The Long View 2005-08-26: A Walk on the Blind Side



Twelve years later, the HELLADS system is still in development. The press release cited by CNN below said it would operational by 2007. Hah. With the recent sabre-rattling between the United States and North Korea, both the utility of such a system for the US [defense against countries too poor to pursue MAD], and the fears of arms control experts [that such a system would allow the US to bully countries too poor to pursue MAD] are on display.

Also, Gordon Chang is still wrong. I get why John went on about it all the time, but it just keeps not happening.

On the gripping hand, John correctly noted in 2005 that America's imperial wars were being sustained by the martial enthusiasm of white Southerners and their diaspora. The quietly competent servants of empire tend to come from nowheresvilles like Modesto, CA.

A Walk on the Blind Side

The invention of the atomic bomb blind-sided the political system. The physics was never a secret, of course, and I gather that the Manhattan Project was not that much of a secret in the scientific community; still, one can understand why statesmen and the military did not think systematically about the issue until they had to. The strategic nuclear era necessarily began in great confusion. I cannot help but reflect, however, that we will have less excuse for surprise if reports like this turn out to mean all they imply:

The High Energy Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), being designed by the Pentagon's central research and development agency, will weigh just 750 kg (1,650 lb) and measures the size of a large fridge...Dubbed the "HEL weapon" by its developers, a prototype capable of firing a mild one kilowatt (kW) beam has already been produced and there are plans to build a stronger 15-kW version by the end of the year...If everything goes according to plan, an even more powerful weapon producing a 150-kW beam and capable of knocking down a missile will be ready by 2007 for fitting onto aircraft.

By "missiles," this means tactical and air-to-air, rather than ICBMs. Even if the latter is not the case in the first instance, however, reliance on nuclear deterrence is becoming a worse and worse bet, even for the medium term. This is bad news for the states that have been beggaring themselves to acquire the minimum strategic warhead-and-missile package necessary to forestall regime change: think not just of North Korea and Iran, but Pakistan and Israel.

* * *

Health scares have been one of the defining features of the public life of my time. Someday I must compile a list of the innocuous substances, from saccharine to alar, that the media has said may be poisoning our precious bodily fluids. Anyway, here's a new medical witch hunt we can be sure will blow over in due course: Daydreaming activity linked to Alzheimer's.

The parts of the brain that young, healthy people use when daydreaming are the same areas that fail in people who have Alzheimer's disease, researchers reported on Wednesday in a study that may someday help in preventing or diagnosing the disease...The relationships are not clear and do not yet suggest that daydreaming is dangerous, but further study may shed light on the relationship, the study said.

Perhaps I am forgetting something, but I believe that the only life-style scare of this type that had any merit was for smoking. On the other hand, since I was always a dreamy sort of fellow, maybe the reason I can't remember is that the disease has struck already.

* * *

Meanwhile, in China, the prophecies of Gordon Chang seem ever more plausible. The New York Times reports in a piece entitled Land of 74,000 Protests (but Little Is Ever Fixed):

There is a growing uneasiness in the air in China, after months of increasingly bold protests rolling across the countryside....But the response by the Chinese authorities, a mixture of alarm and seeming disarray, is a clear indication that whatever is brewing here is being taken with utmost seriousness at the summit of power.

Again, the problem is that the Party is subversive of the State. The latter attempts to make reforms, but cannot do so without the full participation of civil society, which the Party blocks. This is interesting from several angles, the most speculative of which is that China and America have sometimes been oddly in sync. That was the case during the Taiping--Civil War era, as well as during the bogus but parallel "youth rebellions" of the 1960s. As for the impending disjuncture in American history, there are projections on the Left and Right.

* * *

Vietnam differed from Iraq in part because the army that was sent to fight there was selected coercively from sections of the population that had little enthusiasm for going there. This does not seem to be the case with Iraq: even the enlistment deficit seems to have been solved, at least temporarily. As Shots Across The Bow put it:

First time enlistments are running a bit behind, another product of a burgeoning economy, but re-enlistments, even from soldiers in combat zones, are running ahead of expectations.

This is another example of the Blue State -- Red State divide. It matters much less now than it did in the 1960s how much the Blue States oppose the war, since they are not being asked to fight it.

Sometimes I wonder: are the Blue States, like the EU, really trying to withdraw from history? Here is a description of Harvard University from H. G. Wells's The Shape of Things to Come. It was published in 1933, but the scene is supposed to take place in 1958, in a history where the Great Depression never ended. As is so often the case with speculative fiction written decades ago, it has become Alternative History:

The impression of Nicholson, the visitor, was one of an elegant impracticality. The simple graciousness of the life he could not deny, but it seemed to him also profoundly futile. He seems, however, to have concealed this opinion from the President [of Harvard University] and allowed him to talk unchallenged of how Harvard had achieved the ultimate purification and refinement of the Anglican culture, the blend of classicism and refined Christianity, with a graceful monarchist devotion.

Today, of course, the conversation would be about diversity and the international community, but the spirit of David Brooks's Bobos is not new.

* * *

Speaking of impending transitions, the ever-gothic Peggy Noonan advises planners to Think Dark:

The federal government is doing something right now that is exactly the opposite of what it should be doing. ...Right now the federal government is considering closing or consolidating hundreds of military bases throughout the U.S....Among the things we may face over the next decade, as we all know, is another terrorist attack on American soil. But let's imagine the next one has many targets, is brilliantly planned and coordinated. Imagine that there are already 100 serious terror cells in the U.S., two per state. ...On the day the big terrible thing happens there will of course be shock and chaos. People will feel the need for protection--for the feeling of protection and for the thing itself. They will want and need American troops nearby and they will want and need American military bases up and operating to help maintain some semblance of order.

I see the point. The problem is that federal military installations were not sited to restore public order in the event of a societal breakdown.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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