Doctrine: Flexibility

He held his arm too stiffly, and so was thrown back repeatedly, until at last I seized his forearm and snapped it back against itself. His training suffered while the arm healed, of course, but I felt this was a lesson he must learn early, and well.

– Spartan Kel, “Honing the Ki”

Doctrine: Mobility emphasized the capacity of moving around at speed. With the addition of boats to the mix, speed is no longer the only consideration. Rather, it becomes a question of integrating different types of motion on different types of terrain under different types of conditions. A stiff breeze has different implications on land than at sea, which complicates matters when it comes to coordination. Both modes of movement have to be understood on their own terms and then made compatible to each other.

On Earth, this process was facilitated through the process of containerization. During the Vietnam War, the US military faced the logistical challenge of moving troops and immense amounts of stuff across the ocean. While the act of putting stuff on boats and moving it to far-away lands was by no means a new phenomenon, the scale and speed of it was novel enough to warrant innovation. Thus, the shipping industry (in its military and civilian guises) took it upon itself to standardize the process of moving stuff to a single, unified, uniform unit: the container.

A container is nothing fancy. A hundred million of them, however, constitute a system for global logistics. Their main feature is that they are all the same size and shape, and that they can be moved from one mode of transportation to another without much in the way of effort. Once something is in a container, the only thing that matters is moving the container around. It can be put on trains, boats or trucks with equal ease, as many times as it takes to reach the destination. Only upon reaching where it needs to go is it necessary to open the container; for the whole duration, it is merely a unit amongst other. All along the way, the infrastructural links are specifically designed to move, house and send these standardized units where they need to go next.

Before containerization, stuff was moved around more or less manually. Sometimes by hand, but more often than not by using cranes and other tools. Every shipment was different and had to be treated individually. Sometimes there were a lot of crates, and that had to be dealt with accordingly. At other times, it was a shipment of furniture, which required a different set of skills for getting off the boat. And so on for every kind of item that needed to move across the world. Now, however, the only thing moved are containers, regardless of what they might contain.

On Chiron, this process might very well repeat itself. Being on a new planet does not end the need to move stuff around, it only alters the gravitational constant. Doctrine: Flexibility represents the capacity to field naval units suited to the new environment, but it also represents a societal adaptation to the new realities of global logistics. It is, indeed, a lesson best learnt early and well.

The Command Nexus

Information, the first principle of warfare, must form the foundation of all your efforts. Know, of course, thine enemy. But in knowing him do not forget above all to know thyself. The commander who embraces this totality of battle shall win even with the inferior force.

– Spartan Battle Manual

Continuing the trend of centralized command structures established in Doctrine: Loyalty, the Command Nexus takes it one step further. While it is reasonable to think that every faction get their own command nexi over time – by necessity, if for no other reason – the Command Nexus represents a singular devotion to integrating military coordination into the fabric of society to such a degree that it happens seemingly automatically. It becomes just another routine thing to include in planning documents and maintenance operations.

The Spartans would, of course, be a natural fit for this secret project. Their inherent ambition to become the best warriors on each and every possible field of battle goes hand in hand with ensuring that everything is known about where there’s a war to be fought. Information must not only flow from where the enemies are, but also where they could potentially be. Not only to be able to muster a defense should they attack along those vectors, but also to enable counterattacks along these very same lines. If the enemy does not know about these potential battlefields, then they provide a means through which to harass, sabotage or even destroy them if caught unawares. Knowing is half the battle.

The other half of the battle is being able to project force wherever and whenever it is warranted. This is, above all else, a question of organization and infrastructure. Knowing which forces are where and what capacities they possess is a prerequisite for issuing orders relevant to the situation; being able to distribute these orders in a swift and reliable manner is not something to be taken for granted. It requires dedicated efforts, hardened lines of communication and extensive drilling to keep the flows of information open and operational. War is, above and beyond anything else, an intensely social activity.

The Spartan Battle Manual is – from what we have seen of it – keen on emphasizing the possibility of inferior forces winning despite the odds. Most of it comes down to organization and readiness. Having more numbers than the enemy means very little when they know where to strike in order to cause chaos and disarray. As Clausewitz pointed out, the main objective of any battle is to disable the enemy’s capacity to resist, not to destroy them. Cut off the lines of communication, split up the troops in disparate contingents and undermine every point where coordinated resistance can be mounted – and victory is achieved.

All of this underscores the importance of a centralized command structure and of integrating it with society as a whole. While the Spartans make a virtue of necessity, other factions will have to follow suit to some degree. As the old saying goes: no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. But planning is essential.

Children’s crèche

Proper care and education for our children remains a cornerstone of our entire colonization effort. Children not only shape our future; they determine in many ways our present. Men and women work harder knowing their children are safe and close at hand. And never forget that, with children present, parents will defend their home to the death.

– Colonel Corazon Santiago, “Planet: A Survivalist’s Guide”

The inclusion of this building in the game amuses me. Given that Alpha Centauri is an American game, it is by necessity framed through an American lens. The implication of including what is basically a child daycare center, and having it require an extensive research effort to even become available as a construction option, is that the whole idea is so outlandish as to belong to the realm of science fiction. While this framing was probably not the intended narrative outcome, it does say something that the one way to get proper childcare facilities, from a US point of view, is to build a giant spaceship, go to another planet and discover (after lengthy scientific investigation) that the treatment of kids is something of a big deal. It has hard to shake the feeling that this hard-earned insight could have been gained through a less circuitous method.

One such method might be to turn to the pragmatist John Dewey, who wrote extensively on the nature of education and learning. Education is a system for instructing people (primarily children) with various skills deemed necessary for functioning and participating in society. Learning is the processing of information and acquisition of new useful skills, and a vital component for relating to the world. The two are only ever tangentially related, where the things a child actually learns while in school might differ substantially from what the curriculum has to say. To paraphrase a section from Democracy and Education: education is only effective in so much as the child actually cares about what is being taught, and merely going through the motions of being educated is neither necessary nor sufficient to learning. For one thing, the learning outcome of a particularly boring lecture might be a proficiency for falling asleep even on uncomfortable chairs during suboptimal noise conditions.

Here on Earth, not picking up something while in school is likely to not have too severe consequences. For one thing, if something is important, it will come up in context once it becomes relevant. As long as the major skills are acquired – reading, writing, numeracy, some general sense of what society is and how it works, some basic science – the rest can be remedied retroactively. There is no one lesson which teaches you a vital life skill where you will fail as a human being if you don’t show up on that particular day. The connection between learning and education contains sufficient redundancy to allow for less than 100% retention.

On Chiron, there might very well be such lessons. How to quickly seal off breached areas, how to affect emergency repairs on malfunctioning equipment, what to do in case of mind worm attacks – any moment can become a catastrophic situation, where the swift application of critical skills means the difference between life and death. It therefore becomes imperative to minimize the gap between education and learning; perhaps the effort required to accomplish this paradigm shift is the reason for not placing this facility on tier 1.

Another method is to turn to children’s author Astrid Lindgren. The various depictions of children and how they relate to the world is instructive with regards to how they can more readily be taught what they need to know. Rather than viewing things in such alienated terms as “learning outcomes”, Lindgren teaches us to see the world as a child: as big, scary, and full of interesting mysteries. These mysteries will inevitably be explored, regardless of what the grown-ups have to say on the matter; the drive to explore can either be dismissed as irrelevant to the learning process, or incorporated as a vital component of it.

Both Dewey and Lindgren have the distinct advantage of being available to us right here, right now. No interstellar journey required. To bastardize a common expression: given enough sustained lack of attention, any sufficiently existing body of knowledge becomes indistinguishable from science fiction.

Command center

Superior training and superior weaponry have, when taken together, a geometric effect on overall military strength. Well-trained, well-equipped troops can stand up to many more times their lesser brethren than linear arithmetic would seem to indicate.

– Colonel Corazon Santiago, “Spartan Battle Manual”

A corollary to the concept of readiness is having somewhere to get ready. There are very specific things that need to be done before setting out to do things, and thus there is a need for someplace where these things can be the main activity. While it is possible to do these things on the natch – necessity tends to speed things up – they become more routine and efficient when preparations have been made for them. Having a command center is, in a sense, the difference between having a barracks to house the soldiers currently on duty, and having these same soldiers return home every day only to get back the next morning. It might seem a subtle difference, but it speaks to the nature of specialization: those who return home are reminded of all the other things there are in the colony, while those who live in the barracks for the duration know that this is their main activity now, temporarily or permanently.

There is a comparison to be made to long-distance hiking. It is very possible to simply pack all the necessary things into an oversized backpack – cooking gear, a tent, food, supplies – and just start walking in a direction. Once you get going, you will see the sights and become more aware of just how small you are in the grand scheme of things. However, the same is also true if there is a pre-planned route with stops along the way and infrastructure in place to remind you where to go. There is nothing saying that it’s impossible to walk the same grounds without these prior preparations, but it becomes that much easier when you know that there is a water spring this much further ahead, a cabin to take shelter in up on the next ridge, and an alarmingly vibrant presence of xenofungus due south of where you are now. Preparation is both convenient and conducive to survival.

The Spartans, of course, take this to the next level, and make a virtue of necessity. Following from the prerequisite of Doctrine: Mobility, and the Foucauldian idiom that knowledge is power, it is safe to assume that a Spartan command center has mapped the surrounding terrain in extensive detail, and placed small caches of supplies at strategic locations across the landscape. Having somewhere to get ready at a local scale is ever so gradually transformed into a readiness to fight wherever the enemy happens to show up, by virtue of knowing these places inside and out. Lal’s insight that movement creates knowledge has been weaponized and put to immediate military use.

Network node

I don’t know but I’ve been told,
Deirdre’s got a Network Node.
Likes to press the on-off switch,
Dig that crazy Gaian witch!

– Spartan Barracks March

This is not the kind of quote you expect to hear in relation to something as infrastructurally specific as a network node. In technical terms, it is a glorified server room, and all the infrastructure that goes along with making server rooms possible. It is cables, switches, a multitude of computers with rapidly blinking lights – in short, a mundane working area shoved to the hidden recesses of society so as to not have it disturb the important work at hand, or the other way around. Why would Spartan grunts be singing songs about it?

One reason is that these march songs can hone in on just about anything, and if the Gaians are the enemy of the day, then a network node is as good as anything else. Another – more interesting – reason has to do with how communications technologies came to be in the first place. The long version has to do with ancient Babylonians and counting livestock, and is long indeed. A shorter version is offered by Paul Virilio, who outlines how modern communications technologies were primarily invented for military purposes – primarily in the contexts of the world wars and the cold war – and then over time migrated over to civil society. The rapidly changing situation on the battlefields required rapid communications, and thus the development of local range radio was accelerated. Being able to quickly map enemy encampments became strategically important, and thus the development of mapping technologies based on aerial surveillance were accelerated. The internet was built to withstand a nuclear war. All of these things sprung out of military necessity, and Virilio makes the argument that they still retained an internal military nature once readapted to civilian use.

The implications of this is that our modern societies are more shaped by the military-industrial complex than we might think. And, if we think there is a military-industrial complex, then we think our modern societies are shaped by military mindsets indeed. This is only accentuated by the war on terror, which had (and has) aspirations of declaring all unmonitored communication suspect and cause for police intervention. Cyberhackers are dangerous criminals which can disrupt vital societal functions, and thus every effort to stop them is justified.

This is not to say that these communication technologies have suddenly become militarized in recent years. Rather, they were built that way, and have remained so even as the civilian sectors have gotten used to the idea. It is a rarely mentioned fact, but in the US the GPS system is owned and operated by the military. The manner in which the GPS devices found in cars give very definite directions may or may not be a side-effect of this fact.

In tactical terms, disabling the communications of an opposing force is a major blow against their capacity to offer resistance. Perhaps this is why the Spartan grunts sing about the Gaian network node – it is not an idle team-building exercise, but a preparation for an upcoming attack on that very node. Once a base has become reliant on constant realtime communications, it becomes a disruptive event indeed to see it go boom.

The Spartan Federation

Every faction needs an army. This axiom is heavily reinforced by gameplay; those who do not build at least a token defense force will quickly and effortlessly be conquered by enemy factions. Additionally, as bases grow, the need for drone suppression increases, further emphasizing the need for a standing army. The Spartans, in this regard, represents a turning of necessity into virtue: the necessity of preparedness for armed conflict means that those who are best prepared are also those who stand to come out on top if and when conflict arrives. If, as Hobbes said, homo hominis lupus est, then being the biggest baddest wolf is the path to victory.

The faction name – Spartans – implies two things. It implies that this is a society that values martial prowess over worldly possessions, healthy warrior spirits in healthy warrior bodies. It also indicates that this is a disciplined society, consisting of soldiers rather than thugs. The aim of being prepared for conflict is not conflict for its own sake: a Spartan getting into brawls and fights at every turn is a bad Spartan, incapable of fulfilling their duty as part of a coherent, well-drilled unit. This is a faction of well-trained soldiers, capable of overtaking and outperforming their opponents even if the odds are seemingly (and numerically) even. The leader quote speaks to this:

Superior training and superior weaponry have, when taken together, a geometric effect on overall military strength. Well-trained, well-equipped troops can stand up to many more times their lesser brethren than linear arithmetic would seem to indicate.

– Colonel Corazon Santiago, “Spartan Battle Manual”

The Spartans emphasize individual virtue in the form of martial prowess, but it is by no means an individualistic faction. Wars are not won (or lost) by feats of individual excellence, but by extrapolation of initial conditions. Those who possess the better weapons and training also possess an advantage in terms of said initial conditions. Thus, it is paramount to secure and maintain this advantage at all times – and on every field of battle. Clausewitz is still with us.

Given this focus on superior training and weaponry, development (technological as well as social and economic) in the Spartan faction is guided by two questions: how can it be used as a weapon, and what is the most efficient method of implementing it once weaponized?

Having a gun makes you more capable of projecting force than not having a gun, and the same goes with having bigger and/or better guns. Military capability is not limited to mere possession, however. There is a difference between being proficient at a specialized set of tasks (such as being a plumber in our society), and being embedded in a culture where these same tasks are treated as an everyday occurrence. For the Spartans, soldiering is not a profession or a circumstance: it is a way of life. Training begins at an early age, and by the time of reaching adulthood, citizens intuitively see how things can be weaponized. Moreover, by virtue of a shared frame of reference in martial matters, they can communicate without friction with other citizens about how to go about using new weaponry and tactics. The Spartan culture as a whole endeavors to create readiness for adopting and modifying new military practices. The gear changes, but the mindset and discipline remains the same.

This is reflected in the faction bonuses: a substantial bonus to morale (which, mechanically, translates directly into combat strength), and a minor bonus to its police rating (more efficient drone suppression). The collectivist focus on military training and martial prowess creates a strong sense of unit coherence. An individual is at all times a part of a unit, who live and train and sweat and bleed and – when the day comes – die together. There is at no point any doubt about one’s place in things. It is an open question whether the bonus to police is a reflection of decreased rates of crime (due to the aforementioned unit coherence), or of an increased tolerance for punitive measures against those instances of crime that actually do occur. Possibly, it is a little bit of column a and a little bit of column b.

The faction receives a penalty to Industry, which in terms of game mechanics makes everything more expensive to build. This reflects the focus on military application mentioned above – attaining and maintaining superior military readiness does not happen automatically or without cost. Resources have to be constantly committed to ensure that the training and weaponry remain at its peak, and the increased number of citizens dedicated to soldiering rather than production means that the factional advantages are distributed accordingly.

It should not come as a surprise that the final factional bonus is that they can instantly apply new technological advances in the field, without having to construct a prototype unit first. (Prototype units cost significantly more minerals to build, and incur an equally significant increase in the cost of finishing construction with energy.) This does not only mean that the Spartans can construct a unit with better guns faster than other factions can, it also means they can retool their entire industrial infrastructure to building these better units as soon as they are available. This is in line with the Spartan ethos that the outcome of a war is an extrapolation of its initial conditions: since the Spartans can implement new technology faster, the initial conditions are more likely to favor them. Speed is not only a convenience – it is an absolute necessity.

Given all this, it is intuitive that the faction tends towards the Power social policy, and loathes its Wealth counterpoint. Wealth for its own sake makes no sense for a – pun intended – Spartan society. Enacting the Power policy gives a bonus to Support (meaning the capacity to support more units per base) and Morale (which, in this case, means very, very strong units). The downside is an additional penalty to Industry (making everything even more expensive). Here, gameplay and narrative converge: while units do take longer to train, upon finishing their training they are substantially better than equivalent counterparts from other factions. It is quite possible that new units start out with the highest possible morale, which enables them to move faster and further. Again, speed is paramount.

While the written backstory of the game and the expansion is rather hit and miss, episode 9 of Journey to Centauri does feature a statement from Santiago that well sums up the Spartan view of their being on Chiron, and of the other factions:

This mission stinks of politics under a veneer of idealism. We crave survival, pure and simple, and this focus gives us power. We wish to play out our destinies on our own terms.

The mission, of course, being the UN mission over which the Peacekeepers are nominally in charge. Needless to say, their visions do not necessarily align. Ironically, it is in the nature of those wishing to be fiercely independent not do agree with those who suggest they should be free to make their own choices; the fear always being of politics under a veneer of idealism.

If the Spartans were to lead humanity’s transcendence, it is very possible the endeavor would be undertaken with a tangible sense of belligerence against Planet. As we have seen, the Spartans are not adverse to technological progress, but neither are they interested in progress for its own sake. Everything is geared towards the goal of securing military superiority over the opponent, present or future. Given that material weaponry is inefficient against Planet, other advantages are to be sought, other ways in which humanity can gain the upper hand. A Spartan-led transcendence would most likely at some point mean post-humanity tries to take control over the awakened Planet, thus possibly becoming the biggest wolf in the galaxy. It would, ironically, be a reversal of the initial premise. Humanity, having transcended, is no longer wolf against itself.

But it would still be a wolf, with very sharp teeth, and a well-practiced knowledge of how to use them.