Academic journal article Naval War College Review

THROUGH A MIRROR DARKLY: The Face of Future War, 1871-2005

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

THROUGH A MIRROR DARKLY: The Face of Future War, 1871-2005

Article excerpt

Trying to predict the nature of future wars is nothing new. Given the stakes, it is not surprising that efforts to pierce the barrier of warfare's event horizon have long occupied security professionals. Accordingly, attempts to identify future enemies, theaters, tactics, and technologies have collectively represented an important component in strategic planning. Intelligence estimates, personality profiles of potential enemy leaders, and war plans of every hue and dimension provide tangible evidence of these efforts.

Nor has imagining the future of warfare been the exclusive domain of the national- security professional. A large body of film and literature has been devoted to imagining the wars of the future. Some of these efforts, such as Robert Heinlein's Star ship Troopers and its polar opposite, Joseph Halde man's The Forever War, have been prize winning moneymakers. Interestingly, Haldeman wrote his book as much to come to grips with his personal experience of combat as to achieve literary recognition and profit.

In contrast, official predictive writings of future wars are usually classified and not written with an eye to literary merit. Such scenarios of future conflict are written by security professionals for security professionals, using extensive analyses of military hardware and capabilities to craft their plans and predictions. These works move along official chains of command and communication, and they rarely, if ever, attract public notice. The writings of Dwight David Eisenhower or Maxwell Taylor while they were attached to the Plans Division of the U.S. Army headquarters staff are two examples of such work. Others are the memos and briefings prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Earl "Pete" Ellis, U.S. Marine Corps. (Ellis, often called the "father of amphibious warfare," became convinced in the 1920s that a U. S. -Japanese war in the Pacific was inevitable.) Disseminating and analyzing the works of such specialists have been the tasks of historians, not contemporary civilian publishers.

At the other end of the literary spectrum are found the works of fiction, particularly s e iene e -fiction, writers. These writings tend to be unencumbered by current technological constraints or serious military analysis. Here, the envisioned future battle is often simply a vehicle in which to explore character development and relationships or to recount adventures. The author is almost never a security professional. H. G. Wells is perhaps the best known of this breed of writers, which also includes Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and, more recently, Orson Scott Card.

This article, however, deals with a narrowband of articles and books between the official analyses of the security professional and the imagined futures of the fiction writer. Each work that will be discussed here was penned by a security professional, sometimes retired but often on active service when writing. All of these authors benefited at first hand from contemporary military research and understood the nature of combat of their day. Profit, although presumably welcomed, was not their motive for writing. Rather, these authors had messages they desperately wanted to be heard and, officialdom having turned a deaf ear, placed their tales before the general public.

To do so required a fair amount of courage and the assumption of potentially significant risk, especially when the author was a serving military officer. Historically, military service cultures have been tight lipped about their work, particularly when it comes to potential future combat. Since entering the military as cadets or midshipmen, officers have been wrapped in intricate codes and customs of conduct. Common to all of these codes, both formal and informal, has been a prohibition against speaking ill of one's seniors or service. There are good reasons for this behavior. In most democracies, serving officers are not expected to take part in, much less initiate, public debates. …

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