What’s the future of society in a world where ideologies create facts, billionaires run countries and isolationism invites global war?

The previous entry was about the future of a post-capitalist world, and contains lots of sources to facts for further reading.

This topic is deeper. It’s about a future where facts themselves come second to ideologies, and where ideologies include large-scale war as a viable option.

We have two widely accepted versions of reality on offer now, bolstered by social networks and mass media.

1. Mainstream mass media, which adheres to a journalistic standard while reporting some facts and under-reporting or ignoring others.

2. Non-mainstream mass media across the political spectrum. The non-mainstream media is based on pushing a polarized, identity-based set of talking points that require the audience to pick a “team”. Once you support one ideology, the other becomes the “enemy”. Ideas become personal possessions and are instantly accepted or rejected based on ideology.

Solipsism Becomes Dogma

The tribalistic “non-mainstream” media is, at core, based on the principle of solipsism — that if you can’t physically verify a fact, it could be false and is therefore suspect. Ideology then defines what is and is not a fact. And ideologies are, at core, tools to inform (and manipulate) large numbers of people. Religions offer metaphysical ideologies. Economic theories become religion-like dogma (capitalism vs. Marxism, for example).

In a functioning society, citizens first accept that facts exist independently from ideology. If citizens prioritize ideology over acceptance of facts, facts become tools for ideological manipulation. This is true regardless of your particular ideological preferences.

Third War

We now have regressive tendencies on display across the planet, for example in France, Germany, the U.K. and the United States.

Nativism, protectionism, xenophobia, isolationism, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia are all rising. Even Naziism — an ideology explicitly based on calls for genocide — is being normalized as “free speech”. These are the same dynamics that gave rise to the second world war.

Dictatorship

In the United States, the president’s administration — based on constant, blatant lies — is now gutting institutions like health care and environmental protection. Tapping into citizens’ mistrust of globalisation, the American president champions a “strongman” approach that promises to crush dissent in the press and across society. These are the first steps toward dictatorship, and they are accelerating by the day.

Pretences and Guarantees

The American president has literally ushered Wall Street into the White House, under the proven false pretence that rich people will help common citizens become rich, too. Gullible working-class Americans immersed in an alternative media bubble have apparently forgotten what happened to them as recently as 2008 (i.e. the Great Recession). Revocation of trade deals with China and support of the fossil fuel industry virtually guarantee that the United States will fall far behind in four years.

Overall, it seems like the world is headed for pre-World War II conditions. Now, though, several nations have nuclear capabilities. The world’s largest economies have forgotten what made them great — cooperation rather than antagonism. And billionaires seem to be trying to take what they can before global corporate capitalism based on oil and American Empire finally destroys itself.

What’s next?

– Will people keep pretending that dismantlement of social services, glorification of militarism, and destruction of the environment will somehow yield social mobility and opportunity instead of terrorism, poverty, war and chaos?

– Will people wake up in sufficient numbers before it’s too late?

And if they do wake up, what kind of government will take the place of the current corrupt and dysfunctional one? Clinton was an opportunistic politician who took money from Wall Street. Trump is an egomaniacal billionaire who embodies the concept of vulture capitalism.

It all begins from how we define and accept the meaning of a fact.

Apocalyptic visions aside, if this isn’t the end of democracy in the U.S. and across the world, how does global civilization repair itself?

Now may be the perfect time to start a new story — almost definitely a story that includes less talk and more action.

Dystopia and Donald Trump: How Many New Adolf Hitler Clones Lurk in the Future of Realistic Science Fiction?

You’ve set about penning your polemical dystopian Y.A. masterpiece set in alt-2017. The main protagonist is probably a woman, but could also be a man. She may be transgender or a genetic female. She is probably Latina, but could be Black, Asian or biracial.

The head villain, cast as the ideological opposite of the main protagonist, is a thoroughly original, fictional monstrosity: an egomaniacal tyrant whose skin is tinted radioactive orange and hair is a garish fake yellow, accompanied by his gorgeously dim-witted mail-order bride. Lesser villains include a vice president who tacitly supports the systematic, sadistic psychological torture of LGBT children ¹, and a trashy motormouthed ex-beauty queen henchwoman with extensive familial reality TV credentials.

Beware Clichés and Caricatures

There’s only one problem with the evil characters sketched above: despite an element of truth, they’re obvious caricatures. Caricatures can be amusing at first, but their apparent lack of depth can quickly wear thin.

It may be tempting to imitate Hollywood with a high-concept plot along the lines of “The Future Versus Adolf Hitler” ² or “Billionaire President Versus The People”.

Donald Trump may be a hyper-narcissistic, cocaine-addicted buffoon, but he’s nothing next to Adolf Hitler. Hitler was politically smarter and more popular with the German people, among other key distinctions.

Here’s a bit of basic research on historical differences between the rise of Hitler and the rise of Trump, to help you avoid a few pitfalls from the start in writing your next story.

Trump Has the Sniffles — Hitler Was The Real High-Roller

To start, Hitler was more creative in his choice of recreational drugs. By the end of World War II, Hitler injected a daily stream of hardcore pharmaceuticals administered by his faithful doctor, Theodor Morell³:

– Pervitin (methamphetamine)
– Eukodal (oxycodone)
– high grade cocaine

…among others.

Although Donald Trump may simply have a persistently runny nose, his alleged cocaine habit (and unhinged 3 a.m. Twitter diatribe tendency ) pales by the sight of Hitler’s needle-punctured, collapsing veins and erratic junkie-in-withdrawals behavior during his last days in the Führerbunker.

Trump Lost the Popularity Contest, Hitler Won The Reality Show

Adolf Hitler had far more popular support at the start of his reign in 1934 than Donald Trump has in 2016. Ironically, Hitler’s popularity grew more to the level of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin than Trump. It’s also noteworthy that many Germans seemed to support Hitler himself more than the Nazi party ¹⁴, whereas the Republican Party in general is hated far less than Donald Trump.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton indisputably won the popular vote ¹⁵ to become 45th president of the United States of America.

Trump lost the popular vote, instead obtaining the position of president through the electoral college. In other words, Donald Trump is a failed populist before his time in office even begins. Trump may inspire Hitler-level fawning adoration in some of his supporters, but in no way can he legitimately claim to be the American people’s president.

Is the 2017 American Economy Comparable to Hitler’s Germany?

The socioeconomic environment that precipitated Hitler’s rise was far more dire than modern-day America . In 1933, the German people were suffering catastrophically due to:

– crippling financial reparations demanded by the treaty of Versailles after World War I ;

– the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929 and disastrous efforts by a pre-Hitler government to reverse the damage.

In July 1930 Chancellor Brüning cut government expenditure, wages and unemployment pay – the worst thing to do during a depression.

How does that set of events compare to the modern day and possible future?

In 2016, the efforts of President Obama’s government — to repair the damage done during President Bush’s Great Recession of 2007 — have failed to completely restore the economy . This is why many people below retirement age feel trapped in financial uncertainty.

American wages are still nearly stagnant (this is a corporate capitalist problem, not a presidential problem). Although unemployment has fallen, personal debt is rising and employment increasingly centers on low-wage service industry jobs ¹⁰.

Lower-wage industries accounted for 22% of recession job losses, but are responsible for 44% of the hiring in the recovery.

High-wage jobs accounted for 41% of job losses but have only grown 30% since the recession, and mid-wage jobs made up 37% of job losses but only 26% of recent employment growth. That means there are almost two million fewer high- and mid-wage jobs than there were before the 2008 collapse, according to the report.

The economic situation in the United States circa 2017 isn’t anywhere near that of 1934 Germany. The Great Recession of 2008 was caused by financial deregulation rather than world war. Deregulation enabled lenders to offer housing loans to those who couldn’t afford them (“subprime” loans ¹¹). Those loans were reconstituted into “good” financial instruments that were actually junk (“securitization”), leading to a housing bubble that soon popped and destroyed the American economy ¹²:

After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, investors were looking for safe havens to park their money. What they wanted were AAA-rated bonds. What they got were mortgage-backed securities that were rated AAA but turned out to be junk. As we all now know—but most of us didn’t know at the time—Wall Street firms in the early 2000s began slicing and dicing and then reassembling mortgage debt into more and more exotic and risky mortgage-backed securities in ways that made them look risk-free.

Now imagine what might happen during the presidency of a real estate mogul billionaire — who was cheering for the housing crisis so that he could make easy money¹³?

“I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said in a 2006 audiobook from Trump University, answering a question about “gloomy predictions that the real estate market is heading for a spectacular crash.”

“If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money,” Trump said in the 2006 audio book, “How to Build a Fortune.”

The United States has already had a “pro-business” president (George W. Bush) whose deregulatory policies led directly to a massive recession that hasn’t ended yet. Now the U.S. has somehow elected a real estate speculator who cheered for the failure of the American housing market.

In relation to the economy, Trump isn’t Hitler. Trump is an opportunistic vulture asked to safeguard and nurture America’s already-ailing fiscal health. Still, the U.S. isn’t in the realm of 1934 Germany yet. If you want to write a dystopian plotline, aim for the socioeconomic landscape post-2020, after the new despot has grabbed the American consumer by the pocketbook and had his way with her.

War-Mongers at the Gates of Power?

The German people largely approved of Hitler’s use of war to annex territory. Indeed, much of the German peoples’ support for Hitler arose because of his regime’s military success ¹⁴.

After the abject failure ¹⁶ of George W. Bush’s oil-seeking adventurism in Iraq ¹⁷ based on lies — no, the lesser sin of “misinformation” — about “weapons of mass destruction” ¹⁸, most Americans abhor the idea of prolonged ground war ¹⁹.

The current worldwide drone and special operations deployments began precisely because “boots on the ground” are extremely unpopular in the prevailing American sentiment. Trump simply cannot wage war wholesale while waving a United States flag and crowing on about “making America great again”, the way that Adolf Hitler did for Germany in the years leading up to Word War II. George W. Bush already tried that game with disastrous results that led directly to the rise of ISIS. In the current climate, the American people would never commit long-term support to flattening Iran or further maiming the already-crippled North Korea.

If your sci-fi plot requires large-scale global war, focus on the details of a “what if…” scenario that renders conflict as inevitable — not as the unilateral decision of Dictator Trump. Of course, that’s quite likely what Trump himself would do.

Mass Surveillance

We find our hero seeking truth. She’s skulking around the city, smoothly avoiding security cameras and narrowly escaping capture by the Gestapo of the Future. And of course she’s some kind of hacker, because hackers are cool and computers are magical MacGuffins that can do anything.

How close could Trump’s surveillance machine match that of Adolf Hitler ²⁰?

Unfortunately, from Donald Rumsfeld to President Obama, civil liberties and information privacy have been eroded continuously. ²¹

Guantanamo Bay is still operational. Drone wars are ongoing. Special operators slit throats of third-world adversaries in the dark. FBI informants spy on mosques and activists. The NSA is vast and practically unaccountable. Trump advocates increased deportations and endorses torture far beyond waterboarding.

The only thing preventing President Obama from ruling with an iron fist was the President himself. Now Americans have Trump, who promises no similar restraint.

In terms of surveillance, Trump certainly has the tools to be a dream in the remotest fantasies of Hitler. Your best fodder for realistic near-future science fiction may begin here — just be sure to get the details right. People need ongoing reminders that the extent of what’s possible is just as mind-bending as anything imagined by Philip K. Dick.

Near-Future Civil Strife

A great backdrop for dystopian fiction is the image of protestors marching in the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails at robotically faceless oppressors and demanding the end of an evil regime.

Hitler’s platform, as you’ve read above, pertained to the outcome of World War I and the Great Depression.

Today’s populism tends to focus on jobs, but often leaves out important details. Those details can help your story feel more real.

Who took all the jobs? Was it “Obama”, the machines or “the Mexicans”?

The Second Machine Age

President Obama didn’t “steal” American jobs that Trump can magnanimously “give back” to the people ²². Manufacturing jobs are gone due to globalisation ²³ and the automation of factories ²⁴. Working-class occupational categories will continue to disappear. None of this has anything to do with who happens to be president of the United States of America.

Either the U.S. keeps up with global trends — that result in increased productivity and skyrocketing income inequality, the end of social mobility, etc. — or the entire national economy will quickly fall behind as business moves overseas.

Anyone who has graduated beyond a high-school mentality knows that it would be ludicrous to build an impossibly giant wall to keep out the imaginary hordes of Mexican rapists and job-stealing taco vendors. The first question for working-class people is “who’s to blame?

“If you’re under economic stress and you can’t provide for your family, the easiest answer is to find someone to blame,” said Dr. Griffith. “Mexicans, illegal immigrants, Obama.” ²³

The sad part about those who voted for Trump is that many of them are legitimately afraid that their simple way of life is under threat. It’s true: capitalism sees labor as a cost and strives to eliminate it whenever possible. ²⁵

“You don’t have to train machines,” Mr. Mishek observes.

“If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re going to be substituted for quickly,” said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard.

That’s the corporate capitalist way. That doctrine has usurped and supplanted any regard for workers that existed before the rise of Walmart, Starbucks, Google, Amazon, Apple and Uber. Today’s middle class is sliding to become working class; the working class faces a descent into poverty. Those who are poor face debt and homelessness. The only thing more amazing than the phenomenon itself is that those a step higher on the ladder sneer at the survivors one step below, thereby making room for themselves to fall and be spat upon when their turn comes. Positive thinking is little more than a thinly veiled prayer that misfortune will “never happen to me”, enacted by controlling an uncertain universe through thought alone. That way, if you fail, it’s all your fault. Society is for winners, and the lower 99% are on their own.

Dystopia is a great choice for fiction writing in terms of realism right now. The main challenge is to tell people — especially young people — fresh stories that we aren’t already living day-to-day.

Blame the Mexicans…?

Working-class Trump supporters express legitimate concerns about their economic status and social well-being. The only part they consistently get wrong is the idea that their enemies are other working-class people who happen to have a different skin color or country of origin. Even if you could get rid of the Mexicans, have police murder all the working-age black men and women, and build empty factories devoid of all automation, the rest of the world (translation: China ²⁶) will simply pick up the slack. To fight globalisation by using racial and gendered hatred as an excuse for xenophobic protectionism/isolationism will only hasten the inevitable.

The socioeconomic landscape is changing. Within a generation, the blatant racism and sexism of Donald Trump will become a punchline about the backward ways of a long-gone era in the United States.

After Hitler, After Trump

When you write your dystopian tour de force, have a laugh by brainstorming with a fictional graphic that Trump tried in vain to pass off as fact, published by the nonexistent “San Francisco Crime Statistics Bureau.” ²⁷ Donald Trump has done a brilliant job of dumbing-down his own public persona in order to the gain the favor of frightened, vulnerable, gullible, racist voters.

When Trump inevitably fails to materialize new working-class jobs and “make America great again”, the national temperament will probably swing just as extremely to the left in 2020 as it did to the right four years prior. The country will still exist (provided humanity avoids Armageddon). Will the United States adapt to the world’s tempo or become increasingly obsolete? This is a question of trajectory that the American electoral college may have already set in motion on November 9th, 2016.

Donald J. Trump may be an unnaturally orange-faced buffoon but, similar to Adolf Hitler, he can also be quite shrewd, socially if not politically. Make sure that your Trump-based characters don’t fall too far into caricature, as tempting as the many opportunities certainly are.

Now you have a set of real-life facts to guide the construction of your Trump/Hitler fiction stories for the next four years of dystopian oddity on Spaceship Earth. Hopefully a few of those hyper-realistic Y.A. yarns have happy endings, or at the very least, open-ended and ambiguous ones.

P.S. You could also take a totally different approach, and imagine a world in which Bernie Sanders won the presidency. Until his successor emerges in 2020, you’ll have to divine that scenario for yourself. Enjoy. ;)

Learn More

1. Newsom, Gavin. (20 Jul 2016). Mike Pence—Conversion Therapy True Believer—Adds More Hate to Donald Trump’s GOP Fire. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/20/mike-pence-conversion-therapy-true-believes-up-the-hate-for-donald-trump-s-gop.html.

2. Sandberg, David. (2015 May 28). KUNG FURY Official Movie [HD]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5P_LAqiVg.

3. Cooke, Rachel. (2016 Sep 25). High Hitler: how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/25/blitzed-norman-ohler-adolf-hitler-nazi-drug-abuse-interview.

4. Diamond, Jeremy. (1 Oct 2016). Donald Trump quintuples down. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/30/politics/trump-overnight-media-tweets/index.html.

5. Parfitt, Tom. (27 Nov 2014). Seven reasons to explain Vladimir Putin’s popularity cult. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/11257362/Seven-reasons-to-explain-Vladimir-Putins-popularity-cult.html.

6. Hitler’s rise to power. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/germany/hitlerpowerrev_print.shtml.

7. Lang, Olivia. (2 Oct 2010). Why has Germany taken so long to pay off its WWI debt? Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-11442892.

8. Long, Heather. (6 Feb 2016). Why doesn’t 4.9% unemployment feel great? Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/06/news/economy/obama-us-jobs/index.html.

9. Frizell, Sam. (19 Feb 2014). Americans Are Taking on Debt at Scary High Rates. Retrieved from http://time.com/8740/federal-reserve-debt-bankrate-consumers-credit-card/.

10. Alter, Charlotte. (28 Apr 2014). Report: Low-Pay Jobs Replace High-Pay Jobs Since Recession. Retrieved from http://time.com/79061/report-low-pay-jobs-replace-high-pay-jobs-since-recession/.

11. Grossman, Richard S. (14 Oct 2013). Greed destroyed us all: George W. Bush and the real story of the Great Recession. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2013/10/14/greed_destroyed_us_all_george_w_bush_and_the_real_story_of_the_great_recession/.

12. Boushey, Heather. (21 May 2014). It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/house-of-debt/371282/.

13. Diamond, Jeremy. (20 May 2016). Donald Trump in 2006: I ‘sort of hope’ real estate market tanks. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/19/politics/donald-trump-2006-hopes-real-estate-market-crashes/.

14. Kershaw, Ian. (30 Jan 2008). How Hitler Won Over the German People. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/the-fuehrer-myth-how-hitler-won-over-the-german-people-a-531909.html.

15. 12 Nov 2016. Live Presidential Forecast. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/elections/forecast/president.

16. Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus. (23 Jun 2014). Most Americans say Iraq war wasn’t worth the costs: Poll. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/most-americans-say-iraq-war-wasnt-worth-the-costs-poll/.

17. Sisi Wei, Jeremy Bowers and Wilson Andrews. 4486 U.S. service members have died in Iraq. Retrieved from http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/theaters/iraq/.

18. Schwarz, Jon. (10 Apr 2015). Twelve Years Later, US Media Still Can’t Get Iraqi WMD Story Right. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2015/04/10/twelve-years-later-u-s-media-still-cant-get-iraqi-wmd-story-right/.

19. Drake, Bruce. (12 Jun 2014). More Americans say U.S. failed to achieve its goals in Iraq. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/12/more-americans-say-us-failed-to-achieve-its-goals-in-iraq/.

20. Greenslade, Roy. (4 Dec 2013). How Hitler suspended the right to mail and telephone privacy. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2013/dec/04/surveillance-adolf-hitler.

21. Alex Emmons. (11 Nov 2016). Commander-In-Chief Donald Trump Will Have Terrifying Powers. Thanks, Obama. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2016/11/11/commander-in-chief-donald-trump-will-have-terrifying-powers-thanks-obama/.

22. Diamond, Jeremy. (28 Jun 2016). Trump slams globalization, promises to upend economic status quo. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/28/politics/donald-trump-speech-pennsylvania-economy/index.html.

23. Nelson D. Schwartz and Quoctrung Bui. (25 Apr 2016). Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/26/business/economy/where-jobs-are-squeezed-by-chinese-trade-voters-seek-extremes.html.

24. Rotman, David. (12 Jun 2013). How Technology Is Destroying Jobs. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/.

25. Rampell, Catherine. (9 Jun 2011). Companies Spend on Equipment, Not Workers. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/business/10capital.html.

26. Smith, Noah. (26 Jan 2016). Free Trade With China Wasn’t Such a Great Idea for the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-01-26/free-trade-with-china-wasn-t-such-a-great-idea.

27. Farley, Robert. (23 Nov 2015). Trump Retweets Bogus Crime Graphic. Retrieved from http://www.factcheck.org/2015/11/trump-retweets-bogus-crime-graphic/.

Is World War III Inevitable? What Can Smart Independent Science Fiction Say About It?

Now may be a crucial time for intelligent indie sci-fi to paint a plausible picture of the next global conflict.

Recent news has made clear that a “hands-off” approach to war in the Middle East isn’t working. Does this mean that a United States-led ground war is imminent?

Officially called the New Syrian Force, the contingent was trained by the U.S. military at a base in Turkey and sent across the border into Northern Syria, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported. But instead of fighting ISIS, they unexpectedly came under attack by al Nusra, a different radical Islamic group.

The New Syrian Force called for American airstrikes, and the al Nusra attack was repulsed. Only one member of the New Syrian Force was killed while the enemy lost an estimated 30 fighters.

But what appeared to be a victory turned into a defeat when the rest of the New Syrian Force scattered. Some were captured by al Nusra. Some made it back to Turkey. Others were simply missing. 1

As seen after the most recent Iraq war led by George Bush, the American public rejects the prospect of a U.S.-led ground war unless attack is imminent. This is at least in part because it is now common knowledge that the war was based on deception.

We know now that American sentiment for the 2003 Iraq war was the result of a series of public relations gambits. Those gambits, from handpicked persuasive stories to falsely interpreted satellite imagery, were crafted to manufacture and manipulate public opinion:

The first Gulf War was sold on a mountain of war propaganda. It took a campaign worthy of George Orwell to convince Americans that our erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein — whom the US had aided in his war with Iran as late as 1988 — had become an irrational monster by 1990.

Twelve years later, the second invasion of Iraq was premised on Hussein’s supposed cooperation with al Qaeda, vials of anthrax, Nigerian yellowcake and claims that Iraq had missiles poised to strike British territory in little as 45 minutes. 2

None of the claims and justifications were true.

The current, globally expanding conflict has been met with political banter and fashionable rhetoric about “religions of peace” and “troops on the ground”. No religion is inherently peaceful or warlike; regardless, religious dogma can be used either to incite war or promote peace, as has been done from their inception. It is also clear that Americans do not want to send ground troops back to Iraq (or into Syria) while nursing fresh memories of the catastrophic nine-year Bush-lead war. 3

Isolation versus Engagement

Most Americans’ “head-in-the-sand” mentality is strikingly similar to World War II isolationism.

During the debate over whether to invade Iraq, or whether to stay in Afghanistan, many people looked back to World War II, describing it as a good and just war — a war the U.S. knew it had to fight. In reality, it wasn’t that simple. When Britain and France went to war with Germany in 1939, Americans were divided about offering military aid, and the debate over the U.S. joining the war was even more heated. It wasn’t until two years later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war against the U.S., that Americans officially entered the conflict.

. . .

“It’s so easy, again, to look back and say, ‘Well, all the things that the isolationists said were wrong,’ ” author Lynne Olson tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. ” … But back then, you know, in ’39, ’40 and most of ’41, people didn’t know that. People had no idea what was going to happen.” 4

Are we headed for another world war as we were back then?

Two major problems with the current American minimalist military strategy1:

1. Aerial bombardment has made essentially zero progress and surely won’t win on its own;
2. The tried-and-true “train rebels to fight” approach has failed yet again.

One apparently inevitable outcome: militant extremism spreads across the world,
eventually encroaching on U.S./allied interests. Ultimately, isolationists and hawks will join hands only to fight an enemy that looms on the existential scale of World War III.

War Never Went Away — It Evolved

Beginning in 2011, professionals as knowledgeable as celebrated Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker predicted the decline and eventual demise of conventional warfare. “Violence has declined because historical circumstances have increasingly favored our better angels,” Pinker explains. 5

The intervening years of destructive human ingenuity have seen the rise of a different kind of threat. Conflict has morphed into “hybrid war”, which is a new buzzword for asymmetric, unconventional tactics used by adversaries of varying size and strength.

The term ‘hybrid warfare’ appeared at least as early as 2005 and was subsequently used to describe the strategy used by the Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War. Since then, the term “hybrid” has dominated much of the discussion about modern and future warfare, to the point where it has been adopted by senior military leaders and promoted as a basis for modern military strategies.

The gist of the debate is that modern adversaries make use of conventional/unconventional, regular/irregular, overt/covert means, and exploit all the dimensions of war to combat the Western superiority in conventional warfare. Hybrid threats exploit the “full-spectrum” of modern warfare; they are not restricted to conventional means.

In practice, any threat can be hybrid as long as it is not limited to a single form and dimension of warfare. When any threat or use of force is defined as hybrid, the term loses its value and causes confusion instead of clarifying the “reality” of modern warfare.

. . .

Most, if not all, conflicts in the history of mankind have been defined by the use of asymmetries that exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, thus leading to complex situations involving regular/irregular and conventional/unconventional tactics. Similarly, the rise of cyber warfare has not fundamentally changed the nature of warfare, but expanded its use in a new dimension. 6

As noted by Pinker and colleagues, conventional warfare among developed nations may have declined. Hybrid war, though, is most often fought in the so-called “third world”, where almost half of the human population lives. 7

By 2050, seventy percent of the world — those in “developing” (i.e. third-world) nations — will live in megacity slums. Protoype: Mumbai, India.

These staggering statistical trends are driving the evolution of the “megacity,” defined as an urban agglomeration of more than 10 million people. Sixty years ago there were only two: New York/Newark and Tokyo. Today there are 22 such megacities – the majority in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America – and by 2025 there will probably be 30 or more.

Consider just India. Though the country is still largely one of villagers – about 70 percent of India’s 1.2 billion inhabitants live in rural areas – immigration and internal migrations have transformed it into a country with 25 of the 100 fastest-growing cities worldwide. Two of them, Mumbai (Bombay) and Delhi, already rank among the top five most populous urban areas. 8

Manipulative Media Hysteria is Now Business as Usual

The American public is currently too short-sighted and fear-driven to prevent the conflagration that has already begun. As we’ve seen in the 2003 Iraq war, both fear and short-sightedness are attitudes eagerly driven by mass media. Both history and future stand as casualties of the twentyfour-hour “shock and awe” coverage of news and incessant “expert” opinion. Practically every news story now has the word “terrifying” in the headline.

If you want to create (or enjoy) a hard sci-fi — that is, reality-based — style in your science fiction, the paragraphs you’ll read below are a primer on what will likely be the backstory for World War III.

Iraq May Be Remembered as Where It All Began

Similar to the division between North and South Korea, “Iraq” is a set of political boundaries that were not designed with consideration of the people living within those boundaries.

Iraq and Syria were artificial creations of British and French diplomats when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated on the eve of World War I. Each contains communities of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Iraq is run by a Shiite-dominated government with ties to Iran, while the Bashar Assad government in Syria is dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect. The Islamic State is a fundamentalist Sunni group.

Iraq and Syria were artificial creations of British and French diplomats when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated on the eve of World War I. Each contains communities of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Iraq is run by a Shiite-dominated government with ties to Iran, while the Bashar Assad government in Syria is dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect. The Islamic State is a fundamentalist Sunni group.

Ironically, it was Vice President Joe Biden who initially called for a more human-centric approach:

In 2006, then Sen. Joe Biden argued for splitting Iraq into three autonomous ethnic zones with a limited role for a central government. The George W. Bush administration sought to keep Iraq unified, but Sunnis eventually became disaffected with a Shiite government in Baghdad that excluded them. Kurds have been in continual disputes over budgets and oil with Bagdad, and they have seized control of the strategic northern city of Kirkuk. 9

In 2011, American President Barack Obama faced a conundrum:

1. Remain in Iraq.
This decision, as mentioned above, was becoming increasingly unpopular with the public. Moreover, sustained military presence in the country would most likely have done little to solve the sectarian disputes that were the source of ongoing strife.

2. Pull American troops out of Iraq.
Popular with the public, this choice would leave Iraq with an unprepared army, fractious political situation, and a perfect opportunity for those who sought power and/or revenge against their sectarian enemies.

Of course, we know that President Obama had little choice at all, after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded complete American withdrawal from Iraq. 10

This created an ideal opening for the revival of old grievances and the settling of scores — and what quickly degenerated into the present predicament.

The Rise of Militainment

Sketchy “official sources” are relatively rarely fact-checked in any depth; dissent is framed as the actions of hooligans, criminals and potential “terrorists”.

Such an incessantly churning, attention-deficient media climate makes hard, necessary choices about war impossible to support publicly, while turning war propaganda itself into jingoistic “militainment”.

Challenges for Smart Sci-Fi

For science fiction, one key question is this: how can we create speculative fiction about a third world war that is not:

– nihilistic prognostication about inherent human evil,
– conveniently defeatist oversimplification about a “post-apocalypse” world;
– pornographic indulgence about the destructive beauty of future warfighting technology?

Science fiction can be used as part of what Steven Pinker calls “cosmopolitanism”. Pinker writes: “These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.” 5

It’s an exciting challenge, and one that, in the end, we may not be able to afford to ignore.

Further Reading:

1. Congress hears bombshell admission on program to fight ISIS. (September 16, 2015). Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-program-isis-fighters-syria-general-lloyd-austin-congress/.

2. Holland, Joshua. (June 27, 2014). The First Iraq War Was Also Sold to the Public Based on a Pack of Lies. Retrieved from http://billmoyers.com/2014/06/27/the-first-iraq-war-was-also-sold-to-the-public-based-on-a-pack-of-lies/.

3. Clement, Scott and Peyton M. Craighill. (August 8, 2014). Iraq airstrikes will test a war-weary American public. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/08/08/iraq-airstrikes-will-test-americans-tolerance-for-military-action/.

4. ‘Angry Days’ Shows An America Torn Over Entering World War II. (March 26, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2013/03/26/175288241/angry-days-shows-an-america-torn-over-entering-world-war-ii.

5. Pinker, Steven. (September 24, 2011). Violence Vanquished. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111904106704576583203589408180.

6. Hybrid war – does it even exist? (2015). Retrieved from http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2015/Also-in-2015/hybrid-modern-future-warfare-russia-ukraine/EN/index.htm.

7. Shah, Anup. (January 07, 2013). Poverty Facts and Stats. Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats.

8. Bruinius, Harry. (May 5, 2010). Megacities of the world: a glimpse of how we’ll live tomorrow. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2010/0505/Megacities-of-the-world-a-glimpse-of-how-we-ll-live-tomorrow.

9. Intelligence Chief: Iraq and Syria May Not Survive as States. (Sep 11 2015). Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/intelligence-chief-iraq-syria-may-not-survive-states-n425251.

10. MacAskill, Ewen. (21 October 2011). Iraq rejects US request to maintain bases after troop withdrawal. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/21/iraq-rejects-us-plea-bases.