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Predicting Future War: What H.G. Wells Got Right and Wrong
By Micah Zenko
DECEMBER 28, 2011
Was the early science fiction writer better at predicting the nature of conflict than the Pentagon?


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Predicting the conduct of future wars is an impossible yet time-consuming endeavor of the U.S. government. Among the official documents that are produced in an effort to guess the who, where, and how of future conflict, there are the armed services' Visions, Joint Visions, Roadmaps, Technology Vectors, New World Vistas, and Global Trends. In theory, the scenarios developed within these documents should serve as the basis for the Pentagon's strategic plans. The results from recent forecasting efforts, however, have been dismal. As Paul K. Davis and Peter A. Wilson found in a recent article in Joint Forces Quarterly, "The Looming Crisis in Defense Planning:" "The past decade's experiences have not been encouraging: Visions have sometimes gotten far ahead of technology; reason, criticism, and competition have not been sufficiently valued; and joint experimentation has been neither sufficiently ambitious nor rigorous."

In researching the history of war prediction, I ran across the most imaginative such effort from the pacifist science fiction writer, H.G. Wells. In 1901, Wells published his bestselling work of futurology, Anticipations: Of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought, in which he aimed to predict—with uncanny success—societal and technological developments around the world over the next 100 years. In chapter six, "War in the Twentieth Century," Wells presciently described the invention of the "aeroplane" and its impact upon warfare, parachutes, and bombs. For all his genius, however, some of his predictions were off the mark. See below for some of the predictions Wells got right—and wrong.

Best predictions:

"...Long before the year A.D. 2000, and very probably before 1950, a successful aeroplane will have soared and come home safe and sound. Directly that is accomplished the new invention will be most assuredly applied to war." (208)
"Quite certainly those flying machines will carry folded parachutes, and the last phase of many a struggle will be the desperate leap of the aeronauts with these in hand, to snatch one last chance of life out of a mass of crumpling, fallen wreckage." (211)
"The rifle develops persistently from a clumsy implement...towards a very intricate mechanism...One can conceive it provided in the future with cross thread telescopic sights, the focusing of which, corrected by some ingenious use of hygroscopic material, might even find the range, and so enable it to be used with assurance up to a mile or more." (196)
"For a time quite possibly there will not be great general in the field at all. But somewhere far in the rear the central organizer will sit at the telephonic centre of his vast front..." (199)
Worst predictions:

"This tendency to differentiate a non-combatant mass in the fighting state will certainly not be respected; the state will be organized as a whole to fight as a whole; it will have triumphantly asserted the universal duty of its citizens." (203)

3PA: For most of U.S. history, less than 1 percent of the population served in the military, except in times of war. In World War II, approximately 9 percent of the U.S. population served in the military. In 2010, less than .05 percent of the U.S. population has served in the active-duty military since 9/11.
"The spontaneous traffic of the roads in peace will fall now into two streams, one of women and children coming quietly and comfortably out of danger, the other of men and material going up to the front." ( 205)

3PA: It is difficult to determine the number of noncombatants killed in conflict situations, largely because the perpetrators will go to great lengths to conceal the evidence from the international community and monitoring organizations. The most widely accepted ratio of conflict deaths between soldiers and civilians is 50-50. Furthermore, data from 1989 to 2008 demonstrate that nonstate armed groups, not governments, are increasingly responsible for violence perpetrated against civilians. In 1989, governments were responsible for 75 percent of civilian deaths; in 2008, governments were responsible for less than 20 percent. In contrast, in 2008, nonstate armed groups killed over 80 percent of civilians worldwide.
"With the destruction of its military apparatus and the prospective loss of its water and food supply, however, the defeated civilized state will probably be willing to seek terms as a whole, a bring the war to a formal close." (215)

3PA: Since 1950, conflict terminations have become increasingly unstable. In the 1950s, less than 20 percent of conflict terminations restarted within five years. In contrast, by 2003 that number had risen to almost 60 percent. Moreover, since 2003, there have been more outbreaks of conflict than terminations. Furthermore, there has been a marked decline in warfare between states. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, of 30 ongoing wars in 2010, 21 were intrastate, 9 were "internationalized," and zero were between states.
This article originally appeared at, an Atlantic partner site.

Micah Zenko is a fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World. He writes regularly at Politics, Power, and Preventative Action.



在研究战争预测的历史时,我碰到了和平主义科幻作家威尔斯(H.G. Wells)最富想象力的这种努力。1901年,威尔斯出版了他最畅销的未来学作品《预言》。在该书中,他旨在预测--以不可思议的成功--未来100年全世界的社会和技术发展。在第六章 "二十世纪的战争 "中,威尔斯先知先觉地描述了 "飞机 "的发明以及它对战争、降落伞和炸弹的影响。然而,尽管他很有天赋,但他的一些预测却偏离了目标。以下是威尔斯的一些正确和错误的预测。


"非常肯定的是,这些飞行器将携带折叠式降落伞,许多斗争的最后阶段将是飞行员手持这些降落伞不顾一切地跃起,从一大堆摇摇欲坠的残骸中夺取最后的生机。" (211)
"步枪不断地从一个笨拙的工具......发展到一个非常复杂的机制......人们可以设想它在未来配备十字线望远镜,通过巧妙地使用吸湿材料对其聚焦进行修正,甚至可以找到射程,从而使它能够放心地使用到一英里或更远。" (196)
"在一段时间内,很可能在战场上根本不会有大将。但在后方的某个地方,中央组织者将坐在他庞大阵线的电话中心......" (199)

"这种在战斗的国家中区分出非战斗人员的倾向肯定不会得到尊重;国家将作为一个整体组织起来,作为一个整体进行战斗;它将胜利地宣称其公民的普遍义务。" (203)

"和平时期道路上的自发交通现在将分为两股,一股是妇女和儿童安静舒适地离开危险,另一股是男人和物资上前线。" ( 205)

3PA: 很难确定在冲突局势中被杀害的非战斗人员的数量,主要是因为肇事者会不遗余力地对国际社会和监督组织隐瞒证据。最广泛接受的士兵和平民之间的冲突死亡比例是50-50。此外,1989年至2008年的数据表明,非国家武装团体,而不是政府,对针对平民的暴力行为负有越来越大的责任。1989年,政府对75%的平民死亡负责;2008年,政府对不到20%的平民死亡负责。相比之下,在2008年,非国家武装团体杀害了全世界80%以上的平民。
"然而,随着其军事机构的破坏和可能失去的水和食物供应,被打败的文明国家可能会愿意作为一个整体寻求条件,使战争正式结束。" (215)

3PA。自1950年以来,冲突的终止变得越来越不稳定。在20世纪50年代,不到20%的冲突终止在五年内重新开始。相比之下,到2003年,这个数字上升到了近60%。此外,自2003年以来,爆发的冲突多于终止的冲突。此外,国家之间的战争也明显减少。根据乌普萨拉冲突数据计划,在2010年正在进行的30场战争中,21场是国内战争,9场是 "国际化 "的,而国家之间的战争为零。

Micah Zenko是外交关系委员会预防行动中心的研究员,也是《在威胁与战争之间:冷战后世界中的美国离散军事行动》的作者。他定期在《政治、权力和预防行动》上发表文章。
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