Military people tucked away in high-level staff sections love to speculate on the imminent threat of China. Authors Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis have confronted that collective sense of forboding with the narrative, 2034: A Novel of The Next World War. They don’t pull punches on what war with China would mean. It’s not a happy ending.
The story centers around an ensemble of characters and spans five years, starting with the sinking of American naval vessels by a Chinese carrier battle group. What follows afterward is a grim but predictable series of events that technically qualify as a war but can be more accurately described as a catastrophic escalation of force.
The authors introduce us to naval officer Sarah Hunt, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 21, and Dr. Sandeep Chowdhury, the deputy national security advisor. Through these two, and the rest of the ensemble, the events beginning in 2034 run their course in a distant and nihilistic fashion, like a typhoon smashing against a tropical beach town, destroying everything in its path.
The complex web of global meddling engineered by the authors gives an air of authenticity to the unwieldy and sensitive nature of international diplomacy. 2034 offers an answer to the question, ‘what if?’ while also providing a scathing commentary on the state of American ideals, overdependence on technology, and dysfunctional foreign and domestic politics.
In an exchange between Dr. Chowdhury and his uncle Patel, a high-ranking Indian government official, Patel explains to his nephew, “In war, it’s not that you win. It’s how you win. America didn’t use to start wars. It used to finish them. But now it is the reverse; now you start wars and don’t finish them.”
2034 is a serious work. Elliot Ackerman served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps officer and has a body of creative literary work capturing his generation’s military experiences. Admiral Jim Stavridis is a retired Navy officer having reached the rank of four-star admiral. He served as Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and commanded US Southern Command. 2034 is speculative in the truest sense since Ackerman and Stavridis attempt to imagine the unimaginable future. Otherwise, the book sticks to realism in terms of storytelling and creative license.
2034 is a must-read for military leaders, state department officials, or anyone interested in American foreign policy. The Audible version includes an exclusive interview with Admiral Stavridis in which he explains, “If you think of disasters that have befallen our country, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, in the end, they are less failures of intelligence and more failures of imagination.”