Speculative Fiction and National Security

Speculative Fiction and National Security

by Adam Elkus and Captain Crispin Burke

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The counterinsurgency (COIN) canon—read by NATO's top officials—includes writing from illustrious military minds such as David Galula, T.E. Lawrence, and David Kilcullen. But according to Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger who operates the military blog "Abu Muqawama," it might also have room for George Lucas as well. Exum recently ignited a rambunctious discussion in the political blogosphere by posting an email from his cousin, a Marine Corps officer in Afghanistan, concerning a rather unorthodox topic in defense affairs: the strategy of Star Wars. Exum's cousin asked a simple question: why did the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars fight as a conventional force, rather than an insurgency?

While the Star Wars-themed post provides an example of Exum's often freewheeling and snarky style, he and his curious cousin are by no means alone in the defense community. There are many closet sci-fi fans in the military and especially within the civilian policy wonk world. Moreover, science fiction writers use the creative process to imagine future warfare, and military theorists' predictions of future warfare often resemble science fiction.

History will always be the most useful source of quality defense analysis. The chief danger of deep futurism, fictional or not, is that it often neglects history and extrapolates present conditions to the future. At worst, speculation can tie us to one powerful (and often times erroneous) image of the future. However, speculative fiction paired with the study of history and present experience can enable creative rethinking of present conditions in an allegorical context, getting around self-imposed conceptual barriers.

Download the full article: Speculative Fiction and National Security

Adam Elkus is an analyst specializing in foreign policy and security. He is currently Associate Editor at Red Team Journal. He blogs at Rethinking Security and The Huffington Post. He is currently contributing to the Center for Threat Awareness' ThreatsWatch project.

Captain Crispin Burke is a UH-60 helicopter pilot with assignments in the 82nd Airborne Division during Hurricane Katrina, Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras, and most recently, the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq. He writes for Small Wars Journal and under the name "Starbuck" at his blog, Wings Over Iraq.

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Well may be the guy did not read enough cyberpunk novels. He would have known that the close future of war would have been crazy cyber embarqued stuff in counterinsurgency/terrorist operations like.
Which by some extends looks like the today war with all the little boy WHAOO dream as a plus... and nice deadly girls in bikini.
Start Wars is a great movie but it is old. New SF stuff have come and stayed in the closets.(?)

Very thought-provoking, but I think it is remiss to discuss Speculative Fiction and National Security, and especially COIN about Spec fic, without discussing Heinlein's "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress", which, in addition to possibly being Heinlein's greatest work, is a scathing treatise on the worst mistakes the superior power can make when dealing with insurgency. The insurgents in TMIAHM admit freely that Earth could defeat them at any time with their vast military superiority. However, if Earth did that, they would be "killing their goose", in the sense that nuking their work force would not produce any more grain.

When Earth tries to negotiate with the Loonies, the insurgent leader Professor de la Paz deliberately provokes them. Why? Because he doesn't want any kind of reconciliation that would involve negotiation, because it would utterly negate everything they are fighting for. The Loonies end up winning due to 1) their acceptance of casualties on their side, 2) the fact that they stand on higher ground, 3) their unusual ally in their dinkum thinkum, Mike, and 4) because Earth eventually gave up.

Yet Earth could have defeated them at any time by acknowledging they exist and dealing with them with respect due another foreign power. That was what Prof's greatest nightmare about their talk with the UN. The Loonies won because Earth talked down to the Loonies and treated them poorly. With a better policy in place and with better knowledge of the local culture (the rebellion stopped being a conspiracy and became a revolution after a guard raped a citizen), the entire revolution could have been avoided.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg for what Heinlein has to teach us. (The inclusion of Starship Troopers confuses me; that book is more about military culture and philosophy than national security)


If I had known about that marvelous drawing earlier, we would have not only cited you but reproduced it fully within our essay. That seriously just made my week.

"There is a stereotype of Generals always fighting the last war."

Perhaps. But it is also worth noting that our CoG is the will of the people - and the expectations held by the people are shaped by the last war. For example, when OIF resulted in more casualties than the 100-hour war in 1992, there was outrage. People who remembered Vietnam suddenly thought, "oh no, not again!" If Generals do fight the last war, I wonder to what extent this is influenced by their understanding of public will and expectations - and, of course, procurement decisions that impact how we are organized and train.

"It is difficult to establish any kind of direct influence on military theory from speculative fiction... However... military theory also sometimes unintentionally imitates art."

Perhaps the sci-fi geeks see where things are going and predict it (as opposed to coincidental life-imitates-art situations). To that end, they might be of use. For example, I've heard that Tom Clancy is actually read on to some programs because people realized the value of his ability to link things together and see where things are going. I don't know if that is true, but it illustrates the basic concept.

"One might say that these concepts are the military equivalent of the Jetsons aesthetic."

Thanks for backing me up.