What the military can learn from “Dune”

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Carl von Clausewitz and Frank Herbert both understood the power of main emphasis. Clausewitz, a theorist of the 19th es. Depending on the type of conflict, the focus may be an enemy logistics base or field army, the capital of a nation or even an individual (see: Osama bin Laden at war with al-Qaeda). In whatever form, one focus is “the hub of all strength and movement on which everything depends”, wrote Clausewitz.

In dune, it’s the spice.

In a world where computers and artificial intelligence are banned, the spice or “melange” enables pilots to fold space, traverse galaxies and time. The drug only comes from the planet Arrakis, and when Duke Leto Atreides ventures there to secure it, he is quickly overthrown by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. However, the baron only understands spices as a commodity. In a classic case of colonial myopia, he takes advantage of it to fund his empire and annoys the Fremen natives in the process. But Paul Atreides, the Duke’s exiled son, recognizes a focus when he sees it. After the fall of his father, he befriends the Fremen, becomes their messiah, takes control of spice production, recaptures Arrakis and becomes emperor of the known universe.

Military chiefs don’t consult Herbert nearly as often as Clausewitz, but science fiction still influences the military. In the 2000s, cadets lost weight dune may have gained insight into wars in the Middle East; In 2021, the book warns against relying too much on technology.

In the age of digital warfare, fighters can almost fold the space up with the right gadgets. But when everything from GPS to power grids to communications systems is blocked, forged, hacked, or blacked out, trust in the technology will blow your ass up. This has resulted in the US military reverting to basic methods and, like Paul, relearning how to combat analogs. Keeping of logbooks. With runners and field phones. Defense of handwritten orders instead of electronically transmitted ones. It is a painful process for many, but it is necessary. Because the focus in most conflicts – the flavor – is the digital information itself today.


Jonathan Bratten is a military historian and officer in the US Army.



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