Author Archive

Awakening: Chapter 1

Posted: January 13, 2014 by bafriedman in Uncategorized

Ok, so this is a project I’ve been working on for about two and a half years now. I decided one day to write fiction when I wasn’t working on a non-fiction project to improve my non-fiction writing. It spiraled from there. It’s a trilogy, called Afterlife, about a guy who is a very successful military leader in our time.  Because of this, he’s chosen by a secret government program to be cryogenic frozen until such a time as the government has need of him again. The book starts out at that time, the year 2150. Yeah, I know, but this is a site that talks about Clausewitz alongside Chewbacca. Book 1, Awakening, was first read by Kelsey and Caitlin and then copy edited by Caitlin (Thank you thank you thank you.) Both Book 2 and 3 are both in complete but in rough draft form. If you like it, I’ll be publishing the full book in the next few weeks through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program and for the first few days, it’ll be free. Watch this space and, of course, Twitter. NOTE: When I copied and pasted from the manuscript into WordPress the formatting was lost and I had to redo it in WordPress. If I missed something I apologize. 

CHAPTER ONE

The first document they handed me was my eulogy. They said it might help bring closure to my previous life. It didn’t. I know what I had done in my life, and thought that it was all I would ever do.

Victor Martin was a public servant almost his entire life. He first enlisted when he was seventeen….

1999. Forever ago. Before the wars started. There was nothing to worry about entering the military in that idyllic time between the fall of the Soviet Union and the start of the “Global War on Terrorism.” That’s why my parents had no problem giving me permission to join up. Russia, although it was in disarray, was a democracy now. Who was left to fight? Then came the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and we chased our tails and insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. Just when we pulled out of those two shitholes, with said tail firmly between our legs, Mexico collapsed and the resulting refugee crisis left the US government no choice but to put our new-found nation building prowess close to home. That distraction led Iran’s missile-firing fingers to get itchy, and it was back to the Middle East. At least the food had been good in Mexico.

In the midst of deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, he managed to earn a degree and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 2006. He then deployed once more to Iraq and twice more to Afghanistan by the time he was a Major.

Those were the days. Going to college as a United States Marine was a booze cruise more than anything else. Going to war as a young NCO or officer convinced of his own invincibility and infallibility was more fun than it should have been. There were bad times, of course. But the bad times were so bad that they made the good times so much better. I lost myself in the work and never married. I was not unhappy, just too focused to settle down.

That is, until I commanded the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Venezuela as a Colonel. Venezuela had been under the thumb of a succession of neocommunist dictators since the turn of the century. Each one employed the standard tinpot dictator playbook: stir up anti-Americanism to distract the people from their own problems and your corruption. After a wave of narco-terrorist attacks on the Southern border that could be tied directly to Caracas, Washington acted. My orders were to establish a beachhead on the shore of the Gulf of Venezuela in the sparsely populated Venezuelan state of Falcón. Once established, I was to fend off any attacks and wait for the Army to land enough forces to take Caracas. I was never one to sit on my haunches though. I met light resistance in Falcón and Columbia, smelling blood on their border, sent forces into Venezuela to offer their assistance. I had worked with the Columbian commander before so we combined forces and headed towards Caracas. The poorly led Venezuelan forces were so badly outmaneuvered that by the time the first US Army units rolled onto the sand in Falcón, I had my feet up on the Venezuelen President’s desk while I smoked one of his cigars.

The President and Secretary of Defense were immensely pleased. Marine Corps leadership, uncomfortable with initiative and loose interpretations of the rules, were displeased. Army leadership, denied even the opportunity to participate, were furious and openly calling for my head. Instead, the Commandant of the Marine Corps made it clear that I would never get promoted beyond my current rank and that retirement would be the best option. Never a politician, I bowed out and went back to school. I studied history and strategy and eventually ended up teaching at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. I published a few books and spent the rest of my life in academia. When I could no longer care for myself, I checked into a nursing home and waited.

The last thing I remembered was a young man with a sly grin from the government sitting across the table from me. Bureaucrat, no doubt. Can you sign something, Colonel? We just want to ensure your legacy is assured, Colonel. Then darkness. Now, I was sitting in a sparse room somewhere in Virginia, reading my own eulogy.

Coming back to life had been a confusing process, to say the least. I awoke to the consciousness of being on my back and extremely cold. Eyes open. Hazy, lifeless light. Bland white patterned ceiling. I was definitely in a public building, but it could not possibly be my nursing home. The cold was the feeling of the metal slab I was lying on. I found that I was clothed, if only in a pair of thin shorts, and unrestrained. So I sat up, groaning as I lifted my old bones off the slab.

That smile again. Standing in front of me was the Bureaucrat, and he grinned at me as I became aware of him. On second thought, no, not the same guy. Same lifeless eyes and stagnant expression though.

“Good morning, Colonel.”

“Where the fuck am I? Is this Twin Pines Nursing Home?”

“You’re in a government medical facility in Northern Virginia. You were moved here from your place of residence.”

 “Why? I’m retired.”

“We understand that, Colonel. You will be briefed shortly on the reason for your presence here. In the meantime, I have been sent to inform you that you need to rest.”

“I’ve been asleep. Why would I rest?”

“A bed is provided against the wall behind you. Your body needs to rest, sir.”

My body.  I touched my wrinkled forearm. My skin was about as cold as the metal table, but wet like I had been sweating. I already felt fatigued, despite the sleep. I decided to take his suggestion.  I waved him off, at which point he hesitated and then left the room through a door that was the same white color as the rest of the room. A small nightstand stood beside the bed, supporting a glass of water. On the opposite wall from the bed was a sink and a toilet, prison style. The rest of the room was bare. The walls were not padded though, so that was a good sign.

#

When I awoke, Grinning Bureaucrat was standing near the door, waiting.

“Colonel, when you’re ready I will take you to the Director’s office. I will wait outside your door until then.”

I washed and relieved myself before finding that there were no clothes provided besides medical scrubs. When I was ready I walked, a little unsteadily, behind Bureaucrat. I had felt my years for quite some, but since waking up in that room I felt particularly brittle and weak.

The corridors were lined with faux wood paneling, as many public buildings tend to be decorated. The endless lines stretching into the distance broken only by cheap fluorescent lighting gave the impression of distance. The halls seem to be empty. Many government offices are a bustle of activity. This one was clearly not.

We reached an office which was more of an atrium for the larger office located behind the door opposite the entrance, and Bureaucrat nodded to a middle aged woman who looked to be an assistant. She pressed a button on her desk, waited for just a second, and then opened the door to the inner office.  I passed through the door behind Bureaucrat, who took up position next to the entrance. Inside was an older gentlemen in a white lab coat and a man in a suit standing behind a large, simple, mahogany desk whom I presumed to be the Director.

“Good morning, Colonel. Welcome. How do you feel?”

Aside from the desk, the office contained some tan leather chairs and a sofa. White Lab Coat took a seat on the sofa running perpendicular to the desk. The Director motioned to one of the leather chairs when I ignored his pleasantries. I lowered myself into it, at which point he took his chair. A steaming cup of coffee was sitting on the small end table next to me.

“Pardon my lack of conversation thus far.” I replied. “When you get to be my age you tire of social rituals. You also despise wasting time, so if you’ll kindly tell me exactly where we are and what I’m doing here, I’d appreciate it.”

Being both firm and polite was an art, an art best mastered if you serve in the military. The fact that the Director rose when I entered his office and only sat once I had, not to mention that Grinning Bureaucrat referred to me by the title I held when I retired, meant that wherever I was, I was no prisoner and that I had some pull, if no authority.

The Director’s grin did not waiver. “Certainly. My name’s George Halleck. I’m Director of Project 594, a joint Department of Defense/DARPA program begun by the McMillan administration. The program uses a combination of advanced technologies to preserve the expertise and knowledge of the best and brightest individuals, mostly of public servants. This is accomplished by putting the subject into a state of suspended animation during their senior years and then, when the country faces a particularly challenging situation where their knowledge can be useful, awakening them. Since the program began we have developed a number of technologies that rejuvenate and….

I had seen where he was going but only now decided to cut him off.

“I’m not doing it. Take me back to the home.” I had heard rumors of cryogenic technology being developed by DARPA to the point that animals could be preserved, flash frozen really, and stored to be “woken up” later.

The grin never left. “Colonel, I’m not asking you to participate.”

“Then why are you telling me this?”

“I’m not asking you to participate because you have already participated. This is your “Welcome Awake” meeting and your briefing on the next steps we will take. The year is 2150.”

My first reaction was disbelief, but that faded quickly because somehow I instinctively knew that it was true. The clammy skin, the extreme fatigue, something had happened to me. The doctor, who thus far had seemed to just be observing me, began scribbling furiously on his pad. Once the realization sank in, anger rose like a fire. How could they? I had never agreed to this. I don’t even remember how I got to… wherever the hell I was. My anger must have been written on my face.

“There’s no use in being angry, Colonel. Everyone who did this to you is long dead. Public servants who are chosen for the program were not asked for their consent…”

The full weight settled on me and the sound of his voice disappeared beyond the scope of thoughts. 2150. The last thing I remembered was the strange visitor in the nursing home in what must have been… Christ, 2060. I had been… what, frozen?…. for ninety years.

“Why me?” I asked as I snapped out of my internal processing, interrupting whatever the hell Halleck was saying in the process.

“Your exploits in Venezuela were legendary in the military amongst those who did not have a political interest in what you did. Once everyone who had pushed you out left the military, no one was concerned that you went so far beyond the mission. As you’re well aware, your writing was very well received. In short, you impressed someone important.”

“Why am I…awake now?”

“The President has declared a state of emergency due to some events. The country faces grave dangers, all of which you will be briefed on in time. The first step, however, is your rejuvenation procedures, which Dr. Franco will tell you about. Dr. Franco?”

“Hmm? Yes. Colonel,” Labcoat began, “The de-aging process is rather different from any procedure conducted in your time. First, your current blood will be entirely drained and replaced with an organic/synthetic hybrid blood. Contained within this blood are nanomachines designed to rebuild your body from the inside out. These machines will exercise muscles, rebuild bones, replace any imperfect or old cells with entirely new ones, and destroy diseased cells. The process involves some discomfort over the course of three or four days, but at the end of this process your body will be roughly that of a thirty-year old man, only stronger and more agile than any normal man. Additionally, once this process is complete, your blood will be drained for a second time and replaced with an entirely synthetic blood that contains a different set of nanomachines.”

“Blood replacement? Is this a common procedure?”

“No, not really common. The process itself is routine, but only the extremely rich can afford the treatments. The only reason the government is providing it to you is because of your advanced age. This treatment is the only way to extend the normal life cycle.”

“So how long will I live after the treatment?”

“Like I said, your body will be the equivalent of an extremely athletic thirty-year old man, albeit with grey hair. Cosmetic nanomachines are expensive and only used in some cases.  It will essentially turn your biological clock back to thirty.  The nanomachines will continue to keep you extremely healthy and you will not know sickness. But even they will break down in time. A man who gets the same treatment at thirty years of age, for example, can expect to live to be about 200 years old. Of course, since you will be getting the treatment at seventy-eight years old, ignoring the ninety years you’ve been in suspended animation, you should still live beyond 200 years total.”

Two hundred years. “You said diseases. Am I sick?”

He looked at a file that he held in his lap. “Oh, um, yes. It says here you’ve got stage four throat cancer. Can’t have that can we? The nanomachines should take care of it in a day or two,” the doctor said, as nonchalantly as if we were discussing sports scores.

“Amazing.”

“While you are not undergoing treatments, you will be brought up to date on the state of the world and human society.” The Director broke in. “If you are wondering where you are, you are below ground in Northern Virginia, just South of D.C., in an office  left over from the Cold War that very few people know about. Over the next couple of weeks, you will be meeting with the current Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs, and the President. There are other people who have recently been awakened as well, so you will probably see them around the quarters. Everything you need is contained on this floor: a gym, a library, a locker room, a briefing room. Please make yourself at home. However, the elevator is secure and access only given to my employees. You will not be able to leave this floor, aside from being escorted to meetings, until the President authorizes it. Mr. Wood here is your escort and assistant.”

I initially thought to challenge him on this, but to what end? I knew no one, had nowhere to go, and probably no longer knew how to get anywhere, especially at a rickety seventy-eight years old. There’s no way I could understand the world I now found myself in, I would need some assistance. I decided to let it stand.

“Doc, let’s see what you can do.”

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0512Vamps2

Now that Game of Thrones is over for another year, the natsec/IR crowd has lost its go-to TV show for overstretched comparisons between academic concepts and fantasy realms. But I’m a simple guy, coming from the tactical realm of foreign policy and all. I like a good campy, no-brainer show like True Blood, which fills the Game of Thrones timeslot during the summer. True Blood begs an interesting tactical question: How would one employ vampires in modern warfare?

alexskars

No, that’s too easy. Only Hollywood can get away with that. In real life, there would be some nuance to how the Department of Defense would deal with “out of the coffin” vampires as depicted on True Blood. But there are a few clear changes that would occur as vampires are integrated into the human military forces.

1) Vampires would make ideal Special Operations troops.

Vampires are exactly what we strive to create in human special operations forces: super strong, super fast, and mature (immortality grants plenty of time to learn). VSOF teams would be an almost unstoppable addition to the joint force. They’d own the night, but only at night. Yes, there would be some limitations.

The most detrimental limitation of VSOF teams is that, in order to conduct a night right on a target’s house, they would need to be invited by the owner. In this situation, a target denying a VSOF entry to their house becomes an anti-access/area denial (A2AD) tactic. This would lead to some creative deception operations, probably using the vampire “glamour” ability, to gain access.

2) Logistics, logistics, logistics

Forming SOF teams of vampires would require its own, parallel logistics infrastructure. SOCOM would need C-130s, V-22s, submarines, AAVs, and Blackhawk helicopters that are “light tight” and can hold coffins steady during the transportation of VSOF teams. Thus, it also makes sense to organize vampires into their own teams vice mix them in with human special forces. Certainly, if human special forces need a little more… teeth in their plan, VSOF teams can support. Additionally, stocks of True Blood would need to be present in DFACs along with the normal DFAC human food like lobsters, peppercorn steaks, and buckets of ice cream.

3) Strategic Competition

Of course, the United States won’t be the only nation that will attempt to utilize VSOF teams. This will necessitate the creation of specialized anti-vampire troops equipped with silver bullets, ultraviolet flashlights, and the like. So the SOCOM of the True Blood universe will consist of a tripartite system of conventional SOF teams for daylight operations, VSOF teams for night operations, and AVSOF (Anti-Vampire Special Operations Forces) teams. You can imagine the latter two do not get along well at Battalion BBQ Day/Night.

Of course, all of these changes would only occur after a tortuous Congressional debate where the Democrats will say that VSOF troops using their fangs in combat somehow violates the civil rights of the enemy and the Republicans would try to make consensual sex between vampires illegal for some reason. I’m not sure where the American people would fall out in this debate, but if you watch Congress at all you know that their view really doesn’t enter into it.

* Note: This post does not cover fae, werewolves, werepanthers, shifters, or whatever the hell Bill is now as they are not “out” and thus the Department of Defense would not have any policy for their employment.

Ares, Athena, and Crypto

Posted: February 12, 2013 by bafriedman in Uncategorized

 

Image

Late in the book Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, through Enoch Root, presents a version of the ancient Greek god and goddess Ares and Athena to represent aspects of war. He spends thousands of words setting the stage for Root’s explanation so I’m not even going to bother trying to summarize the plot so far. In a jail cell in Manila, Root explains that Athena is the goddess of war, technology, and cunning, or cleverness, while Ares is the god of war, master of Fear and Terror, but usually incompetent (he is, after all, defeated by mortals in various stories). He presents Athena as the dispassionate, clever, scientific aspect of war and Ares as war’s passion, anger, and hatred. He further illustrates this point by noting that Athena was the patron of Odysseus who gained victory through his mind, implying that Ares is a better match with Achilles who achieves victory through blind rage and brute force.

 

Root’s Athena/Ares construct instantly calls to mind Clausewitz’ trinity. Clausewitz described war as a “paradoxical trinity” composed of “primordial violence, hatred, and enmity… the play of chance and probability… and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” Ares clearly embodies primordial violence, hatred, and enmity while Athena embodies partly the play of chance and probability- which a cool head is more able to assess- and partly rationality.

 

Root’s bipolar constructs more closely matches the attrition warfare versus maneuver warfare construct of MCDP-1 Warfighting, largely constructed from the teachings of John Boyd. Ares and Achilles are far more concerned with destruction of their enemies face to face while Athena and Odysseus would rather outsmart them.

 

During the conversation, Root illustrates his concepts with some examples. Obviously, Athens valued Athena, and thus cleverness, intelligence, and science, while Sparta took the opposite tack. History bears this out: although Athens lost the Peloponnesian War, they were far more apt to integrate new ideas like proto-guerilla warfare using light troops like peltasts and archers than were the Spartans. The Spartans, who favored face to face hoplite battle, were only able to adapt to changes in warfare by outsourcing to Persia to gain naval power. Root also places the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in Ares’ camp and the Allies in Athena’s. This example is less apt. While the baser instincts may have led those two combatants to atrocities, they each harnessed technology as much as they could. The Germans developed ballistic missiles and jets while the Japanese began the war with better naval gunnery equipment and tactics than the Allies. Still, strategic missteps like Hitler’s misguided invasion of Russia and Japanese overreach from the very beginning of the war may mean that Ares was guiding the rudder far more than Athena.

 

Also, German and Japanese history since WWII marked by commercial and industrial success driven in part by innovation and cleverness. So too in the arts. The Japanese have invented manga and anime. In the clash of World War II, did Athena excise Ares from their cultures? Can he be excised? Volumes have been written about the feelings of pacifism present in both countries and their investment in military capability is certainly less that than other, similarly advanced nations. What about the US? Our history certainly shows the influence  of both Ares and Athena. Sherman’s southern campaign is just one example. Designed by Grant, certainly shows the cleverness of Odysseus as well as the brutality of Ares. Maybe the answer is balance between the god and the goddess. Utilizing both, maybe through Clausewitz’s subordination to policy and thus rationality, may be the key. Ares’ anger can be a powerful weapon if harnessed by Athena’s wisdom.


There’s no real conclusion to this screed besides the fact that Neal Stephenson, in a book about cryptoanalysts, hackers, and one very well-written and badass Marine named Bobby Shaftoe, hit on some of the same points as academic strategic theorists. War is not solely guided by intellect and science, but neither is it purely the realm of hate and discontent. The cryptological prowess of the Allies and the resulting intelligence was certainly a boon for the Allies but it took men and women like Bobby Shaftoe to bring the Axis powers to their knees.

Insurgent’s Creed

Posted: October 30, 2012 by bafriedman in Uncategorized

Probably without realizing it, Ubisoft created an insurgency training simulation when they designed Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. They did so in a unique place and time for a video game: Rome in 1499. AC:B is almost worth playing just for the tour of a digital Renaissance Rome populated by swarms of people, shopkeepers, guards, pickpockets, and prostitutes. But, let’s be honest, people play video games for action. Fortunately it’s the action and plot of AC:B that impart some key lessons about how to run your own insurgency.

First, the background. The Assassins and the Templars are both secret societies that first coalesced during the Crusades. Both groups want to capture “Pieces of Eden,” artifacts that can grant their possessor great power and wisdom. The Templars want to use this power to control the world and the Assassins want to stop them. In 2012, the groups are still waging a secret war behind the scenes of society. Both groups utilize technology, called Animus, that allows someone to relive the memories of their ancestors stored in their DNA. Enter Desmond Miles. Through Desmond, a descendent of Assassins, both sides want to unlock the whereabouts of the artifacts. The first ancestor examined with this technology is Altair ibn-La’Ahad, a Crusades-era Assassin. The second is Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Assassin in Italy during the Renaissance-era where the Borgia family controls the Templar order.

Ezio cuts a bloody swath across Renaissance Italy in Assassin’s Creed II, but my focus is on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, the second game to feature Ezio and the one that best captures an insurgent dynamic. In ACII, Ezio simply wants to kill as many Templars as he can, including Pope Alexander VI, then retire to a nice villa with Caterina Sforza (If you don’t know who this is, I highly recommend reading about her). In the beginning of Brotherhood, the Borgia assault Assassin headquarters at the villa and scatter the group. The game literally starts out with a lesson about the inability of conventional tactics to defeat an ideological movement, presented in grand style as the player defends the villa with cannon and the Borgia assault with siege towers, siege guns, and waves of troops in formation. After being overwhelmed, Ezio escapes and travels to Rome to wrest control of the ancient capital from the Borgia.

This is where Insurgency 101, courtesy of Ubisoft, begins in earnest. Ezio, being only one man, cannot attack the Templars, who control the Vatican, vast armies, and Rome itself, directly. He has to start small and utilize guerilla tactics.

Lesson One: Information Operations

Step one for any insurgency is to prove that the ruling regime is not so big and bad after all. Delegitimizing the political power that you wish to oust will garner popular support later. Fortunately Ezio has a pretty good plan to embarrass the Borgia: go to one of their isolated guard posts, kill everyone inside, then set it on fire.

Ezio isn’t one for subtle information operations

Lesson Two: Popular Support

While popular support may or may not be the key to an insurgency, it is still important. Insurgencies depend on the civilian population for a source of recruits, supplies, camouflage, intelligence about the enemy, and counterintelligence to prevent the enemy from finding out too much. As Ezio travels through Rome, the player is presented with situations where Borgia troops are beating or attempting to kill local civilians. The player can choose to interfere and then recruit the liberated peasant as a new assassin. Just as in real life, the more allies you recruit the more abilities you can unlock, like calling a swarm of friends with crossbows to ambush enemies that are too strong for you to fight alone.

Some forms of popular support are more fun to seek than others.

Lesson Three: Guerilla Tactics

Truth be told, you can make it through the game quite easily by just running around and stabbing every bad guy you can find. It is a game after all. But, if you choose to operate more as a guerilla, the game rewards you with a higher score and unlocked rewards. Guerilla warfare is key to a force that is weaker than its opponent and seeks a strategy of erosion. Eroding the enemy’s strength over time is much easier if he can’t ever find you.

Lesson Four: Build an Alternative System

Once you’ve sliced and diced your way through counterinsurgent outposts and proved to the people that you’re stronger than the status quo, it won’t do to just sit on your laurels. It’s time to exploit the space you’ve earned. As the player frees sections of Rome from Borgia control, they can invest cash in those areas to open up an economy. The more your economy thrives, the less items such as weapons, armor, clothing, and artwork cost. While there will always  be some hardcore malcontents that will support an insurgency with supplies, sustaining a guerilla force is easier the more people you have on your side. If they’re making money, they’ll be more willing to let a little slide your way.

By the end of the game, the player’s Assassin insurgency has reached critical mass and the Borgias control only the Vatican. This sets the stage for the last act of the game. Ezio can… ahem, roam the streets of Rome pretty much at will, a worthwhile endeavor since the game acts as a virtual tour guide to the Eternal City. Upon approaching a notable building, like the Colosseum for example, the player can bring up an article that describes the buildings origin and importance. Ezio’s journey is not complete though and he must finish what he has started. The ending takes a decided turn to conventional warfare, as insurgencies sometimes do, but I won’t spoil it here. Suffice to say that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a rollicking trip through a Renaissance insurgency, helped along by historically based characters like Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci. Assassin’s Creed 3, which comes out today and is set in the American Revolution, should offer insight as well. Expect to see a post on it in the near future.

RIP Neil Armstrong

Posted: August 25, 2012 by bafriedman in Uncategorized
Neil Armstrong assumes his rightful place

Neil Armstrong assumes his rightful place // Image via thefrogman.me

According to the noted literary research house, Wikipedia, the earliest reference to the Moon being inhabited was The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a 10th Century Japanese folk tale. The Superman-esque story is about a Princess from the Moon growing up on Earth with adopted parents rather than about travel, but it’s most likely the earliest extant literary reference to humans being on the surface of the moon. Certainly this could not have been the beginning of mankind’s fascination with our nightly visitor. I like to think the vast majority of humans, whether ancient or modern, share the experience of gazing at the moon with longing. Wanderlust isn’t bound by gravity.

Since than, many literary giants have used words to cross the void. J.R.R. Tolkein, Robert Heinlein, Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov, and George R. R. Martin are just a few.

But precious few of us ever got there. Neil Armstrong, who died today at 82, was the first to do so. Fair winds and following seas, sir, and thank you for your service and for turning science fiction into reality.

-BF

Writing to discuss the long shadow the Apollo Project has cast over the American one, Charles Homans concluded:

The American exceptionalism that Kennedy nurtured as a goad to accomplishment has become a cocoon. Kennedy once lamented that the Soviets’ primacy in space had left the “psychological feeling in the world that the United States has reached maturity, that maybe our high noon has passed … and that now we are going into the long, slow afternoon.” In retrospect, he had it backward. It is the moon landing, notSputnik or Gagarin, that haunts us. It is the point from which we measure our descent.

Neil himself echoed this statement, in testimony before the US House of Representitives, but ended his statements on hope:

The reality that there is no flight requirement for a NASA pilot-astronaut for the foreseeable future is obvious and painful to all who have, justifiably, taken great pride in NASA’s wondrous space flight achievements during the past half century.

Winston Churchill famously stated: “The Americans will always do the right thing after they have exhausted all the alternatives”. In space fight, we are in the process of exhausting alternatives. I am hopeful that, in the near future, we will be doing the right thing.

While we at Grand Blog Tarkin are in the business of speculating about alien invasions, giant space robots, and galaxy-wide theaters of operations, those problems are only possible in a future where humanity has escaped a one-planet grave.

Thank you, Neil Armstrong, for taking the first step beyond this world, and for doing so on behalf of peace from all mankind.

KA

Palpatine should have been able to take it easy. He not only managed to gain absolute power over the galactic civilization, but the Senate had begged him to take control. The Jedi had been, for all intents and purposes, exterminated. Nothing should have crossed his desk besides trade disputes, the occasional bill to name a library after him, and pleas for mercy from various alien races. Instead he had this damned rebellion on his hands. His right hand man was a whiney asthmatic who couldn’t even be trusted to find two droids that used to belong to him on his own home planet. Palpatine’s a politician. He doesn’t know the first thing about military strategy. Neither does Darth Wheezey McEmo over there. What’s a Sith to do?

You find someone in your organization with vision and strategic acumen. In Palpatine’s case, that person is Moff Milhuff Tarkin. Tarkin’s a man with a plan. He thinks that Palpatine should rule through fear of force rather than force itself. Tarkin understands deterrence. This is a man that recognizes that the Empire cannot kill its way to victory, but it can intimidate. This is counterinsurgency and stability through deterrence, based on a credible, overwhelming threat. That credible, overwhelming threat is the Death Star. Palpatine’s promotion of Moff Tarkin to Grand Moff, an entirely new rank, is evidence that 1) Palpatine recognized that Tarkin had a strategic vision and 2) the Empire heretofore lacked a military strategic vision. Palpatine rose to power through Machievellian politics and deception rather than military force. He didn’t defeat the Jedi clone army, he co-opted it. He defeated the Jedi through betrayal and deception, a skill set that may not work in the face of a galaxy-wide insurgency.

Palpatine, at some level, must recognize this as Tarkin, during the events of A New Hope, is the Stonewall Jackson to Papatine’s Robert E. Lee. Yes, Vader is present on the Death Star but he’s not in charge. Tarkin gives the order to destroy Alderaan after all. All Vader does is torture a prisoner and then reacts to the rebel assault by joining the fight himself. Both tactical level actions. Tarkin is clear-headed and cool the entire time. He never flinches as he destroys a civilization as an example while Vader is chasing after a presence he hasn’t felt in a long time and angrily taking off in his TIE fighter. Palpatine found the right man for the job, until those pesky rebels blew him up.

The strategic and operational competency vacuum left by the death of Tarkin is evident immediately upon the opening events of The Empire Strikes Back. The Imperial Starfleet arrives at Hoth too far away from the planet, leaving the rebels time to organize their evacuation. Then, rather than simply bombard the rebel base from orbit, they launch a planetside assault on the base. Sure, there was a shield generator protecting the base, but the ground assault occurred in the complete absence of suppressive fire from the Starfleet. Turbolasers may not destroy Echo Base outright, but it can keep the Rebels’ heads down long enough for the ground assault to breach their perimeter or, better yet, besiege the base. These are JV-level mistakes when it comes to coordinating forces. Fire without maneuver is a waste. Maneuver without fire is suicide. In this case, it’s total mission failure. The rebellion lives on while the entire fleet completely bungles a mission to capture HVTs. The fleet performs so poorly that Vader has to turn to contractors to capture rebel leadership for them.

Contractors

It’s hard to believe that Tarkin, a man whose military acumen so impressed the Emperor that a new rank was created just for him, would not have foreseen these mistakes and better handled the Imperial Starfleet. Vader’s reactive leadership style (failure followed by force choke) was unable to cope with rapidly changing situations. Vader let his personal goals and passions get in the way of strategic and operational demands. He couldn’t bombard Echo Base because he wanted to capture Luke and turn him to the Dark Side. Tarkin, unencumbered by a hokey religion, the need for an apprentice, or sentiment of any kind, would have ended the rebellion on Hoth.

Which leads to my next point: Palpatine and Vader, just like the Jedi, are strategic incompetents. The resources of the vast Empire are directed not firstly to the defeat of the rebellion but rather to the capture of Luke Skywalker, a super-empowered religious extremist from a desert wasteland who has great symbolic value but no real command and control over the movement that he is a part of (yes, I went there). When Palpatine describes his theory of victory to Luke on the second Death Star over Endor, the defeat of the rebel fleet is barely a postscript to Luke’s fall to the Dark Side. The Empire is clearly operating without a coherent strategy as their ends are confused. Nor did Palpatine produce any useful policy that would serve to better prioritize the strategic ends. The severe lack of a healthy separation of church and state wasted Imperial resources.

What a super-empowered religious extremist from a desert wasteland might look like.

Tarkin, of course, would not have let this happen. Palpatine obviously had great trust in the Grand Moff and, had he lived, the Emperor could have delegated the military fight against the rebellion to the true military mastermind while turning to the Imperial intelligence or special forces communities to hunt down Luke Skywalker. Either that, or Tarkin’s coolness, vision, and competency would have allowed him to execute a coup d’etat that would depose the distracted and arrogant pair of Sith. This, actually, would not have been too bad of an outcome for the galaxy. While Palpatine is prone to rule through force, Tarkin intends to rule through the threat of force. This would have first required the destruction of Alderaan, the execution of Princess Leia, and the destruction of Hoth, but after that years of peace could have followed. Surely this was a bad outcome for the rebellion and George Lucas’ merchandise sales, but the people of the galaxy would have seen peace. Instead, when the only competent strategist in the entire Star Wars galaxy dies at Yavin, decades of civil strife follow. (If you follow the Expanded Universe anyway.)

[Mass Effect 3 Spoiler Warning]
Probably without intending it, the Mass Effect 3 development team built the game as a crash course in coalition warfare and grand strategy on a cosmic scale. As the game opens the Reapers, a biologic/synthetic race far more powerful and advanced than any in the galaxy, attack the homeworlds of the major races with the bulk of their forces (their main effort) attacking Earth. After the opening scene, the player is tasked with escaping from Earth and rallying the rest of the galaxy to attack the Reaper main effort in the Sol System.

This is no easy task, as the Milky Way is in turmoil. Every race has their own Reaper offensive to worry about and the pre-war fears, honor, and interests remain despite the threat of galactic extinction. The player turns first to the Turians who possess the largest and best military in the galaxy, but their homeworld is as bad off as Earth. The Turians want help from the Krogan, but Krogan honor and interest demand a cure for the genophage, a bioengineered disease that wrecks their population growth (all but one in 10,000 baby Krogan are stillborn.) The Salarians, who designed the genophage, can provide a cure but fear a resurgent and vengeful Krogan race. On another front, standing in for Israel and the Palestinians, are the Geth and the Quarians. Quarians can provide a massive fleet and technical specialists, but want their homeworld, Rannoch, back from the Geth, who conquered it generations ago. The Geth can help if they are released from Reaper control and do not have to worry about reprisals from the Quarians. Oh by the way, you’ve also been marked for assassination by Cerberus, a pro-human, anti-alien non-state actor with vast resources (Space-KKK).

Yeah, we’re going to need some help with these guys.

This isn’t just a canned story, though. The player must make all these choices. Do you give the Krogan what they want and risk a future war or deceive them and condemn them to a slow genocide? Do you appease the Salarians in order to gain their advanced technology and science skills or ignore them in order to gain Krogan ground troops? Do you restore Rannoch to the Space-Palestinians and gain their fleets, side with the Space-Israel and gain their fearless, artificial intelligence ground troops, or do you use diplomacy to end their war that began three hundred years before you were born? Why is President Jed Bartlet in charge of the SpaceKlan?

The Illusive Man, Grand Wizard of the SpaceKlan (voiced by Martin Sheen)

This is an accurate representation of coalition warfare. Take World War II for example. Britain is under dire threat from Nazi Germany, but US interests prevent American entrance into the war until Pearl Harbor. Once the US is in the war, the Soviet Union is a powerful ally against Germany, but they are a communist nation and assisting them could make them stronger in a future war. A more contemporary example is the United States’ shaky relationship with Pakistan. The Taliban and other militant groups are a threat to the current Pakistani government, but Pakistan is probably more worried about a stable Afghanistan that aligns with India than they are extremist groups. For Pakistan, the fear of India trumps their interest in regional stability and strains their relationship with the US, even in the face of a mutual threat.

This is the reality of coalition warfare throughout military history. Fears and interests are not left on the battlefield’s doorstep but rather carry through and affect the course of strategy. Most high-level strategic functions will involve allies of some sort, and Mass Effect 3 offers a primer on the balancing act of coalition warfare. Thrown into this mix are the personal relationships developed between the player and characters on all sides (Shepard’s team includes a Salarian, two Krogan, a Turian, a Quarian, and a Geth). This also reflects reality. The warm relationship between FDR and Churchill was very different than their sometimes icy relations with Joseph Stalin. Again, these are the issues that ME3 deals with that are rarely present in other war games. There are no Call of Duty missions that require you to establish peace in the Middle East before the fighting even begins. Certainly, other works of science fiction have delved into these issues in an intergalactic construct, but most of these are books, movies, or tv shows. The beauty of games is that you get to control the strategy rather than be a silent observer.