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On the one hand, it seems almost cruel to revisit someone's predictions about geopolitics a decade after they made them. On the other, Mr. Peters is still today making confident predictions about what the war on terror holds in store for us, so it seems worthwhile to look back and see how he did in the past. At least in The War in 2020, you'd have to say his past vision was pretty foggy.

It's an exciting enough book, kind of in the Tom Clancy mold, mostly about the 7th Cavalry's experiences in a future conflict that pits Japan, white South Africa and various Islamic jihadis against a militarily degraded United States and a crumbling Soviet Union. Mr. Peters presents the warfare and the military hardware of 2020 in convincing fashion. He obviously loves warriors and makes the men at the heart of the story, on both sides, suitably heroic.

But what are we to make of a scenario where Japan, a basket case today, is the world's foremost superpower; where Afrikaner South Africa and Soviet Russia both held on for an additional thirty years; and where America has declined so precipitously? He did better with his vision of an aggressive and ambitious Islam, but even there one has to wonder if it will ever be realistic for Muslim extremists, no matter their passion, to project structured forces beyond the Middle East. After all, it's one thing for a small group of men to hijack a plane or for a group of men to hide in the mountains of Afghanistan/Pakistan, but quite another for those groups to try to function far beyond their home turf in conventional military battles against Western armed forces.

The main problem with Mr. Peters analyses, and it has been on display in his writings in recent months too, is that he tends to take the situation of the moment and project it forward in a straight line. Thus, declining powers keep declining infinitely; rising powers rise forever; a pause in a military campaign is conflated into terminal stasis; etc.. This tendency apparently led him to overestimate Japan's necessarily temporary economic success in the '80s just as surely as it has led him to accuse the Bush administration of surrendering any time they aren't moving as quickly as he'd like. This needn't ruin your enjoyment of his novel, but it suggests we should treat his punditry with caution.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C+)

  

Websites:

Ralph Peters Links:

    Must Iraq Stay Whole? (Ralph Peters, April 20, 2003, The Washington Post)
    -INTERVIEW: "The Shah Always Falls": A soldier-historian looks at how the world has changed in the past decade and finds that America is both hostage to history and likely to be saved by it: An Interview With Ralph Peters (Fredric Smoler, February/March 2003, American Heritage)

Book-related and General Links:
>    -BIBLIO: Ralph Peters (1952-) (Fantastic Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Hobbling Into War (Ralph Peters, November 15, 2002, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: The Eastern Front: The Bali attack is a sign of the terrorists' desperation. (Ralph Peters, October 15, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Overrated & Underrated Novels (Ralph Peters, October 2002, American Heritage)
    -ESSAY: Rolling Back Radical Islam (Ralph Peters, Autumn 2002, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: CIVILIAN CASUALTIES: NO APLOGY NEEDED (Ralph Peters, 7/25/02, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: A Mob Hit in Kabul: The warlords won't help us win the peace in Afghanistan. (Ralph Peters, July 9, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: A Remedy for Radical Islam: The Arab world is hopeless, but the Muslim world isn't. (Ralph Peters, April 29, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: In War, Soldiers Die: American casualties are a good sign. It means the military is doing its job. (Ralph Peters, March 5, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Saudi Threat: Riyadh is at the root of much evil. (Ralph Peters, January 4, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Stability, America's Enemy (Ralph Peters, Winter 2001, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Will Our Resolve Last? (Ralph Peters, September 14, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Human Terrain of Urban Operations (Ralph Peters, Spring 2000, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: The Plague of Ideas (Ralph Peters, Winter 2000-01, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Heavy Peace (Ralph Peters, Spring 1999, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Our New Old Enemies (Ralph Peters, Summer 1999, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Hucksters in Uniform: Abandoned by the elite, too many top brass sell out to the military-industrial-Congressional complex (Ralph Peters, May 1999, Washington Monthly)
    -ESSAY: The New Strategic Trinity (Ralph Peters, Winter 1998, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States (Ralph Peters, Spring 1998, Parameters)
   
-ESSAY: The Future of Armored Warfare (Ralph Peters, Autumn 1997, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Constant Conflict (Ralph Peters, Summer 1997, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Our Soldiers, Their Cities (Ralph Peters, Spring 1996, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: A Revolution in Military Ethics? (Ralph Peters, Summer 1996, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: After the Revolution (Ralph Peters, Summer 1995, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: The Culture of Future Conflict (Ralph Peters, Winter 1995-96, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: The New Warrior Class (Ralph Peters, Summer 1994, Parameters)
    -ESSAY: Vanity and the Bonfires of the "isms" (Ralph Peters, Autumn 1993, Parameters)
    -REVIEW: of Clausewitz in English: The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America 1815--1945. By Christopher Bassford (Major Ralph Peters, Parameters)
    -REVIEW: of The Collapse of the Soviet Military by William Odom (Ralph Peters, Washington Monthly)
    -DISCUSSION: What Will the Next War Look Like and What Will the International Community Do About It?: Military Perspective: Ralph Peters (Crimes of War)
    -DISCUSSION: A behind-the-scenes discussion of Ralph Peters' article, "The New Strategic Trinity" Parameters, Winter 1998 (Chris Bassford, Clausewitz.com)
    -INTERVIEW: with Ralph Peters (TOM CROSBY, 8/09/02, Voice of America)
    -INTERVIEW: The Future of War with Ralph Peters (Frontline)
    -ESSAY: The Peters Principle: How Unpleasant Fictions Fuel a Culture War (Chris Sanders, January 6, 2002)
    -ARCHIVES: Cumulative Index of Parameters Articles and Review Essays
    -ARCHIVES: "ralph peters" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of War in 2020 (Kevin Murphy, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Red Army by Ralph Peters (Jim Trageser, San Diego Evening Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Fighting for the Future by Ralph Peters (Ernest Blazar, washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Fighting for the Future (JAN VAN TOL, Naval War College)
    -REVIEW: of BEYOND TERROR: Strategy in a Changing World By Ralph Peters (Robert B. Loring, Leatherneck)

Comments:

Mr. Grimes:

One assumes you meant "you're stupid"?

- oj

- Apr-27-2003, 20:14

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Nice review; you nicely describe the strengths and weaknesses of Peters' novel.

That said, I disagree with your central premise. While we already know that Peters got the details of 2020 wrong, it's worth remembering that this was written immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I saw his novel as a cautionary tale; a rebuttal of triumphalism along the lines of Francis Fukuyama's essay "The End of History" (from memory--that the inevitable downfall of communism has ushered in era of peaceful interactions among liberal democracies).

But history doesn't stop. While the details the strife 30 years' hence are unknown to us, we can be sure that (a) it will exist to greater or lesser extent, (b) some alignments will be familiar, and (c) others will not be what we expect.

The most notable extrapolation Peters made was his projection of a resugent and militant Islamic movement. Getting the details wrong doesn't, alas, negate his underlying premise.

- AMac

- Jan-27-2003, 13:46

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