Florio on Ackerman and Stavridis, '2034: A Novel of the Next World War'

Elliot Ackerman, James G. Stavridis
Bryan Florio

Elliot Ackerman, James G. Stavridis. 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. New York: Penguin Press, 2021. 303 pp. $16.49 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-984881-25-0

Reviewed by Bryan Florio (Air University, Air War College) Published on H-War (March, 2023) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58789

“They came at us with everything. A carrier, frigates and destroyers, diesel and nuclear submarines, swarms of unmanned torpedo boats, hypersonic cruise missiles with total stealth, offensive cyber” (p. 97). The year is 2034. Two seemingly unrelated, inconceivable events have taken place halfway around the world from each other. Five very different main characters are thrust into an escalating roller coaster of engagements, laying out what the next world war could look like.

A US Navy flotilla, headed by Captain Sarah Hunt, is baited by a Chinese fishing boat during a routine freedom of navigation patrol in the contested South China Sea. In an overwhelming display of military power, the Chinese annihilate the flotilla. Only Hunt and a few others were spared to send home a grim message to the United States. Up until this point, Captain Hunt’s career had been stellar, due to devoting her life to the navy rather than starting a family. This sacrifice has eaten away at her and influences the choices she makes once the war escalates.

Meanwhile, Chris “Wedge” Mitchell, a fourth-generation fighter pilot, is testing a new capability in the F-35 on the edge of Iranian airspace. Wedge is desperate to prove his skill against an adversary, as generations of his family have, without the aid of aircraft technology. Ironically, his F-35 becomes unresponsive. Against his will, the plane lands at an Iranian air base. Wedge is taken prisoner by Brigadier General Qassem Farshad, a war hero of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Even though Farshad has gained his country’s admiration, his violent handling of Wedge precipitates his fall from grace. Wedge is eventually exchanged with US-held Iranian prisoners brokered by Sandeep “Sandy” Chowdhury.

Chowdhury is the deputy national security advisor, of Indian descent, and a single father. He is present at work when these events take place and is the first person on the White House staff to be approached by the Chinese defense attaché, Admiral Lin Bao. Bao was the ideal choice for this post as he is of split American Chinese descent. In addition to his heritage, his education was particularly helpful, having attended Harvard’s Kennedy School as well as the US Naval War College. His background and very deliberate military assignments led him to this post, the middleman gently coaxing the United States exactly down the path his country wanted it to go. Bao bargains with Sandy: “Give us back our ship, and I’ll give you back your F-35.” It then becomes clear the Chinese have orchestrated both events, thereby setting the two superpowers on a collision course.

Using every means available, the United States and China escalate, going blow for blow, decimating two carrier strike groups and wiping two major cities off the face of the earth with low-yield nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, India secretly launches its own attacks on China and attempts to convince the US to de-escalate before having to use force to stop it. The person facilitating the diplomacy just happens to be Sandy’s estranged uncle. As the conflict continues, Sandy begins to reconnect with his Indian background, which ends up playing a significant role.

As the next world war escalates, each main character is faced with personal dilemmas. Despite concerns from superiors, Hunt is thrust into higher leadership roles and is able to set in motion the final attack. Finding himself in a unique situation, Sandy realizes he is the critical piece, as a liaison between India and the United States, that could de-escalate this war and save millions of lives. An internal struggle develops within Farshad over whether he wants to die a warrior’s death or grow old; the struggle only strengthens when he is given an opportunity to redeem himself with his country. The longer the conflict goes on, the stronger Bao’s mixed feelings become about what he has done, what he must do, and what the world will be like for his family. Finally, Wedge faces the opportunity of a lifetime, proving himself worthy of the lineage that has guided him his entire life.

2034 starts off at Mach three and continues to accelerate until the end. Elliot Ackerman, an award-winning author, former White House fellow, and Marine, along with Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret) four-star admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander NATO, weave these characters and their stories with great attention to detail, adding the human aspect to this horrific novel. 2034 paints a picture of one of the hundreds of very probable scenarios two countries could find themselves in should escalation ensue. Despite the destruction, this book also highlights the value of relationships, no matter how unlikely, that can make a difference to push a country to war or help stop one from starting. Anyone with an interest in military strategy, history, or who has concerns about the future of our world and enjoys a fast-paced novel will have a hard time putting this book down.

Citation: Bryan Florio. Review of Ackerman, Elliot; Stavridis, James G., 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58789

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.