Ripples in the Sandbox

Playing any sort of sandbox game, I can’t help but think of the ripples that might move on from it. Both Automation: The Car Company Tycoon Game and Command: Modern Air Naval Operations are, thanks to their gigantic arrays of details, excellent at this.

So, in Command, I think of what effect the battle will have on not just politics, but on force issues.

One battle may lead to the accelerated retirement of certain obsolete units. One may either boost the dominance of a certain platform or bring a new one into vogue. Economic ripple effects may cause stronger or weaker defense spending, with the side effects that exist from that. Almost all never amount to more than daydreams, but they’re fun daydreams.

With Automation, given its bottom-up build-a-car mode, the question is often reversed-not “how will this car affect _____” but “how will ______ affect this car?”. Some examples are fairly ‘easy’-Kyoto or another climate protocol means a forcibly efficient car that uses a lot of exotic gimmicks to boost mileage faster than a “natural” and gradual efficiency gain. Others are tougher (I’ve thought of designing hypothetical cars in an existing alternate history setting where A: machine tools are decades behind history, and B: Japan’s car industry is not an international one. Needless to say, the cars would be a lot different).

Sometimes I answer those style questions in Command, pointing to Empire State lobbying as the reason for adopting the Super Tomcat (F-14s were built on Long Island), or greater naval air losses in the Gulf War forcing a stealth carrier unit (The F-117N or more capable A/F-117X, adaptations of the classic stealth fighter with far superior avionics taken from the cancelled A-12).

Then the question goes all the way around again, and I ponder the fairly short service lives of these stealth attackers (they’re a stopgap developed from the F-117, which was a bare-bones stopgap in and of itself).

Little comes of this, but it’s fun.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: Tom Kratman’s Carrera series

Imagine you have a series where everything is handed to the main character on a silver platter, and they still appear like they’re barely able to reach the plate. This surreal experience is the heart of Tom Kratman’s Carrera series.

The backstory of how the series came to be is in many ways more interesting than the story of the books themselves. Tom Kratman was an officer in the US Army who had a disappointing career, rising to lieutenant colonel essentially by default without actually getting to command anything of significance. This was combined with a legal career that, to put it mildly, he wasn’t suited for.

So, he wrote several manuscripts of military fantasy stories. Then the infamous Baen Books accepted those manuscripts (after one throwaway novel featuring a heroic Texas taking on an evil Hillary Clinton caricature that even Kratman himself put solely into the “potboiler” category). Now, if these were just conventional thrillers that happened to be, say, a little more right-wing than even the norm for the genre, they would have been considered mild curiosities at best.

The Carrera books were not conventional thrillers. For one, they were intended as military manuals, to show the guy who was too good for those jealous idiots in the Pentagon how to really do stuff. Next, they were extremely cumbersome in terms of prose (to the extent that the first book had to be released in two volumes because it was too big). Finally, Baen had to apply a ‘sci-fi’ covering to them-but only the most basic covering. The result was very interesting.

So, here’s the plot summary of the actual books themselves. A space probe discovers another habitable world, and a force led by evil European administrators sends colony ships across the distance to “Terra Nova”, with various nationalities. Terra Nova is essentially exactly the same as the world the colonists left, only with everything upside down and backwards and the country names replaced with bad puns. South Africa becomes North Uhuru, the US is the Federated States of Columbia, France is Gaul, Britain is Anglia, to the disgust of Scots, Iraq is Sumer, etc… The worst examples are China and India, which become Zhong Guo and Bharat-yes, China and India become-China and India.

Meanwhile, the United Nations that ruled Old Earth collapsed into a literal backwards, decadent monarchy. Their space fleet was rusty and malfunctioning, to the point where they needed to buy replacement parts from the Terra Nova surface.

After a nonsensical “World War” that involved the “US”, “England”, and “Germany” against “France”, “Russia”, and “Japan”, there was a “Vietnam War” and a “Gulf War”, and even an “Iran-Iraq War”. (You see a pattern with the quotations).

At this point the actual books start. Patrick Hennessy has his family killed on “9/11” (which involves airships), kills several obnoxious yet nonviolent strawman pro-Muslim demonstrators, and after a bit of “Kind Hearts and Coronets-ing”, gets a huge inheritance. Calling himself Carrera, the vengeance-minded soldier sets to work on building a mercenary force out of formerly-demilitarized “Panama”.

After Carrera acquires a ton of suspiciously cheap military gear, he now has a brigade. Said brigade fights in the invasion of “Iraq”, where they find the Mystery WMDs after Carrera befriends a defeated “Iraqi” commander.

Eventually, the commander of the Space UN fleet is taken hostage and “Riyadh” nuked (!) by Carrera. This solves the “War on Terror” issue, and the series continues to the original manuscripts, where Carrera, with his array of meticulously built-up defenses, fights off the attacks on “Panama” by the “EU” and “China”.

The series has kind of been put on “indefinite hold”, as Kratman left to focus on writing a web column (and argue in the comments sections of said column) instead. Naturally, it stopped right on a “cliffhanger”, after fending off a “Chinese” amphibious attack.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

What makes the books stand out, besides the horrible writing and worse pacing (I was able to skip an entire book without missing anything, and could probably have skipped two more and still figured out what was going on), is the weirdly unheroic hero.

Carrera is a psychopath whose maximum effort at redemption is the occasional “I feel bad about this” sentence that doesn’t change any example of the characterization. The prologue to “A Desert Called Peace” features a man called the “Blue Jinn” who is confronting a huge group of prisoners, and orders the men to be crucified and the women and children sold into slavery. One reviewer thought the Blue Jinn was some yet-to-be-introduced antagonist-it was Carrera.

(The counterinsurgency tactic Carrea prefers can be summed up as ‘kill every man old enough to grow a beard, unless they’re on your side already’.)

Even towards his own troops, Carrera is unheroic. The main character casually yawns during a discussion of training deaths and views the percentage of casualties in training as not an inevitable tragedy but as an agreeable goal to toughen the troops up. Even the ruthlessness of the protagonist is secondary to the really weird characteristic-the fact, alluded to in the introduction, that even given every advantage, Carrera is a terrible commander.

When equipping his army, Carrera is an announced master of logistics. Unfortunately, Tom Kratman’s definitions of logistics involve only two things:

-An initial sticker price.

-A gamey ‘cost limit’ that can’t be exceeded.

This combines itself with the ‘manual’ part-see, everything is to be meticulously researched, because this is a true manual, and must be accurate. So the military is equipped using the same logic someone uses when looking at a Steam sale (ooh, three indie games for a dollar fifty!). My favorite example is his air force-rather than equip with surplus “MiG-29s” or something similar, Kratman saw that MiG-17s were available for the low thousands of dollars, so he had “Panama’s” air force be equipped with hundreds of “MiG-17s”-of course, they were upgraded with stuff that would obliterate the cost savings, but hey-sticker price.

My second-favorite is the navy, where he buys ships at scrap prices and has them be usable without budget-busting refits.

There are of course exceptions to this cheapskating. Of course “Panama” spends effort designing the Perfect Military Rifle, and makes super-tech whose cost calculations completely ignore development costs-therefore they get submarines that have never-before-used propulsion systems and can dive incredibly deep, as well as stealth aircraft. Then there’s the actual fighting.

In training, the infantry die repeatedly to sloppliness on the part of the trainer that doesn’t teach the survivors anything. The tank crews, on the other hand, not only perform poorly in initial training and are diverted to useless attacks on sea targets rather than returning until they get their fundamentals right, but when introduced to their vehicles, are given a de facto advertisment from the manufacturer instead of a realistic evaluation, to “improve morale”.

Once the combat begins, even that pales in comparison.

Pretty much every conventional battle follows the same formula. Kratman has bragged about writing full OPLANs and logistics plans for every single battle.

-Self-insert comes up with and infodumps detailed Grand Plan. (Sometimes the infodump is even multiple books ahead of the actual battle, but it’s there)

-Battle starts. Whatever the force, they just immediately dig in and don’t maneuver.

-Kratmanland forces get pounded by the strawman enemy.

-The Grand Plan is launched after many casualties.

-The Grand Plan is executed, and routs the strawman enemy.

Reading about tank crews not doing anything while infantry are fighting for their lives not too far away is kind of bizarre-and not even like any other Mary Sue. A conventional Mary Sue is something like the main character in the horribly wish-fulfillment computer fantasy anime series Sword Art Online, who can go into a VR game he’s never played before and zip around leaping and cutting his way to victory in a competitive tournament despite different mechanics. In Kratmanland, he would just camp in a bottleneck until the clock ran out and eke out a tiny victory by default thanks to having two more hit points than his opponent.

Thankfully, those who wish to check out the “majesty” of A Desert Called Peace for themselves can do so, for Baen has made the entire book free.

Just be prepared.

Fanfiction Friendliness of Settings

Some settings are seemingly better for fanfiction writing than others. One example, which was part of a major craze on Spacebattles, is the light novel/anime series called The Familiar of Zero. The plot is basically this-in a fantasy world similar to early modern Europe, a bumbling mage named Louise summons a bumbling Japanese teenager named Saito as her familiar. “Antics” ensue.

The FoZ craze had external factors going for it, such as a popular Fanfiction.net author kicking it off. However, the way it was sustained had a lot to do with the setting. Namely, there were just the right factors for why it got so much attention.

-First, the summoning mechanism allowed for a lot of easy, “built-in” crossover opportunities. For a fanfic writer, making a crossover would be as easy and natural-seeming (unlike contrivances) as “Louise summons _____ instead of Saito.”

-Second, the setting itself was viewed as something potentially interesting, motivating the “fixfic” interest. Unlike the traditional swords-and-sorcery, this was an early modern musket setting, making it stand out conceptually. In addition to this, the “mechanics interest” group liked the intricacies of the magic system (A lot of Spacebattlers like anything that seems quantifiable). That the original works squandered this in favor of “antics” made the motivation all the greater.

The FoZ craze has now burnt itself out, and the new hot fanfiction topic is a web-novel called Worm. That has plenty of its own reasons for the waves of fanfiction, but that’s another story.

Now, there is another work that, despite its popularity, has featured very, very few fanfics. Having finally reached the “Infamy Rank” in Payday 2, I can see why that series has so few entries on fanfiction.net. The setting seems to have everything that went for FoZ going against it. On paper, crossovers could be possible, and in fact official ones have been done in the game itself.

-The setting is much more rigid. Being an un-supernatural, at least nominally grounded modern world, a writer is more limited in what they can actually make. Not that that would stop anyone who really wanted to do something differently, but it’s still an obstacle.

-More importantly, it’s less conceptually interesting and tougher. Being built as a game where the player follows their character by default, there’s no need to ‘hook’ them. The existing characters are some of the least sympathetic protagonists anywhere, and they have just enough personality so that the author can’t use them as blank-slate protagonists like an RPG customizable character.

The modern action setting isn’t novel or possessing of much opportunity to ‘fix’, and is made worse by the game being hard to extract from its mechanics (in-game and the few cutscenes, the Clowns can mow down waves of officers who charge blindly forward, and then can stay hidden-to apply even the slightest amount of plausibility to it would be a Herculean task).

This doesn’t matter for the game itself, but does for a fanfic of such a work.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and the internet can be weird. If Payday had spawned a giant fanfic community and FoZ been left with a few scraps, I would probably be writing a blog post on how it was natural that such a popular and already crossover-apparent setting could have so much writing (just look at how easy it is to insert a new heister/rogue, since they did it in canon-etc), while totally understandable that a mediocre goofy anime would be left in the dust (Well, how can you make anything good from a silly little “antics” show-etc). But I still feel that some settings are just more fanfic-friendly than others, for reasons other than the popularity of the original/canon work.

Command Scenario Editor Introduction, Part 2

Ok, now I’m going to add weapons to the aircraft. First step is to see the sidebar.

After adding an aircraft via the means described in the previous post, click on Magazines. Then go to “Add Weapon Record”, and you should only see weapons compatible with the aircraft hosted on the base.

Add as much as necessary (never hurts to add more), then check on “Aircraft”.

Go to Ready/Arm, and you should see something like this:

You see what the base allows. For the sake of the editor you can use “ready immediately” to save time.

To help players with this, I’ve made an unconventional scenario. Players need not add the exact type of plane I did to get a fighter airborne and shoot down the target.  All you need to do is edit in an aircraft, arm it, and shoot down the transport.

The scenario can be found here.

Command Scenario Editor Introduction: Part 1

The best feature in the game Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations is its scenario editor. The editor is extremely fast, extremely efficient, and capable. Not only can you have a Liaoning group in the South China Sea, but said carrier group can be built in just a few minutes. And its Filipino/Vietnamese/American/British/Syndicate opponents can be added in just as short a time. The editor is so good that many players (myself included) spend a lot of time just goofing around in the editor rather than playing or making real good scenarios.

That being said, like everything else, the scenario editor takes some training. So I’ll start with the very basics.

To get into the scenario editor, click on “Create new blank scenario.” You should see a blank map of the world. Use the arrow keys to move around and mousewheel/X and Z keys to zoom in and out until you get to where the scenario is supposed to take place. (One advantage of the giant world, as opposed to restricted maps like in the old Fleet Command, is that you can make a geographically big scenario, with reinforcements coming from far away).

The “Editor” menu will be used a lot. First is the DB selection-since this will reset everything else, it’s important you do that first. There are many DB builds, but nearly all are to ensure backwards compatibility with older scenarios. Choose either the latest version of the (default) DB3000 (1980-present) or the CWDB (WWII-1980).

Now go to Add/Edit Sides: To go to a side, click Add and enter a name. The side name has nothing to do with what types of units it can deploy. So you can have the “US” deploy T-72s, “Russia/USSR” deploying F-22s, or the “Weirdville” side deploying F-15s. You need at least two sides for a proper scenario.

Go to “Postures”, and (for the sake of combat), make the first side hostile to the second. Then double click on the second side and make it hostile to the first using the same method.

Once they’re in place, switching becomes a lot easier, as shown here.

Go to “Add Unit”, then click on a spot on the map. Ships and subs need to go in water, land facilities only on land, and aircraft need a place to land. You can either select by country, or type in something (like Iowa) and see the results automatically narrow down, in this case towards the various versions of Sovremenny destroyers. Then it should be there, for you to access, move around, and fire.

Adding aircraft is a little trickier. First, you click on a unit capable of carrying aircraft to select it (anything from a ship with a helipad to a huge integrated airport, but often a Single-Unit Airfield). Then you go to “Editor” and select “edit aircraft”-this will be grayed out if a compatible parent is not selected. Once there, similar to “Add Unit”, you narrow down the aircraft.

Add a callsign, which can be a realistic one or stylized, but will cover the whole flight, added under “How Many”. Many smaller airbases or ships can’t hold many aircraft, so you’ll get an error message if you try to add too many. For single-unit airfields with a long enough runway, you should be all right.

There’s a lot more, and actually getting the added units in fighting condition will be discussed in a later update. For now, this has show the basics of adding units using the scenario editor in Command.

My Spacebattles Velocity History

My Spacebattles Velocity History

Sometime in 2006, I typed in a Google search for “M2 Bradley” and began clicking through page after page of results. Little did I know that this IFV would end up changing history. I went to a page on Stardestroyer.net, a “Star Trek vs. Star Wars” site. Then I saw references to a spacebattles.com, and signed up for that.

For most of my early time on Spacebattles (starting with my signing up in December 2006), I hung out in the Vs. Debates section. In hindsight a silly attempt to quantify the inherently arbitrary, it nevertheless appealed to me at the time-especially given the choices.

Then I sort of burned out and reverted to lurking, not posting very much. I was still active in viewing, just not in posting. At the time, I didn’t really see the huge change in the site. Now I can see it. Basically, by 2008-2009, the old sci-fi standbys of Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and even Warhammer 40,000 had started to run out of steam. In Stardestroyer.Net, this meant the site itself (though there were many other factors involved) began to just fade and drop in activity. But Spacebattles changed.

Huge amounts of roleplayers signed up, as did fanfiction writers. The center of the site shifted to the relevant subforums. Creative Writing, once a sleepy little board, became gigantic. Space Battles General was so overloaded by quests and RPs that a spinoff had to be made. And-then the server woes began.

Space Battles only remained in business because a programmer acquired it as a guinea pig board for vBulletin. Said owner was-to put it mildly-an absentee landlord. The latest server upgrade under him was done with the assumption that its growth would continue at the same mild rate-instead of increasing eightfold (!).

Naturally, the server became overloaded as the board grew. Changing board software to XenForo helped somewhat, but everything was only a temporary reprieve as the post swarms continued. Then in 2014, the slog became a breakout.

In April came the Athene Incident (named for the moderator’s name). Athene, a longstanding and loved moderator, was dismissed in the worst possible way. The board administrators tried to cover-up with a statement about “retiring”, but didn’t consult Athene on the coverup to see if she would agree to it (!). Page after page of flamewars and anger continued, and that’s when the split occured.

Several members of SB launched a spinoff board, named Sufficient Velocity. I stated at the time that I viewed the Athene Incident was a catalyst-it would have probably blown over had it not been for the server issues. (Also, there was a definite culture split-I think the incident was the ignition, the server issue the powder, and the shell was the different user culture).

I saw no problems with the creation of Sufficient Velocity. Although I spend far more time on Spacebattles, I have no problems with being a member of both boards.

On Spacebattles itself, things changed. The administrators apologized, there was a semi-coup with supermods becoming new admins and the older ones settling into technical roles, and (after a while), the site itself was taken under new ownership and upgraded. Now I primarily stay on the Creative and Spacebattles General boards, not going into Vs. Debates any more.
Quite the adventure.

The Carrier Air Groups That Never Were

Command’s latest series of updates have brought a new array of hypothetical units to the forefront. The question is what units would be used in a way that would maintain plausibility.

A-6F

This is easy. The A-6F, being an upgraded version of the old A-6 Intruder, would replace older A-6E units.

Naval F-117

(Note: the biggest difference between the A/F-117X and F-117N is that the former has air to air capability and the latter doesn’t).

This is tricky. They can replace A-6s as carrier strike aircraft, or they can serve in small detachments (3-6 planes, numbers closer to a specialty plane like jammer or AEW than a basic attacker) to serve as niche attack aircraft.

A-12 Avenger

If the Terrible Triangle was made to work and became the Awesome Triangle, it would also replace A-6s. In what quantity depends on the degree of success-like the naval F-117, it could be either a full-blown replacement or a costly niche plane.

Super Tomcat

Trickier. Super Tomcats can easily replace their direct predecessors, as well as the A-6 in the long-range heavy attacker role. What’s harder to say is whether or not they’d muscle aside the Hornet family as well-whether the Super Hornet gets cancelled or replaces the original F/A-18 as a light fighter rather than as a do-everything plane depends on politics and funding.

SV-22

Replaces the S-3.

F-24 NATF:

Replaces the F-14 as the pure air-to-air fleet defense fighter.

So, for one of the carrier wings, not in a limited intervention/peacetime profile, but a fully-loaded major war loadout, composed entirely of hypotheticals (at least in the fighter/attack units)

12-15 F-24 (1 squadron, fighter VF)

24-30 F-14E (2 squadrons, fighter VFA)

12 A-6F (1 squadron, attack VA)

18 other (Ea-6, E-2, S-3/SV-22, etc..) (multiple smaller squadrons).

-This assumes a more balanced, offensive-focused deployment. For the threat of a continued Soviet Union or other opponent that posed a greater threat to the fleet, swapping one of the multirole squadrons for another pure fighter one would not be surprising.

-This also does not take legacy aircraft into account. Either unupgraded F-14s or those in the database that have the AAAM but nothing else can replace the F-24s, and Hornets (legacy or, more doubtfully, Super) can replace the Super Tomcats. The A-6F can be replaced by the stealth attackers or super/legacy Tomcats (Legacy Intruders were some of the oldest platforms in the fleet and badly needed retirement). The ratio can range from only one squadron of new aircraft on the carrier to one squadron of old ones left (i.e, the small force of A-7s in the Gulf War).

-Just because all the planes are on the carrier does not mean that they are all ready to fly at a moment’s notice. The F-14 in particular was a high-maintenance plane, and while Super Tomcats may have eliminated some of the clunkier components, its swing-wing design is still inherently time-consuming to service. So for high plausibility, put some planes of all types in “Maintenance-Unavailable” .

Gate: Thus The Blogger Analyzed

Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There is an extremely silly book-turned-manga-turned-anime. The actual show is a mess of outright goofiness and battles that are as melodramatic as they are one-sided.

The synopsis of the plot thus far goes like this-Gate opens in Tokyo, and out steps a pseudo-Roman fantasy army that pillages and murders-until they get machine-gunned. The JSDF then builds a dome around the gate, and sends a scouting unit led by a goofball nerd who somehow passed Ranger School. You get wizard-girls, elves, and as of the last episode, catgirls, bunny-girls, and medusa-girls. And that after an unironic use of blasting Wagner from helicopters while machine-gunning hapless opponents. Oh, and a princess named Pina Colada. No joke.

Mounting a political and economic critique of such a setup seems as easy an overkill as the actual fighting, but that didn’t stop countless observers (including me) on my favorite forum of Spacebattles from giving a try.

-Japan immediately and officially annexes the entire world on the other side of the gate.

-Then they brag about how rich they’re going to get off the resources there.

-No one else is allowed through the gate.

-China and the US want to go through the gate, and the former wants to settle a third (!) of its population on the other side.

Either the JSDF would back down or see what happens when you pit a gain of totally undeveloped and completely theoretical resource deposits against the damage to one of the world’s most trade-dependent economies. But even if they and not Japan backs down, the “Special Region” could easily turn into a political and economic nightmare even without it.

1: Economics.

-Even if you know the resources exist, getting them is a huge problem. You have to find them, which means extensive surveys. Then you have to build the infrastructure, then you have to deal with the bottleneck of one small gate. This will take years and years and years, and that’s assuming that the costs make it viable at all. (As in, if it’s not just cheaper to import them from other countries on Earth)

Considering that there’s so little else of value there, the raw materials are going to make the Special Region sink or swim. And logically, it’d sink, given all the bottlenecks.

And then there’s the opportunity costs. See, you’ve shackled your country to one so much less advanced that there’s very little precedent. The (not exactly trouble-free) reunification of Germany, with similar technology, only with differences of efficiency, is not comparable. Even a reintegration of much more divergent Korea would be a piece of cake compared to absorbing an entire world or even a much less advanced country. At least North Korea has paved roads, for one.

And this is the best-case scenario, which assumes everyone is completely docile. In any instance with the slightest plausbility, they wouldn’t be.

2: Politics.

Where do I even start?

Ok, first let’s ignore the dubious Sino-American fetish for the gate. The biggest political problem is that the way to endear yourselves to the local population is not to openly view the whole world as nothing but a resources dispenser (which is precisely what the leaders on the other side think about the Special Region). The second-biggest political problem is that by introducing a touch of modernity, you’re going to trigger something beyond your control.

Sure, the people won’t mind if the only paved roads you build are the ones from the mines to the gate. Suure. And they especially won’t want to emigrate to the other side. Sure, you won’t want to go to this world of riches and miracles on the other side, you’ll just keep dirt-farming while the neo-coprosperityists strip-mine that mountain over there.

How many humans (and others) are in the Special Region? I ventured a guess.

-If the Empire has an “average” population density, and is roughly the size of Germany (based off its Holy Roman Empire inspiration), multiple demographics calculators give it a population of around 10.5 million people. But given its more shiny, high-fantasy feel (and ability to send ahistorically large armies), the population could increase to 15 million under the best-case scenario..

-If it’s the size of Turkey (Eastern Roman Empire), population varies from 26 million to 39 million.

So in the lower case, it’s 7 percent of the population of Japan (about 127 million). In the higher case, it’s 30%. I’m being low-end here and only counting the people of that one explored area. Using theorized world population for the 1200-era Middle Ages (350 million baseline, if I multiply it by one and a half its 525 million), that’s 2.7 and 4.1 times the population.

And going to one of the most infamously homogenous countries in the world. Uh-huh. No issues there.

China and the Atom Bomb-Parallels and Thoughts

A regime, born out of a fanatically anti-Western revolution and the veteran of a long bloody war has emerged as a ‘rogue nation’ to the established international order. Said nation has, directly and indirectly, went to war with the United States, unleashing its troops and arsenals to damage the US military and pin it down defending a new client state out of fear for its own survival. Now the US security establishment sits nervously as said nation, which has emphasized an unconventional approach to warfare to make up for its lack of an effective conventional arsenal, moves closer and closer to building a nuclear weapon.

And yet, some hope-could the regime be a lesser evil? Could a deal with it actually work?

This could be a description of Iran today, but it also describes Maoist China in the early Cold War. Throughout the early 1960s, the intelligence community navigated a fog as the country moved through its atomic development program, mystery continued and rhetoric escalated until the PRC detonated its first nuclear weapon in October 1964. Throughout the decade and beyond, the nation became the biggest wild card in the Vietnam War, and offers, if not lessons, then observations.

John F. Kennedy remained especially vigilant about the Chinese bomb, leaning towards a forcible strike against it. Against him, one unknown Policy Planning Council analyst named Robert Johnson continued to push for calm. Johnson-no relation to president Lyndon Johnson-’s view eventually won out, and the long-awaited nuclear test passed without much incident.

A surviving JFK, or a more hawkish administration, may very well have ordered a strike on PRC nuclear facilities. One of the best available sources is this document laying out a large array of options for fighting China’s nuclear ambitions, that range from the mild (condemn it and conduct a PR campaign) to the impossibly bold (support a Taiwanese reinvasion of the mainland (!) )

-What Happened-

China detonated its first nuclear bomb in October 1964. However, its capacity remained extremely limited-missile production was slow, and delivery systems remained limited to clunky H-6 bombers. As anticipated, the psychological effect was greater than the military changes.

Still in fear, the PRC rushed to support -within limits- the North Vietnamese, showing that the United States was not the only power politically restrained in the Vietnam War. Many thousands of Chinese troops, most being laborers and specialist engineers, were deployed to North Vietnam, where they assisted in infrastructure repair, construction, and deployment of anti-aircraft artillery. Although using a “volunteer” legal fiction for reasons of law and war, they did not even attempt to use a shallow “duelist deniability” and remained overt in all other means.

The fear of offensive forces deploying, even if in an unconventional capability, remained on the table throughout Rolling Thunder, and while unlikely, could not be discounted altogether (nor did planners feel it wise to, after the debacle of Korea).

The rest is history. China was approached as a balance to the Soviets, and in hindsight, the nuclear arsenal-with first bombers and then a small number of missiles-, proved less decisive than the worst fears indicated.

-Parallels-

How many parallels are there between China in the 1960s and Iran today? Less than the initial comparison may seem. But some still exist. One may be to overestimate the effects of nuclear weapons by themselves. A nuclear missile that can destroy one thing at the expense of bringing a hundred Minutemen down in return is, in many ways, less of a threat than a conventional missile capable of accurately hitting any airfield on the Arabian Peninsula.

Another is the gap between public rhetoric and private will. This is why I get annoyed by the “only alternative to a nuclear deal is war” talk-if Iran wasn’t overtly attacked while Bush was in office and there was a more valid military reason to, why would there be the will for it in much more dovish circumstances? Similarly, I’d bet that for all of Israel’s public (and understandable, much as the Nationalist government on Taiwan’s worries of mainland nuclear weapons in a fairly similar situation were understandable) warnings, it has privately resigned itself to a nuclear Iran for some time.

-What-ifs/Wargaming-

The document of proposals and plans shows an array of PRC responses to US-led measures. They range from naval harassment to the takeover of Hong Kong or renewed attacks against India, after their victory in 1962. China’s arsenal at the time was numerous but low-technology-in naval/air matters, the best it could manage was mass production of fighters one generation (later two generations) behind its opponents.

The Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations simulation offers many opportunities for simulating the what-ifs. Areas surrounding China’s nuclear program have inspired many scenario ideas from me, including full-scale B-52 raids on the infrastructure itself. However, the most I’ve managed to actually make is a scenario called “Probe or Feint”, a limited aerial recon-in-force by F-106s over the Yangtze.

I’ve taken an interest in simulating a hypothetical blockade, although the scope of that is room for concern (Too small an area and it becomes unrealistically cramped, too big and you have scenario creep).
As both a historical example and wargaming effort, the political and military plans surrounding the Chinese nuclear weapons project are well worth studying.

Macguffins and Underdogs

Girls Und Panzer is a very goofy anime that makes absolutely no pretense of being realistic. Therefore, it is an excellent example of what breaks my suspension of disbelief and what doesn’t. I can accept, simply because it’s the premise of the story, that-

-The ideal school setting is on a giant aircraft carrier that puts the Mobile Offshore Base to shame.

-You can have a sport involving girls in WWII-vintage tanks that somehow remains largely safe for all involved. Even when the tank flips over.

-Etc…

None of this bothers me in the slightest. I know I’m getting a silly anime about a silly sport, so this is to be expected. What does bother me a little bit is the “Knock out the flag tank and win” example. Not because it’s any less “plausible” than the sport itself, but because, from a literary perspective, it gives the writer an easy “solution”. Rather than figuring out how to have them win a winner-takes all match, it’s easier to just make a “hit the MacGuffin and win” plan. Especially if it’s an underdog who would be unlikely to win repeatedly “fairly”.

Far more serious works than GuP have this issue. Harry Potter’s Quidditch has the infamous “catch the Snitch and render the rest of the game de facto irrelevant” matter that made it easier for Rowling to write, but made it a very (literal) MacGuffin game.

But Quidditch is still a small part of the series, and it takes place in a world that’s meant to be abnormal. The nominal underdog repeatedly winning through repeated gimmicks is a bigger problem in more supposedly grounded works, especially in series that go on longer than originally planned.

Far more serious works than GuP have this issue. Harry Potter’s Quidditch has the infamous “catch the Snitch and render the rest of the game de facto irrelevant” matter that made it easier for Rowling to write, but made it a very (literal) MacGuffin game.

But Quidditch is still a small part of the series, and it takes place in a world that’s meant to be abnormal. The nominal underdog repeatedly winning through repeated gimmicks is a bigger problem in more supposedly grounded works, especially in series that go on longer than originally planned.