In lightning predawn raids on six Minneapolis ag overcorp processing plants, a Western paratroop brigade stole half this year’s Mid national corn crop and bandit-trucked it from Minnesota and the enemy Dakotas back to Montana. “A brilliant feat of arms shifted the war’s momentum to us, where it belongs,” said the West’s interim president, Romney 4. “Now we want Atlanta’s cotton. Maybe Atlanta too.” The South’s Defense and State Departments declined comment. -- Agence Press-France, November 29, 2067
It started small, seemingly: another summer of water shortages in Colorado and the rest of the American West. It became immense: a major rift in what was still the world’s most powerful nation. It led to disaster: a second, ongoing American Civil War. Even now it is hard to believe that in 2065, the Appomattox bicentennial, the United States dissolved into four semi-permanently warring countries - East, Mid, South and West - because of a dispute over how to pay for a drought.
The actual issue was an aged staple of water law: riparian rights vs. prior-appropriation ones. It meant the difference between getting water by owning riverbank or lakeside property on the one hand and taking the water first without necessarily owning the land on the other. Not one American in a thousand except perhaps farmers and ranchers knew about this obscure legal point. Not one lawyer, engineer or politician in a hundred could say two coherent sentences about it, at least before it festered and then exploded into a conflict that shook the nation and finally split it forever.
All these years later the details of America’s sundering are still painful to tell. At the 2065 emergency national hydrosummit, Colorado’s governor made an unavailing eleventh-hour plea to the Great Lakes states (now Mid’s core) for more, cheaper and less polluted water. The defeat resulted in the impeachment of Denver’s mayor and her psychiatric commitment for pre-traumatic stress disorder.
In a move never quite explained, California and Oregon, whose deserts, farms, ranches and remaining suburbs also desperately lacked water, walked out on the summit. President Christie 3 suddenly resigned, returned to New Jersey and soon became President of the East, saying “I’ve always wanted a real job and then Boston called.”
The next weeks saw an often-sanctimonious rush by all the states to find nearby, reasonably compatible secession partners. The country’s traditional (and Census) regions - the Midwest, Northeast, South and West - served perfectly as quick groupings to tear it apart. Germany’s precious teenage public intellectual, BHL 6, called the fast events “the world’s largest-ever and most volatile experiment in Weltgeschichtlichepolitischechemie” (world-historical political chemistry).
Those few who still cherished American unity had their hopes crushed by the South’s startling January 2066 bid to confederate with Alaska because it had so many ex-Texans. “It’s midwinter, Anchorage has creepy 24-hour nights and hurlish food, plus those oilworkers and Inuits want to go to the beach,” said the recently resigned South Carolina governor, about to become the South’s vice president.
By March 2066 mounting border skirmishes began. The East’s unprovoked two-day flying-bulldozer incursion from its Pennsylvania into Mid’s Ohio drew a devastating response from airborne supersonic tanks and genius-plus pebbles for four days. The never-stable “cold peace” ended. USA Forever and Today (in slang Usaft), the failing nation’s yellowblog of record, editorially called the period “the half-year eternity of false smiles.” The United States turned into the now-familiar four American nations. The war among them opened with the East’s legendary genetic poisoning of two-thirds of Miami Beach’s few remaining male heterosexuals and escalated from there.
The situation was unprecedented: four Post-Nano Age nations trying to destroy each other’s militaries but eager to retain one another’s resource, industrial and information bases. All the while they felt restrained by their shared culture, especially uebercorps like the overcommunications media and entertainment/sports overcomplexes. Major League Baseball’s 56 teams tried hard to broker short cease-fires until the South’s president, nationalizing the Miami Dolphins and all eight NFL Texas teams, famously told MLB, “Your body counts are a standing joke. Only football puts hair on your chest.”
The Second American Civil War amounted to what defense strategists, in their astute paranoia, termed a “symmetrical quadrilateral conflict,” a four-way engagement among approximate equals. An East colonel described it as “the goddamnedest food fight since the last time we did this.” In fact American envirohistorians of the early twenty-first century often termed the First American Civil War “The Great Food Fight” — at least as much a struggle between resource regimes as over slavery, tariffs, regional economies or cultural lifeways.
Everyone knew that the Second War, as Americans of all nations came to name it, amounted to a long-delayed resumption of the First.
The war’s four-sidedness complicated strategy and tactics. No historian or soldier could find such a nation-level, on-the-ground conflict in recent times or among developed countries. Military intellectuals had not conceived the possibility before. “We thought war was always tediously two-sided,” began a RAND/World memo leaked to Usaft. The closest parallels it invoked were big-city gang wars, Native American and other indigenous tribal struggles, the principalities’ conflicts in early modern Europe, Africa and Asia, or primate troops’ jostling for dominance or favorable ecological niches.
The Second War saw shifting, short-lived coalitions among belligerents, such as the highly touted 2086 East-South alliance. Usaft had a “high South official” saying, “We have buried the hatchet and now will dig it up and bury it in Mid.” The alliance, shaky from before its outset, lasted a few hours less than nineteen days. Usaft, which somehow kept publishing by turning ever-yellower, wondered editorially in what way she was high.
The Great Plains portion of the former United States presented a special case. Almost a seventh of the Lower 48 in land area but lightly populated and sprawling across the vast borderlands of Mid and West, it fast turned into a vital high-intensity battlespace for all four nations, plus clandestine mischief-making special-forces insertions of others that constantly fed the now-feverish American rumor mill.
For the better part of two centuries, the Plains’ already most rural, remote and unpeopled portions had continually shrunk, mainly in white areas. Many Plains counties had long had mid-three or even two-digit populations that were elderly and cut off from more urban places by culture, distance, bad roads and the rugged six-month winters climate/ocean change predictably created.
Before the war’s outbreak the Plains changed. In 1987 an obscure Mid-East academic couple charted the region’s depopulation, concluded correctly that in a few generations it would nearly empty and called for the creation of a giant Plainswide ecological - restoration project, the Buffalo Commons. The idea romantically evoked the original Indian no-man’s-land—which in technical-economic terms really was a commons: before white settlement. The Buffalo Commons became the rare intellectual vision that caught on and worked.
By 2060, because of ungulate-fertility innovations, six free-ranging million-member-plus buffalo herds reappeared. They ran from Montana and North Dakota (in fact Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in New Canada) in the north to New Mexico and Texas (and Coahuila and Nuevo Leon in Mexico) in the south. Federal, state and nonprofit agencies owned and managed most of them, but noticeable numbers belonged to newly buffalo-wealthy Indian tribes and individuals on the expanding Plains tribal lands. Environmentally sensitive buffalo cultivation by whites, led by Turner 4, also flourished.
The successful Buffalo Commons’ lessons formed the core curriculum of American enviroschools. Professors and students applied them to cities whose former, seemingly permanent economic bases no longer sufficed: the once-thriving cities of industrial Cleveland, housing construction/health haven/golf Phoenix and tourism/Digital Age/retirement Tampa.
They, among many others, had for decades been dwindling to near-village size. Like turn-of-the-twenty-first-century Plains farming and ranching towns, they had become anachronisms. The Buffalo Commons and other smart-decline approaches often helped them capitalize on their throwback charm and the assets it produced: walkability, cheap energy, easy transportation, neighborliness and so on through a long list.
The Second War undid the progress. It was not only the urban aerial bombing, internal subversion, war crimes and civil-liberties violations, which the East mostly introduced and excelled at, surprising many. After the first Civil War, the U.S. Army and the Plains settlers, trying to eliminate the Indians’ food/clothing/medicine source, religious symbol and selfhood base, all but wiped out the buffalo. Now the killing of buffalo and other Plains wildlife was collateral rather than intentional, but it provoked just as much Native (and dominant-enviro) resentment. The Second War’s inadvertent slaughter shrunk the herds’ size from 12 million to barely 1 million, about what it had been in 2020. In particular, the 2085-86 Battle of Oklahoma (usually called by its military acronym BOO) trapped the two southern herds without escape and completely eradicated them.
Afterward a tacit agreement among the four nations redirected their Plains attacks away from the buffalo, a regrettably easy tactic by then because the buffalo and the Buffalo Commons were among the Second War’s great casualties. Large enviro riots in Cheyenne, Chicago, Los Angeles and Omaha protesting the buffalo’s extermination and suffering made no difference. The Buffalo Commons became again what it had been at the millennium: a distant goal few believed achievable, even though it had already happened before. And the war raged on.