Timeline 9: "The Big D"


The War


Current Situation

US Situation

Culture of Mind

The Future



Timeline 9 diverged from homeline history when a package of future strategic intelligence information was delivered to the CIA in 1971, far earlier than any previous transtemporal displacement. The arrival of highly sensitive information on the true capabilities of the Soviet Union and its future development caused a huge stir in the intelligence community. Uncertain about the true origin of the information – some suspected a massive Soviet disinformation coup – the community advised the president to slow work on the SALT I treaty, and Nixon did not go to China. The end result was a cooling in East-West relations. At the time this seemed manageable, since the intelligence community was confident on the eventual victory of the West over the East Block given the contents of the “Easter Egg Cache”.

The intelligence information about the Yom Kippur War was quickly leaked to Israel, which put it to good use. When the attack came Israel mobilized in record time and ambushed several key enemy units. When the Egyptian line collapsed on Sinai, Israeli forces routed them to Suez and managed to keep the canal even after the UN mediated peace. The disaster caused political upheaval in Egypt, and the Sadat government fell. After a long and messy internal conflict a hardliner government came into power, supported by radical Islamic forces.

The preoccupation among the intelligence community of analyzing and using the intelligence (compounded by the extreme paranoia induced by the revelations of future leaks and the risk of the information falling into Soviet hands) caused the Watergate scandal to break out in a different manner, far dirtier than in our history. The “accidental” death of a republican campaign worker was traced to the Watergate conspiracy, compounding the scandal. Nixon was impeached due to a deadlock in the House of Representatives, and Spiro Agnew took the post as president. His first act in office was to offer a full pardon to Nixon, which caused a constitutional crisis as the Supreme Court decided to overrule the decision. Agnew resigned with Ford as a replacement. Confidence in the US president was at an all time low.

The Vietnam War was won – just barely. Using the intelligence cache to its outmost, including a series of assassinations against key North Vietnamese officials and several enormously costly military ventures, a cease-fire and eventual peace settlement was achieved with a Vietnam similarly divided as Korea: North Vietnam acting as a buffer zone to China, and South Vietnam maintained through heavy US economic and military aid. The South Vietnamese regime were to prove a heavy drain on the US in the area, becoming a major gateway for drug traffic, a perennial civil rights disaster and obvious symbol of US imperialism. In the US the anti-war movement merely turned into an isolationist withdrawal movement, seeking the withdrawal of support from Vietnam and other “dirty” regimes.

Meanwhile China and the Soviet Union began to approach each other. Brezhnev viewed the US as weak and splintered and pursued the diplomatic and military arms race persistently, disregarding the economic problems that were growing within the empire. While the situation in Europe remained stable, the new theatre of advance became the Mid-east. After the Yom Kippur disaster anti-American sentiments in the region were high, and Soviet found many allies in Egypt and elsewhere. A policy of quietly supporting even radical fundamentalists as long as they were anti-American was begun, helping uneasy alliances of Arab-socialists and islamists gain influence. The total departure from the strategies in the intelligence materials made the US intelligence community unable to handle the problems; many simply focused on the areas where it still produced valuable results such as in Europe and South America.

India began a move towards firm neutrality, working together with other unaligned nations such as Scandinavia to create a “third alternative”. The alternative movement was not wholly successful, but an increasing number of people began to openly seek the creation of a global neutral alternative to NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The War

Faced with the choice between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the US chose Israel. In 1978 both the Saud family and the Shah of Iran fell in coups – the US suddenly found itself about to lose influence severely in the Mid-East. Israel mobilized, preparing for an attack. When Ayatollah Khomeini began to count the oil price in rubles instead of dollars the situation began to move quickly. In December several nations in the region instituted an oil embargo against the US. At this point Israel moved in across Syria ”in order to pre-empt an obvious attack” and then continued rolling eastwards. Oilfields around the Persian Gulf were set on fire as not to fall into the hands of the Israelis.

The mid-east war escalated and the tensions between the superpowers grew. March 17 1979 nuclear war broke out: Egyptian missiles with Soviet warheads struck against Israel (later it was discovered that the launch was not sanctioned from Moscow and likely a combination of a mistake as well as a personal revenge on behalf of involved officers). Israel responded by launching its Samson program against Cairo and Riyadh.

The devastation caused the immediate activation of WW III scenarios elsewhere – both the US and Soviet took the events as signals of an imminent first strike. In Europe, France declared itself neutral. Soviet tanks began to advance across West Germany, a tactical nuclear weapon was used near Lünenburg and March 18 strategic missiles were launched. What started as a limited exchange seeking to prevent a massive MAD launch soon escalated; over the next 24 hours a sizeable fraction of the nuclear arsenal was used against potential military targets, economic resources and infrastructure in Europe, the US, East Bloc and elsewhere.

The Warsaw pact forces advanced apparently relentlessly westwards, despite the massive damage everywhere. March 20 France stepped in, threatening direct tactical nuclear attacks unless they turned back to the pre-war border. The Pact, not particularly willing to risk its last resources on a very uncertain blitzkrieg across Western Europe agreed and began a slow retreat.


The destruction caused by the exchange was immense, although never serious enough to endanger the survival of the human species. Over the next three years the average temperature of the world fell by one degree, but the effect did not persist as long as had been feared. The temporary climate effects still were enough to cause noticeable crop failures. The background radiation level on the northern hemisphere increased significantly, causing a long rise in cancer morbidity that persists decades later.

In the US much of the eastern seaboard, the major cities and enormous tracts of land around the heartland missile silo fields were thoroughly devastated and the fallout poisoned many areas across the continent. In the attack and the aftermath approximately 107 million people died in the US of injuries, radiation, fires, flooding, epidemics, starvation or violence. Those who survived the initial attack were still vulnerable to infections in the crowded shelters and refugee camps, especially during the “black winter” 79-80 when medical supplies were practically non-existent. Most people with chronic diseases requiring medication such as diabetes, heart disease or hemophilia died.

The president was accidentally killed in the attack: ironically a misguided Russian warhead detonated close to the secret underground base where he was residing. The vice president was similarly unlucky as the shelter in Maine he had occupied was directly hit. The Speaker of the House survived, and was moved to Memphis where an emergency federal government was being set up.

The aftermath proved as deadly as the attack. The infrastructure near the major cities was entirely jammed by escaping, wounded or dying people. Centralized organization broke down nearly everywhere and soon the logistics of handing hundreds of thousands of burn cases, maintaining road traffic, providing fresh water and other necessities ground to a halt. Millions died in enormous hospital camps despite heroic efforts. Refugees crowded into undamaged cities, often getting into conflict with the locals.

Over the next months the chaos turned into routine. Those who could be saved had been saved, and evacuation – spontaneous and organized – was underway to less affected areas. The breakdown on the federal level was handled in an ad hoc manner locally; many communities organized militias, volunteer brigades and attempted to repair infrastructure. What truly saved the US was the strong civil society – even in the absence of information from a central command people organized themselves and did what they could. By July the surviving government functions had relocated to Memphis and began to consolidate the nation.

While the US managed to survive somewhat, the Soviet Union was not so lucky. Although much of the high-ranking party officials and military administration survived, the destruction of major administrative centers made the already fragile economy collapse. The combination of springtime muddy roads, the practice of “storming” industrial production late in the month and a cold spring paralyzed much of the nation. Although the Union formally remained, in practice it turned into a patchwork of states governed by different military branches. In some regions a semblance of stability was retained, in many parts of the land anarchy reigned. As the central power lost its grip, many regions rose against the Russians and began “derussification”. This also occurred across Eastern Europe, turning much of it into a hornet’s nest of terrorism, minor coups and military governments.

The situation in Europe was chaotic. While large regions were far removed from the conventional war and nuclear attacks, fallout from the British Isles, the Low Countries, Germany and Eastern Europe swept across vast tracts. The ordered retreat of the Warsaw Pact eastwards after the armistice began to break up as soldiers and units deserted; many simply holed up somewhere in Germany and refused to move. Refugees in desperate need of medicine, water, food and shelter flooded the less devastated areas. France and other nations not directly hit by the war did what they could, but they were not eager to take in millions of starving, radiation burned and traumatized (and often armed) refugees.

China took the chance to occupy Taiwan in late 79, but did not expand further – the remaining forces in the Pacific were still too strong to hazard. Instead China turned inwards and attempted to consolidate.  North Korea did an abortive attempt to reunite Korea 1980, hoping for strong Chinese support. When the support did not appear, South Korea pushed them back and re-established the original border.

Japan was hit by a few nuclear attacks, but despite massive civilian losses the nation began to rebuild itself nearly directly after the war. Recognizing the changed situation, the self-defense force was beefed up into a conventional army to protect the nation. It took a leading role in ASEAN (which South Korea joined in 1985); over the following years the ASEAN nations have grown into a powerful local block. When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, a flood of emigrants spread into ASEAN further strengthening some regions.

Australia and New Zeeland were left fairly unscathed, and suddenly became leading high-tech powers. Together with Japan they began to take over the role as the producers of microelectronics. The area around University of Wollongong became known in the late 80’s as “Silicon Billabong”, and was by the year 2000 home to much of the world’s computer industry. Queensland Software Development (QSD) is the largest software firm, and the cheap and popular ‘Roo 2001 computers from Darwin Digital are the most common computers in the world.

Latin America underwent a chaotic and bloody period of revolutions, military coups and slow democratization as the fractions previously supported by the superpowers now slowly dwindled. The devastation in the US gave the oil producing nations a great chance; they made huge profits from selling oil to the desperate US government in return for both gold and trade concessions. By the late 90’s most of the nations in the region were progressing reasonably, and some (like Argentina, Panama and Chile) were quickly becoming industrialized first world nations (the “panther economies”). 

US refugees spread both north into Canada and south into the Caribbean and Mexico. They were not always welcomed, but in much of Latin America the influx of relatively well educated Americans willing to take nearly any job to get out of the US proved a significant asset and would eventually lead to the huge economic growth in the region in the 90’s. There has also been a noticeable brain drain to Australia and its high tech economy.

Current situation

The world economy is dominated by Japan, Australia, South America, India and France. The US is slowly recovering, Soviet remains a hopeless mess and much of Europe is struggling to rebuild. China is brooding within its borders, neither expanding nor decaying. The United Nations currently convenes in Marseilles, although there is constant debate on where to move it.

Gradually the European situation has stabilized. France remains the central power; its leftist government backed by support from the social democrat governments of the Scandinavian countries and Italy. France is doing its best to remain outside the most chaotic problems of the continent, while at the same time energetically meddling nearly everywhere. France and Scandinavia engage in coolly rational social democratic realpolitik, helping others but always making sure the result helps their own economies even more. One of the more controversial French moves is the “civilization project”, consisting of association treaties “for the further development of civilization” made with other nations for mutual cooperation, technical and cultural exchange. On the surface a fairly innocuous program, critics accuse France from taking advantage of the situation and building itself an empire similar to the British Commonwealth.

Central Europe is a patchwork of devastated ruin cities, refugee camps, small military fiefdoms run by deserted Pact forces and thoroughly civilian regions supporting the ineffectual Bundestag that tries to manage the situation. The damage is just as great as in the US, partially helped by the shorter distances but also hindered by the complicated political situation. Much of Eastern Europe has broken free from Soviet, although it is hard to tell where the borders and spheres of influence end. Titoist Yugoslavia remains an island of relative stability in the otherwise chaotic Balkans.

Britain remains seriously weakened, but the parliament in Edinburgh manages to hold the ravaged land together. A powerful factor is King Charles III, who has taken upon himself to restore livable villages and generally recreate “a green and pleasant land”. His writings on the ideal of the small town community (partially inspired by anthroposophy) has been widely spread and are influential in the American “small is beautiful” movement.

The Soviet Union formally remains, but in practice it has disintegrated into a number of republics. In many regions the Russian power has been overthrown, and local governments rule with more or less violence. In Russia proper the different military units and regional Party branches have turned themselves into de facto governments, sometimes even attacking each other for resources. The official Soviet leadership moves around in heavily armed convoys between some of the Russian army bases, formally still running the Union but in practice acting more like a feudal monarchy. 

The mid east remains a powder keg. Despite the nuclear destruction of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv Israel survived and managed to keep its extended borders despite near continual harassment and terrorism. The other Arab nations are a mixture of conservative Islamic governments and Arab socialism, often united in uneasy alliances that tend to produce coups on a regular basis. Moderate and liberal Islam has been seriously weakened, and many Muslims have emigrated to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The oilfields have only partially been repaired, but the oil industry is picking up.

India approached Japan in the early 80’s, and the nations have since then had a fruitful cooperation. Japan remains dependent on mid-east oil, and managed to broker a speedy resolution to the Kashmir conflict with Pakistan in exchange for oil rights. India has embraced market economics with a vengeance, led by the ”New Delhi School” of laissez faire economics. It appears bent on turning India into the new Hong Kong of south Asia. The rapid changes have led to both a rise in religious violence as conservatives clash with each other and modernists, and a widespread secularization.

Africa has been largely ignored by the current big powers, with the exception of France. After the collapse of many competing oil companies French ELF Aquitaine has become the world’s leading oil company, and its oil extraction in Nigeria, Algeria and Chad can only be described as neo-colonialism supported by the French government. The French presence in Africa has grown over the years, partially countered by the spread of radical Islamic missionaries from the Middle East. Many observers worry that the situation is slowly moving towards a repeat of the Mid-East crisis.

One of the growing problems worldwide is the spread of VID, Viral Immune Deficiency (in the homeline called AIDS). It was discovered in 1982 by French researchers studying the many immune deficiencies that had appeared among people exposed to radiation. In the US, the epidemic had been partially halted due to the destruction of the major cities where also most of the early infected lived, but during the Aftermath the desperate medical conditions led to widespread re-use of badly cleaned syringes during antibiotics treatments, spreading the disease into the population (together with hepatitis and several other diseases).

US Situation

The new federal government in Memphis is far more lightweight than the previous one. There have not been enough resources to run anything the size of the pre-war administration, and all effort has been concentrated on the most necessary functions. During the Aftermath the government essentially ran the economy as a command economy, distributing supplies by fiat and with extensive emergency powers. The president held numerous emergency powers for most of the 80’s, eventually leading to the “1990 coup” when the House practically forced the president and his emergency committees to relinquish most of their extra powers. The first postwar election was held in 1991.

For the entire 80’s FEMA was running nearly everything, together with the emergency committees and the military. They dealt with everything from food shortages and epidemics to damaged nuclear plants and rationing systems. They were to a large extent the power behind the throne, ruling the president by showing the necessity of certain actions. By 2002 FEMA has dwindled, but still retain a powerful presence in many regions (“Femaland”).

Two of the next most powerful forces in the federal government are the CDC and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. CDC is responsible for distributing the scarce medical resources, and together with the Department of Energy run the “radvans” which measure radiation, distribute updated radiation maps, do health checkups and provide vaccination. DHUD coordinates the projects of tearing down abandoned buildings, suburbs and cities, and its controversial Bureau of Relocation attempts to resettle refugees in underpopulated areas.

In fact, the main hot political issue currently is resettlement. By now the radiation has reached acceptable levels in many regions, and plans are underway to resettle them. However, many refuges have by now settled down elsewhere and are unwilling to move, especially if they don’t entirely trust the safety of the “reclaimed zones”. A complex game between local, state and the federal government is taking place, and political opinions are divided in the population. It is likely the next election will be mainly about the future of the relocation program.

Portland has grown to become a major city, the gateway to the pacific. Overall Oregon has developed in leaps and bounds – the state was not hit by any direct attack, the infrastructure was largely left intact and after some problems with the refugees the increased population turned out to help the rebuilding of local industry.

Although most the US is under federal control, there are still troublesome regions where it is hard to reach, the communities refuse to rejoin the nation or local strongmen have set themselves up as rulers. The most obvious example is the “Emperor of New Jersey”, the acting governor of New Jersey Bruce Fitzgerald. During the Aftermath, Fitzgerald (until then a political aide to the governor) organized the local militias and managed to keep the situation as much under control as possible, despite the fallout and refugee load from the nearby cities. He managed to consolidate a firm hold on power with his passionately loyal militia and citizens, setting up his own government in Vineland. As the federal government began to encroach, Fitzgerald officially welcomed them but quickly bogged them down in formalia, equipment requests and discrete sabotage.

Many people were displaced as refugees. The refugees became a serious problem during the Aftermath since the tensions with the “locals” grew as housing, food and medical resources dwindled. In some places refugee camps have become nearly permanent cities, although the Department of Housing is trying to relocate them. Even where the refugees have settled in a certain distance remains between them and the locals. They are often somewhat distrusted, and generally have a lower socioeconomic status. In response many of the refugees have been very supportive of the state and federal governments.

After the chaos of the war and the ensuing hyperinflation, the dollar has been reissued as “new dollars”. The new dollar bill looks fairly similar to the old, but it contains a magnetic strip containing information that is read by handheld readers.

Deurbanization is widespread, not just in the US. Many people have developed unease in being in or near major cities, and the small town is developing a renaissance. In the US the population decline has produced a tendency for medium-sized cities to have a small living core, surrounded by more or less abandoned suburbs (which are being torn down and often converted to parklands).

The war caused a massive loss of specialists; doctors, engineers and other specialist professions tended to be concentrated to major cities, making the destruction hit them especially hard. At least half of the medical professionals of the US were killed in the initial strikes and aftereffects. The shortage has been slow to heal, especially since much of the higher levels of the education system were hit hard. Although many universities did survive and a number of new ones have been founded there are still a huge shortage of experts and educators. Many go abroad for higher education, and firms often have to hire foreign consultants.

The loss of the US brain trust has generally affected the world – many research areas and technologies have developed far slower than they would otherwise have.  Australian computers at early 80’s level (personal computers with a few tens of kilobytes, mainframes with megabyte memories) are becoming common in the US. Elsewhere the technology corresponds to early 90’s technology in the homeline. The Japanese are building a national computer network infrastructure and a variant of the French minitel system is cropping up in many countries. Biotechnology is just emerging, although experiments with bacteriophage treatments are bearing fruit as “living vaccines” and cancer treatments. 

Plastic is rare, and wind power has become widespread. In the more advanced countries nuclear power has been extensively developed as an alternative to the expensive and politically treacherous oil. Alcohol powered vehicles are still common in the US, but long-range transportation is still mainly by train. The railways were nationalized and run by the Department of Transportation, but recently private railroads have begun to be built. The private rail companies are still struggling to get a deregulation so that they can set their own prices, but so far the Department of Transportation retains the price controls.

During the Aftermath private cars were banned, something that caused a huge break in American lifestyle. As the situation got better the regulations were loosened, but lack of gasoline and spare parts limited the use; cars became envied and nostalgic status symbols. As a substitute the bicycle has become widespread.

The scarcity of electricity brought back acoustic music. Music often is often Latin inspired in the south; latino rock from Mexico is often heard on the radio. Recently French electronic jazz (with Jean Michel Jarre as the most famous star) has begun to become the next big thing among the postwar generation in the US, partially as a cultural protest.


The Big D              The Big Death, the nuclear war in 1979.

The Aftermath      The traumatic two year period after the Big D.

Femaland               The regions administrated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Fedland                  The regions strongly controlled (or loyal to) the federal government. Derogatory.

Culture of Mind

Everyone has lost loved ones in the Big D or the Aftermath; the loss weighs heavily but most people cope. Those who did not cope did not survive.

The postwar generation is growing up and questioning their parents. They have been firmly taught the lessons of the past, but still view their elders as being obsessed with a vanished world; they want to live in the present and future, not in some pre-war past.

The enormous displacement has driven many to treasure fragments of the past or great myths; there has been a general return to religion. American history has become an important cultural myth to help people cope, and nationalist metaphors and symbols are everywhere.

The antiwar movement has largely turned into a “small is beautiful” movement with strong libertarian overtones. It distrusts the federal organization, instead pointing at the diverse and vital local communities as the true future of the US. The “small is beautiful” people oppose a return to the idea of strong government and a return to the big cities – it was that kind of politics which led to Watergate and the Big D, and centralized institutions are vulnerable. Instead they favor a widely distributed system, where small cities keep in touch through telephone and railroads, running themselves using local democracy and generally minding their own business.

Socialism was never disproved in this timeline as it was in homeline by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead it remains an influential system of thought among many intellectuals and politicians. Although the breakdown of the East Bloc demonstrated serious weaknesses in the planned economies European-style mixed economies with strong government control remain fairly common. Although reactions to overt socialism in the US are extremely negative, many districts and communes are based on socialist principles (sometimes without the citizens realizing it).

Education has been hard hit, and having a good academic education means high status. There is a noticeable education gap between the postwar generation and the prewar generations, and many worry that it may develop into a “lost generation” if higher education is not extended quickly.

The Future

Currently (2002) the world has a French political hegemony, a Japanese economic hegemony and an Australian technological hegemony. Australia and Japan are planning to join into a ”Pacific Co-Prosperity Sphere”, which would further strengthen their economical power. If the rest of ASEAN or India also joins, the sphere would become an economic powerhouse that would seriously frighten France into creating something similar in the West, possibly involving the US and/or Latin America.

The US is recovering, and will likely become prosperous and powerful within 20-30 years. Much depends on whether the nation moves in the direction of the centralist federal government or the decentralist local governments. If it becomes more centralized it will likely start to resemble its former structure, unless the central economic controls continue to broaden. If it becomes decentralized the US will not be highly competitive in the industries requiring large industrial synergies, but rather in light manufacturing and advanced technology. The spread of telecommuting, information technology and biotechnology may be the launchpad for the US economy in the 2020’s.

South America is also showing great potential, and will likely become a major player by 2010. Economists estimate that if nothing truly bad happens there will be a massive surge in living standard and economic power of the new world 2010-2020, which will be a massive challenge for the ageing populations in Europe and Japan to meet.

Currently France is the major space nation with its intact launch site in Guyana. India has begun to launch Japanese-built rockets from Sriharikota and there is talk of building a major spaceport in Indonesia or use sea-based launchers. The interest is solely telecommunications, remote sensing and resource monitoring satellites; manned spaceflight is currently too expensive and irrelevant. Many experts believe that to replace the telecommunications networks that were destroyed in the war and still have not been fully repaired a wireless infrastructure is preferable. Mobile phones are emerging, and it is believed that satellite communications may be what finally wires the US and central Europe.

The future will depend on how the different growing economic powers interact, and how their growth times with technological development. The rise to higher standards of living is usually accompanied by a greater environmental load, which is ameliorated as the standard of living becomes sufficiently high. More advanced technology could ameliorate this, but the slowdown due to the war might create the potential for huge ecological problems in the Americas and the Pacific.

There is also the unresolved issue of how to handle the unstable remnants of the Soviet Union, still with a sizeable nuclear stockpile. Especially worrying in combination with this is the large number of hardline ideologicals from Central Europe, the East Block, Africa and the Mid-East with little to loose – nuclear terrorism is a real threat.

Further Reading

The Effects of Nuclear War, report from the OTA 1979. A through report on the effects of nuclear attacks on different scales: http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/disk3/1979/7906_n.html

See especially the Charlottenville scenario by Nan Randall, which is an excellent scenario describing the aftermath in a typical American town: http://www.wws.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/byteserv.prl/~ota/disk3/1979/7906/790610.PDF