The USSTRATCOM PAO (United States Strategic Command Public Affairs Office) is smiling. Ear-to-ear. With a wink. And a gold star. Maybe even a bonus.
The acme stunt? The public affairs officer made his military proconsul a hipster, at least for the moment. When the Washington establishment's high school in-crowd fan mag -- Foreign Policy no less -- breathlessly reported last week that the US Military has a war plan for the zombie apocalypse, the monkish uniformed orders briefly entered the hallowed superstar precincts of The Walking Dead and World War Z. A 24-hour news cycle was captured, and all was cool with the world.
Let a thousand news flowers bloom! I had to stop counting the number of unique stories about it somewhere in the hundreds. Always and everywhere -- for USSTRATCOM Public Affairs at least -- the story was the same: The US Military has a war plan for the zombie apocalypse. Wowza!
And so it was: The US Military has a war plan for the zombie apocalypse. Wonderful. Beautiful end of story for USSTRATCOM.
Problem is: If the USSTRATCOM CONOP actually represents our working war plan for the zombie apocalypse, then we (you and me civilian types) are toast.
Max Brooks brilliantly distilled the strategic problem of fighting zombies to a single, devastating recognition -- that it is different. Different from every kind of war we have ever fought. Different fundamentally and absolutely from fighting human persons.
Inhuman persons fight us "outside the box" of thought, and their strategy is superior. Everyone of them is a combatant, everyone is armed, they never stop fighting, never lose heart, need no logistics -- where our every loss is yet one more recruit to the undead cause. There is no weak point, no rear area, no center of gravity. Turning Clausewitz upside down, there is no culminating point of attack, only an inevitable culminating point of victory -- our inevitable extermination. Actually, a zombie apocalypse comes closest to Clausewitz's model of absolute war.
Such existential recognitions are dutifully acknowledged but never really explored in the USSTRATCOM CONOP. In spirit it is simply another training exercise, only this time self-consciously packaged as "an enjoyable" scenario.
In its favor, the CONPLAN does acknowledge that the preservation of human life "is vital to US and Allied national interests." Bravo. Also to its credit, presentation is upfront, comprehensive, and forthright, detailing the full scope and compass of a zombie challenge. It is useful, moreover, in fully citing all elements of the situation.
But is it not a plan. It is more like an orientation. Problem is, it announces itself as a "plan" -- and then proceeds to walk and talk like a plan. Yet the plan part seems pro forma, like a template for cutting cookies. "Six phases" to the "counter-zombie campaign" are delivered with total assurance: It shall be so. CRDUSSTRATCOM will initiate, will execute, will dominate, will stabilize, will rebuild. Even though the planning guidance assumes a worst case scenario in which "all normal C2 capabilities are impaired or overrun by zombie forces" -- in planning terms this only means that USSTRATCOM will update its nuclear war contingency plans to include a zombie apocalypse.
What is missing is an actual plan to fight "World War Z" -- a specifically unique form of global conflict. An actual plan would not be satisfied with a comprehensive listing of all elements of the situation. Unlike this CONPLAN, an actual plan would present a full net assessment, spelling out the relationship of means, ways, and ends that lead to a real strategy. Instead we are treated to a template and a matrix: Not a plan, but rather a formula.
Maybe I am crazy, or asking too much, or misinformed, or simply naïve. Maybe combatant commands just don't do strategy, so that what they call a "plan" is really a readiness framework waiting for its mission orders. I get that. But nonetheless, very specific preparations are required for a counter-zombie campaign. Even a readiness framework for World War Z cannot be cobbled together from other war contingencies -- even nuclear war contingencies.
Don't we get this from our own bitter experience these last twelve years, during which our Pentagon never, ever managed to figure out how this war was different? Get it at least, so that it actually made any difference?
So right here, right now, we can and must go further when our own media zombies unthought-acknowledge this cute little exercise. Civilian leadership is indeed responsible for setting overall war strategy, but the military is nonetheless responsible for successful execution. It is not off the hook. To effectively plan for a counter-zombie campaign, truly authoritative foreknowledge of likely war strategy is essential. For example, the US Army and Navy spent years before World War II planning for the very war they ended up fighting. Maybe that is why World War II is the very last war this nation can call a victory.
The worst sign flashing from this entire exercise is its title: "COUNTER-ZOMBIE DOMINANCE." For old Romans, domina meant "master." The whole point of a counter-zombie campaign is not to dominate -- to show those damn zombies who is boss -- but to wipe them out before they exterminate us. Reading the USSTRATCOM exercise I am left with this forlorn thought: Any military that believes this is an executable plan is doomed -- and sadly, us with them.
It is always a positive, when training, to encourage fun and creative exercises -- in this case, perked up by "an enjoyable scenario." But this was also an opportunity for a big combatant command to showcase its ability to think through and take charge of the most challenging of strategic problems: A true Black Swan event. The thing that's coming that we don't see. The thing that kills us in the end.
So this was a true opportunity missed -- missed by our military, and missed by our slavish media. With greatest reluctance, I am putting my money on the zombies.