Saturday, August 31, 2013

Educational Warfare: A New Way of Thinking About War

Wars are expensive.

For example, most estimates of the cost of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to the US put the cost above $3 trillion. (See for example, ) And if you include borrowing on deficits used to finance military activity, the site estimates another $7 trillion over the period 2001-2013 when the cumulative costs 50 years out are included.

The truly hidden cost is what would $10 trillion do to improve the US economy (currently a $14 trillion in size)? One might suspect that $10 trillion invested in more positive activities might stimulate economic performance more than warfare.

So, when we consider how to influence other countries not to have civil wars or to go to war, the public debate tends to focus on issues of morality, theology, values and the saving of lives. While most people would agree that saving lives is a desirable goal, the reality is that wars are rarely stopped by such considerations. Would that they were.

So, here's a wild and crazy thought. What if we attempted to influence those about to go to war with clear communication of the economic impact of not going to war? Controlling the dialogue is important in winning debates. And how you frame the debate is in a sense educational warfare. It won't work every time. Fanatics are not rationale, but it would be an inexpensive way of influencing debate and influencing the shape of coalitions against war.

The idea is not a new idea. I recall reading a science fiction novel, whose name I forget a decade or so ago about introducing a computer game into the then Soviet Union so people could evaluate the virtues of different economic systems, thereby, laying the groundwork for liberal democracy. Isaac Asimov in The Foundation Trilogy plotted the use of embargoes and the desire of householders for household appliances unavailable from the Foundation embargo of the planet. The result: quick resolution.

Clearly, some wars are driven by the desire of a small controlling class to reap the benefits of power and rentier economics. Their trade-offs clearly look different than those of the rest of the population. But if democracy is about transforming diverse groups into a coalition to resist tyrants or oligopolies, then a common benefit should have benefit.

Say, for example, that several years ago, a model of the Syrian economy structured as a game allowed players to evaluate the consequences of war. Perhaps the chance of war might have been less today. The controlling group might even understand the potential benefit of devolution of power.

The dialogue might look different, less emotional, more rational. Perhaps this idea might not have worked in the past when computer usage was less and mobile devices less powerful, but in today's world, where fixed and mobile computing, gaming and simulations deserve attention as powerful ways of influencing the understanding of large swathes of the population.

Educational warfare. It's probably not perfect, but it's certainly a tool that we under-use or don't use at all.

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