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Recently we got a peek at what the Army secretly thinks is coming next for humanity.
This short, untitled film was leaked to The Intercept after being screened as part of an “Advanced Special Operations Combating Terrorism” course convened by Joint Special Operations University (JSOU). Originally made by the Army, it’s about how troops will deal with megacities in the year 2030. What’s surprising is that it acknowledges social problems that the US government usually ignores or denies.
Over at The Intercept, Nick Turse explains the film’s provenance:
The video was used… for a lesson on “The Emerging Terrorism Threat.” JSOU is operated by U.S.
Special Operations Command, the umbrella organization for America’s most elite troops… Lacking opening and closing credits, the provenance of “Megacities” was initially unclear, with SOCOM claiming the video was produced by JSOU, before indicating it was actually created by the Army. “It was made for an internal military audience to illuminate the challenges of operating in megacity environments,” Army spokesperson William Layer told The Intercept in an e-mail. “The video was privately produced pro bono in spring of 2014 based on ‘Megacities and the United States Army’…
The producer of the film wishes to remain anonymous.”
Turse goes on to make fun of the film’s hyperbolic narrative and cheesy stock photos, which admittedly feel like a propaganda snippet from Starship Troopers.
Despite the terrible delivery, however, the movie does some good science fiction world-building.
The premise is that we’ve mastered urban warfare, but our tactics only work in late 20th-century cities. Megacities, which are usually defined as urban areas with more than 15 million people, will change the game.
The movie explores what social life will be like in such places, especially after climate change has made them more dangerous and the separation between rich and poor has been magnified beyond belief.
In this video, produced by the Pentagon for its Joint Special Operations University, we learn that the future looks like Blade Runner crossed with Hunger Games.
That’s right—the Pentagon acknowledges climate change as a serious threat.
This stance is not a new one, and it highlights a rift between the armed forces and Congress. Likewise, economic catastrophe is tackled head-on in this video, with the military describing our class-divided future much like the Occupy movement did. With more people living in poverty, cities will become snarls of DIY electrical grids and ad-hoc social systems that rely on “alternate forms of government” and “decentralized economies.”
Strikingly, the megacities the Army imagines are like something from the pages of an early William Gibson novel. Rich people with unimaginable technologies live alongside shantytowns, and both groups are knit together by “unaligned individuals” who work “in the shadows” on digital weapons and social media counter-insurgencies.
There, in a world where “social structures will be dysfunctional,” the Army imagines a “nervous system” of non-state actors further eroding national security by “mingling with citizens” to create new threats.
Like I said, the delivery is clunky and the imagery comes from stock photos, but whoever made this movie is familiar with many of the concerns in the best of contemporary science fiction. Plus, filmmakers look at future disasters without flinching and without pretending that climate change is a myth.
And that’s why the scariest part of the film is the fact that it offers no solutions, only more combat.
This is the dystopian military future, as imagined by the US military, where the wars go on forever.
Listing image by Program Executive Officer Soldier