This is the alternate history timeline for my near future setting, running all the way from 1940 to 2015.
Aerospace engineer Benjamin Caige, military analyst Friedrich Hofstadter, arms manufacturer Abraham Hobbes, oil baron John Williams and politician Calvin Winthrop* (all also philosophers) meet together in a conference in Massachusetts related to the second world war and the US's involvement (or lack thereof). Abraham Hobbes quickly befriends the more charismatic John Williams and the two reach a consensus on the appropriate course of action, and Williams convinces the others to go along with them. Hofstadter is uncertain and makes this clear, but he goes along with them anyway. Benjamin Caige takes the most convincing, but does eventually agree. The five begin to channel their collective resources into forcing the US's hand, but Pearl Harbor comes before they can act.
The United States finally becomes involved in the second world war, and although they are only engaged in the Pacific theatre they begin to lay plans for Europe. This initially pleases the five. However, they soon begin to notice a massive, rapid shift in American culture. Racism moves from being a major background issue to the dominating force of American life, and propaganda dominates the media. Japanese-Americans (and other Asian-Americans, because America can't tell them apart) are rounded into concentration camps, beaten in the streets and many are shot. The populace appears to believe not only that genocide is an appropriate course of action in the pacific theatre, but that it is the only course of action.** The five are immensely displeased by this turn of events, and withdraw all support from the US's war effort in the pacific. Caige and Friedrich urge the others to take more direct action and free the prisoners in the concentration camps, but they weren't willing to invest resources on it since the US hadn't started executing prisoners en masse. Europe was deemed "more important."
The United States becomes directly involved in the European theatre of the second world war. The five are now once again directly supporting them in that campaign, but Hofstadter becomes aware of the US's nuclear weapons development. He brings this to the attention of the others, and after Hobbes approves, claiming it to be a big enough stick to keep the world in line, he gets into a heated argument with Hofstadter which comes to fisticuffs. The others attempt to separate the fight and after a prolonged struggle succeed, but not before Hobbes is grievously wounded. Hofstadter storms out and is never seen again, Hobbes is taken to a nearby hospital where he is pronounced dead on arrival. Hobbes' son Hagar takes over for his father. Caige spits on Hobbes' coffin during the funeral and defaces the man's tombstone with a pistol before shooting his remaining associates and leaving. Neither Williams nor Winthrop is killed, but the message got through nonetheless.
The United States begins its genocide, dropping its first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. For a brief moment, all the patriotism and bravado the Americans hid under was blown away, and they understood what they had wrought. Unfortunately, this only lasted a moment as they quickly started repressing their humanity once again. However, unlike in the real world they never had time to fully repress their consciences as upon landing their entire airfield was completely erased and in a rare moment soldiers died knowing they had done wrong. Their remaining warheads had been sabotaged and detonated in storage. Within a week and with only one exception, (Douglas MacArthur, they didn't get him until 1962) every person even remotely involved in the bombing had been assassinated, and all with fire. All information related to nuclear weapons development is destroyed along with it, setting the US back twenty years in the new nuclear arms race. Williams and Winthrop suspected Hofstadter, but no confirmation ever came.
Hagar Hobbes, John Williams and Calvin Winthrop continue to plan, although Hagar has little influence on the elder two's ideals. As the Cold War begins to take shape and all the world's powers are focused on the developed nations, Hagar comments that the third world is left wide open and unguarded. This thought intrigues John, who recommends a covert takeover of the middle east. He recommends that he take it from the west under the guise of securing fuel for the US war effort, and Hobbes do the same from the other direction under the guise of supporting the Soviet war effort. When they met in the middle, they'd ensure it stayed that way. They begin to invest their companies into doing exactly that. In the mean time, the US becomes invested in Korea.
The USSR becomes directly involved in the Korean War (a direct departure from reality) and pushes the USA out completely in less than a month. This is followed by Russian high-altitude bombers delivering primitive nuclear warheads to the US Navy as it attempts to regroup. Of the six bombs dropped, two failed to function entirely, two fizzled with less than a ton of yield, one detonated improperly with a pithy 300t yield over an hour after it was supposed to and the last functioned as intended, resulting in a 3kt explosion that sank half a carrier group and killed 8,000 sailors. The US withdrew from Korea while the Soviet Union continued to flex its muscles. Meanwhile, in the middle east, the two corporate conquistadors meet in the middle and intentionally lock themselves in a holding pattern.
The US finally develops usable nuclear weapons again, and begins to look around for something to do with them with no thought for what happened last time. (Memory of a pot-smoking goldfish, I swear.) They look upon France's conflict in Indochina (the start of the Vietnam War) and decide to cast their stones there. Finally, they look to be able to beat the USSR in a conflict, if only indirectly. However, they overestimated the USSR's involvement in the conflict and end up covering up the shocking lack of Russians in Vietnam to maintain morale. Meanwhile, the three (now four, as Hagar's brother Isaac is now involved) begin to come under their "masters" scrutiny. The holding pattern clearly cannot be maintained for long.
The US is still in Vietnam. The populace is starting to grow tired of it, but unlike in the real world the protests were done by very small groups and were silenced quickly. The Hobbes forces (with Soviet resources powering them onward and Soviet officers breathing down their necks) "push" the Williams forces back into Africa. The Hobbes forces stop at the red sea, and the Williams forces spread across the African coastline.
The US is STILL in Vietnam. (If you thought this was a prolonged, bloody slog in real life, I assure you it was worse here.) The USSR is getting annoyed with the US's presence and gets directly involved in the conflict.
The USA is forced back out of Vietnam. Western Europe is now gravely concerned about the USA's ability to keep the USSR from steamrollering them. Williams' forces continue their expanse across Africa, now controlling the entire northern coastline and the western coastline all the way down to Kenya.
In April, the USSR comes barrelling through the Fulda Gap with "more tanks than god." They take Germany in under a month and are in France tearing down the Normandy memorial by December. The USA barely has time to react, and by the time they arrive on scene there's nothing they can do for the mainland. They do, however, keep the USSR out of the British Isles. Williams is now down to the southern tip of Africa, thus assuring a certain issue (Apartheid) will never come to pass.
The USA struggles to keep the USSR out of Britain, and fruitlessly attempts to counterattack. It deploys cobalt bombs in the English Channel and along the shore of France to deny them a major launching point, and begins work on alternative soldiering methods to help combat the "Red Menace." Russia drops two nuclear bombs into the sea, one on the northeast side of the British Isles from the western tip of France and one on the southwest side of the British Isles from the Norse Isles. The warning is quite clear, but nobody listens to it. This is likely because the USSR is becoming massively unstable on a social level and is suffering from multiple rebellions.
The USA finally goes seriously nuclear on Europe, targeting everything from military installations to industrial sites and civilian cities. It uses cobalt bombs followed by thermonuclear bombs to irradiate the majority of Europe, and then follows up with surgical airstrikes, carpet bombing and finally a massive rush of 15,000,000 ground troops to push the weakened USSR back to the Berlin wall. Europe is ruined, but not as much so as the reputation of the United States. The USSR finally begins to disintegrate, as all of its old Satellites split off from it. Soon, the USSR is no more, but Russia does not abandon communism like it did in the real world. Before it dies, the Soviet Union fires off all of its ballistic missiles, but the technology doesn't do much to America as most of the missiles are destroyed by counter-missiles before they can reach US soil. Europe, on the other hand, is hit pretty hard. Not as hard as when the US bombed it, but still pretty hard. The only surviving countries in Europe are the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Ukraine. Williams is now in control of ~40% of Africa.
The USA is charged by the UN with more war crimes than anybody cared to count for its nuclear bombardment of Europe. Unfortunately, the UN lacks the power to do a damned thing about it. Japan, however, does. Unlike the real world, Japan became THE economic power (aside from "the four") in the world in the past 50 years and was the holder of the majority of the US's debt. Further, the US still has most of its troops in Europe and Japan (which remained a major naval power) has most of its troops sitting in the pacific. Just for show, they blockade Hawaii and set up a greater presence in Alaska than the US ever had. They then set up for the west coast, threatening to invade for real if the USA doesn't take measures to repair the damage they did in Europe. Caught with its pants down, the US obliges. Japan withdraws from the US, leaving only a token force behind to make sure things go right. Williams is now in control of ~70% of Africa. Winthrop, who had previously gone covert, now reveals to the others that he has seized economic and cultural control of Central America and all of South America save Brazil.
The US has made serious progress and has cleaned up ~25% of the fallout in Europe. Russia, knowing what's good for it, has been helping them do so the entire time. The US's culture is permanently altered by the events of the last several years, now beginning to become more progressive. The shattering of its cold-war patriotism didn't kill its ego, however, and it searches for a new enemy to focus on. The east coast, far removed from what actually happened on the west but involved heavily in the forced clean up, chooses Japan. This doesn't fly with the west coast, which was aware of how alarmingly gentle Japan had been in its treatment but unaware of how hellish the clean up job was. This creates an east/west schism in the US that will never die. Williams is now in control of all of Africa, and is now aiding Winthrop is his slow takeover of Brazil. Meanwhile, Hagar reveals that his brother Isaac has been spearheading an economic takeover of old Soviet Satellites in the ruined sections of Europe and that he has been involved in Asia.
The US is coming to a boil. The clean up has slowed immensely and they are now 8 years in with only 40% progress. The new popular estimate on completion time has shifted from "by 2010" to "coincident with the rapture." Japan is no longer breathing down their necks about it, and has now not only fully restored its strong trade relationship with the US but actually strengthened it. Nipponophilia runs rampant on the west coast, but Nipponophobia is still the norm on the east coast. The schism grows so strong you can mark the divide on the map. Meanwhile, Brazil now belongs to Williams and Winthrop. The four stop expanding their economic influence and start working on drastically altering the countries they are in.
The four are now a credible military power and a threat to any nation on Earth, but nobody realises they are a single force rather than simple allies. The countries contained now practice their religion, which teaches that Abraham Hobbes was a prophet. His son, Hagar, objects to his father being worshipped, but the older men ignore his objections. He is soon expelled from the nations when he makes his "heresy" public. He is never heard from again.
The clean up is ~50% done, and slowing. The east coast is now more willing to go to war with Japan than continue to work, but the west coast is threatening civil war over it. Russia, on the other hand, continues to power merrily onward with the clean up duty, having found a way to use it to both strengthen their culture and their economy. Their duty of fixing Europe has made their own people see them as the "good guys" once again and the production and exporting of fallout cleaning kits and radiation meds has made them a strong economic power. They are once again stronger than the US in every way and damned proud of it. Meanwhile, Isaac is publicly assassinated in order to martyrize him, which is the final push for securing their religious takeover of ~1/3 of the world's population.
The US is cracking. Chicago is suffering from daily riots and the two sides are effectively at war on the city's streets. It goes so far as to have police shooting each other on occasion, "accidentally" of course, for supporting the wrong side. Meanwhile, the culture of the western half begins to shift. A new company called "Terratech" has arisen and is now powering the economy of the western half, and only the western half. Both sides are quite aware of the implications of this.
The US goes to war... against itself. The western half has a quick and nearly bloodless revolution lead by Terratech and its' subsidiary, the "Economic Conglomerate of the United States' Security Force." The western half now calls itself the "American Republic" and between its greater military might and the economic support of Japan it is quickly overrunning the divide. In the southern US, it is unsuccessful, but in the northern US it pushes straight onward to New England with relative ease. Unfortunately, a new force arises in the south while nobody is looking, calling itself "Moon White." They quickly take over their home state of Oklahoma and its neighbour Louisiana.
Losing the war quite badly, the US gets desperate and begins using it's tried and true scare tactic of slaughtering civilians in occupied cities. This comes to a head when the US pushes up from Texas into Chicago and manages to cut the New England section of the AR off from the west. The AR quickly kicks them out of Chicago. Then they take it back. Then the AR takes it again. And the US takes it back. Basically, they play hot potato with the windy city for six months before the US says "fuck it" and salts Chicago with cobalt bombs. Then gases Chicago with sarin. Then seeds it with Anthrax and nukes the city with 20kt warheads for good measure.*** They then mowed down refugees from the city, and started to sweep into the AR killing the populace and scorching the Earth in an attempt to make the AR withdraw. These tactics did not scare the AR. Instead, they pissed it off. The AR went ballistic in a very literal sense and started using nuclear explosives on military installations across the divide. They then pushed in hard and the enraged, well motivated AR military proved unstoppable. Meanwhile, "Moon White" has taken Mississippi, Kentucky and Arkansas. They name their new nation the "Holy States of America," reinstate slavery and begin "cleansing" the area of "Heathens, Heretics and Blasphemers." Within two months of their occupation, the HSA has an awful lot in common with the US circa 1800.****
The AR takes new England once again and the US surrenders unconditionally. And since the surrender was "unconditional", the AR decided to milk the word "unconditional" for all it was worth. They never actually took the US over, but they did collect and publicly execute every member of the US government, military and police force and make them get new ones. Hell, a little intervention from the leader of Terratech, a young engineer named Justin Caige, and the free elections actually managed to be free. He prevented any sort of public advertising or corporate endorsement of any candidate, so it was entirely based on their party and policy. It didn't remove the bias, but it was a damn good start. The count of states at this point is AR 30, USA 15 and HSA 5. (If you want me to list the exact states, ask. I'm not doing it if nobody wants it.)
The issues in the US are being echoed across the globe. In some nations (such as France and Germany) revolutions start and completely take over the country. These nations ally with the AR, just as Japan has done. Some nations the revolutions never happen, (Russia, China, Korea) so nothing changes. In a few others they are put down (UK, Canada) and the nations ally with the US. Others end up being taken over by third parties during their fighting. (Mexico by the four, Ukraine, Poland and the Philippines by a local company that originated in Japan but had its stocks frozen there in 1960) The Four now consolidate their powers into one formal power called the "Third World Union" and the rest of the nations of the world collectively shit bricks.
The Third World Union (3WU) becomes a major force in the world. To combat its presence, the other alliances give themselves fancy titles that don't really fill any purpose outside of ego. Russia, Korea and China are already the "Communist Bloc" so no change is needed, France and Germany consolidate into a single nation called Europa and name their alliance with the AR and Japan the "Reformed Nations." The name is shit by everyone's standards, but they roll with it. The US, UK and Canada are what's left of the "United Nations" and retain the old name. The others don't get a name yet, even though they are consolidated, so they just get nicknamed "The X Empire" or "The Empire of X" or "X Empire of Y" depending on who you ask. Meanwhile, the AR and US tentatively put aside their differences and stamp the HSA out of existence in two months flat. Final count: AR 32, USA 18, HSA 0.
The AR and USA do an official inquiry into the HSA's actions and find they keep records like Nazis. And the records were very much like with the Nazis, only much worse. In this setting, The Holocaust took 5 million lives. The HSA's genocide took 15 million. Meanwhile, the 3WU begins to have border conflicts with the USA, specifically in the Gulf as the 3WU controls Cuba and Mexico. The border conflicts include subjects like illegal immigration, national boundaries and mineral rights in the gulf. As oil as almost completely run dry due to the long series of wars and the clean up (which is at 60%, by the way) and what little is left belongs to the 3WU, the USA is quite decidedly desperate for the oil in the gulf and the 3WU doesn't want to let them have it because it wants to maintain its monopoly. Soon, this goes to war. The USA, flying in the face of irony, contacts the Communist Bloc for aid and is refused. The Communist Bloc instead starts taking over the areas it is cleaning in Europe much more overtly than before, and forces the RN to engage it in order to not lose ground.
The clean up comes to a screeching halt as war comes to the ruined wastes of Europe. The RN and CB are not willing to give up any ground on the matter, and although the war is brief it is quick and bloody. The entire year is constant war for them and it's clear neither of the starving nations can fight much longer. Meanwhile, the UN gives the 3WU its all but runs out of gas (literally) in October and withdraws to find an alternative source of power for its military. The 3WU tries to invade them, but finds on US soil the UN still has the advantage and the 3WU's fuel supply isn't stellar either with how much the last seventy five years has cost it. The two come to a treaty that appears to mean "Let's never do this again, it's stupid." but really amounts to "Coffee break, be back in 5." Reluctantly, the RN and CB do the same.
And that's the timeline as far as I want to cover in detail, as the near-future game idea starts just a couple years after that. Please, give me feedback and see if you can spot any of my references that I have embedded within this backstory.
*Other than Benjamin Caige (a name I pulled straight out of my ass) the rest are each named after two historical figures they have at least one common feature with. Imaginary cookie to the first who can name them all.
**I AM NOT MAKING THIS PART UP.
***I swear, I don't have any problem with Chicago. I don't know why I chose it to suffer in this setting.
****In case you couldn't figure it out, these are supposed to be the bad guys. No, not the bad guys, the BAD guys. So bad, no force in the setting wouldn't like to give them a quick stomping. So don't give me shit about including racist, redneck, slave driving, fascist religious zealots in the backstory.
Setting information coming in a new post in this thread sometime today.
Also, since his name doesn't make it obvious and his behaviour here doesn't make it clear, Benjamin Caige is based on Howard Hughes. The two have different physical features and fates, but they are both brilliant, reclusive, eccentric billionaire business magnates and aerospace engineers with grand dreams of technology-based utopias. They even dress the same, up until Benjamin's freak out and disappearance. They also coexisted in this setting and competed against one another in everything from business to air races and personal records. Beyond this, Caige is also slightly messianic in nature. He is naturally brilliant and perceptive with charisma and resolve coming out his ears. Physically, he was in almost ideal shape, and if he wasn't just ever so slightly unstable he'd be perfect mentally as well. This carries through in the (notably dominant) "Caige genes" that his descendent carry. And no, they aren't Mary/Gary Sue characters. Despite their blatant superiority to the rest of humanity they are heavily flawed. Their instability is just one issue, they're also cold, smug, haughty and condescending. Every Caige to date has been a misanthrope, which they refer to as "the cost of being sane." Worse yet, they are so good at everything most can't handle failure anymore. Any time they are unsuccessful they get stressed out very quickly, becoming cranky and psychotic as they fixate blindly upon the object of their failure until it is a failure no more. They have a very, very hard time letting their failures go and as a result, tend to either get blindsided while they're in tunnel vision or keep on throwing time and effort at a lost cause like a monkey humping a football until something manages to break its hold on them or they simply can't fight it any more.
I am quite aware that there is quite a bit of Texas between Oklahoma and Louisiana. Didn't stop Moon White.