Monday, October 09, 2006

World War V

In 1985, Canadian historian Gwynne Dyer posited that world wars happen about every 50 years, like clockwork, and that the root cause of a world war is always (despite whatever the participants might claim) the imbalance between the relative political and economic powers of the nations involved. Further, he went on to define the five world wars that had occurred thus far in modern history as the Thirty Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years' War, the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars, and the Great War, parts 1 and 2.

Then he jumped the shark, and came to the cautiously optimistic conclusion that, while we were due for one, another world war would not happen in the foreseeable future, as there were four highly unlikely conditions that would need to be met before such a war could become even remotely possible. These conditions were:

1. The reunification of Germany.

2. The decline of the Soviet Union to the point where it could no longer maintain control of its empire.

3. The repudiation by the Japanese of Article 9 of their 1947 constitution, followed by rearmament.

4. (And Dyer considered this to be an extremely long-shot) The emergence of China as a great economic power.

You may take a moment now to go refill your coffee cup and shudder, and while you're doing so, take a look at what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been saying lately about recent developments in North Korea. Then, when you're done with all that, let's consider the question from the fiction writer's perspective.

One of the things that has always bothered me about science fiction is the implicit assumption that the future will grow in a simple and linear fashion from the present. Typically, this results in a future world where either: a.) Western (read: American) liberal democratic civilization has ascended, values intact, straight to the stars, or b.) after some sort of brief interregnum, (i.e., Star Trek's "Mad Wars"), the world is rebooted in a western liberal democratic mold, and everything proceeds nicely from there.


But according to a recent article in The Economist, (yes, we subscribe to that, too), their projections for the year 2040 indicate that the world's dominant economies will be China, India, and Brazil, in that order, with the EU and NAFTA duking it out for the coveted position of Distant Fourth Place. Can you even imagine what it will be like to live in such a world?

And that's this week's assignment. If Dyer's theory is correct, right about the time the Economist's projections hit home, we should be ramping up for World War V. Who will be the major powers in the Great War of 2045? Who will be allies? What will be the unimportant backwaters? And what will life be like after the war?

Now put your imagination in gear, and go!