Can science fiction help us prepare for 21st-century warfare?

*Note: This essay was published in the Los Angeles Times print edition on May 28, 2018. It can also be found online here.

The novelist Margaret Atwood recently caused a stir when, during an interview with Variety, she said that the 9/11 hijackers “got the idea” to fly planes into buildings from watching “Star Wars.”

Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and other dystopian classics, did not have the facts right. The 19 hijackers were not inspired by “Star Wars.” Al Qaeda wasn’t reenacting the destruction of the Death Star.

But the premise of Atwood’s comment was not at all far-fetched. Literature and film have long sought to capture the realities of war, and, in turn, they have influenced thinking about war. There is a direct relationship between real war and “reel” war. Continue reading “Can science fiction help us prepare for 21st-century warfare?”

Reel War at the Oscars: Lessons for Warriors from the Red Carpet

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

He’s turning ninety, so he’s seen a lot of war. Even at thirteen and a half inches tall, with a golden body weighing only eight and a half pounds—Oscar’s been around and has some stories to tell.

The little statuette, of course, nicknamed “Oscar” (which may or may not be due to his having resembled someone’s “Uncle Oscar”), is more formally referred to as the “Academy Award of Merit.” Twenty-four of these will be handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Sunday night at Hollywood’s annual gathering to applaud great artistic and technical achievement. The competition is fierce among the fifty-ninenominated movies; it’s almost surprising there hasn’t been more real blood on the red carpet beyond James Cameron nearly bludgeoning Harvey Weinstein with his Oscar twenty years ago.

The Oscars also have a distinct martial heritage. The first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role was given to Emil Jannings, in part for his role in the 1928 silent film The Last Command, set during the Russian Revolution, a story that was inspired by a real-life general in the Imperial Russian Army named Theodore A. Lodigensky who fled the communist revolution and opened a restaurant in New York City (Lodigensky would also go on to play an “ex-military man” in several silent films himself). Continue reading “Reel War at the Oscars: Lessons for Warriors from the Red Carpet”