Foreign Policy interviews a naval analyst concerning what science fiction gets right and what it gets wrong about warfare, especially from the naval perspective upon which so much fictional space war is based.
FP: The United States is in the midst of a major
debate on what our defense policy, especially given shrinking budgets and the
rise of China as Pacific sea power. Does
sci-fi offer lessons on how the United States can resolve this?
CW: Fiction does not replace policy analysis. But science fiction is the literature of
“what if?” Not just “what
if X happens?” but also “what if we continue what we’re doing?” In that way, science fiction can inform
policy making directly, and it can inform those who build scenarios for
wargames and exercises and the like. One of the great strengths of science
fiction is that it allows you have a conversation about something that you
otherwise couldn’t talk about because it’s too politically charged. It allows
you to create the universe you need in order to have the conversation you want
to have. Battlestar Galactica spent a lot of time talking about the war in
Iraq. There were lots of things on that show about how you treat prisoners.
They never came out and said that directly. They didn’t have to. At the Naval
War College, one of the core courses on strategy and policy had a section on
the Peloponnesian War. It was added to the curriculum in the mid-1970s because
the Vietnam War was too close, so they couldn’t talk about it, except by going
back to 400 BC.
I’m a big believer in the martial utility of wargaming, but as the article notes, most wargames and all science fiction tend to completely omit the more tedious elements of war, especially logistics and bureaucracy. Unsurprisingly, wargames tend to do a better job of addressing strategic assumptions and strategic goals than other entertainment media, although even the wargaming implimentation are usually built into the game design rather than left up to the player.