Fast, Cheap, and Mission-Controlled


Jean Splicing
Levi's history writ hip packages the past in "featured decades." Summations such as that for the 1930s - "this was a big decade for new stuff" - might lead one to believe that the folks at weren't working too hard on this section.
Five years ago today in Suck.

This is the kind of thing that that big peacenik David Hackworth has been talking about for years, by the way, as he argues that a stronger military may not cost more money, and may even be stronger if it costs less. Meeting a mechanized infantry platoon headed for Bosnia, a few years ago, the retired lieutenant colonel noticed that the soldiers were equipped with sorry winter coats and outmoded body armor. The usual story, he wrote. "So here we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on high-tech, whiz-bang stuff, for fat defense contracts, for all that logrolling in the Pentagon and Congress, for all those sweet plums of the military industrial complex — toys and riches for the perfumed princes — while these guys are heading out for duty, honor and country still suited and booted like their grandfathers." That sentence is, for George W. Bush, the sound of political cover: It is not "the military," as a whole, that objects to a spending freeze and a reevaluation.

Dubya's one-two punch at the military status quo — close purse, conduct major review — also delivers some enjoyable damage to his predecessor's reputation as a good-government Democrat and a policy-wonkish reformer. ("He's a bad person, sure, but he's such a good president.") The dumb ol' Texan has turned, for a careful evaluation of the military's actual needs, to a man the military leadership doesn't especially like — even though he works in the same building. As Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks recently explained, Pentagon think-tank director Andrew W. Marshall is a cranky oldster who "has called the Army's heavy tanks and the Navy's aircraft carriers possible deathtraps that ought to be phased out before they prove to be the horse cavalry of the 21st century." Marshall has been the establishment's contrarian — on staff and carefully ignored — for over fifty years, ever since he signed on with the Rand Corporation as a nuclear strategist in 1949. (He moved to the Pentagon itself much more recently. In, uh, 1973.) And so how did the big policy wonk reformer use the guy who has five decades of policy wonking under his belt, the guy known in the military as a radical reformer? Guess. "President Bill Clinton's first defense secretary, Les Aspin, never spoke to him," Ricks explains. "William S. Cohen all but ignored Marshall, at one point trying to move him out of the Pentagon in a cost-cutting move." And then the president who has no real interest in policy showed up.

However. The Bush administration's weird backward step, the one with all the bad science and bad policy behind it, makes it impossible to get really excited, finally, by all of this nominally radical reevaluation, all of this generation-of-technology skipping, brave-new-world seeking commitment to change. The idea that the future threatens us with a limited missile attack — two missiles, or five, from a "rogue state" — is a very odd piece of fantasy, and one that suggests a nostalgia for a return to the certitude of the time when we believed deeply in the power of the man in the white lab coat. The missiles go up; you track them cleanly with strong technology; some sharp-eyed guys in a control room press the right buttons... It's 1953 all over again, and nobody ever heard of the truck bomb or the suitcase filled with biological warfare agents. If that's where all of this putative reform is headed, then never mind.

But we'll see. At the very least someone is finally suggesting, after a lost unswerving decade of that's-the-way-we've-always-done-it, that there's another way to do it. Considering the impenetrability of the Maginot Line, say, or the U.S. Navy's certainty that the big guns of its battleships would allow it to dominate the oceans in a war with Germany and Japan, that could very well be a move that saves us a lot of pain, a decade or two down the line. And wouldn't it be fascinating if some of the least inspiring politicians we've ever seen turned out to do something really exceptionally useful?

Press the right buttons in the Plastic control room
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MOD SQUAD: Gamers are doin' it for themselves, featuring
  • Suck founder Carl Steadman on the rebirth of 2-D gaming;
  • Justin Hall on the most successful online mod, and others

    Also: Steven Johnson on game storytelling and ONI, and an exclusive interview with Deus Ex creator Warren Spector

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    courtesy of Ambrose Beers


    pictures Terry Colon

    Ambrose Beers