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Interviews: Wanderer Fantasy Convention - "Wars of the Future" with Robert Jordan

Summary:

Entries

9

Date

Sep, 2000

Type

Translated

Location

St. Petersburg, RU

Reporter

The Faith Kamsha

Links

fantlab.ru

Theoryland

  • 1

    The Faith Kamsha

    The theme of "Wars of the future", raised to the fifth congress of Russian fiction, has an eerie, but not completely unexpected development. Now we do not see skyscrapers crumble before our eyes in the catastrophe movies, but in documentaries, and they have created no mythical King Kong, but one that is at least biologically related to the form of Homo Sapiens. Unfortunately, the science fiction writers were much closer to the truth than those who should have been able anticipate and prevent such events, if it was at all possible to prevent. Included among these authors is Robert Jordan, the author of the extraordinarily popular book series "The Wheel of Time", which is also a TV series in Russia. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Robert Jordan, speaks on the mechanisms and specific nature of 21st Century warfare.

    In any case, Mr. Jordan's opinion about the past, present and future of the warfare seems to be very relevant and rather interesting.

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  • 2

    Question

    Mr. Jordan, you're writing a lot about wars, about the psychology of man in war. Is this a consequence of your experience in Vietnam?

    Robert Jordan

    No, my knowledge of strategy and tactics, knowledge of the causes and possible course of the war is more related to history. It is true that I was a soldier and I had to fight to the battlefield, and then (I was young and stupid) I was expecting much from a military career, but now I have realized that in order to study the human perception of the war in the future and maybe even the changes in military affairs in general, we must first look at how war has been perceived in the past.

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  • 3

    Question

    Can war really be perceived, at least, by any normal person as something other than a terrible disaster?

    Robert Jordan

    I come from South Carolina, USA, and our memories of the 130 kilometer strip of destruction left by the Yankees—General Sherman—are as fresh as if it occurred yesterday, not one hundred thirty-five years ago. Yet throughout history both war itself has changed, and its perception by the participants and the civilian population. Let's start with the fact that most of the past wars were strictly localized.

    Yes, people knew what war is like. They knew that if war came through their area, then it would destroy their homes, farms, villages and towns. They knew that war brings with it the robbers and marauders. And that death is not waiting for as many soldiers as it is civilians. But five kilometers from the battlefield people hardly felt by its effects. As a result of the battle the trade routes might have changed; another king might take control of the throne; the army could bring with it disease, but in essence, five kilometers was a sufficient distance for a relatively safe existence. The outcome of the battle between York and Lancaster had no significant effect on the lives of individual men or women if they were not directly involved in the conflict and did not lie directly in the path of the army.

    This was the main feature of the perception of war, from the Greeks and Romans and ending in the XVII-XVIII centuries.

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  • 4

    Question

    The eighteenth century? Age of Napoleon?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes, at the time of Napoleon, in my opinion, arose the first approximation of what could be considered "national wars." When almost the entire nation is drawn into the affair, or even entire nations, a large amount of people are drafted for military service and an attempt is made to subject industry and agriculture to the interests of the military. When movement by rail was invented, it became possible to quickly transfer a large number of soldiers from one place to another, and snow and dirt become a tactical question, not a strategic one. The same thing happened at sea. The fleet was no longer dependent on the wind and was able to sail, wherever and whenever the admiral wanted. Agricultural development has allowed a much smaller amount of farmers to feed a much larger group of people. Add to that the trains and ships for transporting goods, and the army, being on a campaign, gets everything it needs.

    Of course, this is accompanied by a change in the perception of people concerning what you can expect and what is permissible in war. For centuries, looting remained an intrinsic right of a soldier during the campaign. The people mourned the losses, but no one believed that the soldiers had stepped over the line of what was allowed. However, over the centuries following the Napoleonic wars, the notion arose that civilians and civilian property cannot be touched. Of course, neither robbery nor looting has disappeared, but people, at least civilians, have come to believe that the war is a military affair and should not affect them.

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  • 5

    Question

    But the First World War, and even more—the Second World War quite clearly illustrate that this belief, i.e. the war will pass you by, is unsound.

    Robert Jordan

    This lesson was forgotten the next day. After completion of the Second World War something occurred, that was unprecedented in human history. We lived for fifty-five years without a global war. Offhand I cannot even recall another precedent, when some large nation went for a half-century without a major war. At least in Europe or America, I'm can’t cite any such instances.

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  • 6

    Question

    And this is being said by a participant of the Vietnam War?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan were very, very important for the participants. But these wars have been completely localized. Their effect was local, if you don’t count the political changes in the participating countries. Speaking at the global level, the two generations have grown up, and only a small fraction of them have direct combat experience. Most of those who remember the Second World War, who saw it with own eyes, have died. Changes in people's perception of war is incredible. We in the West...

    Question

    You continue to divide the world into East and West?

    Robert Jordan

    Yes, but while maintaining the terminology I have added to this idea another concept. In the days of my youth the United States and Western Europe were called the West and the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union were the East. I grew up in suspense, because I knew that the day could start with a large tank battle between East and West, or that nuclear missiles could be dropped on cities in both areas. I do not think I need to say how happy I was when the danger had passed, but I should clarify that today, when I think and speak of "the West", I am including Russia in this concept. We were allies before we became enemies, and I very much hope that in future we will stand beside you, and you will stand with us.

    As I said, we in the West have undergone radical changes in our perception of war. In the U.S. there is a very vociferous minority which believes that any future conflict MUST occur without any losses on our side. I repeat: without any losses. Moreover, every war must take place with MINIMAL losses to the enemy! This belief has reached the point that an extensive research program has been initiated to develop weapons that can destroy the enemy's ability to fight, but without harming his personal well-being. Thus, the nature of future wars comes from the civilian’s understanding of what they should be.

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  • 7

    Question

    Judging by your tone, you personally do not really believe in this?

    Robert Jordan

    I have already told you about William Tecumseh Sherman, the general, for whom I have little love, but I cannot deny his acute powers of observation and language. During the Franco-Prussian War, he became a columnist and completely shocked the Prussians with sharpness of his stories. He was probably infuriated that the Prussians meticulously and heartily reopened what the armies of the North and the South had opened a decade earlier. So, during this war, Sherman noted: "The war adds to hell—he said—and there is no way to avoid it." To forget this is dangerous, as you may encounter with those who have not forgotten.

    Dreams of a bloodless war must be accompanied by a formulation of the rules of combat, rules which must be carried out "humane" war. But we have seen and see people who do not follow any rules, and will fight based on their own rules. Osama bin Laden and his ilk create bombs, that kill hundreds of innocent people, give them the chance and they will blow up the bomb, killing thousands and millions. They will take hostages and order and perform assassinations. To appeal to them or to encourage them to join the "civilized people" is by definition useless.

    In addition, the rules are always changing. Sometimes they are changing under the influence of forces that are not under our control.

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  • 8

    Question

    You mean something like global warming?

    Robert Jordan

    Climate change in the future makes me more than worried, even if one considers only the favorable scenario. If we consider the worst, then I’m terrified. They can be avoided, but... The nations of the Third World demand exclusive rights in the fight against global warming, because, if you follow their logic, everything that happens is a conspiracy against them personally, and they should have a chance to become equal to the developed world. If our leaders grant them these rights, in the coming century, China will be the main polluter of the environment and the major contributor to global warming on Earth, but who can stop them? So the climate becomes a wild card in the total war game. Which of the nations will suddenly discover that they have too little land to feed themselves, and decide to take land from their neighbors? Which nation, upset by the changes in climate that have been caused by the attempt to become equal with the civilized world, will go down the ancient path of resolving internal conflict, i.e. foreign war?

    We believe that we can limit the future of war—the length, the amount of bloodshed, the site of action—but can we really? Can we at least know where the next war will come from, or who will be our new enemy? Today in the heart of Africa, in Congo, there are seven tribes and the three rebel groups engaged in what many call the "First World War in Africa." The United Nations are trying to stop the conflict, but without visible results. You can try to believe that this war is far away or that it involves only a third world country or that this war doesn’t affect us, but history has seen cases, where a miniscule conflict turned into a large-scale war. The fire of the First World War started from a single spark, but who could believe that everything starts with the Serbian attempt to gain independence from Austria-Hungary? Any "reasonable" person of that time would say that this is not enough to spark the fire.

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  • 9

    Question

    And where do you think can be a spark will come from today?

    Robert Jordan

    We do not know, and we cannot know. Today, many of the nations, even terrorist organizations, are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The nuclear missile that will destroy Washington, DC, and Moscow can be launched from a place which no one ever considers a real threat. Pneumonia, anthrax or Ebola could devastate our country, and the source will be a country that no one would ever consider to be a powerful enemy.

    Features of war have changed as much as the crossbow gave way to a musket, and rifle replaced the musket. A clumsy, almost useless aircraft in 1914 turned into a fighter jet and an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2000. But there is something that has not changed. I usually end my discussion on this topic with three quotations. One I mentioned in our conversation, but it's worth repeating.

    "War is hell, and there is no way to avoid it."—General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865

    "War—it will not play fair. I am not here to teach you to play fair; I'm here to teach you how to win."—Master Sergeant Maxwell Ritter, U.S. Army, 1968

    "As long as minds grasp the philosophy and the passion burning in their hearts, there will be war."

    Footnote

    The Sherman quote seems to be something of an urban legend. The others can't be found or placed. RJ probably paraphrased them in the first place, and the rest might have been garbled in retranslation.

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