User:LA2/Information Warfare and the Red W

Written by user:LA2 on August 19–26, 2005, except for the parts coloured light-blue and dated.(added 2010)

Information Warfare and the "Red W"Edit

When people on the foundation-l mailing list were insisting on drawing parallels between the Wikimedia Foundation and the International Red Cross, I wrote this semi-humoristic, semi-serious reply (August 2005):

The International Red Cross was established in 1863 followed in 1864 by the first Geneva Convention that recognized the red cross symbol in warfare. This happened at the same time as warfare got mechanized, in the decades immediately after the innovations of steam railroads (Stephenson's Rocket, 1829), steam propeller ships (USS Monitor, 1862) and machine guns (Gatling gun, 1861).
Supposedly, a "Red W" (Wikinews: neutral reporting) can be adopted as soon as we have a fully developed information war. The current wars (against terrorism, and in Afghanistan and Iraq) are not of this kind, because of the overwhelming information supremacy of the winning (western) side, which makes the information aspect of the current conflicts look more like a minor colonial uprising. For the nearest decade, it seems unlikely that the Arab world, Africa or communist China would be able to catch up with the western information supremacy. It seems more likely that the first real information wars will be fought within the current area of supremacy.
If we just add 150 years, the Gatling Blog will be invented in 2011, the "Red W" could be adopted in 2013, at the height of the U.S. civil information war, followed in 2021 by the Franco-Prussian information war, and World Information War I would be scheduled to take place in 2064-2068.

It should be clear that I draw the parallel to its extreme. But such analogies can still provide inspiration when we want to imagine what things, such as wikis, that are developing now could become in the future. They probably thought in 1855 that they had pretty good rifles, but did they foresee the machine gun? The ugliness of mechanized warfare prompted for new international law with special exceptions for human relief, such as the red cross symbol. We don't know yet what the particular ugliness of information warfare will be, or which exceptions to our regular powerplay it will allow. Perhaps free software and free information will be part of it.

Let's see how far the 150 year analogy between mechanical engineering and computer networks can go:

Mechanical engineering Year Year+150 Computer networks
Early work
Birth of James Watt 1736 1886
1740 1890 Birth of Vannevar Bush
1750 1900 Birth of Howard Aiken
1753 1903 Birth of John von Neumann
1762 1912 Birth of Alan Turing
Watt patents a condenser chamber for the steam engine 1769 1919
1775 1925 Birth of Douglas Engelbart
1776 1926 Birth of Paul Baran
Birth of George Stephenson 1781 1931
Watt invents double-acting engine 1782 1932
1787 1937 Birth of Ted Nelson
Watt adapts centrifugal governor for steam engines 1788 1938 Birth of Bob Kahn
1793 1943 Birth of Vint Cerf
1789–1795 1939–1945 First computers developed during World War II
1795 1945 Vannevar Bush publishes As We May Think
Birth of the key players
1800 1950 Birth of Steve Wozniak
Birth of John Ericsson 1803 1953
1805 1955 Birth of Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
Birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel 1806 1956
1810 1960 Ted Nelson founds Project Xanadu
1812 1962 Paul Baran creates packet-switching theory
1814 1964 Birth of Jeff Bezos
1816 1966 Birth of Jimmy Wales
1815 1965 First e-mail systems on mainframes
Birth of Richard Jordan Gatling 1818 1968 Douglas Engelbart holds The Mother of All Demos
1819 1969 First ARPANET connection. Birth of Linus Torvalds
1820 1970 "World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation." --Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business(added 2017)
1821 1971 Birth of Marc Andreessen and Julian Assange.(added 2010) Intel 4004 is the first microprocessor (added 2007)
Technological breakthroughs
Carnot presents the theory behind steam engines (added 2007) 1824 1974
1826 1976 Apple I home computer introduced
Stephenson's Rocket wins at Rainhill Trials 1829 1979 Beginning of the Usenet
1830 1980 Birth of Shawn Fanning
1831 1981 IBM PC introduced
Great Western Railroad company founded in Bristol 1833 1983 Internet switches to Cerf's TCP/IP (from NCP). Birth of Edward Snowden (added 2013)
Clapeyron contributes to theory behind steam engines (added 2007) 1834 1984 Cisco Systems is founded. Apple Macintosh is introduced
1836 1986 NSFNet academic Internet backbone
Brunel's SS Great Western is launched, crossing the Atlantic in 15 days 1838 1988 IRC designed by Jarkko Oikarinen
1839 1989 Berlin Wall falls
Great Western Railroad London-Bristol opens 1841 1991 World Wide Web invented by Tim Berners-Lee
With John Ericsson's propeller, SS Princeton wins speed competition. Brunel's SS Great Britain is launched 1843 1993 Mosaic, the first graphic web browser, is introduced
1845 1995 is launched
1846 1996 ICQ is introduced Hotmail (later is launched (added 2013)
1849 1999 Shawn Fanning launches Napster
1850 2000 Dot-com stock market crash
1851 2001 Wikipedia is launched. Kazaa is launched (2013)
1853 2003 Skype and The Pirate Bay are launched(added 2013)
1854 2004 Facebook is launched. Google Book Search is announced, including a ten year plan to digitize 15 million books (added 2007)
Gmail, Flickr, and OpenStreetMap are launched (added 2013)
1855 2005 In February, Google Maps is launched, using new technologies popularized as Web 2.0 (added 2013)
1856 2006 WikiLeaks is launched. (added 2010) Twitter is launched. The Pirate Party is founded in Sweden and later spreads to other countries (added 2013)
1857 2007 Hackers Take Down the Most Wired Country in Europe, article in Wired magazine issue 15.09, describing the botnet attack on Estonia in April 2007 (added 2007)
On June 29, Apple introduces the first iPhone, defining the "smart phone". Older cellphones (with buttons) come to be called "feature phones". In November, Google introduces the Android operating system, used in smart phones from many competing brands (added 2013)
Brunel's SS Great Eastern is launched 1858 2008
1860 2010 WikiLeaks gets mainstream media attention with Collateral Murder (April), Afghan War Diary (July), Iraq War Logs (October), Cablegate (November) (added 2010) Pinterest is launched (added 2013)
The Arab Spring starts in Tunisia in December 2010, using social networks and cellphones as part of a popular uprising, lasting through 2011–2012.(added 2021)
Things get ugly
Patent for Gatling gun 1861 2011
American Civil War, the first mechanized war 1861–1865 2011–2015
USS Monitor 1862 2012
International Red Cross is founded 1863 2013 On June 6, Britain's The Guardian starts to disclose information about NSA's PRISM, X-Keyscore and other programs for mass surveillance (see e.g. NSA warrantless surveillance), leaked by Edward Snowden, who hides in Hong Kong and later escapes to Moscow (added 2013)
The first Geneva Convention 1864 2014 On February 27, immediately following the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi (February 7–23) and the 2014 Ukrainian revolution (where president Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital Kiev on February 21), Russia invades Crimea, a part of Ukraine, accompanied by an information war, including the blocking of several independent news websites on March 13. In September, NATO commander Philip M. Breedlove called it “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare”.[1] In November, a report[2] by Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss suggests the creation of an organization to monitor disinformation.(added 2014)
1866 2016 At a Russian conference on February 4–5, Kremlin adviser Andrey Krutskikh compared Russia's current cyber abilities to its development of the nuclear bomb in 1949, and saying “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”(added 2017)
After the referendum on June 23, where citizens of the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union, The Guardian in an article calls this "the first major vote in the era of post-truth politics". In December, U.S. president Barack Obama expells 35 Russian diplomats after alleged interference in the presidential election won by Donald Trump.(added 2016)
1867 2017 Wikimedia founder Jimmy Wales calls for online transparency to fight against fake news.(added 2017)
WannaCry attack in May.(added 2018)
On June 27, Danish shipping company Maersk and others are hit by the NotPetya attack.(added 2018)
Beginning in the autumn, Russian GPS jamming is discovered in northern Norway, near the Kola peninsula.(added 2019)
1868 2018 An article in Wired summarizes Facebook's role in the events of 2016-2017 (Trump election and Brexit referendum).(added 2018)
Franco-Prussian War 1870–1871 2020–2021
1870 2020 An outbreak of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. People die; borders are closed; events and meetings are banned or cancelled; hotels, airlines, industries and schools close; stockmarkets fall sharply; emergency hospitals are set up amid shortages of medical supplies.(added 2020)
1872 2022 On February 24, Russia invades Ukraine. After 8 years of supporting "separatists" in Luhansk and Donetsk in the eastern corner of Ukraine and a fruitless information war, a traditional rocket-and-tank war is launched, attempting to dominate the whole country and take its capital Kyiv. Western sanctions aim to make this costly for Russia. Russian authorites ban words like "war" and "invasion".(added 2022) Russia's inferiority in information technology and logistics, enhanced by a shortage of western spare parts due to sanctions, soon forces it to reduce the war to southern and eastern Ukraine, while Ukraine enjoys material and moral support from all western countries.
Stock market crashes in Vienna and New York start the Long Depression 1873 2023
The steam era is over
Wright brothers invent aeroplane 1903 2053
Ford Model T introduced 1908 2058
World War I, fully mechanized global war 1914–1918 2064–2068


  1. SACEUR: Allies must prepare for Russia ‘hybrid war’, Stars and Stripes, 4 September 2014.
  2. Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss, The Menace of Unreality (PDF, 44 pages), Institute of Modern Russia.
    Summary and announcement on November 22, 2014.
    See also an earlier article in The Atlantic on September 9, 2014.