Crispin Burke has done it again. And words cannot do justice to how epic this piece of "speculative fiction" is. Go read it now. Because you can't fight an awesome giant robot without another awesome giant robot. And if I ever get my hands on such an awesome giant robot, as this piece implies, I will follow the example set by another manager of giant robots:
Somehow, I missed this part of the earlier Vladimir Putin story: Vladimir Putin shooting a whale with a crossbow while riding in a rubber boat. If it were not for Gulliver's tweet, I would have completely missed this:
Putin held his balance in a rubber boat that was being tossed around in choppy waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula, and eventually hit the whale with a special arrow designed to collect skin samples.
"I hit it at the fourth try!" a beaming Putin, kitted out in black-and-orange waterproof suit and black beanie, yelled to a camera crew from the boat.
If Vladimir Putin rides around in a giant robot, I might end up heading to Moscow to ask him how I can hope to be this awesome.
Here's the deal: Remember how Snooki, drunk or sober, was never seen without that Coach bag dangling from the crook of her arm? Snooki and her Coach were as synonymous as The Situation and his six-pack. But then the winds of change started blowing on Jersey Shore. Every photograph of Guido-huntin' Snooki showed her toting a new designer purse. Why the sudden disloyalty? Was she trading up? Was she vomiting into her purses and then randomly replacing them? The answer is much more intriguing. Allegedly, the anxious folks at these various luxury houses are all aggressively gifting our gal Snookums with free bags. No surprise, right?
But here's the shocker: They are not sending her their own bags. They are sending her each other's bags! Competitors' bags! Call it what you will — "preemptive product placement"? "unbranding"? — either way, it's brilliant, and it makes total sense. As much as one might adore Miss Snickerdoodle, her ability to inspire dress-alikes among her fans is questionable. The bottom line? Nobody in fashion wants to co-brand with Snooki.
Now, the real question is this: how can we use this against al-Qaeda or Iran??
Earlier this week, I was sitting on a park bench at the entrance of the Adams-Morgan/Woodley Park metro stop and writing the concept sketch of "lolcat based-operations" (the use of all elements of national lolcat power) that I had promised to Crispin Burke and Stephen Pampinella, among others. My mind also began to wander to how I was also going to get through the gigantic cupcake line on the other side of town. The hours began to go by, and I had no idea what I was to do.
While browsing my favorite blogs on my iPhone, I saw something that truly made my week. I saw via FP that Vladimir Putin had put some misbehaving bears on blast:
Bears should be afraid of people, not the other way around, claimed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a working visit to Russia's Far East. The PM was discussing the problem of poaching in the region, as he observed some brown bears in their natural habitat for himself. ...During the visit, one journalist asked whether it was safe to be close to the bears. Putin responded by suggesting it is the bears who are the vulnerable ones.
Lest a player-hater think that Putin is blowing smoke, this is a man who has not only single-handedly sedated a tiger but also cuddled a polar bear. Not just wrestled. Cuddled! One wonders what Putin thinks about the new asymmetric threat posed by bear-employing Canadian drug cartels. Then I finally realized how I might finally acquire those blasted cupcakes......
I finished reading John Alger's The Quest for Victory: A History of the Principles of War a couple of days ago. I heard about the book when I first read Robert Leonhard's The Principles of War for the Information Age and looked at his bibliography. Leonhard is a genius in general (side note, I need to re-read that book )and I was eager to see where he had drawn his sources. Alger's book is a fairly dry look at the evolution of the idea of "principles of war"--which are now commonplace in most doctrinal manuals. Azar Gat covers the same ground but with a broader scope---although no focus on the "principles".
Alger is pretty ambivalent about the idea of "principles" but at the same time looks at them with an open mind. Although most people familiar with European military history probably aren't going to find the influence of Jomini in the 19th century a new revelation, it is still very striking how an analytical description of Napoleonic warfare was the guiding concept of operations for at least a century. If there is a flaw about the book, it is that it is narrowly focused on the principles that it sometimes misses the connection with the wider strategic and operational concepts that those principles were used to support in doctrine over the centuries. Alger's conclusion is not very strong as well, but as someone who tends to often not write strong conclusions either I sympathize. This is complicated material and often times there is not one or two clear lessons that can be taken.
If you have already read Gat I recommend picking this up, but it may be confusing otherwise. The issue of "principles" is a very knotty one, one that very much hinges on one's perspective on the philosophy of science, history, and the general theory of conflict. Jim Storr has pretty much explained the basis of how we should approach it. I'm waiting for his book's price to climb down so I can re-read it instead of the quick read I gave my library copy of it last year.
Next up for reading is Jonathan M. House's Combined Arms Warfare in the 20th Century and finishing my copy of Milan Vego's Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice. The latter I read and re-read in installments--it is a large Naval War College textbook comprising about roughly 1,500 phonebook-sized pages and contains a CD-room filled with maps of the campaigns it cites.
A long time ago, Joseph Fouche wrote a wonderful blog piece about how even machines enslaving humans could be analyzed through the strategic stylings of good ol' Carl von (so yes, if you are being chased by a Killer Robot you would do well to consult your Peter Paret translation of Vom Kriege). This made me think a bit about how strategy in a trans or emerging post-human situation might be conducted in which humans either transform into something different or find themselves dealing with lifeforms that have either evolved past a human state or were never human altogether. Is Clausewitz still relevant? Well, if we look at science fiction, Clausewitz receives a shining endorsement. This installment of my (sadly) long-running Science Fiction and Strategy" series takes a look at how a 200-year old dead Prussian can teach you how to handle aliens, robots, and cyborgs.
Intro: Why Clausewitz Works for Robots
First, I want to look at Joseph Fouche's reasoning itself. As a CvC passage highlighted by Fouche points out, whole communities and civilizations can go to war, but the goal is always some political object. This object might not make sense to us, but it exists. And the most basic object concerns changes in individual or group power, from aspects of bare survival (Bog the Caveman bashing his fellow over the head with a rock and stealing his woman) to complex matters of state. In the context of Skynet, Fouche explains why:
The most primal kind of politics, the politics engaged in by all living things, [is] the division of the power needed to sustain life itself between lifeforms. On this level are found the physiological needs of life, a level of need many humans never get beyond. This is one hierarchical level Skynet was acting upon when it decided to destroy humanity. Pulling the plug on Skynet would deny Skynet the electricity it needed to exist. Inasmuch as programs have physiological needs, that was an attack on Skynet’s physiology. On this physiological level of politics, Skynet was waging Clausewitzian War in launching its missiles. It was tit for tat: try to unplug me, Skynet said, and I’ll unplug human civilization.
1. Politics Among Humans and Aliens
Not really too many surprises here. Even when facing the threat of friggin' scary aliens, the human response is "political intercourse, with the added element of violence." In Battlestar Galactica, for example, the human strategy for dealing with the aliens and preserving their own survival grows out of their own complex politik. It seems even the threat of total species extinction is not enough to paper over the political and religious cleavages of humanity--and civil war between humans breaks out at one point over the fundamental problem of whether or not to trust a Cylon faction. The aliens, in turn, have a bizarre ideology, but one that is internally consistent enough to provide a policy basis for the strategy of eliminating the humans.
Star Trek and Starcraft are, if anything, hyper-Clausewitzian. Star Trek and its cousin Babylon-5 features complex alliance politics, the scale of which that might even give Prince Metternich pause. The videogame Starcraft shows that the domestic politics and factional struggles of authoritarian human regimes, religiously-inspired alien ones, and swarm insect groupings drive the overall strategies they employ.
In each of these series, force is used instrumentally to achieve a larger aim. Those aims, in turn, range from the basic (sustenance) to the expansion of political-military power. There are some alien civilizations that are completely mindless, but they (like the Zerg Overmind or the Gravemind of the Flood in Halo) are usually controlled by a sentient hive-mind of some sort whose desires provide political direction.
2. Politics Among Humans and Machines
Fouche has already done the heavy lifting here, but I'll point out that in the case of Terminator or The Matrix the struggle for survival is political and provides a demonstration of what Clausewitz's theoretical idea (commonly mistaken for something he supported) of war with no limits at all would really look like. In the Animatrix the humans not only use nuclear weapons to destroy the machine nation, but also blot out the sun in order to deny them solar power.
On the human side, you see the familiar cleavages also observed in the alien genre. In Terminator: Salvation, the politik of struggles over who has the right (and wisdom) to rule humanity end up influencing the strategical conduct of the war. Even the process of having John Connor, the savior of humanity, on your team, does not suspend the problem of the "trinity" and its complex mixture.
Moreover, the ambivalent human-machine cooperation at the ending of the Matrix series shows that politics is still possible even in an absolute war between humans and machines. David Ronfeldt pointed this out on this in a comment on an earlier blog:
my view: the wachowski bros. deserve damnation to robot hell. matrix 2 contained a possibility for an alliance between good humans and good robots, who'd later have a showdown with evil robots and bad humans. but no, instead matrix 3 turned trite and went for a banal showdown, one human vs. one robot, spoiling the initial innovativess of the matrix series. (the wachowskis also deserve damnation for driving a techno music score over the peerless sonics of a ducati motorcycle engine at song.)
Amen, David, amen. Damn those Wachowski brothers!
3. Politics Between Humans and Trans/Post-Humans
Many science fiction series revolve around what happens when certain groups of humans attempt to transcend their biology. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, various factions compete over "Instrumentality," a process that involves evolving humans to a state of complete one-ness with everyone else and the elimination of all psychological barriers. Since this would amount to a rejection of politics, Shinji Ikari ultimately rejects instrumentality even though it means living in a barren post-apocalyptic world. He sees his own survival as an independent being in a political community, however small or fractious, as superior to a world without politics (and indeed as Fouche might point out tantamount to a kind of death).
In The X-Files, the alien "colonists" seek to create political power over Earth at the most basic level--enslaving the humans. To do so, they use an instrumental strategy of covert warfare: make a deal with a select group of humans who will survive (and may become post-human) and enslave the rest. The "men in black" of the series hope to (and in some ways) achieve their goal of transcending their biological origins to become something else entirely. Still, they bicker among themselves and use targeted acts of violence to instrumentally accomplish their political goal.
Perhaps the most interesting example of future Clausewtizian politik between humans and something entirely different is the Ghost in the Shell movies and TV series. In the original Ghost in the Shell movie, an electronic warfare device becomes sentient and decides that, having as much right to enjoy life as everyone else, it deserves political asylum. This prompts a geopolitical game between the Japanese government and the United States to gain control of the "entity."
The presence of widespread cybernetic enhancement Ghost in the Shell's Stand Alone Complex TV series allows human beings to link their consciousness together, in turn, helps fuel an insurgency led by a religious fanatic who exploits the grievances of refugees to gain foot soldiers for his religious insurgency against the Japanese government. He is portrayed as the ultimate charismatic Napoleon-like leader, able to inspire men and women through his presence so much that they link to his consciousness through his cyberbrain. Just like Bin Laden, he promises his subjects paradise in the afterlife (a digital one) even under the threat of nuclear bombardment from an American submarine. Though his goals are fueled by his bizarre pseudo-religious ideology, the insurgent leader uses violence instrumentally to achieve them.
Even when robots, aliens, and cyborgs fight the disembodied floating head of Clausewitz (image h/t Fouche) is never far behind.
During their July 30 raid, police also discovered the bears were not the only wildlife being kept by the occupants. “Inside the residence there was a large pig roaming around and there was a large raccoon sleeping on the bed,” Corp. Moskaluk said. “Who knows what the raccoon was up to because he was just vegging in the house ... the pig was strolling around the household. He seemed to be a bit more nervous than the raccoon about the police officers’ presence.”
Of course, the Canadians might have gotten the idea of using animals for nefarious purposes from an unlikely source:
Via aspiring mafioso Alex of i-Con, an amusing story about a group of illegal marijuana growers in Canada who had 14 wild black bears guarding their pot supply. Apparently, the growers lured the bears onto the land to act as guard animals by leaving dog food across the place. However, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) these bears didn't really do their job. One officer noted that the bears "were tame, they just sat around watching... at one point one of the bears climbed onto the hood of a police car, sat there for a bit and then jumped off." Any guesses why these bears were so, um, mellow?