This entry is part 9 in the series The Imperial History of Earth-Regency


Pieces Of Creation is an occasional recurring column at Campaign Mastery in which Mike offers game reference and other materials that he has created for his own campaigns.

All images used to illustrate this article are public-domain works hosted by Wikipedia, Wikipedia Commons, or derivations of such works, except for the image of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
 

This post was delayed for the Easter Holiday. I hope all our readers had a great break!

Photo by NASA, taken at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Communications Age: Peter Pan, The Saint, and the Fairy Princess – 1980-1997 (~60 years ago)

Author’s notes: Of all the material contained within this Alternate history, this was the section that my players found hardest to digest when it was initially presented to them. I think that this can be attributed to two factors:

  • First, they were either too young or too old and cynical to appreciate the way the public felt at the time about certain public figures; if you did not experience it, you can’t find it completely credible;
  • and Second, their view of the era is principally Australian in nature (unsurprisingly), without an appreciation of how the rest of the world, and North America & Britain in particular, responded to these individuals.

I’ll respond to their comments about specific individuals in authorial asides as they become relevant.

An era of Transition

1982 marked the beginning of the end for the Age of science, or so it seemed. At its beginning, scientific discovery had been seen as the answer to all problems, and the future had been perceived with optimism. Society was open and welcoming and people could leave their doors unlocked, and the Government was the people’s friend.

By its end, science had been forced to admit that it didn’t have all the answers, and might never have them. Much of the progress that had been found to have attached price tags that were unacceptably high – industrial pollution, thalidomide, the discovery of incurable social diseases like AIDS and antibiotic-resistant STDs. The drug trade threatened to tear society apart, having already driven crime rates so high that people lived in fear despite the locks on their doors and the bars on their windows.

The Government lied at best and conspired with big business and “the establishment” to keep “the system” in power, at worst. Hope for the future had been replaced with fear and greed. But when you reach rock bottom, there are only two choices: death or the long climb out of the abyss…

Author’s Notes: I personally lay much of the cynicism and mistrust of government in modern times at the feet of seven key events, and two of these did not occur in this alternate history. I thought it worth taking a moment to reflect on each of these, to provide some context for events and attitudes alternate history.

  • McCarthyism: If you accepted the cold-war position that you were either “with us or against us” then the McCarthy witch-hunts made a certain amount of sense but can only be seen as having gone way too far. If you were more inclined to think that the other side was made up of human beings too, with the same desires and needs as ‘The West’, then these were an abomination and one miscarriage of justice after another. Either way, by adopting an us-vs.-them attitude, and then casting popular figures, with whom many people identified, into the “them” camp (rightly or wrongly) forced everyone else to think about which side they were on. As the witch-hunts became more and more ridiculous in their extremes and increasingly politically biased against McCarthy’s domestic political opposition, the “them” camp looked increasingly attractive by comparison. Divisive politics at it’s worst, it should be no surprise that it divided the community – and put “The Government” that McCarthy represented into the opposition.
  • The Korean War: This was a conflict whose resolution never seemed to be a victory, it just kind of limped to a conclusion. It engendered a sense not of a titanic struggle between two enormous alliances but rather of leadership that seemed less than those who had come before. After all, the previous generation of leadership had won World War II fairly decisively.
  • The Kennedy Assassination: Although he was never as strongly supported as rose-colored hindsight would have us believe, it is nevertheless a fact that John F Kennedy embodied the hope of a brighter future to an awful lot of people, and that this hope seemed to die with him. In part, this is due to the contrast of the eras before and after this pivotal event – before, the Space Race seemed the dominant theme, and afterward it was the mud, muck, and flies of the Vietnam Jungle. Had Kennedy not been killed, I am sure that his all-too-human faults would have tainted his reputation; but he died, and became an icon and a legend.
  • The Vietnam War: Which, of course, brings us to the war that so many opposed so strongly that they eviscerated the servicemen and -women who fought it. I think that a lot of people resented everything about the war, from being forced to fight it through to the manner in which it was fought. Spouting slogans at the government wasn’t enough, the mob needed a symbol of the enemy they opposed – and that symbol were those who actually fought in the war, whether they wanted to or not.
  • The Watergate Scandal: With the world slowly realizing that their leaders pulled on their pants one leg at a time (the same as ordinary people), the atmosphere was ripe for the idealistic perception of government to be shattered, once and for all – and this was the watershed event that showed that the administration had feet of clay. I’m not an American, but even in Australia, the reverberations were felt. First hope, and now Trust had been destroyed; is it any wonder that cynicism and pessimism would be the hallmarks of the decades that followed?
  • The Tabloids: Feeding all of this was the inescapable conclusion of the trend that had started with Hearst and his willingness to pump up, or even fabricate outright, stories to sell his Newspapers. The tabloid mentality, pandering to the most sensationalistic urges and emotions of its readership, holds unremitting sway over the populace only so long as they believe what they read. Every time an excess of zeal in reporting is revealed, it fuels cynicism; every time the press pursue a beat-up story for the sake of sales, or ratings, it slices off a thin segment of the community who know better and who will be mistrustful thereafter. In order to reach those affected by this growing cynicism, the headlines and exaggerations have to be even stronger. The National Enquirer, in the 80s and 90s, became a byword for going to such nonsensical extremes that some people could no longer tell what was fiction and what was fact, a situation which has been lampooned mercilessly ever since. Newspaper stories were always colored by the Editorial philosophy and vested interests of their owners, I’m sure; but efforts to keep those influences at arms length were slowly worn away. All sense of self-restraint seemed to vanish, and people became aware of the bias that existed as it became more obvious. The current situation in the UK with The News Of The World and the Phone-tapping scandal seems to me to be the ultimate expression of this trend, and hopefully the outraged reaction that has followed will be the start of a trend in the opposite direction.
  • The Dictators: And finally, providing fuel for the fire were the excesses of dictators. The revelations of the practices of Idi Amin were a bombshell to any who thought the human race had outgrown such barbaric acts, or been purged of them by the victory over the Nazis in World War II. Such events had occurred in the past; they were part of the folklore of human history, nothing new; witness the excesses of Vlad The Impaler, or the Spanish Inquisition. But that was the problem – people had thought that we had outgrown such barbarism, and when we learned that we (as a species) had not, it tarred everyone who had stood with the architects of barbarity with a little of the same brush. This problem persists even in more modern times – was Saddam Hussain’s persecution of his citizens because of their faith really all that different (if a little less systematic and extreme) from what the Nazis did to the Jewish population of Germany? And how much of American reaction to the Gulf War a sense of guilt over having supported his regime?

It must be remembered that the current generation will become World Leaders in three-to-five decades, and the experiences and philosophies apon which their attitudes are built will form the baseline of their politics. The attitudes of youth 30-40 years earlier are their formative experiences. Our current leaders were children in the 60s, 70s, and 80′s, when Industrial Pollution became regular front-page fodder and the illusion that what benefited a large corporation was necessarily good for the community at large. Their priorities are fixing the things that they perceived to be most wrong with the world at the time, or their modern incarnations.

So, what impact do these events play in the alternate-history world of Earth Regency? Vietnam and Korea didn’t happen – but the Russian equivalent of those experiences, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, did – though expanded to cover a larger field of the Middle East in general. The other key events remain, though – in many cases – once removed from the centre of power. Government can thus be mistrusted, but there are the Empress and Imperial family to shield the ordinary citizen. There is thus an avenue of hope and trust that was lacking in our history. But, at this time in history, the Empress is beginning to seem more remote and distant, the representative of a past generation. The populace, and especially their youth, are looking for new figures to idealize and idolize.

Michael Jackson, 1984, derived by SpeedDemon74 from a photograph by the White House Photo Office

The Peter Pan Of Pop

Although no-one recognized it at the time, there were three socially-significant figures who exemplified the rebirth of optimism and human decency in the Empire, and it had been in 1980 that the stories of these three figures began.

The first was an American entertainer, whose showmanship made him the most popular artist in the world. Michael Jackson had very deliberately turned his entire existence into a larger-than-life circus act, selling millions of records, and carrying pop music to its zenith as an entertainment medium. Popular entertainment was transformed by the sales of his album “Thriller”; he transformed a larger-than-life cottage industry into a professionally-operated Big Business.

And then it all began to fall apart on Jackson; reports of increasingly-eccentric behavior led to the nickname Wacko Jacko, and a public made insatiable for sensation began devouring not only the product, but the people that generated it. Rumors, fiction, and outright lies were all grist for the mill – accuracy was no longer important, headlines were all that mattered. The youth countercultures of the 60s had been inherited by the firebrands of the 70s and were unified by Jackson. There was always a mythical element to the story of the “Peter Pan of Pop”, a fairy-tale element that played on people’s lack of hope, offering an escapist retreat from a world that was otherwise becoming unbearable.

To me, Michael Jackson will always be a figure of tragedy. Denied any semblance of a normal childhood, it is no surprise that his adulthood – after earning enough money to make any dream a personal reality – would be bizarre. A Child-like naivety and trust lie behind virtually every decision he ever made, in my opinion – whether that be trust in the Medical profession, in his preference for relating with children (who naturally shared his perspective), or that his life of excess would be understood by his fans.

There was a time, before the advent of the tabloid headlines of his life, where Jackson could seemingly do no wrong. Everything that he touched turned to gold. Those same child-like qualities made him a repository for optimism and hope, a living idol to the inner child within all of us.

His rise and fall are a Greek Tragedy, writ large because of the way he embodied what others wanted to preserve in themselves – hope, optimism, and the ability to enjoy life to the full with no cares for tomorrow. He was successful because he appealed to the things we like about ourselves. It was all too easy to forget that he was also human, and fallible.

Like JFK, he became a popular idol; unlike JFK, he survived to be torn down from the pedestal apon which he had been placed, rightly or wrongly, by the public. Had Kennedy survived, perhaps the same thing would have happened to him; he certainly had enough opposition with whom to contend. But that’s another might-have=been, and one that doesn’t fit within the current story.

The Communications Age

Not all the lessons learned from the larger-than-life success of Jackson were good ones. It became acceptable to spend as much as necessary to achieve a blockbuster success. The same attitude began to pervade all other forms of entertainment, and then business in general. The counterculture figures from the 60s were now aged in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and had largely been assimilated into the mainstream of the society against which they had rebelled.

The youngest amongst them achieved new levels of greed and excess, and were officially tagged with the collective nickname “Yuppies”.

Real-life prediction: A decade from now, if not sooner (5 years or so) the big international issue will corporate responsibility and making the executives of corporations accountable to the public for their behavior. Think back over the news stories of the last couple of years and you can see the early trends in this direction.

Nor was this the only new word entering the language at this time; a more formal title for the period might well be “The Communications Age”. New language had been infiltrating for decades as the consequences of scientific and industrial progress; but the vast majority of these were technical terms that had little influence on everyday usage.

A frying pan was still a frying pan; the “Non-stick Teflon Coating” was just sales jargon. Now, however, domestic innovations began to appear with increasing regularity, and the language changed as a result. And the most fertile field for those innovations was the communications field, as ‘GPS’, ‘VCR’, ‘Mobile’, ‘Hands-free’, ‘HUD’, ‘ISP’, ‘PC’, and ‘CD’ all became everyday conversational terms.

Princess Diana at the opening ceremony of the community centre on Whitehall Road, Bristol, UK, May 1987. Photo by Rick.

The Princess

The second great figure of the era was even more strongly symbolic of the escapist / fairy tale popular appeal. Lady Diana Spencer was considered a flower, the embodiment of the shreds of hopes and dreams of the common people made manifest.

When she married the heir apparent of the Empress Elizabeth, she became the public symbol of hope. It was then widely believed that the Empress Elizabeth would abdicate on her 60th Birthday, and that her son would ascend the throne; and thus the coming generation would have a representative, an ear and a voice, at the very centre of power.

Behind the scenes, the Cinderella fairy-tale was far from reality, the combination of the weight of public expectations and a husband with adulterous inclinations overwhelming the young woman at the centre of the storm. In the public thirst for sensation, the fairy tale would be exposed, piece by piece, as a sham.

Matters were not helped by the old-world moral judgments of the Empress Elizabeth, who was placed in an impossible situation as the marriage began to fail. Hailing from an era in which loyalty, “for better or worse”, meant forever, she did not support the fragile Diana as much as the Princess was, perhaps, entitled to expect; nor was she especially successful at reigning in her son’s indiscretions. As the marriage first floundered and then ended, she discovered that the sensationalist press had eroded all faith in Prince Charles as a potential Monarch, even as they had destroyed her faith in her son’s discretion and attention to duty.

Worse, he had undermined confidence in the Monarchy as an institution; Diana had been perceived as the People’s Princess, the ally of the commons – titles that were supposed to belong to the Empress – and the failure of the marriage had become perceived as the failure of the Empress to stand by the people. The entire concept of the Empire as a political institution was beginning to lose favor amongst its citizens – without whom, the Empire would be nothing at all.

Diana somehow emerged from the entire fracas with her perceived connection to the people intact; but now that she was no longer royalty, she was seen as fair game for the sensationalists, who slowly dragged her down to earth. She had been careful to maintain a public face of respectability, and (to her credit) never let her dignity escape her, and had even begun to rebuild her personal prestige through many social & charitable projects, when she was killed in a terrible automobile accident. The wolves turned on the legend and did their best to tear it asunder; but the sensationalist movement was beginning to die, and as a result, her legend survived.

We in Australia held a privileged position in terms of being able to see the entire story unfold at arm’s length. We saw the British public attitude of the era as they identified with “Lady Di”; we saw the disintegration of the fairy tale; we saw the rebirth and rise of popularity within the United States; and we saw the British public revere her as a martyr to the lust for headlines of the tabloids and paparazzi.

Part of the appeal was generational; Prince Charles was roughly the same age as my father, Queen Elizabeth roughly the same as my Grandmother. Diana was approximately my age, seemed to like the same things that people of my age liked, had similar attitudes and opinions, and so on. She embodied a hope for the future to many people, whether they were strong supporters of the monarchy, or not.

At the same time, this was the coming of the New Romantics and the tail-end of their extreme counterpoint, Punk. More than musical styles, these represented philosophies in opposition; and for those without the anger at and resentment of society to fuel a punkish attitude, Princess Diana seemed to embody the cleaner-cut image of the New Romantics.

Sir Bob Geldof at the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund, 23 April 2009. Photograph by Stephen Jaffe, courtesy International Monetary Fund.

The Saint: Sir Bob Geldof

The third of the Great figures of the 80s could not have existed without the contributions of the first two. If Michael Jackson unified youth cultures throughout the Empire, however briefly, and Lady Diana gave them optimism and hope, it was Bob Geldof, later nicknamed “Saint Bob”, who showed just what the combination could achieve, socially, when they really wanted to.

His relief project, Band Aid, and subsequent Global Live Pop Festival “Live Aid” (the Mao being a notable non-participant) raised funds in excess of 500 Million Pounds for famine relief in Africa. It spawned imitator events from across the world, most notably USA For Africa (organized by Harry Belafonte and Ken Kragen, and featuring Michael Jackson amongst others). Equally important to future generations was the revelation of the consequences of misrule by African Warlords and Dictators.

The political promise that the politicians had so feared in the late 1960s had been realized – in a socially-acceptable way. Equally importantly, the devastating pictures of mass starvation that resulted reminded people of the benefits that science, and the Empire, when used properly, could provide.

African hunger would be a recurring issue; while no-one of the time thought that any of these activities would be a lasting solution, African aid, and its management (and mismanagement in some cases) would focus attention on the causes of many of the problems in future years.

Granted an Honorary Knighthood by the Empress in 1986, Sir Bob remained active in African relief and similar projects for the remainder of his life. His plainspoken demeanor, occasional outbursts of hyperbole, and – to some extent – his naivety in terms of distribution of the proceeds of his various ventures in the cause, left his efforts open to criticism after the fact, though few doubted his sincerity and willingness to sacrifice his own personal career to the cause. His de-facto position as the media spokesman for just causes and political enlightenment were eventually usurped by Bono of U2, whose activism covered a wider range of issues; but to the public at large, they were all walking in Saint Bob’s shoeprints.

Imperial Resurgence

These three people, more than any others, could be considered the prime movers behind the Imperial Resurgence. Had any one of the three not existed, it is doubtful (in retrospect) whether or not the Empire would have survived to the present day (2055).


Okay, so Mike was popular, Bob made social responsibility popular, and Diana’s wedding was a popular fairy tale. That doesn’t mean that people have to buy into the Deification of the Holy Trio. It can be argued that the people would have rekindled their hopes anyway – very few can live in total despair for any period of time and continue to function – and that these three, amongst others, just happened to be the figureheads anointed by the resurgence. But to Imperial Citizens, they are reverenced.

A return to prosperity

The increased enthusiasm on the part of the ordinary citizen generated other resurgences. In particular, the Economy, which had been slowly growing moribund, began to grow, and a more wary and realistic faith in technology emerged. Technological Solutions were perceived as only part of the story; the real problem with Industrial Pollution, for example, was not a scientific one, it was a social problem. People demanded the products that were being manufactured – a social phenomenon – and it was that demand that was the real cause of the environmental damage. The solution would also have to be a social one.

There was a general perception that any seemingly insoluble problems only seemed so because it was not properly understood. Crime, for example, wasn’t just a social problem, it needed a scientific analysis to find the solution. The concept of prison reform, which had become popular through the 1970s, was increasingly perceived as a failure, because it promised an easy ride to criminals; the deterrent element was missing.

These changes in attitude took time. Together with changes in fundamental social concepts like ownership, and the social unit, they would slowly reinvigorate the Empire, and ultimately culminate in a new groundswell of optimism in the following generation; but it was the Communications Age that layed the foundations.

The original Sony Walkman, photo by joho345

1980

There were few developments of obvious, lasting historical significance in 1980; no doubt the days were as filled as at any time, but from a remote perspective the world seemed to be holding its breath and enduring the calm before the storm.

The Communications age began before the end of the Age Of Science, with the launch of a portable, personal tape recorder, the “Walkman”. It was not recognized at the time as the harbinger of a social revolution, it was just another gadget. It would be years before many people discovered their existence, and even today many have the (false) impression that the Walkman post-dates the Personal Computer (Even fewer realize that the Compact Disc predates the Walkman by two full years!)

Those false perceptions notwithstanding, the Walkman was a new concept in that it personalized the entertainment experience, elevating the individual over his surroundings. Prior to its release, music and entertainment were social activities, involving anyone within earshot. If music were played, everyone in the room heard it; there was a shared aspect, a social aspect, to the experience. Now music became a personal experience; in itself not a groundbreaking development, but one that would symbolize the coming decade and much of the decade to follow.

The Individualistic Experience

For 17 years, in fact, the dominant social trends could be symbolically cast in that one concept – the Individual over Society. Individuals worked for their own benefit first, the benefit of other individuals second, and a collective society hardly at all. Indeed, so little common ground was experienced through this period that society collectively was perceived as a faceless mass, a lowest common denominator, a generalization of individuals.

But at the time, none of this was evident. Life was dominated by day-to-day events, and only with hindsight could a trend be perceived; and many of those day-to-day events were trivial, even irrelevant in the historical sense. Which is not to say there were no significant developments….

Rhodesian Disunity

The sequence of events in Rhodesia came to an end as the South made the transition to Black Rule under the joint leadership of Prime Ministers Mgabe & Nkomo; the north continued in its state of anarchy.

Afghanistan Deadlock

It was announced in February that 90% of Afghanistan was now under direct Imperial Military Control – but that 60% of the Afghan military remained intact within the last 10% of the country.

The Iran Crisis

On April 25th, the USK took unilateral action to free the hostages in Tehran, launching a commando strike. Unfortunately, the Americans were not the equal of the Australian Special Forces, who had already ruled out a raid as too risky; the action was bungled and the hostages killed by their captors.

Less than a week later, terrorists seized the Iranian embassy in London, demanding the release of political prisoners; but unlike the Tehran situation, the layout of the London embassy was conducive to successful intervention, and Australian Special Forces successfully freed the hostages and captured the terrorists within a week of the alarm being raised.

Although Wikipedia Commons also has pictures of the eruption itself, I couldn't go past this spectacular 2004 image of the volcano crater steaming. Prior to the eruption, it looked like an ordinary mountain. Click the thumbnail for a larger image.

A Bellow Of Nature

In mid-may, the long-dormant Mount St Helens unexpectedly erupted with the force of 10,000 atomic weapons. Because of the demonstrated capability of The Mao to create and trigger volcanic events, this brought the Empire closer to global war with the Mao than at any time in the last 35 years. Tensions did not ease until specialist geologists from around the globe confirmed that the eruption was natural in origins.

Ronald Reagan, photograph courtesy the National Archive & Records Association ARC 558523. Photo by UD Department of Defence, Department of the Navy.

Other news of the day

There were other terrorist actions through the year – bombings, assassinations, and so on – as the extremists offered the frustrated an outlet for their dissatisfaction. Israel unified Jerusalem and declared it to be the new capital of the Zionist nation.

Ronald Reagan was elected Prime Minister of the USK despite opposition by King Jeremy Washington I. And finally, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was released to critical acclaim and initially poor sales.

1981

1981 felt much the same as 1980. There were a few developments of lasting interest, and new trends continued to gather momentum, but it was nevertheless a year in which life was simply business-as-usual for most of the population.

The Iranian Crisis Deepens

In January, Iran released the 52 Imperial Hostages who had been held in Tehran since November 1979, carrying an offer to the Empress: Iran would rejoin the Empire, and use it’s influence to help persuade the other rebelling Middle Eastern states, in return for an equal voice in the governance of Jerusalem, and the eviction of the USK† from the Empire.

The Kingdom Of The United States Of America. Refer earlier parts of this series for explanations.

While the Empress may have been tempted to consider the offer in those moments when the United States was being especially exasperating, the peace offer failed to take into account two crucial facts:

  1. The USK was vital to the defense of the Realm; and,
  2. As a practical measure, the Empress didn’t have the power to accept or reject the proposal; that would be controlled by the Diplomatic Corps.

Iran had lost touch with the political realities of the Empire, and as such, the proposal was doomed to an inevitable failure.

Prince Charles & Princess Diana Photo © 2010 hans thijs, flickr

The Spanish Experiment & other events

The “United Leadership” experiment of King Carlos‡ came to an unhappy ending, as 200 civil guards under the command of Colonel Terjeo Monila attempted a coup. Carlos resigned as Prime Minister, admitting that his bold attempt to unify sufficient power to force change had failed.

See “The Rules Change” in Part 7 of this series.

Heavy fighting again broke out in Beirut in April, and in June Israeli aircraft bombed a nuclear reactor under construction near Baghdad.

In July, Charles, Prince Of Wales, married Lady Diana Spencer.

The following month, USK Aircraft shot down two Libyan jets over the Gulf of Sirte, while October saw the assassination of Anwar Sadat of Egypt in protest over his peace accords with Israel.

Throughout the first few months of the year, sales of “Thriller” would grow, until it ultimately became the most popular single body of music publicly available; it would be “Top Of The Charts” worldwide for over a year.

The IBM 5150 was the first fully-assembled PC; all the previous ones came as kits which had to be assembled by the user. Photo by Biffy B.


The year also saw the arrival of the space shuttle and the recognition of AIDS as a disease. IBM launched the PC (with 64K of RAM and a single floppy disk drive); it would become the industry standard over the years to come. It certainly was not recognized as the means by which the individualism that had not yet become dominant would first achieve its full flower, and then ultimately wither.

1982

At the start of the year, it looked like it was just going to be more of the same old same old. But the strongest hurricanes start as a light breeze…

Africa

In the culmination of the Smith Plan, Southern Rhodesia establishes a new identity as Zimbabwe. Joint leader Nkomo, whose relations with Mgabe were always strained at best, was dismissed from office because he would not agree to Prime Minister Robert Mgabe’s intentions to establish a police state.

A Pyrrhic Defeat

Israel agreed to give the Sinai over to direct Imperial control in the interests of maintaining peace. By the end of April, all Israeli forces had withdrawn from the region. The Afghanistan advance by the Imperial Military all but ended in the stalemate.

Relations between Iran & Iraq decayed and then devolved into war. The Israeli Ambassador to the Imperial Court was shot by Palestinian terrorists; in retaliation, Israel invaded Lebanon. The significance of this last development would not recognized for over two decades, when it would revolutionize politics within the Empire.

In the meantime, the bloodshed continued unabated. It took less than a month for Israeli forces to encircle Beirut. In an effort to prevent civilian casualties, Prime Minister Begin offered to permit the PLO to withdraw from the city with their weapons.

This was the first acknowledgement by the Israelis of the earlier decision by the Civil Service to recognize the PLO as a political organization – by negotiating with them and treating them as a political authority within the region, they gained political credibility throughout the middle east as a “dispossessed nation”.

Debate raged for almost two months, but the resulting political benefits were too strong for the more moderate elements within the PLO to resist. By accepting, they would be able to claim shelter and sanction within the same laws and rulings which created the artificial national state known as “Israel” – and could thereby claim all the legal and diplomatic protections and concession extended by the Empire toward the Zionist state.

As the only areas in the region under direct Imperial control, the Empire had only two choices in terms of a homeland for the PLO, protected by Imperial Law – Afghanistan and the Sinai. For the population to relocate to the latter, they would have to march directly through the centre of the Iran-Iraq conflict; the only viable answer was for the PLO to be accorded protected status and Rule of the Palestinian region.

In permitting themselves to be ‘defeated’ and withdrawn from Beirut by the Israelis, they would ironically achieve everything that they had been fighting for. For the first time, “Success” was no longer synonymous with “Victory”. Furthermore, Israel would have to support their position or risk weakening their own political authority within the region and losing many of the concessions granted them by a sympathetic Empire in the wake of the Holocaust.

Cordoned-off street in front of the HSBC branch in Beirut, October 2005. Photo by Robysan. Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.

The Beirut Bloodbath

Although it was widely regarded as a troublemaker and an agitator, the PLO was in fact a stabilizing influence within Beirut. Within a week of their departure, and as the Israelis began to push into the city, the Lebanese Druse militia and the Lebanese Army restarted their long-standing Civil War. Three warring states each opposing each other converged, and Beirut became a bloodbath.

Each faction committed what can only be characterized as atrocities on the captured supporters of the others. On August 18th, over 800 Palestinians were executed by Christian militia in two refugee camps in western Beirut, for example.

It was slowly becoming evident that, just as a revolution in military tactics would be needed to succeed against the desert guerillas of Afghanistan, so a revolution in politics would be needed to solve the problems of the Middle East. But at the time, no-one had any idea of what shape that revolution would have to take – had no idea even of where to begin – and in any case, the Civil Service / Peerage alliance were inherently conservative and resistant to any change. Only when this political problem was solved could the search for new paradigms within the Arabian Peninsular begin.

The first reasonably portable computer was the Epson HX-20, shown here in its carrying case. Photo by sandstein.

1983

While a lot happened in ’83, most of it made little difference in the long run. Bloodshed continued in the Middle East. Apartheid continued in South Africa. Uproar continued in central Africa. Terrorism just continued. But some events layed the seeds for future developments.

The worst drought since 1973 (!) ravaged Ethiopia, bringing famine to millions. The Laptop computer introduced the concept of portable computing.

Pioneer 10 or 11, painted by Don Davis, Image provided by NASA. Click on the thumbnail to see the fullsized image.


Pioneer 10 passed the orbit of Neptune, then the most remote planet of the solar system. The IRA destroyed Harrods in London using what “must have been” a Mao sonic bomb that was attuned to the stress-points of the steel girders; 6 people were killed and dozens injured when the building collapsed.
 

I felt that some direct terrorist attacks would be made on the heart of the Empire, simply because it was the central point of authority. Such attacks often occurred in our history, targetting the United States, but on Earth-Regency, some would have to be aimed at London, simple because London was more important on the global scale. Furthermore, because London is closer to the Middle East, there would be more capacity for such attacks. This was the first such additional attack.

The HIV retrovirus was identified. Australia stole the America’s Cup from under USK feet – the first time since the contest’s inauguration in the 1870s that there had been a non-USK victor. This was done using clever, innovative engineering. And the second round of arms limitations talks with the Mao ended in complete breakdown.

The Apple-II computer. Photo by Marcin Wichary, Flickr.

1984

This was the year in which the disparate elements that marked the decade as a turning point began to coalesce. Violence continued in the Middle East, but calm began to return to Central Africa with South African troops leaving Angola, just as internal civil violence escalated.

Diplomatic talks with the Mao resumed after the contentious issue of disarmament was removed from the Agenda; by the end of the year, a new trade agreement was in place which promised a massive economic boost. Apple Computers released the Apple II, the first computer with a graphic interface. “Thriller” sold over 37 million copies in the USK alone, while Bob Geldof’s “Band Aid” produced a chart-topping single to raise money for famine relief.

Greed Is…

Entrepreneurs and Interest Rates began to emerge as the economic patterns of the decade. The rise of the new breed of Entrepreneur, the ultimate expression of the “Yuppie” movement, was a particularly significant development, because for the first time, these were not members of the Peerage.

A new subclass of the “Working Class”, they generated unprecedented wealth through three avenues: Communications (Michael Jackson, Alan Bond); New Technology (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs), and New Products (Franklin Andrews, head of the Asia-Pacific Trading Company).

Our readers will be familiar with most of those names, except possibly Alan Bond; his Wikipedia entry is located here.

The one name that they won’t know is that of Franklin Andrews, because that was the name of the father of Lance Andrews, aka “Behemoth”, one of the characters from the original superhero campaign, from which this history is divergent. The latter is a name that will crop up a number of times in the later chapters of this text.

Differences in the history of trade within the Empire become significant at this point. Tea was an Indian product, as was rubber; when India fell to the Mao in 1914, production of these commodities shifted to South America. Many of the other Chinese products, like Silk, had never reached Western markets.

While the sale of Imperial products to China was the province of the Peerage, differences in Cultural & Economic systems ensured that Asia was a relatively small market. The sale of Chinese products within the Empire was where the Big Money was; and the most significant trader was the Australian, Franklin Andrews.

The peerage tried to stop the rise of these new competitors, but found themselves hamstrung by Common Law. The battle lines between old and new, age and youth, were now clearly established.

It was Band Aid that showed the strength of the emerging youth factor as a social force. The more that disposable income trended to focus downward in age, and the more of that money that was spent on products under the control of the new entrepreneurs, the more strength the established political parties gained from their policies of recruiting a younger generation.

In 1964, the average age of the members of the Lower House of the Imperial Government was 52; in 1974, it was 49; and, by 1984, it had lowered to 45. If the trend held true, the 1990s would be dominated by a Prime Minister in his 40s, and the 2000s by one in his Thirties.

Live Aid at JPK Stadium, Philadelphia, 1985. Photo by Squelle; click on the thumbnail for a larger image.

1985

“Band Aid” was no more than a band aid on the problems faced by Ethiopia and central Africa. By the end of 1984, Geldof was planning an even more ambitious project – a 48-hour-long rock concert televised globally – including (for the first time) – China.

Taking place in July, and watched by over 1500 Million people, Live Aid raised over £350 million for further famine relief.

Although this was a tiny sum in comparison with the needs of the region, it was equivalent to five years of additional disaster relief through official channels.

The most notable omission from the performance list, which included hundreds of heavyweights in the popular music industry, was Michael Jackson, who had organized his own “Band Aid” equivalent project. His reluctance to be involved in the project, and the public castigation that followed, proved the first cracks in the Jackson mythos.

The long slow road to peace

The slow trend towards Peace in the Middle East resumed without addressing the problems that had led to previous outbreaks of violence in the region. Israel agreed on a staged withdrawal from Lebanon, which was complete by mid-year. Libya released four Imperial civilians after negotiations by an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. But that was as good as it got.

October saw the Peace again shattered as PLO extremists murder 3 Israelis in Cyprus. Within hours, Israeli bombs were falling on the Empire-supervised PLO holding camp from which the extremists were believed to derive. While 60 hardliners within the PLO’s ranks were killed, civilian casualties were ten times this number. In addition, 23 Imperial representatives were maimed and 4 killed. The Empire responded by declaring the Israeli action an “Over-reaction”, and warning that any repeat would result in punitive action. This was not enough for some of the Arab nations, and threats of War as a result of the incident lingered for months.

Eyeball-to-eyeball ruthlessness

The Israelis insisted that demonstrating that for every Zionist killed, 200 Palestinians would be executed in reply, including those responsible, would have a deterrent effect. This position ignored the obvious facts that the fanatics, responding to what they considered oppression, would only become more fanatical in response to such “punishments”; and that dead religious fanatics frequently became martyrs to their cause. Consequently, relations between the Imperial Court and Israel became strained, and the PLO moderates gained in sympathy, which they hoped to parley into additional support for their claims to “Dispossessed Nation” status.

Only in 2015 would it be discovered that the PLO hardliners deliberately targeted the Israelis whose deaths had triggered the retaliatory strike in anticipation of a Jewish overreaction. They viewed the deaths of over 600 of their own as a worthwhile sacrifice if it generated additional pressure for the Empire to recognize their claims over the West Bank.

The Terrorism Escalation

If peace was again in short supply in ’85, one thing this year had too much of (as had been the case of late) were acts of Terrorism. March saw the 25th anniversary of the Sharpville massacres in South Africa; the anniversary was commemorated by fresh rioting and by the police firing into the crowd – a mirror image of the events of a quarter-century earlier.

146 were killed during Tamil separatist attacks in Sri Lanka on May 14th. One month later, Shi’ite Muslim gunmen hijacked a TWA airliner and demanded the release of 700 prisoners held by Israel, while in July French Nationalists blew up the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior while it was anchored in Auckland harbor.

August saw 60 dead, 100 injured, when a car bomb exploded in Christian-controlled east Beirut; two days later a retaliatory car bomb exploded in the Muslim sector, killing 50. Of course, the PLO attack on 3 Israelis and the response have already been discussed. Less than a week afterwards, Palestinian guerillas seized the Italian luxury liner Achille Lauro, and murder a USK Hostage. The grim total of over 300 deaths through acts of terrorism in the course of the year would not be exceeded for the rest of the century.

Author’s Notes: While it’s certainly possible to criticize the West Wing episode “Isaac And Ishmael”, which was written and broadcast in the week following 9/11, the one line that most strongly resonated with me at the time, and which (in hindsight) summed up what would be the US attitude in response, was the response to the question of Rob Lowes’ character: “What’s the one thing that strikes you most about terrorism?”, and the response, “Its 100% failure rate.”

The litany of punch and counterpunch listed in the above section clearly demonstrates the utter futility and waste of such methods. Nothing makes a populace more determined to resist than poking them with a stick – and, when you’re talking about a national body, that’s what all acts of terrorism amount to. The 9/11 attack united most of the world in anger and fury, and certainly stiffened American resolve to resist any attempts to change their attitudes toward the Middle East.

It was thinking about that event and the response that it engendered that led me to the plot idea expressed in the last paragraph of the preceding section. I have no inside knowledge concerning the incident; I can only state that such an action as I have described seems consistent with the characters of the people involved.

Top portion, front face, Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, Arlington National Cemetary, USA. Photo by Tim1965.

1986

The success of Live Aid didn’t have an immediate impact on Imperial Society. The youth movement was largely cause-driven, and not yet the outright political movement that it would become in the 1990s. The still needed a unifying trigger, a cause to rally behind. This was the year in which they gained that cause.

Undoubtedly the biggest news stories of the year were two catastrophic engineering failures. The first of these dealt with the dramatic and tragic failure on launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which threw the Imperial space programme into disarray; the second explosion of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, which leaked substantial quantities of nuclear fallout over northern Europe.

Only marginally less significant was the concession of the failure of the peace process in Northern Ireland and the new offensive against Libya, which once again was edging towards a nuclear capability.

Reactions

While the events themselves were significant, the reactions of the general public were even more telling. For many years, the value of the Space Programme had been questioned; as diplomatic progress was made, the need for intensive development of space became less pressing. Increasingly, the demand was to shift funding away from Space and toward environmental concerns.

With the discovery of the Ozone hole over the Antarctic in September of 85, these concerns became even more pointed. But following the catastrophic failures of the engineering of which the Empire had been so proud, the impetus became overwhelming, and the minority Green parties in the various members of the Empire became a significant political force, largely by capturing the youth vote. There was a general demand for a step back from the technological forefront and an increasing emphasis on more mundane endeavors.

Increasing concern was repeatedly and loudly voiced concerning the growing population problem and the ability of the Empire to maintain production of food – issues that were heightened by the contamination resulting from the Chernobyl incident.

New Dilemmas

There were a whole raft of new issues to be contemplated. Actually, most of them weren’t all that new; but the sense of urgency, of insistence on priority, was new.

Issues such as recognition of the native inhabitants of the colonies – Canada, Australia, the USK, and Africa – had been growing for some time, for example, spearheaded by the anti-Apartheid movement. There were suggestions that the Empire had double standards which were difficult to refute.

Awareness of the problems of Agriculture had been becoming more general long before the plight of Ethiopia brought them into the living rooms of Imperial Citizens all over the globe. Soil Salinity, Ozone, Oil spills, Nuclear Waste, Smog, Reliance on fossil fuels, Urban Sprawl, Topsoil Erosion, Rainforest restoration – none of them were new issues.

  • The most extreme position demanded that polluting industries be shut down until the environmental issues were resolved. The economic chaos that would have ensued made these demands absurd, and these demands were rejected out of hand.
  • A more balanced (but still extreme) proposal called for a moratorium on further research & development until the rest of the world was brought up to core Imperial engineering standard
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