The Elephant And The Ants

Copyright © by Len Holman, 11/9/13


  The parable has two levels:  one is realistic, actual, on-going.  The other is tragic, disastrous, and frustrating.  This is the second level.  The first level is self-evident, as you will see.

  Once there was a mighty elephant.  Due to its genetics, its nurturing, and its position in the jungle, it grew from a wobbly infant in constant jeopardy of being eaten alive by bigger, more predacious, less compassionate animals to a mighty giant, with a hide of thick, almost impenetrable skin, and tusks shiny, long, sharp, and capable of rending asunder any animal foolish or overconfident enough to challenge it.  Because of its unquestioned, and unquestioning, position of years-long superiority, it began to believe—really believe—it was invincible and would never come to harm, including that harm which finally comes to all living things: death. 

  In this elephant’s kingdom were ants, millions of them.  They were so small and so insignificant, the elephant barely noticed them, and when it did, it unconcernedly—sometimes purposively—squashed them beneath a huge foot.  In its majestic aura of self-importance and its illusion of invincibility, it didn’t register the alarming fact that the ants were not only getting more numerous, but more aggressive.  No matter how many died, no matter how small they were compared to the thickness of just one of the elephant’s feet, they began to try to clamber up onto the elephant; they began to try to take the mighty elephant down!  A strange thing began to occur in the jungle.  The elephant grew larger, its tusks more lethal, its opinion of itself more grandiose, but at the same time, the ants became more numerous and stinging and aggressive, and THEY began to think that possibly, just possibly, they could eventually bring the elephant to its knees.  Let’s leave this parable for a moment to consider the Iron Man suit.

  This is what a small defense company contracted by JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) calls the latest tech wonder: a radically new protective suit for elite soldiers to wear into battle.  It is a marvel of technological wizardry—if it gets built.  The military says it is trying to have a prototype produced within twelve months, which would be a breathtaking achievement—though I, personally, would not want to wear such a heavily tricked-up, gadget-laden thing which went from an indistinct drawing on a cocktail napkin to operational in only a year.  Look at the mess the government has made of the Obamacare website—and they had a MUCH longer time to work out the kinks.  The money?  Well, yes, it’ll cost a few bucks, but we have plenty of that if we knock off a few school lunches and cut back on those greedy people on food stamps who want to buy cherry pie to eat. 

  The Los Angeles Times describes the suit as if it were the fighting armor of some Marvel superhero:  “…bionic limbs, head to toe armor, a built-in power supply and live data feeds projected on a see-through display inside the helmet.”  The picture accompanying the article shows a remarkable likeness to Tony Stark’s invention, though not as jazzy.  The military also wants this exoskeleton to be impervious to bullets and shrapnel, PLUS allowing the wearer to run and jump carrying 100 pounds, while getting constant live feeds from overhead drones.  The power to run all this gadgetry is KEY.  It needs a battery like the one that powers a Dodge Ram, but with the size and thickness of a fruit roll-up.  If this sounds like science fiction, it isn’t.  As the world knows by now, once the military gets some apparently crazy idea in its head, sooner or later—with enough money—that crazy idea becomes a reality. 

  As an example, we  will soon have “son of Blackbird,” an improved, more lethal version of the famed SR-71 Blackbird, which could fly at 85,000 feet and three times the speed of sound.  That plane last flew in 1999, but the newest incarnation ids really nasty.  It is envisioned as a drone (unlike the SR-71, which had a two-man crew), but the SR-72, while not as stealthy, will fly at Mach 6 and will be equipped with hypersonic missles.  This new plane is so fast (speed is the new stealth) that, according to a news release, “it could penetrate denied airspace (and who, in this world, can deny the U.S. airspace?) and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour.” Now, the U.S has the technological and military might to have its way in the world, but even so-- America has had a helluva time with those damn ants.  We could go back to Korea (ancient history for many Americans).  We have a line on a map, a Hermit Kingdom, run by a crazy man who is the son and grandson of crazy men, which has nuclear ambitions, and a Demilitarized Zone with more land mines than anywhere in the world. 

  All our might didn’t do the world much good, though the South Korean porn industry is happy it got a chance to flourish.  Our might then was negligible compared to what the military brought to bear in Vietnam, with Agent Orange and complete control of the skies, but look and see how tourists throng the shops in Ho Chi Minh City.  Iraq cost billions and we now have a Sunni-Shi’ite war raging all over the country.  Our soldiers had the finest equipment, arrayed against people who lived in tents and ate a lot of flat bread and really bad yogurt.  We had night vision and armored vehicles.  They had small pickup trucks and many places to hide.  We had MREs and armored vests.  They had that bread and they did a lot of ducking.  They had no planes and we had drones.  But we are gone and they are still murdering each other.  Afghanistan is filled, at the highest levels of government, with kleptomaniacs who really like American money, no matter HOW they get it, and we are leaving that country in about as bad a shape as it was (in places), but perhaps not as bad a shape as it’s GOING to be.  We got Bin Laden and several “top leaders” of Al Qaeda or the Taliban or whoever, but what have we learned from all this?  Not very much, it seems.  We continue to labor under the huge delusion that more tech is better, that any slide toward a world where America is not king can be arrested with stuff like the Iron Man suit. 

  Back to the elephant:  the ants are seemingly not discouraged by the constant squashing and the rooting out of their nests by those deadly tusks.  The ants succeed in getting up the legs of the elephant, which is more surprised than hurt, more angry than defeated, but the ants –in their ignorance and primitive state of war-knowledge and weaponry—persist.  The elephant stumbles.  Does it go down?  Do the ants swarm and conquer?  That’s a parable for another, perhaps closer than we believe, day.


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