Monday, August 29, 2011


by Kenneth Silber - originally posted on FrumForum August 6th, 2010

Spike TV’s series Deadliest Warrior is presumably aimed at a demographic that’s fairly young and mostly male. The show investigates such questions as who would win in a fight to the death between a Spartan and a Ninja, or Navy SEALs versus Israeli commandos—and in the relevant weapons testing splatters some pig carcasses or head-shaped gelatin models.

But that’s not to say it’s a frivolous show. It’s actually quite thought-provoking, offering insights into military history, strategy and philosophy, while giving a sense of the power (and limits) of scientific empirical testing and of computer simulations. That Deadliest Warrior is fun and sometimes tasteless should not distract from its intellectually stimulating content.

Each episode involves a hypothetical showdown between two types of combatants (or occasionally, specific individuals) drawn from past or present. Thus, during the first two seasons there have been episodes about, to name a few, Ming Warrior vs. Musketeer, Vlad the Impaler vs. Sun Tzu, Comanche vs. Mongol, and Jesse James vs. Al Capone (actually it was their respective gangs shooting it out).

I put my money on Sun Tzu over Vlad any day of the week - S.L.

The show subjects the combatants’ weaponry and techniques to lab and field tests, often involving the above mentioned slabs of meat or gelatin models designed to replicate the density of human tissue. Guests with expertise in one side or the other wield the weapons and serve as advocates for the respective warriors, and the test data are fed into a simulation program that runs 1,000 fights between the combatants. (The multiple iterations are so some lucky blow doesn’t yield a misleading outcome.)

Each episode ends with a dramatic recreation, using actors but based on the simulations. At the end, one side will be dead or approaching death (mercy and negotiation have not entered into any of the episodes I’ve seen), and the winner typically shouts exultantly with fist raised in triumph.

Does all this glorify war? The sensibilities of antiwar activists on left and paleo-right would no doubt be offended by this show, if they could bring themselves to watch it (and the military recruitment ads that sometimes run in the commercial breaks would reassure them not at all). However, I think the program promotes a healthy soberness about war. For one thing, seeing modern or ancient weapons wreak havoc on plausible stand-ins for the human body helps convey the realization that war is a deadly serious, intensely horrible business and not some bloodless video game.

Moreover, the arts and sciences of war, as gruesome as they may be, are part of the necessary knowledge of civilization. A society too squeamish to look at the recreated violence of, say, Attila the Hun will have trouble protecting itself against modern-day Attilas. And, some of the combatants shown on the program are America’s enemies today, such as the Taliban (shown in a matchup with the IRA, an episode I didn’t see but which I’m told sparked some ridicule in the United Kingdom) and Somali pirates (who are depicted fighting the Medellin drug cartel).

I suspect some readers are curious about the outcomes of some of the contrived conflicts mentioned above. I will not give away any endings, lest I spoil anyone’s TV viewing, but Wikipedia has a list of the first two seasons’ episodes, complete with tabular results.

“Deadliest Warrior” has been evolving. Whereas the first season focused on one-on-one combat between two warriors, the second season has branched out into conflicts between groups of say five each (with a running tally onscreen helpfully showing how many fighters are alive on each side). This makes sense, in that the cohesion and efficiency of a unit is often a crucial factor.

Perhaps future seasons will branch out further from individual and small-unit warfare to display entire armies clashing. In any event, there is no shortage of material for future episodes of “Deadliest Warrior,” and one may as well make peace with that somber but undeniable fact about our world.

Kenneth Silber is a senior editor at Research, a magazine for financial advisors, and has written on various topics in science, technology and economics for publications including the New York Post, National Review, Scientific American and the Wall Street Journal. He blogs at Quicksilber

A little caveat here: I met Ken and his lovely wife over the weekend (and their amazing son who is 2 and is a total can of worms!) and in the course of the conversation we got to the whole genre of military-themed television shows that seem to adopt heavily from computer game simulations. My comments were the teasers that stretch a ten minute presentation out over twenty-five minutes via endless commercials make watching these shows very tedious work; that serving in the military will ruin war movies for you, that Saving Private Ryan was a great movie until they started having conversations at the top of their lungs while on patrol, and that Full Metal Jacket was the best half-movie ever made. Well here you go Ken - you can add STORMBRINGER to your laurels; right up there with Scientific American and the Wall Street Journal! Cheers, S.L.

Today's Bird HERE



  1. Could we hear more about the Full Metal Jacket being the best 1/2 movie?

  2. Thank you, Sean! Great to meet you & consider yourself the top choice for my team if I ever have to go up against Genghis Khan or any of these other bastards. I too by the way was nonplussed by the supposed victory of Vlad the Impaler over Sun Tzu.