October 1996

Root Page of Article: Coming Out of the Closedt World, by John Horberg

Simulated Nuclear Engagements

Here is Edwards' frighteningly real description of how metaphors -- computer war games -- become more real than nuclear war itself. The part below about maintaining winning scenarios also plays into our thinking of "Star Wars" as the impenetrable shield that Reagan envisioned.

This passage is also reminiscent of Sherry Turkle1s ideas in Life on the Screen:

Inside the closed horizon of nuclear politics, simulations became more real than the reality itself, as the nuclear standoff evolved into an entirely abstract war of position. Simulations -- computer models, war games, statistical analyses, discourses of nuclear strategy -- had, in an important sense, more political significance and more cultural impact than the weapons that could not be used. In the absence of direct experience, nuclear weapons in effect forced military planners to adopt simulation techniques based on assumptions, calculations, and hypothetical "rules of engagement." The object for each nuclear power was to maintain a winning scenario -- a theatrical or simulated win, a psychological and political effect -- rather than actually to fight such a war. Actual outcomes no longer mattered, since the consequences had become too enormous to be comprehended and too dangerous to be tested.
Edwards also comments on the unworldliness of simulation scenarios for nuclear engagement. Since, "nuclear strategists had virtually no quantitative information upon which to base their calculations of the course of World War III.... [S]ince they were planning a type of war that had never been fought, they seemingly had no choice but to do their best with theories, models, simulations, and games." ^

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