Only a short post this week, I’m afraid, and half of it is taken up with a reality check on where things stand at this point for readers who may be coming in late. I could have continued, but I would like to start each Chapter in it’s own post – so I’ll make up for it, next time around.
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As we resume this Alternate History, the Empire is beset by tumult and dissension. Many of the problems are political, some are social, and some are economic.
Politically, the Middle East is by far the least-stable corner of the Empire. Ideological conflicts have produced an unstable political landscape full of ongoing wars and temporary peaces. At the start of 1978, Lebanon was in a state of Civil War, and an attempt to invade Afghanistan had turned into a 7-year bloody standoff for the Empire. A moderate had been elected Prime Minister of Israel, leading to a negotiated peace with Egypt; currently hostile are Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria, South Yemen, and Afghanistan. Another of the trouble spots, Saudi Arabia, had recently had a change in head of state, with a Moderate King succeeding a Militant. Pakistan, once the most loyal of Imperial members, had slowly disintegrated politically to such an extent that it had been placed under direct Imperial Control, with neither political party trusted to conduct an honest election. Middle East -based terrorists are an ongoing problem for the Empire.
Second only to the Middle East is the balance of the African states. Idi Amin’s regime is coming under increased public attention as his record on civil rights begins to emerge. The Empire has already placed an arms embargo on South Africa in protest over the Apartheid policy. Somalia had invaded Ethiopia, while Rhodesia had commenced an attempt at creating a unified African Tribal political entity based on the Israeli model. Several other kingdoms have attempted or threatened secession or revolution, with varied results.
Early indications suggested that South America was heading down the same political path as The Middle East and Africa. Most recently, a coup in Argentina had removed Prime Minister Isabel Peron after she blocked investigation of Electoral Fraud allegations leveled against her, while an attempt by Chile to secede from the Empire had been blocked by the application of “The Pakistan Resolution”. In general, the continent is viewed as a remote backwater, of little overall significance.
Europe also teeters on the edge of political disintegration, largely resulting from the overwhelming control of daily life within the Empire by the Civil Service, which the Empress Elizabeth saw as the solution to all her problems for most of the first 25 years of her reign. This has effectively left elected representatives powerless to implement changes in policy not approved by the Civil Service, whose first rule is to protect themselves and their positions. Public unrest is at unprecedented levels as a result.
Unconventional attempts to find solutions are beginning to surface; in Spain, the King is also the Prime Minister, a situation viewed as a one-off – but one that will demand closer scrutiny should King Carlos manage to reign in the Public Service. In the meantime, Elizabeth has at least forced the Civil Service to accept the principle of dismissal for incompetence. Northern Ireland is also a trouble spot; where Mao-backed guerillas have committed a number of terrorist acts in support of demands for an independent voice within the Empire.
North America, dominated by the USK† has become a problem of an entirely different nature to the Empire; as its strength has grown and that of Europe has waned, they have begun to dictate various aspects of Imperial Policy. The Americans are consumed by a particular arrogance that reflects their status as the strong right arm of the Empire: they have slowly become the Political and Popular Cultural leaders of the world, and they know it. Bringing them to heel has so far proven almost impossible. Only the presence of the renegade Central American Kingdom on their boarders has so far kept them in check.
† USK= Kingdom Of The United States Of America. Refer to previous chapters of this Alternate History.
Socially, other problems remain unsolved throughout the Empire. Youth countercultures and the Generation Gap have opened a divide between the Middle-aged majority and their children. Gender and Racial inequities are slowly easing in most corners of the Empire, though some areas remain backwaters of discrimination. The criminalization of Narcotics has generated an escalating crime wave by addicts which society has proven helpless to control.
Even more turbulent is the Imperial Industrial sector. While the issue of union corruption has receded into the background, it remains as an ever-present background element. The union movement has become a breeding ground for politicians, just as the Civil Service has become the breeding ground for Peers. Because the peerage also controls big business, and the Civil Service effectively control government policy, the latter are in an overwhelmingly strong position; only the protections of Common Law prevent total control of the Empire by the latter groups.
Because the Empire was reaching saturation point in the development of known resources, the inherent weaknesses in the 20th century economic models had made inflation an ongoing crisis; this enabled the combined power of the Peerage & Civil Service to clamp down on wages, leading to industrial activity on a broad front. The Empress was aware that the Lower House / Union Movement were her best weapons against the rampant power of the Peerage, but it was a weapon she dared not use, threatening the Empire with face total economic collapse as a byproduct. Only the Coal Act, which defined industrial actions which interfered with “Essential Services” to be a form of terrorism, had so far prevented the cessation of industry altogether.
Overshadowing all these internal crises was the ever-present threat posed by the Mao. The non-human rulers of Asia possessed technologies which, for all their gains in scientific knowledge, remained as unfathomable and inscrutable as ever; while science was capable of analyzing and identifying the applications to which this technology was put, as shown by the discovery of their ability to control the weather, the fundamental operating principles remained cloaked in shadows, the subject of equal parts speculation, assumption, and prejudice. Until the invasion of the rogue state of Afghanistan, the most significant wars of the last two centuries had been fought with the Chinese masters of the Asian continent or their allies. While of late, progress had been made in establishing accords and protocols with the Chinese and their shadowy ruling class in summit talks aimed at achieving specific goals to the benefit of both, they remained the most significant single threat to the ongoing existence of the Empire.
Only beginning to emerge as problems to be solved in the latter part of the 20th century were the environmental consequences of the massive industrialization of the last century. Although the full scope of the problem is not yet appreciated, some progress has already been made, with Business held liable for ecological damage resulting from their operations – in theory. In practice, these laws have just failed their first real test, following the first recorded ecological disaster, centered on the town of Seveso (near Milan) in Northern Italy, devastated by the accidental release of poisonous dioxin gas from a nearby pesticide plant. By reaching private settlements with those directly affected, the Peers involved had successfully prevented their testimony; while this was effectively the committing of even more serious crimes, without the testimony of those receiving the settlements, the case was legally helpless. In effect, a criminally-negligent administration used wealth to reduce very serious charges to a rap on the knuckles – at an expense far less than a legal defense would have cost them. The peerage had finally found a way around Common Law, the only thing that had been keeping them in check….
The Rhodesia plan for a united “Black African Nation” was rejected by black leaders Joshua Nkomo (leader & founder of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union) & Robert Mugabe (the Secretary General of that organization, who had been imprisoned as a Political Prisoner since 1964) in March, as the Empire declared it illegal under Imperial Law; immediately, guerilla warfare increases dramatically as the “Patriotic Front” attempts to force moderate Black Africans to reject the plans. In the midst of these developments, Somalia accepted defeat and withdrew from its invasion of Ethiopia.
This was a particularly bloody month; it also saw a PLO attack which killed 11 Israelis, and an invasion of southern Lebanon by Israel in response. In mid-year, Islamic fundamentalists rioted in Tehran calling for the removal of the Shah (King), whose policies of modernization were at odds with the religious fundamentalists. Civil Unrest and violent demonstrations would lead to Martial Law and a military government by the end of the year.
The following month, Ahmad al-Gashmi, the President of North Yemen, was killed by a bomb. Two days later, the same extremist faction assassinated the Muhammad Ali Haitham, the Prime Minister of South Yemen. With tensions mounting, the Empress personally interceded with the leaders of Egypt & Israel; two weeks of face-to-face negotiations in Buckingham Palace lead to the Buckingham accords, which formally end 30 years of hostility between the two.
Terrorism remained an ongoing problem. Former Italian PM Aldo Moro was kidnapped by Red Brigade terrorists; this was the first international recognition of the group, whose goals were the restoration of the Roman Empire. They did not want to be rid of the Empress so much as they want to be free of Her civil servants; although it had never been done previously, they had no problem with the concept of the one Empress being head-of-state of multiple Empires at the same time. The proposal was unilaterally opposed by all concerned as inherently unstable; inevitably there would arise an occasion when the Empress would be called apon to favor one over the other, destroying the loyalty of the people slighted.
Whenever a society experiences rapid expansion of knowledge, watershed years have a tendency to occur more frequently. The sum of human knowledge in the Empire was now doubling every 25 years, and even experts were finding that they could not master the entirety of their chosen general subject, but were increasingly confined to specializations. Synthesis of new approaches by collecting a disparate group of specialists in relevant fields – the think-tank – would play an increasing role over the next two decades.
Short-term consequences of this expansion of knowledge meant that paradigm shifts in perception occur more frequently – and with each, ‘acceptable behavior’ is redefined. The Generation Gaps were widening. 1979 was recognized even before its commencement as just such a decisive year.
The Mao Summit Talks
January 1st 1979 was touted as a day of hope for all mankind, as ongoing diplomatic relations with the Mao were agreed to for the first time. The breakthrough came with the begrudging political acceptance by the Imperials that the Chinese Empire was the equal of their own system of government. It was hoped that through greater understanding and respect for one another that a fourth Global War could be avoided. Nor were the diplomatic concessions one-sided; the Mao had to swallow their own pride somewhat and acknowledge that the British Empire had grown to the point of achieving parity and equality with their own culture, and were worthy of respect.
However promising the achievement of mutual recognition, it did not erase the fundamental differences between the two regimes. They had different cultures, different technologies, different religious beliefs, and different philosophies. The Mao regime emphasized the comfort and security of their citizens, at the expense of their independence; while the British Empire stressed personal achievement, social mobility, and the maximum amount of freedom for its citizens, at the expense of social guarantees of prosperity. The poorest citizens of the Mao regime were incalculably better off than the homeless and destitute of the Empire, but the wealthiest of the Imperial Peers possessed a luxury unheard-of within the Chinese borders.
The Mao were slow-growing, deliberate, and methodolical; already plans were underway that would not reach fruition for centuries. The Empire, in comparison, was explosive in growth, moving into new areas long before the old was fully established. The results were a much larger Society subject to perpetual growing pains, and one which perpetually needed new areas to grow into. Many of the social and psychological problems that were beginning to emerge were analogous to cabin fever, the result of a confinement and bottling up of that drive to explore. Escapism, in many forms, became an increasingly-prominent feature of literature and mass media; in the past, the youthful vigor and drive had been marshaled and directed into exploration and colonization, but with nowhere remaining to go, new forms of diversion were needed to consume that energy, and media providers who saw this as an opportunity for profits were eager to take advantage of the need.
The Mao were not without problems of their own; slow to change, slow to react, slow to integrate new ideas and new discoveries. It was a certainty that progress of all sorts – literary, social, and scientific – was ponderously slow. If the Empire had now achieved Parity with the Mao, in a century, the Mao would be as antiquated in capabilities as a Victorian Army faced with the best military capabilities of the modern day, or as the Native Americans had been against the western settlers who confronted them during the conquest of North America. These facts did not change human nature; the citizens of China were just as ambitious and desirous of luxury, just as caring for their children, as were their Western counterparts, and their youth possessed just as much excess energy; The Mao focused this energy into an obsession with precision and ritual; the average Mao citizen participated in over a dozen ceremonies and rituals each day, end dissipated the remainder through an increased reliance on manual labor. But the price of this solution was a stultification of their society, a reluctance to innovate when conventional solutions were no longer sufficient.
A few philosophers dared to suggest that both were extremist views, forced down mutually-exclusive social developments by the presence of the other; the optimum social solution would be somewhere in between, a blending of the British drive to explore new ground with the Mao ability to make maximum benefit of what resources they had available.
Donald Perisque Summerkinde, in his landmark 2032 historical and social analysis, A Romanesque Myopia compared both societies with that of the long-past Roman Empire, finding many analogies for each to ponder.
The Roman Empire had been limited in size by the nature of their administrative and economic systems, while the limitations that faced their Modern-day equivalents were essentially geographic in nature – there simply was no new territory left to gain, save by means of hostility against the other, but the consequences were the same – each had found its own form of social degeneration and decline, inevitably manifested most strongly by those with the greatest excess of energy at their disposal as a rebelliousness against whatever had been fashionable a decade or two earlier.
This, he argued, was the true cause of the rise of The Teenager as a social and marketing force. In both societies, the excess energy was manifested and consumed by new means of artistic expression, usually condemned by the generations prior to theirs as “barbaric noise”.
Summerkinde also compared Mao society with that of the North American natives, and came to the conclusion in persuasive fashion that the two were more alike than had been generally realized; the study of Amerind culture would thereafter become an accepted part of the curriculum for the training of diplomatic personnel, and surviving tribal members who had fought so hard in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to preserve their culture suddenly found themselves rewarded with high diplomatic credentials. The irony that a people who had been lied to and deceived so often, and been subject to so many broken treaties and promises, were now the leading negotiators of such treaties and promises, was not lost on them. Some consider it Coyote’s grandest jest.
Rise Of The Modern Theocracy
Internally, developments were far less promising. Faced with near-universal revolt, the Shah of Iran fled to Egypt even as troops were staging to arrest and imprison him. Within two weeks a Theocratic regime led by the once-exiled Ayatollah Khomeini had seized control, and Iran joined the ranks of those hostile to Imperial control.
Harsh laws, based on Ideology instead of democratic principles, began being implemented daily. For the rest of the year, Iran would be in turmoil as the new state sought to override the protests of those disenfranchised under the new regime; in November, terrorists seized the Imperial diplomatic headquarters, taking over 100 hostages, in protest at Imperial “meddling” in the Middle East.
The promise of an African Peace
African developments at least showed the possibility of peaceful outcomes to ongoing problems. Nationalist troops aided by Tanzanian soldiers drove Idi Amin from office in March, reestablishing normal relations with the Empire, while in Zimbabwe the parliament voted overwhelmingly to support the enfranchisement of a predominantly black government. The two-year plan for African Black Unity had failed to be accepted outside of the Rhodesian borders, thanks in part to opposition from within the Empire (read: the Civil Service / Peerage), but the developments in Uganda suggested that this was more because it was ahead of its time than from any real impracticality.
The march of progress
In October, the Imperial Health Office declared that after a 22-year campaign, smallpox had at last been eradicated. In hindsight, this was the height of irony; just as the age of science appeared to be drawing to a close, it had begun delivering on the promises it had made.
Unfortunately for the increasingly polarized society, popular sentiment was more in tune with the panic created by a minor failure at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in the US; the radioactive material that leaked was less than that received during a dental x-ray, or 8 hours television viewing, but these facts did nothing to quell public hysteria.
The Tabloid Media
This event was a turning point in journalism within the Empire, marking the emerging rise of sensationalism over substance as a guiding principle. While the experts recognized that the public trust won by Woodward & Bernstein and others of their ilk had been betrayed, the integrity of the news media discarded in the choice of flash over substance, this realization would be slow to come to the public at large. The media barons – Peers all – had in effect seized control of the public, and through the public, the branch of the government designed to keep them in check. The Empress’ task of regaining control of her Empire had been made that much harder.
She still controlled the courts (though the judicial process had been at least partially derailed by the application of money and the prospect of rewards of privilege and peerage), and she still controlled the Military (who were dependant on the Peerage for supplies and armaments). But without an independent Media, the Peerage would tell the public what to think – and Public Opinion would tell the Lower House to support the true Peerage position (the Upper house would often adopt a seemingly antagonistic position, arguing over trivial details, while the substance of what they wanted came to pass). With both branches of government united, policy was now the province of Big Business. The descendants of the Barons had at last won the battle with the Throne.
Or so they thought.
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part I: The Middle Ages – 1189-1220
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 2: The Road To Empire – 1220-1782
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 3: Birth Of An Empire – 1782-1910
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 4: An Empire At War – 1910-1945
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 5: The Cold War Begins – 1945-1959
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 6: Coming Apart At The Seams – 1960-1972
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 7: Disintegration And Repair – 1973-75
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 8: The Ascendancy Of The Peerage – 1978-1979
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 9: Peter Pan, The Saint, & The Fairy Princess – 1980-1997
- The Imperial History of Earth-Regency, Part 10: The Crumbling Of Icons – 1980-1997 continued
- The Imperial History Of Earth-Regency, Part 11: The Post-Modernist Dark Age – 1998-2015
- The Imperial History Of Earth-Regency Part 12: 1998