THE UNINHABITED UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
FIRST IN A SERIES OF DISCURSIONS INTO FOUND SCIENCEY IMAGES
by Joshuah Bearman
OWNING THE WEATHER
Somewhere on Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, there are file cabinets and databases filled with documents that constitute a report called Air Force 2025. How many file cabinets and databases I do not know, because the report is thousands of pages, and some of it is classified, and, moreover, I’ve never been to Maxwell Air Force Base. But according to what material is available, Air Force 2025 is an attempt to envision a whole new set of strategies and weapons systems for the skies and, ultimately, space. The reports are full of sober assessments, wild speculations, and a whole lot of acronyms, like WICS, which stands for Worldwide Information Control System, and GLASS, a hypothetical Global Area Strike System. In short, Air Force 2025 aspires to what is called Global Battlespace Dominance—controlling every potential medium of warfare, from the vacuum of space to the froth of information circling Earth. It is a fantastic vision. The above illustration is in the report, as sort of a frontispiece. “That’s the Air Force of the future?” my friend John asked when I showed it to him. “Why is it so trippy?” Why indeed? Elsewhere in the report, there is an epigraph, a line from Part 1 of George Bernard Shaw’s unstageable play series Back to Methuselah: “You see things; and say ‘Why?’ But I dream of things that never were; and I say; ‘Why not?’”
If inspired rhetoric cribbed from literature sounds strange coming from the military, think about Donald Rumsfeld for a minute. At first, he really looks the part of a defense bureaucrat, right? With the hair, the glasses, the slight squint behind the glasses, and the swagger behind the squint, he always reminded me of a sixties-era Rand analyst, a smarty-pants, still stoked on grad school, confident that punch cards and new vistas of applied math could keep the country secure. A square, really. Anachronistic.
But then Rumsfeld became the central personality behind the Iraq war, and we realized he’s less square than downright loopy. His elliptical style loosened, veering into metaphysical flourishes and becoming vaguely epistemological. Recall Rumsfeld standing in front of his silk-screened Pentagon backdrop and taking the Washington Press Corps to school about how what-we-are-seeing-is-not-reality-but-one-slice-of-the-totality-of-the-reality, and so on. No longer your average security studies fuddy-duddy, Rumsfeld now seemed more like the odd guy in the Rand office, the one who started mingling with the early Timothy Leary crowd at parties—Rand is in Santa Monica, after all—and thereafter authored game theory studies by day while listening to Alan Watts tapes and “expanding his horizons” at night. I mean, what kind of secretary of defense goes to Brussels and talks to NATO about threat assessment in the form of koan-like epigrams?
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