This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Forever Peace
by Joe Haldeman
NY, NY: Ace Books

Reviewed by MC88

Forever Peace is the most recent novel by Joe Haldeman, a Vietnam veteran turned science fiction author. Haldeman wrote his first novel, The Forever War, in 1975, and this book, while not a sequel, is a continuation of it in spirit, dealing with similar issues in new ways. Haldeman has written a basically anti-imperialist, anti-militarist book. Forever Peace also has the distinction of being the only novel MIM has read which attempted to seriously deal with the implications of nanotechnology. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the pacifist, idealist direction the plot took in the second half of the book.

Anti-Imperialism Modeled on Vietnam Experience

Forever Peace takes place in the year 2043. By 2043, there have been two significant developments shaping the unfolding of history. First, the imperialist countries have developed nanotechnology; in particular they have invented "nanoforges", which are programmable molecular factories. Haldeman doesn't completely describe the science involved, but he doesn't have to. MIM will review a book by one of the inventors of the concept of nanotechnology, Eric Drexler. Our readers can read that to find out about nanoforges. For now it's just important to know that they are means of production that could drastically reduce the amount of humyn labor necessary in the production stage of the production process. A society whose means of production was nanotechnology would do most of its labor in the design stage. The second, not unrelated development, is the polarization of the world into the Alliance and the Ngumi Alliance and the continual state of war between the two. All of the imperialist countries (that have nanoforges) make up the Alliance. The Alliance also controls lots of puppet dictatorships in Third World countries. But a wonderful thing has happened. The entire Third World has come together to fight the imperialists, as peoples' governments, and rebel groups in countries with puppet governments, have come together and formed the Ngumi Alliance to coordinate their wars of liberation against the Alliance.

Reading about the Ngumi Wars in Forever Peace, it is obvious that Haldeman had Vietnam in mind. The main character in the story is an anti-war draftee named Julian, forced to fight against the Central American Ngumi. They do most of their fighting in Costa Rica, which has a puppet government that invited them to come in and slaughter its citizens. The strategy is one of genocide: hunter/killer platoons kill anything alive in free-fire zones; nuclear weapons have destroyed Sao Paolo (the largest city in South America) and Mandellaville (a fictional Ngumi city). Julian is part of a Harassment/Interdiction platoon, the job of which is to make the Ngumi's lives hell but stop short of killing them. Haldeman apparently assumes that cool heads have prevailed among the military-industrial complex, because the only use of nanotechnology in the war seems to be in producing armaments; there are none of the designer biochemical weapons it should be possible to build using the new technology.

One aspect of the story that is an extrapolation from Vietnam and current military trends is the distance that the technology has put between the soldiers and their victims. In Vietnam, most murders were committed by B-52 pilots from several miles away, but the combat troops on the ground who murdered their victims face to face still took a bullet every once in a while. In 2043, neither the bomber pilots nor the ground troops ever leave the comfortable safety of their base in Panama. The soldiers are all fitted with jacks via which they plug their brains into a computer via which they control "soldierboys," which are heavily-armed robots. There is a similar situation to that in the movie "The Matrix" in that people whose robots are killed while they're jacked sometimes die for real, and at least undergo severe trauma requiring hospitalization. And to make it even easier for the Ngumi to do some damage, the members of a platoon all have their brains networked together via the computer they all jack into, so if one of their robots gets destroyed or damaged, they all undergo such trauma.

One thing that is unusual in light of the similarities between Vietnam and Forever Peace is the glaring omission of an anti-war movement. There is no anti-war movement in Forever Peace. There are a lot of anti-war intellectuals and soldiers but all they seem to do about the war is talk privately amongst themselves. The soldiers Haldeman describes are specifically drawn from the intellectual elite, supposedly because a certain amount of intelligence is required to operate the advanced weaponry; Julian has a Ph.D in physics from Harvard. During Vietnam, when they faced being drafted, elite students were in open rebellion, but for some reason they aren't making a peep in the analogous situation of Forever Peace.

Haldeman doesn't seem to be too impressed with the strategy of Maoist People's War. He is constantly making his protagonist call the Ngumi leaders insane for being willing to sustain high casualties rather than capitulating, and calling the Ngumi people irrational for following their leaders. Julian hates his own country's leadership, but he doesn't see the Ngumi leaders as any better. Because of this inability to distinguish the righteous violence of the oppressed from the reactionary violence of their oppressors, Haldeman takes up pacifism and ends up resolving all the interesting questions raised in the first half of his book with a cop-out that takes up the entire second half.

Naive Economics

MIM wishes Haldeman had been clearer about the economic situation in the wake of the nanotechnology revolution. It seems that the Ngumi war is partly about the Ngumi demanding use of nanoforges, and partly about the Alliance still requiring access to Third World natural resources even though Third World labor is unnecessary. The latter must be principal, since otherwise the Alliance doesn't seem to have any material incentive to maintain control of the Ngumi countries. We could imagine a non-economic incentive, such as a perceived need to control Third World populations in the name of preserving the natural beauty of the countries they inhabit. Haldeman doesn't paint a clear picture of what the incentive is. Why don't the imperialists just go home and let the Ngumi develop their economies in peace, even if it is on an industrial basis and without nanotechnology?

MIM thinks Haldeman is being too simple-minded in assuming nanotechnology will be the end of labor. Designing products and programming the nanoforge's computers to produce them would be extremely complicated compared with any design or programming problems that are dealt with today. They could require a lot of labor power. Haldeman hints at the existence of artificial intelligence to handle some of these tasks, but even if the only labor involved is checking over what the AI did or telling it what to do, there's still work to be done. There are also service industries where humyns couldn't be immediately replaced. MIM can imagine the white nation sitting around getting fat while Third World sweatshops produce all the computer programs that enrich them, and Third World chefs, prostitutes and masseuses slave away for their pleasure.

Haldeman is also simple-minded in portraying nanotechnology as the end of capitalism. In Forever Peace the nanoforges are all owned and strictly controlled by the government. That is actually probably realistic, because in anyone else's hands they would be a serious national security risk, and in fact in anyone's hands they would be a threat to the survival of the humyn race. But the government just produces all the necessities of life and gives them to people for free, and then rents out the nanoforges to individuals to build trinkets for themselves. MIM wants to know where all the monopolies went whose collusion with the state resulted in the nanoforges being invented in the first place (today Xerox, the Department of Defense, various universities, etc. all collaborate on nanotech. research). Corporations that develop patents related to nanotechnology won't just die the day after filing those patents. The capitalist system of private property, which includes the ownership of ideas such as the designs and programs that would make the nanoforges work, won't just die because some new production techniques are developed. New production techniques might help dig the grave of capitalism, but so will the class polarization that accompanies them. This is happening today, has been happening for a hundred years, and is happening in Forever Peace too: production becomes more and more socialized and automated, coming more into contradiction with the system of private property both because private appropriation is inconsistent with the form taken by the production process, and also because the system's ability to create more wealth is accompanied by an ever greater impoverishment of the majority of the people living under that system. Haldeman recognizes the first contradiction; he sees that the abundance of wealth nanotechnology makes possible makes putting a price on that wealth an anachronism. But it is the second contradiction that will sound the death knell of capitalism, since that contradiction is the source of the only force in society with an unambiguous interest in getting rid of it: the proletariat, which has nothing to lose but its chains and a world to win.

Pacifist Mind Control Conspiracy

MIM has read reviews of Forever Peace which state that "Haldeman has discovered the solution to the problem of war." This is patently ridiculous. Haldeman's solution could be called Pacifist Mind Control Conspiracy. What ends up happening in Forever Peace is that a cabal of First World intellectual elites conspires to use their positions of power in the government and military to carry out a massive mind control operation that renders all people on earth incapable of committing "violent acts" other than in "self-defense."

MIM puts self-defense in quotes because what Haldeman means by self-defense does not include the organized self-defense of the oppressed to end imperialist violence directed against them in the form of denial of access to food, medical care or their own countries' natural resources. The Ngumi's wars of liberation are not considered self-defense by Haldeman. Self-defense as Haldeman conceives of it is only possible in reaction to an immediate threat of physical harm. We put "violent acts" in quotes because Haldeman only considers an act violent if it is premeditated and involves direct personal contact with the victim. Haldeman would not consider the murder of 10,000 people in Bhopal, India by Union Carbide an act of violence by Union Carbide's CEO or others responsible for the release of toxic gas, for example. Haldeman's narrow view lets most violence in the world off the hook.

A big problem with Haldeman's scheme is that if it worked it would not make the world a better place. In the unrealistic economic arrangement Haldeman portrays, the imperialist countries have socialist economies; they do not engage in production for profit. So ostensibly, after the Ngumi become nonviolent the imperialists will be happy to give them nanoforges. Haldeman subscribes to the unscientific "productivity first" theory which sees a mere increase in productivity automatically generating a revolution in productive relations without any social revolution. The reality is that capitalism doesn't just disappear whenever new technology is discovered. Now, try implementing Haldeman's scheme in a capitalist world and all you'll get is the oppressed disarmed and unable to fight their oppressors. MIM wishes things could be cleaner and easier, but unfortunately the only proven path to eliminating starvation ends with peace and communism but starts with the violence of revolutionary armed struggle and people's war. It's a bloody path, but nowhere near as bloody as the status quo.

The specific form of mind control that the plot hinges around involves jacking. At first it seems like Haldeman just introduces jacking so he can write about people jacking their brains together and then having sex. At times he seems obsessed with the idea, but ultimately the whole story comes down to jacking. One of Julian's elite friends does research on jacking for the military, and reveals the results of a classified research project. It turns out that if you jack a bunch of people together for more than two weeks they lose the ability to commit acts of "violence" other than in "self-defense." Julian and his friends call people who have been through this process "humanized." The story has already clearly lost any value it might have had as a prescription for ending violence.

Haldeman's idea is just a new version of Timothy Leary's plan to "turn the whole world on" with LSD. Leary's experience with LSD lead him to believe it could make people nonviolent. He hoped to get world leaders to try it so they would stop fighting.(1) Later when some of the CIA's documents on its MK-ULTRA mind control program came out, it was revealed that the CIA had been giving LSD to its agents for a period of over 20 years. CIA mind-control researcher Sidney Gottlieb took LSD regularly in the 50s and later designed special poisons to be used to kill Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba.(2) Noone ever accused the CIA of being nonviolent.

Haldeman assumes jacking would induce empathy; Leary believed his research had proven LSD would. Haldeman believes that people who were jacked together would get to know one another so well that they would feel there was no difference among them; so that killing someone I was jacked with would be no different from killing myself. Haldeman seems to be unaware that people kill people that they know very well all the time. Often people know people who they do not like, or get extremely angry at people they do like. Also, many people kill themselves. Ultimately, there's just no reason to think something like what Haldeman proposes could work. There's no reason I couldn't swim around in your brain for two weeks and come out of the experience wanting nothing more than to brutally kill you.

Nevertheless, this is the direction Haldeman chooses to go in. So Julian and his coconspirators embark on a plan to install jacks in all the people on earth, and then jack them all together with each other. Helping them are the already humanized people from the original research project, who happen to have their own nanoforge in the basement of their house, and a high-ranking military officer who seems to be able to get them any military hardware or paperwork they want. That makes their job way too easy, and the book would have been at least 100 pages shorter if it weren't for the Hammer of God.

The Hammer of God

There is a parallel plot in Forever Peace basically unrelated to the Ngumi war. The Alliance has built the largest supercollider in history. It's called the Jupiter Project: they dismantled one of the moons of Jupiter and used the material to build a supercollider that encircles the planet in the moon's orbit. Using such a collider, it will be possible to perform experiments at energies approximating that in the Big Bang. Such an experiment is scheduled to take place in a couple months. Julian and his girlfriend Amelia, physicists, have discovered that this experiment will result in the entire universe being completely destroyed. Another Big Bang would be triggered.

This is an interesting idea. Humyns today have the ability to destroy all life on earth at the touch of a button; maybe in a hundred years we'll be able to destroy all life in the universe as easily. The Jupiter Project is also interesting to think about as an example of the kind of mega-engineering project that might be possible in the future using nanotechnology. Certainly under communism humyns will be capable of performing far more impressive feats than the mere dismantling of a moon to build a giant tube around the largest planet in the solar system.

Now, you would think Julian and Amelia could just go show the relevant officials their evidence and get the experiment called off. But instead military intelligence kidnaps their collaborator and sends a bunch of agents out to kidnap and either erase their memories or, if necessary, kill them.

Haldeman is good at portraying imperialist decadence. The U.$. of Forever Peace is similar to the U.$. today in that white people engage in no productive labor and are faced with the constant challenge of amusing themselves. Apparently the challenge proves to be too much for some people; one popular thing to do is jack into a recording device and then commit suicide in some elaborate manner. Then other people pay to jack in and play back the recording. Suicide is popular among groups of people with no obvious choice of anything meaningful to do with their lives. MIM tries to organize as many white youth as we can to fight imperialism, but unfortunately many kill themselves before we reach them.

But things in the United $tates have yet to get so bad that there is a mass movement of people advocating that the entire humyn race and in fact, all life in the universe, commit suicide. This is what the Hammer of God is in Forever Peace. Or, to be more precise, the Enders are a mass movement of people awaiting the apocalypse, and at the head of that mass movement stands the Hammer of God. The Hammer has a cell structure with disciplined membership and firm leadership dedicated not just to awaiting but to bringing about the apocalypse, and it has members in very high places.

At points in the story it appears Haldeman is going to implicate the state in covering up the truth about the Jupiter Project so it can try to turn it into a weapon against the Ngumi. Instead of making a point about imperialist militarism and how little it cares about the long-term well being of the humyn species, he diverts attention from the state to a bizarre religious cult. There's really no lesson to be drawn from this aspect of the story, though it is very entertaining.

1. Timothy Leary, Flashbacks (New York, NY: Putnam, 1997)
2. John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control (New York, NY: New York Times Books, 1979)

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