PrintE-mail Written by Nigel Watson

Warfare of any kind, whether on a worldwide scale or at the level of terrorism is a grisly business. So why do nations and people continue to fight? That’s obviously not an easy question to answer, otherwise we’d all be living on a peace-loving planet.

This anthology of stories collected by Douglas Lain attempts to look at warfare from new perspectives and viewpoints, to help us get a grip on why and how wars are still as prevalent today as they were at the dawn of humanity.

First up is Norman Spinrad’s ‘The Big Flash’ that shows how a rock group called the Horsemen is used by the military to whip up the public imagination, until they are begging for nuclear weapons to bring about the end to end all ends.

Since 1969 when ‘The Big Flash’ was published warfare is not just about who has the biggest nuclear arsenal and who uses them first. The fact that if nuclear weapons were deployed by both sides meant there would be Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and, like in Spinrad’s story, the consequence would be a ‘big flash’ that would have apocalyptic consequences.

In the same decade, the Vietnam war escalated showing that biggest wasn’t always best against a persistent enemy. ‘The Village’ by Kate Wilhelm (first published in 1973) cleverly shows this type of conflict from the viewpoint of the civilian population and makes us take another look at our ‘evil enemies’.

Taking us to more recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East, we are treated to stories that underline the moral complexities of making war legitimate. On a national level we get the ‘justification’ for the invasion of Iraq through a cut-up version of US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speeches in ‘Text of Colin Powell’s Speech to the UN Security Council Cut Up With Regret’ by Anonymous. It contains such gems as ‘These people know that they knew that I will know’ regretfully that is indicative of the slippery use of military intelligence (and language) to legitimise putting troops on the ground.

Some of the stories cover the latest advances in technology, including the way drones smudge the relationship between the soldier and the enemy as depicted by ‘In the Loop’ by Ken Liu. The relationship between the soldier and their own moral compass and instincts is highlighted in ‘Light and Shadow’ by Linda Nagata. This features a skullcap that is used by combat squads to help the soldiers stay logical, calm and focused on their mission. But one soldier tries to escape it to re-embrace her humanity.

James Morrow’s ‘Arms and the Woman’ is the last story in the collection, which asks ‘What did you do in the war, Mommy?’ This is a fable about Helen of Troy that looks at how wars can take on a life of their own.

The realities of war are harsh; here speculative fiction is used effectively to look at the underbelly of conflict and tries to make some sense of it beyond the headlines and rhetoric of politicians. An intelligent read that is as mind-blowing as no-man’s land.


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