Archives for posts with tag: war


If it is not advantageous, do not move. If objectives cannot be attained, do not employ the army. The ruler cannot mobilize the army out of personal anger … When it is advantageous, move. When not advantageous, stop. Anger can revert to happiness, annoyance can revert to joy, but a vanquished state cannot be revived, the dead cannot be brought back to life.


 [Dear Fred. I’m up at the mountain cabin this weekend, doing an inventory of freeze-dried food packets and potassium iodide tablets, so I haven’t had time to concentrate on the latest news about North Korea, China and the Russians. I know the rhetoric has heated up, and our media are beginning to scare the snowflakes, but I’m not impressed. You and I have seen this before; we’re older than a lot of folks, and remember the Bay of Pigs, and the October, 1962 nuclear showdown between us and the Russians [aka the old Soviet Union]. They installed intermediate range nuclear missiles in Cuba and aimed them at us.[2] We took exception but it was a knotty problem because we had done essentially the same thing when we installed similar weapons in Italy and Turkey. Our missiles were right at the Soviets’ doorstep and, of course, were aimed at them.

I was in college at the time, and in the ROTC, so I had a basic understanding of the forces in play. World War II had ended not 20 years earlier, so I knew for sure that global wars were possible. I also knew, because this was a big topic when I grew up, that the next big one could be fought with far deadlier weapons. That is, with bombs and missiles of the nuclear persuasion. Our Government thought so too. See Boom, Watch the Fallout!, a blog we did last May on bomb shelters and war planning.[3] Frankly I was appalled at the prospect of a first ever, widespread nuclear war. It was like science fiction gone bad.

Why didn’t we have a nuclear slugfest in 1962? Well, perhaps somebody on our side, and the Russian one as well, had read Sun-tzu. A war at that time and place simply made no sense:

  • We and the Soviet Union were evenly matched, more or less, in that each of us could severely, if not permanently damage the other in any nuclear war;
  • Elements in our respective Governments realized this basic truth; and
  • There was nothing at stake to warrant extreme measures and possible mutual destruction.

Both sides had long range bombers that could reach the other’s homeland, so strategically it wasn’t really necessary for either of us to have intermediate range missiles on the other’s doorstep. Such missiles were useful, perhaps, but not absolutely essential.  Also, each side continued to develop and deploy long range ballistic missiles and warheads for them; these were easier to secure, because they could be stationed far from an enemy, yet could strike an opponent’s homeland within minutes of launch.[4]

With such weapons coming into inventory, why would any strategist recommend going to war to protect shorter range capabilities? Even the winner of such a war, if there were one, wouldn’t gain much, and would lose a lot. So war was not advantageous to either side, and that made negotiations possible. Eventually the Soviet Union moved its intermediate range missiles out of Cuba and we removed some that we had put in Italy and Turkey. The details of our negotiations didn’t come out for years, but that was the deal and that was what happened.[5]

Anyway, please take a look at our current situation with North Korea and tell me your thoughts. Is it at all like the Cuban Missile Crisis and, if so, what are the prospects for a peaceful resolution? Good, I hope, but tell the truth. And go ahead and publish your thoughts when you’re ready. You don’t need my input for this kind of thing and, anyway, I won’t be back in town for a while. G. Sallust.]

Then and Now

OK, Mr. G. Sallust, I understand. This is Fred, by the way. Normally G. Sallust would write this piece, but he’s doing inventory so I’m to fill in. The question he’s posed is, is the current unpleasantness with North Korea similar to the situation we had with Cuba and the Soviet Union 50+ years ago?

Similarities and Differences

  1. Originally I thought there’s no similarity between the two situations. Back then it was us against the old Soviet Union, two giants each of whom had weapons that might destroy the world. This time it’s us against North Korea, a very, very minor power with, at the moment, a modest nuclear capability. So what we have today, I thought, is definitely not the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  2. But actually the similarities are greater than the differences. We tried to “covertly” invade Cuba in 1961, did a very bad job of it with “volunteers” at the Bay of Pigs, and failed.[6] Naturally Cuba worried that we might make a second attempt, so Fidel Castro [yes, the Castro who just died] invited the Soviets into Cuba to station troops and missiles there. We found out and demanded that the Soviets remove them. The result was a major confrontation.
  3. From 1950 to 1953 we and the U.N. fought a “police action” in Korea to prevent the North from invading the South. The battle was fought to a stalemate, a line was drawn between the two Koreas, a “demilitarized zone” was established, and the areas around it were heavily fortified. Since then we’ve maintained a substantial force of ground troops, etc. in the South to help with its defense.[7]
  4. By all accounts, no foreign power has stationed nuclear weapons in North Korea. Instead the Government there has developed its own over a period of many years. No doubt it had substantial foreign assistance in this effort. But the net effect is that North Korea, not some foreign power, controls the North’s nuclear forces. At least that’s the way it seems. It’s North Korea that has been making direct threats to attack the U.S. The threats are credible, in that apparently North Korea has some capability to do so. On the other hand, North Korea is not a military equal of the U.S.
  5. But it also has potential allies: Russia and China. To date Russia has shown little interest in intervening on behalf of North Korea in its dispute with us. Russia says that it is “deeply worried” about the “bellicose rhetoric” between us and the North, [8] but hasn’t offered military or other assistance to any party. At least not officially, that we know of. To date Chinese state media say that “it would remain neutral if North Korea attacks the United States, but warned it would defend its Asian neighbor if the U.S. strikes first and tries to overthrow [the North Korean] regime …”[9] I think that means the Chinese intend to intervene if we do more than shoot down North Korean missiles.
  6. But, of course, these are only words, and they can change overnight, with circumstances.

Nuclear Weapons

Currently North Korea is threatening to fire missiles at Guam, the site of several U.S. military installations. What if Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, does that, hits something and blows it up? What if he uses a nuclear weapon? Then I suppose we will retaliate in force, and it would be up to Russia and China to decide whether they will get involved. What might they win by intervening and what might they lose?

  1. Some people already think we’re headed to some kind of war with Russia.[10] Others don’t believe it’s inevitable, but think it’s risky to blunder from a cold to a hot one because of small or nonexistent provocations[11]. I agree with both views, by the way.
  2. And war always brings up the question of nuclear weapons. Today we and NATO maintain the right to strike first with those things, if we’re properly threatened[12]; and the Russians will use them if Russia or its allies are attacked with weapons of mass destruction, or Russia is losing badly in a conventional war.[13]
  3. And the first one of us who decides that the other side intends to go nuclear will, of course, do it first, to minimize its losses and maximize the enemy’s. And if you want to know more about what happens after that, go read Herman Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War. [14]


I have no conclusions. North Korea’s threats are ridiculous, may lead to catastrophe, and it should be muzzled. Apparently China, the only country with influence, doesn’t want to do that. Why not? I wonder. What game are the Chinese playing?

This all very depressing! If there really is a large war faction in Washington, DC, they must be rejoicing! What does that crazy guy say on YouTube? Oh yes, it’s all Satanic!

Sun-tzu, anyone?

[1] That’s from Sun-tzu, The Art of War (Sawyer translation) (Barnes & Noble, 1994), at Incendiary Attacks, p. 227 – 228. Sun-tzu is a famous Chinese military strategist of the 5th Century B.C. For more about him, see the Wikipedia entry at . Henceforth we’ll cite this edition of the book as Sun-tzu at ___.

[2] For an explanation take a look at the Wikipedia entry on the Cuban Missile Crisis at .

[3] See our blog of May 11, 2017, Boom, Watch the Fallout, available at

[4] For information on ICBMs, see Wikipedia at .

[5] For more information, see the Wikipedia entry at . It’s quite thorough.

[6] Id.

[7] For more information, see the Wikipedia entry at . For the most up-to-date information, check out the CIA World Fact Book at .

[8] See MSN, Russia says that bellicose rhetoric on North Korea is over the top, at

[9] See Fox News, Lukas Mikelionis, China pledges neutrality – unless US strikes North Korea first (August 11, 2017), available at

[10] See, e.g., Institute for Political Economy, Roberts, Will the November US Presidential Election Bring the End of the World?  ( May 24, 2016) sometimes available at s/

[11] See, e.g., Rand Corporation, Libicki, Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace (2012), especially pp. 97-99, available at

[12] Actually, it’s worse than that. NATO maintains the right. See the Wikipedia entry on “no first use” at

[13] Id. Russia will use nukes if others use them [or weapons of mass destruction] against it or its allies; or use even conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is threatened.” I don’t know the Chinese position on this, but I think it’s probably similar to the Russian.

[14] See Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, 1960, Transaction reprint, 2010), at p. 136. We’ve written a lot about that book. See, e.g., our blog of 12/28/2015, Bomb Them into the Stone Age, available at .


I am Goya

Of the bare field, by the enemy’s beak gouged

Till the craters of my eyes gape,

I am grief,

I am the tongue

Of war, the embers of cities

On the snows of the year 1941

I am hunger

Andrei Vaznesensky[1]

 [Phil, I was in the DC area last week, and stopped by to see our friend Rosemary Covey.[2] She has a brilliant, and as usual disturbing, new line of work; it’s topical, a “sign of the times,” you might say; and one piece in particular left me gob smacked. So much so, I might add, that I remembered an idea we had a while ago, but later discarded: i.e., to nominate annually some work of art that best exemplifies some of the worst characteristics of the human race.  

I know you think that’s too negative; that we should focus instead on the positive things in life; but I disagree. If you want flowers and ponies, or visions of the afterlife, go to the church of your choice.  Artists who spotlight the evil out there do us a valuable service. I’m thinking of a series of prints called Los desastres de la guerra[3] that Francisco Goya[4] produced in the early 19th Century. I understand they’re well thought of, even today. Certainly the Russian poet Andrei Vaznesensky knew about them. So one shouldn’t kill [or ignore] messengers simply because they bring unpleasant news.

I know we’re supposed to look for consensus before branching out, and art criticism definitely is new to our blog; so please run my idea by the others. If you [and they] agree the project is worth doing, then please do it. With a little research I’m sure the team will find a way to say something sensible. For my part, it’s hot and I’m heading to the beach. Ta, ta! See you in August!

Oh, and I’m emailing you the image that caught my attention. Rosemary says we can use it in the blog. I’m interpreting that as, “for one blog post only.” G. Sallust[5]]

Well, our illustrious founder has struck again. He’s come up with a project, delegated the work, and left town. Normally I don’t agree when he does things like that but he asked nicely this time and the picture he nominated is, well, extraordinary. Perhaps “arresting” is the better term. Anyway, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Just looking at it warps most of my ideas about what art should do; it’s brutal, graphic [of course it’s graphic; it’s a picture], and detailed, but not overly so. Much more detail and it would be pornographic, at least to someone of a certain mindset. This picture says its piece about the human condition, but stays on the right side of mental illness. Thank God for that. Now if our media would just do the same.

What picture am I talking about? We have a very good image of it, provided by the artist, that we’re posting separately, but at the same time as this commentary. The title of that post is The 2017 EZ2 Picture of the Year. As of now the picture itself doesn’t seem to have a name.

Let’s start with an admission. Unlike G. Sallust, I like “pretty” pictures. I’m in good company there; for centuries intelligent people treated art as something that lasts forever, at least in theory. “All passes,” said Henry Dobson. “Art alone [e]nduring stays to us, [t]he best outlasts the Throne …”[6] Or, more simply put: “Art is long and life is short.”[7] Of course that doesn’t apply to art materials. Ask any conservator what she [or he] has to do to keep things looking fresh in the museum.

Pretty pictures can be a refuge for the weary. Gustav Flaubert, a French author most of us read in college, thought art was something “to conjure away the burden and bitterness” of life.[8] Oscar Wilde, the English writer, agreed. He said: “It is through Art … and through Art only, that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.”[9] That man could certainly turn a phrase, couldn’t he? And finally Saul Bellow, a modern novelist I like, put it best. “Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer … in the midst of destruction.”[10]

I like it: To meditate or pray by looking at art. For sure you would need quality pictures for that. But that’s not the only view out there. Marshall McLuhan, for example, said that advertising was the greatest art form of the last century.[11] Fancy you or I meditating over some advert in Rolling Stone! If your significant other caught you staring at something like that, she [or he] might think you were up to nothing good! Then there’s our President, Donald Trump, who back in the 1980s said that deals and deal-making are his art form.[12] I’m not mentioning this simply to be facetious. My point is that there’s a whole range of opinions about art and how or why we make it.

We first met Rosemary Covey back in the early 1980s, when she had a very small studio in the old Torpedo Factory Art Center. By “old” I mean the building that existed before the renovation; the one that was far larger and, I think, full of asbestos. Anyway in those days she specialized in wood engraving, a wood cut technique that involved gouging fine lines in super-hard wood blocks. Those she would ink and print from by hand; and “by hand” I mean by laying paper on the inked block, then rubbing the paper with a wood spoon until the ink transferred. The whole process was laborious and accident-prone.

Eventually she went to a professional to print the larger things, but that was laborious as well, because she’s a perfectionist. So she moved on, bought a hand press, and did most of the print work herself.  Since then she’s worked with a variety of techniques, and today specializes in a kind of collage that utilizes her own images, rather than found objects, and painstakingly assembles, modifies and adapts them into a wholly different thing. The final products can be quite beautiful, or brutal, depending on her intent. But always they involve an enormous amount of effort and each, in my view, is its own thing. These originals are not reproductions although from time to time she has reproductions made from them.

So what did Rosemary Covey make with the Picture of the Year? Not a pretty one, that’s for sure. But there’s a view out there that art is anything you do to create order out of the chaos that surrounds. “Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.”[13] I think that’s close to the truth of her enterprise and this work.  She’s showing us an underlying reality of today’s world, and this time it’s bad.[14] Nobody should kill the helpless. That seems obvious, I guess, but judging from the headlines it’s not so to a lot of people. Hopefully they’re not all psychopaths and some can be made to listen.

But is this really Art?[15] Yes. “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man [or woman] go together.”[16] She’s done that with this work. And by the way, she ought to think about naming it. Francisco Goya has already taken No se paede mirar[17], but something more contemporary along that line might do.

There, that’s enough from me. Award confirmed.


[1] See ODQ at Andrei Vaznesensky, p.817, n. 1. He was a Russian poet, quite popular here in the 1960s. For more information check out the Wikipedia entry at . I don’t believe he was an art critic, but he did seem to know the artist Goya’s work pretty well. Goya’s famous for a lot of things, one of them being a series of prints on war. See note 3.

[2] She has a web site at . There’s also an out-of-date write up on Wikipedia at . Go to the website.

[3]The Disasters of War”.

[4] That’s Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, who is not to be confused with the food company. There’s a pretty good write-up about him in Wikipedia, at .

[5] G. Sallust is our distinguished founder.

[6] See ODQ at Henry Austin Dobson, p.278, n 15. The full quote is: “All passes. Art alone, Enduring stays to us, The Best outlasts the Throne, The Coins, Tiberius.” Actually I don’t really think of Roman coins as works of art but, on the other hand, I don’t collect them. Dobson lived in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. You can read the essentials about him at Wikipedia .

[7] See ODQ at Proverbs, p. 614, n. 32.

[8] See ODQ at Gustav Flaubert, p. 325, n. 16. The full quote is: “Human life is a sad show, undoubtedly; ugly, heavy and complex. Art has no other end, for people of feeling, than to conjure away the burden and bitterness.” It’s a translation, of course. Everybody knows about Flaubert but if you don’t, check out the Encyclopedia Britannica at .

[9] See ODQ at Oscar Wilde, p. 835, n. 28, and p. 836.

[10] See ODQ at Saul Bellow, p. 66, n. 2. Most of Saul Bellow’s major works remain in print courtesy of the Library of America.

[11] See ODQ at Marshall McLuhan, p. 503, n. 17. The actual quote is: “Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century.” Everybody in my generation knows about him, but probably no one else. If you’re interested check out his official site at .

[12] That’s from the 1988 book, Art of the Deal. You can also find the relevant quote in the ODQ at Donald Trump, p. 801, n. 16. “Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully or write wonderful poetry, I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

[13] That’s from Alfred North Whitehead, a philosopher of the early 20th Century. See ODQ at Alfred North Whitehead, p. 892, n. 14. If you want to know more about Whitehead the philosopher, start with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at

[14] “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes visible.” See ODQ at Paul Klee, p. 407, n. 16.He was an artist.

[15] “The Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: It’s clever, but is it Art?” See ODQ at Rudyard Kipling, p. 453, n.19.

[16] See ODQ at John Ruskin, p. 660, n.3.

[17] That’s “one cannot look at this.” See ODQ at Francisco jose’ de Goya y Lucientes, p. 357, n. 15.

[Recently I heard a story about World War II that rings true today. Back then both sides used cyphers to scramble their messages, especially the ones about war plans, troop movements and so forth. The Germans had an especially good cypher, called Enigma, which they thought unbreakable. What they didn’t know was that the British had, in fact, broken it. So the Brits had a window into German operations and could take appropriate countermeasures when necessary. But the British advantage would last only so long as the Germans were unaware that their messaging was compromised.

The British advantage could be helpful for a lot of reasons, most especially because in the 1940s the Germans did a lot of bombing in England. In those days, by the way, many bombing campaigns were considered “strategic;” i.e., were focused on destroying factories, ports and other war-making “infrastructure.” The Germans didn’t worry much about civilian casualties when going after strategic targets. Later in the war our side pretty much did the same thing to them.

Well, one day the Germans did a major bombing run against Coventry, England, a town in the industrialized Midlands. The locals weren’t told about it in advance, didn’t evacuate, and the raid was catastrophic. In one night over 4,300 homes were destroyed, and two-thirds of the city’s buildings damaged.[1]So why wasn’t the target city warned? Well, there are two versions of an answer:

  • One is that the central government simply didn’t know Coventry was targeted that night. The government had data about an impending attack, but didn’t know where the German bombers would go.
  • The other is that the government did in fact know the target, but withheld the information for reasons of state. Warn Coventry and most likely that would tell the Germans Enigma was compromised. The British would lose their intelligence advantage.

So which is it? Did Winston Churchill sacrifice some civilians to preserve a competitive advantage in World War II? Or did he not know about the Coventry raid? Some say that the British had some information that might have helped them identify the target, but they didn’t understand it. On the other hand, Churchill himself is quoted as saying he had “aged 20 years” when he decided to let Coventry burn.[2] That implies he knew. This sounds like a good topic for a thesis. Perhaps some Ph.D. candidate in History can get to the truth for us.

The point of the story is not that it’s true or false. It’s that there are circumstances, conceivable circumstances, where our government – or any government – might elect not to tell its citizens about a threat. The TV version of that, of course, is the plastic character who decides people would panic if they knew the truth about this or that, so he [or she] lies to save us from ourselves. That’s pretty much a sci-fi cliché. Don’t tell anybody about the space aliens; if you do, the country might disintegrate!

But instead let’s talk about something more serious, about what happens if our government lies to us or says nothing about impending danger, and when that might happen. In particular, let’s look what might happen at the start of a global thermonuclear war.]

This is Fred, by the way, and yes, I’m back on nuclear war. Lots of people criticized my last post, saying I was far too pessimistic. Sure, if war caught us by surprise, people at the various grounds zero would not have much time to evacuate. But really, the critics said, when would a major war sneak up on us like that? Crises leading to war take time to build. Surely there would be advance warning. People would leave their bullseye neighborhoods as soon as they knew there was a problem.

Perhaps. Let’s think about evacuation for a bit. People won’t run until they’re sure there’s a crisis, right?   So who should they believe: the media [who these days are alarmists about everything, just to keep the ratings up]; the family psychic or minister, who seems to know just about everything; or our government?  I’m betting that, at the end of the day, most folks would turn to the government when the issue is war or peace. After all, it’s supposed to be the expert on foreign crises and will fight any wars that erupt. And in a crisis what will our government say about whether people should flee their homes? That depends. Remember Coventry.

Who Wants A Nuclear War?

Atomic conflicts are not a new problem. Luckily we’ve avoided nuclear war for seven decades, so we have no actual experience with it. But we’ve been thinking about it all that time, and a lot of good work has been done. For our purposes let’s start with an early example of the war plan genre: Herman Kahn’s scary treatise about the unthinkable, On Thermonuclear War.[3] It’s a classic; old but still relevant; one of the foundational books in the field. It also has things to say about our current subject.

Herman Kahn believed most governments, if left to their own devices, would prefer peace over war. [He said that over 50 years ago, and perhaps had in mind stable governments like those in Eastern and Western Europe; not the failed states we find today here and there around the globe.] Peace is safer than war. But, he added, if war is inevitable, most governments would prefer to strike first, rather than wait for their enemy to take the initiative.[4] Those who go first, attacking the enemy’s strike forces, improve their chances of surviving the engagement. This, of course, also was Dwight Eisenhower’s view when he was President.

If a country decides war is probable, the pressure on it to strike first increases. Once the other side understands that, it’s also motivated to do a first strike.  There is a “reciprocal fear of surprise attack” that pushes both sides toward war.[5]

How Bad the War?

It would be very bad. Back in the 1950s we had a combination of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons in the inventory. [The so-called “A” and “H” bombs.] The difference between them is the difference between kilotons and megatons. A kiloton is 1000 tons. A megaton is 1000 kilotons. The destructive power of the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was measured in kilotons. Today the warheads on our missiles are measured in megatons. “Megaton weapons are comparable to gross forces of nature, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.” [6] If used, they would be enormously destructive.

Evacuating People

So here we are in a paranoid situation, two countries, hyper vigilant, sure that there will be a war, each afraid that the other will attack first, and then one of them evacuates its cities. Flee, flee, it says to its people! The bombs are coming! What does that tell the other side? That its enemy is going to war, and is preparing its people to survive retaliation after it strikes? That’s the logical conclusion, wouldn’t you think? But evacuation is more than a “tell” in poker. It’s the same as a declaration of war. [7]

Herman Kahn was of two minds about this. He thought that evacuations should be low key and reassuring to the other side. Evacuations should be “as undramatic as possible,” and assurances should be given that no decision has been made to go to war. But if one side has decided to launch a surprise attack, of course it would make reassuring noises. Why ruin the surprise? And why would its adversary believe anything from a country that’s obviously mobilizing?

Why indeed? Even Herman Kahn saw the problems. “Evacuation-type maneuvers,” he said, “are risky because they may touch off an attack by the other side.[8]” And that, I think, is the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this piece. Why would a government refuse to tell its population about an impending threat? Answer: To avoid aggravating an already bad situation. Perhaps it thinks a peaceful resolution is still possible. Perhaps it’s going to launch a pre-emptive strike and doesn’t want to telegraph its intentions. Either way, it doesn’t want to agitate the other side. Boom!


So get used to it. In a crisis your government may well lie to you, for the very best reasons, of course. There are always reasons. Use your own judgment when you read the news.

[Please note: This post is speculative only. We don’t have any government secrets here at Elemental Zoo Two, and don’t want any. If you want confidential sources, named or unnamed, go to the Washington Post. And we’re not accepting calls from North Korea. Have a nice day.]



[1] See the Wikipedia entry on the Coventry Blitz, at .

[2] Id. at Coventry and Ultra.

[3] See Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, 1960, Transaction 2007, 2010). The Transaction edition is a reprint of the original, plus some additional material added by the publisher. The book will be cited as Thermonuclear War at __. Page references will be to the 2nd Transaction edition of 2010.

[4] Thermonuclear War at p. 136. “Most governments when asked to choose between war and peace are likely to choose peace, because it looks safer. These same governments, when asked to choose between getting the first or the second strike will very likely choose the first strike. They will do so for the same reason they choose peace in the first choice; it is safer.… [M]ost governments would much prefer getting in the first strike once they feel war is inevitable, or even very probable.”

[5] Id. “As soon as either side thinks that war is probable it is under pressure to pre-empt. …[T]he instability is increased  by the “reciprocal fear of surprise attack” in which each side feels a pressure to strike mainly because it feels the other side has exactly the same pressure.”

[6] Thermonuclear War at p. 313: “The most important technological development … is the fact that it would have been a thermonuclear rather than an atomic war.  The difference between megaton and kiloton is very large, in some ways larger than the difference between a kiloton and a ton. Megaton weapons are comparable to gross forces of nature, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The effects of the use of such weapons are not only extremely widespread; they are also occasionally very subtle and hard to predict. As a result, for the first time in the history of war we have what might be called the problem of the post attack environment.”

[7] Thermonuclear War at p. 648. “If true and clear to the enemy, this is extremely serious, because he will be impelled to strike the U.S. during the evacuation (not to kill civilians, who are not really a military target, but to get in the first blow.)”

[8] Id. at 132.

Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold.

Ray Kurzweil[1]

[This is Phil, blog philosopher and occasional commenter on technology, science fiction and the scientific method. Fred called the other day, much disturbed; he’s been looking at the research programs of our country’s much esteemed Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency [DARPA], and he’s found worrisome things and trends. Of course there’s always reason to worry when the human animal tries something new; that’s evolution, I guess. First we had antibiotics, now we have antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Then we developed nuclear power, and early-on found a way to make it go bang! But despite our valiant efforts – remember the “Atoms for Peace” program?[2] – its peaceful uses are few, expensive and often dangerous. If you don’t believe me, reflect for a moment on Chernobyl,[3] and the more recent experience of the Japanese.[4] Does anyone want to do that again?

Anyway, recently Fred sat me down for several hours and explained his views on robots and their danger to us. I was impressed, and asked him to pen a blog for us, but he’s very busy right now; so I agreed to write it for him. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says but, as usual, he’s interesting.]


Antibiotics and nuclear power are old news. Fred’s more concerned about the new stuff, that is, about the startling progress we’ve made in building machines that mimic, or duplicate, human mental processes. Of course, people have always worried that one day mankind might create something that might destroy us. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an example of that. Shelley’s monster was a human-like thing made up of sewn-together body parts robbed from graves. The Terminator movie franchise is a bit more modern but essentially the same, except the monsters aren’t biological; they’re essentially an outgrowth of modern computer technology. If I recall correctly, the terminators are part of a computerized defense system that goes rogue.

So you can see why Fred might be concerned. He’s read quite a bit of sci-fi, as have I, and the rebellious robot is a favorite meme of the genre.[5] And Fred’s not the only one to be concerned. Stephen Hawking, for one, has warned that developing artificial intelligence might be very bad for humanity.[6] And reportedly Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, has said pretty much the same thing,[7] and so has Elon Musk, the guy behind Tesla cars.[8] These people know a thing or two about intelligence, human or otherwise.

The Three Laws

Fred says, truthfully, that robots in literature are not always hostile. His favorite examples of non-monster robots are the ones portrayed by Isaac Asimov in a series of novels he began in the 1950’s. Asimov posited a future in which the vast majority of humans were trapped on a badly overcrowded planet Earth, while a minority had escaped to 50 nearby star systems. The off-planet settlers had technology superior to that of the home planet, so much so that it allowed them to develop “humaniform” robots, i.e., ones that substantially mimicked human beings

Asimov’s first three “robot” novels[9]dealt with the efforts of an earth detective and an off-planet robot to solve a series of murders. It’s entertaining but, more to the point, it deals at length with the interaction of a human with a robot, and suggests a set of controls humans might impose on their mechanical friends. These are, in order of priority, that (i) a robot shouldn’t harm humans, (ii) should obey the orders of humans, and (iii) should protect its own existence.[10] They’re also known as Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

Asimov’s first robot novels were written 50 or more years ago. Neither Fred nor I know how he proposed to educate a robotic “brain” to accept such limitations, but today Fred sees the “three laws” as software that should be added to the programming of autonomous machines. The problem, he says,  is that DARPA is doing a lot of good work in creating devices, etc., that mimic human functions, but apparently nothing to add a conscience to them.

The DARPA Programs

Some of these projects are astonishing. There’s one, for example, aimed at developing communication devices [aka radios, etc.] that will operate at any time or place, and under any conditions. DARPA calls this Adaptive RF Technology [ART], [11] and pretty much implies that the adjustments will be made automatically when necessary, i.e. without human intervention. That would be useful, I suppose, if one is operating a drone from a distance. The drone is on the spot, knows the local conditions, and would be much more useful if it had a “cognitive” radio that could solve communications problems, rather than rely on a remote human pilot to do the job.

Then there are the machines, etc., that will do the same things humans do, only better and faster.  In the Cyber Grand Challenge, for example, DARPA sponsored [sponsors?] “a major competition to develop advanced autonomous systems that can detect, evaluate, and patch software vulnerabilities before adversaries have a chance to exploit them.” Why should machines do this sort of thing? Well, because humans just aren’t fast enough. [12]  But the humans at this stage are very much involved in designing their own successors. 

Or, on that same theme, consider model-making. That’s the kind of thing that economists and other people do to make sense of voluminous data and, incidentally, also to make a living. The people on talk radio, of course, use very simple models, usually something like, “if supply goes up, then, then prices will go down,” completely ignoring the many other things that might affect price. DARPA says, we humans are awash in data but “what’s missing are empirical models of complex processes that influence the behavior and impact of those data elements.”  At the end of the day, it’s really difficult to create good models that reliably predict things that actually happen. So how do we solve that problem? DARPA has an answer – its Data Driven Discovery of Models program – which will free us from all that drudgery. [13] Using artificial intelligence, it will analyze data and develop models for us.

Then there’s the astonishing work being done in creating artificial limbs for the injured. Versions currently in production are battery powered, of “near natural size and weight,” and allow for “extremely dexterous” arm and hand movement. [14] Also we’re learning how to convey touch and pressure through these things[15] and are experimenting to develop one that can be controlled by the user’s brain. [16]

This information comes directly from DARPA, mostly in the form of news releases. One of the odder ones deals with a separate program to develop self-healing construction materials. DARPA is now studying the use of living materials – ones that can be grown and regenerate – for these purposes. “DARPA is launching the Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program with a goal of creating a new class of materials that combines the structural properties of traditional building materials with attributes of living systems ….”[17] Could this line of research also lead us to materials that might be incorporated into machines, say cars, drones and robots?

Protecting Us from Our Creations

I suppose you can classify that last paragraph as speculation, but the greater point is not. Our scientists experiment with artificial intelligence, and are making great progress to boot.  They’re developing autonomous machines – ones that can operate on their own[18] – and giving them mental capabilities that in some cases exceed those of ordinary humans. Others are working hard to fabricate artificial limbs for the wounded, but the same technology might be adaptable to other platforms, i.e. to mobile robots. Add construction materials to the mix, and it’s not impossible to believe that someday you and I might be dealing with mobile, bi-pedal, autonomous robots. Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger; he’s already been there in the Terminator movies.

If such things are possible, why aren’t scientists also working on ways to protect us from the occasional wayward or hostile robot? Why isn’t somebody experimenting with, for example, a software version of Asimov’s Three Laws? I can think of one reason, of course; a lot of the current development work is being done by the military who, of course, primarily are interested in technologies that will neutralize an enemy. Pacifist robots – ones that won’t harm humans – probably aren’t in any military organization’s R&D[19] budget.

So could private industry do this kind of work? That is, develop a software conscience for intelligent machines, so that they don’t turn on their human creators? Certainly that could be a selling point for some products. Someone who buys an intelligent, self-driven car, for example, probably would like to know that the vehicle won’t go homicidal. Asimov’s Three Laws are tailor-made for that situation.

Nevertheless Fred wouldn’t rely on private industry to do this kind of work unless somebody paid them to do it. Modern companies don’t have a budget for pure research. Their focus is too short-term, on the next quarterly earnings report; not on the long view. He would rather enlist the aid of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or other proven philanthropists to fund and oversee the work that needs to be done. Fred says he would be happy to set up and manage such a program, if somebody wants to support it.

Fred’s ideas often are weird, but he has a winner here. In my humble opinion.

[1] Ray Kurzweil is an inventor, computer scientist, author and general commentator on things cybernetic. Wikipedia has an entry on him at . The quote is from Brainy Quote at

[2] Probably not. Check out Wikipedia at  for a refresher.

[3] Want to know more? Check out the Wikipedia article on the Chernobyl disaster, at

[4] Wikipedia does a fairly good job on this as well. Its article is at

[5] Oh, look: fancy words! A “genre” is a specific category of music, film or writing. Today science fiction is recognized as a “genre.” See, e.g., .  A “meme” is basically a story-line.

[6] See Daily Mail, Zolfagharifard , Artificial intelligence ‘could be the worst thing to happen to humanity’: Stephen Hawking warns that rise of robots may be disastrous for mankind ( 2 May 2014), available at

[7] See, e.g., Sunday Express, Dassanayake, Bill Gates joins Stephen Hawking in warning Artificial Intelligence IS a threat to mankind (Jan. 29, 2015 ) available at

[8] Id.

[9] The first book in the series is called I Robot. Actually it’s a series of short stories, not a novel. The next three are novels. If you want to know more, you can always read the books. Otherwise check out Wikipedia at . It’s more or less correct.

[10] Wikipedia also discusses the Three Laws.  See   The “laws” are: (i) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. (ii) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. (iii) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”

[11] DARPA, Rondeau, Adaptive RF Technology (ART), available at  “ART-enabled “cognitive” radios would be able to reconfigure themselves to operate in any frequency band with any modulation and for multiple access specifications under a range of environmental and operating conditions.”

[12] DARPA,  “Mayhem” Declared Preliminary Winner of Historic Grand Cyber Challenge (8/4/2016) available at

[13]See DARPA, DARPA Goes “Meta” with Machine Learning for Machine Learning (6/17/2016), available at  .

[14] DARPA, DARPA Provides Mobius Bionics LUKE Arms to Walter Reed (12/22/2016),   available at

[15] DARPA, Neuroscience of Touch Supports Improved Robotic and Prosthetic Interfaces (10/26/2016), available at

[16] DARPA, DARPA Helps Paralyzed Man Feel Again Using a Brain-Controlled Robotic Arm (10/13/2016), available at

[17] DARPA, Living Structural Materials Could Open New Horizons for Engineers and Architects (8/5/016), available at

[18] Actually we did a blog on that a while ago. See the blog of 2016/09/07, Autonomous Weapons, available at .

[19] That’s Research & Development, sometimes also known as RDT&E {Research, Development, Test and Evaluation].

Let me have war, say I; it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it’s sprightly, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war’s a destroyer of men.

William Shakespeare[1]

[Phil’s back. He’s still working on People to Avoid, Part II; but today he wants to offer us a few thoughts on war and peace, a subject much in the news these days. Republicans, it would seem, are really upset that we haven’t thundered off to war yet again in the Middle East. Also there’s a looming possible agreement with Iran that they don’t like, although they haven’t read it. Where do they get their information?

Anyway, here’s Phil!]

Today’s subject is war, and what better way to start than with a quote from Shakespeare? Of course, we don’t really know what Shakespeare himself thought; he was a dramatist, and his job was to portray the thoughts of characters in a play, not his own; in this case, those of Coriolanus, a Roman General. But that Coriolanus really had some strange ideas, didn’t he? War was good, or at least it wasn’t boring. Peace was the opposite; sleepy and insensible, and it led to too much sex.

The problem is that some real people also think that way. For example, there was a Prussian back in the 1800’s who said that war is a necessary part of God’s plan for the world; without it we would all “deteriorate into materialism.” [2] And those of us who think of Charles Darwin as a moral philosopher may well agree. If nature dictates that only the fit survive, and morality follows that natural law, then what better way is there to improve humanity than by having the occasional bloodbath? Prune away the deadwood and let the fit parts of the tree prosper.

But Darwin wasn’t a moral philosopher; he was a scientist, offering a theory of how living things developed and changed over time. As a teacher of mine once said, he was attempting to describe how things are, not how they ought to be. The fact that eliminating the unfit might, in some cases, improve the human gene pool doesn’t mean that we should do that kind of thing. That’s a question for morality, not science. Similarly, the fact that some people succeed in today’s economy, and others don’t, doesn’t mean that we should abandon the unsuccessful. Luck has a lot to do with success and, in any case, Darwin’s scientific theory doesn’t demand any particular moral result.

Frankly I don’t subscribe to Darwin as a theory of morality, nor do most people. Think about it. How many folks do you know who are willing to kill themselves to improve the human race? Not that many, I’ll bet; and the ones who might no doubt are clinically depressed. And the fact of the matter is that most of us also deplore the wholesale slaughter of innocents, even if we ourselves aren’t included.

Of course, death can be a release for the afflicted. “Pale death, the grand physician, cures all pain; [t]he dead rest well who lived for joys in vain.” [3] But really, it’s not up to you, or to me, to administer that remedy to strangers. When John Bright, describing the 19th Century Crimean War, not the current one, said: “The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; [y]ou may almost hear the beating of his wings,”[4] he wasn’t saying that was a good thing. Quite the opposite, I think.

In spite of what you might think from current media coverage, lots of famous people are on record favoring peace over war. Take Winston Churchill, for example. On the eve of World War II he famously told the English people that England would fight, and that he, Churchill, had “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”[5]But after that war he also talked up the advantages of peace and peace negotiations. “To jaw-jaw,” he said, “is always better than to war-war.”[6] Benjamin Franklin said, “[t]here never was a good war, or a bad peace.[7] And William Tecumsah Sherman, a famous general of our Civil War, warned that war is hell. “There is many a boy here to-day who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”[8] He should have known. He fought in what is often called the first modern war, and the casualties were horrendous.

Against that, of course, we have the folks who counsel that war is just a tool, something that we use to advance our national interests. “ War,” they say, “is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.” [9] Frankly I’m tired of hearing that. It’s the kind of thing ignorant children say, or senile oldsters; or perhaps the toxic narcissists I described earlier this month.[10]

Instead the war advocates in our Congress really ought to spend a little more time contemplating the advice of their ancestors. There was Herbert Hoover, for example, an earlier Republican who counseled that “older men declare war; but it is youth who must fight and die.”[11] Our Founding Fathers also weren’t very keen on fighting wars overseas. Policy wonks, especially the Conservative ones, should be careful when they decide to spend the lives of our young.

They also need to look at the true costs of their military adventures. Not just the deaths, but also the cost of treating the wounded, perhaps for their entire lives; the cost of diverting resources from growing and improving our economy to blowing things up in the Middle East; and the effect of such open-ended operations on our financial standing in the world. No matter how Congress manages to hide military costs in appropriations, by creating “black” programs and slush funds, true costs do tend to show up in our annual budget deficit. Money spent is, after all, money spent.

And then, of course, there’s the question of whether our interventions do any real good. Are we making friends by intervening, or just more enemies? Are we stabilizing situations, or just creating new areas of chaos? Do people over there like us now more than they did before? So far, our record doesn’t seem to be very good. I’m not going to Egypt any time soon to visit the pyramids; nor do I intend to vacation next winter in Baghdad. Tripoli doesn’t look very promising, either, or even Tunisia. And who in the world would ever want to go to Afghanistan?

So beware, fools; you’re trying to jump off the cliff again. Some of us don’t want to go with you, and many of us are suspicious of your explanations. “[Men] use thought only to justify their injustices, and speech only to conceal their thoughts.”[12] That maxim includes you, I think.

[Thanks, Phil; that should be enough for now.  Really, you should try not to get worked up so much about these things. I’m sure the pro War faction in D.C. has no intention to deceive us or other American voters. They just see things differently than we do. We should respect this diversity of opinion, at least until one side or the other is proved wrong.

Nevertheless, thanks for your great effort, rendered on short notice.]

[1] See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2003) (henceforth, ODQ at __) at William Shakespeare, p. 682, n. 21. The quote is from Coriolanus, act 4, scene 5. Irf you waqnt to see the whole play, you can get it online from MIT at

[2] See ODQ at Helmuth von Moltke, p. 542, n. 17:” Everlasting peace is a dream, and not even a pleasant one; and war is a necessary part of God’s arrangement of the world … Without war the world would deteriorate into materialism.”

[3] See ODQ at John Clare, p. 224, n. 7. Clare was an English poet who lived from 1793 – 1864.

[4] See ODQ at John Bright, p. 151, n. 7. Bright was an English Liberal politician and reformer, who lived from 1819 – 1889.

[5] See ODQ at Winston Churchill, p. 220, 221, n. 5. This speech was given in 1940.

[6] See ODQ at Winston Churchill, p. 220, 222, n. 3. This speech was given in 1954.

[7] See ODQ at Benjamin Franklin, p. 332, n. 18.

[8] See ODQ at William Tecumsah Sherman, p. 734, n. 17.

[9] See ODQ at Karl von Clausewitz, p. 225, n. 17.

[10] See the blog of 03/13/2015, People to Avoid, Part I, available at

[11] See ODQ at Herbert Hoover, p. 395, 396, n. 2. He said this back in 1944, at the RNC Convention in June of that Year.

[12] See ODQ at Voltaire, p. 815, n. 13.