World War T

An incomplete oral history of the War That Made War Great Again

(With apologies and gratitude, in equal measure, to Max Brooks)

Prologue

They had countless names. Zombies. The Mindless Herd. The Gilded Miasma. Or — as seems apropos of our post-social-media age — simply Followers. Some were our friends, some our family. All sadly, tragically misguided into instruments for the Greatest War Ever Seen. The Huuuuugest War. The “Winners’” War. The War That Made War Great Again.

We have all coped with the conflict and its subsequent resolution in different ways; in my case, I was lucky (if such a thing exists anymore) to be commissioned by the Union of American City-States to collect anecdotal accounts for the LoC’s spiritual successor, the reconstructed Library of Assembly. While nothing will ever heal the scars of our planet or psyche — or bring back the millions dead or billions displaced — hearing and collecting them has helped me find some semblance of peace. I hope by reading them, whether here on Goph or in print at the Library, you might find respite against the banal evils committed in search of Greatness.

-Josh Cincinnati, San-Oak-Jose City-State, March 15th, 2029

Note: This volume strictly abides by the Hong Kong Accord of 2026, and will not explicitly name the one who descended us into global chaos. Interview subjects were encouraged to use euphemisms as appropriate.

The Descent to Dictatorship

Columbia City-State, North American Mid-Atlantic

I step off the train at a rechristened New Union Station, construction crews working tirelessly to hide the remnants of destruction that pockmarked the old capital of the Free World. Walking to the train station’s only coffee shop, I meet a skinny man in his late 40s, outwardly tired, excepting the inward resolve his sharp glare betrays; Frank Lominski, a former “political strategist,” current Columbia Co-Consul. We share a cup of bitter, homegrown coffee, the remnants of the Capitol an eyesore behind us.

I’m sorry for this sludge; you know, for everything else that’s happened, I think I miss high quality coffee the most. Back before the War my firm had free, “artisanal” stuff at our K Street office; we even had a barista on staff, if you can believe! I know in a few years once international trade renormalizes we’ll get some fantastic Ethiopian again, but Pan-Africa still wants to keep us at arm’s length, and I don’t really blame them. Frank pauses, staring at the Capitol Ruins.

Maybe it’s not the coffee. I think I just miss the luxury, the freedom that’s going to take decades to win back.

Me too. What did you do before the War?

Political Strategist for a big Republican think tank. It was a cushy/interesting job, especially for someone of my proclivities. I had loved politics ever since I won my first award in high school Model UN, and went to law school hoping to project my political ideals on the world…tell me, you ever do Model UN?

No.

Great exercise, turns you into a pretty hopeless optimist, but not in the way you think. You learn to compromise pretty effectively, and I think that primed me to make little compromises. That’s what we did at the time for the Republican Party (what later turned into just “The Party”). Unlike the weird hybrid wiki-republicanism we have today, the way that democracy worked back then invited these small compromises…we’d say “oh, we need a slightly more socially conservative candidate here, a religious nut there,” and it was all in service to polls and the “median voter,” who, as far as I can tell, was a real asshole. But I believed (wrongly) that it was just a vehicle to get the right people in place to do some good in the world.

But it wasn’t?

No, it wasn’t. It turned out that every little compromise was widening the door for something bigger. A Faustian bargain by thousands of cuts. We’d go from Tea Party to this slimey nutcase Ted Cruz to…[Frank looks uncomfortable]…well, the one himself. We used to jokingly call him “Il Douche” after that media outlet trolled him into quoting Mussolini, but it turns out that only fed his power…the Followers didn’t care. We paved the way for him without knowing it. I should have realized when his second-in-command threw away his establishment trappings and joined his cause; that’s what made the compromise unrecoverable.

I once went to one of his earlier rallies on a fact-finding mission for my firm. In retrospect, not surprising in the least, but at the time I was somewhat shocked. All it needed was an aggressive symbol and it would have been like time-traveling into a 1920s German beer hall and bringing a bunch of iPhones with you. Given how densely media was connected back then…how it amplified his message, made xenophobia and racism palatable…we should have known.

You know, for all the terrible years that followed, I think the scariest thing is that we elected him by choice in November of 2016. 53% of those former United States should be ashamed of themselves.

Seeing him get sworn in on January opened my eyes to what I and my fellow “strategists” wrought, and I’ve spent every waking moment trying to undo that damage. Honestly, if I hadn’t, I imagine I would have been put on trial with the rest of the War Criminals in Copenhagen…some of my colleagues in the Party wound up in his inner sanctum, and I saw their trials. Power can do frightening things to people.


Texangle City-State, North American Gulf

Still heavily militarized, the Texan spirit of independence continues to permeate this once-heavily urbanized Gulf region. I meet Josie Simpson at her office, taller than average, striking the silhouette of an elder stateswomen. Now a Colonel (specializing in media intelligence) in the Texangle Rangers, formerly a producer in old Hollywood.

I couldn’t believe when I got the call, back in Los Angeles (now Mexico’s Baja Prefecture). My boss at the time, a studio exec, asked me, “do you want to make the reality show of a lifetime?” At the time I didn’t think anything could eclipse the work we’d done with American Idol, but oh how I was wrong.

He was talking about “The Cabinet,” right?

Yup, The Cabinet. America would vote for its Presidents’ cabinet appointees, on live TV and streaming everywhere on NBC. The execs ate it up, and it went exactly as you can imagine. Did you ever see The Apprentice? I mean, before the Hong Kong Accord’s ban on good ole “Dear Leader” idols/names/images.

Yes, it all seemed to have a veneer of fakeness.

Yeah, you’re right there. And so did The Cabinet. At the time I actually thought it might open up the political process, but it was just an insane circus, and it’s scary to think of the no-talent celebrity assholes that wound up controlling segments of the US executive branch. Christ, we made Judge Judy Attorney General, and she was probably the best of the lot. This was before the disappearances, right before the Big Quake of 2018, but during the Supreme Court nomination fiasco, which was its own brand of insanity.

That was when he nominated himself to the bench?

Yup, before the Supreme Court was dissolved altogether. Turns out the Quake made it a whole lot easier for him to consolidate power, but if that hadn’t happened, I bet he would have become Chief Justice around the same time he suspended the mid-terms in 2018. An aid barges into the room, hurriedly whispers in Colonel Simpson’s ear. I’m sorry, I have to cut this short, some Followers have breached our Goph node and we might have a lead on them.


Cascadia Recovery Zone, North American Pacific Northwest

After landing in Spokane township, I’m escorted in an off road vehicle, taking broken roads littered with hints of civilization. My guide tells me there aren’t as many rogue Followers here as the South and Midwest, but the vehicle is outfitted with bulletproof glass just in case. We reach our destination after two hours of tense driving, a hastily-built temporary headquarters for the Union Geological Survey. I meet its Director (and Union Resistance hero) Dwight Mandell, leaning on his cane, scars from his time in the Greatest Concentration Camps Ever still visible.

Let me be clear; I’m just a damned seismologist. I was a seismologist then, and I’m a seismologist now. All I did — and continue to do — is warn and advise and probe. We knew a big quake would strike the Cascadia fault, we just didn’t know when. It couldn’t have hit at a worse time.

Why’s that?

Because of the opportunist schmuck in the White House, obviously. Before the quake I had heard rumors of academics disappearing, forced sabbaticals, vocal freethinkers vanishing. I thought nothing of the cable networks going off the air, the funny shows getting cancelled. Poor John Oliver, he was my favorite, and what they did to him…but then, I thought their loss was just the continued transition of media into the then-Internet, and never took the logical step forward.

And then it happened to you.

Yes, it happened to me. And when I was needed most. The Big Quake of 2018 decimated the Pacific Northwest. 8.9 on the Richter scale, a tsunami that drowned Seattle. Those images of buildings underwater, like a Puget Atlantis…I still have nightmares. It was the greatest natural disaster in modern history, and prior to the Purges and War, the worst thing to happen to North America.

And that monumental Prick-in-Chief blames it on Muslims and ISIS. And those drones of his — no, the human ones, those Party collaborators and Followers — they believe him. He consolidated his power, suspending elections, declaring martial law and basically putting a gold-encrusted crown on his rotting gold head. I had to speak out, as a scientist and a citizen. And it got me put into his “Make Citizens Great Again Reeducation Program.”

What was it like?

Initially, not so bad. Like a minimum security prison for — in his words — “really highly educated people.” I even ran into some of my old grad students there, and it made me proud to see them. But things changed rather quickly. After the Purges (we didn’t know about them, they tightly controlled information flow), the guards…well, they changed. Rations got worse. Family couldn’t visit. Solitary confinement became the norm. Some of the new guards took to torturing for fun.

And after the War, it got worse. Much, much worse.


“Winners Go To (Total) War”

Green Zone, Moscow, Russia

Gray army fatigues surround me everywhere, as I’m led to a POW camp in Moscow’s Red Square. There, in an extremely well protected room, I’m allowed to interview Stephen Smith, international fugitive, and former three-star General of the United States. Stephen makes it clear that “[everyone’s] shit stinks as much as mine.”

Everyone’s shit stinks as much as mine. Y’all don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. Eventually, you’re offered an impossible choice: do you save your family and, hey, in the process, further your career, or do you fight back, and destroy everything, including those who loved you and whom you love? Then it’s not so impossible, and you make it, then and there.

That’s why all those companies agreed to partial US government, why that combover-wearing-clown had every CEO from every US-based company plying to his every whim. After the Quake he had the political capital, and he seized it, giving him near total control of every facet of personal and public life. And that included us in the service. The Purges were just echoes of that choice writ large.

How did the Purges happen for you?

Probably the same way you remember them, but it was much more acutely felt in the military. Yeah, you civies probably saw the local governments change hands, local police sent away, a couple nights of chaos before order was restored with that video broadcast that reached every smartphone from sea to shining sea. Nice trick, that; a masterkey megaphone, having all those tech companies in his pocket. That he called it part of “The Huuuuge Leap Forward” was the cherry on top, considering we’d be at war with “commie” China soon.

In the military your CO would literally get executed right in front of you, right down the hierarchy, until someone said “alright.” With martial law and the suspension of the judicial/legislative branches, it wasn’t, strictly speaking, “illegal.” But then what was illegal, but what our leader said on any given day?

They say something like a quarter of the military died that way. No one really knows, and I’m not sure anyone wants to know. I was the only survivor in my company, and that’s what I was, a survivor. My promotion to General was not about opportunity, it was about survival. The way the entire military was rewired, it’s no wonder all that shit happened in Korean Peninsula.


New Kyoto, Nippon Confederation

Tokyo remains in ruins, but the reformed Japanese government has done an admirable job moving its capital to Kyoto, a return to the older Edo era. I visit the new campus of Tokyo University for tea under blooming cherry blossoms, and meet Takuya Kim, a Korean ex-pat who immigrated to Japan after the government opened its doors to refugees.

Hindsight, they say, is 2020, but even in hindsight, 2020 seems wholly unpredictable. The beginning of total war…that year marks the enduring shame of Earth’s denizens. I suppose, one could argue, that the economics of the time necessitated a war. I was trained in economics and history, and there’s an unsurprising correlation between recessions and conflict, the most notable pre-War example being the Great Depression preceding World War 2. But for all the violence of that era, it couldn’t compare to The Greatest War.

Rewind for a sec; what were the economic conditions like prior to the War?

Ah, well, it’s easy to forget, given the dire hellscape we found ourselves in after the War began. So-called economic superpowers were in shambles. The US could have potentially weathered its equity bust in 2017, had it not been for that amateur running Treasury and the Fed (wasn’t he a talk show host on a partisan cable news show or some nonsense?) and the Big Quake. The Chinese Contraction was in full effect after their real estate bubble popped, Russia and the Middle East were weathering the steady devaluation of commodities, and the EU was being decoupled after another period of austerity. The only bright spot was the emerging markets, and even these showed worrying signs. The Global Crash of 2019 was a direct result, and America’s “Huuuge Leap Forward” and the Purges were scapegoats and enablers for his insatiable quest for control.

And that led to the War?

Not directly. But it was a powder keg, anyone could see that. It’s not surprising that the fuse was lit in Korea, but what was surprising was the “American” response. As you know, the former DPRK had a tendency to make tense situations even worse. Back then, when the world suffered an economic cold, North Korea caught economic ebola. The Crash of 2019 hit Kim Jong-Un and his ruling party quite hard, and it led to vocal split within his ranks.

Which precipitated the 2020 New Years Attack.

Right. Because of the insanity of DPRK’s politburo dynamics, Kim decided he needed to show his underlings who was boss. So he took a short range missile and lobbed their only thermonuclear warhead into the center of Seoul. By some stroke of good fortune, our American-made missile defense system knocked it out 15 miles outside of the city, but it caused irreparable damage and demanded an immediate response. We were in the suburbs…my mother was facing the window when it exploded, and it rendered her blind for the rest of her life. We thought North Korea would be in flames the next day, Americans and Chinese finally ridding us of the Kims’ legacy.

But no, we hadn’t counted on America’s newfound capriciousness. Well, your leader’s, anyway. He was continuing to anger China; his new, “America-First” tariffs on international production hit them the hardest, probably amplifying their depression and destroying decades of Chinese progress on per capita GDP.

The day after the attack, he held a press conference, calling Kim a “real standup guy, one of my best friends, real great guy” and claiming that South Korea broke some treaty he made up on the spot and that it was “all their fault.” He then said “it would really be better for everyone if my good friend Kim just took the region over.” And that was it. The bullshit that launched the Second Korean War, which eventually turned the world aflame. The Korean Peninsula was finally unified, but under Kim’s rule, thanks to American air and land support. I never thought I’d see the American military walking hand-in-hand with DPRK troops, but that was the insanity of our age. The international community would have been more stunned, I think, but half of the so-called “first world” had been taken over by fascist-look-alikes, and they all had their petty squabbles to fight.

5 years of the worst conflict the world had seen.

That’s right. Our little peninsula was only the target of one nuclear weapon; I can’t say the same for the rest of Asia, or your continent, or Europe. At least we can be thankful for that.


Unknown Location, Pacific Ocean

I’m aboard a retrofitted sailboat that looks half-cutting-edge, half-like-an-old-RadioShack-vomited-all-over-it. It took great pains to meet this interviewee; she has spent her life staying anonymous, working from the shadows of the then-Dark-Web, now-Goph. I’m only allowed to see her in shadow, and can only make out a confident, if scattered, voice. Many credit her invention as what turned the tide against the leader and his followers.

Yes, I invented Goph. But I didn’t so much invent it as rediscover it. If not me, someone else would have. By the middle of the War, it became clear to those of us non-Party types that the medium was, and has always been, the message. And he controlled both.

I’m not sure I follow.

Il Douche controlled everything. Everything centralized under his control. But especially important: he controlled information. Yes, he had nukes, and damn did he use them. Yes, after those Purges he had complete control of local institutions and the military, and yes, damn did he use them. But above all he controlled everything we heard and saw. Before he became President, he did this tacitly by flooding the media with his obscene antics. Afterwards, he dispensed with subtlety and just controlled it all, vertically integrated.

Luckily, you can’t completely control information, and comrades in my circles wanted that stranglehold to end, desperately. And we realized the only way to do it was to look backward, not forward.

The Blackout?

Yup, prior to releasing Goph, that was our doing. Everyone assumed that the Internet couldn’t ever go out, “completely.” But remove a few keystones here or there, some CDNs, cut enough underwater fiber…and honestly, we didn’t have to do too much, physically. The War did a lot of the work for us. We just had to nudge things the right way in the software, and BOOM, the Internet as we know fell. LTE tours gone, servers dead. We had this one guy who was former-NSA, before they really went off the rails, and he used this beautiful worm intended for DPRK nuclear facilities to cut out Asia…seemed poetic considering that Kim Jong-Un was the firestarter.

So we suffocated a world gone to hell from the toxic oxygen of controlled information. And then we reintroduced it, in a way that couldn’t be controlled by anyone.

The Goph we know today.

Right. We combined a few neat distributed content networks with an ancient protocol (Gopher) and came up with that beauty. Utilitarian, effective, and ultimately, uncontrollable by design. Because we, you know, completely decimated our telecom infrastructure, getting people back online was rough, but the hardware was all there…just had to rely on folks sharing the OS and protocol like the old days with floppies. Copy and pass on. Copy and pass on. And soon we had a large enough network to actually communicate and fight back safely.

Do you think that eventually helped stop the War?

Sure, but it was just one piece in a very large puzzle. Much braver souls than I stood up to the tyranny of that goon. I just removed his mouthpiece.