mathematics prodigy to see that the Soviets would feel backed into a corner. Assuming the system lived up to expectations, what recourse would they have? The only logical move would be to strike first. And the natural state he valued would be the ultimate casualty of the madness of the modern world. So he acted. All it took was one bomb and Reagan was killed instantly. How was he to know how far from operational the project was? That bomb had sapped the public will from the project, his task was complete.

    Eventually tracked down after a massive manhunt, the Unabomber was tried and sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences. He would never be released before his death. Excerpts from his unfinished manifesto would circulate in the cultural underground for years after his capture. In his last interview before his murder, Kaczynski admitted that, in light of the Haig presidency, perhaps Reagan was the lesser evil, but the SDI had been struck dead, and he admitted that that was enough.
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    Media Matters: Ridley Scott's Dune Chronicles
  • If you ask an average film student to list the most influential movie series ever made, it's a certainty that The Dune Chronicles will be somewhere near the top of the list. Based on the six novel masterwork of the same name written by Frank Herbert, it's interesting to look back on the troubled process of adapting the first novel, and on realizing how unlikely it was that the cinematic Duniverse could be brought to life at all.

    Originally released in 1965, the first novel in the series, simply titled Dune, would go on to become the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. Interest in adapting the work began to materialize in 1971, with the most interesting take on the material proposed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Even more ambitious than the product that would eventually take theaters by storm, Jodorowsky's project would collapse, massively over budget, following two years in pre-production. Following two more attempts to line up the project, the task of adapting the novel would fall to Ridley Scott.

    Fresh off the cult classic Blade Runner, Scott nearly dropped the project due to a cancer scare in his family. He credited the recovery of his brother Frank with inspiring him to finish the film, and the four hour epic would hit theaters in 1985, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the novel. Full of exotic world building and set design (particularly H.R. Giger's singular Harkonnen aesthetic), as well as deep philosophical themes brought to life by a committed cast, Dune would win rave reviews and prove to be incredibly popular despite its length and perhaps niche appeal.

    Bolstered by this success, Scott was able to quickly secure funding to begin adapting the other books in the series, which Herbert was able to complete with the sixth novel in the Dune Chronicles, Sandworms of Dune, just before his death in 1986. As ambitious as the first film was, it was in some ways more amazing that the rest of the Chronicles could be made without a noticeable dip in quality or serious turnover in cast.

    The Dune Chronicles would be forever cemented in the annals of science fiction and popular culture, with a wide ranging impact. For example, in 1999 the Wachowski brothers would cite the fully realized world building as an inspiration on the first Transmetropolitan film that would continue throughout the series, despite the radically different setting and tone of the project. On a darker note, the film series would go on to have a profound effect on one group in particular, the terror cell known as Heaven's Gate.
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    Voodoo Heart: The Haig Doctrine in Hispaniola
  • It's seemingly a natural feature of the twentieth century for presidents to articulate a particular "doctrine" of foreign policy, and the Haig administration was no exception. Billing his foreign policy as a natural continuation of Reagan's anticommunist ideals, the international doctrine Haig articulated was best characterized by a consistent ratcheting of pressure on "the Unfree World". While this would most notably see covert US support in Königsberg and the Republic of China (the Kurdish question being at best tangentially related to the Haig Doctrine), the first inkling of the impact of the doctrine would come in 1985 in Hispaniola.

    Having originally been elected democratically in Haiti, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier became increasingly authoritarian in the wake of an attempted coup in 1958, creating a cult of personality and a widely feared secret police, among other oppressive measures. Following his death in 1971, control of the regime would pass to his son Jean-Claude. By 1984, the populace had had enough, and began agitating for an end to the Duvalier reign of terror. President Haig was immediately concerned about the potential fall of a "valued ally so close to the American heartland", and President Duvalier was eager to capitalize on potential aid.

    Taking to the airwaves in a radio broadcast seemingly tailor made to win the support of the US, Duvalier denounced "a subversive plot by a communist cabal of enemies of the Haitian people" and laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Dominican Republic under Salvador Blanco. He accused Blanco of plotting the conquest of Haiti, with the goal to create a communist "People's Republic of Quisqueya". While this would win economic support and military hardware from the American government, it would ironically push Blanco, his government and his party further to the left, laying the groundwork for a later treaty of friendship with Cuba, the very thing Haig had feared from the beginning.

    Jean-Claude Duvalier would ultimately pass away in 2014, with the presidency in turn passing to his son Nicolas. Often considered the most authoritarian regime in the First World, Haiti is considered an embarrassment by Washington, with an incredibly loose alliance maintained only to counter possible Soviet or Cuban adventurism in Latin America. Often derided as "West Quisqueya" by its opponents in the US and around the world, the regime has adamantly refused all international attempts to dismantle the nation's extensive chemical weapons program, with stockpiles of everything from nerve gas to widespread rumors of more exotic fare inspired by the Duvalier family's extensive fascination with Haitian Vodou.
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    Writing on the Wall: An Excerpt of the Manifesto
  • "Because the Cosmicist movement that I advocate for cannot be categorized as wholely of the left or the right, more conventional idealogues denounce my actions as unfeasible or impossible as the mood strikes them. The simple fact is that an understanding of politics and government that used merely two axes of measurement is far too narrow a thing to build a worldview on, though the uninitiated could be forgiven for believing otherwise. It is a terrible moment to wake up to the truth of things, but it is ultimately necessary.

    The simple fact of the matter is the nature of the human condition. In one word, the human condition is paradox. To be human is to be awash in contradictions and doublethink even as we strain all our lives to deny this fact, to live in what each of us considers our own perfectly rational world. This is vanity. To bind ourselves to the rationality of machine logic is to deny a portion of our shared human experience, and serves no end but to limit the potential inherent within all of us."

    - Daniel Sutter, The Cosmicist Manifesto
    The Great Divide: Regionalism and Neofederalism
  • The divide between large and small government is very old in the United States, dating back to before the founding of the nation. Despite partisan talking points through the generations, a position on the size of government, on federal versus state power, cannot usually be neatly mapped based on political affiliation. A fluid thing, it changes based on the issue under discussion, on the spirit of the day, and on the behavior of whoever manipulates the levers of government power at any given point in time.

    This divide is alive and well in the modern American political landscape, with all the inherent contradictions, most clearly represented by the difference of opinion between Manifest Destiny! and the New Federalist Party. Although wildly different in tone, structure, and overall goals, both organizations trace their genesis to the Haig Administration, and to the events of the Era of Bad Feelings which would follow in his wake.

    Given adventurism abroad and a growing nationalist fervor at home, voices wandering in the wilderness of political opposition were quick to plant their flag and raise their voices against "executive overreach". While the holder of the Oval Office would change with time (leading to new cries of overreach in turn), certain principled people of all walks of life were sick of it all. Things were clearly flawed with government in America, and changes would have to be made. The only rub was how to do it.

    According to the "regionalist school", the problem was that government in general was flawed, not accurately representing the actual people living under it. It wasn't that the federal government was stronger than the states, but that both were insufficient for the needs of the common people. The ultimate result would be Manifest Destiny!, a faction or movement made up of a contradictory mass of Indian tribes, identity groups, and every type of secessionist. They're not much for unified goals or even a more solid organization, but I'm sure that's half the point.

    More organized by far, the "neofederalist school" argued that the problem was not in the inherent nature of state or local governments per se, but rather in the flaws in the way that citizens influence their government. Firmly embodied by the New Federalist party (obviously), the most committed neofederalists argue not only for broad changes to voting rights and political districting, but also for changes in legislative composition, the size and selection of the Supreme Court, and the powers and responsibilities of the Executive.

    The fact that the New Federalists are considered "the center" of the five Establishment parties, while Manifest Destiny! is forced to share the lunatic fringe with the damn pirate party is either a sign of everything wrong with business as usual or that the system is working exactly as it should. It all depends on who you ask.
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    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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    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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    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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    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.
    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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  • As Germany began rising again in Europe and China began to devour itself in an orgy of corruption and privatization in Asia, the writing was on the wall. It was a time for action. After years of quiet resistance and subversion, all the work and planning of the Soviet hardliners would finally pay off. 1991 would be a hell of a year. The first step would be to take a page out of Washington's book.

    Since the mid-eighties a cabal in the upper echelons of the Red Army had been hard at work discretely laying the groundwork for action in Africa. They had supported the consolidation of the regime in Angola, and their investment had paid off handsomely, giving them a stable and well supplied proxy force to support communist insurgents in southern Africa. Always on the cusp for forty years, 1991 would finally see the end of apartheid, and the horrifying breakup of South Africa.

    With the death of Nelson Mandela under suspicious circumstances, communists within the African National Congress gained an increasingly large influence to the terror of the white minority and the National Party that represented their interests. This would lead to a reactionary crackdown on the ANC that would push its members into more desperate acts of resistance, creating an escalating cycle as both sides continued a steady slide toward violent radicalism. This escalation would reach its ultimate conclusion in February of 1991 when State President du Plessis would be killed in a car accident.

    Forced to chose a new leader and in the grips of an existential fear of growing Soviet influence in the country, the party would make the only choice they felt they could: Eugène Terre'Blanche, formerly of the AWB, was selected to lead the party and defend South African tradition. His first act would be to bring in his former movement as a sanctioned paramilitary. Reprisals against the ANC were swift and savage, retaliatory bombings and attacks by Angolan auxiliaries followed in turn, and they were of to the races by the start of March. The South African Race War had begun.

    Closer to home, traditionalists in the diplomatic bureaucracy set to work winning allies in Europe to counter a perceived threat on their western flank. Much less flashy than the overtly military support offered in Africa, these moves would in many ways be considered the higher achievement, and with far fewer crimes against humanity involved to boot. These diplomatic victories would seal the Iron Curtain and render it impermeable for decades to come, with only one unforseen chink in the armor.

    First and foremost was the growing crisis in Yugoslavia. An ungainly frankenstate at the best of times, the nation had been under escalating strain since the death of Tito in 1980. There was simply no-one else who could step in and keep the nation united through charisma and sheer force of will. Although Gorbachev would attempt mediation, the distractions at home would prevent him from taking a more active hand. And so it fell to Soviet diplomats, secretly the same people who were hamstringing him domestically, to offer aid to the negotiating parties of the simmering conflict.

    Meanwhile, the Republic of Turkey was driving itself insane with worry over Kurdistan. Given their own Kurdish insurgency it was completely unthinkable that they could maintain a partnership with the United States in the wake of such a betrayal. Despite the fact that the rebellious PKK was a more ideologically-aligned ally there was no way the Soviet deep state would look this gift horse in the mouth, and they would begin an extensive effort to lure away the disgruntled nation from the NATO umbrella, right under Haig's nose.

    Certain their actions had made their position more secure and convinced the public was on their side in the face of American bellicosity and the hideous capitalism beginning to ravage the PRC, the conspirators knew it was time to act, lest all these geopolitical moves pay off while that weakling Gorbachev was still around to reap a political windfall. After months of frantic action, while the world looked on in horror at the mounting death toll in South Africa, the shadow government of the Soviet Union would launch a coup.

    On August 19th, the so-called State Committee on the State of Emergency would seize control of the airwaves. Declaring that General Secretary Gorbachev had "over his tenure threatened the peace and stability of the Soviet Union" and "laid bare [its people] to the capitalist depredations of American imperialism, German aggression, and bourgeois immorality" (referencing the situation in China), Gennady Yanayev declared himself "President of the Soviet Union" and called on "all true New Soviet People" to "take to the streets in defense of the Revolution of Lenin and Stalin" to "usher our shared grand proletarian experiment into the twenty-first century".

    The people would answer his call, and in what some observers called a Velvet Revolution the hardliners were able to quickly consolidate power. Yeltsin would be shot "attempting to leave house arrest" and what popular resistance their was would be quickly suppressed by the new regime. There would be some setbacks in the chaos, of course. The Baltic states would secede, but the new Baltic Federation remained a firm member of the Warsaw Pact. More troublesome was Kaliningrad.

    Caught off guard by the coup and distracted propping up the government in South Africa, the Haig administration had missed the chance to do to the Evil Empire what it had done in the PRC. Ultimately, American arms would only enable the newly renamed Königsberg to escape the Soviet yoke under a German aegis, though the nation assured the world that it would merely protect, rather than reabsorb, the region. It would fuel Soviet resentment well into the next century, but could be allowed to wait for a time.

    It would be Pat Buchanan that would coin the term Year of Calamity, as in the seeming blink of an eye the Unfree World was surging, devouring territory in Africa and consolidating behind the Iron Curtain. Turkey would announce its withdrawal from NATO in mid-November, becoming an observer nation, rather than a member, of the Warsaw Pact. For magnate Ross Perot it was too much. The Republican Party had failed America, and only he could set it right.

    The question was how, the Democrats were anemic in the wake of repeated losses and Haig's massive program of domestic subversion, and going left wouldn't be the answer anyway. The two party system was a joke, so he resolved himself to seek the presidency, with new ideas and a new movement. Ruling out running as an independent, he decided he would shatter the old system. He had to reach the White House, and so he founded the Reform Party to get him there.

    Although overlooked at the time, with hindsight the most important moment of the Year of Calamity would occur near its end. Daniel Sutter would be born December 11, 1991, an average baby to average parents. A date that would come to live (for some) in infamy. Cosmicism was inevitable now.

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    Aftershocks: The USS and "Vanguard Plurality"
  • Contrary to the mood in the West, the Year of Calamity produced cautious optimism in the USSR and the Soviet sphere more broadly, with some wry commentators coining the term "Soviet Restoration" both to inflate the magnitude of the coup and its geopolitical correlates and also to undermine the frankly apocalyptic negativism that Buchanan's phrase embodied. Even in the grips of triumph, however, President Yanayev and the rest of the State Committee knew some changes were necessary to prevent all their good works from coming undone. Unlike Gorbachev's liberalisation, however, these would be correct reforms, fully in line with Marxist-Leninism and the entire Soviet experiment.

    Having been far too busy dealing with mounting crises at home and abroad, Gorbachev had never been able to propose his "Union of Sovereign States" concept, and with his arrest he never would. The State Committee would, instead, modify the plan, and shamelessly introduce it as their own idea. The trick, of course, would be to devolve enough power to the individual SSRs without leaving the Union so weak that it would fragment. In his first major speech in the wake of the coup, Yanayev would present his answer to the nation and the world, a concept he would call "Vanguard Pluralism".

    Under his proposal, the USSR would be reformed into a new entity, the Union of Soviet States, but would remain a one party state. Although the component states would be allowed more leeway, ideological supremacy was to be kept paramount, even if the various branches of the CPSU did have some room to diverge from one another as conditions warranted. In theory this would maintain national cohesion while allowing practices pioneered successfully in one area to spread organically, strengthening the Union as a whole.

    Vanguard Pluralism would gradually spread to several allies in the Soviet sphere of influence, with Yugoslavia an early adopter. After a long period of internal tensions and Soviet-backed mediation, Belgrade was closer to Moscow than it had been since Stalin was alive, so in some ways this was natural. Already existing in a federal structure, the negotiations of the so-called "Reconciliation Commission" would see the number of Yugoslav Republics go from six to eight, as well as changes to investment and education in the nation. Although a little shaky in the beginning (and despite the cries of some Serb nationalists) the new structure would hold despite expectations, further validating the Vanguard Plurality model championed by the USS.

    The far more intense test for the approach would come with its application to the bifurcated South Africa. In the wake of a five year civil/race war, the portion of the former nation allied to the Soviets encompassed several distinct ethnic groups and languages, all with historical grievances. The approach ultimately adopted by the new Union of Azania would see the development of an even looser structure than in Yugoslavia. Internal tensions would remain high, but given the bellicosity of the Kaap it made sense none of the constituent states would want to be the first to pull their finger from the dyke. By the turn of the century continued cooperation would be seen as the only reasonable path forward, and Azania is relatively stable outside of election years.

    These two early success stories would further enable the spread of the concept, although the coming Cuban crisis in particular would demonstrate that maybe there was such a thing as "ideologically unfit", even with the looser hand taken by the USS. Meanwhile, further south and decades later, the Antarctic Revolution would see the adoption of a refined form of Vanguard Pluralism by the victorious Cosmicist forces.
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    A Horse of a Different Color: Reform and Ross Perot!
  • Given the intense fragmentation that characterizes the modern American political system, it is easy for a certain class of nostalgic to hearken back to "the good old days", when politics were amicable and third parties never had a chance. While the former point was an illusion at the best of times, the latter one was an ironclad fact for much of the American experiment, which would only make the Reform victory more surprising. It is therefore crucial that we examine the factors that contributed to this electoral upset.

    While the winner take all system naturally depressed political factions with minor popular support, exacerbated by active efforts by the Republicans and Democrats both to avoid giving a stage of any kind to potential ideological rivals, the other issue was one of substance. While the major parties were "big tent" containing a wide spread of factions and interest groups that granted a certain organic resilience, minor parties tended to be animated by specific goals, which left them vulnerable to having their support devoured. The fact that national Prohibition had been passed without the actual Prohibition Party winning major support at any level nicely illustrates this point.

    So how could one man found a party and ride it to the presidency in less than a year? The answer is complex and has gotten several long books devoted to it. In brief: Although the parties were still diverse, the trend of ideological purity and partisan sorting had been accelerating rapidly in the wake of Nixon's Southern Strategy and the start of the Sixth Party System. If anything, Haig's presidency had only made the division more extreme, opening a middle ground between the two rapidly diverging parties. The taint of scandal made Perot's run that much easier.

    Although the conservatism advanced by Haig had seemed untouchable for a decade, the Year of Calamity had brought all of that to a sudden and shocking end. Suddenly it was as if the floodgates had opened, with a series of whistleblower reports on the illegal foreign actions of the Haig Doctrine and the domestic crusade of subversion aimed at liberal organizations causing a nauseated wave of public outrage.

    In other circumstances the Democrats might have capitalized on this sudden discontent, but the resurgence of the Unfree World and the revelation that several major ringleaders in the progressive grassroots were FBI plants cast the party adrift, dooming them to a soul-searching wander in the wilderness that would last the better part of two decades. Into the breach stepped Ross Perot.

    Having used his own money to bankroll the expansion of his Reform Party, Perot would campaign on a platform of government reform (partially in response to the newly discovered abuses of the Haig years), combined with a drive for fiscal responsibility, technological advancement, and an aversion to the foreign adventurism that characterized his predecessor. In a three-way race between Secretary of State Bush in the Republican camp and Democrat Bill Clinton (derisively called "the Great Triangulator" for his attempt to adjust his platform to attract Republican and Reform voters), Perot, offering a radical change to the status quo, would successfully bolster his coalition with disaffected voters from across the political spectrum.

    In the end it would be enough, and Perot would gain the White House, though his Reform Party was unable to capture the Congress. Always a party of one man, the Reform contingent was ideologically fluid enough that it could pivot from issue to issue, caucusing with whichever party they agreed with most on a given problem. Although this fluidity would allow President Perot to enact parts of his agenda, this same fluidity would be the undoing of Reform.

    In future elections without Perot on the ticket, the party would pivot wildly based on whoever happened to capture the imagination of the party's ever-changing base, as seen in the drastic shift seen in the party from Perot, to Nader, and on to Buchanan. While Reform had been conceived to shatter the status quo, it was unlikely that anyone knew on that fateful November day in 1992 just what had been set into motion.
    The Sacred Bull: The Maastricht Treaty and the Paneuropean Community
  • With recent events in the aftermath of the Year or Calamity and the rise of Reform, many Europeans would consider themselves trapped in the worst of all worlds: not only were the Soviets on the surge (again!) but it was happening right as a new American administration was moving away from foreign meddling. Although much of the Continental intelligentsia had critiqued the Haig Doctrine, President Perot's marked aversion from foreign involvement, even in the short term, was the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction to many.

    To the major powers of Europe, particularly UN Security Council members France and the UK, a more involved arrangement would be needed to stabilize and secure European affairs in the face of the red menace. This did come with one major problem: the question of what to do with Germany. Although France and Germany had certainly grown closer in the postwar world, there was no question that the annexation of Austria and the reclamation of Königsburg (no matter what diplomatic fictions were maintained) alarmed many of the same people up in arms against the Iron Curtain.

    It was clear than any European united front would have to include Germany, both to maintain stability and to prevent an independent Germany from growing too strong to be contained. The end result of these deliberations would be the Treaty of Maastricht, signed in January of 1993 and ushering in the creation of the Paneuropean Community.

    Building on several preexisting treaties between the three distinct European Communities, the Maastricht Treaty would weave together the various member nations into a tightly woven political and economic alliance, eliminating barriers to trade and movement within the alliance while creating (most alarmingly) a shared European military aimed at defending against what many at the time considered an almost inevitable invasion from the Eastern Bloc. While matters of funding and national troop quotas would be a source of debate for decades to come, the utility of the European Defense Forces and the institution's avowed avoidance of national favoritism and partisan politics would make it one of the most robust organs of the PEC.

    Even at the time, many German nationalists (and what a world where they could call themselves that again!) knew their resurging nation was only being asked to the table to keep them from going out on their own. This lingering sense of discontent would surge and recede over the years, eventually driving the nation from the PEC following an especially fraught vote early in the new century. Attempts to force a second referendum are currently ongoing.
    A Horse of a Different Color: Politics and Symbology in the PEC
  • Comparatively speaking, the PEC is a looser alliance than OTL EU, all things considered, with the multiple attempts to introduce a common currency regularly defeated. The PEC has its own flag, a blue field featuring a white bull crowned with a sun disk of stars standing over an arrangement of three arrows. Harking back to symbolism early in the century, the three arrows are meant to represent the bloc's commitment against totalitarianism in general but many consider it a targeted gesture aimed square at Germany. Norway is a member of the PEC.

    Politics in the PEC is dominated by two major factions that began in the two dominant founding members. TTL references to the "Franco-British Union" is the pointed remark of choice aimed at a meddling PEC.
    • The Mountain: Originating in France, the Mountain is a coalition of the left-leaning parties of the PEC, generally favoring strong social welfare, protection for unions, and enforced laïceté on a continental level achieved through a strong federal government. Accused of being appeasers and apologists to the USSR, the Mountain is distrusted by the Levellers, and despised by the Underground. The Mountain favors a dull red color.
    • The Levellers: The second major pole of Paneuropean politics and originating in the UK, the Levellers focus much more on preserving the rights of the national governments of the PEC against centralized encroachment and favor religious pluralism in public and private life. Taking a hard line against encroachment by the USSR, the Levellers are firm supporters of the military, viewing a strong defense as the supreme guarantor of national liberties in Western Europe. The Levellers use sea green.
    • The Underground- A populist movement in West Germany, the Underground does not compete at the federal level on the continent, and is considered to the extreme right on the European political spectrum. Viewing the entire Paneuropean project as a shadowy path to Communist style tyranny, the Underground opposes what it views as "government overreach by a bloated corps of continentalist apparatchiks". After over twenty years of repeated calls to take Germany out of the alliance, a recent successful referendum has thrown the nation into upheaval. The Underground uses black to barely subdued alarm from outside observers.