Information Warfare: Cheap Thrills Make The Headlines


December 26, 2009: Ten years ago, two Chinese army colonels wrote a book, "Unrestricted Warfare" that advocated daring, and high-tech, strategies for China to attain military dominance over the United States. For the most part, the book is only available to English speakers in a badly translated edition. Even the title is poorly rendered; it should be "Unlimited Warfare." In effect, it's about the range of policy actions that a state can employ, from foreign aid to nuclear weapons, in pursuing its objectives. It's also essentially the views of the authors.

Like the Soviets before them, the Chinese communists permit a lot of unofficial opinion in military literature. But just as Chinese officials sometimes misinterpret what they see in the Western media, as official government policy, so do Westerners misinterpret books like this as official policy. Even dictatorships need some free exchanges of ideas, in order to find the best solution for problems. While there are limits to how far-out authors can be (and editors of the state controlled publishers know where the limits are), this aspect of free speech does allow for a very wide range of proposals. But most of these books are just that, proposals, and will never become policy. But for Western media, searching for the next hot headline, a bad translation is preferable to an accurate one. Thus "Unrestricted Warfare" became the primary evidence, for Western media,  that China was out to conquer the world, or at least defeat the U.S. militarily.

Having someone ask around in China would have revealed that the authors of the book are considered Tom Clancy wannabes, more than military strategy sages. It was also common knowledge that "Unrestricted Warfare" was unauthorized (China is still a communist police state) publication, and the publisher that put it out was dissolved. But the book was a popular read for most Chinese, who were happy to hear about how they could stick it to the West (which had been hammering China for over a century). But the government was not amused, and military professionals considered the book more of a cheap thrill, than a serious study of strategy.



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