5 Fictional Countries Where the U.S. Army is Trained to Fight

During World War II, the Allies famously tricked Hitler into believing that the First United States Army Group would invade France at Pas-de-Calais. The real invasion, of course, came at Normandy, and the First United States Army Group did not take part—mostly because it didn’t actually exist.

Fake military units aren’t the only thing the military is good at inventing. Sometimes it invents entire nations. When the U.S. Army trains for battle, it strives for immersion and realism. To help prepare soldiers for the overwhelming nature of invading a country where the language is unknown and the culture is mostly alien, the U.S. Army invents fully realized countries, from international dynamics to currency. Here are a few fake countries where the United States is prepared to fight.

1. The People’s Republic of Pineland

Image credit: U.S. Army

Invaders from the north beset the country of Pineland, located on the continent of Atlantica. There have been reports of a local strongman named Jose Cuervo, who is known to capture and torture local guerrilla fighters, and there is general discord among the local militias. Wanted terrorist Keith Mohammed is noted to be in the area. Because Pineland has been a stalwart ally of the United States—fighting alongside us during World Wars I and II, Korea, and Iraq—a U.S. Army Special Forces “A-Team” (ODA-914) has infiltrated the country to organize the guerrilla forces into a formidable army.

Atlantica itself has an interesting history.

It’s a bit over a thousand miles east of North America, and was first discovered by Saladero Indians of Venezuela. Eric the Great settled the land in 1342, and the English, Spanish, and French would arrive during the Age of Discovery. Ultimately, England would conquer the continent and divide it into three distinct territories: North Atlantica, Appalachia, and Pineland. Unlike the America-friendly Pineland, the United Provinces of Atlantica (previously: North Atlantica) would eventually side with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The region would seem to be marked by instability and unrest.

All of this is part of Robin Sage, the final phase of Special Forces training, where soldiers put their highly specialized training to the test. Those who succeed will earn the right to wear the coveted green beret. Based on reports of the exercise, the exact conditions of the war simulation seem to vary, reflecting actual, ongoing U.S. Army Special Forces missions and the lessons learned from conflicts around the world. And Pineland is serious business. The training area is 4,500 square miles across ten counties. Local communities are integrated into the mission. It has a flag (yellow, gray, and red, with LIBERTY printed at the top, and 1870 on the bottom), a national anthem (“This is the land of the tall pine tree / where all of us used to live so free...”) and a currency (the don, denoted by orange and yellow bills that resemble Monopoly money, and signed by Seymour Bombs). And yes, there is a real dollar-to-don exchange rate.

Notably, a precursor to Robin Sage was fought not in Pineland, but in Erehwon, with Special Forces pitted against the Erehwonian Army. Erehwon, of course, is “nowhere” spelled backward.

2. The Island of Aragon

Image credit:
The Island of Aragon is roughly six hundred miles east of Atlantica, and is divided into three distinct nations: People’s Democratic Republic of Acadia, the Republic of Cortina, and the Republic of Victoria. Cortina is rich in natural resources and vital to U.S. interests, but is highly unstable due to political corruption, ethnic strife, and right wing insurgencies. The Cortina Liberation Front, a domestic terrorist organization, is supported by the PDRA and has recently stepped up its violence. Their goal is to overthrow the Cortina government. The United States isn’t going to let that happen. Joint Task Force Cortina, comprised of conventional land, air, and sea elements, as well as special operations forces, has been sent to the area. They’ve been ordered to help with the counterinsurgency, provide security, and offer humanitarian aid where it’s needed.

This simulated invasion is one scenario used during the three-week field training exercise at the U.S. Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Where Robin Sage’s Pineland is designed around twelve-man Special Forces teams, JRTC brings together diverse elements from the whole of the U.S. Army, with units ranging from light infantry to Apache helicopters. Thousands of soldiers train at once on the 100,000-acre facility dubbed “the Box.” It’s one of the most technologically sophisticated training simulations in the military, employing 900 cameras that record everything, real-world sound effects, carefully employed pyrotechnics, and GPS tracking on pretty much everything.

Hundreds of civilians role-play as villagers, acting as mayors and farmers and peddlers at local bazaars. Citizens of the Box broadcast a radio show, print three daily newspapers, and run a nightly news broadcast, all of which reflect the ongoing “war.” The 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) acts as the Opposing Force, or op-for. These soldiers live in the field for weeks at a time, eating and sleeping in their camps and villages. Like indigenous forces the military will encounter in the combat zone, the op-for is extraordinarily familiar with their terrain, and knows exactly how to use it to inflict maximum “harm” on soldiers in training. It’s an unfair advantage, but it’s designed to be that way. The goal for soldiers training at JRTC isn’t to win—that’s an almost impossible task—but to learn from their mistakes.

3. Attica

Image credit: U.S. Army/The Economist

The Middle Eastern nation of Attica has seen better days. The radical Islamic Congress of Attica seeks to destabilize the Attican government and install an oppressive theocratic regime. Meanwhile, the Ellisian Army has sent in mechanized elements as precursor to a full invasion. The Islamic Brotherhood for Jihad would like to establish a terrorist base of operations in the region, from which it can launch transnational attacks.

To deal with this, the U.S. Army has been deployed to work alongside Attican security forces to stop the insurgency, secure Attica’s porous borders, strengthen its tenuous state, and deny haven to terrorists. Working against the U.S.-Attican alliance is the Wolf Brigade, an eight-man cyber-warfare cell capable of disrupting communications and networked electronics.

The crisis in Attica is part of the Network Integration Evaluation, a bi-annual exercise at White Sands Missile Range that evaluates military communications hardware in the field. The hostile forces represent al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and the Iranian special operations Quds force. The training simulation is indicative of the kinds of wars the U.S. Army expects to fight in the future—hybrid wars, not against single states, but against multiple, loosely affiliated actors with a common enemy in the United States. The Network Integration Evaluation also puts the U.S. Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical to the test. The WIN-T is a command-and-control system that allows critical information to be sent across the battlefield through such devices as Nett Warrior field-capable smartphones.

4. The People’s Democratic Republic of Krasnovia

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During most of the Cold War, the United States may have known no greater threat than the People’s Democratic Republic of Krasnovia. The threat of war was ever-present. The neighboring Republic of Mojave was a staunch U.S. ally, but a bitter enemy of the Kingdom of Parumphia—a close Krasnovian ally. Tensions were further heightened by the Parumphian Peoples’ Guerrillas, which wanted Parumphia to re-unify with the Krasnovian Motherland. (The nearby Baja Republic remained neutral.) While years were marked by highs and lows and the occasional bullet fired in anger, tensions were most heightened when uranium was found in the Mojave, prompting Krasnovia and Parumphia to mount a joint invasion. The United States intervened, not only to help a partner in the region, but also because there was little doubt what the Krasnovian-Parumphian alliance would use the uranium for: weapons of mass destruction.

The scenarios for war with Krasnovia (“Everyone’s enemy!” and an obvious stand-in for the Soviet Union) varied over the years. Bitter wars were fought at Fort Irwin and the National Training Center in California. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Krasnovia fell as well, to be replaced by breakaway republics presenting a new set of threats in Eurasia.

5. Atropia

Image credit: High Desert Warrior

The Defense Department expects future threats in Eurasia to look a lot like the war in Attica—hybrid, with conventional forces, criminal forces, terrorist forces, and intelligence services working together to topple governments and repel external threats. Such countries as Donovia, Gorgas, Minaria, Atropia, and Ariana are each in some way either a vital U.S. interest or a belligerent state. History suggests that a military confrontation between any of the countries could easily engulf the entire region in total war.

If that were to happen, Gorgas and Atropia would call upon its allies in the West for help—specifically, the United States. Both countries face threats from Donovia, which has seen a surge in regional influence with the rise in oil prices. Gorgas is still reeling from a 2008 war against Donovia, and Atropia’s natural resources keep it at perpetual risk. (Its Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is highly vulnerable to attack.) Meanwhile, Atropia also faces a threat from Minaria, a relatively weak country with ties to the Donovians. Minaria’s grudge against Atropia comes from a border dispute over Artzak province. (Atropia controls it, though its population consists mostly of ethnic Minarians.)

This simulation is part of “Decisive Action” training now being rolled out by the U.S. Army. The variables in this kind of regional conflict war-game can be shifted, and provide units with experience in everything from stability operations to high-intensity conflict operations.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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