Home » Edge of Apocalypse » EoA: Battle of Wills

EoA: Battle of Wills

Edge of Apocalypse: pages 58-62 (Chapter Twelve)

Now we move into the phase where Joshua, having established that he doesn’t trust the Congressional committee, now has his innings with Senator Straworth:

“‘Mr. Jordan,’ Senator Straworth smiled as he began grilling Joshua, ‘you just said you have a concern about your RTS technology getting into the wrong hands. Correct?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And who exactly do you think of as the ‘wrong hands’?’

‘I think the wrong hands are anyone outside of the United States.'”

Joshua goes on to establish that while he would advocate giving the technology to the US’s allies, he would not give them the fundamental design documents.

He then goes on to establish some of the logical consequences of deploying the RTS-RGS system:

“‘This isn’t just another weapons system we can sell to the highest bidder. This system–my system–can alter the nuclear balance for the better of our country, for the better of the world, but only if we maintain strict control over it. Imagine if every missile, any missile, fired at us could be turned back on itself. With my Return-to-Sender system, there is a probable certainty that any missile attack by a rogue nation would result in their own self-destruction. So the threat of a nuclear missile attack on our country or our allies drops to almost nothing.'”

Nitpick: “Probable certainty”? Sounds like an oxymoron to me. Kinda like “corporate ethics”. But anyway…

“‘Just as when we put nuclear weapons into Western Europe to deter the Soviet menace in the 1980s, we did not turn over our nuclear arsenal to the Europeans, even though they were our allies. That way we could assure the world the weapons wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.’

‘And I am here to assure you, Mr. Jordan,’ said Senator Straworth, ‘that we have the same concern today.’

‘That’s good to know.’ Joshua relaxed. This was easier than he thought.

‘But I think you have things turned around, Mr. Jordan.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yes,’ the senator said, his voice now building in intensity. ‘You see, protecting military secrets, with all due respect, is not the province of some private businessman like yourself. It is the province of the United States government. That’s our job. Not yours.'”

Now, watch this:

“‘I think you’re forgetting something,’ Joshua said.

‘And what’s that?’

‘I’m part of the United States government. Not because I work for the Pentagon, but because I’m an American citizen. I’m part of ‘we the people’ in the Preamble to the Constitution. In that respect, Senator, I guess you could say that you work for me…and for all of us.'”

OOH SNAP!

You really showed ‘im there, Joshy-boy.

Let’s review why the US Government exists: it is the duly constituted authority, which exists by consent of the governed in the domain of the United States of America. To the extent that Jordan is correct, it is that the Senator can be removed by a vote in an election and it is for this reason that he is responsible to the people.

However, since the authority to regulate the state of affairs under national aegis derives from the Constitutional validity of the US Government and its creations, Joshua Jordan is indeed subject to the oversight committee’s authority and they can validly request those documents.

The Senator goes on to make basically this point. It’s only because he’s already been tagged as the baddie who wants to make Joshua’s life miserable that we’re not supposed to root for him, or to at least acknowledge that he has a valid point.

“Straworth could now see that the gloves had come off.

‘That’s right, Mr. Jordan, that’s right. I do work for you. I was elected by Americans just like you and put into a position of authority to make the tough decisions that affect my country’s security. That is the job I’ve been given by the people of this country. That’s not the job you have been given, sir.'”

Now the boxing match, as it were, moves into the second round, with the fighters moving in up close and personal to exchange blows.

“The senator’s face was turning crimson, and he was just getting started. His voice boomed out. ‘There’s a certain hubris, sir, in your refusal to produce your documents on this project, an arrogance in your taking it upon yourself to decide when and how military secrets ought to be shared with the United States Congress. An attitude that, quite honestly, I find shocking, and dare I say it–unpatriotic–‘

Harry Smythe leaped forward to his microphone before Joshua could get to his. ‘Sir, there’s no need to impugn the patriotism of my client.’ The lawyer held his hand over Joshua’s mic to make sure his client didn’t start cursing.

Straworth continued, ‘It is precisely because of your previous record of patriotism and service to this country that I find it particularly puzzling why you won’t comply with a simple request from your government–‘”

I find it particularly hilarious that a Democratic senator is the one in this book to use the same rhetorical low blow as a zillion Republican politicians have used since time immemoral: attack the other person’s patriotism.

Of course, this is really LaHaye and Parshall projecting onto their opponents the tactics they themselves have used, or have seen to be used, with effectiveness by their political allies.

“Joshua had heard enough. He ripped his lawyer’s hand off his mic. ‘Because I don’t want to give a single piece of technology that could save our country to the very people who are trying to destroy it!’

Senator Straworth sat back, like a spider watching his prey fly straight into his web. He smiled, then leaned forward again. ‘Do you mean the United Nations and the signers of the Six-Party Missile-Defense Treaty?’ intoned Straworth.”

The discussion goes on to establish that merely because of the treaty, Russia and China are the US’s “allies”, never mind that treaties have been, and will almost certainly continue to be, concluded both among allies, neutrals, and even active belligerents.

The United States and the Soviet Union were not made allies to one another simply because they ratified the SALT treaty.

There are numerous other examples of such cases where the mere existence of a treaty did not constitute an alliance.

But in LaHaye’s and Parshall’s world, signing a treaty mutually pledging (as near as I can guess) to not use missile defence shields or to strictly regulate their use automatically makes all the signatories allies to one another.

“‘[Russia and China] are our allies, Mr. Jordan,’ said Straworth, now clearly enjoying himself.

‘That’s right,’ said Joshua, ‘but only because we need oil from one and owe trillions of dollars to the other.’

‘So we should just throw out all our alliances because of an injured sense of pride?’ the senator said, toying with him now. ‘So who can we trust in this world then?'”

And now, once again, we see what a diva Joshua can be like, and how unnecessarily provocative he can be even though he knows the Senator has it in for him (assuming we ignore the fact that Senator Straworth is simply the foil against which Joshua can show off how justified and righteous he is).

“‘That is the question, isn’t it, Senator?’ Now it was time for Joshua to fight back. ‘Who can we trust?’ He turned to his lawyer. ‘I can trust Harry here because I know he’s taken an oath; if he repeats anything I tell him in confidence, he could lose his law license, maybe even go to jail. I trust my wife because I know she loves me and would never betray me. I trust the Constitution because I know it has the greater good of our country at its heart.’

He paused for a second, thinking carefully before going on. ‘But the question is, who can I trust in this room … Truth is, I just can’t come up with a satisfactory answer to that question.'”

OOH, BUUUUUURN!

Straworth goes on to threaten a contempt citation, and then threatens a full subpoena of him and his relevant documentation on the RTS project.

Joshua rounds out the chapter with this sermon/foreshadowing/warning:

“‘I’ll tell you what I find to be an outrage and a crime,’ Jordan spoke calmly. ‘But, Senator, it has nothing to do with this committee. What it has to do with is the fact that out there, right now, in terrorist cells, in dark rooms, in rogue nations, and in the palaces of dictators and international drug lords, there are men who are willing to do absolutely anything to get their hands on my technology.’

Joshua had one more word on the subject. He spit it out like a bit of rotten apple.

Anything…'”

It’s a total non sequitur, but it sets the stage for some actually half-decent subplots in this book. But let’s get back to his statement. If it has nothing to do with the committee, why is he making reference to all these folks who want to get their mitts on classified technology?

The conclusion is that he’s subtly claiming that at least one member of that committee could be suborned to the ebil terrists, never mind that it’s very likely the FBI and CIA keep track of domestic and foreign contacts made to Congresscritters and Senators – in particular, the members on intelligence and military oversight committees.

Now, we will find that Chapter Thirteen takes us to a very familiar part of the world in LaHaye-ville. That’s right, folks – stay tuned for Ro-MANIA! (Sadly, however, Nicolae Mountain-of-many-names will not make an appearance)

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36 thoughts on “EoA: Battle of Wills

  1. This is all sounding to me like an attack on someone who’s invented the Magic Missile Mirror in his garden shed, and is refusing to sell it to the government.

    Which might be an interesting story, but it isn’t what happened: this thing was developed on a government contract. The arguments should be entirely different, and mostly consist of “we’re going to take back all the money we gave your company, and possibly lock you up, because of contract violation”.

    Don’t American politicians take an oath of office? I know the president does.

    Ooh, Romania! “The pig eats anything, but he gets fat for others.” (Traditional proverb of the area.)

    • In all seriousness, though, this conflict really does seem to be highly “manufactured”. I’m assuming Jordan’s contract would have spelled out the basic parameters of this missile defence thing. It also appears that at the very least he’s already shared the apparatus with the Pentagon, since it was mounted on a ship.

      Along with that stuff there would have had to be documentation on how to use it.

      So Jordan’s posturing to the contrary, the US military already has access to (a) a working prototype, and (b) some usage procedures. Reverse engineering it from that might be difficult, but not impossible.

      Ergo, this whole thing is simply a rather fatuous fantasy by LaHaye and Parshall about how those horrible pro-government Liberals want to ruin the nation. It’s the same old Bircher logic about how Democrats were supposed to be “soft on Communism”.

      • I’m assuming Jordan’s contract would have spelled out the basic parameters of this missile defence thing.

        It’s even more complex than that. See my comment on the last post about military standards and the documentation, review, and audit processes for developing something under military contract. The Pentagon would have detailed specs on the even the screws holding together the base that supports the laser, because that’s how military contracts work. This whole argument demonstrates that neither author has the first realistic clue of what it means to be such a contractor.

  2. An enemy getting Return-to-Sender…This could lead to an amusing (or not-so-amusing) game of missile ping-pong…Missile 1 sent by Iran shoots toward U.S.A., U.S.A. uses RtS to bounce it back to Iran, Iran notices and uses its copy of RtS to bounce Missile 1 right back on course, U.S.A. notices and re-implements RtS, ad infinitum…

    So, um, when does the missile finally get neutralized in this instance? When it runs out of fuel? What happens when that happens, say, over Andorra?

    Honestly, it’s the neutrals who have the most to worry about RtS leaking out, not the United States.

    • True. Also, some missiles can be set to have dual-activation mechanisms: they can be set to either go off at a certain altitude, or simply expire after a time-out.

      A fail-safe implementation would have a conventional explosive split the missile in half so the fissionable material gets spread out, like a “dirty bomb” – it would still be bad, but not as bad as a nuclear explosion where you don’t want one.

      On the other hand it’s more likely to be set to “fail deadly”, so that after a certain time-out, the bomb’s computer decides the altimeter has failed to trigger, and simply blows right then and there.

      So if RTS ping-pong sends the bomb high over the Atlantic Ocean, you’ve got the potential for an air burst to not only spew fallout right into worldwide air currents, but also an EMP discharge. At that point, command and control could be disrupted, and so could an attempt to de-escalate the conflict.

      This sort of thing is why, LaHaye’s and Parshall’s mouthpieces to the contrary, it makes sense to pro-actively pursue nuclear disarmament rather than play arms race games with other countries.

  3. So what’s to stop them from using internal encryption in their warhead computers? Or going back to good old semiconductors, so that a fail-deadly switch detects when the target programminghas been changed, the bomb just goes off? Or just go back to semiconductors, period?

    You know, this reminds me of a story… several stories, actually, done by a number of SF authors in the 60s and 70s. Some boffin comes up with a magical superdefense that makes warfare impossible! Gunpowder cooks off, nukes are neutralized, lasers are useless, bombs fail to detonate! It will be world peace at last! War is obsolete!

    Until a grizzled, tired general puts the kid in his place, and tells him that the next war is going to be fought with crossbows and spears. In some versions of the story, the general gives the boffin a book like ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli, or Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War.’ It might end with a quote form a future book, with a title like ‘Return of the Sword,’ or ‘The Second Coming of the Sword’ or such.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying, that methinks LeHaye is not thinking through the unintended consequences of this system. First off, the technology will come out if it’s implemented. China and Russia will make it the work of their entire intelligence apparatus to acquire this technology. From there it will spread. It will not only no longer be an option for enemies of the US to lob a nuke (or any sort of theater-class warhead with a travel time of a minute or so) but it will no longer be an option for the US, either. And very likely, if we do not have our own intelligence apparati looking for evidence of this system elsewhere, the first time we notice this is when some of our theater forces find themselves playing atomic ping-pong with our own nukes.

    There are dozens of ‘unintended consequences’ here, which I leave as an exercise for the reader. (For purposes of this exam, assume a perfectly spherical CIA.)

    • Mink, absolutely – I was only looking at the technical reasons why it couldn’t work, rather than the political… “Assume the enemy will always put glass nose-cones on their missiles” doesn’t strike me as a particularly viable defence strategy.

      I guess in RTC-land no furriner is smart as a good old American, so the only way the “bad guys” could get this system is to steal it, i.e. suborn people. Since military men cannot be suborned (hand on heart, don’t mention Clyde Lee Conrad or William Weisband or Clayton J. Lonetree or Andrew Roth or, well you get the idea), the military has to have total control of this stuff, and politicians (hack spit) aren’t allowed.

      • Nono, you had perfectly good points! And yours are the points that say this thing just *cannot work*. Missile guidance systems just do not work the way LeHaye says they do. I was only adding a few underlines to the ‘LeHaye didn’t think this through’ fact. ^_^

        I can let my suspenders of disbelief get snapped now and then — it’s de rigeur for most science fiction. Off the top of my head I can think of two or three other ways to technobabble this idea — including the popular, ‘We’re not quite sure how it works, sir, but if you have about three hundred semester units to spare I’m sure our team can start to explain it.’ But if those suspenders get broken by the key technology of the story, then that just brings every other failure into sharp contrast.

        Let’s see… LeHaye has gotten involved in Apocalypse fanfic masquerading as supernatural thriller, an Indiana Jones/Dan Brown tribute, and now is trying his hand at a Clancyesque military techno-thriller. Anyone want to take bets as to what his next project is? My money is on romance. And if you thought George Lucas should have a restraining order keeping him from doing romantic scenes…. ^_^

      • But they haven’t written a *paranormal* romance yet. All the Kewl Kidz are doing it.

        C’mon — don’t you really wanna see the L&J version of the angsty kickass heroine with the magical tats, who has a passionate love-hate relationship with a sparkly were-marmoset?

        Anyone? Bueller?

      • Historical… Romance….

        Words cannot express how much I am dumbstruck by this. If the historical romances are anything like the Chloe-Buck ‘romance,’ no wonder those books are called incredibly bland.

      • C’mon — don’t you really wanna see the L&J version of the angsty kickass heroine with the magical tats, who has a passionate love-hate relationship with a sparkly were-marmoset?

        I want this. I want this so. bad.

      • I dunno, I can’t help thinking that L+J paranormal romance/urban fantasy would mean the kickass heroine giving up her life of kickassitude to be a Good Wife and Mother while the sparkly were-marmoset gets spit-roasted by a passing TurboAngel.

    • @Mink.

      “Unintended consequences” would definitely be the name of this game, although I think some version of a suit case bomb would be the most likely outcome. It’d be the ultimate end run around the shiny new missile shield: Just carry the bomb in manually. Of course that brings up a whole new dilemma for America’s nuclear rivals. Since it’s impossible to practice effective MAD with manually delivered nuclear devices, you get into a position where your only hope is to strike first and destroy your enemy utterly. I seem to recall a short story by Robert Heinlein (circa early Cold War) where he basically urged the US to establish nuclear backed one world government before the Soviets could develop their own atomic bomb. His reasoning was that given the Soviets were still decades behind in rocketry and long-range bombers, they would have to smuggle their bombs in since they would face western pre-emptive attacks long before they could achieve parity. Not the best line of reasoning, but it had enough rat-in-the-corner logic to make it scary. If you’ve got a knife but that angry crazy guy down the street just got a gun, a stab in the back suddenly starts looking reasonable…
      Of course, actually having the vision to imagine the horrifying (unintended) consequences of a single new piece of technology is what separates good sci-fi from bad.
      BTW: Just found the site via Slacktivist. Looks good so far, keep it up!

      • That’s an incredibly good point. RtS-RGS is only for the delivery system. It does nothing for the actual warhead. Moreover, it does nothing for the particular missiles that have multiple decoy warheads.

        A much better gimmick that LeHaye could have used is something like Traveller’s nuclear damper: either arrest nuclear decay or enhance it. Make the fissile material either go supercritical in a safe location or have it become virtually inert. But even that does nothing to address fallout from an implosion-type nuke…

        Sigh. I’m sure LeHaye thought this was a neat-o cool idea!!! when he came up with it, but he forgot one of the cardinal rules of SF writing: Just because an idea is cool doesn’t make it good; those suspenders of disbelief are just waiting to be snapped.

        • The peculiarity seems to be the need for the bomb to go off at the launch site – even with the explanation as given, it could be sent anywhere. Maybe there’s some reason it needs to work that way in the larger plot.

          Pretty much all the real-world ways people could think of for stopping nuclear missiles were thought of during the SDI project. Many of them are entirely impractical, but that’s the place to look. Basically, hitting the missile with either a solid object or a lot of photons…

          This feels to me rather like the way it does when some Major Literary Figure (as it might be Ishiguro or Amis) decides to write a science fiction book (not having read any), and gets all pleased with himself about his Amazing New Idea, only for the SF fans to say “yeah, read about that in the sixties, what have you got to say about this that we haven’t heard before?”.

      • Make the fissile material either go supercritical in a safe location or have it become virtually inert. But even that does nothing to address fallout from an implosion-type nuke…

        Oh, sure it does! Presumably, dampening fissile material involves (somehow) stabilizing the nuclei such that they no longer fission. While you’re doing that, the material isn’t radioactive anymore, so it’s exactly as troubling as a bunch of toxic metal. Which is still bad, but not anything like as bad.

        On the other hand, LaHaye would probably feel compelled to explain how such a device worked. That would be unfortunate.

  4. Firedrake (we had reached the maximum number of nesting levels): This feels to me rather like the way it does when some Major Literary Figure (as it might be Ishiguro or Amis) decides to write a science fiction book (not having read any), and gets all pleased with himself about his Amazing New Idea, only for the SF fans to say “yeah, read about that in the sixties, what have you got to say about this that we haven’t heard before?”.

    I am looking at you P.D. James

  5. What it has to do with is the fact that out there, right now, in terrorist cells, in dark rooms, in rogue nations, and in the palaces of dictators and international drug lords, there are men who are willing to do absolutely anything to get their hands on my technology.’

    Joshua had one more word on the subject. He spit it out like a bit of rotten apple.

    ‘Anything…’”

    No. No, they won’t. “Terrorist cells” and “drug lords” rely on their discretion of place. If their hideouts are found, they’re screwed. It doesn’t matter if missiles are used or not. Laser-guided bombs can’t be “Returned To Sender,” and non-smart ordinance will smash laser defense systems easy. As for rogue nations and dictators, it would be more valuable, but again, would probably just encourage massive conventional retaliation by the still vastly superior US military. In short, the RTS is the type of military technology (like plans for a new tank) that really only large, conventional or nuclear powers can use. The Red October could be stolen by the US, or recovered by the USSR. There’s no reason that Libya would want it.

    • Absolutely. Or to look at it another way: it doesn’t really help to be able to turn round a missile if nobody’s firing a missile at you.

      (And it still DOESN’T WORK ON ANYTHING NOT MADE OF GLASS, sorry but I had to point that out again.)

      Even in its magic mode, it has nothing to say to bullets, impact-fused bombs, and so on…

  6. So here’s another reason this don’t work so good: ICBMs.

    “Huh, Erl,” you say. “That ‘B’ in there must stand for something.” And what a clever reader you are, hypothetical audience foil!
    The “B” stands for ballistic. In other words, by the time an ICBM from Siberia gets within range of any “Return to Sender” system, it is already on its track. It don’t have no guidance that can turn it around; its fuel has already burnt out. Even if you make the warheads turn themselves off, the energy of the collision is still well within the kiloton range, i.e., enough to kill tens, hundreds of thousands in NY in the right spot.

    Also, “Return to Sender” is such a smug, obnoxious name. Which, to be fair, is more or less just like “Star Wars.”

    • Sorry, Erl, I’m going to have to argue with you very slightly there. A Minuteman missile is 78,000lb all-up, and comes in at around 7km/s; half m v squared gives around 866 GJ of impact energy, but that’s still only about 230 tons of TNT. RSD-10 Pioneer (SS-20) is 82klb, 240 tons. Still not going to be fun for whoever’s underneath, particularly considering all the plutonium that’s going to be scattered around the place…

      With you all the way on “it can’t go somewhere else even if it wants to” and “it’s a smug name”…

      • Took another look at my numbers, and you’re quite right. I’d run this once before, but I must have dropped a decimal somewhere. Thanks for the correction. I’d been using that faux-fact in discussions of nuclear policy, so it’s good to get the right data.

      • I even enjoy some of Tom Clancy’s work even when it slightly gets the tech wrong.

        What I’ve heard is that Tom Clancy’s work often gets the tech wrong *on purpose*, especially since the incident with the radar system or what not…

        A much better gimmick that LeHaye could have used is something like Traveller’s nuclear damper: either arrest nuclear decay or enhance it. Make the fissile material either go supercritical in a safe location or have it become virtually inert. But even that does nothing to address fallout from an implosion-type nuke…

        That’s in the GURPS Ultratech book, not just Traveller. And yeah, there’s a reason it’s super-science, although it’s nowhere near as good as the annihilation damper or the reality stabilizer.

        The Red October could be stolen by the US, or recovered by the USSR. There’s no reason that Libya would want it.

        Except, if their sufficiently willing to play with fire, in order to use it as leverage – exchange it in order for some concession. Not a likely play, but decent political thriller material.

        It don’t have no guidance that can turn it around; its fuel has already burnt out.

        Most ICBMs *do* have terminal guidance, achieved through the use of manuvering fins.

        Sorry, Erl, I’m going to have to argue with you very slightly there. A Minuteman missile is 78,000lb all-up, and comes in at around 7km/s; half m v squared gives around 866 GJ of impact energy, but that’s still only about 230 tons of TNT. RSD-10 Pioneer (SS-20) is 82klb, 240 tons. Still not going to be fun for whoever’s underneath, particularly considering all the plutonium that’s going to be scattered around the place…

        Yeah, that. Consider also that while a Minuteman weighs some 39 tons, the package that returns (intact) is much smaller. Even when using large payloads at silly(er) velocities, it still comes in the gigaton range. ICBMs aren’t exactly KKVs…

        For that matter, are we honestly supposed to view NK as the provocateurs here? I mean, their boat was in international waters, our spyplane was in their DMZ, etc. etc. Yeah, we’re entitled to shoot back at them, but this is genuinely a pas de deux of fucking up.

        Well, a nuclear attack in retaliation for a spyplane is generally considered *slightly* uncreasonable.

        Sure. I mean, you and I can imagine aggressive uses of the system (though apparently you’ll get there first ). But I think there is something about the moral dimension worth looking into. It’s not that JJ has invented a massive sky laser that will reshape the deterrence environment. He’s invented a weapon that can only be used against a missile launch site, more or less. It’s the most carefully directed weapon in the history of warfare. He will NEVER have to sit up nights wondering about how it felt to be a child burned to death by his weapon, unlike every other major weapon of the twentieth century.

        It can’t be used for aggressive purposes *in its current state*. There’s nothing preventing him from programming in different coordinates than the launch site, and moreover, apparently *every* computer now uses this special optical system. If we accept, somehow, that this laser can apparently manipulate electronics through solid objects, they’ve basically created a universal remote-hacking tool. Not the nastiest weapon, perhaps, but a still a potential aggressive threat.

        Because it’s not like weapon designers *don’t* work on things like armor and countermeasures, which are also ‘strictly defensive’ in a sense (and I’d definitely call things like composite/reactive armor ‘major weapons of the twentieth century’ – you could argue it falls under ‘tanks’, but in that case, I’d say RTS falls under ‘missiles’)

        I had a larger comment about the implications of the RTS, but my own stupidity ate it. Suffice to say it’s not going to be much good against terrorists or small ‘rogue states’.

    • Because I am enjoined to be strictly fair: “Star Wars” was what the journalists called it, never any sort of official name. The fact that almost everyone thinks of it under that name shows what a successful piece of propaganda it was.

      • Haha. Afraid I wasn’t all that alive back in the day (I never coexisted with the USSR), so again, I appreciate the correction. Which, of course, just makes it worse.

        Consider: the main character of this novel is more smug than the PR arm of the Reagan administration. *Shudders*

  7. Oh and cause I’m in full on nitpick mode: in what “near future” does North Korea have enough nukes to put them on boats? I mean, without literally starving a tenth or a fifth of their population straight to death. The navy were the last to get nukes, as I understand it, and for good reason: the Air Force can drop them and the army can shoot them, but the details of nuclear naval warfare take a while to work out, along with a whole new class of subs.

    If, on the flip side, the nukes are on the boat as part of a deliberate attack plan as opposed to the more traditional general brinkmanship–that is, the plan was already to blow up NYC, then why would the captain hesitate? If they’re not there to nuke NYC, why would they hit it in retaliation for Pyongyang? Wouldn’t DC be a more logical target?

    For that matter, are we honestly supposed to view NK as the provocateurs here? I mean, their boat was in international waters, our spyplane was in their DMZ, etc. etc. Yeah, we’re entitled to shoot back at them, but this is genuinely a pas de deux of fucking up.

    And don’t you just love how the authors avoided the whole morally complex dimension of weapons contracting by having their hero invent a weapons system that cannot be used aggressively? I mean, come the hell on.

    And another thing– *is dragged offstage*

    • Well, one way to look at it is that nuking NYC for blowing up a radar jamming station is a pretty disproportionate response.

      I also think the book was subtly suggesting the Admiral wasn’t telling the whole truth about Pyongyang being blown up. Seems to me if it had happened there’d be a huuuuuuuuuge shitfight going on in the UN.

      • My reading of the NK situation is that:

        (1) the Prowler gets hit by something. Let’s call it a non-nuclear EMP, a valid development for a technothriller.

        (2) while trying to escape, the crew shoots off a HARM at the radar station that’s illuminating them.

        (3) the Daedong gets a fragmentary message from HQ saying two Korean jets have been shot down and “missiles launched”.

        (4) the Admiral goes all “I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin’ on back there” and decides to launch.

    • Erl, yes, the basic idea is that NK has one of these ships and is planning to build a bunch more, and randomly cruise them up and down foreign coasts with nukes on board. Surface ships at that (which actually makes sense, building and operating submarines is hard and while they do love their diesel boats a boomer is a whole different story). I continue to feel that any such ship is going to have a medium-sized USN task force breathing down its neck. I would seriously expect to see it sunk before the missile was actually launched, certainly about ten seconds afterwards.

      Most of the NK navy doesn’t have the range to go from one side of the country to the other without refuelling. This is indeed a huge leap in their capabilities.

      A weapons system that cannot be used aggressively? As presented, it can reprogram any missile computer on the fly. So let’s take their next ICBM test and make that hit its launch site… sounds pretty aggressive to me, and certainly if someone did that to the USA I reckon they’d feel they’d been attacked.

      • Erl, yes, the basic idea is that NK has one of these ships and is planning to build a bunch more, and randomly cruise them up and down foreign coasts with nukes on board.

        . . . honestly, I have to admit that is just within the range of crazy that the NK gov’t has put out. I still think you’d need a substantial nuclear arsenal aimed across the DMZ before Kim Jong Un would let any of them out of the country, though.

        I continue to feel that any such ship is going to have a medium-sized USN task force breathing down its neck.

        Agreed. For that matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ship would be ordered to turn back, a la the Cuban Missile Crisis. The problem then becomes why the presence of a hostile nuclear ship in near-US waters isn’t already a huge deal.

        For that matter, we’re supposed to accept that the other major powers view the US’s actions as unnecessarily aggressive, but (supposing the NK ship went Sea of India-Suez Canal-Mediterranean-Atlantic) every major power has already shit a ton of bricks about this boat, and secretly prayed something terrible would happen to it.

        As presented, it can reprogram any missile computer on the fly. So let’s take their next ICBM test and make that hit its launch site… sounds pretty aggressive to me, and certainly if someone did that to the USA I reckon they’d feel they’d been attacked.

        Sure. I mean, you and I can imagine aggressive uses of the system (though apparently you’ll get there first :P). But I think there is something about the moral dimension worth looking into. It’s not that JJ has invented a massive sky laser that will reshape the deterrence environment. He’s invented a weapon that can only be used against a missile launch site, more or less. It’s the most carefully directed weapon in the history of warfare. He will NEVER have to sit up nights wondering about how it felt to be a child burned to death by his weapon, unlike every other major weapon of the twentieth century.

        I just feel it ties into this insistence on moral purity, and smugness about it, that RTC lit exhibits.

  8. Going through the archives…

    I just want to add one thing about names: I wonder if Straworth’s name is a subconscious indicator of the worthiness of his arguments – the first thing I thought when seeing that name was “straw man”, and indeed he is.

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