Q: The United States is in the midst of a major debate on what our defense policy, especially given shrinking budgets and the rise of China as a Pacific sea power. Does sci-fi offer lessons on how the United States can resolve this?
A: Fiction does not replace policy analysis. But science fiction is the literature of "what if?" Not just "what if X happens?" but also "what if we continue what we're doing?" In that way, science fiction can inform policy making directly, and it can inform those who build scenarios for wargames and exercises and the like. One of the great strengths of science fiction is that it allows you to have a conversation about something that you otherwise couldn't talk about because it's too politically charged. It allows you to create the universe you need in order to have the conversation you want to have. "Battlestar Galactica" spent a lot of time talking about the war in Iraq. There were lots of things on that show about how you treat prisoners. They never came out and said that directly. They didn't have to. At the Naval War College, one of the core courses on strategy and policy had a section on the Peloponnesian War. It was added to the curriculum in the mid-1970s because the Vietnam War was too close, so they couldn't talk about it, except by going back to 400 BC.
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Peck is games editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @Mipeck1. Chris Weuve's list of recommended books on naval sci-fi and wargames is at www.kentaurus.com/recommended.htm.