The Best of All Possible Wars

Anders Engberg-Pedersen

Los Angeles Review of Books


“IN 2009, General James Norman Mattis issued a memorandum that installed the “creative imagination” at the center of US military thinking”

“EBO, ONA, and SoSA—military lingo for “effects-based operations,” “operational net assessment,” and “System of Systems Analysis”—all assumed a relatively stable world with a high degree of predictability”

“But, Mattis wrote, war in the 21st century was pervaded by such uncertainty, volatility, fog, and chaos that these concepts could no longer serve as helpful tools to manage the future of war”

“Mattis had found a solution to the problems that beset the US military: he introduced “design,” “creativity,” and, indeed, “the creative imagination” as guiding concepts of US military doctrine”

“In California, the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT)—a research collaboration between the University of Southern California and the Department of Defense—has been leading the way”

“The institute’s mission is, in its own words, to bring “film and game industry artists together with computer and social scientists to study and develop immersive media for military training, health therapies, education and more.””

“In my new book Martial Aesthetics: How War Became an Art Form, I try to answer these questions by tracing the 21st-century militarization of aesthetics back to its historical origins”

“creative imaginaries and aesthetic concepts have been integral elements of war since the turn of the 19th century and today pervade military practice and military theory”

“For over two millennia, however, the future of war belonged to the astrologers”

“astrology was an accepted science on par with physics or mathematics, and it was central to military decision-making”

“Around 1800, however, a new tool emerged that brought about a shift in the understanding of how martial futures could be handled—the Kriegsspiel or modern war game”

“Between 1770 and 1824, a group of mostly Prussian retired officers, inventors, and—as one of them self-identified—“washed-up gamers” built a series of increasingly complex war simulations”

“The first game, from 1770, was called The Wargame, or A Refinement of Chess. As the title indicates, it was essentially a slightly more elaborate form of chess, but from this humble beginning, the Prussian inventors developed ever more realistic virtual worlds of warfare”

“With the adoption of the Kriegsspiel, the Prussian military merged the invented world of “as if” with actual operations, possible worlds with tactics, play with serious purpose, and the creative imagination with war”

“Then as now, their purpose was to optimize the war effort. Generating a nimbus of possible martial worlds, the war game functions as a laboratory of hypothetical martial futures; it forms the site where the airy nothings of the creative imagination build the template for violent military operations in the field”

“The philosopher (and part-time war game inventor) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz once argued that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds, because God had chosen it from among an infinite number of potential alternatives”

“With the invention of the war game, soldiers and officers wielded a tool that allowed them to imagine, test, and choose the best of all possible wars”

“the contemporary war simulation is governed by a radical constructivism, according to which the future does not arrive naturally but is invented, tested, and trained to perfection before it is finally implemented”

“Probably the most ambitious vision at the moment is a project called One World Terrain sponsored by the US Army Futures Command. In a collaboration with, among others, the ICT, Maxar Technologies, and Bohemia Interactive Simulations, they aim to build a comprehensive, highly detailed 3D digital world map—a military Google Earth—and integrate it with all the simulation trainers across the US military as well as the army’s operational systems”

“Training for war and waging war will integrate fully and take place on the same digital platform. If it succeeds, One World Terrain will realize what even the old Prussians could never imagine—a fully operational global war simulation”

“military design consistently evokes the skills of intuition, creativity, imagination, rule-breaking, and genius associated with the artist and claims them for the military designer”

“The Planner’s Handbook for Operational Design issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2011 stresses “the importance of the underlying creative process” and of “the creative imagination” to meet the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of contemporary warfare”

“From a niche movement in the United States, military design has today found a foothold in numerous Western militaries, from Sweden and Australia to Great Britain and Canada”

“if we briefly try to connect abstract romanticizing with the grim realities of war, we are faced with a truly monstrous artwork, shaped out of blood and bones, nightmares and traumas, destruction and loss”

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