Meet Generation Alpha. They are the cohort born between 2010 and 2024. Nine thousand of them are born every day. They will be the future rank and file of America’s armed forces for generations. Here is a curated list of movies for them and their parents so they know what they will and won’t be getting into.
First, though: If Generation Alpha is anything like the generation ahead of them, then about 70 percent of them for one reason or another won’t even be eligible for military service. That’s a problem that needs to addressed. Mandatory service and a military draft won’t solve that. This is a societal problem that need citizens, parents and families to solve.
But even then, it is an open question as to what kind of military America will be asking them to serve or what kinds of missions, tasks and environments they will face. Pretty much all the United States can count is that Americans will depend on them to help keep the country free, safe, and prosperous, defending America’s vital interests against those who threaten them.
So let’s start to build that mental resilience that prepares for an uncertain future. Here is a list of films for parents and their kids to grow up on:
#5. The Last Starfighter (1984): There are so many sci-fi films that put the heroic individual at the center of future conflicts, from Star Wars (1977) to Ender’s Game (2013) and Ready Player One (2018). But topping the list of over-the-top movies is this classic from the golden age of video arcades, where a geeky earth kid is recruited to save the universe from an evil, invading armada. Whatever future war looks like, there will still be a place for individual heroism. There will be more medals of honor won by men and women who undertake extraordinary acts of service and sacrifice.
#4. Lost in Space (1998): There are loads of movies where robots armed with Artificial Intelligence dominate the battlefield. That is not likely to happen in the service life of Gen Alpha. More probably, AI-empowered system are going to be more like battle-buddies. Thomas Malone, director of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, suggests that human and machines are more likely to develop collaborative relationships with machines, with computers serving as assistants, functioning as peer-partners with humans, or even serving as supervisors or advisors. There is no better example of the symbiotic relationship between people and machines than the robot who serves the Space Family Robinson in Lost in Space (also a hit 60s TV series and a less entertaining contemporary reboot).
#3. Serenity (2005): The famed military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz talked about the “fog of war,” all the forces and factors that could obscure the reality of what is going on on the battlefield. Expect technology to make it harder to perceive reality in future conflict. For example, right now computer technologies can create “deep-fake” misinformation efforts (such as falsified videos) that can spoof surveillance systems, spin false information, and confuse the reality of what is happening. In Serenity (based on the hit series Firefly), a band of space outlaws have more than their fair share of challenges figuring out who the enemy really is.
#2. The Thing (1951) Think teamwork is going to be a thing of the past in future war? Think again. The strong, resilient teams are always the most competitive, like in Battle: Los Angeles (2011). The best contrast to illustrate this is to check out the intrepid team that defeats the aliens from outer space in the original classic, The Thing, and then the bunch of losers who get their butts kicked in the 1982 remake.
#1. Planet of the Apes (1968). While we don’t know what future conflicts might look like, we do know that with the technology of great powers in the modern world, they will be incredibly destructive. Wars are not video games and unlike the Edge of Tomorrow (2014) there are no do-overs. This is serious stuff. The best militaries are the ones that deter future conflict. Want to know what it looks like if we get it wrong? Ask the astronaut that saw the end of the world.
This piece originally appeared in The National Interest https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/ranked-five-best-future-war-movies-generation-alpha-179602