Of all the elements of American power at a president’s disposal, the olive branch is rarely employed.
Yet in Ashley Henley’s entry in the Art of Future Warfare project’s “Day of Infamy” war-art challenge, that is exactly what the President of the United States in the year 2041 extended to an alliance of nations who carried out a devastating surprise cyber strike on the nation’s critical infrastructure. The contest proposed a futuristic rewriting of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s December 8, 1941 “Day of Infamy” address to Congress following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Henley felt it was important to include the diplomatic gesture because of the role such an overture played prior to the Revolutionary War. “I wanted to incorporate the historical truth in a creative piece so the reader could possibly say, ‘Hey, this could really happen,’” she said in an interview. The world Henley created is cued to both current events such as the Sony hack and her “thousands of hours deep in historical documents.” Henley’s also chose the acronym for the forces arrayed against the United States, F.A.S.C.I.S.M., to inject a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor into the entry.
The speech reflects her background as a historian deeply versed in the Constitution as well her work as an educator and teacher. Henley holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Mississippi. One of her greatest influences was her fellowship with the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, which included studying the Constitution at Georgetown University in 2005. She spent time with many of Washington’s legends, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Senator Ted Kennedy. “What I had access to molded my interpretation of everything,” she said.
Military service is not an abstract concept to Henley. Her husband joined the Mississippi National Guard in 2003 and served in Iraq. Her grandfather served in the Missouri National Guard and worked in the aerospace industry. Navigating the VA bureaucracy, along with her historical research, has made her not take anything at face value. “There’s always something between the lines,” she said.
The reliance on technology in both the civilian and military domains is a point of concern for Henley, who expects the distance between America’s citizens and the conduct of actual conflict to increase. “I imagined a generation totally reliant on technology not necessarily having experienced any kind of combat,” she said, while at the same time the country is growing increasingly vulnerable.
The America attacked in 2041, however, is not feeble. The Commander-in-Chief refers to a bundle of Constitutional amendments used to strengthen the country at some point prior to the attack. The speech is forceful, yet the president asks for the support of the citizenry while clearly demanding it from the lawmakers he is addressing. “The power in our nation lies in our people,” Henley said.
Image: U.S. Air Force