A 34-year-old yard-sale shopper in Ohio, sifting through a cardboard box of items she’d recently purchased, got something more than she bargained for. Taped to the back of a painting of dogs playing cards, she discovered two pages of single-spaced text, ostensibly from a 22nd-century history book, describing our immediate future. The pages were numbered 88 to 91 (front and back), each with the following headers on alternate pages: A Brief History of the 21st Century, Chapter 11: The Former United States.
... since most English-language records were destroyed in the chaos that marked the end of the Hot Wars in 2051.
The difficult years 2001 to 2008 set the stage for this turbulent Hot War period. The United States, confident in its role as sole planetary superpower but anxious about the threat of jihadist terrorism in the aftermath of the homeland terrorist incident of 2001, staged three major military projects during these years.
First, it invaded Afghanistan with mixed results. It successfully forced regime change, ejecting the jihadist party there, but it failed to help the invaded country reunify and rebuild adequately, nor did it apprehend the key leaders of various jihadist groups hiding there, including the planners of the 2001 incident.
Before completing the Afghanistan project, U.S. leaders next turned their attention to a second invasion, this one in Iraq, resulting in another regime change but, again, not in lasting peace. In fact, both regions remain destabilized today as a result of these ill-conceived and poorly executed invasions, torn by ongoing civil wars among competing warlords, many of whom provide safe havens for various remnants of 21st-century jihadist networks.
As a result, doubts about the U.S. Ruling Party’s competence became widespread, along with questions of the party’s integrity, in large part because the invasion was justified on unflinching assertions that turned out to be false. These doubts caused the Ruling Party to fear loss of dominance in the 2006 elections. Party leaders responded by intensifying their long-term strategy of dividing the American voting public over fringe issues upon which they never planned to take action. Fearing that this strategy would not suffice, they also worked to increase fear and present themselves as the “homeland security party” by diverting attention from recent failures in Afghanistan and Iraq to a new threat: the nuclear aspirations of neighboring Iran.
While demonstrating a public willingness to use diplomacy, the Ruling Party developed and disseminated secret plans for bombings of Iran and then for a full-scale invasion, all the while denying that such plans existed. In all its efforts, it enlisted (or accommodated) the support of the echoing media. Because the echoing media depended on ratings that were advantaged by fear but disadvantaged by appearing unpatriotic, this Party-media alliance proved mutually beneficial in the short run, in spite of the long-term disastrous consequences.
So from 2006 to 2008, the Ruling Party and echoing media turned general anxiety into acute fear of Iran, intensifying pro-war rhetoric and moving the country decisively toward its third war in less than a decade.
The Ruling Party also enlisted notable religious leaders to support the war effort, which many saw as a fulfillment of obscure biblical prophecies. Those who opposed the build-up to war with Iran were labeled as “peace-at-all-costs liberals,” “unpatriotic cowards,” and “naïve leftist idealists,” including a growing minority of conservative religious leaders who opposed the impending war on moral and economic grounds. A series of air strikes was launched against Iranian targets shortly before the 2006 elections, based on so-called intelligence reports (later proved bogus) that the Iranians were “nearly at the brink” of producing weapons of mass destruction.
BY THE 2006 elections, the Ruling Party and echoing media successfully quelled all public opposition so that even the Subdominant Party was submissive in principle to the Iran war rhetoric, although they quarreled bitterly (and fruitlessly) about strategy and timing. While some held out hopes that the Subdominant Party would capitalize on the Ruling Party’s questionable track record in the first two wars and perhaps galvanize opposition to the third war, no such outcome materialized.
In a stunning case of violating the ancient dictum “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” U.S. voters confirmed the Ruling Party’s dominance in 2006 and again in 2008, paving the way for the 40 years of Hot Wars that erupted full-scale in early 2009 and continued until the Global Financial Meltdown of 2051, which was the fifth and most catastrophic financial crisis of the period, the others occurring in 2010, 2018, 2023, and 2040.
The Hot War period began, then, with a series of terrorist attacks on U.S. targets in 2007-08, leading to a reinstitution of the draft in 2009, quickly followed by troop deployments to sites around the world in 2010. That year, the Defense of Freedom Act (DFA) invested the executive branch with sweeping power to suspend First Amendment and other civil rights provisions. It also authorized the executive branch to disregard provisions of the Geneva Conventions indefinitely. It specifically provided for the establishment of extensive secret torture camps (called DFA Intelligence Facilities) and prohibited the echoing press from reporting on any DFA activities. Although these measures served to increase animosity toward the U.S. and encourage terrorist recruitment abroad, they enjoyed widespread support by the American public, largely due to the sympathetic reporting of the echoing media.
The DFA’s historic impact was facilitated by the disbanding of the United Nations. In early 2007, shortly after the United Nations protested the Ruling Party’s pre-emptive air strikes on Iran, the United States required the U.N. to vacate its headquarters in New York, claiming that a number of U.N. officials were actually spies in league with terrorists and “Iranian interests.” After temporarily relocating to The Hague, the U.N. languished and eventually disbanded in 2015, having lost credibility in its inability to restrain either the U.S. or Iran over the previous decade.
In the postwar decade of 2051-2061, the Ruling Party, still in power but crippled by war-related debt and disgraced by political and economic collapse, oversaw the break-up of the former United States into four separate nations, each of which remains plagued by internal corruption and frequent border disputes to this day.
The United States of Northeast America gathered 10 impoverished Northeastern states in a loose Washington-based coalition, the only group maintaining freedom of religion, although the freedom is seldom made use of. The Christian Heartland Republic, its capital in Colorado Springs, joined 27 semi-autonomous Christian states of the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and Southeast, united by laws against homosexual marriage, abortion, contraception, pacifism, and the learning of foreign languages, especially Spanish or Chinese.
The Southwest Christian Republic linked five and a half Southwestern states in a similar alliance, minus the Spanish language ban. And the Secular Pacific Alliance banded together the remaining seven and a half states (including Alaska and Hawaii) in a loose confederacy that banned public exercise of religion. The Alliance later (2094) became a province of Canada when the Canadian government offered to pay its massive debt to China in return for joining the Canadian Commonwealth.
Historians remain divided as to the root cause of the Hot Wars of the 21st century. Three theories have been proposed:
1. The Constitutional Change Theory: According to this widely held view, a group of conspirators in the Ruling Party of the early 21st century chose war as a way of distracting attention and squelching dissent so they could focus on their main project: a covert revision of the American Constitution along Christian theocratic lines. This revision intended to replace the balance of powers with a dominant executive branch, freeing the executive branch to help multinational corporations “increase competitiveness.” A dominant executive branch, the plan’s architects agreed, could dismantle welfare and related social programs so that the tax burden on the rich could be reduced, releasing the rich to “increase competitiveness.” As well, a dominant executive branch under the influence of the Ruling Party would favor the interests of what came to be known as the Great Conservative Aristocracy. This coalition of about 35 wealthy families owned corporations that constituted 48 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2008. They later formed the governments of the Christian Heartland Republic and the Southwest Christian Republic, both of which currently describe themselves as “free-market, God-ordained democratic oligarchies.”
2. The China Theory: Both the Ruling and Subdominant Parties, in this theory, conspired together to position the U.S. as the unquestioned economic power in the emerging global economy, especially in relation to China. Fears of jihadist terrorism were used as a cover to position U.S. economic interests, supported by U.S. military, for an anticipated economic showdown with China. This showdown, of course, never occurred, because war-related deficits eventually caused the U.S. economy to crash, leaving China to ascend unchallenged as the world’s enduring superpower in the 2020s.
3. The “Wag the Dog” Theory: Some scholars hold that reality imitated art, referring to a 1997 movie about a fake war used to help a political party win an election. This view suggests that both the Ruling and Subdominant Parties had no coherent long-term strategy at all during this period, either in relation to terrorism or to the global economy. Instead, each acted impulsively and reactively, starting, abandoning, supporting, or opposing wars for domestic partisan purposes, driven only by the short-term goal of dominance in each election cycle. In this view, the 40 Hot War years and the civilization-wide regression they precipitated were an unanticipated consequence of shortsighted political gamesmanship aided by a profit-driven echoing media.
Could the 40 Hot War years of the 21st century have been avoided? In light of the catastrophic effects of four decades of constant war and the human suffering involved, compounded by the environmental devastation caused directly and indirectly by the Hot Wars, this question has preoccupied historians and political scientists for 60 years. Most scholars agree that greater vigilance by the public, and especially by the press and religious leaders, could have made a difference, especially in the crucial years leading up to the invasion of Iran, 2006 to 2008. For this reason, many ....
As one might expect, the yard-sale shopper felt some alarm when she read these pages, and she submitted them to local authorities. After subjecting the documents to a barrage of tests and conducting a thorough investigation, authorities determined that these pages were not from the future after all, but were in fact fictional background material for a new futuristic video simulation game being designed by a pair of Ohio State University sophomores, both of them political science majors.
The designers were soon located by reporters. “Dude,” one of the young designers said to a reporter (on condition of anonymity), “it was all like make-believe. These were going to be the boundary conditions for a freakin’ simulation game—you know, so people could find a way to like save the world and the nation and [expletive deleted]. But it’s like a flick to the head, you know? Thinking about where all this could go in like, real reality, as opposed to virtual, you know? It [expletive deleted] freaked us out, so we abandoned the project.”
Her co-designer added, “We computer game nerds sometimes get so wrapped up in virtual reality that we forget that we are not actually living in a game, and that today’s news isn’t a simulation. It’s all leading somewhere, and each of us is, in a real sense, a player.”
Brian McLaren just finished a 24-year assignment as founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Maryland. He has written 10 books, including The Secret Message of Jesus (W, 2006).