BOOK: 2034: A Novel of the Next World War

I’ve just finished a disturbing book, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, by Elliot Ackerman (decorated Marine, try not to hold it against him that he has written for The Daily Beast), Admiral James Stavridis (try not to hold it against him that he was vetted as a possible VP running mate with Hillary.  Trump vetted him, too, for the cabinet.).

The book is intended as a cautionary tale. The driving impulse is an avoidable naval conflict in the S. China Sea between these USA and China. It unfolds into a global war with horrible consequences.

There are, perhaps, traces of other works (Top Gun?) threaded in the plot. When in a massive cyber-attack the Chinese completely hack US comms, one solution was to use more primitive means. I was reminded of Battlestar Galactica with no networked computers which the Cylons could take over.  There are moments in the narrative when I had to set my face like stone and keep pushing forward over unlikely details.

The overarching messages are pretty clear and needed.   Reflecting on the actual consequences of a peer-level war should be sobering to the point that people in charge (may God help us!) would want to avoid them.  This nation (and military) isn’t what it could be and others are getting strong, fast.

These USA are becoming more and more open to attack, more and more like a target.  That became far more apparent in January (may God help us!).  In the books there is a passage which compares these USA, and lingering military dominance, to Athens with the Delian League.   As Athens became powerful and yet decadent eventually Spartan made its move.

The threat surface of cyberattacks upon these USA is growing exponentially. An internet controlled aquarium thermometer was used as a gateway to attack a Las Vegas casino. True.

This is a pretty fast read, all in all.  It isn’t very subtle.  The writing… just keep reading.  It does tackle big issues without getting too deep into the weeds of technical jargon.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. albinus1 says:

    Thucydides argues that the Peloponnesisn War was caused by Athens’ rise to power and Sparta’s fear of it. Sparta was the established power. So, in that analogy, the US is really Sparta—the established power—while China is Athens—the rising power/-even if we would rather see ourselves as Athens. I suppose this shows the limits of historical analogies. (But good news: Sparta—the established power—won.)

    On the other hand, the US military seems more concerned these days with acting like a woke social justice agency, whereas the Chinese military seems more interested in the quaint practice of preparing to win wars.

  2. Jacob says:

    Father, how much of the reimagined BSG did you see when it was on?

  3. JustaSinner says:

    It’s the tricks in the dark boxes that America excels at. Until a better trickster is made, Uncle Sam wins

  4. Five excerpts of this book were published over on the WIRED website. I received them by RSS feed but have not had a chance to read them yet. The titles alone are pretty disturbing in their realism.

  5. Semper Gumby says:

    Thanks to the host for bringing this to our attention. However, there is additional context.

    Note the negative reviews which describe the scenario as mainly unrealistic, and which detail the occasional injections of Leftist military talking points into the plot. Ex-marine Eliott Ackerman (son of problematic businessman Peter Ackerman and novelist Joanne Leedom-Ackerman) has a habit these days of scribbling essays filled with Death Party disinformation and bile in, for example, Harper’s.

    To each their own.

  6. John21 says:

    If India, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan had modernized, self-sufficient militaries, China would be a lot less of a threat in my opinion. Fielding armies in different countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region has its benefits, but the downside is the host country may not feel the need to invest as much in their own forces.

  7. albinus1 says:

    Has anyone ever read “The Third World War: August 1985”? It came out in the late 70s, written by a British military commander, and is of the same genre, though about a projected NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict (which of course never happened, but which looked fairly inevitable in the late 70s). Some aspects of the book’s projections didn’t age well: for example, in the 1985 of the book, the Shah is still in power and Iran is a US ally.

  8. It seems to me that if we have to have “situational awareness” in our own lives, if we ought to, often, play out in our heads various scenarios around the places where we commonly are (home, church, work), then nations and their war fighters ought to do the same. This is one of the reasons why we have “war colleges” such as the Navy War College in Newport, mentioned in the book in question.

    Virtually all of our own gamed out scenarios never take place, thanks be to God. It is reasonable that most of those gamed out by war fighters won’t, thank be to God. But the exercise in thinking them through is helpful in itself.

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    Fr. Z: An excellent point.

    The Center for Security Policy (also see J. Michael Waller) muses on wargaming a conflict with China:

    So does National Interest:

    Of course, those articles do not predict the future, but they’re efficient and contain little ideology.

    albinus1: Yes, August 1985 was, and to a fair extent still is, a good read. The authors of 2034 could learn quite a bit from that book on how to illustrate a scenario rather than advance an agenda.

    When illustrating a scenario certain outliers should be depicted, both to simulate the fog of war and to stimulate a feeling of uneasiness in the wargame participants. The authors of 2034 (acknowledging the distinction between a wargame involving participants and a wargame novel involving author and reader) focused on an agenda, and produced little operational insight.

    On a related note. In 2002 the U.S. military held a wargame known as Millennium Challenge, the U.S. (Blue) vs Iran (Red).

    The Blue team opened with an Ultimatum. The Red team, led by Marine Corps General Paul Van Riper, decided it had nothing to lose so promptly attacked the Blue fleet. Things went from bad to worse for Blue.

    Now, after Blue took a thorough pounding, largely due to Gen. Van Riper’s innovative tactics and even brilliance, the wargame umpires stopped the game and restarted it. Why? Because an important goal of this expensive wargame was to test certain other operational concepts. Sending everyone home that quickly in the wargame would have been a waste of the participant’s time and the taxpayer’s money. Red Team made their point and got the attention of the Blue team, now it was time to test the validity of other operational concepts.

    Gen. Van Riper protested. He had a point regarding the restrictions the umpires imposed on the restart: Blue should not expect Red to play by any rules whatsoever- that’s war. On the other hand, as Gen. Van Riper knew in advance and agreed upon, one of the primary goals of that wargame was to test certain operational concepts. In order to test those concepts a military situation had to be created in which those concepts could be employed and the strengths and weaknesses of those concepts evaluated. The wargame was restarted and proceeded to continue with that testing. Well… Gen. van Riper in 2004 sat down with PBS for an interview and rather embarrassed himself on several key points.

    That is a very brief and simplified summary of that wargame’s objectives, personalities, and post-wargame posturing. All of this can be, and to an extent still is, debated.

    On automobiles “chrome” is used for decoration and highlighting. In a wargame “chrome” denotes the small details that are meant to increase realism and drive certain points home in the minds of the participants. A wargame or wargame novel built almost exclusively on chrome and the latest military fad and buzzwords provides little, if any, operational food for thought and intellectual sustenance. A certain amount of chrome is essential to a productive wargame. Too much chrome can produce a sugar high from which the crash can be quite lethal.

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