Speculative Fiction and National Security
by Adam Elkus and Captain Crispin Burke
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.
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.