Off the keyboard of RE
Featuring the artwork of Mark Churms
Published on the Doomstead Diner on September 29, 2013
Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner
With the latest in “Now we Will, Now we Won’t” bomb Syria back to the Stone Age progress toward War in that theater, I got to pondering on how War has evolved here since the early days of Ag Civilization into its current incarnation. Besides the technology for killing evolving quite a bit over the millenia, the Goals changed as well, and so did the means of Resolution when a given War came to a “Close”. The second aspect is much more interesting, but to begin a review of the Techno-Progress of warfare is in order, because it impacts on the second in many ways.
By the time real large scale Wars developed in the early Ag Era, Hunting methods had already evolved some means of Death at a Distance, most notably the Bow and Arrow at the beginning. With this technology, you had maybe say 200 yards of Killing Range, though at that distance accuracy was pretty minimal and it was mainly a matter of luck for a large number of Bowmen to send flying arrows in the general direction of the enemy and hoping they hit somebody. With Longbows, probably you gotta wait until the enemy is inside 50 yards to actually aim at and hit someone in particular. Depends a lot on your position on the terrain where the battle takes place also, if you hold the “High Ground”, you have a good deal more range than those coming at you from below.
On the defensive level at this time for those being shot at, Wooden Shields were pretty good also, since at distance the arrow has to be shot in a high parabolic trajectory to make maximum range, so you know where the arrow is going to come from, basically above you on it’s way down. Hold the shield over your head and slightly forward at around 45 degrees, the arrows will hit that first, and not penetrate. Only once you get pretty close can arrows be shot with a flatter trajectory that could hit you from the front.
So, as long as you were working with mainly Infantry, while some portion would get taken out before the armies met Mano-a-Mano, most of the real killing occurred when they finally engaged with the Swords, Battle Axes, Maces and so forth. Pretty even playing field at least between 2 different Ag Societies that both had some metal working capability. Winning or Losing such a War was mainly a matter of who had more numbers and better control over the High Ground where a battle might be fought.
Team Strategies were developed during this period to move large groups of soldiers around a battlefield, Phalanxes being the main one. This borrows from the Herd idea in Nature, where only the exterior of the Phalanx is exposed to arrows and so forth being shot at them as they get close to the enemy. This sort of battlefield organization persisted right up until Gunpowder made it’s appearance well into the modern era.
Besides the Death at a Distance in War Tech evolution in the early years, the other big “advance” was in the area of Mobility as Horses were enlisted and Cavalry was deployed. The great advantage of this was the speed at which you could move these soldiers around a battlefield, allowing you to Outflank the enemy who was without Horse, or who had substantially fewer of them. Groups like the Mongols who had LOTS of horses in this period were able to do a lot of damage to larger populations of more sedentary ag societies because of the speed at which they could move around the battlefields. There were some means of defending against a Cavalry attack of course, like this one depicted in Braveheart:
The Advent of the Wheel which led to the Chariot increased the advantage of using Horses by a good deal after this, though their use was more limited to Flatland areas. Nice thing about a Chariot was the Charioteer could move quickly, then stop and shoot his Arrows from a stationary platform, much more accurate than shooting a Bow from Horseback. So you outflank the enemy, get close enough to shoot flat trajectory arrows from the side, and then when anyone starts running in your direction to take you out you giddyap your horse and GTFO of there, setting up again somewhere else to do the same thing again.
The Romans used all these War Techs of the era about as well as could be done, and were able to expand their Empire quite far with it. Where things fell apart for the Romans was not so much on the Battlefield, but in the administration of all the places they conquered over time. More about that later. in the second part.
Prior to the development of Gunpowder, or rather prior to its application in Cannon and Muskets, there were numerous developments on the Defensive End in War Tech after the Roman Empire went through its Collapse. On the personal defensive level, Body Armor became quite popular. With metal working improving, stuff like Chain Mail and Metal Helmets and Breast Plates became available, and for a short while even Full Suits of Armor were used. Not real clear here how many “armies” actually all suited up this way, probably very few. First off very expensive for the time in energy to create such things, and besides that they weigh a LOT and reduce your mobility by quite a bit as well. So they probably were limited to a few of the King’s most wealthy Vassals and Honor Guard, rather than an entire army suited up like this. Helmets however and Chain Mail were probably a lot more common and certainly provided a good deal more protection from getting bashed than a leather helmet or vest.
The defensive end developed a lot more on the large scale with Castles and Fixed Fortifications through the Medieval period. If you could get one of these places erected, it provided a pretty safe haven against all but the most organized large marauding bands of Zombies of the period. In these places the War of Attrition idea really took hold, which was to see who could last longer, the folks inside the Castle with stored up food and a water supply, or folks on the outside who would have to last for a year or two or 3 of siege on the castle trying to starve them out. Eventually they speeded this up some by employing Trebuchets to hurl really big Rocks at the castle walls and knock them down, thus enabling the attacking army to breach the stronghold.
Shortly after this the Cannon started getting deployed, and that basically spelled the end of Defensive Warfare of this type right up to today. With a couple of decent 40 pounders, you could reduce Castle Walls to Rubble in no time at all, so they pretty much stopped building them. However, you still did have to move these INCREDIBLY heavy things around and get them in place, which was quite hard and slow even with lots of horses. For the bigger Nation States forming in Europe during this time, they ALL had Cannon, and you began to see the Napoleonic Wars type battles over there, and here in the FSoA the War of Northern Aggression, aka the Civil War.
Once the Internal Combustion Engine got developed, the issue of moving around this Heavy Equipment at decent speed was mostly resolved, though there were not THAT many vehicles available at the time of WWI and that was mostly fought as a War of Attrition in Trenches dug out to avoid oncoming Bullets and Mortar fire. The fortification idea was pursued by the French in the aftermath of that war with the Maginot Line, which rather than putting up a Solid Wall put up a virtual Wall of Artillery which in theory could hit everyone coming at them from Krautland. The Industrialists of Krautland overcame that one by producing a lot of Tanks for WWII, able to do an End Around the Maginot line and set up Blitzkriegs wherever they rolled to.
Tanks and this sort of warfare though while suited well to most of the European continent and MENA where most of those type of battles played out was NOT so good either for the Naval War pursued against Japan at that time, or later the Wars pursued in Korea and in Vietnam, where the terrain just wasn’t well suited for rolling Tanks. Although certainly Aerial Warfare was pursued in Europe with the Firebombing of Dresden and the v-2 Rocket Campaign of Werner von Braun against London, not to mention the dropping of Fat Man and Little Boy on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, going full on into Death from Above as the War Paradigm really took off with Vietnam and the use of Helicopters to move troops around the Jungle in place of Armored Personnel Carriers and Jets delivering Napalm to incinerate the Jungle cover of “Insurgents” aka local Villagers to be MASSACRED in My Lai.
Techno Warfare of this sort reached it Zenith in the current era, with Drone Aircraft delivering death basically anywhere, and in relative safety for the Drone Pilot, sitting comfortably at a Work Station at Langley or on an Aircraft Carrier etc. However, while delivering Death in relative safety has become possible this way, it is still damn difficult to actually gain any CONTROL over a given area just by dropping bombs on it. This brings us to part 2 of the story, the Objectives and Methods used for controlling a neighborhood after prosecuting a War on the local residents.
Returning back again to those early Ag Wars even Pre-Rome but extending right through that time period, nobody “made peace agreements” really with Conquered peoples. Generally speaking, all Adult age Males who managed to survive the war got dispatched to the Great Beyond, since these guys were dangerous to keep around and made lousy slaves. Children were taken to be raised as Slaves, and Women were taken to breed more Slaves. The objective of the War was to take over the Land the other group held and replace it with your own group of people, adding in the Class of Slaves to do the scut work in that neighborhood.
This had all sorts of problems of it’s own, even though if you got kids young enough and bred a slave class, maintaining the Order and keeping said Slaves in line was a Costly Bizness. It requires a good size Military/Police force and a class of Overseers as well. You have to feed the slaves at least enough so they do not die of malnutrition, clothe and shelter them so they don’t die too fast from exposure to the elements also. When your Slave Keeping Protocols get TOO BAD, the slaves REVOLT, which again is a costly exercise to squash down. Precisely how many people you can actually enslve in your population and remain in control of it is a bit unclear, but overall it probably is not more than20-30%. Taking Rome as an example here:
Estimates for the prevalence of slavery in the Roman Empire vary. Estimates of the percentage of the population of Italy who were slaves range from 30 to 40 percent in the 1st century BC, upwards of two to three million slaves in Italy by the end of the 1st century BC, about 35% to 40% of Italy’s population. For the Empire as a whole, the slave population has been estimated at just under five million, representing 10 – 15% of the total population. An estimated 49% of all slaves were owned by the elite, who made up less than 1.5% of the Empire’s population. About half of all slaves worked in the countryside, the remainder in towns and cities.
Roman slavery was not based on race. Slaves were drawn from all over Europe and the Mediterranean, including Celts, Germans, Thracians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and black Africans, usually called “Ethiopians” in Greek and Latin sources. By the 1st century BC, custom precluded the enslavement of Roman citizens and Italians living in Gallia Cisalpina, but previously many southern and central Italians had been enslaved after defeat.
Inside Italy itself, you might have got up to 40% slaves, but this is only because Italy ALSO housed the preponderance of the Military, and besides that Slaves who lived inside the Center of the Empire probably lived better than many Roman Citizens who lived in peripheral territories lived, at least while the resources were steadily flowing into that neighborhood from outlying areas through Taxation. The further out you went, the harder to maintain and control a large population of Slaves.
After the fall of of Rome, there still was similar types of Consolidation going on in Europe as the Feudal era took hold, enslavement was still pretty common when one group defeated another in a War, but once these incipient Nation-States consolidated up under common languages and slaves taken were assimilated into these societies, this bizness began to wind down. Economic slavery began to replace explicit slavery, and though certainly non-stop Wars were fought all across Europe through the Middle Ages and into the Colonial Era, you no longer got the kind of deal where ALL the Adult men were sent to the Great Beyond and the Defeated Nation-State was absorbed into the political system of the conquering nation.
Rather what begins to appear here are “Economic Reparations” for the war, where the defeated group has to pay the Winners. War becomes less about acquiring the territory and populating it with your own group of people then it becomes about gaining economic advantage, coopting the Elites of that neighborhood and getting them to run the country in such a way that they pay tribute to your Dominance. This sort of behavior probably reached its Zenith with the defeat of Germany after WWI, with the Treaty of Versailles. This document in terms of Economic Reparations essentially made the entire Kraut Population SLAVES working to pay off the Debt accumulated by everyone for running this War, WITHOUT the Brits, Frogs or Yanks actually taking over their Goobermint and running the defeated Krautland as a Colony. Local KRAUT leaders were expected to collect the necessary Taxation to pay off the War Winners here, in MONEY, not specifically in land acquisition.
Colonialism had a lot of problems, the main one being that if you went and installed your own Goobernators in a territory, the local population HATED that person and his Tax Men. Particularly if there were Racial/Religious/Ethnic differences between the Installed New Colonial Goobermint and the local population of J6P, it wasn’t generally too long before REVOLTS happenned, cue the American Revolution on that one. Or look at British Colonial Rule of India as another example of the problems you get when you try to impose rule on another society without actually physically wiping them off the face of the earth (at least the Males) in the Olden Times.
The methodology pursued over the last century was to Co-opt a Leadership Class of the Conquered Society, offer them AMAZING WEALTH & Perks to become part of the Global system of Industrialization, and for the real Rulers of this, hide in the background as much as possible and let all the Local Goobermints take the blame for any problems. You hold everyone hostage through Debt, and the War proceeds onward Economically here, until there is yet another breakdown of the System of the World, as Neal Stephenson phrased it. Said breakdown occurs regularly of course, Strauss & Howe call it the “Fourth Turning”, it is the relatively predictable outcome of an economic system based on Debt which has around a 2-5% Interest Charge placed on it. This allows said economic system to operate anywhere from around 60-90 years generally speaking before all hell breaks loose and the only way to rejig the monetary system is with a real big WAR that pulls in everyone using said monetary system. Same shit has repeated itself at least a half dozen times or so since the 1500s, using this same sort of monetary system, though the Age of Oil and Computers have made some significant changes in the dynamic.
Out of said repetition, Strauss & Howe developed the “Four Turnings” theory of generational collapse and rebirth, which bears a remarkable resemblance to the ecological theory of Four Cycles put forth by Holling & Gunderson back in the 70s.
In this model, the “Release Phase” corresponds to the Fourth Turning described by Strauss & Howe, and it seems to be a regular feature of all Biological Systems. On the Positive side of looking at the Collapse this way, you can Expect/Hope For a “Rebirth” or “Reorganization” phase to follow the Collapse Phase, if you go by the Timeline of Strauss & Howe this should come 15-20 years down the pipe for this Fourth Turning Event.
The problem with looking at this event in this way is that it ignores aspects of Homo Sapiens development which are NOT Cyclical and NOT Repeated, as well as Physical Conditions of the Earth Ecosystem which are not cyclical or repeated. In our War Example here, the Wars of today are NOT repetitions of the Wars of Old, they utilize a whole lot more Energy to prosecute them along with Technology that was not available in days of yore either. The Biomass of Homo Sapiens is now around 7B, which it NEVER was in all of recorded history for sure, and you have to make some pretty far out assumptions to believe such a biomass of Homo Sapiens existed in an Atlantis Civilization that preceeded this one.
The conditions which produced all the Fossil Fuels utilized during this particular cycle also are unlikely to be repeated, since the Sun itself is on a non-cyclical path to its own destruction, which in the more near term makes the Biosphere on Earth unlivable. MAX time for this might be 500M years from present day, but many factors could make that time period a whole lot shorter, right down to the Near Term Human Extinction timeline proposed by folks like Guy McPherson, who think Positive Feedback Loops will make the planet uninhabitable for multicellular life forms by Mid-Century or so.
When you bring all the variables together here, is seems Unlikely to me that this particular “Release” phase will result in the same sort of “Rebirth” phase that came in the aftermath of the Great Depression or the Civil War before that. Each of those Rebirth phases came at a time where the Human Biomass was much lower, and there still was copious amount of Stored Energy of Fossil Fuels to Exploit and use for rebuilding and developing a still more complex paradigm.
Regardless how this next set of Wars is pursued, whether it is with Chemical Weapons, Nuclear Weapons or even just “conventional” weapons like Bullets and “Regular” bombs and mines, the outcome of the war is that it is likely to exhaust the supplies of fossil fuels we have a bit faster than they otherwise would be burned, and upon conclusion whoever managed to “win” this War would have about nothing left with which to administer and maintain control over another population.
Picture say India in the Setting Sun Years of the British Empire in the late 1800s, with a few Brit Sahib Goobernators controlling all of India with a few Warships, an Honor Guard of Troops equipped with Repeating Rifles and some Artillery to protect their Forts. Take away all these Techno-Advantages for maintaining control, how long does this small group maintain control over the much larger poulation of Colonial Slaves they have working for them and paying them Taxes, aka PROTECTION MONEY? Not very long, IMHO.
The Techno Army/Navy/Air Force we have may persist a while longer, it is likely to be the last of the systems developed under industrialization to Run Outta Gas, but inevitably they will run out. It has always taken economies of scale to pull up Oil and Coal, even when it came cheap and easy. Running refineries, fixing broken parts, replacing sunken ships, all this will become ever more difficult as the Wars for Resources are pursued by the Industrial Military. In the end, they will put themselves Outta Biz, and they will not reappear again in a New Cycle, not in the next few Millenia anyhow for sure. So under no circumstances imaginable here will the NEXT Turning bring about a rebirth of the type we saw before, when there was much energy still to access. Nor will War be the same as it was, ever increasing in size, global scope and technological prowess. All dependent on accessing copious amounts of energy, which will be consumed by the very machine that accessed it in the first place, so long ago when the first Metal was smelted to produce Bronze Spear Points and later Chain Mail and Body Armor. This was unidirectional, not cyclical, and we have reached the end of the road for this paradigm, though to be sure it may take a decade or even 2 to work through this end game completely.
What will we see on the OTHER SIDE of this, if in fact anybody does manage to survive the conflagrations to come here? I cannot answer that question to be sure, but I seriously doubt we will go trekking the stars or setting up colonies on Mars in the aftermath of this. Best Hope, the few surviving Homo Sapiens will learn to Garden the Earth in Peace with each other and respecting other forms of life, and keep Sentience going until the Sun fries the Biosphere to a crisp in a few 100M years. One can only hope on this one, since the current direction looks a whole lot worse than that.