In the night skies and desert sands of the Middle East something has taken place that the world has not seen for 300 years--the arrival of a new kind of warfare that corresponds closely to a new system for the creation of wealth.
The Gulf War has unleashed countless headlines about the new role of technology in warfare. Its results have confounded many of the anti-technological skeptics who spoke of the unworkability of complex weapon systems. But it is not just a matter of new technology. The new war form shaped in the Persian Gulf reflects the new form of economy that has been springing up in the West and in Japan in recent decades. The way we make wealth and the way we make war are inextricably connected.
Military strategies, tactics and technologies have evolved continuously throughout history. But only rarely has war been truly revolutionized, and the deepest changes have accompanied basic changes in wealth creation.
Future historians will recognize the Gulf War as the world's initial outbreak of "Third Wave" warfare.
The Agricultural Revolution launched the first great wave of change in history. The Industrial Revolution triggered a second. Today, a Third Wave of change is sweeping across the planet.
It is still not fully appreciated that the great age of industrialism is behind us. The basic system for wealth creation is being revolutionized--and war, as usual, is mutating in parallel.
In today's economy, mass production itself is increasingly outmoded. Customized production, based on the economies of intelligent technology, is superseding it in many fields. This demassification of output is matched by the breakup of mass markets into "niches." In turn, advertising, which once depended on the mass media, is shifting to demassified media like direct mail, multiple cable channels, direct broadcast satellite and even more specialized media, in order to reach carefully pinpointed micromarkets. All of these steps break up the old homogeneity of the mass industrial society, and are themselves mirrored by changes in family structure, which is becoming polymorphic, and in culture, which is growing more and more heterogeneous.
The more differentiated society and the economy become, the more information must flow between people and institutions to maintain coordination. This accounts for the explosion in information and communications technologies. The new economy also requires more highly trained workers, as muscle work declines and intelligent machines increasingly replace unskilled laborers. Simultaneously, the introduction of microchips and feedback into products equips everything from automobiles to microwave ovens with memory, programmability and intelligence. In turn, these raise the level of education needed by consumers as well.
Advanced Third Wave production centers heavily on customization, precision and waste (or damage) reduction. In the economy this might mean using a computer-driven laser to cut garments; on the battlefield it means using a laser to designate a specific target. In the civilian economy, it may mean using a monoclonal antibody to identify a disease-causing antigen, bind to it and destroy it. In war it means using a Tomahawk cruise missile to identify an Iraqi bunker and enter through its door and destroy it. Smart tools produce smart weapons.
The same precision and customization used to reduce waste in the factory reduces what the military calls "collateral damage" on the battlefield.
After a month of bombing Iraq, during which the U.S.-led coalition sent 70,000 sorties into the skies, Iraq accused the allies of indiscriminately killing civilians. Yet the highest number of civilian casualties claimed by Iraq, after a month of the most intense air campaign in history, did not exceed several hundred or at most several thousand.
While every civilian death is to be deplored, even if these numbers were multiplied by 10, they would still be remarkably light by historical comparison.
Thus, every month of World War I saw an average of 137,000 civilian deaths--7,000,000 in all by Armistice Day, 1918. This figure was dwarfed by civilian casualties in World War II, when 388,000 civilians lost their lives every month--year in and year out from 1939 to 1945.
In 1981, shortly after publication of our book, "The Third Wave," Maj. Gen. Don Morelli of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command told us that, even though our book did not deal with the military, it was being closely studied by generals responsible for redefining warfare. A then-new doctrine called "Air-Land Battle" (subsequently "Air-Land Battle 2000") was being prepared. This new doctrine, he told us, paralleled in military terms many of the social and economic changes described in our book.
While our book systematically foreshadowed the demassification of economic production and society, Morelli noted, we had made no mention of what he called "the most important change in warfare since Vietnam--the development of precision-targeted weapons." In effect, what we were already beginning to see, Morelli said a decade ago, was the "de-massification of de-struction in parallel with the de-massification of pro-duction."
Next: A "thinking system" does battle.