Time Travel, Part 5

Have you ever made a mistake and thought, “I wish I could redo that?”  How many times have you heard the phrase, “If I knew then what I know now?”  Now image that your decisions are determining whether other people live or die.  The stress of making the right choice would be magnified.  Finally let’s look at a world where you really could go back and rethink your actions.  In this world, military intelligence would include how the battle would turn out.

Throughout history the tides of war have often shifted due to single decisions or unforeseen events.  If these events could be manipulated, a loss could be turned into a victory.  What would happen if both sides were trying to modify these events?  This could lead to a loop where each side constantly undid the work of the other.  It would only take a cycle or two of this before both sides became aware of the other’s temporal meddling.

With a true time war started, escalation would come quickly.  It would start small with weapons from the future being brought back.  Each side would progressively jump farther into the future to get better and better weapons or armor.  If this escalation were allowed to continue it could lead to weapons capable of large scale destruction being deployed; it is more likely though that both sides would realize that future tech could not win the war.

With future tech proving useless both sides might look to the past for their victory.  With teams being sent into the past it would become a high priority to develop technology that could track temporal energies or at least put spies in place to determine where operatives were being sent.  Strategic strikes against location capable of time travel would be launched in the current timeline while missions to the past would be aimed at preventing the enemy from discovering time travel in the first place.

Whether time travel was being used to bring technology back or to make strikes in the past, it would become the ultimate weapon.  Each side would have to be aware that its use would lead to a retaliatory use and that escalation could place the whole time stream in danger.  This has the potential of creating a temporal cold war.  Both sides of the conflict would be watching the other for signs of an attempt to wipe them from time itself and any indication of temporal activity could lead to mutual destruction.

A temporal Cold War is a concept I have yet to see done well in any media.  Enterprise played with the concept throughout their first three seasons, but it was less of a cold war than one side making strategic strikes while the other side tried to stop them.  Time Travel brings with it an inherent risk of convolution, inconsistency, and decisions being made without proper thought, because they can be redone.  With a temporal cold war added to a story, every action taken in time would have to be a balancing act because it would be risking further escalation.  This endless loop of escalation and how to overcome it has great potential when added to a story involving temporal war, and a temporal cold war is a logical extension of that.

Comments (9)

MartinApril 20th, 2010 at 4:25 am

Fritz Leiber – The Big Time is a pretty good attempt

WayneApril 20th, 2010 at 8:00 am

I will have to check that out.

David GrayApril 20th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I’d say a major factor would be how accessible the time travel device(s) are: If few (say, up to three) governments have the ability, a cold war could exist. If many governments, or just about any private concerns had the ability, I doubt a stable enough situation would exist for a cold war scenario.

When I think of “time travel detection” though, I’m always put in mind of a couple of Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories. In one, an old report of an artifact is unearthed clearly from the future, and so the interference of travelers is investigated. In another, a jump “home” from the past ends in a different world, with the agents who can get back “downtime” of the change event being able to congregate in the deep past and coordinate a counterattack.

I would imagine that having time travel in the available arsenal would actually make command decision timing seem odd to those without that ability, though. Yes, some decisions would be made hastily, secure in the knowledge that the outcome could always be later manipulated, but other decisions might be endlessly considered, secure in the knowledge that your planning time need not correspond to your execution time. (Depending on the exact rules of time manipulation that apply, I could even see mission planners waiting until they’ve reviewed the after-action reports before selecting and briefing a team for the mission.)

PhelpsApril 20th, 2010 at 8:27 pm

What the hey?

The foremost objective in warfare is to hit the enemy wherever it most reduces his ability to engage and sustain a counterattack. Supply lines, production centers, base expansions, that sort of thing. You only want to engage his main forces inasmuch as it prevents him hitting you in the soft and jigglies first.

If you both have time machines, clearly the best thing to do is blow up his time machine. Sure, he could go back and prevent the attack – *if he still had a time machine.* If he has more than one, go even further back and hit his time machine factory, or his research operation. Whatever it takes to ensure that you alone have the power to travel back through time and become your enemy’s grandfather.

From the perspective of the denizens past, none of this would be apparent. Time travel would still appear to be a physical impossibility. The only strange thing, every time an institution manages to get together a team of really talented quantum physicists, long strings of completely random accidents result in them doing absolutely nothing at all.


ZircherApril 20th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Perhaps the first and last strike of the temporal war would be to kill H.G. Wells. :-)


Chris from KitDBApril 21st, 2010 at 6:51 pm

A point of singularity of a growing time war lets say started by some deus ex machina would expand outward without any sign of collapse. How can a war end when you can go back and kill someone mother and then he can go back and kill the assassins and then go back in time and poison the parent’s of his enemy or nuke their town flat. is is why movies like Terminator have no end really.

This would cause multiple realities and divergent time lines where casualties of the time war would ripple in history causing a mass effect. Imagine the people who were killed in the time war were climatologists of a planet or the foremost ecologists who stance was on maintain the natural resources of the planet and not to pollute it by killing them you alter’ the planet’s destiny and a death shroud of industrial and toxic gases swirl in its atmosphere as a result.
It would mean if an offending planet were caught with time travel technology from their enemy an example would have to be made. You would have to seize and butcher everyone for the possibility that in time the race might perpetuate generations down that might build the technology again to traverse time again and hunt don their oppressors. Or have hidden it.

Chris from KitDBApril 21st, 2010 at 6:51 pm

This is why…typo =)

David GrayApril 22nd, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Hmmm… now I’m envisioning a time line as if it were some sort of Wikipedia entry. Simultaneous edits from opposing viewpoints, trying to control the final look of the document but with virtually no practical way to prevent their opponent from continuing to edit.

“Semi-protect Reality!” would make a great bumper-sticker on a time machine…

NaysayerMay 23rd, 2010 at 2:36 pm

@ David Gray
Like that: http://www.abyssandapex.com/200710-wikihistory.html ?

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