Jim Crupi – we are all soldiers

We’ve moved down the street to a beautiful movie theatre that’s able to – just barely – accomodate the whole of TED. (About half of us at TED are only allowed in the “overflow lounge”, a comfortable space filled with couches and dozens of monitors, broadcasting the sessions taking place above. I got to be in the “big kid’s room” briefly yesterday when I gave my talk. Now, crammed into a theatre seat, I realize that there are some real good things about the TED overflow arrangement

Military strategist Jim Crupi starts his presentation with a fairly realistic emergency message suggesting that there is a ricin and smallpox attack in Silicon Valley. Crupi tells us the broadcast isn’t real, but was played to give us a sense for the panic we might experience if such an attack were real.

All of you in the audience are producing the new tools of war – which makes you soldiers, whether you know or not.

Ant robots – can crawl into weapons, computer centers, factories and lie dormant for years. They’re activated by sound and can take down these facilities. Non-lethal forces – LF sound, dazzle, electronic pulse, microwaves – as well as lethal, plastic guns are changing the weapons we encounter. Bacteria can alter land mines and hamper them. We’re creating baceria who can alter an enemy’s behavior. A tiny lego-sized vehicle has great cameras and explosive capabilities.

There’s also a war of ideas, designed to prevent – or cause – chaos. Atrocity accusations – in a battle of the eye and the ear, the eye wins every time. Showing evidence of an atrocity can cause a battle, or end one.

Future war will be belief and issue based. Terrorists were surprised we stopped flying after 9/11 – “this means you’re a nation of religion, not faith… that’s how we knew we would win.” The line between crime and war will blur – our wars look more and more like police actions. Leaders are increasingly viewed as criminals. Everyone can play – the future war will be a people’s war. And no one will be spared – no one is a non-combattant.

Technology is way ahead of our ability to manage it. We need to learn how to deal with digital deception and psychological warfare. Intelligence is everything – had we known how the Vietnamese troops were getting across the rivers, we would have been able to end the war. The Vietnamese built bridges six inches under the water…

Traditional military weaponry won’t be very useful. And there will be no sanctuaries. Every mode of transportation will be targetted. Individuals and groups will fight versus nation states.

How people create wealth is the secret to understanding the future of warfare. Decades ago, tanks and bombs destroyed factory. Now we’re in an information economy… and we’re building tools that the terrorists will use for their own ends. Once we end up doing biological engineering, it’s easy to imagine the worst.

War will be protracted and close. The objective won’t be winning – it will be protecting a great idea – freedom, democracy, human rights, faith. The pain will be difficult to tolerate, because it will be up close and personal.

He ends with a video of modern warfare, turning the faces of soldiers into TED speakers. It ends with the phrases: “The future of war begins and ends with you. What role will you play?”


Chris asks, “What can we do to prevent future wars?” Jim allows that we’re all trying to do that, building houses, building dialog and trying to address health and environmental issues. It’s the only note of optimism in the whole talk…

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