They asked me to think about how war would change over the next 150 years for the eXile’s anniversary issue. Weird to think about it: wars going on when you’re dead. My doctor told me it’s maybe 15 more years for me…I’ve got every cardiovascular symptom you get when you’re fat and bitter and pretty much hate life. So whatever happens, I won’t have to worry. I kinda like that. It’d be nice to think that all you fuckers’ll just wipe each other out. Serve you all right.
rusting in the rain
But you’re in luck, all you thin healthy smiley bastards: I don’t think it’ll happen like that. It’s going to be weirder, slower, and a lot less Star-Wars-ey than people think.
It’s easy to get all excited about blasters, space battles, lasers and all that Luke Skywalker stuff. But my job is to give you my best guess on what’s really gonna happen. And you know, I’m not even sure war will survive. War seems too good for people like you: you beach volleyball people. You’ve made getting healthy and thin a religion, so why would you want war? Well, one thing: it won’t be the cool sci-fi war you like to think about, you saving Carrie Fisher from Jabba with your Jedi mind crap….
Spacewar — Killer satellites, orbital lasers…won’t happen. Nothing but lame NASA fundraising ideas, cooked up by corrupt lobbyists and corporations that make a living off the federal budget. Never convinced anybody this side of Newsweek. 150 years from now there’ll be nobody on the moon, nobody on Mars — just some fragile, expensive tools floating up there, not worth blasting, far too expensive to risk.
Down here, everything will go on getting smaller and smarter, like a math class full of Chinese transfers. It’s easy to come up with a future war scenario based on that steady tech advance: no more manned fighters, for example. Lots of RPVs, doing everything from surveillance to ground attack. That’s not really even futuristic; the Israelis have been doing it that way since they used RPVs to help destroy the Syrian AF in three days in 1982 without losing a single plane.
The damn things worked so well for the IDF that the USAF finally got dragged along. By now we can keep a Predator RPV hovering week after week, waiting for a target. When they finally persuaded the USAF to give the Predator RPVs a chance in Afghanistan, they had to admit the damn things worked even better than their advocates were promising. They’re amazing: too small to spot, damned hard to shoot down, and cheap enough that we don’t lose much even if it does get hit. And you know the best thing about RPVs? They don’t react to torture. No pilot to go on Iraqi TV looking like Jake LaMotta after twelve rounds with Sugar Ray Robinson and start apologizing for disturbing Baghdaders’ beauty sleep.
The trouble with this nice clean automated-war scenario is that nobody wants to play with us. The US can play that game, but who else can? The Israelis? They’re the only real combat-tested RPV-using army. And if it came to a US vs. Israel war, let’s face it: the US Congress would back Israel all the way, and the US’d have to surrender before a shot was fired.
Try plugging the hi-tech, RPV-heavy war plan to a more even-sided war: say, an all-out struggle for world domination between the US and China ten years from now. The first thing you realize is that it’ll come down to production rates. You’re gonna lose a lot of hardware in a hurry. Like aircraft in the early days of WW I, RPVs will go from surveillance to attack, and that will lead to interceptor models designed to destroy enemy RPVs. There’ll be unmanned dogfights, and since these things are easy to make, the dogfights will be unbelievably massive, maybe hundreds of thousands of individual combats in the sky over the battlefield. It comes down to our factories vs. theirs. If you can replace it faster than they do, maybe you win. It’ll all be as harmless as a nerd picnic on the school field Saturday afternoon, with the Asian kids and the pasty white kids each piloting their little remote-controlled MiG’s and F-16s and arguing about who killed who, then going off for pizza.
As the two-tier war system develops, the hi-tech nations won’t even associate war with death any more. War will be a demolition derby: our machines beat your machines. Nobody has to die. When the dogfight between a Chinese and an American RPV finishes, nobody will die; the US controller will disconnect from his monitor and have a beer, and so will the Chinese.
Production dominance will tilt one way or the other, at last: you own the skies. They can’t send up any more RPVs, and you can. OK; you’ve won. Now what? Do you start carpet bombing their cities? What the Hell for? The civilian population won’t even matter any more. Kill a hundred million Chinese — so what?
You want to assert control, though, prove you’ve won. Whaddaya do, send in troops? Chinese troops landing in Hawaii, or American troops landing on Amoy? It’s real easy to see what happens next: the nukes come out, and everybody loses.
Oh wait, I forgot: we’re gonna have a nuke-shield over us. Uh…yeah. Folks, as long as I’m debunking Sci-Fi bullshit, lemme tell ya the sad news: this nuke shield, it’s what is technically called, in specialist language, “total bullshit.” Nobody can be shielded from nukes. Not just because it’s impossible to intercept an ICBM under real conditions (those tests? They were just plain faked, folks!), but because an ICBM isn’t the only way to deliver a nuke.
I mean, just think for a minute. You’re Mao. You hate the US, you have a few big ripe homemade nukes, and you want to be sure the Americans know they can’t push you too far. Do you build ICBMs? Sure, a few — enough to keep the Japanese and the Russians awake. But you don’t really trust those homemade missiles. And — this is kinda the key point, so lissen up here — you don’t need to. Because a regime like Mao’s (or Stalin’s or Kim Il Sung’s) does one thing really, really well: spy stuff.
And if you’ve got a good spy service, delivering nukes is a cinch. A pickup truck is a perfectly effective way to deliver a nuke. How many pickup trucks cross from Canada or Mexico every year? Every day? You think every one of those gets searched? How many ships call at US ports every year? How many get really carefully searched? How hard is it to carry a nuke to an American harbor in a harmless-looking Liberian-registered cargo ship, then dump it over the side somewhere near the East River, or the Bay Bridge?
I used to know this drug dealer in Stockton, a really cool guy who’d been a Navy frogman. He put those skills to good use: he’d drop a watertight package of goodies just offshore, then dive back to pick it up once his ship had been searched and let in the harbor. Never failed, he said. If he could do it, you better believe Kim and Mao not only could do it, but HAVE done it.
And that means there are nukes lying in our harbors, and in longterm storage sheds, and cemented into the foundations of buildings in our downtowns. So no matter how much they bleat about their anti-missile systems, you better believe that the US will never, never be safe from nukes. And neither will any city that matters, in China or Japan or Russia or Europe.
That means there won’t be any total wars of the good ol’ WW II kind, except between little backward countries without nukes. So we’ll have a two-tier system of wars: very cautious limited wars between the big players, and bloody messes between the savages, which will do little more than prune their exploding populations.
The civilized countries’ wars will be great for using up surplus hardware. There’ll be dead machines all over the landscape. But the casualty count for humans…well, it’s very hard to predict that. Right now, it’s looking low. Why bother killing a few million civilians? Won’t settle anything. Just makes you look bad. In fact, nothing seems to be on the line anymore — not people’s lives, not even their jobs, no matter how much they fuck up.
The only enjoyable wars will be the mismatches, when the machine armies are unleashed on the savages. We’ve seen some of them lately: the NATO air forces working out on Serbia, the US and British planes playing with the Iraqis like a couple of kittens with a half-dead mouse. They’re the wars people will enjoy, because the targets are so easy, so undefended, that there are lots of good gun-camera shots.
But these wars have a little weakness: they never solve the problem. NATO killed a few thousand Serbs too stupid to realize their fellow Christians didn’t give a fuck about them. And the Serbs pulled back. But the Albanians moved in. You go into a slum like the Balkans, try to fix things up by slapping around one gang — and the gang next door comes in, kills their families and takes their houses. It’s embarrassing. From what I hear, a lot of NATO soldiers dream non-stop of the day they’ll be allowed to fire on the Albanian thugs they’re supposed to be protecting.
The answer is obvious: annihilation. The two-tier wars will get really annoying. How many times do you go in (and “you” could be the Chinese, the Indians, or whoever’s running the show 100 years from now) and separate these drunken smalltime thugs? Sooner or later somebody will suggest the neutron-bomb option. Nothing dramatic, just a Raid commercial on a larger scale.
They’ll be provoked. That’s a sure thing — before the ruling countries take the annihilation option, they will be HELL OF provoked. The lower tier will have one weapon: the willingness to die and to kill. You don’t need hi-tech to kill a lot of people. You think Mohammed Atta could pass a course on jet engineering? Physics? He couldn’t've got into Solano Community College, and all you need to pass there is two-thirds attendance. The loser countries, the ones who can’t do math, are gonna skip shop class, skip the machine crap, and go back to basics: kill a lot of people. They’ll do Columbine on a worldwide scale. All the losers will come to the lobby with guns. Serbs, North Koreans, Tamil Sri Lankans, will walk into the lobbies of the machine peoples’ towers like Keanu in The Matrix. They will splatter those security guards, they will smash up the decorative marble, they will disrupt office routine with drums of gasoline and vials of pesticide and rerouted sewage floods; they will turn the cities against their citizens and kill, kill, kill.
And the upper tier will respond. They’ll be patient. They’ll endure the first twenty or so urban massacres in a civilized way. Then they’ll think of the obvious: the Raid solution. Every pesticide commercial they ever saw will occur to them as they decide what to do with the Haitians, the Tamils…and finally somoeone in a government office in Beijing or Washington or Delhi will decide to do something permanent about the vermin. Ah yes, the Balkans: nice country. Too bad it’s infested with two-legged varmints. Why not clean ‘em out? It’ll strike somebody as a good idea, sooner or later. And that’s how we’ll have our first nuclear war: not the old Cold-War scenario where two nuclear-armed nations wipe each other out, but a perfectly logical one-sided version: China, or India, or us, or whoever, will simply sterilize the Balkans. (Or Java, or the South Bronx).
It won’t be pretty, or even glorious. Sorry to piss on your parade; just trying to do my job. And there’s kind of a consolation: there’ll be one hell of a lot of beautiful dogfight footage from all those RPV combats in the skies.
And then…well, something else, something no one will predict, will happen. And a big brand new bloody mess of a world will be born. But that will be your problem. I’ll be safe on a shelf in one of Fresno’s many fine crematoria, dreaming of the Thirty Years’ War.
This article was published in Issue #150 of The eXile, September 2002.
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