The Kingdom Beneath The Yellow Sea

Posted: March 10, 2014 by kdatherton in Uncategorized

What follows is a series of diary entries, found on a voice recorder in an envelope delivered to BlogTarkin headquarters early Monday morning. In addition to the recorder was a file. The author is unknown.

I found the file in the stacks between the dusty atlases of forgotten continents. It was devoid of dust, a rarity among books in the Miskatonic extension school. The only people generally back here were library assistants, dutifully storing duplicates of soon to be forgotten theses.

Inside the file was only news-clippings, a few pictures, and hastily scribbled notes.

The Hollow Eyes

The Hollow Eyes

It was titled the Pyongyang Report. From the fragments inside was an entire alternate history of the hermit kingdom. It hinted at the aftermath of an existential war, not against the rest of the world, but at something lurking deep within it.

By all appearances, this war ended in 1972.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake
The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The victory was unheralded. It took decades, but official policy went skyward. It looked like an arms race. The rockets went upward. Satellites cruised the borders of space.

Yet space was never the destination. By all other accounts the collapse of North Korean rockets was an engineering failure. The file suggested differently. This was a concerted supply strategy. The goal was to get the parts under water. The last clipping from the file:

Pyongyang has admitted the controversial launch ended in failure and is investigating what caused it to fall into the sea. – ABC

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I kept the file. It’s newness intrigued, and it fell into the longer pattern of wars on the peninsular.  Somewhere in Kim Il Sung’s past, a deal was made. Nothing like the regular deals of a politician, arms and alliances for ideology. This involved something else. An emissary emerged, in the dark days of Japanese occupation. There are no details of the meeting except that it happened. Before the emissary Il-Sung’s forces existed only in a stage of fear, armed and hiding. Afterwards, they won the battle that built Il Sung’s career. History only records a strange caravan of fishing boats out to sea, all single file, all one way.

Gateway

The Azure Gateway

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in

Dim Carcosa.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Whatever bargain was struck that day, it was paid in full in 1972.  Whatever chance the Democratic Republic had at a normal existence extinguished that year. With the victory came a new cult, born from the nether gods. Founders became gods. The hermit kingdom became a workshop for hidden masters. Hands worked to the bone and bark stripped from trees. The materials of the land and the people worked raw to prepare the world for an underwater overlord

It was a compelling theory. Stuck in my research position, there was no way to get closer to the truth.

And then this happened:

On Thursday, four Scud missiles with a shorter range were fired into the sea off North Korea’s eastern coast -CNN

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die though, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in

Lost Carcosa

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m sending this from the post office in Kuala Lumpur. I have no idea if my investigations will yield anything. My last additions to the file indicate that the King Below is hungry. Hungry for new people.

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Erdi Erdem tweets at @milleniacinder and works as a Systems Analyst. Hit him up for more about EVE or Bill Paxton. He is happy to discuss both.


The Titanomachy Monument

“In Greek mythology, the Titanomachy  or War of the Titans (Greek: Τιτανομαχία), was the ten-year series of battles which were fought in Thessaly between the two camps of deities long before the existence of mankind”

There is a good chance that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard this word quite a few times since last week.   Either you heard this obscure Greek mythology buzzword for the first time or you heard it from people who have no business knowing about the war between Cronus and Zeus.  There is, of course, a very good reason for this and it has to do with the great excel-spreadsheet-second-life space simulator of our time, EVE Online.

In the wee hours of January 27th, EVE’s resident police force, CONCORD, came to collect on rent and protection money for the space station owned by the corporation H A V O C in the B-R5RB system.  The bill hadn’t been paid because someone somewhere forgot to check off a box to auto-pay for the station.  For want of a nail and all that.  War never changes and neither does human error, even virtually.

On January 31st, CCP Games erected a vast memorial at the site of the Battle of B-R5RB.  Titled Titanomachy, the derelict, non-salvageable remains of the 75 Titan ships lost will remain a permanent fixture in dedication to the historic battle.  Over the course of 12 hours, nearly 8,000 unique characters (people) fought with every kind of ship in the EVE arsenal in various systems (locations) in the EVE universe.  The particular system in question held 2,670 players at peak vying for control over the base.  The numbers are staggering.

Totals Destroyed:

  • Titans – 75 (74 in system, one on its way to the fight.) The losing alliance, N3/PL, lost 59 titans and the winner, CFC/DTF, lost 16.  Just for the record, the most titans lost in one battle in the entire history of EVE Online prior to this point numbered at 12.  The winning side lost 25% more Titans in victory than any group had ever lost before.
  • Supercarriers – 13
  • Dreadnaughts – 370
  • Carriers – 123
  • Thousands of frigates, fighters and drones.

The impact to EVE’s player-driven, free market, laissez faire, capitalist economy was 11 TRILLION ISK lost in ships and resources.  In real money that is estimated at about $300,000.  You read that correctly.  $300k.  It was also, with its 8,000 participants, the largest single battle in video gaming history.
“Fire Everything!”

But I hear you.

“What is this guy talking about?  It’s all Greek to me.” (Hah!)

Let me explain.  There are four major factors that make EVE Online unique in the world of gaming:

The first is that EVE Online is potentially gaming’s greatest sandbox.   EVE is a massively multiplayer online role playing game where characters are pilots with the ability to fly various spaceships throughout the EVE universe.  There is no goal or endgame.  There is no pervasive storyline forcing a player in any particular direction.  There is just a pilot working towards whatever role, aim or design he or she may imagine.  The EVE world is full of clans called “corporations” which work very similarly to corporations in our world.  People join in various roles and each corporation has its own aims.  Some corporations are involved with mining while others provide mercenaries to carry out hits and collect money using EVE’s bounty system, et cetera.  Everything is completely open.

The second biggest factor that makes EVE so unique is the way it handles its servers and player base.  There is only one server in EVE and everyone plays on it.  All 500,000+ players are on the same instance at all times.  The world is, therefore, large and varied.  Players can join various Alliances via their corporations.  Everything is happening at the same time because there are so many places to go.  There are over 7,500 systems in the EVE world, each with something to explore.  The processing marvel here is significant.  CCP runs EVE on server nodes using complicated balancing and a factor called “time dilation” where the action is slowed down across the board to prevent lag.  For example, during the climactic battle at B-R5RB with 2,700 players, the game slowed down to about 5 FPS for everyone within that system.  For three to five hours.

Third, EVE’s sandbox quality comes with very few rules (and those only regarding common MMO rules like sharing passwords or selling accounts.)  The EVE universe has two types of territories.  “Highsec” or high security is the first, where new players can safely move about and learn the game or explore what little PvE exists in EVE.  The second area is called “nullsec” where everything is game.  There are no warnings for PvP, no do-overs and no security.  Players and their ships can be killed at any time and unlike other MMOs, if your ship is blown, that’s it.  If you didn’t get insurance then that’s just too bad.  You have to start over and build everything from scratch.  Worse yet, if you haven’t prepared a clone for yourself, that’s it.  Game over man.  These concepts have opened the door for some of the most incredible storylines in multiplayer gaming.

 
“Hey, I think this guy’s a couple cans short of a six-pack.”

Examples include impressive in-game feats such as “Ricdic’s” heist of 250 billion ISK from the coffers of the corporation he infiltrated or Goonswarm Alliance’s taking advantage of a bug to swindle 5 trillion ISK, for which they were lauded… by CCP.  Other examples highlight the deep and friendly community ties in EVE and the spill out into the real world such as with the death of player Vile Rat, aka  Sean Smith, one of the four U.S. diplomats killed during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.  There are, of course, certain unsavory stories as well such as when a player was banned for a month after he mocked a potentially suicidal player during a forum event.

EVE Online provides players with opportunities to play the game in any way they want.  Usually, players aim for two things.  One is to have fun in whatever way suits them and the other is to aim for PLEX, which is the fourth reason why EVE is unique in the MMO landscape.

PLEX, or Player License Extensions, are cards that can be bought to extend your EVE subscription.  They can either be bought for real money, or they can be bought for the in-game currency, ISK.  This key game mechanic is the reason behind every real life dollar figure given to an EVE battle, heist or exploit.  True, CCP Games does ban players for selling ISK for real money; however, it is still easy, engaging and convenient to use the fixed price of PLEX to put a real-world figure on these engagements.

In reference to the breakdown of numbers earlier, please refer to this chart containing conversation rates from 2010. The cost of one Titan (remember that 75 were lost in this battle) was about 120B ISK which translated to $7,600 and 3,400 hours of construction time.  Today, these numbers are a bit different as Titans have become easier to produce.  Each one costs about $3,000.  I know.  Chump change.  This kind of thing is why EVE is called “Excel Spreadsheet Online.”

True, it may not be the most engaging game to play.  However, one would be hard pressed to see another game make the news as often as EVE for things most often found in the Wall Street Journal.  In the wake of this conflict, the Titanomachy monument will serve to commemorate this achievement, joining other monuments and milestones in EVE such as the New Jita memorial or the memorial to Steve, the first Titan destroyed in battle.  Travelers can even find a memorial to the aforementioned Sean Smith of the U.S. State Department who was killed in Benghazi.

The Strategic Illogic Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Posted: February 3, 2014 by kdatherton in Uncategorized
CptKeyes

CptKeyes

Sam Ratner tweets at @SamRatner and works as the project coordinator for Iran Matters.

Does SHIELD Have A Strategy?

Friend 1: “The part with Hulk throwing Loki around!”

Friend 2: “The part with Downey sassing Captain America!”

Friend 3: “The part with Galaga.”

Chorus of friends: “THE PART WITH GALAGA!”

Me: “But guys, what kind of SHIELD governing council made up of presumably rich and powerful English speakers thought nuking New York was a defensible strategic decision?!”

Chorus of friends: “…”

The above is a play in one act entitled “Why My Friends Don’t Take Me To See Summer Blockbusters Anymore.” It’s more of a memoir than a play, really. That scene took place after I went to see Marvel’s The Avengers in the theater last summer.* I enjoyed it a great deal, but my question continued to bother me. What were the SHIELD Council thinking? The Avengers had the alien invasion confined to a 3 block square in Manhattan.** Even if the fight expanded to the whole island, the damage inflicted by the battle would be cosmetic compared to the destruction of a nuclear blast. Don’t believe me? Take it up with the editor. What’s more, no one knew if the aliens were vulnerable to conventional arms. The military never got a chance to show up. Even if it turned out a nuclear bomb was necessary to close the portal, surely you have to give the Avengers and the military a chance to hold the aliens off for long enough to evacuate the civilian population.

The only justification the Council gives for the “stupid-ass decision” (Nick Fury’s words, not mine) to go nuclear that early comes when Fury decides to make a mockery of SHIELD’s command and control system by flat out refusing to follow the direct order to launch the nuke. The Council leader, doing his best Walt-Rostow-as-domino-theory-proponent impression, responds  “If we don’t hold [the aliens] in the air, we lose everything.” Fury displays some Clausewitzian wisdom in telling the Councilor that the act of nuking New York will itself lead to SHIELD losing everything, since how are they going to retain their legitimacy as defenders of Earth if they go around irradiating the Hudson? The Council never gets a chance to reply, and their thought process remains a mystery.

Maybe the SHIELD Council really are strategic morons on the scale of The Best And The Brightest, but that’s a pretty unsatisfying answer for a Marvel universe that will dominate our summers for years to come. There should be a better explanation for SHIELD’s strategic choices, and I’ve become a little obsessed with finding it. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve made some unfortunate, even embarrassing, personal decisions in service to the search. That’s right, I’ve watched Agents of SHIELD. Multiple times even.

Two U.S. Navy Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bombers in flight, circa 1942

Two Avenger torpedo bombers. Not “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” not “The Avengers,” but still pretty cool.

I’ve found more questions than answers. Under whose authority does SHIELD operate? Is it a wing of the American government? Where does it get its funding? What is its bureaucratic structure? How does it do its procurement? Is it bound by international law? Is it completely secret, and if not, who are its PAOs and how the hell do they do their jobs? Basically these questions boil down to two fundamental strategic questions: what is SHIELD and what are its goals?***

I have found a couple answers though. We got a small window into the international law question through an (unintentionally, I think) hilarious discussion of how an organization that tried to nuke New York could work around the fact that they were barred by treaty from operating in Malta.

Most of what we see in the show involves SHIELD defending Earth against alien threats, whether in the form of viruses or Asgaardian weapons. Yet we also learn that SHIELD is a great deal older than our knowledge of the existence of aliens, and therefore has terrestrial reason to exist. Last week we got our first confusing hint of what that reason might be.

“The Hub” took us to SHIELD headquarters on a mission with no extra-terrestrial or supernatural components whatsoever. It seems that a separatist group in South Ossetia built an “overkill” device that could trigger any weapon in a substantial radius. At first we were led to believe that SHIELD was only sending in a small team to deactivate and recover the device, thereby maintaining the delicate balance of power. It seemed like an exercise in a Star Trek-esque preference for stability. As the episode continued, however, we learned that SHIELD had a rather more activist mission in South Ossetia. As soon as the overkill device was disabled, a large SHIELD force swept in to destroy the separatist army that was set to assault Georgian forces behind the power of the device.

Assuming that SHIELD isn’t an agent of the Georgian government, who might want to protect the world from alien attack, even at the cost of New York, and would take strong action to limit South Ossetia separatism and, by extension, the expansion of the Russian sphere of influence? Is it possible that the SHIELD council take their orders from… China?

Guys, I’m totally trolling you with that last sentence. I actually have no idea who would want to do that. But don’t you kind of like the idea that SHIELD is actually the agent of a repressive and self-interested government and that Fury, Agent Coulson, and the Avengers will eventually realize this and craziness will ensue? Doesn’t that make more sense with the pro-individualist, anti-censorship values of the show that are constantly running into the realities of being cogs in a giant machine? That’s my best guess, but I’ll probably keep watching to learn more. I want SHIELD to think strategically, and the nice part about watching a world created by an auteur rather than a bureaucratic/legislative mess is that I may just get my wish.

"The Avengers" by Samuel Thomas Gill. Not the Avengers we're talking about, but too great not to share.

“The Avengers” by Samuel Thomas Gill. Not the Avengers we’re talking about, but too great not to share.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*Since you are a living human, I assume that you saw the Avengers and retain some memory of the relevant plot points. If, however, you are a zombie with exceptional intellectual curiosity, here is a quick plot summary. Loki (the bad guy) has opened a portal in the skies above Lower Manhattan through which his army of evil aliens are flying to begin their campaign for world domination. The Avengers (the good guys) are fighting those aliens as they come through the portal, and have confined their battle to a three block square. Nick Fury, The Avengers’ titular boss and head of an organization called SHIELD, explains all this to his bosses, a council of four headed by a guy who looks eerily like Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose, for reasons unknown, orders Fury to detonate a nuclear weapon over Manhattan in an attempt to close the portal.

**If Captain America had stayed true to his enlisted roots, this would be a great place for a “3 block war/strategic Corporal America” joke. Alas.

***I’m aware that SHIELD has a long history in Marvel comic books. For our purposes, I’m only interested in the SHIELD of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Partially that’s because I’m just not interested in going back and reading all the comics, but mostly it’s because the Whedonverse SHIELD is distinct from the SHIELD of the comics. For example, in the comics SHIELD stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, but in the Whedonverse it stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. If that’s not a dog whistle that Whedon’s SHIELD is meant to be a commentary on modern security issues, I don’t know what is.

This post was originally featured on Sharlynegger‘s blog, Coruscant Heights, and is reprinted with permission.

This is a topic I have always wanted to write about, mostly because I have seen so many analyses of Star Wars that did nothing but decry the near absence of women in the movies. As such, it’s often classified as one of the most sexist science-fiction works in existence, and let’s face it, there’s not even a need to run the Bechdel Test here.

Because we fail miserably.

However, as a woman who considers herself a feminist, I don’t think it’s fair to completely ignore the positive role Star Wars has had for women in science-fiction. I can say at least this: I was raised on Star Wars, literally – I saw the original movies at age four or five, I would cover my eyes per dad’s orders at the scary scenes (Honestly, call it instinct, I still do when the Emperor zaps Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi), I spent my entire childhood playing Star Wars video games with my father and pretending the office was a spaceship. After the Phantom Menace came out, I don’t think there was a day without my father referring to me as his “Young Padawan.”

And so, despite its lack of women, Star Wars had a huge influence on my life, and on my feminism, both the movies and the expanded universe. This is what I’m going to try to convince you of here, by having a closer look at every major female character in the movies.

Women in the Original Trilogy

Let’s start with the start; and I mean the real start. And I admit, it’s really difficult to find women in the Original Trilogy other than Leia. In all three movies, there are really three women that appear on screen and interact with the main characters: Princess Leia Organa, Mon Mothma, leader of the Rebellion, and Luke’s aunt, Beru Lars. But despite their small number, two of those had an extremely positive impact.

Princess Leia

Leia was, and still is the major female figure of Star Wars, and I believe things will stay that way for a long time.

She is a fascinating character: at first, she seems to fit all the medieval tropes of the Damsel in Distress (she is, after all, a princess) waiting for her knight to rescue her. Worse, that happens to her in all three movies: in A New Hope, Luke and Han rescue her from the Death Star; in The Empire Strikes Back, she is rescued by Lando’s men in Bespin’s Cloud City; finally, in Return of the Jedi, she finds herself in this situation twice, first in Jabba’s palace, and then on Endor when she is separated from the Rebel group.

“Again?!”

Seeing this, it’s easy to understand why, at first glance, Leia’s character wouldn’t strike anyone as a symbol of gender equality in science-fiction. But, let’s look at her a little closer. What is the first thing we learn about Princess Leia?

This scene.

Well, obviously, she is not just a princess; or at least not a very conventional one. Leia is presented to us as a spy, and a successful one too: she has an important mission, and she gets it done, at the cost of her safety and freedom. Her bravery in that scene is a trait that is something more often seen with male characters in similar movies.

On top of being introduced as a brave operative of the Rebellion, Leia’s resistance against Darth Vader shortly after immediately sets the mood: she is a force to be reckoned with. Later, we get more displays of her strength of character: she resists torture by the Empire, and still lies about the location of the Rebel base, even as her home planet is about to literally blown up. Furthermore, we see throughout all three movies that she is a strong, respected leader: displays of her command over her men are frequent.

TheFateofAllFemaleWookieepedians

I’m pretty sure they’re listening. Except the idiot who’s sleeping right there.

Leia’s skills don’t stop at politics and spying. She’s often shown as a very successful fighter (and a good shot).

Princess_Leia_Return_of_the_Jedi_Endor

I wouldn’t mess with her.

Let’s have a closer look at each of the situations where Leia had to be rescued.

  • In A New Hope, after being freed from her cell by Luke and Han (where she looks like she was just waiting in there completely bored, not very much in distress), Leia pretty much takes control of the situation. She is the one who throws everyone in the dumpster. Not Luke or Han, who are just sitting there unsure of what to do: no, Leia takes the blaster, shoots, and pretty much saves everyone’s butt (temporarily, at least).
  • When on Bespin, despite being initially captured by the Empire and saved by Lando’s men, Leia, again, quickly takes control of the situation (with a little help from Chewbacca, I’ll admit). She is the one who saves Luke after his terrible first “Bring Your Son To Work” day.
  • Return of the Jedi’s famous scene in Jabba The Hutt’s palace does not escape this treatment. Let’s not forget that Leia gets captured while rescuing Han – another middle finger to the Damsel in Distress trope. Of course, then Leia ends up in the infamous slave costume we all know (and I still think that was just George Lucas’ pervert side taking advantage of Carrie Fisher requesting new costumes). But then, what happens? Once again, Leia turns the situation around and literally strangles Jabba to death.
SHOW ME YER WARRIOR FACE

SHOW ME YER WARRIOR FACE

What else does that say about Leia? Well, we know that she literally doesn’t take anyone’s shit. Look at all this glorious sass.

tumblr_m6kpc0LavA1rsrbxa

giphy

tumblr_mguh41c66b1qfk87to1_500

Note: if anyone can find the author of these GIFs, so I can credit them, I’d be grateful!

In the end, I think Leia was my first role model. At the age I saw the movies, I was very much a Disney kid: all my princesses were Belle, Aurora, Cinderella-types. While those also have diverse qualities, Leia soon became my favorite princess. And here’s the key: Leia very much is a princess. But she’s also a fighter, a spy, a politician, and a leader. All those traits, usually associated with male characters, don’t make her any less of a princess, or any less of a woman. All at once, they have made her a very powerful, very influential woman in science-fiction.

Mon Mothma

Leia is not the only strong woman depicted in the original trilogy. How could one forget Mon Mothma? Her character, though very briefly seen in Return of the Jedi, is crucial. She is the leader of the Rebel Alliance, and she is seen giving the briefing before the Battle of Endor. Her role is even more important in the extended universe of Star Wars, with her making appearances as the “General Big Boss” in many games and books. Her iconic line “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” has long turned into a meme and ensured that her role in the movie did not get forgotten.

Representation matters. Power to the short brunettes! Ahem.

Representation matters. All power to the short brunettes! Ahem.

I think the most important thing about her is that her gender is never put into question in the movie: she is introduced, much like Leia, as a respected leader with a position important enough to command the entire Alliance.

Again, it’s only a shame that her appearance is so short; it reduces the importance and positivity of her character.

Aunt Beru and the others

Let’s be honest: the other female characters shown in the original movies are probably contributing to the whole “Star Wars is sexist” conclusion. And frankly, I don’t think they could be much worse.

Aunt Beru, the only woman who gets a name aside from Leia and Mon Mothma, is only used as emotional advancement for Luke, along with his uncle. She fits the role of the gentle mother figure who dies to make the male protagonist motivated enough to start his quest – something that is repeated in the prequels. The only thing that softens this up for her is that she dies along with Luke’s uncle, lessening the “Woman In the Refrigerator” trope effect (but don’t worry, we get that *twice* in the prequels! Yay!)

Aside from Beru, what do we have? The dancers in Jabba’s palace, which are your classic female characters in the background, and…the deleted Rebel pilots. Yes, you’ve read correctly: there were initially female X-wing pilots in Return of the Jedi, that is, before George Lucas scratched their parts at the last minute.

Wait, what?!

original

Wait, what?!

Some of them can be seen in the BluRay edition deleted scenes. Which raises the question: why were these scenes deleted at the last moment? Why was the footage not included? And why specifically the scenes including female pilots? Honestly, we may never know, but personally, I’ve got a pretty good idea. Maybe George Lucas offered them to fly in iron bikinis.

Women in the Prequels

That gives us two very positive roles for women in the old trilogy, but a distinct lack of named female characters, two of which were willingly removed from the movies. Mixed feelings, right? What about the prequels?

What we can observe from the prequels is that they are more recent, and there was a visible effort to include more women roles. But are those roles as positive as Leia and Mon Mothma? I’m not so sure. Again, there are only two major female characters in the prequels: Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, and Padmé Amidala. And if we compare these to Leia and Mon Mothma… well. See for yourself.

Shmi Skywalker

While I loved the gentleness and diversity in female personalities that Shmi represented for the Star Wars series, her entire character is a living trope. Her role was not quite as bad during the Phantom Menace, where she was even shown as a selfless, strong mother who put the wellbeing of her child in front of everything else – a common theme in fiction, but new to Star Wars – and was not afraid of living the rest of her life as a slave.

"Oh, sweetheart, of *course* we're going to see each other again. After all, someone has to die in your arms to make you all dark and stuff."

“Oh, sweetheart, of *course* we’re going to see each other again. After all, someone has to die in your arms to make you all dark and stuff.”

Then, Attack of the Clones happens. Shmi then turns into the perfect embodiment of the Woman in the Refrigerator I was mentioning earlier: she is only a reason for Anakin to start turning to the Dark Side. Just like that, we learn that her entire existence, her entire character is only there for Anakin’s character development. Quite frankly, she is not really the positive woman representation I was looking for. What else do we have in the prequels?

Padmé Amidala

Padmé – pardon me, Queen Amidala – started out wonderfully well. She is introduced as a powerful queen, loved by her people, and most importantly, elected. As such, Padmé’s position does not come from only “tradition”: she is a young prodigy who earned her place. Much like Leia, she is shown as a fiery woman and expert politician, with battle skills and a natural talent for leadership.

I remember having a lot more pimples at 14.

I remember having a lot more pimples at 14.

During most of The Phantom Menace, she is portrayed as clever, gentle, and willing to put herself at risk for her people. All very good traits. Still, like Leia, she still very much a woman, and that is a good thing! Women can be strong AND intelligent AND pretty. AND like beautifully crafted costumes. Attack of the Clones, despite what one might think, did not ruin her character right away: we get to see more of her fighting skills, and meet her strong-headed side, the side that refuses to be seduced right away by Anakin as she focuses on her career.

Sadly, that doesn’t last. Quickly, Anakin and Padmé’s romance, unlike Leia and Han’s, becomes central to the story: Padmé is still a strong ally, but that is when we start seeing where the prequels are heading with her.

I mean, let's face it, she was pretty badass in Attack of the Clones.

I mean, let’s face it, she was pretty badass in Attack of the Clones.

I had doubts when I saw the movie, but even then, I still considered her a powerful, positive character. Even during her wedding with Anakin, even though it made little sense. It was certainly saddening to see her relinquish her role as a politician to that of “forbidden love character”. But I don’t think anything could have prepared me for Revenge of the Sith when it comes to her personality.

I mean – what happened? Forget Padmé’s leadership skills, forget her politician background. Revenge of the Sith turns her into a plot hole (because, frankly, why does Leia remember her if she died giving birth to her?) The bridge to the original movies is sealed with her losing all interest as a character: she becomes nothing but Anakin’s character development, much like Shmi. Then again, we kind of all wish Anakin’s character development was actually a development.

WHO wrote this?

I mean, WHO wrote this?

Padmé’s character becomes just terrible in that movie: she does nothing to save herself, or even to help Anakin. She just, literally, sits there during the entire movie waiting to be killed, while Anakin turns to the Dark Side to save her. The worst part of it is probably her “losing the will to live” at the end. Why would she lose the will to live? She is about to give birth to two perfectly healthy children, both of which could have been her only hope to save Anakin and the Jedi Order. Padmé, the Queen who got elected at the age of fourteen, the Senator who fought in a Geonosis arena, decides to simply let go of herself and her children because her lover needs to become Lord Vader by strangling her.

They did what to my character?

They did what to my character?

If you still think that makes sense, feel free to explain it to me. Because all I remember from that is this:

No matter what I do, I can still *hear it*

No matter what I do, I can still *hear it*

In the end, that gave me a very negative view of Padmé. The one character that I thought was going to be as inspiring as Leia turned out to be a plot-hole with no personality by the end of the prequels.

Sidenote: if you really think a politician as experienced and talented as Padmé would have chosen Jar-Jar Binks to represent her at the Senate while she was away, you… no. Just no.

A note on the background women

That said, it would be unfair to forget the other women presented in the prequels. Although none of them get a major role (at the exception, perhaps, of the assassin Zam), there are distinctively more than there were in the original trilogy.

We get to see a few female Jedi, including the librarian in the Jedi Temple. Finally, women with lightsabers! My days of running around the yard calling my dog Chewbacca and pretending to be a Jedi are validated.

jedi-girl

Review_JocastaNuTVC_stillF

female_jedi

Zam Wesell, the shapeshifting assassin in Attack of the Clones, is the first female villain we see in the movies. That fact makes her worth mentioning, and it is indeed nice to see more diverse profiles for female characters.

Zam was pretty cool, when you think about it.

Zam was pretty cool, when you think about it.

Finally, Padmé’s all-female handmaiden crew, one of which dies for her in Attack of the Clones, are in my opinion another interesting female input in the series. It’s a shame they are not developed a little more. Despite the fact that they fit the traditional handmaiden mold, their devotion and courage to their queen sets them a little above that trope.

I think we’re done with the women that show up in the prequels. Not a very good score, either.

So, is Star Wars sexist?

With all that’s been said, I think it’s fair to say that Star Wars could use a few more women roles. It would have been nice to see more relevant female Jedi who get more than just a death scene (I’m looking at you, Aayla Secura), it would have been nice to see those female X-wing pilots included in the original movie. And, while I’m at it, why not show female Imperial officers?

The extended universe took on all of that. The contrast is stunning: the games, books and comics are filled with example of very diverse female characters. We have villains, Sith, Jedi, Imperials, pilots and bounty hunters of various races, whose gender is rarely ever called into question. When it comes to the representation, the extended universe certainly wins.

However, I don’t think we can say that the movies are doing so bad: both the original trilogy and the prequels showed strong women in positions of power. But that is where the prequels fail at having an impact as important as the original: Leia and Mon Mothma’s influence was never defined by their gender, and the romance in the original trilogy was only a side plot. In the prequels, while there are more women in the background, the romance is completely central to the plot, obfuscating the genderless qualities of Padmé. Worse, both of the major female characters are character development material for Anakin. As always, we are brought to the final conclusion that the original trilogy is better than the prequels.

Yes, I just went there.

Yes, I just went there.

In all seriousness: yes, the original trilogy definitely lacked women. But the positive representation that Leia generated by herself, with her personality, power, and story, had such an impact on the viewers that I think it’s still fair to call her a feminist heroine.

In any case, I can finally call her my favorite Disney princess.

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post come from US Army officer Jon Jeckell, who studies complex adaptations to war and has been analyzing science fiction since the days of usenet. Here he continues a series of posts on the Jedi role in warfare during different periods in the Star Wars universe.

In the first post in this series, The Jedi Way of War, we looked at the tragic entangled fall of both the Jedi Order and the Old Republic. This study further explores the role of Jedi in warfare and society, focusing on the Jedi restoration and role in the Rebellion and New Republic.

Previously we discussed how the Jedi were a uniquely poor choice to serve as leaders of an Army because their order’s particular values and rare abilities ironically proved to be fatal disabilities in that role.  How did the surviving embers of the once powerful beacon of the Force rekindle itself?

First, let’s look at what the surviving Jedi did.  Obi-Wan Kenobi went into hiding under the clever alias of “Ben” Kenobi and watched over the promising scion of one of the most powerful, albeit flawed, Jedi ever until he came of age.  Before fall of the Jedi Order, they sought out and trained promising candidates throughout the galaxy.  Certainly births of other force-adepts throughout the galaxy didn’t suddenly cease with the rise of Palpatine, so why didn’t Obi-Wan or Yoda seek out and train other Jedi, rather than wait for him to come of age?  Why did they wait until he was much older than the Jedi had previously begun before training Luke?  Why not secretly recruit and train force-adept candidates and participate in the Rebellion against the Empire?  Couldn’t they have saved countless lives had they done something earlier?

Accounts of events vary between Anakin Skywalker’s fall and transfiguration into Darth Vader and when the Emperor dissolved the Imperial Senate, but we know the Jedi and several other entities (such as the Wookiees) had irreconcilable differences with the new management.  The vast majority of the population probably accepted the change given the sudden onset of peace in the galaxy after the downfall of the Jedi, enhanced by the formidable Sith powers of deception and heavy doses of commitment bias by everyone who supported all the measures that wrought Palpatine’s rise to power. The devastation of the Clone Wars tainted the Jedi and everything else associated it, doubtlessly with the help of Imperial propaganda.  Popular contempt towards droids, Jedi and all else reminding them of the Clone Wars pervaded the era following the Clone Wars (Episodes IV-VI).  Although Luke’s Uncle Owen feigned ignorance of the reclusive and obscure “Ben” Kenobi’s Jedi status, he was clearly dismissive of him, as was Han Solo.

Is this dude for realz?

Is this dude for realz?

A senior Imperial Navy officer also boldly demonstrated his contempt for the Jedi to Darth Vader aboard the Death Star.  The surviving Jedi had to remain hidden from everyone, not just government officials, who in many cases did not need to coerce citizens into reporting them.  Finding new pupils to restore the Jedi Order was too risky with the whole galaxy potentially against them, and could actually be counterproductive.  Although no records exist to substantiate this theory, the Emperor would have made it a priority to have agents locate and kill, co-opt, or closely monitor all the force-adepts he could find to prevent rivals that would matter from arising.

Only Jedi that choked the shit out of their critics got any respect

Only Jedi that choked the shit out of their critics got any respect

But were Yoda and Obi-Wan prepared to allow the Jedi Order to go extinct forever with them, or how would they know when the time was right to begin training new Jedi?  Yoda assuredly used the force as a guide, but there were also social, economic, and political forces that drove the process within their lifetime.  Many rebellions begin within a generation of the creation of a new order before they can consolidate power.[1]  Dictators like Palpatine wish to maximize the benefits of their work and secure themselves against rivals. It would not take long for discontent with the regime to settle in and support for the Rebellion to build beyond fringe elements.[2]  With popular sentiments favoring the new Empire, the risk of having either of the two known remaining trained Jedi in the galaxy venture out to recruit outweighed any benefits and further substantiated the Emperor’s claims that they had tried to seize power for themselves. Some, like Bail Organa, Senator from Alderaan, doubtlessly hoped to achieve meaningful reforms from within the government prior to the Emperor’s complete seizure of power.  Any raids or direct action against the Empire could only further discredit them.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Well, that escalated quickly.

But in consolidating power, he also destroyed the economy and disrupted government services.  A dictator’s first duty is to maintain the circle of people who keep him in power (and keep that number to a minimum).[3]  In centralizing power, he clamped down on local autonomy and decentralized coordination, and lost the ability to respond to local conditions.  Centralized, planned economies and governments face the knowledge coordination problem, which inevitably crashes the economy and political system.[4]  Charm had reached its limits, as had sheer force of will of the most dedicated bureaucrats because of the impossibility of predicting and satisfying the myriad local needs while retaining a monopoly of power.  Even his most loyal and well-meaning officials could do nothing to stop the downward spiral. Social capital reached the tipping point where cooperation catastrophically broke down.  Han Solo’s desertion from the Imperial Navy to take up smuggling after becoming disillusioned is emblematic of both the malaise within the government and the terrible state of the economy.  Lando Calrissian’s plight with Bespin also showed how difficult it became to maintain an honest business.  Corruption ran rampant across the Empire as patronage networks, both intentional (to prevent the rise of rivals) and unintentional emerged from the systematic breakdown of trust.  As the economy spiraled, the Empire needed to relentlessly increase the amount of coercion it employed to extract the resources needed to keep the Emperor in power.  Dissolving the Imperial Senate and appointing governors to take care of local matters is symptomatic of this devolution, as is the creation of the Death Star.  The dispersed nature of the galactic economic system, low population density, and widespread availability of hyperspace capable craft made capturing the populace and imposing extractive institutions extremely difficult.[5]

Alderaan, Libertarian paradise, destroyed for insisting on government accountability

Alderaan, Libertarian paradise, destroyed for insisting on government accountability

Several other factors were favorable to rise of the Rebel Alliance.  First, a very significant portion of the key participants were born after the Clone Wars (Luke and Leia’s birth coincided with the end of the war) or were too young to remember the horror and hardship their parents experienced.  While this led them to make some mistakes combat veterans would not have, it also gave them a fresh perspective on warfare which helped them avoid playing to the Empire’s strengths.[6]

The founders of the Rebellion maintained a high degree of asabiya and were able to create inclusive institutions that formed a new basis for cooperation.  The early Rebellion seems to have originally been comprised mostly of humans from the frontier between the Core and the Rim, with a narrow ethnic composition.  However, it absorbed a very diverse range of ethnicities and species while maintaining a high degree of trust, cooperation, and unity.  It was tightly integrated and egalitarian vertically across the social spectrum from the beginning.[7]  High social status members took on at least their share of the risk, if not more, and the group displayed an amazing degree of social mobility.  While Han Solo’s meteoric rise could cynically be explained as favoritism, Lando Calrissian and several others also rose to the rank of General rapidly.

Trust and cohesion in the Rebel Alliance is critical in many ways.  It allowed them to operate together in dispersed groups toward common goals, develop specialties, efficiently scale up their ranks, solve complex problems, and learn as an organization.  Centralized and hierarchal rebel groups are vulnerable to decapitation by rivals if they don’t have a safe haven, but groups with a safe haven that centralize their organization enjoy these decisive advantages.[8]  Hyperspace capable ships and resilient networks allowed the Rebellion to hide in unpopulated areas to avoid decapitation.  The centralization process is particularly critical for after victory to prevent cycles of factional infighting.

Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa may have played a key role in quietly fortifying trust within the Rebel Alliance and later in the New Republic, promoting an atmosphere of security and trust that allowed the vast array of participants with disparate aims to reconcile them peacefully and remain part of a cohesive organization.[9]

Prior to the Clone Wars, the Jedi were an extra-governmental institution universally trusted for their selflessness, fairness and impartiality.  This is why the Jedi looked upon attachments to the worldly as dangerous: forsaking the material world insulated them from the perception of ulterior motives.  They were frequently called in to arbitrate disputes and reconcile quarreling parties.  During the Clone Wars they were coaxed into becoming Generals leading vast armies which distracted them from this role and prevented them from seeing the situation clearly and impartially.  Some of those who noticed incongruence within the situation and the outcomes they achieved were much more effective in using their skills investigating their suspicions as commandoes and pilots.  However, this was insufficient to prevent the downfall of the Republic and the Jedi Order.

But once the Empire was unmasked  as a brutal dictatorship, and Obi-Wan was revealed to Luke as a Jedi Knight and General of the Army of the Republic, he immediately took Luke to Alderaan while tentatively providing the most rudimentary of training, rather than shipping him straight to Yoda to begin an accelerated training program.  Obi-Wan had reverted to commando raids again.

Luke demonstrated superb natural talent as a fighter pilot and with a blaster, but not vastly out of proportion to others like Wedge or Han Solo, even after he received training on using his abilities.  Early on, Luke followed Obi-Wan’s example by using his considerable talent to perform critical, albeit insufficient tasks, like Leia’s rescue mission, destroying the first Death Star, and rescuing Han Solo from Jabba’s Palace.  His raid to free Han Solo at Bespin was a disaster, however, and the strategy behind these raids evolved considerably as he learned, culminating in his bid to “rescue” his father, Anakin Skywalker.  However, as a pilot, Luke never commanded anything larger than a fighter squadron.  All of his friends and colleagues (who survived) became Generals or rose to high-level political positions, but his formal rank remained Commander.

You forgot to salute me again, kid!

You forgot to salute me again, kid!

Yoda understood the critical need for force generation, but also encouraged raids once he deemed him ready to face the challenge.  Much of Yoda and Obi-Wan’s training seemed to center on learning by testing out interactions with the environment, remaining calm, and building confidence rather than eldritch powers and arcane wisdom.  Leaving him this way forced him to reflect and start fresh, shedding the corruption that struck down the generation of Jedi present during the fall of the Order.

While the Rebellion had many political, economic and social factors in its favor without resorting to supernatural explanations, Jedi powers seem to work best in enhancing cooperation and minimizing destructive conflict.  Leia was a key leader in the Rebel Alliance from the beginning and repeatedly demonstrated her latent ability to stimulate cooperation.  Luke began to rebuild the order as a universally trusted, impartial institution, containing calm, reflective, wise and objective mediators who could increase the benefits and safety of collaboration.  Widespread respect for their superb fighting ability in conjunction with confidence in their patience and restraint vastly increases the risks and costs to an attacker, while reducing the benefits achievable through violence or unfair dealings.  Note the disdain the Jedi have for offensive weaponry. The Jedi can intercede to impose negative feedback in a conflict to tamp things back down under control and restore cooperation rather than escalating them.  A security negotiating environment, as well as the Jedi ability to sense deception, makes both participants more confident, rational, and amenable to mutually beneficial outcomes.  Mutually beneficial outcomes are much less costly to enforce, and build further confidence for future interactions.[10]

Finally, while Palpatine’s centralized command structure catastrophically disintegrated upon his death, the death of a Jedi somehow only seems to imbue all of their friends and allies with renewed inner strength and resolve.  When Darth Vader cut Obi-Wan down on the Death Star, Luke sequentially shot Stormtroopers in the face with single shots in rapid succession…with a pistol…from a standing position…at 200+ meters away[11].  Perhaps this phenomenon is due to some kind of recondite transference of the force, but the Jedi also continuously expose those around them to their values, habits of remaining calm under pressure, and fighting for cause higher than themselves.

Although Jedi consider blasters to be an uncivilized weapon, Luke (and Leia) are pretty damned good with them

Although Jedi consider blasters to be an uncivilized weapon, Luke (and Leia) are pretty damned good with them.

[1] The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita and Alastair Smith. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11612989-the-dictator-s-handbook  Look at the revolutionary/counterrevolutionary cycles of violence and purges in the French Revolution(s), the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Civil War, the Iranian Revolution, and the Afghan Civil War.  Contrast with groups where power remained diffuse among the members of the group while remaining unified in their goals, such as the English Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution, and the New Republic.

[2] The crawler at the beginning of A New Hope alluded to a number of unsuccessful attacks, but the Rebellion had begun to gain political momentum and had achieved their first success: seizing the plans for the Death Star.

[3] The Dictator’s Handbook

[4] Pg 422 Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22456.Origin_of_Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker

[5] Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12158480-why-nations-fail by Daron Acemoğlu, James Robinson contrasts inclusive institutions that bring general prosperity and political participation hand-in-hand with extractive institutions that are used by elites to harvest wealth for themselves.

[6] Spencer Ackerman (aka Attackerman) criticized the performance of both sides in the Battle of Hoth in this Wired Magazine article “The Empire Strikes Out,” http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/battle-of-hoth/ .  However, the Rebel strategy and choice of location changed the rules of the game and complicated the playing field, increasing the role of luck in the outcome at the expense of Empire’s greater access to skills and resources.  Michael J. Mauboussin  provides insights into strategies an underdog can employ overcome a more powerful foe in Chapter 9 of The Success Equation https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13586925-the-success-equation.

[7] Peter Turchin developed a model explained in War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18246.War_and_Peace_and_War that describes secular cycles for the rise and fall of empires.  At least two of his “secular cycles” were present in the rise of the Rebellion—the generational distance from the last war, and the rise of a new power on the frontier, not the core, of the old empire, facilitated by the pressures to unify.  States, Ideologies, and Social Revolutions https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/282117.States_Ideologies_and_Social_Revolutions contains a set of studies demonstrating that peasant uprisings normally fail unless the middle class joins them, and highlights the role of religious institutions outside of the government.

[9] Other studies have questioned whether the Galactic Order would disintegrate as local groups opt for independence and secede rather than accept the return of the New Republic.  The Realpolitik answer lies with the state of military technology.  Spacecraft are free from most constraints that limit economy of scale, as the Death Stars and Super Star Destroyers demonstrated, crossing the threshold of overwhelming even planetary scale defenses. This favors political centralization.  Studies questioning the benefits of scaling interpret the single case of the Empire’s flawed implementation as a general rule and cite the success of smaller Rebel ships and fighters. However, such ships could carry commensurately larger compliments of better quality fighter groups and escorts, and not necessarily rely upon a single monolithic system.  These ships obviously require vast of resources to build and operate so larger, wealthier groups with the ability to call upon a wider and more diverse network of cooperation provides decisive advantages.  Even if the benign elements of the Rebellion refrained from using force to maintain union in the galaxy, balancing participation with local autonomy provides clear economic and political advantages inherent in the scale and diversity of a vibrant cosmopolitan galactic network.  This is akin to the military, political, and economic developments revolving around the evolution of the cannon in medieval Europe, which allowed centralization by overwhelming the fortresses of smaller political units.  Although new fortress technology evolved to counter the cannon, costs prohibited all but the most wealthy from affording it, such as centralized state powers.  Eventually artillery made fortress technology obsolete.

[10] Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive by Bruce Schneier https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12046245-liars-and-outliers

[11] Likewise, Obi-Wan suddenly overcame Darth Maul after Qui-Gonn Jinn died. Leia and Han are also superb shots with a pistol too. Observe for yourself how many one-shot hits they achieve at very long distances. Note that the U.S. Army considers anyone who can hit 26 or more out of 30 shots varying from 10 to 31 meters. The maximum effective range of the US military’s 9mm Beretta pistol is 50 meters, meaning the average shooter will hit 50% of the time at that range.

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.”

Ender’s Shadow and Offense-Defense Theory

Posted: November 1, 2013 by blogtarkin in Uncategorized

Seth Green is in his first year of a political science PhD at Columbia, focusing on International Relations.

map of citadel of Lille, designed by Vauban

map of citadel of Lille, designed by Vauban

“Ender’s Shadow” is a 1997 novel by Orson Scott Card, set in the same universe and roughly same time period as his more well-known “Ender’s Game.” “Shadow” centers on a child named Bean, a minor character in “Game,” fleshing out his backstory and trajectory. The setting is a future in which Earth was devastated two centuries prior by an attack from an alien race known as Buggers. Humanity won the war, and then set up an International Fleet to keep peace between states, coordinate future anti-Bugger action, and train the best and brightest children of the world to be military commanders in an off-planet installation known as Battle School, where most of both “Game” and “Shadow” take place.

Bean is a genetically altered, preternaturally intelligent Battle School cadet who started life as a street urchin, and he is quite different from the other children. His genetic gifts enable him to breeze through classes, and so he spends much of his time reading classic military theory and spying on teachers. Eventually one of them goes to talk to Bean about his reading activities:

“”I’ve been looking at your reading list,” said Dimak. “Vauban?”

“Yes?”

“Fortification engineering from the time of Louis the Fourteenth?” Bean nodded. He thought back to Vauban and how his strategies had adapted to fit Louis’s ever-more-straitened finances… He started to talk about this, but Dimak cut him off.

“Come on, Bean. Why are you studying a subject that has nothing to do with war in space?”…

“Well of course fortifications are impossible in space,” said Bean. “In the traditional sense, that is. But there are things you can do. Like his mini-fortresses, where you leave a sallying force outside the main fortification. You can station squads of ships to intercept raiders. And there are barriers you can put up. Mines. Fields of flotsam to cause collisions with fast-moving ships, holing them. That sort of thing.” Dimak nodded, but said nothing. Bean was beginning to warm to the discussion.

“The real problem is that unlike Vauban, we have only one strong point worth defending — Earth. And the enemy is not limited to a primary direction of approach. He could come from anywhere. From anywhere all at once. So we run into the classic problem of defense, cubed. The farther out you deploy your defenses, the more of them you have to have, and if your resources are limited, you soon have more fortifications than you can man. What good are bases on moons Jupiter or Saturn or Neptune, when the enemy doesn’t even have to come in on the plane of the ecliptic? He can bypass all our fortifications. The way Nimitz and MacArthur used two- dimensional island-hopping against the defense in depth of the Japanese in World War II. Only our enemy can work in three dimensions. Therefore we cannot possibly maintain defense in depth. Our only defense is early detection and a single massed force… [E]ven that was a recipe for disaster, because the enemy is free to divide his forces. So even if we intercept and defeat ninety-nine of a hundred attacking squadrons, he only has to get one squadron through to cause terrible devastation on Earth. We saw how much territory a single ship could scour when they first showed up and started burning over China. Get ten ships to Earth for a single day — and if they spread us out enough, they’d have a lot more than a day! — and they could wipe out most of our main population centers. All our eggs are in that one basket.”

“And all this you got from Vauban,” said Dimak.

Finally. That was apparently enough to satisfy him. “From thinking about Vauban, and how much harder our defensive problem is.”

“So,” said Dimak, “what’s your solution?”

…”I don’t think there is a solution,” said Bean, buying time again. But then, having said it, he began to believe it. “There’s no point in trying to defend Earth at all. In fact, unless they have some defensive device we don’t know about, like some way of putting an invisible shield around a planet or something, the enemy is just as vulnerable. So the only strategy that makes any sense at all is an all-out attack. To send our fleet against *their* home world and destroy it.”

“What if our fleets pass in the night?” asked Dimak. “We destroy each other’s worlds and all we have left are ships?”

“No,” said Bean, his mind racing. “Not if we sent out a fleet immediately after the Second Bugger War. After Mazer Rackham’s strike force defeated them, it would take time for word of their defeat to come back to them. So we build a fleet as quickly as possible and launch it against their home world immediately. That way the news of their defeat reaches them at the same time as our devastating counterattack.”

Dimak closed his eyes. “Now you tell us.”

“No,” said Bean, as it dawned on him that he was right about everything. “That fleet was already sent. Before anybody on this station was born, that fleet was launched.”

“Interesting theory,” said Dimak. “Of course you’ re wrong on every point.” “No I’m not,” said Bean. He knew he wasn’t wrong, because Dimak’s air of calm was not holding. Sweat was standing out on his forehead. Bean had hit on something really important here, and Dimak knew it.”(1)

(SPOILER ALERT)If you’ve read Ender’s Game, you know that Bean has just deduced, from a text on fortification, perhaps the central plot twist of the companion text. (END SPOILER)

Wormhole travel as envisioned by Les Bossinas for NASA

Wormhole travel as envisioned by Les Bossinas for NASA

He has also provided a neat illustration of the International Relations concept known as Offense-Defense Theory. Offense Defense Theory’s central tenet is that certain technologies, and certain static features, like terrain, are more or less amenable to offensive or defensive war, and so have an influence on whether states are more or less likely to pursue aggressive war. As a simple example, tanks are an offensive weapon, and anti-tank missiles are a defensive weapon; if tanks were generally stronger and more sophisticated than their counterpart, you’d expect more offensive war.* As Robert Jervis puts it,

“when defensive weapons differ from offensive ones, it is possible for a state to make itself more secure without making others less secure…When we say that the offense has the advantage, we simply mean that it is easier to destroy the other’s army and take its territory than to defend one’s own…The security dilemma is at its most vicious when commitments, strategy, or technology dictate that the only route to security lies through expansion.” (2)

What Bean has figured out is that all bets are off when it comes to defending a whole planet; absent a giant invisible force field, we just can’t defend a three dimensional space effectively with the weapons we have. This suggests is that, given our current technology, if we encounter an alien race and we don’t know their intentions towards us, it’s in our strong interest to strike first and decisively (the ability to do so is the virtue most praised in “Ender’s Game”). This is another way of stating the core position of the IR perspective known as offensive realism; as John Mearsheimer puts it, “Uncertainty about the intentions of other states is unavoidable, which means that states can never be sure that other states do not have offensive intentions to go along with their offensive capabilities.” (3)

So if we ever encounter an alien race in our lifetimes, and immediately go to war with them, just know that Orson Scott Card called it.

* Offense Defense Theory isn’t bulletproof. Trenches are fundamentally defense oriented, and yet states still jumped into World War I aggressively. One potential important qualification is that just as important as whether technology skews offensively or defensively is how states *perceive* that skew.

~~~

1 Orson Scott Card. “Ender’s Shadow.” “Tor Books; US, 1999; p 108-112

2 Roert Jervis. “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma.” World Politics, Cambridge MA, Vol. 30, No. 2(Jan 1978), p 186-187

3 quoted within http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_dilemma