Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Long War, Part XIII - Escalation

Previous: The Long War, Part XII - The Battle of Ogbomosho

The battle of Ogbomosho marked a turning point in the global perception of the alien threat. The pathetic ineptitude of the sectoids in combat was nothing compared to the terrifying threat of the chryssalids - for days, weeks and months, harrowing footage from Nigeria circulated and haunted the collective nightmares of the world. The sight of UFOs in the sky once again inspired fear and terror, and a second wave of panic swept the globe. Religious attendance swelled to historic proportions, as people from all denominations faced the very real idea of Armageddon in their lifetimes.

Rebuilding

Colonel John Bradford was promoted to a one-star general for his conduct in Ogbomosho. Now a Brigadier-General, one of the youngest ever in the US Army, his promotion not only acknowledged his exemplary conduct during the battle in Africa, but was also driven out of political necessity. Major-General Peter Van Doorn was now part of the X-Com task force and was already a two-star general. It would be almost unheard of for a general to place himself under the command of a colonel. Bradford's promotion to the General Staff made him a general and decreased the margin in rank between them by one, making his command over the task force more palatable to outsiders. This was especially true for the Japanese, whose strict sense of hierarchy was confounded by the presence of a higher ranking officer serving beneath his junior. In a frank discussion between the two men, however, Doorn acknowledged Bradford's authority over him and set his mind at ease. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also threw his support behind Bradford. One of the conditions put forward by Ban for Doorn's inclusion into the task force had been to place Doorn subordinate to Bradford, and Doorn accepted this caveat without reservations.
 
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exchange warm greetings after the successful containment in Ogbomosho.

The addition of Doorn's brigade expanded the X-Com task force to about 10000 soldiers. The force was re-organised into two brigades under their original commanders, with Bradford leading 1st Brigade, and Doorn leading 2nd Brigade. Force Commander General Kiyofumi Iwata remained in overall command of X-Com, but it was becoming clear to all that it was Bradford - addressed by the operators as "Central" - who was the true heart of operations. Iwata's role was more political – he left operational command to Bradford, and focused his attention on being the liaison between X-Com, the UN and the Japanese government. The existence of X-Com was kept from the public eye. As far as the general public was concerned the alien breakout in Ogbomosho was contained by a coalition of Nigerian, UN and NATO troops. No explicit stories of X-Com were ever mentioned in newspapers or TV reports, but it was impossible to maintain total secrecy given the proliferation of social media. Virtually every contemporary cell phone had a camera which could take pictures and record video footage. The Skyranger in particular was captured in a series of dramatic videos rescuing a group of civilians from a hotel rooftop. The drop ship's futuristic design and the multi-national crew raised some eyebrows, as did the presence of Japanese troops during the crisis, who were clearly identifiable by the national badges worn by X-Com soldiers. Abe's political opponents accused him of deploying troops in clandestine operations in blatant contravention of Article 9. In the meantime Secretary-General Ban downplayed the existence of the X-Com unit, and lauded UN and NATO forces publicly for their intervention in Nigeria.

Despite the public acclaim Bradford knew full well how close the UN brigades were to disaster in Ogbomosho. His first actions as Brigadier-General were to take steps to mitigate and eliminate the problems which beset the task force during the battle. The first step was purging the unit of recalcitrant officers and prima donnas who refused to follow orders delivered by junior officers in Bradford's staff. With the full support of the UN Secretary-General, Bradford was able to have most of the difficult officers removed or reassigned. The remainder were given logistical or support duties away from front line deployment. Bradford's second reform involved creating a command element within every national unit which could speedily translate and relay instructions up and down the chain of command in English. English classes became a regular part of the task force's daily routine, much to the chagrin of the English speaking soldiers who were press-ganged into becoming language instructors. Thirdly, Bradford reorganised the two brigades as best he was able, putting platoons, companies and battalions into logical formations which took into account geography, shared language, culture, religion and casualties suffered. Bradford's brigade suffered 300-400 casualties, while Doorn lost almost a third of his UN brigade (approximately 1500-2000) soldiers. This consolidation meant that some of Doorn's soldiers were incorporated in Bradford's brigade and vice versa, but the two worked together with a minimum of fuss and were able to make compromises that the other could live with. Finally Bradford opened another round of selections, giving Doorn's men the opportunity to try out for the strike force. The strike force was no longer considered to be a joke formation by "wannabe" special ops soldiers who couldn't cut it in their home nation's selection programs. It was now battle tested, experienced and blooded, but most importantly it now had credibility. No one who fought at Ogbomosho would forget the sight of the Skyrangers screaming out of the sky to provide either relief, reinforcements, or ammunition. No one questioned the bravery of the strike force soldiers as they  were loaded onto the Skyrangers and dropped off into the cauldron of the university, surrounded by chryssalids on every side. No one could question the sacrifices made by the strike force, which lost a full quarter of its strength - 13 soldiers - in their role as a mobile reserve during the crisis.

Gender Wars

The most striking aspect of the X-Com strike force was that it was the first military unit in modern history in which men and women were almost equally represented. X-Com began as a UN formation, and as such gender parity was an explicit goal in its mission statement. Despite this lofty ambition reality lagged dramatically behind ideology - when the X-Com force was first constituted in February 2016, women only comprised of 3.4% of all UN military personnel, and only 8.9% of all UN police personnel. The real driving force behind gender parity was Secretary-General Ban, who was determined to leave behind a legacy before his term ended on 31 December 2016. No one envisioned that the X-Com strike force would mutate into a counter-terrorism unit, and as such the unit was initially made up of mostly non-combat units preparing to serve a largely ceremonial role. This allowed the deployment of a significant number of female personnel, who made up 19% of the X-Com task force. By contrast the strike force was almost evenly split between the genders. Bradford's initial selections during February 2016 was an exercise in soothing the various egos at work between the commanding officers in the polyglot brigade. Faced with a surfeit of requests and demands Bradford conceived of the selections as an impartial way of determining who would deploy on recovery missions. Not anticipating extensive combat operations he was instructed by Ban to create a model unit of the future along UN lines - a mixed unit made up equally of men and women. They saw their role as to provide security and logistical support to the research and recovery teams, and to liaise with local government authorities. No one realised that they would be eventually assaulting downed UFOs or holding the line against a full scale alien infestation in Africa. Selections may have begun as a political exercise, but the astonishing resiliency of the downed UFOs, the predilection of the aliens to defend their downed craft, the number of continuing abductions occurring all over the globe and X-Com's global mandate to cross state lines all helped shape the transformation of the unit from a security force into an assault unit.

X-Com's decisive intervention in the African crisis also radically changed the perception of the world's superpowers towards the task force. The primary motivator for the formation of the Council of 16 was a share in the research booty on offer from salvaged alien craft. In a series of secret protocols X-Com was obligated to turn over part of their salvage to the Council of 16 in return for continued funding. However since the protocols were drafted before anyone knew how effective the organization could become, Force Commander Iwata found that he had a lot of discretionary leeway as to what, when and how much X-Com would give. Japan invariably received the lion's share of the salvage, as did the US, which basically owned and operated X-Com's interceptor program. Elerium was the most coveted prize. This mysterious element was able to generate tremendous amounts of energy orders of magnitude greater than anything that existed on Earth. It was the power source for all alien technology, and its origin was a complete mystery. No one could guess at what physical processes created it, or where it came from. "Imagine having a nuclear reactor on your wrist," said Chief Engineer Shen. "That's how much power a tiny ball of elerium can generate."

The unit's success in Ogbomosho, as well as a growing understanding of the implications of the X-Com mandate, led the Security Council nations into offering their special units for inclusion into the task force.  There was talk of transforming the task force into a "real" unit, with "real" soldiers. Much of the off the record criticism directed at X-Com was the presence of so many female soldiers, and detractors pointed to studies such as the US Marine Corps Force Integration Plan, which indicated that mixed units were inferior to same sex units in terms of safety, efficiency and lethality. America's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) offered the services of Delta Force and SEAL Team Six to the international task force. "Look, we all know that women in uniform are good for the voters and makes the UN feel warm and fuzzy inside," said JSOC's Lieutenant-General Austin S. Miller to Bradford during confidential discussions. "But this is a real war now, and you'll want real soldiers for this coming fight."


Ban, Iwata and Bradford did not want to compromise the unit's autonomy, and they declined the offer. Bradford anticipated that a large internal JSOC presence within the task force would amount to a corresponding increase in American influence. While Bradford was unquestionably a loyal patriot, he had more vision than most - he saw that an increased American presence could possibly antagonize China and Russia, whose continued support was invaluable to the continuing existence of X-Com. Bradford also understood that the primary factor in the effectiveness of special force units was the support and logistic structure behind them. The operators themselves were the visible tip of the spear, but behind each operator was a veritable army of support personnel, ranging from the intelligence network which provided them with their missions, to the pilots of the transports responsible for inserting and extracting the soldiers. Bradford was aware that JSOC operatives were probably stronger, faster, and better conditioned than most X-Com operatives, but he was willing to concede the 5-10% drop-off in overall effectiveness. In his eyes an intelligence failure or lack of adequate equipment would be more damaging to the effectiveness of the strike force than the difference between how fast an individual operator could run a kilometre in full pack and gear, or how much a soldier could bench press. Bradford's overall goal was to create a sophisticated support network behind his strike force which would off-set any human qualitative differential. He intended to do this by developing quality intelligence, providing comprehensive logistical support, and arming his strike force with the best gear possible. Chief Engineer Shen and his team were already on the cusp of developing laser weapons and cutting-edge body armour based on alien alloys. Bradford was confident that the deployment of these new weapons would make X-Com the best alien fighting unit in the world.

Bradford also had no intention of displacing his female veterans, many of whom had lost friends and colleagues in Africa. As far as Bradford was concerned X-Com was now a legitimate fighting force, whose cohesion had already been paid for in blood. In the era of firearms a child soldier from Africa could kill a room full of adult males with an AK-47 or a single grenade, and against foes like the chryssalids physical strength was a non-issue – the life form could tear through both sexes with equal ease. For Bradford it was the intangibles that mattered – heart, skill, will and tenacity – and these qualities were non-gender specific. There was ample historical precedent for the effectiveness and courage of female troops, he argued, pointing to the experience of the Soviet Union during the Second World War, in which the dire peril of the German invasion overrode traditional gender divisions of labour. During the siege of Stalingrad in 1942-1943 German armoured units were first resisted by teenage girls manning antiquated anti-tank guns on the outskirts of the city. They defended their guns to the last (wo)man, and German officers who fought them were horrified to find out that they had been killing young women. This horror turned to fear when they realised that Russian courage and fanaticism was a quality shared by both sexes. One German account of Stalingrad read - "There was absolutely nothing more frightening than to have to face Russian women lying on their stone doorsteps and firing until they were dead. These women did not know what giving ground meant. They killed, then died, in their place."
 
Ludmilla Pavlichenko, the world's greatest female sniper, with 309 confirmed kills. She refused an offer to become a nurse and became one of 1,885 female Soviet snipers to serve during the Second World War, and one of only 500 to survive.

Bradford's loyalty to his troops was also based on the growing skill of the female members of the strike force. The Soviet experience illustrated that women appeared to be ideally suited to the role of snipers, producing several outstanding female snipers such as Ludmilla Pavlichenko, Maria Ivanova Morozova and Tania Chernova. An impromptu sniper school established by "Okami" Takeda produced several promising female candidates, including "Tenshi" Hatakeyama (Japan), "Eva" Soroka (Ukraine), and "Chestnut" Jiminez (Mexico). Okami's scepticism was dispelled by the skill and work ethic of his students, and many of his graduates would go on and distinguish themselves in the war against the aliens. The skill and conduct of the snipers also won the respect of their male counterpart, echoing a similar situation which occurred in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. While female non-combatants were considered fair game for sexual harassment or worse, women combatants were off-limits and the men they served with strictly enforced this rule. Once someone passed selections and proved themselves they ceased being a man or woman, but became a soldier instead. After seeing X-Com's female soldiers in action in Ogbomosho, Doorn made the following comment: "They walk like soldiers, they talk like soldiers, they carry themselves like soldiers and when it came down to it, they fought and died like soldiers." Bradford was even more emphatic. "Gender is irrelevant. As long as they can pass selections and meet our minimum standards, they are eligible to serve. Make no mistake, this is just the beginning of a long, hard and costly war. Before this thing is over we may even end up having to bring our children into this fight." His words were spoken lightly, but even Bradford did not realize how grimly prophetic his words were to become.
 

9 comments:

  1. Very nice mate. You really manage to create immersion.

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  2. Hey great work man, I read through all of these over the last two days and I'm hooked! I can't wait to see how you handle Meld and MECs. Keep up the great work.

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  3. Great stuff. I'm really impressed with how cohesive it is, and how you take silly sci fi details like chrysallids popping out of a host fully formed in two turns, and make it pretty plausible. Keep it up! Really good read.

    One thing I wonder, though, is how you'll deal with the development of laser weapons. Something something alien fragments gave us insight? Especially a scatter laser, which seems impossible.

    Cheers!

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  4. Thanks for the feedback guys.

    The further the campaign goes on the wonkier the science is going to get I'm afraid, and the more I'll have to rely on alien tech explanation giving our scientists the insights they need to develop X-Com's weapons. Laser weapons are feasible in the real world I believe - I don't know enough about laser weapons to know why scatter lasers are impossible. Conceptually could you not make a gun that just fires six lasers in a spread pattern, or split a single beam through a prism to create the same effect? I don't know, I'll just try to find a real world parallel, and if that fails, just make it up. :D

    The same will go with the more fantastic elements of X-Com lore like Meld and MECs, and the longer the series goes the more I will have to rely on the "alien tech" explanation. As for the chryssalids, they have similarities to a class of organisms called parasitoids, including the way they lay their eggs into a host, and the effects the parasitoid has on the host's behaviour - so they actually have some parallels in terrestrial biology. It's just the speed and scale that makes them fantastical. I'm trying to play it as straight as possible, though, which is why I try to integrate so much real life stuff with the X-Com lore - if you think about too much, it all collapses in a heap of silliness.

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    1. I think your style shines through when you write about the narrative aspects of the game, such as gender equality and the transfer from nationalism to X-Camaraderie (terrible pun, sorry). Don't sweat it when it comes to trying to ground some of the tech in realism.

      Concerning MECs specifically, there are some examples today that you could work off of, such as construction equipment. Or maybe talk about advances in prosthetic technology that lead to cybernetics. Either way, you'll do a good job with it and I cannot wait to see where you go next. This has been a really excellent read.

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    2. Hey man, thanks. Appreciate the kind feedback.

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  5. I really appreciate your writing about fenale soldiers. I'm a full time firefighter and can appreciate the "hesrt,skill,will and tenacity" point about them earning respect with their male counterparts. Still remember watching a fenale rookie FF arranging the breakfast tatertots so very carefully on the baking pan and laughing internally. Later that day learned she had already made a couple fires where she'd cut a hole in the roof (ventilation for interior attack). And after an early AM ems run, we all hit the head after getting back to the station. As i was at the stall, she just said "sorry have to go" and walked into the free toilet and did her business (one bathroom, sliding sign male/female). Stereotype gone - she just became another FF at this point.

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    1. That's a great anecdote, man, thanks for sharing. My intention when writing this post was to try to bridge the gap between the situation which exists in-game (gender parity in X-Com) and the situation in 2016, in which increased participation of women in the armed forces is still a subject of controversy. Stories like yours pretty much show the roadmap for the future, regardless of whether people like it or not. For me the most interesting accounts are from the perspective of men who work with women in traditional male occupations and to see the transformation from scepticism to acceptance to stalwart defender. My approach was "if this were to happen today, what would have to happen and what arguments would the proponents have to use to make it so?" and just tried to go from there.

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