War Is War

Copyright © by Len Holman, 6/16/11


  The war business is going well.  The war business has always gone well, and the United States wants its fair share of this business.  The Secretary of Defense has chastised NATO for becoming “irrelevant,” which means some NATO countries are not leaning into the Libya campaign, which means not enough arms and war material are being used. We sell arms all over the world and have had proxy wars with client states as our pawns when the other side had nukes, had access to nukes, or could spell “nukes.”  We have trained special ops teams, which use the fanciest, most sophisticated gear the war machine makes, and who have done remarkable things, ops people who killed Bin Laden, and who—of this I have no doubt—are either IN Iran at this moment, or HAVE BEEN there, or periodically GO there, or all of those.  

  I have no doubt that some of the missions have been to plant “sniffers” which can detect radioactive signatures.  We train Saudi pilots to fly our sophisticated jets, and certain of our conservative friends howl with protest when we cut back a bit on our nuclear stockpile, thus being able to rend our planet lifeless only three or four times over instead of the much more thorough 20 times.  One can’t blame the U.S. for all this. We are, after all, a somewhat capitalistic society, which means we want to make a profit and there is a lot of profit just in automatic weapons sales, to which any Mexican drug cartel can thankfully attest.  War is good business for many and now we have a new threat, which is a war in virtual space—something Genghis Khan or Alexander or even retired general Wesley Clark wouldn’t understand.  This doesn’t mean there will be no more conventional war because that is what our military trains for and organizes for and plans for.  Cyber war, however is stealthier and far more dangerous. 

  If you are a conspiracy buff, then you can point to our popular culture, which has spent many years showing us—in movies, especially—how computer terror is a real threat, how computers take over the world and cause Armageddon, how vulnerable we are to evil machines from another galaxy taking out our communications satellites—and the list goes on.  For these people, this is a massive, promotional, public-readiness campaign the media uses—in cahoots with the military-industrial complex as a prelude to the next evolutionary stage of warfare: cyberwar. I’ll present this thesis at the next Grassy Knoll Convention, but meanwhile, the Pentagon recently issued a cyber strategy document which came to the conclusion “that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war.”  Our government has an active cyber division, as do China, Israel, and Guam. 

  Ok, I made that last one up, but no one would be too surprised if it DID because cyberwar is the newest frontier. The terminology used for it is pretty much the same as conventional war, as evidenced by one unnamed military official who said (with the braggadocio only a macho desk jockey can muster):   “If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.”  Of course this hormonal response is to be expected of a military man, but it is not very logical.  Cyberwar is not conventional war.  There are no troops pouring across the river into you land, troops with uniforms and flags, troops who are identifiable as belonging to the Enemy, whoever that may be.  Cyberwar comes from, basically, nowhere, with no flags and—sometimes, as in the case of the Stuxnet virus which turned Iran’s centrifuges into gleaming paperweights—no sure way to discover who sent the thing.  And if you’re not sure who sent it, then how do you pick which smokestack to jam a smart missile down? 

  But two problems stand out.  One, this type of war isn’t MAD-based.  There is no Mutually Assured Destruction in cyberspace.  These attacks show no hint of the double flashes of light or mushroom clouds or radiation signal which would trigger a response.  These worms are created in private and no one can tell they are being constructed until they are unleashed.  And second, who would be the most at risk for a counter-attack if this “war” really got going.  It would be the country most connected.  And that’s us.  We can ill afford to have our cell phones blanked out and be forced to actually speak with each other face-to-face, with no Twitter or Facebook.  Utter chaos.  When the TV goes out because all the satellites are fried, think of the uproar, not to mention what might happen with the airlines, and the wars being fought using satellite imaging and the nuclear subs, the spy satellites, and the iPads.  Total ruin.  But we are not the only ones—not by a long shot.  Take France, for example.  Frances uses an enormous amount of nuclear energy to generate its electricity.  What happens if a virus worms its destructive way into the nuclear grid?  The China syndrome with a French accent, that’s what.

  Speaking of China, you know they are a danger to our way of life when they screw around with Google.  And if a hacker gets into our air grid, a lot worse will happen than having you going to San Francisco and your bags going to Billings.  So everyone is vulnerable and the idea that we can pinpoint the factories or munitions dumps of an enemy is long gone, to be replaced by war’s grayest of grays:  no central brain to bomb.   You’d have thought that we would have begun to learn this lesson in Vietnam, or at least since 1988, when a grad student from Cornell, whose dad was the chief scientist for the American National Security Agency.  War is war, though, even if there is little thought to waging one, as exemplified by Senator McCain’s preference for “boots on the ground” in Libya.  Someone needs to tell the Senator that in the coming skirmishes, there IS no ground.  And some of the hackers don’t wear boots.  There is no going back to a time B.E. (Before Electronics) however, so we’d better gear up for some dark and cold nights, some planes falling out of the sky, some dams opening when they shouldn’t, or going back to pencils and paper.  There is a big terror attack coming and the military is certainly ready for the last war, not the next.


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