In the year 2034, U.S. naval destroyers enter the waters of the South China Sea, where they eventually encounter a heavily armed Chinese vessel.
Apparently, it all goes downhill from there.
Relentless cyberattacks put a stranglehold on the United States’ ability for strategic action, and the devastating sea battles lead to thousands of lives lost on both sides.
That’s the lethal scenario imagined in the recently published 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, which was co-authored by combat veteran Elliot Ackerman and Adm. James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO.
The content may be highly speculative, but the book has already garnered solid reviews.
“This crisply written and well-paced book reads like an all-caps warning for a world shackled to the machines we carry in our pockets and place on our laps, while only vaguely understanding how the information stored in and shared by those devices can be exploited,” the Washington Post wrote in its book review.
“We have grown numb to the latest data breach—was it a political campaign (Hillary Clinton’s), or one of the country’s biggest credit-rating firms (Equifax), or a hotel behemoth (Marriott), or a casual-sex hookup site (Adult FriendFinder), or government departments updating their networks with the SolarWinds system (U.S. Treasury and Commerce)?”
According to Stavridis, the novel is “a tale of cautionary fiction” that utilized the rich tradition of storytelling during the Cold War era, which could have ended in apocalyptic disaster for the entire planet.
“Part of why we never ended up throwing nuclear weapons at each other during the Cold War is that we imagined how terrible it would be, how gripping and societally destructive it would be,” he told the Washington Post.
Stavridis added that he hopes his story can make the public more aware of the grim consequences of a real United States versus China war.
“The novel lays out a pretty plausible ladder of escalation that goes from a conventional attack to a second conventional attack to a third conventional attack to America deciding to pull a tactical nuclear weapon and use it,” he said. “That’s more real (a prospect) than I wish it were.”
In Washington, there is indeed a growing body of policy papers and reports that do envision a tense standoff that could potentially lead to an all-out war.
For example, recent reports are indicating that last fall—less than a year after the start of the coronavirus pandemic—the U.S. Air Force simulated a military conflict that began with a Chinese biological weapon attack.
The highly classified war games simulation culminated with Chinese missile strikes on U.S. bases and warships and a lightning air and amphibious assault on the island of Taiwan, which China has recently doubled down its claim to.
According to Air Force Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, in that particular scenario, the U.S. military will likely “lose fast.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.