Last night I was reading this article in the Guardian, that was published in 2002, about the “Millennium Challenge” wargame, where the military was outfoxed by the ex-marine consultant they hired to play the bad guy: Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Wake-up call. I got the link from a post over on Antonella’s blog. She’d linked it because the story is also used in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.
I’ve been reading Blink as well, and I may have more to ruminate about that, because it’s remarkable (and everybody’s reading it, it seems, so others may have done the ruminating for me).
Anyway, what converged in my head when looking at this story was what I saw earlier the same night when watching a movie with my daughter. See, we were watching the last of the old Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi. And for years I think I undervalued the movie in general — I think it’s better than I remembered. Not great, but better. Still, it really is a sort of “Muppets in Space” flick and a little annoying at times. But I digress.
In that movie, we see brave rebel forces sacrificing their lives when fighting the overpowering Empire. Because the rebels don’t have the resources of their enemy, they have to be more clever, daring, and ingenious in their tactics.
Not only they, but also the cute little (evidently human-eating?) Ewoks, whose Endor is overrun as part of the clash, have to bring whatever means at their disposal to the task of dispatching the Empire forces.
As I was watching, I couldn’t help but wonder (and be pretty sure) that people like Bin Laden have seen this movie and others like it (because after all, Star Wars wasn’t especially original — it mainly repackaged a lot of tropes from previous Hollywood fare). Every time I saw an Ewok or a Rebel fighter use the Empire’s own destructive power against it, or crash a ship into an Imperial destroyer, I thought — hey, all it takes is a slip of perspective to see that other people could easily see themselves as the heroes in their own story, fighting the Imperial Americans. Would this be a fair perspective? Maybe not. But perception rules. If the US and the west in general are perceived as evil oppressors, it doesn’t take much to convince oneself that they should be brought down at all costs.
Anyway, that’s nothing new — the point’s been made plenty before. But what struck me was the ingeniousness of the ‘good guys’ in the battles of Star Wars, thinking outside the box and hitting the lumbering Empire in ways they don’t necessarily expect.
Then I read the Guardian article and am reminded of the tactics Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper used when imitating Saddam in the giant wargame:
As the US fleet entered the Gulf, Van Riper gave a signal – not in a radio transmission that might have been intercepted, but in a coded message broadcast from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer. The seemingly harmless pleasure craft and propeller planes suddenly turned deadly, ramming into Blue boats and airfields along the Gulf in scores of al-Qaida-style suicide attacks.
And I thought about how he essentially did the sort of things that we’ve seen the underdog do in movies for generations (or in books even before that), and you have to wonder: How the heck could the US military have such a major blind spot? And how can we, in general, invade countries whose cultures and point of view our leaders seem to so basically misunderstand??
Like I said … nothing new here. I’ve seen others ponder the same thing. But it was an odd juxtaposition that made it so clear to me — Ewoks and Arabs. Go figure.