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What Our Military Can Learn From Starcraft

Before the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, President Bush famously said “I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt”.  Wise words from a Commander in Chief who understood the notion of warfare centered around resource management.  It’s easy to imagine George Bush spending endless hours in the White House playing strategy games like Starcraft to hone his understanding of warfare.

But something happened to the American war machine over the past nine years.  In Starcraft terms, America’s technological superiority makes us rather like the “Protoss” or “Terrans” from the game, while the Taliban’s theocratic hivemind makes them similar to the alien Zerg. On the surface it would seem that the advanced civilization could easily steamroll over the verminous space bugs, but Starcraft is famous for its well-balanced factions, and likewise, America has had trouble defeating our primitive enemy.  What caused a seemingly one-sided war to drag on for a decade?  The answer may be that America’s generals never played Starcraft, and were unable to comprehend the brilliance of Bush’s “Camel butt” analogy.

Now that Starcraft 2 is out, what exactly could our military commanders learn from the franchise?  Below is a small sample of the wisdom they could glean:

1:  Don’t use a Ghost’s Nuke Strike on a Creep Colony and hit a Zergling in the tail

Years before President Bush hit upon his masterstroke of tactical genius, Starcraft players already understood that powerful and costly weapons must be used efficiently.  Both America and the fictional Terrans have the capacity to Shock and Awe enemies, but dumping a pile of explosive ordinance on a low-value target is a waste of resources.  Enemies are much more awed to see their high value structures annihilated than they are seeing a pretty display of fireworks.

2:  Rock Paper Scissors

Using easily-manufactured units to kill powerful enemies which are weak against that type of unit is the core of strategy in Starcraft. The Taliban have mastered this, using cheap Improvised Explosive Devices to destroy expensive American vehicles (Not to mention the value of the soldiers inside). No Starcraft player would send their Marines down a rode guarded by Sunken Colonies, but that is exactly what American soldiers have to do as they patrol Afghanistan in Humvees. 

In the game, an inexperienced player might balk at devoting resources to constructing and upgrading a Starport, but the experienced player knows that doing research into air transport will save lives and money in the long run.  Imagine the sort of easily-produced air vehicles America could have come up with by now if this had been anticipated in 2002.  Of course this strategy should be augmented with the following:

3:  Destroy the buildings that make enemy specialists

Starcraft is all about building fancy bases and upgrading your manufacturing ability.  If your enemy has made a building that produces deadly troops, of course you’d blow it up.  The explosive experts who create the Taliban’s roadside bombs and the people who deploy them have to be trained somewhere. According to documents recently put on Wikileaks, there was a single school that produced 95% of the Taliban’s suicide bombers.

This is the equivalent of your opponent having a fully upgraded Ghost Academy.  A Starcraft tactician would send a dropship full of Marauders at such a place.  Sadly, I don’t recall reading any New York Times articles complaining that a squad of paratroopers with grenade launchers took out a school in Hashimiye.

4:   Don’t let a Zerg Queen into your base

One of the best parts about playing as the Zerg is getting your Queen into a Terran base and capturing the enemy Command Center.  This lets you turn your enemy’s soldiers into a swarm of mindless suicide bombers who fight for YOU. 

Well, in November 2009 the Taliban got the equivalent of a Zerg Queen into Fort Hood resulting in a shooting rampage.  This wasn’t an isolated incident, our military has had numerous problems with double agents, traitors, and homegrown terrorists.  The strategy of “Fight ‘em over there so we don’t have to fight ‘em over here” becomes moot when the enemy is already in our base, killin our d00dz. 

And Finally:

5:  Revolutions can be kicked into overdrive

I was not aware of this until I saw the trailer for Starcraft 2, but apparently, revolutions can be kicked into various states of drive.  Including overdrive! 

This month America is making a major troop withdraw from Iraq under the assumption that the insurgency is ended. A similar withdraw is slated for Afghanistan in 2011. But suppose a grizzled Al Quaida leader and his rag-tag band of scrappy outlaws see this as the perfect time to kick their revolution into overdrive?

As we pull our forces out of enemy territory, precautions should be made for the inevitable counter-attack, otherwise the remaining troops can certainly expect to be Zerg rushed.  The words of Jimmy Raynor hold a grim warning for the Obama Administration.

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