A Farewell to Arms

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But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.

A Farewell to Arms

Drawn largely from Hemingway's own experiences, it is the story of a volunteer ambulance driver wounded on the Italian front, the beautiful British nurse with whom he falls in love, and their journey to find some small sanctuary in a world gone mad with war. By turns beautiful and tragic, tender and harsh and realistic, A Farewell to Arms is one of the supreme literary achievements of our time. For those on the ramparts of the world's sole superpower, the digital winds are blowing an icy chill through the triumphant glow of the post-Cold War.

People in Washington play lots of games, but none for higher stakes than The Day After. They played a version of it in the depths of the Cold War, hoping the exercise would shake loose some bright ideas for a US response to nuclear attack. They're playing it again today, but the scenario has changed - now they're preparing for information war.

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The game takes 50 people, in five teams of ten. To ensure a fair and fruitful contest, each team includes a cross-section of official Washington - CIA spooks, FBI agents, foreign policy experts, Pentagon boffins, geopoliticos from the National Security Council - not the soldiers against the cops against the spies against the geeks against the wonks.

The Day After starts in a Defense Department briefing room. The teams are presented with a series of hypothetical incidents, said to have occurred during the preceding 24 hours. Georgia's telecom system has gone down. The signals on Amtrak's New York to Washington line have failed, precipitating a head-on collision.

A Farewell to Arms

Air traffic control at LAX has collapsed. A bomb has exploded at an army base in Texas. And so forth. The teams fan out to separate rooms with one hour to prepare briefing papers for the president. Another might be "Someone - we're still trying to determine who - appears to have the US under full-scale attack.

The game resumes a couple of days later. Things have gone from bad to worse. The power's down in four northeastern states, Denver's water supply has dried up, the US ambassador to Ethiopia has been kidnapped, and terrorists have hijacked an American Airlines en route from Rome. Meanwhile, in Tehran, the mullahs are stepping up their rhetoric against the "Great Satan": Iranian tanks are on the move toward Saudi Arabia. God, Voltaire said, is on the side of the big battalions.

Not any more, He ain't. Nor on the side of the richest or even - and this may surprise you - the most extravagantly well wired. Information technology is famously a great equalizer, a new hand that can tip the scales of power. And for those on the ramparts of the world's sole superpower, the digital winds are blowing an icy chill through the post-Cold War's triumphant glow.

Consider this litany. And the Pentagon brass? They commissioned their old RAND think-tank friends, who combed through the Day After results and concluded, "The more time one spent on this subject, the more one saw tough problems lacking concrete solutions and, in some cases, lacking even good ideas about where to start. Not that nothing is being done. On the contrary, there's been a frenzy of activity, most of it little noticed by Washington at large. A presidential commission has been established; the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA have created their own specialist I-war teams; interagency bodies, complete with newly minted acronyms like IPTF Infrastructure Protection Task Force and CIWG Critical Infrastructure Working Group , have been set up; defense advisory committees have been submitting reports thick and fast, calling for bigger budgets, smarter bombs, more surveillance, still more commissions to combat the cyber peril.

Yet, for all the bustle, there's no clear direction. For all the heat, there isn't a great deal of light. For all the talk about new threats, there's a reflexive grasp for old responses - what was good enough to beat the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein will be good enough to beat a bunch of hackers. Smarter hardware, says the Pentagon. Bigger ears, says the NSA. Better files, says the FBI.

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And meanwhile The Day After's haunting refrain is playing over and over in the back of everyone's mind: What do we tell the White House? A little digitally induced confusion might be par for the course in, say, the telecom industry or even on the global financial markets. But warfare is something else altogether.

Plot summary

And while the old Washington wheels slowly turn, information technology is undermining most of the world's accumulated knowledge about armed conflict - since Sun Tzu, anyway. What is an act of war? What is an appropriate response? Who's the first line of defense? What does "civilian" infrastructure mean when 90 percent of the US military's communications travel over public networks?

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Are we ready for a bonfire of civil liberties in the name of national security? Do we need an army? A navy? An air force? Does it matter whether we have them? And how do you encourage free and informed debate about an issue of unimpeachable importance without setting off panic? Interesting questions all, unless you happen to be the men and women who get paid to keep the United States - or any other country - sleeping safe within its borders.

In which case, those questions are a nightmare. For a crisp, succinct summary of I-war - not to mention a taste of the threat's reality - you could do worse than glance at the Chinese army newspaper, Jiefangjun Bao. The following summarizes speeches delivered at last May's founding ceremony for Beijing's new Military Strategies Research Center:. This revolution is essentially a transformation from the mechanized warfare of the industrial age to the information warfare of the information age.

Information warfare is a war of decisions and control, a war of knowledge, and a war of intellect. The aim of information warfare will be gradually changed from 'preserving oneself and wiping out the enemy' to 'preserving oneself and controlling the opponent.

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Please note that there's no namby-pambying about defending the motherland. The object is to vanquish, conquer, destroy - as deviously and pervasively as possible. That's one of the factors that makes I-war discussions so fraught: Like the technology that makes it possible, the landscape is vast, hard to visualize, and infinitely flexible.

I-war can be the kind of neat, conceptually contained electronic Pearl Harbor scenario that Washington strategists like - collapsing power grids, a stock market software bomb Tom Clancy's been there already , an electromagnetic pulse that takes the phone system out. Or it could be something completely different: An unreachable, maybe even unknown, foe. Grinding you down. Messing with your collective mind. Driving you slowly, gently nuts.

Turning around your high-powered, fully wired expeditionary force in Somalia with a single, second videoclip of one of your boys being dragged behind a jeep. Weaponry by CNN. The question is whether the creaky old Cold War decision-making juggernaut is up to it. Nobody wants to get near it, because it's being presented in such humongous terms.