World War III and The Two Americas: An Alternative History

“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” — George Orwell. In Front of Your Nose. Tribune (22 March 1946).

January 3rd, 2020 is a date which shall live in infamy; not because Trump killed Iranian General Qasem Suleimani in a drone strike but because, by doing so, he started the cascade of events that brought us to the brink of a second American civil war before breaking the country in two and also culminated in World War III.

The third decade of the 21st century had barely begun when a single impulsive decision by a narcissistic American president led to the eventual annihilation of more than a billion people worldwide. In hindsight, the assassination would be compared to that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, bringing to mind Mark Twain’s adage that history does not repeat itself but rhymes instead.

It wasn’t just that he killed an apparently evil person (at least in the eyes of the west). It’s that he also, unwittingly, kicked the hornet’s nest that is Iranian Shia orthodoxy and its ethos of religious martyrdom. Dozens of people were killed in a stampede at Suleimani’s funeral, an event that initiated the usual cheleh (Forty days) of mourning rituals, inevitably creating even more martyrs and funeral processions.

As more and more Iranians died in subsequent grief-related gatherings, Trump miraculously accomplished what no one thought possible. He united an Iranian nation in their hatred of the United States, single-handedly creating more terrorists and suicide bombers for decades to come.

Even the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet by the Iranian government and the death of hundreds of passengers onboard wasn’t enough to topple the regime. The US media tried to hype up the anti-government protests in the following few days but careful analysis of aerial photos showed that only “a few hundred” people were demonstrating whereas “hundreds of thousands” had shown up for Suleimani’s burial to send him off as a martyr. The Iranian regime wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.

It doesn’t really matter who is right or wrong in this conflict. Both sides are wrong — in their stubborn beliefs, in their prejudices, in their corruption and in their crimes. Ironically, both sides are also right. Both have positive lessons to teach the rest of the world. Otherwise, one wouldn’t be a 2500 year old empire and the other wouldn’t be the most powerful superpower the world has ever known.

In the end, not only did Trump unite the Iranian nation, one that had been internally fractured and struggling for years, he also managed in the same act to bring them together with the Iraqis, their sworn enemies, the ones they’d fought for eight long merciless years during the Iran-Iraq war. Now the two sides finally had something to agree on: how evil America was. Other Muslim countries in the region would join the so-called jihad, with Pakistan bringing nuclear weapons to the mix.

In the days and weeks after that fateful January day, Trump continued to defy all political odds while still remaining an enigma to the world. He was seen by his enemies as the personification of evil while to his supporters he appeared stronger than ever for doing exactly the things that his enemies decried.

He had shown that he could attack surgically and decisively in the Middle East when necessary and get away with it. He had China cornered in a tariff war and he had the stock market at historic highs. He sailed through the impeachment process with his vindication all but certain from the start. He had a better relationship with Putin and Kim Jong-un and Duerto than he did with his own cabinet. We could have called him the Teflon President but that would have been an understatement.

Up was down. Down was up. People didn’t even agree on what was right, let alone on how to achieve it through political discourse. There were two Americas living in one shell. Everyone had known this, of course, but Trump exposed it like no one else before. America was looking at itself in the mirror and didn’t like what it saw. Worse, given the gridlock in Washington, it didn’t see any easy way of fixing the problem.

Those closest to the precipice are always the ones most oblivious of the coming fall and Trump was no exception. It was inevitable that Iran would retaliate, and it did so blatantly and shrewdly. The initial saber rattling would subside after a few weeks but the cyber warfare would go on for years. First came the infamous “Golden Shower” video that Iranian hackers had stolen from the Soviets. Then, after breaking into IRS computers, they also released through Wikileaks all of Trump’s tax returns for the past two decades.

The ensuing embarrassment for Trump was monumental, the public outcry hysterical, and the continued support by his base predictable. Despite the fiasco, he would go on to win re-election comfortably and continue his trail of mayhem for another four years. The crisis did, however, cost him the senate as dozens of republican senators resigned en masse or were ousted by their constituencies in disgust, clearing the path for Trump’s second impeachment trial, this time for tax evasion.

Meanwhile, the political climate in the world was dominated by religious overtones. The Chinese genocide of Uyghur Muslim citizens. The Myanmar atrocities against the Rohingya. The Pakistanis and the Indians. The Arabs and the Israelis. The Muslim refugees in Europe. Even hatchets that the world thought had long been buried suddenly resurfaced: Catholics fighting Protestants in Ireland, thanks to Brexit.

Increasingly, the world found itself carved up along religious lines as governments used it to control their populace. And that was just the precursor to World War III, the war of religions. It did not help that half the countries in the world, from Brazil to the US, England to the Philippines, Iran to Syria, and Israel to Russia, were ruled by megalomaniacs, authoritarian despots, and madmen.

In finally removing Trump from office early in his second term and empowering President Pence to take over the government, the US reached a boiling point from which there was no return. As America was torn asunder internally, the rest of the world prepared for war, too: religious war. When Pence was inevitably assassinated by a Muslim terrorist only a month into his presidency, the US finally declared war on all Muslim nations and the rest is history.

In the end, it took an act of Congress to bring about peace. The United States was split in two, with the Rockies forming a natural boundary, in what would be called Amexit. The Pacific States of America, thenceforth colloquially known as Pacifica and consisting primarily of the states to the west of the Rockies, declared independence. The remaining states went on to form the Atlantic States of America (also known as Atlantis) and tried to continue the international wars in the middle east, but they found themselves increasingly marginalized as most of the forward looking economic power resides in Pacifica.

The Pacific States, true to their name, immediately declared their neutrality in the broader international war and adopted a revised constitution, emphasizing first amendment rights while overturning Citizens United, putting in place meaningful gun control measures, making abortion legal and easily available. They also abolished the standing army and slashed defense spending in favor of universal healthcare and free education, and most importantly, implemented a complete separation of church and state, welcoming people of all faiths.

It took about ten years to work out all the bugs and security issues but they eventually moved over to a completely digital online system for all government services including voting. Children in Pacifica had no idea what a hanging chad was nor why it would ever take more than a millisecond to announce the outcome of a vote.

Crucially, the founders of Pacifica took the time to recognize the constitution of the United States for what it was: a historically significant document but one that was not sacrosanct and could (and should) be updated as required by the changing times. The abolition of gerrymandering and the electoral system, banning of the lobbying industry, congressional term limits, and election finance reform were all obvious outcomes that could never have been accomplished as part of the old “United” states.

The Atlantic States, by contrast, insisted on a literal translation and strict adherence to the text of the old constitution, overturning Roe v. Wade and abolishing abortion, denying climate change, abandoning all gun control legislation, deporting immigrants from Muslim nations, and declaring Christianity the official religion of the country.

They proved, once and for all, that the ostrich syndrome is as strong a force in forming state policy as any rational approach to government. There’s no reason to believe that all governments, and hence all nations, are rational. It is, however, reasonable to expect all humans to strive for the best results for themselves and their families. The ensuing brain drain from Atlantis (and the rest of the world) to Pacifica was so swift and strong that a sucking sound could be heard across the globe!

It was only natural for Canada to join the Pacific States and that happened a few years later. As the rest of the world was mired in religious conflict and bloodshed, Pacifica became a beacon of freedom and a bastion of tolerance, cementing its place in the history of the world.

As you would expect, President Trump (Ivanka, elected after the assassination of President Pence and the wasted years of President Mitch McConnell) and the Atlantic States were not happy with the outcome and tried to start a civil war to recreate the United States of yore.

Relations between the two countries were stormy at first but eventually settled down to peaceful if begrudging coexistence after the Atlantic States recognized Pacifica’s right to exist. Besides, Atlantis was busy fighting the war against Muslims at home and overseas, not to mention the fact that they were quickly running out of money.

As for World War III, it was far worse than the first two. Some nervous General sitting in a bunker somewhere in Pakistan panicked in the heat of the moment, just like the Iranians had when they shot down the airliner. Except, this time it was a nuclear bomb. The gloves were off now.

Yet again, humans proved that they are the most genocidal species the world has ever seen. The twenty years of war that ensued had no resemblance to the first two world wars, however; it looked and felt a lot more like the quagmires in Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan. Guerrilla warfare can go on for years with no immediate outcome but death and bloodshed for both soldiers and innocent civilians.

What became obvious, after the world war, was that it was time to recognize that boundary lines drawn on maps a hundred or two hundred years ago, the ones that define the modern world, are just that: arbitrary lines drawn on a piece of paper that can be redrawn. As world populations grow and technology improves, it’s only natural for human interaction and conflict to increase.

There is no reason to believe that the systems put in place centuries ago, the assumptions made in an age without electricity or cars, still hold true in the age of computers, supersonic travel, and genetic engineering. Nor is there any reason to believe they’re cast in concrete and can’t be changed. They’re just lines on paper. They’re just words in a document. We made them all up and we can change them as we learn more about the world around us.

In the end, Trump would go down in history as another Hitler, another Pol Pot, another Stalin. But he was much worse than that. They at least had ideals, they had goals. He just came to destroy. The only thing he was after was money and Twitter “likes”.

What Trump unwittingly unleashed would ultimately culminate in the third world war, the one in which all sides used atomic weapons, the one in which large swaths of the world were cut off from each other in the cyber world, one in which a billion people died or starved, and one in which the world finally realized it was okay, it was more than okay, to break up existing cultural and governmental structures in favor of more democratic ones.

Ultimately, the smaller, more agile governments of the world’s 372 newly formed physical countries, along with a new breed of “virtual” online countries, replaced the old regimes as they were better equipped to address the needs of their citizens. The intervening years, though, were blood soaked and painful for everyone involved.

Former {CTO at VMware, VP at Microsoft, Head of Engineering & Cloud Ops at Cloudflare}. Recovering long distance runner, avid cyclist, newly minted grandpa.

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