It is a curious and long-standing tradition that people are always writing stories about the next military threat to face their countries. From The Tale of the Next Great War, 1871-1914: Fictions of Future Warfare and of Battles Still-to-Come, collecting stories from before 1914, to the more recent Invasion (different book altogether), the possible variations on future threats are explored, dissected, and either defeated or defeat the opposing force. Britain (and, to some extent, Germany) enjoyed a remarkable series of such books in the years before the Great War, from the serious Invasion of 1910, to The Swoop, or how Clarence saved England, which was a massive piss-take from one end to the other.
[England is invaded by nine armies; the Germans, the Russians, the Mad Mullah, the Swiss, the Chinese, Monaco, the Young Turks, Moroccan brigands (?) and ‘dark-skinned warriors from the distant isle of Bollygolla.’ Enough said.]
The Germans (or enemies of choice) invaded…and were either defeated or defeat the British. (For those interested, a short overview can be found in Norman Longmate’s Island Fortress: The Defence of Great Britain, 1603-1945.)
The United States has not been short of such books itself, most notably Eric L. Harry’s Invasion and dozens of others, from the semi-serious The Next War to A State of Disobedience, from outside threats to internal problems. Perhaps this is a natural outcome of having achieved superpower status; you start worrying about who’s going to take it away from you. I do not know if China has books detailing the collapse of Chinese power – or if the regime would agree to allow them to be distributed if it did – but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
One thing that most of the books have in common, it should be noted, is a general trend to make the threat as overwhelming as possible. Eric L. Harry, in Invasion, creates a Chinese Empire that has overwhelmed most of East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and Cuba…and has now set its sights on America itself! Cue the starring role – in more ways than one – of the movie-star American president, his cute-as-buttons daughter who just happens to be a real combat soldier, the series of coincidences that keeps the plot charging along…and the unresolved conclusion. Let us ignore the impossibility of the plot; the story is good, right?
And now, the latest threat to global harmony and peace has been revealed – and its not George Bush! No, the real threat is the RIFs, who have somehow managed to unite Iran and Iraq – after the American occupation fell apart – and then gobbled up much of the Middle East and – apparently – North Africa and Israel as well. We shall ignore the fact that Israel would be more likely to start a nuclear war than accept a status within a super-state of Arabia…but it is one of the more jarring moments of the book. One of the more irritating aspects of the writing is that the author seems to have been updating his world as he moved along, with the net result that there are some major elements left in confusion. (Is Scotland independent? If not, why does it get to do what it does? If yes, why is it being used in the way it is?)
Anyway…America has more or less separated itself from the rest of the world, cracking down on its immigration problems and developing technology that allows it to do without oil – and not sharing it with Europe, despite the fact that that would blow Arabia’s entire basis for power, oil wealth, out of the water – and has basically left the rest of the world to its own devices. Arabia, which has somehow united, despite the fact that most of the RIF factions hate each other more than they hate Israel, has finally prepared the invasion of Europe, including Britain…
If you can suspend your disbelief that far, then…it’s actually a very suspenseful book. The decline in global terrorism – one imagines that AQ got the chop – has allowed the bad guys to slip thousands of covert agents into Europe. As the minutes tick away toward six pm, to use the blurb, commuters stream out of central London a truck idles by the pavement in Whitehall, its cargo bay packed with powerful explosives. A British Airways Airbus, on final approach into Heathrow, is tracked by surface-to-air missiles. In Downing Street, recently-elected Prime Minister Harry Beecham is preparing notes for a diplomatic engagement when he is summoned to an urgent meeting. He's informed by worried security officials that a large number of surveillance targets have suddenly disappeared off the grid. Something is happening, but what? Even as the meeting takes place, thousands of Islamic fighters are quietly taking up positions near military barracks, police stations, government buildings, airports, train stations and hundreds of other targets. They have already received the 'go' signal - now they wait only for the seconds to countdown and the hour to arrive.
Not all the attacks, as one might expect, succeed. They do a great deal of damage, enough to seriously disrupt the UK’s military, forcing it back towards Scotland while troops land in the south, staking a claim to control. As the PM runs for his life, towards a secret command and control bunker, the Arabian forces secure their control over the south, before heading up towards Scotland for the final battle. (Europe falls rather quickly to a joint Arabian-Russian offensive; America remains aloof.) The book builds up to the final conclusion, with some genuinely heart-rending moments, ending with a bang.
The book does have strong characters, something that saves it from the classic right-wing rant. One feels sorry for Henry, the PM, and weeps with Kristy at…well, that would be telling. The story, to be fair, is never boring; the viewpoint characters seem everything, from the ranks of the enemy to those who have to suffer under Arabian domination. At the same time, the defeatism that pervades the British characters is chilling – they think about running, not fighting back. And what happened to the nukes?
That said, the book also has a fair number of howlers. Some details are historical – British troops were involved in Iraq, although the book says otherwise – and others are absurd. The US apparently recovered an alien spacecraft at Roswell, 1947. The Arabians somehow located a monolith under the desert and are digging it up at the end of the book. These details don’t add to the book’s credibility.
Every generation, we seem to assume, gets the invasion that it deserves. Alden points out endless flaws in British society, from multiculturalism and the failure to back up the police, to our complacency over our borders and low spending on defence. The problems with the government, as often bemoaned by myself, are certainly causing a snarl-up of the democratic process; one would imagine that any sensible government would try to start again. Can all of these be used by a future invader? Perhaps, I say, but not in the way that Alden suggests.
In many ways, the Arabian Invasion is a repeat of Operation Iraqi Freedom, starring Britain as the target. It is not, however, that simple to pull off such a strike, despite the apparent (and unexplained) Arabian supremacy in electronic warfare – and indeed much military technology. The US faced an opponent who had dozens of problems, from low morale to no ability to contest the air at all, and still had problems. A strong and competent defence could have cost the US much more than the actual OIF open combat phase actually did. The Arabians, in Invasion, have much longer supply lines – they can hardly gamble on France falling as fast as it does – and the RAF should be able to hammer them, as the Arabians seem to have no carriers to support their aircraft. (A submarine is mentioned as surviving the first battles – what, only one? – and it is not put to work interdicting the supply lines. WTF?) Of course, given what a total f***-up Tony Blair’s defence policy has been, there might be no RAF aircraft left by that time.
To conclude, after all that commenting, Alden doesn’t seem to wear his politics on his sleeve, unlike…say, Eric L. Harry. At the same time, there is little cheery about his book, from the American withdrawal to the scenes as the shadow falls over the UK. Is this a possible outcome for the War on Terror? I don’t believe so…and I hope to God I’m right.
The book’s WebPage, along with some inferior samples, can be found at http://www.dcaldenbooks.com/