Thursday, 12 August 2010

An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion - Various

An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion
-Travis S. Taylor, Bob Boan, R.C. Anding, T. Conley Powell

Doc Travis and co tell us how to defeat an alien invasion. It’s not hopeful.

A textbook has to be interesting for students to read it. A lot of textbooks miss this point – although, to be fair, how does one made advanced accountancy interesting? This highly unusual textbook, an attempt to define the possible alien invasion threat and counters to said threat, makes interesting reading. There are bits that will puzzle readers, bits that will amuse them, bits that will make them think – and bits that will make the blood boil.

Aliens may or may not exist, but many people seem to think that they will be benevolent. The authors, however, warn us that we cannot count on such an issue; we ourselves have tended to advance faster when engaged in direct competition with other nations. Many of the greatest advances (nuclear power, electronics, the internet) have been developed under war or the threat of war. If aliens are anything like us, and they would have to be to be interested in Earth, they will regard us as potential conquests or competition. It would, as the authors advise, be very unwise to make no preparations for an invasion.

In the first section of the book, the authors attempt to define the likelihood of an alien encounter. Given the lack of data on the subject, it is hard to say anything about their conclusions – hindsight may prove them right or wrong. What I think can be said with some certainty is that if there is a race with 100LY of us, and at the same technological level, they know about us. The authors note that the wise course of action would be to stop sending out radio transmissions…but even if we stopped tomorrow, which is unlikely, the signals are already rushing out there. If ET is within range, ET knows that we are here. To this extent, the authors take a dim view of SETI’s faith in ET.

“For some strange reason the majority of the SETI community believes that a civilization that is advanced enough to conduct interstellar travel would be beyond such things as war or malicious intent.” (Page 30, ebook version)

The authors are entirely correct – and in fact…the odds are far more likely that we will encounter someone who, deliberately or not, will do us harm. From directly stamping on competition, to alien cultural ideas, we will be at considerable risk from ET. From our own history, have we really improved as a race…or have we simply reached the point where we dare not engage in all-out thermonuclear war? Further, if space travel could be made easy…far more of us would go to space. If ET has our level of tech, such as the aliens from FOOTFALL, they can get to us. Warp drive and other FTL systems merely make Earth more vulnerable.

(On a side note, handling an alien invasion would depend on how much support the aliens could expect from home. Are they dependent upon a single mothership, or do they have rapid communications with home?)

On a different point, Doctor Taylor highlights a problem; the belief that somehow preparing for war in space is wrong, through recounting a meeting with Doctor Sagan. The world at large doesn’t take alien threats seriously…and many feel that the aliens are good guys, better than the Government, et al. If aliens do show up, how many will, in the words of Kent Brockman, welcome our new overlords? Even if the aliens mean us no direct harm, their culture might try to override us.

Having considered the possibilities of an invasion, the authors consider the problems of fighting one. Unfortunately, they are formidable – they predict, as in The Resistance, that we will have to fight as an underground force. The problem, as I suggested in The Resistance, is that the alien attack – assuming Star Trek-level tech – will be as much of a surprise as 9/11 was. In hindsight, doubtless people will claim that the US government has known about it since Roswell…but it may not be humans writing the history books. An attack that came out of nowhere, if the enemy knew where our bases were, would almost certainly cripple the combined forces of the world in the first few hours. In fact, the aliens could just sit in orbit and drop rocks on our bases.

The authors paint a very grim picture; invasion forces on Earth, mass slaughter of civilians as a by-effect of the fighting…we don’t have any preparations in line for this. How can we? The last Civil Defence drill in the UK took place in 1960 (?). Past that…uncharted waters. We might be in the realm of Dies The Fire, or worse. Could even one nuclear detonation be handled? I think not.

If we have proof that aliens exist, the only hope for long-term victory lies in meeting them in space. While an underground war – the authors cite the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan – might hold out some hope, it would depend on a) our ability to hold out, b) our ability to get around alien defences, and c) our sources of supply. We cannot count on some version of the CIA supplying us with Stinger missiles; would we be able to produce the weapons we will need under alien occupation?

Which leads to a different point. If there were an alien religion, how many people would accept it? Would alien culture seem superior enough to our own – which many people who have never lived under anything else are dissatisfied with – for them to win the culture war? Would we end up with a fifth column in our cities?

Further, and finally for this section, ET will probably understand our technology, if not our minds. He will know what our capabilities are and he will understand what we can do with anything of his that falls into our hands. Assuming that he thinks like us, like Cortez we can expect him to be using humans as sepoys – would Saddam have refused alien plasma rifles in exchange for conquering the Middle East for ET? There will be those who like the alien viewpoint or religion. There may be those who want to stick it to the US. There will be those who will fight for money.

I won’t go into detail on the suggestions that the authors put forward for developing technologies. Suffice it to say that they have the right ideas…and in fact many of them, including spaceplanes, could be developed fairly quickly with the right kind of support. Perhaps putting the actual building of spaceplanes under an ‘at your own risk’ clause, rather than any EPS and OSHA rules. All of that could be done without activating the ‘snigger factor’ that always appears when aliens are mentioned.

The authors discuss possible aliens motives for visiting Earth, from the possible (eliminating competition) to the unlikely (interbreeding). One thought, of course, is that if an alien turns up seeking asylum – and a large alien battleship arrives and demands his return – what are we going to do?

“[Chapter Four] is difficult to handle emotionally. It requires great responsibility from the readers to understand it.” (Page 125, ebook)

Fair Warning – this is the bit that will make everyone’s blood boil. Jihads and flame wars have been declared over less. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that I suspect that one part of the argument is seriously flawed.

“As it stands now, there is no scientifically accepted evidence available to the public that we know about any alien threat, so the aliens cannot be certain that we know about them and are preparing for them.” (Page 130, ebook)

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the US Government knows about aliens. How might they know? Transmissions from space are unlikely to remain unnoticed by others, such as SETI (see above), while radar contacts…bah, everyone gets radar contacts, lol. A sufficiently advanced ET is likely to have some degree of stealth technology – if they even come within range of our radars. No…the only absolute proof is a crashed UFO, which it might be possible to keep hidden. According to the book, the world at large should not be told…and the UFO studied. However…

If an alien UFO crashes on Earth, it seems to me to be highly unlikely that the mothership will somehow be unaware that the ship has crashed. Even if they don’t maintain anything like an ongoing transmission of telemetry from the UFO, they will know that it was lost. If the USS George Washington were to lose an aircraft over Iran, I don’t think that the Captain would shrug and say “oh dear, it must have exploded in midair,” or something like that that leaves no possible clues for the enemy. On the contrary, there would be a search for the crashed aircraft and any surviving pilots – as even a live pilot could be devastating to the US.

Simple logic, therefore, dictates that the aliens will not only suspect – they will have to assume – that the UFO has fallen into our hands, but they will also have a far better idea of what we could learn from the craft. We don’t lose anything by telling the world about the UFO – we never had the advantage that we might think we have – and in fact we will be putting the world on alert. Might the aliens, knowing that we have the craft, not launch the invasion at once – just to prevent us from learning anything useful?

If we want to prepare for an alien encounter, we will need more than a token effort. At some point, the government is going to have to tell everyone everything, just to ensure that there is total support for the preparations. Take America’s entry into WW2; before Pearl Harbour, there was little support for war, after Pearl Harbour there was near-total support. Japan could not mount a surprise attack that destroyed the US’s capability to resist in one blow; ET can, simply by dropping asteroids on us. Do we have time to wait for a Pearl Harbour?

“If the public were told of the existence of the spacecraft, then other governments would claim that they had rights to see the technology and this could cause a political and diplomatic nightmare. Who should be in control of the technology? Who should benefit? Would you want Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden to have the magic alien death ray at their disposal. What about the Russians, Chinese, Germans, North Koreans, and the French? Would these governments invite us to the party or keep the technology to themselves?” (Page 132, ebook)

This is, of course, entirely correct. I submit, that in the event of a UFO landing in France, the US would be EXTREMELY put out if the French tried to keep the technology to themselves. Is it such a surprise, then, to discover that the rest of the world would think the same about the US? The US operates within a global system; the mere presence of alien technology, which everyone assumes will be better than human technology, will destabilise this system. The longer the US has kept this secret, the more upset the governments will be…and, of course, they won’t be making preparations to resist an alien attack.

Bad movies aside, the aliens won’t be coming just for the US, or Australia, or one single nation…they will be coming for us all. Does anyone seriously think that Saddam (pre-Invasion Iraq), or North Korea, or Iran, could offer any serious chance of learning anything useful from the technology? No – it is the developed nations that will offer the first-line of resistance, and who knows who will make the breakthrough? At the same time, there will be impeachments, demands for full disclosure from everyone in the US. The secrecy might become actively harmful – but only to the global defence effort. The aliens, who will know exactly what we can learn from the craft, won’t be put out.

(In correspondence with Doc Travis, one of the authors, he points out that US law supports keeping such matters a secret. I respectfully submit that few people will take any notice of that. This is such an emotive matter that legality will take a back burner.)

“Apparently [President Clinton] had an investigation into both the Roswell incident and who shot John F. Kennedy. He was also “stonewalled” on both incidents. History has now shown us that President Clinton had particular quirks of his personal life that could make him a prime target for blackmail. From the definitions of being able to gain proper access and security clearances as discussed above, Bill Clinton would not have qualified. This is not a politically motivated statement; it is merely a fact.” (Page 134, ebook)

This is, as the authors point out, a disturbing fact. They go on to say that the disturbing part about it was that Clinton, the President of the United States of America, was effectively untrustworthy. Irony of ironies; my opinion of Clinton is best summed up by the concept that Eccles from the Goon Show would have made a better President than he did. However…he was the President, he was the Commander in Chief…and he was stonewalled. Was there any point to the whole ‘no taxation without representation’ fuss if the elected leader of the nation cannot find out about something that might have had a disastrous effect during his administration? Yes – the authors are correct to suggest that all politicians should be subject to severe background checks – but it is not the place of the military to determine who should be President!

What if…Roswell really happened, but Bill knows nothing about it. An alien starship arrives, demanding the return of the ship…or Earth gets turned into a radioactive cinder? They know perfectly well that the UFO is in America, but Clinton doesn’t. He says, “What ship?” The aliens promptly destroy the planet. What happens…if that contract is discreet? Instead of a massive battleship visible to all, Clinton gets beamed into the starship from long distance. He still doesn’t know anything about Roswell…and those who do know never know about the contact. Earth still gets blown up.

Conspiracies are illegal – say the authors. If the US wants honest presidents, then elect them. They have only themselves to blame if they don’t like him. There is a reason why shows like the X-Files are so popular…and no amount of hiding things will make that better. Time and time again – as in the case of the atomic spies – security clearances have been proven to be insufficient to ensure that there are no disclosures.

Anyway, that’s the end of the blood-boiling bit. Direct any death threats to Mr Bin Ladin, CO the House of Saud.

The authors suggest a series of precautions, including drawing up basic contingency plans. (Hiding from the aliens is impractical – see above.) One piece of advice (Page 144) involves opening fire at once…something I am forced to regard as deadly dangerous. WE KNOW NOTHING about ET, a point that the authors make, and greeting them with a hail of fire might start a war, one that would be un-winnable. Like it or not, ET will be here – and our only course of action is to learn as much as we can about them. If they’re openly hostile, then we have nothing left to lose anyway – then we can open fire.

(Opening fire might also reveal what weapons we have, perhaps convincing ET that we are weaker than he might have thought – and prompting the invasion that he was thinking about.)

The authors are quick to dismiss the thought of global cooperation. While that is probably likely (who in their right mind would share nuclear tech with North Korea?) I feel that a lot could be done, even without open acknowledgement of the alien threat. What if…the US announced that it was going to build an ABM shield, so yar boo sucks to global opinion…but offered to extend the shield to Europe in exchange for the Europeans contributing funds to the project? The tech secrets of the US remain in American hands, the EU gets defended…and the world is a little bit safer. Hell, why not offer the same to nations that are at threat; China and Russia are every bit as much at threat from Rogue States as the US and Europe. This avoids many of the unpleasant outcomes suggested by Page 150-151, most of which are overrated.

The main suggestion of the book involves germinating a small government body (the sixth column) to prepare options for handling an alien contact. This is a reasonable approach, although in the event of CLEAR knowledge of an incoming threat it will have to go public, simply to have everyone working on defence. Relaxing the rules on space enterprises, as suggested above, would hopefully encourage space development – the only possible route to success. The 6th Column will operate in secret for several reasons; some good, some bad. I won’t comment on those, except one.

“Global security and stability of governments could be compromised if the wrong rogue nations were suddenly given access to weapons much more powerful than any previous WMD.” (Page 157)

Making WMD is tricky. If it were not tricky, then Iran, Iraq, Argentina, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, to say nothing of the ex-USSR states, would already have WMD. Saddam operated under considerable disadvantages and failed; so far, North Korea (which is believed by some analysts to have some nukes) and Iran have failed to detonate a weapon. The information on how to build nukes is in the public domain – college kids have built them, they just had no material, THANK GOD – and if it were easy, the problem states would have done it. To imagine that they could build plasma rifles and antimatter bombs from scratch within a short space of time is…rather unlikely.

Some of the ideas are amusing, such as publishing books (I’d volunteer to write them) and putting scenarios forward in novel (pun not intended) form. That does not make the ideas silly; there is quite a lot to be said for placing such problems before the public, although how many of the public would see them? (Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with that idea.) There are some minor problems with the concept, but I won’t go into them. The idea is workable…its just not enough.

The book makes harrowing reading if you have an active imagination. One basic point comes through clearly; we don’t have a snowballs chance in hell unless we get into space before ET turns up! There has to be an active program to kick-start space exploration, one that does not depend on NASA – which has played fast and loose with world security ever since Challenger – but instead on commercial competition. Have the US Government offer some start-up funds to private space programs, within the US, and offer to forgive those debts if a workable result appears within five years. Have an absolute ban on monopolies; if a workable design appears, share it…and at the same time offer a prize to each new spaceplane/SSTO design that works.

So…having read the book, what can I say? It doesn’t rant and rave like many books on the subject of alien encounters do, and it takes a prudent attitude towards ET contact. I cannot say that I approve of the condescending attitude towards the ‘right to know’ that is adopted. I think that there are two different; ‘rights to know’ here; the right to know that something exists and the right to know how it works. They cite the case of the F-117, but there was no way that the development of radar was going to pause simply because no one knew about the F-117. Apart from the US, the UK and the USSR had stealth programs…so why would anyone assume that there would be no other stealth aircraft? Arguing from hindsight is deadly dangerous – at least in history.

(A thought – exactly why is the US spending megabucks on new fighter aircraft…when we are not going to meet OBL in a fighter jet, nor is there any nation that a) is likely to be a threat, and b) matches the US in aircraft design? It’s things like that that make people paranoid about the government.) Oversight, through elected representatives, is the only way to make sure that money is not wasted.

Overall, buy it, read it. It’s a very interesting read.

Afterthought – Doc Travis has said that I do not ‘get’ the bit on security in his book. I felt, I suspect, pretty much the same way as the Young Travis did when facing Carl Sagen. How bloody ironic that I should share many of Doc’s views.

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