06 May 2013

The Barracks: Disconnected by Service: The Life of the Future Soldier

Recently, I was watching an interview with the late Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle (RIP) at SOFREP.com and what he said generated this blogpost. During a drive around the DFW Metroplex after he left the Navy he was shocked with the disconnect between what he just experience on the battlefield and what he was seeing back home. Just a few days prior to coming home, a Marine died from traumatic injury while Kyle worked to save him, now here Kyle was, witnessing civilians just talking away on their cellphones, while drinking their iced Starbuck's, and obsessed by their normal lives, all while their military was engaged in combat. He openly wondered if people cared or even thought about the heroic deeds done on the battlefield for the protection of American society. In my grandfather's day, while he was fighting the Japanese in jungles, the US society back home was united to the war effort unlike anything seen in American history. Seemingly, every street or apartment building had a soldier in harm's way, but now, there seemingly there is a serious social disconnect between the war being waged and civilians having personal contact with veterans of these wars. Given the realities of modern technology, with social media, digital mobile phones, and the internet, it would seem that the wars would be integrated into everyday society, and while that is true of a certain segment of the population and that our troops are given a great deal of morale support, the war is distance from the bulk of the population. Will this grow worse once humanity spreads out to the stars and fights wars on exo-solar soil? Will future soldiers be disconnected by service to their nation/corporation/empire?

The Modern Military: the Other 1%.
In some ways, we do not need to wonder about a separation between the military and the civilians that governing over them. In a November 2011 article for Time Magazine called 'The Army Apart: the Widening Military-Civilian Gap', there is much discussion on how US military personal are clustered in bases that foster a different society than one outside of the bases and the towns that support them. While American as a whole is more supportive and more educated about the military life than it was during the Vietnam War to the plait of a military at war, there is still disconnect.
That disconnect could be lethal for a military that is funded and controlled by a civilian leadership. During the years after World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the population was filled with veterans that served their time, and translated from the ODs to the suit of the workforce within a few years, creating a bridge between those two realities. Today's soldiers are staying in longer due to the bad economy and the feeling of brotherhood that the service provides, and civilian life does not. Some of the veterans I know that the hospital are often troubled by the difference they experience in civilian life over their military service. With about 1% of the total US population in the armed services, coupled with battlefield technology and games like Call of Duty, could civilian as a whole develop a laissez-faire attitude towards war and the horror it unleashes? Here is the original TIME article: 

Military Life and Space Deployment
How a future spacefaring government deploys their space marines to exo-solar battlefields will greatly depending on the realities of FTL travel or if light-speed is absolute limit of travel between the stars. However, either way, these spaceborne soldiers will experience a time warp (just a step to the left) from their families back home on Terra, due to time dilation and just the steer distance between stars. Of course, if we are talking about a soft-serve fictional universe where superluminal travel is as easy as push a button, than it is possible for time dilation to be cancelled out, like Star Trek, and soldiers on the exo-solar battlefield will face the same challenges as soldiers always have from being separated from civilian society and loved ones for months or years at a time.
What about for hundreds of years? Things look much worse in the real-world,"year inside, hour outside" is the phase often used for the experience of the time-differences between a  light-speed traveling troopship, the homeworld, and the target location. But, the reality is a bitch to the soldier themselves and their families back home, who may never see or know what happened to their family member. After all, who would get the death notice after hundreds of years? What even advantage would there be to fight a war over a planet that lays generations away? Would society even support an interstellar conflict if they knew the price soldiers fighting in that war would have to pay? Could or would there be any public support or notice of these types of wars?

You Can Never Go Home Again
According to my research, for each day of travel at light speed, about 194 years will pass back on Terra, making for any deep space deployment to be the death sentence for any family or social connection these soldier had. Consider a military expedition to Alpha Centauri to wipe out the blue people. Alpha Centauri is 256 trillion miles away (4.3 LYs), and light travels at 671 million miles an hour, by some estimates online, which I could be wrong, travel time for our soldiers would be about 8 years for about 70% of light-speed, and about 12 years back on Terra. If deployment is about one year then the soldier has missed out on 13 sidereal years, then the travel time back, which puts the spaceborne soldier in for 25 years ago from home. That means if my father was deployed to Pandora when I was 10, he would come back to find me at 35 years ago (my age now). That is a hard thing to get over, for a trip that you slept through most of it.
This problem only becomes worse when you increase the distance and speed. The expertly written, the Forever War by a Vietnam Veteran details the horrors of a future soldier away at war that then comes home to a newly alien Earth. For Marygay Potter and William Mandella, each time they returned from a combat mission, the world they had known had changed, making the Eternal War soldiers more and more isolated from the 'current' Terran society. This is covered in more detail with the direct sequel Forever Free with the conflict between the vets of the war and the new society of new man.

Are Military Robots the Answer?
Since the invention of robotics, there has been an expectation that there will be robotic soldiers, and now, it seems like that has happened courtesy of aerial drones and machine gun armed ground vehicle drones. When we push out, and establish settlements among the stars, will the colonists be saved by armed toasters instead of cornbread hating colonial marines? Certainly, military robots do not have families, or suffer from PTSD and would be immune to the horrors of time dilation and follow orders to the letter...but,have you seen Terminator? Or Battlestar GalacticaCaptain Power? The ABC Warriors? That is one of the major risks...that these milspec robots themselves will gain some measure of autonomy (possibly due to a hacker virus, a la Space: Above and Beyond), and decided to exterminate the fleshy ones.
Another risk is that robotic soldiers to do not feel or care, they just follow orders, and any tyrannic government could instruct these robotic troop carriers to wipe out the colonists without hesitation. While robots may save lives on the current battlefield, there are those that believe that the use of robots will increase the likelihood of wars, because they will take the human toll away from war that reminds us that wars are something to be fought only when we have run out of words. Something similar happened to the slave population in the South when the cotton gin was invented.
Are Drugs the Answer?
Khat, weed, morphine, LSD, alcohol, various pharmaceuticals, native psychotropic plants, have always been present on battlefield. For nearly has long has there have been organized wars, there has been ways to escape the ghosts and nightmares, or ways to ignore the pain and fight harder. It is reported that the Vikings may have gone into battle high on mushrooms and alcohol, which would make sense. One of the reason for the development of the Colt M1911 .45 service pistol was due to the drug-use among Moro warriors in Philippines. During the peacekeeping operations in Somalian, native gunmen chewed Khat, and gained some measure of increased bravery against the UN force. Currently, the US military is faced with an massive drug problem resulting from the horrors of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the the nature of the injuries suffered by troops, namely, PTSD and TBI.
The use and abuse of pharmaceuticals in our military have tripled between 2002 and 2008. With the advent of much improved body armor, battlefield medical services, soldiers that would have died, have lived. This is coupled with the issues of fighting against non-standard military force. Much like in Vietnam (My father-in-law fought in country from 1968-1969 as an Army M-60 gunner) as with Iraq and in A-Stan, hostile forces are not in uniforms and can blend into the native population, creating greater stress on the soldier. But could pharmaceuticals be the answer for the complex emotional issues that would face spaceborne soldiers? I wrote about this in my unfinished MSF serial, The Empty Places, when the plucked soldiers were purposefully addicted to 'the courage' to help them overcome the stress and horror of fighting the enemy. The best example in sci-fi of drugs being used to buy loyalty or fighting ability was the Ketracel-White used by the Domination. During one of the episodes that involved the Domination, Worf says this about observing the Jem'Hadar loading up with the White and I think it best sums up about using drugs to solve the issues of spaceborne troopers: "Loyalty bought at such a price is no loyalty at all"  

Is a Virtual Reality World the Answer?
In the 2009 movie-pilot Virtuality, the Phaeton crew escaped their grey metal tube via an network of VR module, allowing them to experience new worlds. Could future soldiers use a VR world to dismiss feelings of loneliness and/or isolating? Could they upload VR models of their families and friends back home to have a pillow for their emotions? Could this fictional computer-generated world be updated to reflect changes back home...to lessen the culture shock of a homecoming? I could see being a viable tool for future space marines confined to a troop ship for months or even years. Of course, most of the crew would be in cryo-status for much of the trip, and these VR worlds could be used in a form of lucid dreaming.

Is a Military Breeding Program the Answer?
Why conscript citizens to venture far from the shores of Terra, and come back an alien world, when you can breed soldiers that are simply designed to fight and die for the brass that sent them out to that distant point of light generations before? This would be similar to the ADAM project in Soldier or Program ALICE from the Resident Evil films, basic biological robots that designed to win the space wars that normal human do not or will not fight in. While it does eliminate the high emotional cost of sending soldiers to the stars, it does bring up issue of a military breeding program being morale. After all, we are still fighting about abortion in this country, and it is hard to believe that these same people would socially or politically approve of the use of these type of soldiers. Also. having people that have little to no connection to the society that they are fighting on the behalf of, could led to an led to the space conflict. Why fight for some people lifetimes behind you? And besides, armed toasters are cheaper.

Is a Warrior Caste the Answer?
Throughout much of human history, the wars have been fought by a special subsection of the society, namely the warriors (hunters, in some cases), and often these warriors were from specific families that had their children raised in the martial traditions of the society, much like the Knights of Europe and the Samurai. David, one of the FWS consultants, bring up that a Warrior Caste could be the answer for the issues of deploying soldiers to interstellar wars. These star-flung soldiers would be separated from the civilian society nearly from birth, and raised with armed service being the core of their existance, not hanging on with their friends on the block, smoking and joking. After all, how much can you miss a life that you never had? These could be similar to what was seen in the Marvel ROM comics with the Galadorian Space Knights, the Space Marines from Warhammer 40K, and the UNEF from The Forever War. These deep space sci-fi warriors

Examples in Science Fiction

The Colonial Defense Force from the Old Man's War Universe
The elite, biologically modified soldiers of the Colonial Defense Force were composed of Terrans that had reached the age of 65. The kick is that once these Terrans sign up for service, they cannot return to Earth, and are forced to live among the stars for the remained of their new bodies' lifespan. If they live through their term of military service, they are allowed to settle on certain colonial worlds. It is even worse when it comes to the 'Ghosts', the elite among the CDF. The ranks of these special forces units are drawn from the DNA of dead recruits, who use the genetic material to create special forces colonial soldiers that are tabula rasa, and their Brainpal guides them in service.

The In-Vitros from Space: Above and Beyond
In the backstory of the epic FOX 1990's MSF TV show, Space: Above and Beyond, the Earth's population of Artificial Intelligence androids rebel after an virus is implanted. For ten years, the AI wars raged across Earth, and to decrease the number of natural born losses, In-Vitros Platoons were grown. In-Vitros were original developed to be a labor force after a plague swept over Earth, causing sterility on a mass scale. The In-Vitros were developed without the use of parental DNA, and without the weakness in natural breeding. The show never mentions this, or if the In-Vitros were breed after the crisis was solved. Some fans believe that In-Vitros were an interstellar labor/slave force used in a similar manner to the Replicants from BLADE RUNNER. These military In-Vitros were not successful, with no homes, families, or national loyality, they made poor soldiers with little motivation to put down their lives for a nation/planet that only farmed them to die. By the time of the series, 2063-64, it was unclear if the In-Vitros were still being produced or if the war-time stock was just being used. The example in SAAB could be a good example for the perils of using artificially breed humans for military service.

The United Nations Exploratory Force from The Forever War
When the believed hostile alien race was discovered by humanity, the UN trained an elite force of individuals with IQs over 150. In order to fight in deep space, UNEF starship pass through a black hole to cross the distance, however, in order to get to the black hole, the ship must trip under relativistic conditions. After the first battle around Epsilon Aurigae (2,000 LYs away), the UNEF returns to a much different Earth, after decades past. This only increases with the next mission, when the Eternal War soldiers came back to find Terran society is nearly completely homosexual, and original UNEF are regarded has fossils of a long-lost era. After William's last battle in the Eternal War, he comes back to find that the war is over, and humanity has been come a race of clones, and a few of the Eternal War veterans are now cluster on their own world, Middle Finger.

The Eternal War Veterans from Forever Free

Even after sacrificing their entire reality for the cause of the Eternal War, the veterans are gathered at Middle Finger, and given few options by the new cloned mass of humanity. The peace between Earth and the aliens involves changing the nature of humanity, closer to Taurans, namely, a hive-mind. Unable to join the new hive cloned mind of mankind, the vets of the war take a ship and attempt to use time dilation to overcome this new and oddball concept of future human civilization. This is an extreme example of soldiers involved in a deep space coming home to an nearly alien society, but Forever Free serves as an example of the perils of what soldiers might encounter when they return home, and how they may responded.

The Galadorian Space Knights from ROM
While ROM and the Space Knights from the Marvel comics series may be less well known today than in the 1980's when I was reading them, it is a great example of how war can change a warrior to be alien even in their own society. In ancient times in the Golden Galaxy, the world of Galador was a utopia until the Dire Wraith appeared, and Galadorian society had to commit their very bodies to transformation into the Space Knights via an very advanced form of powered armor. One thousand followed Rom into fold of being an cybernetic armored warrior against the horror of the Wraith. For hunderd years, Rom and the remains of the Space Knights hunted down these aliens, and Rom swore that he would not reclaim his humanity by reverse the cybernetics. But during his quest, Rom lost his ability to transform back, and everyone he cared about on Galador. He was doomed to wander the stars encased in his armor/

The Adeptus Astartes from Warhammer 40K
On the Warhammer 40k wiki entry on the Space Marines actually says that these super-soldiers are 'barely' human and forged into the fires of the reality the Milky Way galaxy in the year 40,000. Given their altered nature, primitive human societies worship them has angels, normal citizens of the Imperium are in awe and fear of their 'protectors'. For good reason, the Imperium has completely razed entire hive worlds and colonies.And these genetic changes makes the Adeptus Astartes have a' bad attitude' towards the unwashed masses of the Imperium, and most of the time, they act like dicks towards the citizenry who they do not understand being a breed apart now after the process to make them into Space Marines.

The Space-Born Soldiers of the REF from ROBOTECH and ROBOTECH II: The Sentients
In 2022, the SDF-3 was launched carrying much of the Earth's military within its hull to the Robotech Masters homeworld of Triol. By 2031, the Invid invaded and conquered the remains of the Earth's forces, resulted in the REF switching gears to a force of liberation. Some of the liberation forces of the REF were not born on Earth or didn't live on the homeworld very long before being carted off to deep space. There was an entire population of Terrans born to REF service personal, and raised on Tirol. Chief among these members of REF was Lt. Scott Bernard, 20 years old at the time of his crashlands on Earth, and he had not lived on Earth since being a small boy. He confronts a world he's never known, because lived on Tirol with the bulk of the REF. Even after the war over Earth was over, some of the REF personal remained on Tirol rather than return to Terra.


  1. Re a Warrior Caste, we already have that. A French Legionaire may not have been born French, but joins the French Foreign Legion to serve the Legion, and not France per sé. Training and basing is always done away or at least seperated from modern civil society, and some Legionaires may spend their entire career in the jungles of French Guyana, or the harsh deserts of Djibouti. Once they successfully finish their tour, a Legionaire is offered French citizenship and a chance to retire in one of the Legions homes, which resemble (an easy) barracks life.

    If we ever have to fight an interstellar war, my money is on robots or some form of bio-mechanical hybrids; something *not* resembling a homo Sapiens because we're ill fit for interstellar travel, nevermind fight on a zero-oxygen planet.

    One of the coolest "supersoldier" scenes imho was in Skyline; the invading aliens took the brains of the locals (us humans) and plugged that into a kick-ass robot body. Using local brains/intelligence ("this is a door, this is a car") and combining that with superior strength is the way to go :)

    Good piece, enjoyable read.

  2. Regarding the civilian-military divide, I would argue that the World War Two experience is actually the exception. Taking just modern American and British history as an example most wars were fought far away from the home front. Even the US Civil War did not impact on the day to day lives of most Northerners all that much. The British until WWI did not really care all that much, they celebrated victories and complained about defeats but were not really impacted by the war itself. Their wars were fought by a small group of professionals, much like America's wars have been since Vietnam. The Roman Empire provides a really good example as well, the army was basically confined to the frontier, if you lived in the interior of the Empire you may not even have been aware the Empire was at war.

  3. I cannot believe that I missed the French Foreign Legion! That would have a prefect example!You are correct that our bodies were not designed for the rigors of outer space. I've not seen Skyline, but when I heard that element of the plot, it seemed very interesting. Too bad it was buried in that film.
    I agree with you, Thomas, when I thought about it more. The Romans just to have a rule that only those with lands could be soldiers...that changed, but it proved that at times, only those with skin in the game could effect change.

  4. I really love your posts on these matters -- and this growing divide was something I'd always 'known' in the back of my head, but the way you framed it put it into a new light.

    Tangentially related: The Philippine 'Moros' are suggested to have been on drugs, but it's also been argued that they:

    a) tied cords around their limbs to reduce blood circulation and numb the sensation of pain;
    b) rubbed an herbal topical painkiller to achieve the same effect;
    c) entered a psychological state (perhaps religiously inspired) called 'Amuk' or 'Amok' meaning 'mad with uncontrollable rage', which is where the phrase 'Running Amok' came from;
    d) may have gotten a reputation that has since been inflated (as argued by the post in this link (http://www.morolandhistory.com/Related%20Articles/Legend%20of%20.45.htm )

    Also, not a very strong example, but in Babylon 5 -- when Sheridan and the Interstellar Alliance comes to Earth, most people haven't heard about the war against the Shadows.

  5. You forgot about Halo's Master Chief, Which (if you have read the books) is a very good example of a Warrior Caste with a little bit of a breeding program thrown in. (The Spartans where chosen based mainly on there genetics.)

    Another good example would be the 1998 movie Soldier http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120157/

  6. Thanks for the kind words...this blogpost has been in the draft pile for awhile, and I wasn't sure if people would like it...That is really cool information on the Moro! My Grandfather fought there during WWII, and I was always interested in this nearly lost chapter in American colonial history. I had forgotten all about that plot element of B5! Nice catch!
    The SPARTAN-II/III/IV programs are all very good examples of an attempt to create a warrior caste, and you are correct on SOLDIER as well. All of those show us perils of developing soldiers that serve only because they have to. I love Dr. Halsey's speech at the beginning of HALO 4, and her diary entries on the subject of the SPARTAN-II program. BTW: I wished SOLDIER was better...a true shame.

  7. On the subject of using robots in place of solders.

    This reminds me of a quote I read some time ago, but I can’t track it down.

    “When robots fight wars, it won’t be war; I don’t know what it will be, but it won’t be war.”

    It was spoken by an army coronel, but I can’t find his name. This concerns me because with all this talk of drones, and automated combat systems, this simple fact is being ignored. Wars are political tools for political ends. They start in politics, and end with a political resolution. There is not a definite beginning, and no clear ending.
    There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager, called “Warhead.” The crew of Voyager recovers an artificial life that was in truth a weapon of mass destruction. The conflict that it had been launched in support of had ended, but the weapon have crossed its “point of no return.” There is a similar theme in the movie “Fail Safe.”
    Robots are weapons that need to be controlled by human beings.

  8. ABC Warriors was similar in the concept that once machines are fighting, the idea and concept of war alters. Much like the machine gun and the cotton gin were suppose to put an end to war and slavery, they did either. My guess would be the same for war-bots. FWS will be covering more in-depth on this subject in the near future.

  9. So could the wealthy could become "knights", the new "warrior caste"?

    Speaking of which:

    If you mixed wealthy people buying powered armor or mechs with their "private security forces", could you recreate the Middle Ages era of warfare?

  10. it's dominion, not domination