Murphy's Law: January 26, 2002


Mysterious China Catches Up With It's Past- In late 2001, China graduated the first class of officers who had taken a one year course in psychological warfare operations. China has already organized several cyberwar units and is putting a lot of money into training net savvy engineers. A major motivator for this sort of thing is the realization that the Internet and other mass media have become major military weapons. There's a great deal of irony in this, as for several thousand years, China was in the forefront of developing new psychological warfare operations. The Chinese interest in this kind of Information War was one of the things that made China seem so exotic to foreigners. For example, it was noted that there was extensive use of hostages in medieval China. This was not unknown in Europe. The king would demand that key (and potentially traitorous) nobles send one of their sons to the kings court. The official reason for this was so that the young man (often a child as young as eight or nine) could get to know the king, and vice versa. The real reason was that if the old man turned on the king, the kid was toast. The Chinese were far more practical in matters of loyalty. For example, a Chinese saying was, "the easiest way to take a fortress is with a donkey." That is, a donkey loaded down with gold or silver to bribe the guy in charge of the place. Which is why the families of most fortress commanders lived elsewhere, in a place where the emperor's men could quickly kill them all if daddy sold out the emperor's fortress. 

Ever resourceful, Chinese military sages wrote many books of advice on how to use psychological, and Information War tricks to get the fortress commander to surrender anyway. How? Simple, arrange for a false report to reach the emperor that the fortress had fallen to a bribe. Then make sure the fortress commander found about his late wife and kids (and often grandparents and siblings as well.) If you could pull that off (it was not easy, but was done often enough), you could probably get the fortress at half price. False messages, well placed rumors, and other Information War techniques that still work were all part of the Chinese way of war for centuries.

So why did all this Information War wisdom fall into disuse in China, only to be revived by the needs of cyberwar. Blame it on nuclear weapons. China has not fought a major war in half a century (unless you count the embarrassing border battle with Vietnam in 1979, which the Chinese don't.) What has kept the peace, more than anything else, has been nuclear weapons. In the past, the major nations were less reluctant to get into a major scrape, because the downside wasn't all that dire. At worst, you would lose a chunk of the current military age generation, a bunch of money (you could make the peasants pay for that) and maybe a little civil disorder. But now that all the big guys have nukes, a major war risks everything. So when there's a long period of peace, as has happened before in China, the result is rot. The military virtues of the ancients are forgotten, only to be relearned at great cost when the next war comes around.

What we are seeing here is Chinese recognition that another major war has already started, and that they are blessed because this new kind of war, cyberwar, is lifting off slowly. This gives the hidebound brass sufficient time to get thoroughly terrified, recover their wits, and do something about it. The Chinese are doing a lot about it.


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