No, this post is not about the (awful?) sci fi film by this name, although that venerable classic does impinge somewhat on the content I am about to discuss.
Specifically, I am interested in the Mad Scientist Science Fiction Contest sponsored by the US Army TRADOC Command. This contest was recently announced, offering the winner rather obscure financial inducements ("most travel expenses paid") as well as a chance to speak at the Army's annual Mad Scientist Conference (I kid you NOT!) and publication in an Army journal. TRADOC's mission is to plan the army of the future, and one is tempted to believe that includes the military occupation of outer space, as well as this planet. Never mind that we have signed treaties to the contrary -- the military doesn't each time it launches another secret military mission into and beyond the Earth's atmosphere. Now, on the positive side of the ledger, one has to admit that there is and must be a certain rationale for defining the presence of some kind of human military and its weapons in outer space, so let's look at the possibilities.
In the classic Western film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the bandit Tuco (played by Eli Wallach in what is arguably the best performance in a Western by any actor in history) is fond of the catch phrase: "There are two kinds of people..." Of course, Clint Eastwood's Blondie character eventually teaches him that there are really three kinds of people, even if one of them is "a dirty son of a bitch." Let's say there are three kinds of truly military eventualities in outer space. The first is that we encounter aliens more technologically advanced than ourselves, the second that we encounter aliens less technologically advanced than ourselves, and the third that we encounter aliens equally technologically advanced as ourselves. Of course, it is possible that we might encounter no aliens at all, which just leaves us ourselves to fight each other, that is, no different from what we face right now.
Should we have a hostile encounter with aliens more advanced than us, it is likely to be a short war. This time, the shock and awe would be completely on the other side, assuming that we stay around long enough to even feel shock or awe. If humankind manages to survive a hostile encounter with a more advanced life form, we would not be in a situation to wage the type of war so far contemplated by the military, based on Robert Heinlein's work and especially on Starship Troopers. Our only hope for survival would be to carry on a struggle on a completely assymetrical basis against great odds. So I would humbly suggest to TRADOC that they might talk with someone in the People's Army of Vietnam or maybe even (dare I say?) El Qaida or ISIL, who have experience with that sort of thing. Unthinkable, you say? Maybe not, since some of our proxy soldiers are Chechens very friendly with those boys. But let's leave the specific problematics of that weird combination for other times and go on to the other possibilities.
The second eventuality, that we might encounter alien life forms less advanced than ourselves, leads directly to James Cameron's Avatar. I concede that we have yet to find evidence of big blue low-tech natives who ride dragons and talk with trees, but from a human angle that film touches on many contemporary values as we begin to contemplate deep space mineral exploitation in our immediate cosmic neighborhood. How would our real starship troopers deal with the indigenous species? The way North Dakota is dealing with the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies? For that confrontation in the depths of North American Outer Space is certainly being viewed by military theorists as a training mission for future corporate vs. "native" standoffs. And when I say military in this instance, I mean private as well as public, since Blackwater and other corporate entities are trying out new weapons and strategies on what's left of our own Na'vi. Anyone who takes a look at our novel Life Sentence will realize that we have a highly skeptical attitude towards the ability of corporations to attenuate the chance for violence. So we're not well placed to win a TRADOC prize for helping the military figure out how to colonize other species and their territories.
Even more potentially damaging is the possibility that we will face a hostile encounter with a species of equal technological advancement. I state this because, as we see in places like Somalia, Syria, and Libya, equally pitched sides tend to create the most thorough and interminable suffering for everyone concerned. Humans' time-proven inability to abide by their own promises or to foster compassionate understanding might easily yield to the (natural) military impulse to exploit any tactical advantage in order to unbalance the playing field. Only a bilateral recognition of mutually assured desstruction might avert a conflict between equals, but even that would depend in some measure on non-military negociation. Which brings us back to an important issue: to whom would a human space military answer? To POTUS? To the CIA, The UN? Amazon? Elon Musk? All of the above? Even a half-century after the fact, we're still not completely sure whom the military was answering to in Vietnam, since the rat's nest of strategic, commercial, and political motives in that (relatively simple) human-on-human fiasco has never been completely unraveled.
So, Tuco, there are not just two kinds of people (friend or foe) or three (good, bad, and ugly), but a potentially infinite number of kinds of people out there, and no one prospect of war to deal with them. Even worse, at this stage, is the face that there is not even one single type of peace that is receiving any planning. If it is a question of peace or war, and war is the one with all the plans, chances are it will be war, indeed! We probably shouldn't count on TRADOC to plan interstellar peace, since that's not its mission, but maybe someone should take up the call. If technology seems inextricably tied to war, maybe we need to take the cue from another sci fi classic, Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, and lay a footing for some kind of Second Foundation that would work on solutions other than the Starship Trooper style.
OK, I admit, this is not going to win me a TRADOC prize or even their attention. There are hundreds of military sci fi authors out there who are laboring each day to come up with the kind of scenarios TRADOC wants and expects to see. To come back to Future War's premise, I suppose I am suggesting that humanity should consider ways of being more than a TOOL. As we inevitably move toward space, I assert that it is implausible that we will have to use martial arts against Robert Z'Dar, Kasja, and a bevy of tyrannosaur puppets, so we have to develop more options for analysis and organization, to be dissatisfied with the inevitability of armed conflict, better prepared for exchange (and its downsides), surer of what we want as a species besides minimal survival, if we are to take advantage of any encounters that may occur.