War in the western civilian mind has been debased and fetishized. And these ways of ‘seeing’ war limit our perspective on the reality.
Huh? You may say, what the heck does that mean? So let me expand:
War has been debased in the common vernacular by declaring war on the depression, then poverty, drugs now on inequality, racism, etc (mainly by progressives riffing on their First World War success .) Here the mental model of war is the turning of the states blunt tools of expropriation and exploitation to the ‘good’ of raising some group or suppressing some evil. The thing they overlook is that the tools are authoritarian and often counter productive, destroying on one end while delivering ‘something’ at the other. In the original meaning of war, (at least the good war of self protection, not war of aggression) the destruction on your end is acceptable since your expectation is that the ‘other’ will cause far greater damage if they win. But when used in this self targeted context you are essentially damaging/destroying something you do not value (for whatever reason) to provide some ‘good’ to another (for some other reason.)
And war has been fetishized in the minds of most by the recent American experience of essentially total battlefield domination and near bloodless success (those who bleed are mostly ‘the bad guys.’) This has been metastasized by military video games that while they make clear the messiness of the battlefield also make it glamorous and episodic. Exotic weapons and robotic precision make things look all very neat. But also there is our memory of WWI and WWII and Desert Storm and even the first months in Afghanistan and Iraq. Domination and victory, spoiled by purported lies and then stupidity of trying to change cultures we do not understand.
So war is debased to massive government intervention on one hand and on the other the fetishized ability to break the other’s toys and make them do what we want. But these views of war, government directed war, war with parades and victories and tragedies and stories we can tell each other’s, providing historians and anthropologists grist for their mills may be relics of the past in our globalized age.
What if war is no long any of that? Properly envisioned it was/is never something you turn on yourself. Seen clearly it is never something that you can predictably win. No war in the modern era been what governments tell their populace it is, nor are they what the memories of the participants remember them being.
Clausewitz is famous for ‘War is diplomacy carried on by other means,’ Sun Tzu pointed out that misdirection is the heart of war. What if real war today outside of the fratricidal, is non kinetic and never ending?
What are the modes of war today. Strategic, Cyber, Economic, Kinetic, Propaganda, Tactical, Commercial, Geographic, Genocide, Civil, Bio, Nuclear, Chemical, Political…
Huh? Some of these things are not like the other you say? And maybe you are right but I say that war has broken the bounds of the geographic/naval/aerial field of battle and has bled out into the world in general.
I will close with a thought…. What if an enemy realized that they could make use something as unexciting as a novel disease and modern media’s defining need for ‘bad news’ to terrify populations into ‘a crouch’ that would make political control easier. And by use of basic propaganda and twisted truths could make the politicians of their unsuspecting opponent break their own economy and even break down the social trust that is required in a modern open cultural polity.
The above does not require any particularly lethal bug, or any large scale distribution of battle plans. All the enemy needs is a leadership willing to make use of the ‘main chance’ and a cadre of workers willing to take direction. Nothing needs to be said, ever.
You do not win a war this way but you win a battle this way. Maybe you win several battles. Damage an enemies economy, damage their self confidence, maybe bring down their most effective leadership with some directed propaganda and a few tools.
Now maybe a more compliant government comes into power. You have been pushing on some geographic restrictions but have been held back by your adversaries strong leadership. With that leadership gone now you can push more heavily and gain some more ground.
Maybe your aggression causes more reaction and eventually the ridiculously erratic opponent once more selects a more trenchant government and puts the brakes on. But one more nibble has been taken, an enemy has been weakened a little bit. All that is required is time and constant purpose to win, and a nation with a multi thousand year history can take the long view.