Archive for November, 2012

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Gunpowder & Lead editor Jimmy Sky, though really all credit goes to his sons Kid A & Creep.

My eldest son has reached the age of seven. The age at which I determined it was my solemn duty as a father to teach him the ways of the Force (minus the part where I have to lop off a hand). Conveniently, I had this epiphany going into a long weekend while my wife was out of town.

I was pretty tortured about how best to approach this. I have two boys, seven and four, who have, for the purpose of the Internet, been nicknamed Kid A (7-yo) and Creep (4-yo). I say that I was tortured, because like most people with a functioning cortex, I really, really disliked the prequels. However, I recognize that they are now canon and since my kids had already watched some of the Clone Wars cartoon, I didn’t really feel like I could completely excise the prequels.

However, I did decide to utilize something called ‘Machete Order’ for viewing. There is a much longer post on Machete Order here, but the basics are that you watch the series in this order:

1)A New Hope (Episode IV)
2)The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V)
3)Attack of the Clones (Episode II)
4)Revenge of the Sith (Episode III)
5)Return of the Jedi (Episode VI)

If you know anything at all about trilogies and multiplication, you will quickly see that this cuts out one entire movie. However, since it is the one with Jar Jar Binks, the Midichlorians, the Virgin Birth, and the Pod-racing Jake Lloyd, it didn’t seem like much of a loss. At some point in the future I’ll show them The Phantom Menace and they can watch it with the same sense of bewilderment and betrayal that I felt upon watching The Star Wars Christmas Special.

While part of my motivation in showing them these movies was to be able to share a formative experience from my own childhood, I also wanted to monitor their reaction to the movies upon seeing them for the first time and interview them on some of the places where I thought they may have “unique insights.” I let them watch the whole movie, without much pausing and then jumped back through the movie to gauge their reaction, especially from a military and policy perspective.

Strategic Thinking

Kid A and Creep hard at work




“He can’t be bought, bullied or negotiated with…some people just want to see the world burn.” – Alfred, The Dark Knight, 2008.

“Are there such men? Conceivably. But history affords no example of them, outside of comic books and the movies, attaining the sort of power it would take actually to burn the world, or even any very significant part of it. Reality seems to provide a natural check upon such people in the form of a shortage of those who both (a) share their psychosis and (b) are willing to play the part of humble assistant — rather than starring as the evil genius themselves — in accomplishing their purposes. This problem for the would-be evil geniuses — a reassurance to the rest of us — is what creates the distinctive unreality of Mr Nolan’s movie. Again and again we see Mr Ledger’s Joker pulling off the most fantastically-conceived acts of evil which, in real life, would require a virtual army of assistants, many of whom would have to be almost as clever as he is. Yet the movie shows us not even one. We do see the Joker lording it over some fellow criminals on a couple of occasions — not the best way to gain their cooperation, one might have thought. And, in the bank robbery with which the film opens, he casually murders all his assistants, which is even less likely to help him with any hypothetical recruitment effort. So how does he do it?” – James Bowman, 2008.

The Three Alls Policy (Japanese: 三光作戦, Sankō Sakusen; Chinese: 三光政策; pinyin: Sānguāng Zhèngcè) was a Japanese scorched earth policy adopted in China during World War II, the three “alls” being “kill all, burn all, loot all”[1] (Chinese: 殺光、燒光、搶光). This policy was designed as retaliation against the Chinese for the Communist-led Hundred Regiments Offensive in December 1940.[2] ….Contemporary Japanese documents referred to the policy as “The Burn to Ash Strategy” (燼滅作戦 Jinmetsu Sakusen?), In a study published in 1996, historian Mitsuyoshi Himeta claims that the Three Alls Policy, sanctioned by Emperor Hirohito himself, was both directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of “more than 2.7 million” Chinese civilians. His works and those of Akira Fujiwara about the details of the operation were commented by Herbert P. Bix in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, who claims that the Sankō Sakusen far surpassed the Rape of Nanking not only in terms of numbers, but in brutality as well. – “Three Alls Policy,” Wikipedia.

Pity the modern supervillain. Unlike Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes, he is not a master criminal. Unlike Ming the Merciless, he cannot be a inscrutable Other whose villainy can be neatly reduced via racist pseudoscience to his origins. The Cold War is over and the overseas box office necessary for capital-intensive movies to actually make back their production and distribution costs narrows the range of potential foreign adversaries for heroes to battle. A combination of Hollywood political correctness and understandable audience discomfort with ten years of war nixes al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or Iran from the list of possible villains. Most Americans have studiously ignored the horrific slaughter perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels. So what drives the modern supervillain and how does he (or she) carry out dastardly deeds?

The modern supervillain is truly a sad creature. Driven either by the desire for petty revenge, nihilistic glee in acts of destruction, and self-aggrandizement, the supervillain stands for nothing of additive value. There is nothing to explain how he or she can motivate others to fight and frequently die in large numbers. The supervillain has no positive goal, no attractive ideology; nothing except a quasi-mystical ingenuity and luck. Unlike al-Qaeda, a group with a systemic ideology (albeit a highly fantastical one), the modern supervillain is essentially an opportunist with a violent drive. Perhaps this is not a new development, as it is hard to see anything coherent about Napoleon’s essentially opportunist statecraft and military strategy. The Corsican may have ostensibly desired to create a system of subordinate states with France as hegemon, but his actions also suggest a strategic Attention Hyper Deficit Disorder fueled by excitement and martial vigor. There is certainly a tradition of British historiography that sees Napoleon as a proto-Hitler, but today he seems like a comic book supervillain. Napoleon is tactically dazzling, but tripped up by a basic strategic incoherence. Sadly, most supervillains today lack even Napoleon’s charisma and drive.

Consider several recent franchises—James Bond, Batman, and Call of Duty: Black Ops–for a portrait of the modern supervillain. Skyfall‘s Raoul Silva was tortured horribly after MI6 gave him up to the Chinese government. The half-crazed Silva responds by building up a powerful mercenary organization and relentlessly attacks MI6 for the sole purpose of killing the intelligence chief M. Silva is completely indifferent to how much this Ahab-like endeavor will cost him, and cares little even for his own life. So why should his men be willing to engage in a suicidal fight against the British government? The Dark Knight‘s Joker is a black box; nothing he says about his own origins and motivations can be taken at face value except his distaste for rules and plans. As Alfred observes, the Joker just wants to destroy everything. The Dark Knight Rises‘ Bane fools the citizens of Gotham with anti-capitalist rhetoric, but really just wants to punish them for their sins by blowing them up with a nuclear bomb. Bane commands a formidable force of heavily armed thugs, most of whom are bound to him by obligation. But would they really all die for him if all he wants is to go out in a glaze of glory? Black Ops 2‘s Raoul Menendez suffered through horrible family losses at the hands of the Contras during the Nicaraguan civil war, including the disfigurement and death of his beloved sister. But the connection between his personal loss and desire to provoke a war between the US and China is unclear. Even more unclear is why he has a private army with advanced military hardware and billions of fans worldwide hanging on his every YouTube update.

In contrast, crime bosses and deviants that act on a granular level always stand out as more richly textured and believable villains. It’s assumed Jack Nicholson’s crime boss in The Departed is out to make money and hold power. Hannibal Lecter is a serial killer, hence he commits horrific crimes. Cape Fear‘s convicted rapist wants revenge on his lawyer, not to take over the world. Villains with nonpolitical motives rooted in revenge or self-gratification also plausibly commit their deadly deeds without need of anything more than a small group of partners in crime. These criminals are not interested in overturning the existing order, nor could they attract anyone willing to help them if they did. Ad hoc groups of thugs are easier for commercial or thrill-killing criminals to plausibly command. But large groups? Taking on another state–to say nothing of the world–requires well-armed centralized military forces with the ability to project force and sustain themselves in austere conditions. Hannibal Lecter might be more terrifying than Erwin Rommel, but only one of them has the Afrika Corps.

Supervillains have to be different. To be a modern supervillain, you must want something tangible that the status quo inherently cannot provide. The more radical the aim, the greater the effort needed to overcome anticipated resistance. The genocidal Adolf Hitler needed to destroy much of Eastern Europe and Russia to create a zone for the Germans to colonize. For Hamas to fulfill the aims of its charter, Israel and the Palestinian territories would inevitably have to be forcibly and brutally replaced by an Islamic theocracy. A Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere dominated by a Japan that could parasitically feed on Southeast Asia for resources necessitated the destruction of Western military power and the enslavement of China. So why do modern supervillains fall short of such historical villainy?

Unfortunately, many supervillains fundamentally lack a sense of the political, a factor that separates powerful men from common criminals acting out their own personal dramas. Politics is about who gets what, when, and how. This does not mean that power is pursued for its own sake. But control over the political process is necessary to realize any project on a large scale. Power is a finite resource, and when an group is unable to accumulate enough power to realize their aim through peaceful means they may attempt to violently redistribute it. Aims that can require political action range from basic survival to more abstract notions of justice and equality. Seizing political power is foreign to many modern supervillains precisely because they cannot articulate positive aims that would require control of an existing polity or the use of violence to construct a new state or society.

Similarly, the supervillain must also be rational. Rationality is a basic requirement for any kind of consistent strategic behavior:

It is sometimes said that strategic theorists assume rationality on the part of those whom they study because they cannot assume anything else. To pass judgment on whether anyone is rational or irrational in political life is to assume that one exists in Olympian detachment with a unique insight into what constitutes supreme powers of reasoning (a self-evidently delusional position). The assumption of rationality, however, does not suppose that the actor is functioning with perfect efficiency or that all rational decisions are right ones, merely that an actor’s decisions are made after careful cost–benefit calculation and the means chosen seem optimal to accomplish the desired end.

This does not mean that our supervillain’s identity and goals are not historically contingent or otherwise constructed. It only means that we can assume that they will consistently and vigorously seek to realize their goals, however they may originate. It may be objected that supervillains can also exhibit bounded rationality, satisficing, or appreciate symbols and cultural totems over rational strategic effectiveness. But we must also assume a Darwinian logic at hand in regards to the relative utility of a supervillain’s guiding set of goals and his or her ability to make useful decisions. The supervillain incurs huge risks to overturn the status quo and villains lacking the ability to survive and convince others to follow must instead depend on their adversaries to be strategically inept.

A villain’s ultimate defeat does not offer definitive proof of their irrationality. Hitler may have been a terrible military commander and a poor geostrategist, but his delusional and genocidal ideology still motivated countless Germans to fight and commit grave atrocities. Moreover, his deft political skills allowed him to gain control of Germany and exploit the psychological and political weaknesses of European leaders. Without the latter skill, Hitler’s war machine could have potentially been strangled in its crib before it consumed Europe. Nor does individual or group misbehavior by supervillain henchmen demonstrate the overall enterprise is expressive and self-indulgent rather than instrumental in nature. It would certainly be ahistorical to suggest that a villain must run a completely disciplined and professional organization. Many of history’s greatest monsters governed loose networks of affinity and fielded warriors motivated by lust, greed, and a need for belonging rather than status, ideology, or theology. But the leaders of such organizations desired shifts in political order that required instrumentally using their brutish subordinates to realize larger aims.  As we have seen in World War II, even highly disciplined organizations may sanction, encourage, or even command predatory behavior by subordinates against civilians.

Another common mistake is the perception that a supervillain’s policy aims have to be elaborate. Science fiction’s most terrifying villains are aliens that seek to extinguish all human life they come into contact with in order to survive and grow. The basic biological and even virological imperatives of survival and expansion are what make single-minded nonhuman adversaries like self-aware killer robots and buglike alien xenomorphs so popular. Such behavior is also “political” in that full realization of a enemy species’ biological or technological imperative requires as a basic condition the destruction of the human state system–a de facto alteration of the balance of power. A related point: human opponents that seek control of crucial resources, territory, and conquest without modernist ideologies or nationalism should not be regarded as somehow categorically different. All strategy, however impressionistic, relies on the use of force to create new political “facts on the ground.” Clausewitz wrote of tribal groupings and barbarians that fielded entire communities at war, but such groups were still political actors.

Finally, a supervillain’s undemocratic nature does not remove his or her dependence on the cooperation of others to force their will upon a resistant world. The bigger the task, the bigger the need for delegation of authority. Delegation of authority requires plausible material and/or spiritual rewards for those who follow. Benedict Anderson wrote in Imagined Communities that the decline of religious authority in the everyday lives of Europeans necessitated a new structure–the nation–to promise some form of continuity after death. Men may die in horrific numbers in war, but the nation lives on. Sometimes fear of negative sanction is enough to motivate evil deeds. The fate of Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s loyalists are tied to the fortunes of his regime. At best, defeat would lead to a drastic drop in status. At worst, they can expect lethal retribution from those they once oppressed. A fear of divine retribution can also be a powerful source of motivation. As Joseph Tainter notes, the Aztec religion of Huitzilopochtli demanded human sacrifice to keep the world in balance. The need for fresh bodies to sacrifice spurred militaristic expansion to secure a reliable source of sacrifices.

Many franchises feature supervillains seeking revenge for an old wrong, but individual grievance does not translate into group motivation. Black Ops 2‘s Menendez bears a grudge against the US for its 1980s backing of the Contras and Manuel Noriega, but it is hard to believe that such events would matter to his young followers in 2025. Consequently, the Serbs that fought in the Yugoslav civil wars embraced an ideology that emphasized the righting of centuries-old injustices and the restoration of the Serb nation to its allegedly glorious past. What made the Serbs villains was that their vision of “justice” required the subjugation and massacre of Muslims and Croats. But fictional supervillains tend to get hung up on personal grudges rather than a sense of collective imbalance that requires purifying violence. Their need for personal revenge makes them followers to be used by others, not leaders of gangs, armies, and terrorist groups.

Perhaps we lack realistic supervillains because we think that only irrational men or women seek to completely overturn the status quo. Is the Joker, with his love of sadistic violence and penchant for moral experiments, is really all that different from the similarly depoliticized protagonist of the Saw horror movies? Bane’s invective against Gotham’s 1% is insincere, but what if it wasn’t? In order to create better supervillains, we must come to terms with the unpleasant fact that violent revisionists have ordered preferences and use violence instrumentally to realize them. The fact that those preferences are appealing enough for armies to kill for is half of what makes a good supervillain dangerous. But the true craft of the supervillain lies in the cunning and ruthlessness needed to get the job done. Alfred was right: some people do want to watch the world burn. But they will always be subordinate to those who believe that the world is theirs for the taking.

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from repeat contributor Jon Jeckell, who previously wrote about the Jedi Way of War.

Two of the most successful Western epics conclude with a triumphant victory after the elimination of the enemy leader. The literary versions (at least the extended stories) betray some doubts about these seductively easy victories and hint that the authors understand war better than the movies indicate. The movie version of the galactic civil war in Star Wars abruptly and cleanly ends with the death of Emperor Palpatine, and the subsequent rapid collapse of Imperial command and control and other critical systems. Similarly, Middle Earth literally swallows up the entire enemy host in The Lord of the Rings after the demise of Sauron when the One Ring is unmade.1 Both of these wars finish like a game of chess: the pawns become completely irrelevant after the destruction of the enemy king.2

Star Warsis especially egregious in using this theme. The combined Naboo forces win an abrupt victory over the Trade Federation at the end of The Phantom Menace when Anakin Skywalker destroys a single enemy battleship (with a single, random shot), bringing down the command and control network, causing every single Battle Droid to simultaneously go limp. Similarly, Revenge of the Sith essentially ends when the Emperor issues Order 66, and usurps command of the entire Clone Army with a single phrase.3 As for the Separatists, Palpatine already controls that army and merely needs to liquidate his accomplices, who are all conveniently assembled in one location and have the same highly centralized authority, so their organizations effectively die with them. A New Hope ends with the destruction of the single powerful, but brittle weapon system—the Death Star—through a critical vulnerability emblematic of the dangers of over-integration and lack of resilience.

To be fair to George Lucas, paranoid dictators like Stalin, Hitler, and Emperor Palpatine concentrate the power to themselves to assure their control, and otherwise establish complex, diffuse, dysfunctional mechanisms to ensure their subordinates cannot function without or conspire against them. The novelizations and some of the dialogue in A New Hope make it clear the Emperor built the Death Star because he wanted to concentrate his power in one indomitable platform under his direct control. Note how the Imperial Fleet sits like well-disciplined dogs with the entire Rebel Fleet directly in front of them at the end of Return of the Jedi. Even the Admiralty was completely in the dark about the Emperor’s plan. They merely did what they were told. See what taking the initiative and applying common sense to think of a better approach to a tactical problem got Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back.

An admiral is choaked

Figure 1: “He felt surprise was wiser…” This is what happens to Imperial Flag Officers who improvise, on even tactical decisions. Don’t think; just carry out your orders. Seriously, what was Vader’s plan if it wasn’t to surprise the Rebels?

But the aftermath of real wars can be as daunting and challenging as any other part, even if you utterly and decisively defeat the enemy, achieving unconditional surrender. George Lucas explicitly modeled much of the Star Wars saga on World War II motifs, and the era seems to resonate with Americans. However, the mythological accounts of this war and its fictional echoes distort our expectations of what war is really like, and these expectations don’t even work in the Star Wars setting.4 Although World War II seemed to have the same triumphant, happy ending, it involved a lot more than parades and mopping up at the end. Besides the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Crisis and subsequent airlift, the postwar environment was much more complex than popularly portrayed, even if you recall the Cold War. Even the iconic Japanese surrender on the deck of a US battleship was not as simple as it seemed.

Japan's foreign minister surrenders while MacArthur watches.

Figure 2: “No, no, no. There’s TWO O’s in Goose, boys.” Foreign Affairs Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

The Japanese military desperately tried to prevent the broadcast of the Emperor’s surrender announcement. Unusually tight Japanese cultural cohesion and hierarchy played a prominent role in nearly universal obedience to that order. Less cohesive and hierarchical societies will suffer even more from diverging interests when parts of one side or the other are satisfied with the results, but not others. For example, while some elements of Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army tired of their long struggle against Britain, many ignored peace deals declared by their supposed leaders and fought on.5 The rebel groups in many parts of the Arab Spring were happy to work together against a common enemy, but were no longer bound by a common enemy at the end. Likewise, World War I did not end on 11 November 1918 with the armistice, the peace process and related fighting continued for years afterwards. Moreover, while German society was very cohesive, the peace process created massive turmoil resulting in the fall of the Kaiser and set conditions for the rise of the Nazi regime. Ultimately, lasting peace requires reconciliation and normalization of relations acceptable or enforceable by all parties, or conflict will inevitably return.6

The surrender than ended the Persian Gulf War

Figure 3: One of these Generals will be on a book tour soon, another will be repudiated and be lucky to survive the coming purges, ending up in house arrest as the sequels to this war began. Either way, this surrender accomplished nothing other than successfully stalling until the next round. Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai and GEN Norman Schwarzkopf, 1991.

Most dictators have layers of patronage networks and enforcers in place to keep them in power. These groups have the resources and motivation to keep fighting proportionate to the likelihood of reprisals, whether official, such as the Nürnberg War Crimes Tribunals for the remnants of the Nazi regime at the end of World War II, or spontaneous, such as retribution against former Ba’athists in post-invasion Iraq. Even without reprisals, groups with power and access to resources will resist giving up privileged positions. What about the surviving imperial forces and government officials after the death of the Emperor? Would they just give up when they are likely be subject to war crimes trials or retribution?

Given the scale of violence, suffering, genocide and planetary destruction, it seems very unlikely the victorious rebel forces would let them go free. Some low ranking, low profile Imperial troops might try to melt back into the population unnoticed, but the new authorities could use personnel and other records to track them down. Senior level officials and Imperial officials with more blood on their hands, particularly in a regime with a penchant for ruling through terror like this one, would be highly motivated to prevent any desertions to preserve their own security. Would all of the bureaucrats throughout the Empire be so tainted they could not participate in the New Republic government or have valuable skills or experience to contribute? The Emperor’s unique capabilities as a dictator suggest although he may have initially picked his lieutenants for access to political power, but later would have selected purely for obedience and reliability in his absence. Most Imperial officials are probably disciplined thugs who reliably execute what they are told. The New Republic would have to establish a lustration process to vet every one of them, and how many would willingly undergo the process under the threat of reprisals by remaining Imperial enforcers?7

Reconciliation after a war has entailed demobilization by one or both parties to reduce tensions, particularly in the era when states began raising mass armies against each other. Mobilizing a mass army or industrial preparations for war, such as shipbuilding, was a long, difficult and visible process that provided neighboring states an early warning of the initiator’s intentions, so demobilization provided security assurances to relax tensions. Large standing armies are also expensive to maintain, and from the 1500’s on, Western armies commonly just released soldiers where they were when they no longer needed them. States were gradually forced to take responsibility for demobilizing their soldiers, not least because many became brigands and criminals to survive crippled trade. The demobilization problem continues to haunt states. The US faced serious challenges demobilizing large numbers of soldiers following the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Veterans of World War I struggling through the Great Depression formed a group called the Bonus Army to demand immediate compensation for their service. The costs of World War I and the failure to demobilize soldiers and the economy in many countries were arguably major factors in the Great Depression itself. The US implemented the Montgomery GI Bill and many other preparations to help soldiers and industry demobilize and transition to peacetime to prevent economic or social disruption from recurring.

So what did the Republic plan to do with all of those clone troopers when the war against the Separatists ended? Perhaps the Republic/Empire is prosperous enough in terms of basic necessities to afford a large population of idle ex-soldiers. It seems people only work in Star Wars because they want to, not because they need to, particularly with ubiquitous, affordable droids capable of doing just about everything. But what would the clones’ personhood status be and how would society treat them after the war? After all, only they and the Jedi fought in the war (with some exceptions), and their service was compulsory, so clearly society assigned value to their lives differently than any other Galactic citizen. They were clearly expendable enough to be sent into battle against droids manufactured on an assembly line. How would they cope with their memories, a bias toward action in idle times, and with obsolete, dangerous skills rivaled only by the now nearly extinct Jedi? At a minimum, they would have a completely different outlook than other Galactic citizens. How would a society that demonstrably favors collective security over liberty or justice at every turn deal with them?8 Some form of disposal is especially likely because of the dangers of built-in triggers like Order 66, and the possibility of suddenly swelling their ranks with new clones to form their own army.

This brings us back to Lord of the Rings. While the movie climaxes with a titanic battle, and all threats are conveniently eliminated when the enemy leader falls, the books tell a different story. In it, Aragorn and Èomer reclaim all the lands possessed at their greatest extent and eventually make peace with reconcilable Easterlings and Haradrim (other humans). Appendix A of Return of the King states: “For though Sauron had passed, the hatreds and evils that he had bred had not died, and the King of the West had many enemies to subdue before the White Tree could grow in peace.” More importantly, they would’ve faced the dilemma of utterly exterminating every last Orc, Troll and Goblin, or risk their ability to opportunistically breed and explosively populate to form an overwhelming army without warning. Tolkein’s books and the movies give few hints at how baby Orcs are made (actually, the movies show fully grown, battle-ready Orcs emerging), but clearly they can build an overwhelming army very rapidly.9 Whether or not they could be reformed to coexist peacefully with the other free peoples of Middle Earth, they have the demonstrated inclination and capability to snuff out all other life. In short, you could never be fully confident that the Orcs haven’t mobilized another massive army to exterminate you because they can do it much more quickly and secretly than humans.

In contrast, the anime series Robotech contains a very rare, realistic look at the challenges of conflict termination, reconciliation and demobilization. The first half of the first saga fits the typical American preference, featuring a technological wonder-weapon manned by a maverick crew, single-handedly protecting the Earth from the relentless onslaught of an implacable and overwhelmingly powerful enemy against impossible odds. The humans win a stunning victory in a cataclysmic battle. They win in part through their unique talent, innate human traits and a daring strike on the enemy flagship that throws the enemy into disarray.

But instead of this resulting in the typical, jubilant, decisive happy ending we’ve all come to expect…wait…it’s just the middle of the first saga, not the end. Earth is devastated, with severe food and resource constraints for the shell-shocked survivors, including huge numbers of surviving sixty foot tall former enemy combatants who caused the devastation. Worse, these former enemy soldiers are genetically modified sixty-foot tall lab grown clones assembled into a completely martial society through implanted false memories of a glorious history of conquest and lacking skills for anything other than combat. Their Masters kept them utterly dependent on them by limiting their skills and aptitude toward fighting. They cannot even build or repair their own equipment. Moreover, their Masters kept them strictly segregated from the opposite sex and programmed them to be repulsed by the sight of them to monopolize their ability to reproduce.

While these demobilized enemy soldiers lack useful skills for reconstruction, their massive size imposes commensurately enormous resource requirements to survive. Even the ones amenable to starting a peaceful new life face hostility and resentment from xenophobic, traumatized and hungry humans. Difficulties integrating with human society and ready access to weapons littering the landscape in the wreckage of the last war resulted in fertile ground for a rogue enemy leader to rally un-reconciled elements to regain their imagined glory in combat. Many surviving civilians also blamed the military for the devastation and staged protests that prevented routine peace enforcement by the only means available to the government–the military and the weapons used in the war. Estranged from people outside the military hierarchy, they have little choice but to wait until things flare up and employ deadly force, rather than work toward reconciliation and socio-political union.

An angry mob consisting of humans and giant aliens

Figure 4: How do you partake in a riot that includes angry sixty-foot tall former enemy soldiers? Very carefully, apparently. Humans and former enemy soldiers riot against the military presence in a post-war city.

Swift, easy victories are rare and depend on peculiar circumstances because the loser will adapt or eventually become subsumed. They’re also usually a fairy tale if you continue to interact with the vanquished because conflicts will continue to erupt unless conditions causing them are resolved. American military mythology often portrays easy, final victory as the norm or the ideal, but that mythology is predicated on generations of relative geopolitical isolation from the rest of the world. Furthermore, even the events hailed as exemplars of this phenomenon that inspired modern war epics involved much more of a messy struggle in the aftermath than popularly acknowledged. Real wars are based on conflicts between thinking people, all with their own interests, biases and loyalties, which must be adequately and be addressed and abided by both sides to build sustainable peace. Rebuilding after wars and reconciling with former enemies, not to mention maintaining solidarity among your friends often seems like a magical process in pop culture, and we keep falling for an illusion we keep wanting to believe.


1 If this is a spoiler to you, you should get out more.

2 These movies could also be the ultimate expression of the shortcomings of Cybernetic warfare, as defined in Chapter 4 of The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity by Antoine J. Bousquet. While Sauron and Emperor Palpatine had tightly controlled, centralized C2 systems, the Host of the West and Rebel Alliance had far more resilient, adaptable decentralized systems with distributed decision making.

3 This also illustrates the danger of outsourcing complex mission critical technology without understanding how it works. Without the ability to completely audit or understand how a supplier designed a technological artifact, you must inherently trust the reliability and security of their product within your operation.

4 Historic geo-strategic isolation and ability to strike at threats using offshore assets and ability to withdraw from wars before becoming entangled helped too. Although US invested a substantial commitment to World War I, the US was able to withdraw at the time of their choosing. Long-term commitments have been the exception, not the rule (examples: the Philippines, Mexico, Germany, Japan, Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan).

5 While Patriot Games portrayed a fairly recent fictional account of something like this, The Wind That Shakes the Barley portrays Ireland as it tumbled from the Irish War of Independence in 1921 to the Irish Civil War in 1922 over unacceptable peace terms accepted by the Irish leadership. Organizations comprised of loose affiliations to survive counter-insurgency efforts, also lack control of their members to enforce peace terms.

6 The Star Wars galaxy probably has the cohesiveness to prevent anarchic breakdown despite its rich mosaic of cultures and languages because of the ability of hyperspace-capable capital ships to indefinitely scale up in size and power. Han Solo’s smuggling career also suggests legitimate trade has enormous economic value, but even if a region could become economically self-sufficient, only a handful of regions seem to have the technology to produce quality starships. Moreover, capital ships entail enormous capital investment in an arena where there may not be a second best. All things being equal, a larger starship seems to be vastly superior to many small ones, creating convergent pressure on political groups to form a large enough base to afford ships capable of protecting them. Hyperspace capabilities give these ships the ability to move anywhere rapidly and appear without warning, reducing the utility of smaller ships dispersed over a wider area. The economies of scale starships inherently converge toward a unipolar political realm. While distributed swarms of fighters were decisive many times, they lack the ability to take on a planetary system alone, and the size and quality of fighter fleets follow economies of scale parallel with capital ships, at least with Star Wars technology.Whether the New Republic chooses to micromanage or not would be a political decision, not an indication of its capabilities. When playing with capital ships in the Star Wars universe, you win or you die.

7 Basically, I think Timothy Zahn got it right in the Heir to the Empire series, except the surviving senior Imperial Admiral would be more likely another boot-licking political hack than a competent leader like Thrawn. Hyperspace capabilities allow surviving Imperial Forces to employ their ships to maintain a shadow government through a terror campaign on any system that cooperates with the New Republic, as depicted in that series.

8 Sci-Fi is rich in dystopian scenarios featuring elimination of populations who have outlived their value, depending on who is in charge at the time. On the mild end, they could end up frozen to preserve them for future use or a Star Wars/Blade Runner crossover could result as some built-in time limit starts to “shut them down.” On the other end, they could end up “reprocessed” by harvesting their organs, or end up turned into Soylent Green, or simply just taken out and unceremoniously disposed of. The latter options risk making armed insurrection a self-fulfilling prophesy if they get wind of it.

9 It’s possible Sauron somehow controlled the Orc reproductive cycle to keep them in check, but Saruman was able to use it with or without his approval to build his own army so Orcs might’ve paid attention to the procedure. Besides, Orcs continued to exist between Sauron’s manifestations.