What do evolutionary arms races teach us about ourselves?
I was a little disappointed when the video above got to the conclusion that I started forming about halfway through it. Regardless I wanted to talk about it a bit because I think he’s pretty much spot on. Warfare is waged in one of two ways, sliding back and forth between the two models. The first is an arms race where groups of people try to build the biggest spear or the fastest boat. These ultimately race to a head until it is no longer feasible to make bigger weapons. So then, what do you do? You move onto the second model, you cheat. When the British lined up shoulder against the Americans (I supposed colonials at that point) they were met with Gorilla warfare.
Americans now find themselves on the opposite end of that world now. The US spent a few centuries growing incredibly fast as a war power. Building bigger and better guns, bombs, and vehicles. What the US has brought into the world of warfare is a thing to behold and unfortunately one of our most long lived legacies. While it is likely that some other country would have developed the atomic bomb had we not, the fact remains that we birthed into the world a weapon that struck true terror in the hearts of all people. In a single flash we had unleashed the most iconic form of terrorism that the world had ever seen. Then we blinked twice and two cities vaporized. The world was changed.
The cold war was a battle of wits, a duel (as mentioned in the video), between two parties that were each determined to be the biggest dog on the block. They wanted the world to look at them and concede. The power behind such a triumph both economically and politically (but I repeat myself) are impossible to understate. If the whole world fears you then you are going to have a pretty easy time doing whatever you want. Before the collapse of their empire the UK had this pretty well established. It’s remarkable to me just how much of the world had their touch on it, the same for Spain I suppose.
I’ve said before that the nuclear bomb (and all its many incarnations) are really a catch-22. The only reason these bombs were dropped on the Japanese was that the Germans had been “solved”. The US needed to send a message to the world and show them that war had forever changed. There are some more noble reasonings that you’ll hear from your parents (likely) but most evidence seems to suggest it was a matter of messaging.
Once a city can vanish at the speed of light off of a single payload you really can’t compete anymore. There is no longer room for conventional combat. So you move onto the second form. Once a duel has been “Solved” it behooves the players to then create a new game. Enter the guerilla warfare of the middle east. We march in with our plans and our extremely advanced weapons against an “enemy” that does not really have much of either. And when I say plans I don’t mean “Lets move into this city and shoot shit.” I mean long term strategic game plans that have an actual conclusion. “We will conquer this country, take its capital, and we will win.”
This is the motto of the warrior. Some countries just change what is their capital (looking at you, China) but most seem to take that as the symbolic moment of defeat. Or maybe they don’t, perhaps that’s just a lie I learned in school as well. But even if it isn’t, there is usually a level of decimation that ends in victory for war. I think most people would agree with that. What do you do then when your enemy has no establishment? When there is no city that houses their leaders. When your foe is more transient than sedentary? This becomes a problem that can not be realistically solved by conventional war and conventional weapons.
All the advantage goes to the sneaker that slips in the back. They have all the cards because they have almost nothing to lose. Combine that with humanities weird desire to make death a goal and you’ve got your david to the US’s goliath. Anyone with a little bit of bible knowledge knows how that turns out.
He mentions that the ubiquity of nuclear bombs means that the overhead to use them is pretty low. In this I agree. Before (and ever since) the attack on Japan there has not been another nuclear weapon used offensively (or defensively) by any nation that I’m aware of. This will remain true of any established nation for as far into the future as I can possibly imagine. Because you either have the will to cause nuclear war and not the means, or you have the means and not the will. Even North Korean leaders would >never< do this. The luxury that their leadership lives in is a hedonistic paradise. Feeding off an entire country just to fuel the most basic of human desire.
Losing that to nuclear fallout is never going to happen. No European nation will do it, Russia will never do it, the US will never do it. As more and more countries become less religious the odds of this becoming an outcome move ever closer to 0. I realize the doomsday clock says otherwise but they haven’t been right before, so.
But ISIS? Sure, they could potentially get the means (thanks to Russia not knowing how to accurately keep track of just about anything), and they might just have the desire. It remains to be seen if the leadership of ISIS is drinking their own kool aid. Or if they are just hiding in a house somewhere watching American television while eating American Junkfood (As was the case, last time). If anything I would think that the next great death will not be from a nuclear weapon. It will be from something a little less obviously devastating.
If I had to guess I’d think that terrorists will use a biological weapon. Not because it is more effective (though it could very well be) but because it is harder to internalize. The imagery of atomic bombs and nuclear hellfire are so easily acquired and so deeply terrifying. There are gifs floating around where you watch something like 200 thousand people die in a couple seconds. But death by an invisible super bug? This is less easy to pin down. Certainly you can check out the Spanish Flu pictures but I don’t think that is quite enough.
I could very well see someone in the organization releasing something like this in a populated place because they don’t really “get” what they are doing. They think holy war or whatever else silly justification they might have and that is that. Bombs, chemical weapons, and nuclear weapons are all too tangible. I’m unconvinced that anyone is ever going to use any of these things widely in some kind of new global conflict.
But a virus? That’s just abstract enough to be the next big duel. And this is the kind of thing that doesn’t necessarily require facilities that scream “hit me” either.
So at that point you ask yourself is war viable at all anymore? Or do we finally need to address the core of what creates the worst of us and heal the wound before it even starts to fester?