The threats we face

David Brin
4 min readNov 3, 2018

Back in the 1990s, I participated in a discussion at an (unnamed) Washington DC agency, where the question was raised: “What could our enemies do to bring down even a pre-eminent Pax Americana?”

Even then, there were many foes desperately eager to find a way. Some deluded themselves with fantasies of a supposed weakness that “Americans are all decadent, spoiled, pleasure-seeking cowards” the same canard that every U.S. generation had to disprove at great cost, since the 1770s. (On 9/11 it was easily refuted by those brave heroes aboard flight UA 93.)

But — let’s clarify our question: “What clever and potentially lethal endeavors might serious — if weaker — enemies undertake, to bring down the United States?”

Wearing my speculative hat, I answered: “You’d start by looking across history for mistakes that almost wrecked the American experiment. In particular, two stand out. Foreign quagmires and civil war. If I were an enemy, I would use asymmetrical and skulldugerous methods to lure us into both.”

How might an enemy accomplish this? Among the methods listed on my (pre-Powerpoint) slide were:

“Incite divisions among our classes and castes,”

“Incite suspicion toward our professional protectors,”

“Suborn top levels of U.S. leadership.”

Although every one of these can be found across the annals of the shattered empires of history, my warnings seemed far-fetched in the late 1990s. I got smirks back when I first showed that slide.

I don’t get smirks anymore. I get gasps.

Indeed, just three years after that talk, we were mired in endless middle-eastern quagmires, in exactly the same locales where the USSR met its doom. And through innovations such as the Hastert Rule, seeds were lain for an end to all compromise and grownup political discourse within the United States — what I’ve called elsewhere the beginnings of phase eight of the American Civil War. And we are suffering an ever-growing crisis of divisiveness and partisan political polarization.

== Talk of Civil War goes Mainstream ==

Okay, what seemed far-out, back then, is now on everyone’s lips. Read or listen to this NPR report about “a new civil war?” Some passages are chilling. For example: one anonymous “fake news hater” left a voicemail threat for the New York Times’ Ken Vogel:

“You are the enemy of the people. And although the pen might be mightier than the sword, the pen is not mightier than the AK-47. And just remember Ken, there’s nothing civil about civil war.”

Sure, oh anonymous troll-caller, it all may indeed go hot. Rash heads might tip us over into something truly horrendous. Indeed, nothing would make Vladimir Putin happier.

Before our confederate neighbors leap for their AK’s, however, it might be worth remembering that:

The Union side is always under-rated. Educated and city folk are routinely derided as “un-manly” and lacking courage, as in 1778 and 1861 and 1941. This lazy reflex is always proved wrong.

This goes double since the Fox-Putin treason ramped up its open war against our “deep state” professionals in law, intel, and the U.S. military officer corps. The folks who fought Hitler and saved us from Stalin and Brezhnev are now being told they must spurn facts and science and ignore the threat from a blatant, world-wide mafia putsch. And they are not having it.

A neo-confederate cult has been waging war against every profession that deals in facts and knowledge, from science and teaching and law to civil service — and in particular, journalism… name an exception!

Every week we witness rallies where citizens jeer at journalists, accept bald-faced lies and mistruths — and chant in unison “Lock her up” — demonizing political opponents. It has become more and more difficult to seek common ground.

== It’s happened before ==

This is not the first all-out effort by paranoid dinosaurs to throttle our brave experiment in democratic-tolerant-scientific progress. The Dreyfus Affair crystallized a very similar turmoil in 1890s France, between liberal and reactionary forces that led ultimately to treason in 1940 — a struggle that goes way back, in much the same way as the American Civil War has had recurring outbreaks, all the way to 1778.

From The Atlantic: “The ensuing controversy divided French society along now-familiar lines. Those who maintained Dreyfus’s guilt were the alt-right — or the Law and Justice Party, or the National Front — of their time. They pushed a conspiracy theory. They were backed up by screaming headlines in France’s right-wing yellow press, the 19th-century version of a far-right trolling operation. Their leaders lied ‘to uphold the honor of the army’; adherents clung to their belief in Dreyfus’s guilt — and their absolute loyalty to the nation — even when this fakery was revealed.”

A potential for madness and divisiveness. But, yes you, might be able to make a difference during the coming week.

I hope you will.



David Brin

Author, scientist, public speaker. My books include The Transparent Society, The Postman, Earth, Existence, and Startide Rising.