Book review: War and Anti-War

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“War and Anti-War, Survival at the dawn of the 21st Century” is an interesting, though, perhaps, over-rated book. In it, the authors apply their “Third Wave” theory to the art and science of war and argue that the information era requires a new form of post-industrial warfare and “anti-warfare.” War in every age reflects that era’s means of production, whether agrarian, industrial or “third wave.” The book, first published in 1993, and reprinted many times since, took several years to right, during which time the Tofflers met some of the many great minds reforming the US military after its Vietnam experience. These include US Army General Donn A Starry and members of his Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) circle, such as the late Don Morelli who told them the US military’s biggest problem was that it let technology drive strategy rather than the other way around.
The book begins with a bold statement in the introduction — and then sets out to deliver: “Our purpose is not to moralise about the hatefulness of war. Some readers may confuse the absence of moralising for an absence of empathy with the victims of war. This is to assume that cries of pain and anger are enough to prevent violence. Surely there are enough cries of pain and enough anger in the world… What is missing is not more emotive expression but a fresh understanding of the relations between war and a fast-changing society. This new insight, we believe, could provide a better base for action by the world community. Not crash-brigade, after-the-fact intervention but future-conscious preventative action based on an understanding of the shape that wars of tomorrow may assume. We offer here no panacea. What we offer, instead, is a new way of thinking about war. And that, we believe, may be a modest contribution to peace, for a revolution in warfare requires a revolution in peacefare as well. Anti-wars must match the wars they are intended to prevent.”
There are two problems with this thesis, one practical, the other theoretical. While states are becoming increasingly interdependent, while power has to an extent moved from state to non-state actors and while the Internet and information revolution has changed the means of production in modern society, the thesis ignores that ruling elites will resist anti-war activity, however well intentioned as malign meddling in their internal affairs. Others will resist doing what is “right” lest their neighbours return the favour. No matter how magnificent the theory, the practice is that we are more likely than not stuck with “crash-brigade, after-the-fact intervention.” The Tofflers and other futurists have also been rightly criticised for a type of millennialism: history is invariably divided into distinct eras, we are unfailingly on the cusp of another and woe to those who do not follow prescription.
The Tofflers argue that guerrilla and militia-style warfare is the natural form of warfare for agrarian, first wave, warfare. Armoured and nuclear war, involving mass conscript armies are the natural form of second wave, industrial civilisation. Since wars of mass destruction are self-contradictory and since we are now entering the information age, the third wave, a new fighting style is required. “The way we make wealth and the way we make war are inextricably connected,” they argue. “Knowledge, in short, is now the central resource of destructivity, just as it is the central resource of productivity… Knowledge is the ultimate substitute for other resources.”
Written shortly after what is now Gulf War I (1990-1991), the book cites parts of that conflict as the first “third wave war.” Special mention is made of the role of Starry (and his opposite numbers in the US Air Force for developing operational manoeuvre theory, decentralised command-and-control (“auftragtaktik”) as well as the smart weapons and tactics required to make theory practice. Are the Tofflers right? Well, read the book and decide for your self. A superficial reading of the 2002 Afghan campaign and the 2003 Iraq war (aka “Gulf War II”) supports their thesis of smart warfare. The jury is still out on their theory of “anti-war,” an eclectic mix of diplomacy, special forces and cyberwar.
A popular work, rather than serious, this book is one you should have read by the time one reaches one’s colonelcy, if only to debunk…  
War and Anti-War, Survival at the dawn of the 21st Century
Alvin and Heidi Toffler
Little, Brown and Company
New York
1993