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Sci-Fi The Military

Sci-Fi Author Joe Haldeman On the Future of War 241

merbs writes: Joe Haldeman wrote what is hailed by many as the best military science fiction novel ever written, 1974's The Forever War. In this interview, Haldeman discusses what's changed since he wrote his book, what hasn't, and what the future of war will really look like. Vice reports: "...The Vietnam War may have ended decades ago, but our military adventuring hasn’t. Our moment can somehow feel simultaneously like a crossroads for the technological future of combat and another arbitrary point on its dully predictable, incessantly conflict-laden trajectory. We’re relying more on drones and proxy soldiers to fight our far-off wars, in theaters far from the conscionable grasp of homelands, we’re automating robotics for the battlefield, and we’re moving our tactics online—so it seems like an opportune time to check in with science fiction’s most prescient author of military fiction."
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Sci-Fi Author Joe Haldeman On the Future of War

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  • I've always said (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @09:02PM (#50571453)
    If we aren't killing people, what the hell is the point of war?

    It sounds crass and nasty. But if we have manned engines of war fighting other unmanned enginnes of war, there is no point.

    Because everyone else will catch up. It won't always be unmanned on people, all will eventually have dronish devices.

    Be cheaper to run simulations and the best one wins.

    • War with no killing is called Diplomacy.
      • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @10:34PM (#50571823)
        War with no battles is Diplomacy. There are still casualties.
    • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @09:24PM (#50571559)

      Giant robots fighting giant robots is its own reward.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Obviously you've never seen Robot Jox.

        I have a movie poster of it hanging in my video room. I have it for the same reason that one of the senior execs at Cadillac has a picture of the Cimmaron hanging in his office, lest we forget...
      • Well Said :-)

      • With deference to TWX above, I think you mean "giant robots punching giant aliens is its own reward".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      War is not about killing people, it's about making the other side yield to your wishes. In fact it's better to injure the other guy because he then must expend resources to rescue and recuperate a wounded. All war is economic.
      • War is not about killing people

        The fact that we had daily body counts in Vietnam kinda argues against that.

        Plus you seem to be arguing that humans don't enjoy killing each other? It's what we do best.

        • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @11:29PM (#50571995) Journal

          The fact that we had daily body counts in Vietnam kinda argues against that.

          No, that just shows that journalists needed something to talk about. Regularly reported body counts weren't driven by the military, they were ordered by politicians pandering to the media.

          • The fact that we had daily body counts in Vietnam kinda argues against that.

            No, that just shows that journalists needed something to talk about. Regularly reported body counts weren't driven by the military, they were ordered by politicians pandering to the media.

            Hard to argue when you use the same points I would use to prove my point. Your thesis is that Americans didn't want those body counts, and they were forced upon us?

            I was pretty young at the time, but a lot of people I talked to at the time could recite the body counts at will, and took them as proof we were "putting it to those "gooks"". Sorry, some of the folks down at the legion talked that way.

            Hell, we even baited the VC by taking an area killing off a whole bunch, then moving off to let them come

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          Plus you seem to be arguing that humans don't enjoy killing each other? It's what we do best.

          Uh, no, it's not. I don't believe there's any other predator that can live with so little violence with the kind of population densities humans manage in our cities. That's why we took over the planet.

          • Plus you seem to be arguing that humans don't enjoy killing each other? It's what we do best.

            Uh, no, it's not. I don't believe there's any other predator that can live with so little violence with the kind of population densities humans manage in our cities. That's why we took over the planet.

            Did you see my list of American wars of the 20th century?

            • by mjm1231 ( 751545 )

              Plus you seem to be arguing that humans don't enjoy killing each other? It's what we do best.

              A world population that has doubled in my lifetime says there must be at least one thing we do better.

              Did you see my list of American wars of the 20th century?

              List away. The percentage of human deaths which were a result of violence was lower in the 20th century than in any century prior.

    • The point of war without killing people is identical to the point of war with killing people. You are pitting the industrial might and resources of 1 side vs another. If people aren't dying it just means that resource is no longer critical to the outcome (at least not directly).

      That said any symmetrical war will result in the killing of people on both sides as an objective. Kill the people and they won't be building or controlling the drones.

      • The point of war without killing people is identical to the point of war with killing people.

        Do not agree at all. While there are different "reasons" given all the time, the unassailble fact that humanity is in everlasting war means either we are doing what we like to do (my thesis) or we are the very definition of masochists, forever drawn to something we hate to do.

        I'm certain that once we achieve symmetry to the point of machines killing machines, we'll quickly figure out a new reason and way to kill each other.

    • If we aren't killing people, what the hell is the point of war?

      war is nothing more than a spat between leaders who don't have the social skills to work out their differences, they force their citizens to participate.

      Another alternative would be hand-to-hand combat between the leaders themselves. It sounds grotesque but it's far more civilized than dragging the populations into it.

      • yeah but you do that and we will start electing wwe wrestlers and no one wants that.
        hell they are probably the only people other than rappers that would be worse that the politicians we already have

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      If we aren't killing people, what the hell is the point of war?

      Keeping other people away from the stuff we want them to leave alone or we want to grab. War for the sake of killing people alone is almost always "ethnic cleansing".

      • by Boronx ( 228853 )

        And usually ethnic cleansing is for the same reason. "They're on our land." or "We want their women." See the book of Joshua for a good example.

    • Wasn't that a Star Trek episode?

    • If we aren't killing people, what the hell is the point of war?

      Destruction of enemy's infrastructure? Disruption of another country's economy for political (or economic/mercenary reasons)? This could still be achieved with fully automated combatants on both sides since the cost of doing so (an arms race) also has an economic impact (remember the cost of Reagan's Star Wars on the Soviet Union.)

      Be cheaper to run simulations and the best one wins.

      I think I saw/read a Sci-Fi story just like that (the name is on the tip of the tongue, but I cannot remember).

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @09:36PM (#50571615)

    Michael Moore "Where to invade next?"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @10:22PM (#50571793) Homepage Journal

      Michael Moore "Where to invade next?"

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      I really like controversial movies that make a statement, even ridiculous or logically flawed ones. They are a springboard for debate and discussion, and even the bad ones can help clarify our thoughts. Exactly *where* is his argument wrong? And so on. ...but they have to be sincere and truthful.

      Michael Moore edited and remixed dialog in "Bowling for Columbine" so that people appeared to say things that they didn't actually say. It was done so badly and so blatantly (ie - it's so blatant and pervasive that he can't claim it was accidental), that he lost all credibility.

      It's really a shame. I like his earlier works, and Columbine was a ripe subject for political statement, but you just can't gin up a fight by putting words in people's mouths.

      You have to show what they *really* said, and in enough context so that their intended meaning comes through.

      Sadly, I don't watch Michael Moore works any more. You just can't trust him.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Do you have citations for this? I'm not trying to be snarky here; this is a genuine question. I watched Bowling for Columbine about half a life-time ago and didn't pick up on any of that; I would be interested to see if it is the case, but not so interested as to acquire and rewatch the entire movie looking for bad editing.

        • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @11:34PM (#50572027) Homepage Journal

          Do you have citations for this? I'm not trying to be snarky here; this is a genuine question. I watched Bowling for Columbine about half a life-time ago and didn't pick up on any of that; I would be interested to see if it is the case, but not so interested as to acquire and rewatch the entire movie looking for bad editing.

          For the record, I snark at people who are snarky. Honest questions and differences of opinion that *don't* cast personal aspersions are warmly welcomed.

          I apologize, I actually thought this was well known.

          There are lots of dissections of the film on the net, but the clearest one I read at the time posted Charleton Heston's speech side-by-side with the video dialog. It's available here [hardylaw.net].

          Specifically, Moore cuts and pastes quotes from two of Heston's speeches together, giving the impression that he said both of them in the speech immediately after Columbine. Heston has lavender shirt/tie in one speecn, and white shirt/red tie in another. Moore covers this with a cut scene of a billboard between the video clips, while the narration is seamless.

          More specifically, the "cold dead hands" quote from Heston was not made at the speech after Columbine. By seamlessly editing that quote into the supposed speech, he paints Heston as heartless and uncaring.

          And as a further note, and I'm doing this from memory of the movie, Moore asks a lot of the convention holders whether they should have cancelled the event out of respect for the Columbine shooters. He gives the distinct impression that the convention was held in callous disregard for the feelings of the affected Columbine families.

          In point of fact, *this* is what Heston (NRA president) actually said in that speech:

          I also want to applaud your courage in coming here today. Or course, you have a right to be here. As you know, we've cancelled the festivities, the fellowship we normally enjoy at our annual gatherings. This decision has perplexed a few and inconvenienced thousands. As your president, I apologize for that.

          But it's fitting and proper that we should do this. Because NRA members are, above all, Americans. That means that whatever our differences, we are respectful of one another and we stand united, especially in adversity.

          And I remember personally, while seeing the movie, noting that the convention (Charlotte, NC) was around 1,500 miles, from Columbine, and wondering how far away does something have to be to not cancel a convention.

          Google for Bowling for Columbine Truth [hardylaw.net] and such like, there's lots of expose's about it.

          Moore was simply going for emotional appeal, and lost his integrity doing it.

          • Charlotte was where Heston was when he made the "cold dead hands" quote, hence my confusion while viewing the movie.

            The convention was actually in Denver, and this was stated in the movie, but I picked up on the Heston quote rather than the voiceover.

            This wasn't clear in my response above, but it still raises the question:

            How long is appropriate to wait, and how far away is far enough?

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )

            More specifically, the "cold dead hands" quote from Heston was not made at the speech after Columbine

            With respect, Heston was famous/infamous for that quote before the movie so anyone that did not know that before watching it on first release was living under a rock - I think it he was even quoted on the Simpsons long before Columbine. It's obvious that he's got footage from several appearances of Heston from previous years, he's noticably younger, and there is really nothing to suggest that the viewer is

          • I'd better add - remember the guy got into film with "Roger and Me" to tell his personal story and how the car industry decline fit into it. He's an activist that makes films and not a traditional documentary maker. It's a polemic not something going into depth about a topic. Despite that he's still far more trustworthy than many in politics, but do not forget that he is also in politics, so holding him to the same standard as a journalist is a bit strange.
          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            I checked your links, but what Moore did seems like reasonable editing for a film. He wasn't trying to imply that the two speeches were the same one, and didn't alter the meaning of what was said. At worst it's a little badly edited and cut down for brevity in a film that is trying to make a point, not provide a platform for some kind of debate.

            I see few other posters have piled in with ad-hominems, but very little criticism of the movie. At most it seems to focus on a few minor points that don't really aff

      • by I'm New Around Here ( 1154723 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @10:51PM (#50571887)

        To add to this, he made a movie against evil capitalism, yet lived in a large mansion in a whites only gated community, and had all the post-production work done in Canada because it's cheaper there.

        He is a sham, and there is nothing he says that has any value anymore.

  • Tom Kratman and David Drake have written superb stories, which explore why we have wars. Drake especially explains that when we have nothing to fight over, nothing to fight for, we'll make the stupidest excuses to fight. As Haldeman says, "We live in an unstable and dangerous environment, and we like it. We don’t want to change it."

  • it just goes and on. mission creep isn't just a problem, it is the essence of the mission

    what it really is is law enforcement

    in a way there is a "war on murder" and a "war on rape" that will never end and never be won, so it is with terrorism

    of course, that's law enforcement: it's never about ending the problem, it's about keeping the cockroaches in check

    the problem with the conflicts of today is who is enforcing the law. ideally the law should be the states where the cockroaches congregate. but those states are broken and helpless. in fact, that is why the cockroaches congregate there. so we have to go in and enforce, because otherwise the cockroaches breed, proliferate, then take the battle to our shores. it's either drone strike a shitbag in yemen, or take him down in manhattan. those are our choices

    so you think about tactics. the best approach. and the best approach is to strengthen and stabilize these broken states. give the cockroaches no place to breed

    i didn't say that was easy. but at least that game has metrics and a finite scope. a huge, difficult scope, but finite

    as opposed to open ended forever mission creep

    education, infrastructure, good governance, security. expensive, long term, beset with setbacks, grey areas, and uncertainty

    yet better than just endlessly drone striking jihadi dirtbags in the sand forever. that will never end unless we stop the conditions that breed them

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      it's not really that way in practice.

      in most places USA is involved there was essentially just a coin flip about what side to support - extremists of one tribe or extremists of another tribe. and then after the coin flip is done USA will act as a provider of hellfire strikes done on dubious reasons at times(basically trusting intel from the side USA chose as ally).

      also, if it was about being police or upholding the law then there would need to be at least an attempt at trying to arrest the perps, which does

      • This is pretty much what Eisenhower was talking about. It doesn't really matter what side we're on as long as we're selling them the weapons, bonus points for selling to both sides.

  • Imagine if you had a robot bounty hunter that could capture any person safely and bring them to court at the UN. You wouldn't need war at all. If you could capture Bin Laden and bring to trial no afghan war. If they were tough enough you wouldn't even need offensive weapons. The only reason you need to kill is to protect your life.

  • by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Monday September 21, 2015 @11:30PM (#50572001)

    "A War For The Ratings" by Joe Haldeman

    We used to finish dinner early; run to the TV
    So's not to miss the footage of the war on NBC --
    Then switch our sets to CBS, watch Walter Cronkite say
    "Now let's see what happened in Viet Nam today."

    The sound of spinning chopper blades it made our pulses race;
    The flames of burning villages brought smiles to our face;
    The smoking ash, the napalm splash, the rattle of M-16's --
    The tanks and bombs and planes and guns and other great machines

    So come on Mr. President, let's draft a million more
    And kindly ask the Arabs if they'd like to fight a war.
    Another fifty thousand dead, that's not too much to pay
    To have a war on Channel Four at seven every day.

    The news on television now is really pretty pale;
    Who wants to see another politician go to jail?
    Or specials on pollution, or inflation, or VD --
    They just don't give the public what it really wants to see.

    My heart leaps up when I behold a bomber in the sky;
    I love to watch the bad guys as they fall and bleed and die.
    I thrill to see our soldiers kill the other boys in green --
    You can almost smell the smoke and blood a-comin' from the screen.

    So rally round the flag, boys, let's draft a million more
    To go and grease the Middle East, to start another war.
    Another fifty thousand dead, that's not too much to pay
    To have a war on Channel Four at seven every day.

    Someday soon I hope to tune the news on NBC
    And see that old Khomeini's ass a-hangin' from a tree;
    On Sixty Minutes watch our soldiers slogging through the mud
    And see the streets of ancient cities run with Arab blood.

    And if the Russians raise a stink and holler "Vietnam!"
    Well, what the hell, they'd never have the guts to use the Bomb.
    (At least I hope they wouldn't, 'cause they tell me this is so:
    That radiation fills your TV picture full of snow.)

    But come on, boys, let's make some noise, and draft a million more --
    The price of gas alone's enough to start a Persian war.
    Sponsored by GM and Ford and Dowe and Chevrolet --
    Our personal war on Channel Four at seven every day.

  • Close call, but try Starship Troopers instead.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      Close call, but try Starship Troopers instead.

      They are equally good. They just have different scopes. Starship Troopers focus is on why a soldier fights, while The Forever War focuses on what can happen to a soldier when fighting. They also reflect 2 different societies: one where the soldier is not only celebrated but serves as the core for society (ST), and one where the soldier is alienated and returning to a world they no longer recognize (TFW-this was also the experience for many Vietnam War vets). There are some interesting parallels in that

      • Close call, but try Starship Troopers instead.

        They are equally good. They just have different scope (...)

        That was a great answer, thank you :)

        Don't get me wrong, i greatly enjoyed TFW and think it deserves a rightful spot on the military sci-fi hall of fame. But i consistently see Starship Troopers regarded as the best in the genre and listed on pretty much every top 10 sci-fi list to boot. - with good reason, i might add.

  • “You might try to eliminate war by eliminating the conditions that cause it, like poverty and racial hatred and religious animosity. This is kind of la-la land, but it really may be the only stable long-term solution.” It’s what Haldeman calls “the inescapable tautology.”

    “When war is unthinkable, it will stop.”

    I think war, in a broader sense is capable of being practically eliminated.

    Depending on what definition you use, I think in our lifetimes we might see the red

  • 1972, not 1974 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Joe Haldeman was not the first writing about modern wars and drones. The Hungarian kid-scifi-sitcom cartoon "Mézga" has episode "Superbellum" which depicted that in 1972. Actually making fun of US-Soviet cold war.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB4aOvYd0DQ&t=20m5s

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @02:43AM (#50572495)
    With respect to the remote weapons operators, using drones and unmanned vehicles to "fight" a war doesn't count as warfare. The reason is that the country persuing this route has no skin in the fight. It is not risking its own people (while putting the population: military and civilian, of the target state at risk).

    The other aspect of proper warfare is occupation. Without that, an attack is merely destruction of either people or property. It might achieve a certain, intended, goal - especially for a domestic audience baying for blood. But as a long term, inter-country conflict, without an occupation to produce long-term changes in the mindset of the "enemy" population, it fails.

    • With respect to the remote weapons operators, using drones and unmanned vehicles to "fight" a war doesn't count as warfare. The reason is that the country persuing this route has no skin in the fight. It is not risking its own people (while putting the population: military and civilian, of the target state at risk).

      Tell that to the civilians who were too close to or were mistaken for military targets and killed. By employing these methods you are putting considerable resources into an actual war. Left unchecked these devices could easily kill thousands or millions - after all why couldn't the drones carry nuclear weapons? The people who these are being used on have skin in the fight and the skin does not have to be symmetrical for it to be war.

      The other aspect of proper warfare is occupation. Without that, an attack is merely destruction of either people or property. It might achieve a certain, intended, goal - especially for a domestic audience baying for blood. But as a long term, inter-country conflict, without an occupation to produce long-term changes in the mindset of the "enemy" population, it fails.

      Thankfully this is true today, provided you dont just slaughter them

  • All military actions after Vietnam were undertaken in function of oil or Lithium (paid by reserve currency (= Dollar)). eg Lithium mines in Afghanistan were contracted to the nation that buys increasingly bonds of USofA treasury - China (bonds are the assurance that the printed money is "approved" (translation of latin "fiat")).
  • [03.02] Therefore, to achieve a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; to subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest of excellence.

    What more is there to say? The fundamental problem with the US is that we lack excellence and elegance in our entire apparatus of foreign policy and the military. Even with clear targets -- like Iraq in wars one and two -- we could not manage to win without doing battle, and we are failing over much of the world right now.

    Of course, we (Americans) live in a country with a large military-industrial complex, with an enormous shadow government funded by organized crime (primarily the importation of drugs that have carefully been kept illegal for decades) that has been around so long that it has turned the money-laundered corner into legitimacy, and with a substantial fraction of elected public officials who think that the world is 6000 years old and is going to end in a battle with Satan Himself any day now (and another substantial fraction of elected public officials who mysteriously exit public life far, far richer than they entered it). In such a system if we aren't fighting a government, taxpayer subsidized war for buth and treauty nearly all of the time, be it a "war on drugs", a "war on the commies", a "war against ISIS", a "war against Carbon Dioxide", our corporations simply fund new politicians that will start one, manufacturing facts and portraying them convincingly to the masses as required.

    In a sense, war is the secondary consequence of a failure of diplomacy and the political process. That isn't to say that it isn't effective -- naked force, successfully applied, is responsible for most of the structure of the geopolitical world in which we live. But there have been a few small successes that suggest that we may be able to eventually transcend war and surpass even Sun Tzu's highest degree of excellence. If it is good to achieve one's political, economic, and social goals without doing battle in a conflict between two powers, it is surely better to achieve those goals without doing battle on a global basis. As Sun Tzu also says:

    Generally in warfare, keeping a nation intact is best, destroying a nation second best..

    The best way to fight all wars would be to keep all nations intact by winning them with diplomatic, social, and economic weapons, by fighting them so that everybody wins. This is the best way to sap the will to fight. This is the highest skill.

    In modern times, this has never been truer. The US could at any time win any war or any battle. We have nuclear weapons and technological advantages that are truly unstoppable by any other nation, quite possibly by any other confederacy of nations working together. But we cannot win those battles, or wars, leaving the nations we fight intact, so we refrain from using our full power in almost all conflicts. We have also learned what Sun Tzu probably did not know -- that to win a war against a determined enemy, it is sometimes necessary to exterminate them, and we (thankfully) haven't the stomach for this. In wars of this sort, one must be prepared to fight for lifetimes of not-quite-war, of cold war, until the world changes and enemies become friends and allies without force.

    Truly, this is right up there with the highest skill.

    rgb

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