A Nation Divided – The Story of the Division

With the release of Tom Clancy’s The Division practically around the corner, the game itself is gaining attention everyday by orders of magnitude.  With the NDA having been lifted and following the private play event, many videos are surfacing that feature the gameplay we’ve all been so desperate to see.  One thing that we haven’t seen discussed at length, however, is the story of The Division and how we find ourselves in the middle of such a catastrophe.  The basics of the story are present, and Ubisoft is keeping the rest of it very close to their chest.  As with all things Tom Clancy, everything about the game is heavily rooted in realism and real-world scenarios.  In this article we’ll take a look at the events of the game as well as the inspirations from sources in our own world.

Pax Americana

Ubisoft put together a great trailer that scratches the surface of what The Division primarily draws from, and I’d recommend you take a look at it before continuing to read.

So, to sum it up: American society has become incredibly complex and also incredibly susceptible to disaster, constantly on the verge of collapse.  Contingencies are in place to pick up the pieces after the fall, but the question ultimately is: will they be enough?  As mentioned before The Division, like all of Clancy’s universe, pulls heavily from real-world situations.  But how much of it is actually firmly planted in reality?

Operation Dark Winter

In June of 2001, the Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies conducted a simulated bioterrorism attack on US soil in order to test national and local emergency response times and capabilities.  This exercise was designed to raise official and public awareness of such vulnerabilities, and the aftermath of such a devastating attack.  Called “Dark Winter”, the simulation started with a localized smallpox attack on Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with additional cases in Georgia and Pennsylvania.  The simulation then purposely spiraled out of control, resulting in massive civilians casualties that would cripple basic infrastructure and severely limit the response capabilities of medical and emergency personnel.

In short, everything went very poorly very quickly.  And it became apparent to our government that plans needed to be in place to restore society should something like this ever occur.

“Stay-Behind” and Executive Directive 51

The term “Stay-behind” refers to a country placing groups or organizations within it’s own borders for the purpose of covertly resisting invasion and ensuring continuity of government.  Assuming a force were to occupy the nation, the groups within the nation would act as a resistance and information network, fighting secretly from within the newly acquired enemy territory.  This practice dates back to World War II, when the United Kingdom developed the Auxiliary Units, a special and highly covert group that used “irregular warfare” to combat the Nazi occupation of the UK.  Another notable example is during Cold War tensions in the 1980’s; the American CIA sponsored “Stay-behind” programs in many European nations, fearing communist upheaval and rise and power.  Interestingly enough, we had similar programs in place here in the States during the Cold War, even while the Soviet Union had it’s Directorate S operatives living right under our noses.  So, programs and installations like this are nothing new.

If one thing is certain it’s that when things go bad on such a massive scale, the populace aren’t going to be far behind.  Given that the average household in America is only prepared to support itself with food and water for 3 days on average, it’s not hard to imagine that people would quickly resort to surviving, which may mean looting and violence.  Some would take advantage of the chaos, establishing a “mob rule” of sorts, and lawlessness would descend upon a society ill-equipped to deal with it.

In 2007, former President George W. Bush signed the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive, otherwise referred to as Executive Directive 51.  This directive put into place a “continuity of government” in the event of a “catastrophic emergency” that would result in mass civilian casualties and a crippling of government function and resources.  While much of the directive is classified, it’s not hard to put the pieces together and determine exactly what contingencies would need to be in place should such an event happen.

Strategic Homeland Division

Entering the world of The Division, the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD or “The Division”) is formed to combat exactly this scenario.  Agents for the Division are placed virtually everywhere throughout the country and are solely focused on training and preparing for the day that things go wrong.  Upon activation, Division agents supersede any other federal agency or agent and answer only to the President.

While Division agents are tasked with many things, they can essentially be boiled down to three primary tasks: protect what remains, investigate and determine the source of the emergency, and eliminate any and all threats that would hinder the resurgence of law and order.

Protecting What Remains

As far as the story of the game itself, much remains a mystery but we do have the basics: an unknown contaminant is released during the “Black Friday” consumer craze using tainted money, and millions die in the resulting outbreak.  Many more die from violence in the aftermath; several violent groups form gangs and essentially take over Manhattan.  As an Agent in the SHD, it’s your job to get to the bottom of it and clean up the streets.  I’m not surprised that Ubisoft has kept the majority of the story a secret, and personally I’m thankful.  An online multiplayer game that also features a riveting narrative relatable to modern times?  Sign me up.

In summary, it’s nice to see that The Division has much more in common with other works by Tom Clancy than simply having his name stapled over the game’s logo.  Drawing from frightening real-world situations like this is a great way to set up the game’s narrative and make it completely engaging.  I look forward to taking back the streets of Manhattan, one way or another.