The American Legion Magazine | 8.1.09
By Alan W. Dowd
The following[i] is an example of futurology, which is defined as “the study of current trends in order to forecast future developments.”In other words, this essay uses yesterday and today to paint a picture of tomorrow—2076, to be exact. It is a sketch of what the world might look like when America celebrates its Tricentennial. Like most future-oriented writing, the purpose here is not to predict exactly what will happen in the future, but rather to help us think about the alternatives, possibilities and consequences of current trends and policies.
Contrary to popular opinion, the work of futurists is not confined to the fiction section of the bookstore or to sci-fi movie studios. In fact, one of the best-known figures in the little-known field of futurism was a physicist named Herman Kahn, who gained fame in the early days of the Cold War for his thinking on nuclear war. More recent examples of futurists are Alvin Toffler, author of the 1972 book Future Shock[ii], and John Naisbitt, who wrote the global bestseller Megatrends in 1982. Who uses the work of futurists today? Glen Hiemstra, founder of futurist.com, notes that businesses, nonprofits and public agencies all seek his insights on a range of demographic, economic, technological and environmental trends. He views futurology as “another dimension of strategic planning.”
Given that definition, it’s no surprise that the Pentagon has its own group of futurists who work in the Office of Net Assessment (ONA). Wired magazine has called the head of ONA “the Pentagon’s futurist-in-chief.” Since its founding in 1973, ONA has helped military leaders and the presidents they serve consider emerging and over-the-horizon threats. According to Wired, recent ONA reports cover topics such as intercontinental conventional war, Chinese and Russian strategies for space dominance, and waging war against a nuclear-armed adversary.
Hopefully, such grim scenarios will never come to pass, but if America’s first 200 years are any guide, there will be tragedy as well as triumph in the years between now and the Tricentennial…
July 4, 2076—So much has happened to and in America since our last centennial milestone that perhaps the best way to understand the past hundred years is to look back at the major headlines. They were not easy or carefree years—history never is for great nations—but like America they were remarkable and transformational.
December 25, 1991 Soviet Union Dissolves
Two years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Lenin’s terror state came to an anticlimactic end as Russia and other republics declared their independence from the Soviet Union. What followed would have been unimaginable in 1991: After an oil-aided economic boom and brief period of military adventurism from 2007-2019, demographics caught up with Russia. By 2050, the transcontinental empire built by the czars was literally withering away—shrinking from 145 million people in 2008 to fewer than 100 million people.
September 11, 2001 Terrorists Attack Manhattan and the Pentagon
The attacks claimed some 3,000 Americans. Although the consensus among today’s historians is that the jihadist movement’s war on the U.S. began in 1983, it wasn’t until 2001 that the U.S. engaged in what President George W. Bush and subsequent administrations called “a global war on terrorism,” which led to a series of military interventions across Asia and Africa. These included: Afghanistan (2001-2026), Somalia (2010-2015), the former Pakistan (2010-2017, 2025-2035), the Hezbollah Campaign (2017-2019) and the West African Stability Operations (2017-2028). Historians still debate whether the Iraq wars (1990-1991, 2003-2011, 2019-2022), peacekeeping operations in Palestine (2013-2015), expedition to protect Saudi oil fields (2014-2015) and pitched battles against Iran (2018-2020) were part of the wider war on terror.
November 4, 2008 U.S. Elects First African-American President
Aside from his history-making election, President Barack Obama would be remembered for his massive aid program to post-communist Cuba, intervention in Mexico during the Crisis of 2011 and efforts to combat the Great Recession. Obama’s election ushered in what historians call the Era of Firsts—a 30-year span which saw America elect its first black president, first female president, first Hispanic president and first president not born in the United States, an Indian-born American. His election was made possible by passage of the 30th amendment to the Constitution.
May 8, 2015 Joint Chiefs Confirm Intercept of North Korean Rockets
U.S. and Japanese warships destroyed a volley of eight North Korean missiles above the Pacific Ocean; two other missiles were intercepted by ground-based missile defenses in Alaska. The war that followed was bloody and ferocious, with North Korea’s forward-deployed army showering Seoul with thousands of artillery shells and missiles. But unlike the first war, Korean War II was mercifully short. The U.S.-ROK force effectively erased the North Korean army in a month. When China notified North Korean generals that it would not intervene to rescue their government, they sued for peace. A UN force would administer North Korea and supervise the peninsula’s reunification three years later.
August 10, 2019 Israel Bombs Iranian Nuclear Sites; World Braces for Mideast War
Even after the “twitter revolution” of 2009-2010, the mullahs would cling to power and race to deploy a nuclear arsenal. And even Israel expected Iran to respond in kind after Israeli warplanes hit Iran’s known nuclear missile sites, but Tehran never mustered a retaliatory volley. Only years later, in 2028, did the Pentagon reveal that assets from the U.S. Space Corps, including a once-secret hypersonic space plane, had struck a dozen Iranian missile sites as they prepared to launch.
June 3, 2025 GSX Roiled by Chinese Unrest
The Global Stock Exchange weathered its worst period since the Pakistan-India Nuclear War, as Chinese students, farmers and factory workers from rural areas clashed with police and military personnel, paralyzing the world’s largest economy. It was the first major challenge to the newly unified China, which absorbed Taiwan after the reunification process concluded in 2023. The protestors brought China to a standstill for nine months. Although the unrest never descended into a full-blown civil war, several hundred people died in fighting, before the so-called “Rural Revolution” finally got what it demanded: free elections and fair resource distribution between the cities and provinces. In the end, the Westernized leadership in Beijing, under the unblinking eye of the global media, refused to repeat Tiananmen. By 2027, the People’s Republic of China had been officially renamed China. By 2028, USAuto (the sole American carmaker) and China’s ChangFeng Motor were engaged in merger talks.
July 4, 2029 Make Room for Two More Stars
After decades of failed referenda and stalled congressional efforts, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., officially became states, the first additions to the Union since 1959. Congress took the opportunity to approve legislation expanding the size of the House to 635 seats in 2030, 835 seats in 2034 and to the current 1,035 seats in 2038, as the U.S. population climbed toward today’s 489 million.
January 10, 2034 DPF and UN Officials Confirm Flu Crisis Over
The Asian Flu Pandemic of 2030-2033 killed some 29 million people worldwide, including 120,000 Americans. The pandemic proved far worse than pandemics in 1968 or 1957, yet far less deadly than the 1918 flu outbreak, which claimed 40 million people, including half-a-million Americans.
The DPF—or Democracy Partnership Forum—came into existence after NATO dissolved in the wake of bitter disagreements over how to respond to Russian-backed coups in Ukraine and Estonia in 2019. With the UN unable and NATO unwilling to protect member states, the work of international security and disaster response rapidly shifted to the DPF. Although today’s DPF enfolds 30 countries, 11 city-states, three federations and two regional unions, it initially comprised the U.S. and 15 of its closest democratic allies.
April 10, 2040 House Speaker Declares Medicare, Social Security “Saved”
After the Health America Program (HAP) came into existence, many Americans thought the country’s healthcare problems were solved. But HAP actually worsened the healthcare situation by creating a universal system modeled after Canada, which resulted in the rationing of care, fewer doctors, fewer new drugs, long waiting lists and less innovation. The turnaround came when the bulk of the so-called “Post-Millennial Generation”—the 75 million Americans born between 2000 and 2017—reached their 20s and 30s. The first generation born and raised in the era of wireless communication, on-demand technology and “cloud computing,” they were accustomed to immediate results and loathe to waiting. So they led a high-tech revolt against the unresponsive HAP system. Their campaign, known as “HAPless,” demanded health networks that pooled risk in creative ways, lifelong portable health plans, and above all, flexibility and choice.
The once-ailing Social Security system was transformed by changes brought about by another generation of Americans. Expected to go bankrupt by 2041, the Social Security system faced a demographic problem: There were once 16 workers to support every Social Security pensioner. By 2009, there were about three. Although raising the retirement age and allowing Americans to invest up to 10 percent of their Social Security taxes into stock-related funds had a positive effect on the system’s health, the most significant factor was the emergence of the Wisdom Economy in the 2030s. In the 20th century, a worker’s value was found in how much he or she could lift, push or pull—or how fast he or she could get from one city to another to make a sale or close a deal. By the middle-third of the 21st century, the worker’s value was found not only in what he knew but in how well he could apply his knowledge, skills and life experience to solving, anticipating and even steering clear of problems. That was good for America, since the country enjoyed one of the world’s highest life expectancies. And thanks to technology, healthy people could work as long as they wanted or needed to do so. As a result, demand for older, wiser workers grew; many Americans entered their most productive earning years in their 70s and 80s; retirement became an aberration of the 20th century; stress on the Social Security system was relieved; and wisdom became the most valued asset.
January 1, 2048 International Team Returns from Mars Mission
Astronauts from the U.S., China, Brazil and India splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a grueling 520-day Mars odyssey. Such U.S.-China cooperation might have been unimaginable 20 years earlier. America’s civilian space program floundered between 2003 and 2015, relying on Russia for transport and enabling China to become the world leader in manned space exploration. China even landed men on the moon in 2022, while the earth’s first emissary to the moon passively watched.
September 11, 2061 President Declares Terrorism “Part of History”
On the 60th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the president traveled to Shanksville, Penn., to sign the Comprehensive Peace and Partnership Treaty and hail the end of America’s decades-long struggle against global terrorism. Fittingly, she was flanked by leaders from countries that played a central role in the effort, including what Pentagon officials still call the 5-I countries: Indonesia, India, Iran, the Iraq Federation and Israel.
“The first battle was fought here,” the president said, referring to the once-forgotten heroes of Flight 93. “And because we followed their example, the war is won. There were those who argued that waging a war on terrorism would be futile. But this century’s struggle against terrorism proved no more futile than the 20th century’s struggle against totalitarianism or the 19th century’s struggle against slavery. All of these barbaric practices are now part of history.”
The war scarred much of the globe. It was fueled by a violent, volatile period in the Islamic world—what some historians dubbed “The Second Reformation” and others called “Islam’s Civil War.” The worst attack in Europe was the 2018 radiological bomb detonation that destroyed the Chunnel and its Eurostar trains. For the United States, the worst days were 9/11, which claimed more than 3,000 in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon; the aerosolized-anthrax attacks of 2015, which killed 13,203 in Atlanta and Dallas; and the “April Siege” in 2017, which saw terrorists attack hospitals, schools, shopping malls and college campuses across the country, leaving 987 dead and twice as many wounded.
The war cost America an estimated 8.2 trillion icus (international currency units). But the military bore most of the costs. According to a 2059 report by the Department of Defense and Security, 31,000 U.S. troops died in operations related to the war and 105,000 were left permanently disabled. Historians still debate whether their sacrifices were in vain, but the record shows that America’s cities were safe by 2021. And by 2051, in the place of dictatorships or anarchy, the Middle East Union would unite a free-trade zone of democratic countries and city-states stretching from the Kabul and Kandahar republics, through Kurdistan and the Persian GulfCommonwealth, all the way to Tripolitania in Africa.
July 4, 2071 Last of the Gas Guzzlers Heads for Smithsonian
The president drove a 2039 USAuto micro-van into the SmithsonianMuseum, ceremonially closing the era of the internal-combustion engine. Triggered by the civil war in Saudi Arabia, collapse of Nigeria and Russia’s seizure of oil-rich areas in the Arctic, the energy crisis of 2013-2016 caused a wholesale reevaluation of energy policy in America. After a year of fuel-rationing, Americans demanded the exploration of vast petroleum reserves in Alaska, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, as well as offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. While some American companies drilled, others built nuclear plants, still others accelerated efforts to create dependable alternatives to the internal-combustion engine. Government agencies began converting the nation’s old energy infrastructure into one suited for the 22nd century. As it turned out, the U.S. had plenty of petroleum to carry the country into the post-petro economy of today.
[i] Sources of inspiration: Perry Link, English translation of Charter 08; Julie DaVanzo, Olga Oliker, Clifford Grammich, “A Shrinking Russia,” The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2003; DARPA, FALCON Program Solicitations, June 16, 2003; Julian Borger, “US-based missile to have global reach,” The Guardian, July 1, 2003; Nicholas Eberstadt, “Rising ambitions, sinking population,” New York Times, October 25, 2008; N.C. Aizenman, “US to grow grayer, more diverse,” Washington Post, August 14, 2008; www.thirty-thousand.org; Michael Schwartz, “Staying Put on Earth, Taking a Step to Mars,” New York Times, March 30, 2009; National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2025; U.S. Joint Forces Command, The Joint Operating Environment 2008; Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, World at Risk.
[ii] “Futurology,” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/222952/futurology.