Thursday, September 16, 2010

Give Peace a Chance ...


And it might surprise you by taking it.

Well, at last check the grunt warfare thread is starting to lose steam at 484 posts. Come on, guys & gals, don't fall back on me now. Over the top! Over the top!

This blog dabbles in futurism, but it is mainly about Romance. In the Western literary tradition the first Big One started in 1194 BC, and in the pop culture version the pretext was a woman. (Classical Greek sexual politics in a nutshell: gay love affairs can win wars; straight love affairs can start them.) If you took away war and affairs you would pretty much wipe out Western literature. If Bollywood and Hong Kong are anything to go by, nonwestern literature too.

That said, this blog does dabble in futurism, so let me put it in that light: Could there be an end to war?

Let me offer a parallel. For much of the last 5000 years, the condition of most human beings was serfdom or slavery. This was simply a given in the agrarian age. There were exceptions around the margins, but they were exactly that, marginal.

This has ceased to be the case in much of the world since the Industrial Revolution, and is rapidly ceasing to be the case in most of the rest. Outright slavery survives only in the shadows, and serfdom as a way of life will probably be marginalized in this century, barring whatever apocalypse.

Plausibly war, like serfdom and slavery, was characteristic of the agrarian age, and will become marginalized in the post industrial age. You could say this is already the case, Afghanistan a perfect example, the US, Pakistan, and India all more or less fencing around the edges, with Iran and China in the offing.

Once again, though, we have seen this movie before. The same years before World War I that saw all those Next War speculations, grist for the steampunk mill, also had an active international peace movement. For that matter the Great Powers sometimes cooperated militarily on the ground in dealing with troublesome locals, even in the Balkans. A lot of people argued then, also plausibly, that war was obsolete. Unfortunately they were wrong, or at any rate premature.

I am in the school of thought that regards the World Wars as, in some basic grand strategic sense, two rounds of one war, with Versailles the uneasy truce to end all uneasy truces. And in the course of that one great war industrial-age warfare went from 19th century war on steroids to, well, you know what it went to.

It took industrial civilization just that one double round to find out that the assumptions of agrarian civilizations no longer applied. Industrial nations could deliver a dreadful pummelling, and stand up to one for years, but the pummelling they could deliver then was nothing to what they can do to each other now - even aside from nuclear weapons.

Yes, there are anti- anti- anti- this and that, but in the end the bomber either mostly gets through or it doesn't. In the first case you conquer ruins after being reduced to ruins yourself; in the second case you're just burning money to no effect.


And here is the real difference between post industrial war and war in the agrarian age: In the agrarian age - that is to say, most of recorded history, and the age that shaped most of our thinking - war not infrequently paid off, in direct and obvious ways.

Conquerors conquered and thrived, because the basic payoff was landed estates, hard to destroy and easy to avoid destroying. The estate-house might be burned, and its treasures with it, but they weren't the real value of the estate: the land was. The peasants might be slaughtered in large numbers, but the survivors would quickly replenish them. Meanwhile you had the land.

Sometimes agrarian age war went so far that agriculture was ruined and societies collapsed. Legend and later Romance told of the Trojan War. Mute archeology tells of a wave of greater wars that brought down not only Troy, Mycenae, Tiryns, and wise old Nestor's sandy Pylos, but the estates that supported them: Much of Greece was largely depopulated, and the land lay fallow for some 300 years.

But this was not a typical result, and for ruling classes, war quite often worked. It also provided the ultimate Xtreme sport to thin the ranks of excess young male aristocrats (along with expendable peasants). This function accounts for much of war's prominence in lit.

It does not work that way any more. It is not just that smart bombs and roadside bombs vigorously expand on the unsportsmanlike tradition of the gunpowder age, itself a precursor of the industrial age. Even more to the point, the wealth of post industrial society is largely in its targets: U-boats took no prizes to make their captains and crews rich.

This comes through in the last thread, and in fact most of the space warfare threads. Even under operatic assumptions, direct military conquest of a planet, landing troops and occupying it, looks fantastically difficult, much harder than simply wrecking the place. The same goes even more for spacehabs and the like.

War simply does not pay the way it (often) did in the agrarian age, and that could be the end of war as a normal element of power politics. Militaries will gradually morph into something like paramilitary police organizations, no more designed to fight each other than police forces are.

If it makes you feel better, this need not mean the end of fictional war in Romance, where landed aristocracy also still thrives. Both will go on, largely shorn of their grubby underpinnings. Safely in the words and images of Romance is where war belongs.


Let's see how many comments this thread gets!


The image is of a decommissioned and abandoned fortress island in the Netherlands.

149 comments:

Cambias said...

I can't agree.

The form of war may change -- as it has lately shifted from army vs. army stand-up fights to "assymetrical warfare" of soldiers vs. "insurgents" -- but the nature of war remains. Sometimes you want to make someone do what you want, against their will. Al-Qaeda was waging war ten years ago when they used suicide hijackers to slaughter innocents. The goal was to make America do what AQ wanted.

Future war may look more like law enforcement vs. terrorism, or rival bands of hackers, or complicated ad campaigns, but the nature remains the same.

Sabersonic said...

Talk about being Ninja'ed....

And I have to agree with Cambias on the longevity of war in history. War doesn't really end if the individual conquerors reaped the spoils, but changes its proprieties from land to something that benefits the nation as a whole.

Though, on the other hand, future wars barring possible World Wars would resemble police actions simply because the actual conflict zone would be more local and focused upon a particular population or group rather then an entire nation.

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Tony said...

Leaving asymmetric or alternative symmetry war aside, territory is still valuable to industrial civilizations. People still have to eat, have places to live, and secure sources of fuel and raw materials. (In case you missed it, I just explained the motivations for WW2, both real and imagined, in one sentence.) Modern technology has helped us increase carrying capacity to the point that we can do so much more with so much less, that the former pressures don't seem to be all that pressing. That can't last forever.

Teleros said...

Can't say I can see war disappearing any time soon. As I see it, you get warfare thanks to two principle reasons: resources, and ideology. Maybe stupidity too, given some past conflicts. I can't see that changing any time soon (if ever) - there'll always be reasons to go to war.

That said, the reasons NOT to go to war may outweigh the reasons to send Grand Fleet off to Mars or what-have-you. Cost, economic interdependence, ideology (I include here such things as democratic peace theory) and MAD all work to reduce the impetus to go to war. As per the last thread, invading a major planet is going to be hellishly expensive to do - better to try and achieve your goals some other way perhaps.

Teleros said...

Forgot - I am of course talking about more traditional forms of war, with armies, navies, airforces and all that. Things like terrorism, computer attacks and so on are another matter entirely.

Tony said...

Teleros:

"...democratic peace theory..."

Too dependent on a highly nuanced definition of "democracy", don't you think? Too easy to say that if two states with democratic institutions (which most have to some extent, these days) are fighting a war, either one or both is not a "real" democracy.

Jim Baerg said...

Have any of the detractors of 'Democratic Peace Theory' read _Never at War - Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another_ by Spencer R Weart ?

Weart looks very closely at all the (reasonably well documented) marginal cases where regimes with some democratic characteristics fight or come close to fighting each other. In my opinion he makes a very good case for the theory & pins down what characteristics of a government makes it insufficiently democratic to maintain peace. BTW it is striking that they are few enough for him to do such a thorough analysis, a point in the theory's favor.

In any case I think we either get peace or a world bombed to a pre-industrial level.

Tony said...

Jim Baerg:

"Have any of the detractors of 'Democratic Peace Theory' read _Never at War - Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another_ by Spencer R Weart ?"

Nope. But Wikeipedia is our friend. Weart's exclusion of Imperial Germany from the list of democracies is a perfect example of the nuanced definition I was talking about. Yes, the Kaiser was a self-sufficent executive, but he wasn't acting alone, against the will of the people. The war was very popular within Germany, and preparations for the war had also been popular. The expansion of the High Seas Fleet and the construction of a large dreadnoght component was as much a popular movement as it was an act of policy. It's actually one of the better examples in recent history of democracy in action.

Also, Weart's theory, that inhabitants of democracies see their counterparts in other democracies as part of a favored ingroup, is, to put it kindly, pseudointellectual tripe.

Tony said...

In addition, according to Wikipedia, Weart classifies "autocracies" as states where opposition to the current ruler is suppressed, but he classifies Athens as a democracy. So it was just a bad dream for Socrates and all of the other guys that got censured, exiled, or executed for opposing the state's policies, or simply doing something the upset the voters? Weart's either intellectualy lazy or dishonest. Take your pick.

Milo said...

As long as you can stand to gain something by conquest, and you can do so without immediately triggering MAD, war will continue to exist.

As for what you have to gain, I'll say it again: if there is something that's worth trading, then you have something that's worth stealing. Many people doubt the viability of space trade, but Romance tends to assume it will exist to some degree.

Land will also not go away as desired spoils. No planet is going to be habitable to humans unless we terraformed it, and that's expensive and time-consuming. I can see someone wanting to found a colony, and deciding that it's easier to steal someone else's terraformed planet rather than make his own.

So there we have it: there is something in space you might want to attempt to conquer. So the only remaining question is whether you can do it without MAD. And again, I'll note that nukes didn't cause MAD because they're so destructive - they caused MAD because they're so destructive, can hit anywhere on the planet in minutes, and are hard to intercept. The latter two criteria will probably not apply to space-based weapons of mass destruction, like asteroid deflection. The former is also considerably harder if you're trying to wreck an entire planet, rather than just a place the size of Japan. And then there's multiplanet empires.

And yes, Teleros, stupidity as a reason for war will not go away anytime soon, either.



Teleros:

"As per the last thread, invading a major planet is going to be hellishly expensive to do"

Yes, but then again, would a king of a Sumerian city-state have been able to afford armies the size of those in... oh, the Napoleonic wars?

"Post-scarcity" isn't all roses and sunshine.

Citizen Joe said...

Wars may continue in a purely ideological rationale. So you don't go to war for any gain but rather because the mere existence of the enemy is unacceptable. In that case, blowing them up from long range is a viable tactic. A legitimate excuse might be "Their planet blocks my view of the sun."

Of course the ensuing debris cloud would obscure the sun even further, but meh...

Milo said...

One ideological motive for war would be "liberation". Perhaps you don't like how another government treats their own citizens. That would give you an incentive not to slag the entire planet from afar.

(If they're smart, then it's only their serfs they mistreat, and not their warrior caste.)

Religious fanatics trying to convert you by force would be essentially the same. They don't want to kill you until they've saved your soul.

Anonymous said...

There is an interesting theory that wars, all wars, are caused by population pressure; the need to expand living space, resources, food capacity, and what-have-you. After thinking about this, I believe that this is simplistic. Underlieing all of this is an even more basic principle and this is the same that gives rise to xenophobia and can be stated thus: "Our neighbors aren't really people like us, so if we want their sheep, their land, their trees, we just take them, because they aren't true people, so it's ok." After it gets filltered by the civilized portions of our brains, we get "Their ideology is destructive to ours, so we must oppose them, even fight them to preserve our way of life" All the other stuff that everyone else said still applies, but nations and Non State Players (NSPs) have to weigh those against the hiddiously destructive forces that can be brought to bear against them. In the future, wars will increasingly be fought by governments against NSP; NGO's, terrorists, internal opposition movements, proxie forces, etc. While traditional(nation vs. nation) warfare may eventually fade out, this new model of nation vs. NSP may well be the shape of things to come...(apologies to H.G.)

Ferrell

Raymond said...

We should stop talking about war between nation-states (or equivalents) as if it were something inherently different than other forms of organized violence. La Violencia was a war in all but name, and its legacy was another forty years of essentially low-intensity warfare. In Mexico, the last four years have seen 28,000 people killed in the cartel wars. Marines are doing the shootouts, not the police. Might as well call it a war. Don't even get me started on the hundred and fifty years of war (and counting) in Afghanistan.

The violence just mutates and shifts, ebbs and flows. It doesn't go away.

As for the Plausible Midfuture, I fully expect that once there's enough to fight over, we'll start doing exactly that. Distant wars that reap conquered colonies and prop up the domestic economy (producing all those missiles means jobs, after all) will be tempting for a long time. Maybe when everyone's armed with multi-gigawatt x-ray lasers and IR-spectrum metamaterial cloaks and those ill-defined torch drives, we'll duke it out in the Second Solar War.

Which will come to a screeching halt when someone invents the synthetic black hole and drops it on a moonlet. Then the Lightspeed Race is on, and after we've got the first permanent research station orbiting Alpha Centauri, we'll sit around bitching about how expensive and slow it turned out to be, and quibble over what the coming interstellar wars will be like.

While talking about how peace might just have a chance this time.

Milo said...

Meanwhile, however, I'll note that war will not be implicit to everything. While people will inevitably find something to fight over, that doesn't mean no colony will ever have independence without staging an American Revolution.

jnutley said...

The definition is part of the problem. At the primate level, any group of bad boys with an attitude can war on any other group they observe or invent. There can also be Trade Wars and Market Share Wars, if it's just about any one crew trying to dominate, war can be continual and pervasive. In my mind though (showing my age here) "War" implies huge armies and navies. WWII was war, WWIII could have been war, everything else since 1945 has been pitiful posturing.

Was the 20th century an aberration? Will wars here-after (or at least for centuries to come) seek a level of economic utility and diplomatic deniability, and leave huge mobilized nations to become increasingly a mythic image?

Rick said...

The relationship of war to other forms of organized violence is a big and important question.

For example, my sense is that the struggle with al Qaeda is so far from war as traditionally understood that it is really a different beast. I never liked the phrase 'war on terror' because it risked being taken too literally, when military type action is only one component and not the most important.

Also, note that contexts like rural Colombia and Mexico, and even more Afghanistan, are all places where agrarian age conditions still prevail - in all of them, demi feudal landowners are major power players.

Future societies will presumably continue to have their marginal areas and marginal populations, with some level of endemic violence. And since a few desperate people can, with luck, sometimes kill hundreds or thousands, this can spill over into non-marginal society in spectacular and horrific ways.

But that is quite a different thing from wars of dominant peer communities, which has been the core sense of 'war' for the past 5000 years.

Raymond said...

Rick:

Columbia's long civil war may have been rural in nature, but Mexico's is fought in Mexico City and Ciudad Juárez, for abstract structures of control and lucrative commodities instead of land. (Afghanistan is a knot of motivations, which I don't dare to try unraveling lest I make myself even more of a fool.) The Congo war (98-03) involved as many combatants as WWI, and roughly the same number of casualties (granted, most of those were from weaponized famines and rampant diseases, but still). Can we really say it only happens at the margins, when most of the world is the margins? Can we use the "dominant peer community" criteria, when it excludes the majority?

Thucydides said...

Martin Van Crevald suggests our view of war is very specific to our culture, time and place. Victor Davis Hanson also suggests something very similar in his works.

Briefly, the idea of war as organized violence to achieve some sort of political end (impose our ideology on the enemy, take their resources etc.) is a very "Western" concept, and the idea of actually achieving victory through shock action is a specific ideal carried down in Western culture from the time of Classical Greece.

Most past cultures have violence, but few have an ideal of absolute victory; no one else, even in the time of the Classical Greeks thought that way (which was one of the reasons the 10,000 were unstoppable. They were literally an alien invasion force).

So maybe the idea of military constellations will never come to pass; there will be no one they can be used against. Maybe the best way to achieve personal security will be to hire the Marshal and his Regulators (although how well they will do against super empowered individuals who can discover the gene sequence for Smallpox or build smart weapons in their basement workshop using CNC machine tools purchased at Canadian Tire is a question that should come up during contract negotiations). So long as there is still a recognizable western culture, there idea of decisive victory will remain, and if you can dream of a decisive victory, you will eventually try to create the tools to achieve it.

Even after the passing of the West, there will still be passions inflaming people and mobs (read Thucydides on how demagogues whipped up the assembly to continue the wars), and so long as we are recognizably human, there will still be war.

Milo said...

Rick:

"Future societies will presumably continue to have their marginal areas and marginal populations, with some level of endemic violence."

One wonders what future societies will consider "marginal", considering present-day marginal populations have access to things like AK-47s, technicals, and pirate ships.

However, one thing is clear: in order for "marginal" areas to have significant space forces, the non-marginal players in that setting must be awesome indeed! As in, interstellar empires.

MRig said...

Er, rather, at the beginning of the 20th. It was very much a 19th century beast WWI destroyed, though.

Correction becomes entirely new post, this time in response to the comments rather than the OP.

Having read all the comments up till now, it shouldn't surprise me that nearly everyone is repeating the tired "war is human nature" cliche. Sure, it might be true, but most of the time people seem to just accept it without much criticism. It's one of those tropes which is true by virtue of frequent repetition.

As other posters have pointed out, a lot of this comes down to how you define "war," and how we have a particularly Western notion of it, particularly as Thucydides says re: the concept of total victory. This is not universal, and yet we project this sort of all-or-nothing attitude towards violence into our interpretations of human history, which offers no shortage of conflicts to overgeneralize. But ritualized war-sport between neighboring villages has more in common with football hooligans than with what happened in Flanders 1916.

And anyway, total victory was achieved--over the enemy in 1945, and over the concept of total victory itself in 1989. That age of total war has ended, and we don't yet know what will end up replacing it. Might as well give a chance to something like total peace.

metaljoe said...

Rupert Smith's "Utility of Force" gives an excellent overview of how warfare has changed from the Napoleonic era, through the World Wars and into the present day. In fact, you realise reading the book that WW2 signalled the end of what we consider conventional, industrial warfare. It's not practical, or effective.

The guerrilla fighter with AK47 or the fanatic with a bomb has changed warfare more than nukes, UAVs or large formations of armour and infantry.

Raymond said...

MRig:

"That age of total war has ended..."

They said that after Napoleon, didn't they? It would be nice for that to be true, for once, but call me skeptical.

metaljoe:

"The guerrilla fighter with AK47 or the fanatic with a bomb has changed warfare more than nukes, UAVs or large formations of armour and infantry."

Every time I hear that refrain, I cringe a little. Nuclear weapons have changed the Western idea of total war exactly as much as advertised. Other ideas of war, less total in scope, remain in play. And we don't actually know yet where the evolution of drone warfare will end up yet, so pronouncing it minor is premature.

Also, I'm curious why everybody mentions the AK-47, and nobody talks about the RPG-7. The AK-47 is just a rifle. (A sturdy, easy-to-manufacture, hard-to-break rifle, but a rifle nonetheless.) The RPG-7 is the real threat, and is what lets rag-tag guerrillas have a chance against more mechanized and better armored forces. (I know the RPG-7 isn't the greatest antitank weapon ever designed, but it's everywhere the AK-47 is, and can engage anything from APCs to helicopters.)

Tony said...

This idea that decisive warfare is somehow "Western" is about as mistaken as one can be. Sun Tzu contains many mentions of armies, battles, and states fighting each other in pursuit of decision. Way before there was any Western influence in Nippon, samurai armies played for keeps. And if the East was not interested in confrontation and decision, the Huns and Mongols would have been quite a radically different problem, if they had been a problem at all.

The "Western Way of War" is really a theory about tactics and maybe certain aspects of operational approach. It doesn't say anything at all about motivations, strategic objectives, or the will with which they would be pursude.

Mink said...

I have to agree with others that I disagree that war will not go away. For as long as humans divide themselves into "us" and "them," and as long as "we" have something "they" want, there will be war. The form of that war may dramatically change, however. We have seen the topology of war go from the era of the proto-organized braves, to formations, to trenches, to maneuver, to asymmetrical, to... well, we're still trying to define what fifth generation warfare will be. Personally I see it as a sublimation and refinement of memetic warfare, where the battle is over and with ideas. Not quite propaganda, but propaganda does precede it in much the same way that raiders and guerillas in the Second World War predated modern asymmetrical warfare.

But we'll see. It may be that 5GW will be something we can barely recognize.

Tony said...

I think we can all agree that war is application of force towards a community goal. I think we can further agree that war is also an activity in which the individual participant's survival is given a lower priority than community success. Beyond those two properties, I'm not sure anyone is qualified to say what war is and isn't.

Al Qaeda is at war, because it is a community using force to achieve its goals, and the life of the individual is certainly deprecated compared to the life of the community. Drug gang wars in Latin America are either crime or war depending on the front line soldiers' commitment to surviving to collect profits. Trade wars and information wars and what have you are not wars -- even though they can be hard fought and quite vicious conflicts, they only rarely involve real force and everybody is trying to live through them to enjoy the money they make.

Gridley said...

The idea that modern firepower has made war 'obsolete' or that new weapons will make existing ones obsolete also isn't new. Quite a few people pre-WWI said that breachloading rifles and artillery with their incredible range and rate of fire, would make war impossible.

Before both WWI and WWII several people predicted submarines would do away with surface warships.

Before WWII some people said aircraft had made surface warships obsolete.

History seems to indicate that warfare will always involve infantry to take and hold ground, whatever other elements may be present.

History also seems that mankind doesn't need a rational reason to fight wars.

Milo said...

Gridley:

"Before both WWI and WWII several people predicted submarines would do away with surface warships."

They kind of have. We still have some destroyers/frigates, but they're seriously diminished in importance compared to the grand capital ships of older eras. The one kind of surface warship that's still really important is aircraft carriers, which are an entirely new concept and don't do their shooting themselves.

Tony said...

Milo:

"They kind of have. We still have some destroyers/frigates, but they're seriously diminished in importance compared to the grand capital ships of older eras. The one kind of surface warship that's still really important is aircraft carriers, which are an entirely new concept and don't do their shooting themselves."

I don't think we really know what effect submarines have had. Except for the US and, to some degree, the UK, large, ocean-spanning navies no longer exist. We're down to relatively small regional navies, mostly. How submarines will work out for them, both against the remaining naval superpower-and-a-half, and against each other, is a matter of pure conjecture.

Also, the aircraft carrier is a capital ship. For the navies that havethem, their major surface combatant forces are largely oriented to escorting and protecting them.

MRig said...

Hmm, my initial comment seems to have vanished. It was basically saying that though war is not profitable in the sense that Rick refers to in the OP, a powerful few make a lot of money over it, and they know how to manipulate the forces of government. I'm saying a lot of optimistic things here but I want to be clear that I don't expect true peace until I'm old or dead.

But 2/3 of the world is already experiencing world peace, right now. I made a prediction that improvements to the international system, economic globalization, and some good leaders in the right troubled places will eventually extend this peace to the rest of the globe. Such a peace would not be entirely free of conflict, but it would be something one could reasonably call world peace. There is always, however, the possibility that the system will break down, as it has before.

@Tony: Fair enough. I wouldn't be so Eurocentric to suggest that Westerners were the first to fight for decisive victory. And the Chinese have done all sorts of things first. But there are questions of both degree and kind. Even in the West there's an important shift from the struggles of dynasties and states to the struggles of nations. Samurai battles before the invention of ashigaru were a series of simultaneous duels on a large scale. Europe in the 18th century pitted armies against armies and navies against navies. The 19th and 20th centuries pitted peoples against peoples. They may not have been the only ones to do so, but that's the sort of total war that we know and are influenced by, and it's alien to gatherer-hunter societies.

MRig said...

@Raymond:
I would say Napoleon represented the beginning of European total war, not the end. Its full possibilities and consequences had not yet been explored. 19th century European writings are dominated by an obsession with conflict. Civilized powers must expand and strengthen themselves in all areas of competition, or be crushed. It's almost like a multipolar cold war. You see it in social darwinism, colonization, even family policy--this notion of women needing to bear children for the nation is not a Nazi invention.

There is a lot of back-slapping ain't-humanity-and-progress great stuff, but it goes side-by-side with some really stark views of human nature and conflict. The military planners are obsessing over the next war, the diplomats are constantly tweaking the secret alliances, the political elites are endlessly staving off calls from the socialists and left-liberals for a more democratic system, foreign offices are scrambling to seize as much colonial land as possible. A WWI sort of conflagration was almost inevitable. Certainly it's easier to see in hindsight, but since WWII the only thing on a similar scale has been the East-West rivalry that ended in 1989.

Other things they didn't have that we do:
-Nuclear weapons and MAD

-More fully-realized democratic systems (whether or not Germany was a democracy then is debatable, but by today's standards it's at least semi-authoritarian)

-Interconnected economic development (one could argue that colonialism is equivalent to this, but even if that's the case I think the advantages of our globalization re: peace and everything else are obvious)

-An inclusive international forum of dialogue and peacekeeping, most members of whom are generally on the same page

-A semi-exclusive international forum that collectively controls the global economy, most members of whom are generally on the same page

-An unmatched military hegemony by one power with which most nations are neutrally or positively aligned

-A more strongly entrenched cultural narrative of international peace, human rights, and environmental sustainability

-Nuclear weapons and MAD

This growing peace might not be the one that sticks, but we've come a long way, farther than we ever have before. We don't have a road map for this territory. Sure, half the world could come charging down the halls with a shotgun to show us the life of the mind. But it's important to be mindful of the progress we've already made before we go dismissing it as some unrealistic chimera. We're at 65 years and counting, with a heck of a lot more going for it than we had last time.

MRig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony said...

MRig:

"@Tony: Fair enough. I wouldn't be so Eurocentric to suggest that Westerners were the first to fight for decisive victory. And the Chinese have done all sorts of things first. But there are questions of both degree and kind. Even in the West there's an important shift from the struggles of dynasties and states to the struggles of nations. Samurai battles before the invention of ashigaru were a series of simultaneous duels on a large scale. Europe in the 18th century pitted armies against armies and navies against navies. The 19th and 20th centuries pitted peoples against peoples. They may not have been the only ones to do so, but that's the sort of total war that we know and are influenced by, and it's alien to gatherer-hunter societies."

A couple of things...

1) Let's not make the mistake of thinking that the tactics of epic warfare was all there was to war in Japan. The war against the "barbarians" in northern Honshu and on the Island of Hokkaido, for example, was very deadly and decisive. Even in epic warfare, the objectives were not just satisfaction of personal or clan honor. Territory was gained and lost, and this was a conscious goal.

2)Let's make the distinction between small bands of roaming hunter-gatherers and tribal primitives. True, hunter-gatheres don't have much to fight over, because for them it's usually easier to go somewhere else. But the world has filled up so that in the last few thousand years, true hunter-gatherers have been marginal societies, even in less civilized parts of the world. Tribal primitives, on the other hand, are extremely familiar with decisive warfare. They have no qualms even with what we would call ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Hugh said...

How about defining "war" in our plausible mid-future as Clausewitzian, diplomacy by other means? Most military science fiction, from Starship Troopers to Honor Harrington, describes warfare between states.

Eliminating human violence one on one or in small groups seems very unlikely. But a bar-room brawl isn't warfare, even if it extends into a generational feud between families.

Insurgency generally is for control of a state (including forming your own) rather than between states.

Drug cartels or corporations fighting each other or the government, as portrayed in early William Gibson, again isn't aimed at destroying the state, they just want to be left alone by the state.

All these tend to be nasty and non-glamorous, so don't get into fiction except as background.

Teleros said...

Tony: Too dependent on a highly nuanced definition of "democracy", don't you think? Too easy to say that if two states with democratic institutions (which most have to some extent, these days) are fighting a war, either one or both is not a "real" democracy.
*Shrug* Just thought I'd mention that I was including stuff like that in there, regardless of whether you believe personally it's a valid theory or not.

Milo: "Post-scarcity" isn't all roses and sunshine.
I've tended to keep away from the idea of post-scarcity societies here. My view of a war between two such powers would be (assuming the ability to win in a single strike doesn't exist) the kind of war of attrition to make the Western Front in WW1 look pretty: for every ship / man / robot lost you can build another one, and if neither side can deliver a decisive blow early on...
Nasty.

jnutley: Was the 20th century an aberration? Will wars here-after (or at least for centuries to come) seek a level of economic utility and diplomatic deniability, and leave huge mobilized nations to become increasingly a mythic image?
Go read On War by Clausewitz :) . Or for the very short version... all wars tend towards total war-style mobilisation, until they come up against a combination of self-imposed limits (if any) or externally-imposed limits (like the need to keep the factories properly staffed).
In other words, the nature of future wars depends on the setting. And yes, this is also a cop-out answer :D .

Teleros said...

MRig: we have a particularly Western notion of it, particularly as Thucydides says re: the concept of total victory.
Erm... dunno about that to be honest. The vast majority of wars in Europe have emphatically NOT had this in mind. It's only really once you get to the age of mass mobilisation (circa the French Revolutionary Wars) that you start getting this sort of thing crop up. To take the classic example of Britain vs France, Britain was quite happy for France to exist and even to have overseas possessions, so long as Britain wasn't threatened by this (eg threats to the Low Countries or sugar plantations in the Caribbean). God-only-knows how many other wars were fought for slivers of land and the like.

metaljoe: The guerrilla fighter with AK47 or the fanatic with a bomb has changed warfare more than nukes, UAVs or large formations of armour and infantry.
*Laughs*
For the issue of nukes, I refer you to some excellent essays written on the subject of nuclear warfare: http://homepage.mac.com/msb/163x/faqs/nuclear_warfare_101.html (and _102.html + _103.html).
UAVs... are frankly in a very early stage still. Wait until they're a mature technology before saying anything about them.
Large formations... well they really began way back with the Greeks, and look how successful that model's been. Armour & infantry... I'd argue that combined arms are far more important than your AK47-armed guerillas.

Milo: They kind of have. We still have some destroyers/frigates, but they're seriously diminished in importance compared to the grand capital ships of older eras. The one kind of surface warship that's still really important is aircraft carriers, which are an entirely new concept and don't do their shooting themselves.
O_O
I think my naval historian lecturer at King's College London would have something to say about that. It's also important to remember that carriers & battleships essentially fulfill the same role: long-ranged power projection, be it against enemy fleets or shore installations - carriers can just hit things a hell of a lot further away than battleships ever could. But to give you a quick example of why surface vessels are still of enormous importance: minesweepers.

MRig: A WWI sort of conflagration was almost inevitable.
I'd say that that was more down to a certain Kaiser's stupidity in supporting the Kaisermarine than anything else TBH :P . He was a genius though if he was actively trying to push Britain into the arms of the French and Russians (of all people)...

Raymond said...

MRig:

Three of the twenty deadliest wars in human history (by minimum estimated casualties) were fought post-1945. The Second Congo War (3.8 million), the Korean War (2.5 million), and the Vietnam War (2.5 million). Two of those involved the United States. In fact, the United States has fought in at least twenty wars in that span. What's your definition of peace, then?

Milo said...

I don't think there's that much difference between fighting to conquer all of the enemy's territory and resources, or fighting to conquer some of the enemy's territory and/or resources. Once you're in the mindset that starting a war to gain territory or resources is acceptable, you're going to try to take as much as you think you can get away with. The idea that it's acceptable to take someone else's stuff by force, but only up to a certain point, is a notion you will only ever see in massively multiplayer online games.

The main difference is that the victim has more incentive to resist if he thinks the consequences of defeat would be total destruction.

Milo said...

Anyway, the claim that in past eras Britain was happy to allow France to exist is plainly false. The Hundred Years' War was fought because the English royal family claimed they were also the legitimate heirs to the throne of France, and so aimed to completely overthrow the French royal family which they viewed as false usurpers. They didn't succeed, even after over a hundred years of trying, but they tried.

Raymond said...

MRig:

You're right about Napoleon kicking things off, of course. I meant to say that his introduction of total war was viewed immediately afterwards as such a devastating aberration that it wouldn't happen again, at least if the powers in question managed their alliances to prevent it.

Teleros:

Those limits of Clausewitz, both self-imposed and external, cover such a range of possibilities that I don't really think it's a useful statement. The Kosovo campaign was never going to blow up into another world war - the closest thing to mobilization that happened was the US digging into its WWII bomb stockpiles and slapping Paveway kits on.

Hugh:

I think handwaving away post-state structures of power is the worst possible approach to hard SF, because they're often so much more interesting. Gibson's megacorps left such an indelible impression precisely because they weren't what we were used to or expecting, but they made perfect sense given the economic climate of the early eighties. We've been over states to death. To ignore other possibilities which are emerging in the present seems like folly to me. And it's not entirely clear nation-states are the most efficient or capable model for a spacefaring civilization.

Tony:

The line between Crime and War is pretty thin at the best of times. We like to think soldiers in a warzone are, you know, soldiering, but it certainly isn't always true. There's a scandal running around here in Canada over accusations by a British newspaper that Canadian troops were smuggling home heroin from drug territory in Afghanistan. (The sources may not be reliable, but the story has some legs.) Drug cartels which infiltrate and corrupt substantial portions of the apparatus of the state and command armed forces of a sort must be treated as state-equivalent actors. Insurgent groups frequently fund themselves from various criminal activities (the IRA, the Tamil Tigers, and the Taliban, among others). The Chinese Army is the biggest single investor in the country. The line between the Russian intelligence community and the Russian mafia is, um, imaginary. Given that war is essentially a series of community-sanctioned crimes, I'm reluctant to make much of a distinction.

Milo:

One of the most important factors in any war (short of a total one) is where you think the point is at which the enemy is willing to concede a limited loss in exchange for avoiding escalation.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"And it's not entirely clear nation-states are the most efficient or capable model for a spacefaring civilization."

Okay. Propose to me a better model. I'm listening.

And remember not to exaggerate either the utopianism or the dystopianism.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Given that war is essentially a series of community-sanctioned crimes, I'm reluctant to make much of a distinction."

If it has the community's sanction, how can it be a crime? It's certainly possible for those you war against to claim what you are doing is a crime, but at least half of the time that's just rhetoric to disguise their own iniquities. In my experience and in my study, war is an essentially amoral process. It just is. Trying to make it look better or worse than it is doesn't change the fact that it's just a process that humans engage in.

Raymond said...

Milo:

I wish I knew the answer to that question. I could get myself hired by Elon Musk, make a fortune, and retire to Mars myself.

But we don't talk about it much, we fans of hard science fiction. Most of the time we take whatever social structures we're familiar with and put them IN SPAAACE, instead of doing the (hard) work of figuring out the myriad possibilities and their consequences. This was a big factor in New Wave SF, but the political soapbox was too tempting for most, and the physics too limiting for the rest.

The great SF writers do. One of the things I liked most about The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, for example, was its examination of certain strains of anarchism and emergent structures without the usual "but they'll eat each other!" alarmist drivel. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions, but at least Heinlein tried. As for other non-state social constructs - Disch, Delany, LeGuin, Farmer, even Ellison made stabs at them. Gibson and Sterling and Stephenson made them a regular feature, skewed perhaps towards the dominance of corporations. Some more recent stuff, too - Peter Watts, Charlie Stross, Richard K Morgan, others; in their works the state has withered, and things move in to take their place which we are only now seeing emerge.

We forumites, though, keep talking about the weapons and engines and armor, and maybe about the cybernetics and bioengineering. Hardly ever about the evolution of corporations and states and NGOs and drug cartels and workers' cooperatives. Which is a pity, because we humans are social creatures first and technological ones second, and progress in the latter can, does and will continue to change the former.

Raymond said...

Tony:

Not quite what I meant. I agree about viewing war as an amoral process. Then again, I also tend to see crime in much the same fashion. (No such thing as criminals - just people, and crimes.)

There are times when the definitions of Enemy overlap with the definitions of Criminal, and the boundaries of the community can be quite fuzzy in practice. When the same acts and weapons and strategies are involved, we should be cautious of making arbitrary distinctions.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"But we don't talk about it much, we fans of hard science fiction. Most of the time we take whatever social structures we're familiar with and put them IN SPAAACE, instead of doing the (hard) work of figuring out the myriad possibilities and their consequences."

Which reminds me, I'm still waiting for you at the biplane hoplite cliff :)


"Which is a pity, because we humans are social creatures first and technological ones second,"

You need to be sociable to be technological. Without some kind of social sharing of knowledge, technology would have to be reinvented by each person and the species would never develop anything particularly advanced.


"and progress in the latter can, does and will continue to change the former."

Okay, so what do you think would be the likely social results of:
- Many humans living in artificially created environments, terraformed or paraterraformed. The latter will require active maintainance by qualified personell, while even the former leave humans keenly aware that they are in control of the environment, and its fate depends on their actions.
- Humanity being split among multiple communities (in the same solar system) that can communicate over minutes or hours (at light speed), but can only travel between over months. Remember the influence this will have on the internet, which grew under the assumption of near-instant communication.
- The economy having access to very large amounts of fusion energy, but still not being properly "post-scarcity" in the strict "we can simply replicate anything we want" sense.

Remember to build on currently existing society - trends will continue to evolve, but probably not suddenly change without warning.

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

For what it is worth, two of those big post-1945 wars were fought pretty early on in the post-1945 era. The Congo war is 'marginal' to the point where the great powers seem to be pretty much ignoring it.

As noted upthread, there was a level of militarism among the great powers a century ago that is profoundly unlike the modern great power world.

Great power war is certainly not the only kind of war, but it has been the brand leader, so to speak, since the bronze age. If it goes into abeyance for lack of satisfactory victory conditions, this will eventually echo down the line - all those AKs and RPGs got out there because they were manufactured in the twilight of great power warfare.

Over time, as their numbers dwindle, they may be replaced by a more miscellaneous bag of police and paramilitary weapons, but not available so cheaply or in such large numbers.

War is in some sense obsolete when it no longer dominates at the top of the power political food chain.

Raymond said...

Milo:

Working through the Hoplite Biplane scenario made me start thinking we have the ground war thread all wrong, mostly because the political structures which would lead to the war were so ill-defined (and probably incorrect). It's coming. As are a bucketful of analogies stretching from the Delian League to the actual (not perceived) topology of WWII, but I have to do some extra reading first, get my citations lined up. Spoilers: the First Solar War will start groundside, and the invasion of a unified planet will probably not come up.

Rick:

I find the Second Congo War fascinating, because:

- it started only twelve years ago, finished after America had invaded Iraq, and yet doesn't register in the consciousness of the West (everyone remembers the Rwandan genocide, but the Great War of Africa was a direct continuation of that conflict, and much larger in scope)

- it involved more non-state actors than national armies

- famine was used extensively as a strategic weapon

- most of the fighting was done by militias instead of regular forces, and with few, if any, large battles

- it redrew the political alignment of post-colonial Africa, with effects on mineral and oil resources that continue to be felt to this day

- despite killing more people than either the Korean or Vietnam wars, nobody talks about it when they talk about modern war

Milo said...

I know nearly nothing about Africa, either modern or ancient. It's rather embarrassing. Any other continent, I can name some cool civilization from there and at least describe a few salient points. In Africa, I draw a blank.

The one exception is Egypt, which is really more affiliated with the Middle East than to the rest of Africa.

I'm aware that there was at some point a genocide in Rwanda that people keep talking about, but I don't know the details.

Milo said...

More specifically, the fact that there was at some point a genocide there is the only thing I know about Rwanda.

Hugh said...

Raymond and Milo, perhaps one reason that the Congo War is so thoroughly ignored, despite the death toll, is that there's no apparent narrative.

Warfare between states generally has a "storyline" even if the original causes are somewhat obscure. Russia vs Germany, Iran vs Iraq, Britain vs Argentina. People who've been inhabitants of well established state (most of Europe, China, etc) can understand what's going on.

When trying to understand what's going in Congo, or happened in Rwanda, we tend to throw up in our hands in despair. It's obviously serious - these people are killing each other - but it doesn't fit into the pattern of state vs state. Nor is it obvious how to end such - do we invade the state? Is there even a state to invade?

Teleros said...

Milo: Anyway, the claim that in past eras Britain was happy to allow France to exist is plainly false.
And when finally kicked out ~1453 they gave up on the whole "king of France" thing, then did pretty much exactly what I said. Consider most of the period between the 100 Years' War & the Napoleonic Wars (or latter parts of the French Revolutionary Wars).
It's probably also worth mentioning that the 100 Years' War was really more of a dynastic struggle, and had the English won I suspect the capital would've been moved to Paris sooner or later :P .

Raymond: Those limits of Clausewitz, both self-imposed and external, cover such a range of possibilities that I don't really think it's a useful statement.
That's why I said to read his work :P .
http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/OnWar1873/TOC.htm - in particular, Book 1 Chapter 1
Note: this translation has been bettered, but it's free & online.

Thucydides said...

Blog posts are so limiting.

VDH says the key difference between the West and the rest is our doctrine of victory through shock action.

The ancient Greeks strove for (and accepted) that the results of a single battle decided the war, and this state of affairs held through the classical period, until the Persian Wars exposed the Greeks to many outside influences and the demagogues behind the Peloponnesian Wars would not accept the decision of a single battle. (Once again, this is a bit of a paraphrase).

Other cultures certainly fought, but many of the reasons, and more importantly, the victory conditions were different. Some other cultural concepts come into play here; Greek and Roman armies discounted archers and considered retreat shameful; even advanced armies of the middle east in that period did not.

Even today, Western armies and nations seek decisive victory in battle. George W Bush's "Mission Accomplished" was no accident or mistake, since major combat operations against the Iraqi army had been finished, by standard Western reckoning we had indeed won. Too bad the Jihadis, Ba'athists, Iranian's and Wahhabi's didn't agree. (Looking over the various phases of the Insurgency, you can almost read the progression of rooting out and defeating each element in turn).

So the idea of organized violence will continue. Future wars might not be recognizable to us, since they will resemble extended feuds, gang fights, have unrecognizable actors and narratives and (sadly) not involve constellations of spaceships.

Raymond said...

Teleros:

Decent translation. My copy's buried in a box in another city, so I can't give a more thorough opinion. However,

"...for the very short version... all wars tend towards total war-style mobilisation, until they come up against a combination of self-imposed limits (if any) or externally-imposed limits (like the need to keep the factories properly staffed)..."

is, I believe, a misinterpretation. Clausewitz makes clear that wars can escalate towards total, but also states that smaller ones tend to remain in proportion to the significance of the objective. From that translation, book one, chapter one, section twenty-five:

"The greater and more powerful the motives of a war, the more it affects the whole existence of a people, the more violent the excitement which precedes the war, by so much the nearer will the war approach to its abstract form, so much the more will it be directed to the destruction of the enemy, so much the nearer will the military and political ends coincide, so much the more purely military and less political the war appears to be; but the weaker the motives and the tensions, so much the less will the natural direction of the military element—that is, force—be coincident with the direction which the political element indicates; so much the more must therefore the war become diverted from its natural direction, the political object diverge from the aim of an ideal war, and the war appear to become political.

But that the reader may not form any false conceptions, we must here observe that, by this natural tendency of war, we only mean the philosophical, the strictly logical, and by no means the tendency of forces actually engaged in conflict, by which would be supposed to be included all the emotions and passions of the combatants. No doubt in some cases these also might be excited to such a degree as to be with difficulty restrained and confined to the political road; but in most cases such a contradiction will not arise, because, by the existence of such strenuous exertions a great plan in harmony therewith would be implied. If the plan is directed only upon a small object, then the impulses of feeling amongst the masses will be also so weak, that these masses will require to be stimulated rather than repressed."


Note the inherent implication of the nation-state structure, with its unified but fickle populace and its clarity of existence. It's a reasonable assumption, if you're talking nineteenth-century European great powers. I doubt Cato the Elder would conceive it in quite the same way.

Also note that the external limits can and do include the need to prevent escalation, which has factored significantly in wars from Korea onward.

Milo said...

Hugh:

"Warfare between states generally has a "storyline" even if the original causes are somewhat obscure. Russia vs Germany, Iran vs Iraq, Britain vs Argentina. People who've been inhabitants of well established state (most of Europe, China, etc) can understand what's going on."

Speaking of which, can you explain World War 1 to me? I mean, I know about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and about the interlocking domino chain treaties, but can that actually explain everything? What was each country's long-term objective for the war?

In World War 2 you can generally distinguish countries that were trying to take over a large amount of territory, and countries that were trying to not get taken over. An oversimplification, maybe, but at least it's there. I've never been able to tell who's trying to take over what in WW1.

One thing that helps, though, is that I already know who Russia, Germany, etc. are, and I have a vague idea of where they stood in relation to each other before and after each war. I have no idea what nations (or tribes) are to be found in Africa, so it basically comes down to "some people I've never heard of fight some other people I've never heard of for a reason that was never explained to me".


Thucydides:

"VDH says the key difference between the West and the rest is our doctrine of victory through shock action."

That's odd, since when I picture a Romance-friendly war, I picture a lot of give-and-take, with territory constantly changing hands as nations move their forces around in an attempt to gain a strategic advantage over the other. Shock action takes place frequently at important turning points, but the war isn't won in a single battle.

Tony said...

Milo:

"That's odd, since when I picture a Romance-friendly war, I picture a lot of give-and-take, with territory constantly changing hands as nations move their forces around in an attempt to gain a strategic advantage over the other. Shock action takes place frequently at important turning points, but the war isn't won in a single battle."

Despite the tens of millions of casulaties, WW2 was a very romance friendly war, to the point that WW2 novels are arguably in their own literary genre, and "war movie", to people above a certain age, is an expression refering to a movie about WW2. Yet within that war, there was not a whole lot of jockeying for position. The plot in all theaters was a surge of conquest by the Axis powers, resistance and retrenchment by the Allies, then a surge of reconquest. The only theaters in which there was significant give and take, back and forth, were North Africa and NE India. Yet those are (rightly) considered marginal and not much has been written about them, compared to the major fronts.

I think this illustrates that romance is not best served by detail and intrigue -- except in a cold war, where intrigue is the only thing going on -- but by large events and large characters, upon which great drama can depend.

Tony said...

Milo:

"Speaking of which, can you explain World War 1 to me? I mean, I know about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and about the interlocking domino chain treaties, but can that actually explain everything? What was each country's long-term objective for the war?"

Initially, it was viewed by all participants as a typical European dominance game, not unlike the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. One side would make its point to the other, a few provinces would change hands in the peace treaties, and that would be that.

Then things got out of hand, the realities and logic of total war expressed themselves, and it became about political and cultural survival. The purpose of decision had changed from establishing who was the Big Sexy to making the world "safe for democracy" or defending the rights and independent existence of "the fatherland"

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"VDH says the key difference between the West and the rest is our doctrine of victory through shock action."

Typical VDH overstatement. The Classical Greeks were, for a time, more dedicated to accepting the decision of one battle because it fit their economy and culture. But things changed...

"...the demagogues behind the Peloponnesian Wars would not accept the decision of a single battle. (Once again, this is a bit of a paraphrase)."

The demagoguery of a single man or a samll group, even if led by a Pericles was not going to make the Peloponnesian war happen that way it did. It was the development over the preceding century of Athens's trade empire that made it possible. Once you realize you can live indefinitely on Ukrainian wheat, Lacadaemonian occupation of the Attic agricultural hinterland doesn't seem like that big a deal. Certainly it's not a big enough deal to risk all on a single hoplite battle.

On a more general note, the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent were heavily into decisive warfare long before there were any recognizably Greek polities in the Balkans. The Stele of Vultures, for example, carved 4,500 years ago, clearly shows a phalanx of infantry. More recently, bas reliefs dated to the rule of Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (mid-8th Century BCE) show siege engines. Inscriptions from that time and earlier include hair raising accounts of sieges and the fate of the defenders (extermination or slavery, mostly). This shows a definite preference for coming to grips with one's enemies -- or, in the case of expansionist Assyria, victims -- and fighting to a decision sooner rather than later.

Milo said...

Tony:

"I think this illustrates that romance is not best served by detail and intrigue -- except in a cold war, where intrigue is the only thing going on -- but by large events and large characters, upon which great drama can depend."

I didn't mean in the sense of intrigue, but in the sense of "We're wearing ourselves down trying to get at the enemy, but then we had the idea that they have a weak point at this one area and that if we could capture it it could throw their whole front open..." -> "The enemy ambushed our weak point and is now swarming our poorly guarded regions. Quick, we need to rig up an emergency defense! Go go go!" -> "Uh-oh, the enemy dealt with our gambit better than we thought they would, and now our spearhead force is trapped behind enemy lines. Can they hold out until we rescue them?" -> etc.

A war that's won in a single shock battle works fine when the war is an element of a larger adventure story, but not when the war itself forms the basis of the plot.


"The purpose of decision had changed from establishing who was the Big Sexy to making the world "safe for democracy" or defending the rights and independent existence of "the fatherland""

Yeah, but... if your goal is just to preserve your own existence, then shouldn't that only cause a war if at least one person is actively threatening your existence?

If everyone involved just wants to be left alone, then it would seem easier to... leave each other alone.

Was it just one collosal screw-up of the Prisoner's Dilemma?


"The Classical Greeks were, for a time, more dedicated to accepting the decision of one battle because it fit their economy and culture."

The Greeks were a collection of individual city-states, which limits how much of a war they could fight.

Larger multi-city nations can capture a few cities from each other without completely defeating each other, so they did. City-states will often settle things in a single battle simply because of the small scales involved.

This has some ramifications on planet-states vs multi-planet empires...

Albert said...

The point is that War itself is a tool, not a goal. Just like money.

And if a tool is ineffective, other ways will be devised to reach the objective. (that would be Power, Wealth, Women, just as usual)

And to me looks like it is not cost-effective, nowadays.
You cannot go "pillage the village and steal their women" without paying a much higher price in military equipment.

So war begin only under the umbrella of "ideological reasons" (that allows a tiny minority to reach his objective for free, while the majority of the nation pays the hefty price and doesn't get any benefit)

But noone says that it cannot become again the best way to get what you want after some tech advance. Maybe deflector shields?
We need decent defensive tech. The "Run and Hide" strategy has alredy reached its limits centuries ago.

Although, some ways of thinking are plain wrong today due to changes in economics.

"My Nation needs resources"
Who needs resources? Who builds items. And who builds items?
A corporation, that generally can go and take resources no matter where they are, place fabs where they can pay the workers less and their headquarters where the laws about what they are doig are lax. They lost their nationality long ago, much easier doing profits this way.

"My people needs space to live"
Not a good reason lately. Most First/second World populations struggle to keep from declining.
Other nations aren't able to patrol their borders, figure going to war.

"My nation can endure a real war"
NO WAY. At least not without removing all the toys we now take for granted. And this is the so-called "internal front". If enough whiners rise up, the government will have to stop fighting even if it is theoretically winning. Maybe. (Vietnam? Iraq?)
In WWII the people had to live in nealry Third World country conditions. How much you think 21th century people will endure living without Internet, cable tv, Sky, electric power, foodstuffs from all over the globe, OIL FOR THEIR CARS AND TRUCKS... and I can go on with the list.

Hitler had to hamper his military production to keep the commercial fabs churning products to keep germans reasonably happy. Otherwise he would have incurred in the same "internal front collapse".

This kind of thinking allows only defensive wars. And even then, at the first telltale of a treaty, they will be eager to sign.

Also, nowadays there are so much connections that most nations have lost some kinds of critical industry because it is easier and cheaper to import stuff done by pros in another nation.
Electronics for example. How much chips are done in the US? And in Taiwan?
And the same goes for the exisitng industry, apart from nations that have big internal markets like US and China, most industries and mines are made to export. If you cut the trade because it is now an "enemy", you have ludicrously overpowered infrastructure that will nor be able to pay for its mainteneance with just your (and your allies) internal market.
In a real war this will expose you to much more economical damage than a nuke or a zillion blood-thirsty SS will ever hope to deal.
A war would mean Instant-Recession, much worse than what is the recession of these years.

So, even with SF deflector shields, trade will still have to go on, or you lose the war due to economic collapse.

-Albert

Milo said...

Albert:

"We need decent defensive tech. The "Run and Hide" strategy has alredy reached its limits centuries ago."

I discussed this more elaborately back here. No suggestions for a solution, though, just a more detailed explanation of the problem.


"So, even with SF deflector shields, trade will still have to go on, or you lose the war due to economic collapse."

A planet-sized area can have a pretty decent economy on its own. There is a middle ground between "trade is too expensive to be worthwhile, and will never happen" and "we are completely reliant on trade, and losing it will destroy our nation". We know this middle ground exists, because we've been there for the majority of our history.

Also, it's perfectly possible that there are neutral factions in the war that are perfectly happy to keep trading.

Hugh said...

Milo,
"Speaking of which, can you explain World War 1 to me? I mean, I know about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and about the interlocking domino chain treaties, but can that actually explain everything? What was each country's long-term objective for the war?"

Tony summed it up pretty well. I'd emphasise the difference between the causes, which were indeed petty and obscure, and with what happened afterwards which was (to most of us reading) a clear-cut Britain + France vs Germany struggle between states.

Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" is as good as any history of the lead-up to WWI. Particularly worth reading for the attitudes and motivations of all the governments involved, plus autocrats like the Kaiser. When you ask

"If everyone involved just wants to be left alone, then it would seem easier to... leave each other alone."

You're expressing a post-WWII belief, and more or less the basis for the United Nations. In the 19th century (which sort of lasted until 1914) people didn't think that way.

Raymond, been thinking about post-state structures of power and no they shouldn't be hand-waved away. On the other hand, are they really such a modern development? The British East India company in particular used to wage fairly large scale military operations for commercial reasons. And ask any Chinese about the Opium War...

Raymond said...

Hugh:

You re right; we have plenty of precedents. Many of them were during the period where we normally pay attention to the machinations of the European powers. I prefer to look at the Hudson's Bay Company, though, since it's closer to home for me and still survives after a fashion. (Side note: there was quite the kerfuffle about the New York-based company who bought them and their plans to sell the collection of artifacts and documents from HBC's 340-year history. Luckily, it didn't happen.) It also wasn't the creation of the Crown like the EIC.

The interplay during the eighteenth century between the French, English, Huron, Iroquois, Cree, Metis, Canadiens, independent trappers, and fringe religious communities in what would become Canada was fascinating, and often had very little in common with what we normally regard as statecraft. Modern points of reference should probably start with the militias which multiply like rabbits in weak states and warzones (and their frequent interactions with corporations seeking to protect or expand their interests). Then we can expand a bit to the leftover elements of the Soviet intelligence apparatus, dealing in crime and politics in equal measure. If we want to talk about mercenaries, then forget Blackwater (which were/are almost entirely dependent on the US gov't) and look instead at Executive Outcomes, which were featured prominently in Angola and Sierra Leone.

As for SF literary examinations, I must admit to being quite remiss in failing to mention Alfred Bester (The Stars My Destination had a very different social order at its core) and Cordwainer Smith (who drew heavily from the bureaucracy of Imperial China).

Carla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cambias said...

The methods of warfare reflect not just the weapon technology, but the entire societies involved. If you're in feudal Europe, then warfare will consist of noblemen trying to steal land from each other. If you're in industrial Europe, then war consists of total mobilization to spread your ideology -- or rapid, limited-damage wars which can be paid for out of the enemy's reparations.

And if you're in our high-tech, media-saturated world, warfare consists of making the other side look bad on television, in order to convince viewers in your power base that you are winning, and viewers in their power base that they are losing. Textbook example: Tet offensive.

Future war may be more of the same. We may never again see two uniformed armies go into combat against each other, unless democracy and free media break down.

Tony said...

Milo:

"Yeah, but... if your goal is just to preserve your own existence, then shouldn't that only cause a war if at least one person is actively threatening your existence?"

National survival was not the initial objective, except for the Serbians. The objectives were some mix of affirmation (or reaffirmation) of national honor, revenge for past dishonors, and maintenance of the Continental power balance. But as the war went on and on, the sacrifices made had to be met with expanded objectives. So the Allies enlarged their goals to the decisive defeat of German/Austrian imperialism and militarism. This forced the Central Powers away from relatively tame national policy objectives and self-assertion, towards national survival.

Tony said...

I find predictions of future war being about information or media dominance, seemingly without any real fighting, to be a bit too trendy and cliche. Propaganda victories, from Tet to the Baghdad Thunder Run weren't built on clever PR. They were the result of real military actions. Without those battles, all the propaganda in the world is just empty chest-thumping.

Albert said...

Milo said...
A planet-sized area can have a pretty decent economy on its own. You mean planet-wide nations? Sure. Earth isn't even under the same nation but has a pretty auto-sufficient economy.

I don't think "space colonies" will really rise to any importance anytime soon.

There is a middle ground between "trade is too expensive to be worthwhile, and will never happen" and "we are completely reliant on trade, and losing it will destroy our nation". We know this middle ground exists, because we've been there for the majority of our history.
That's a thing started with industrialization. As shipping stuff around became tivial, zillions of fabs building the same stuff went into a bloody competition with each other and the less-able were blasted away or absorbed. So not all nations have one of such industries left in its territory, and are actually happier this way, as the product is cheaper.
The same goes for foodstuffs. You will find gigantic fertile areas without a single industry feeding loads of industrial areas without a single fertile field. (a little exaggerating)

Mussolini tried autarchy for Italy 50 years ago or so, but it didn't worked that well, and today the population is even more. Europe won't survive without foodstuff from other nations with more fertile areas.
(well, it will survive, but the population will decrease drastically)

That there are neutral factions in the war that are perfectly happy to keep trading.
That assumes the nation in war is still wealthy enough to allow the average joe to have some pocket money.
Probably foodstuffs and equipment for primary needs will have priority.
I doubt people will waste money on playstations when in war (especially with all that copy-protection crap.. but anyway).
And such "luxuries" markets will gratly suffer.

Tony said...
Propaganda victories, from Tet to the Baghdad Thunder Run weren't built on clever PR. They were the result of real military actions. Without those battles, all the propaganda in the world is just empty chest-thumping.
I agree that without seeing some deads noone really cares of what is going on. PR alone is just a lie.

On a tangent, Baghdad thunder run wasn't exactly a military action that can be compared to Tet.
Iraq had the average strenght of wet paper, and was mopped up in weeks.

But anyway, I think "future wars" between major nations will be more like Cold War.
Some posturing, a little skirimisk covered up, some diplomatic intrigue.
And you add aggravatingly annoying media spewing propaganda to the wagon. Like Fox news.

And some fun time with insurgents and annoying rebels in some random place that has resources everyone wants.

Probably our more blood-thirsty ancestors would call this "peace".
But it isn't in my book.

-Albert

Hugh said...

Being a glass half full type, I agree with our host that the world is becoming a more peaceful place as inter-state violence becomes too expensive and dangerous for the perpetrators.

To me, it's a two phase process. In phase 1, the state establishes a monopoly on organised large scale violence. Sure we still have murders, brawls, and gang fights; but we don't have militias, warlords, or corporate armies.

Phase 1 is not unconditionally a Good Thing: the wars between states often kill far more people than before until we get to phase 2, where everyone starts to realise this is not a sensible way to carry on. Up to you whether this is due to more enlightened policies, cost-benefit analysis, or mutual assured destruction.

Over most of Europe, Eastern Asia, North and South America we seem to have largely reached phase 2.

Question is, is this stable? After all, prophets from communist to anarchist to libertarian all expect the state to wither away. If that happens, will warfare start up again?

I also wonder, could MAD encourage more internal atrocities? Post WWII, states which decided to massacre parts of their own population frequently were stopped from doing so by a neighbour invading (Amin Uganda, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Serbian Kosovo). Even in cases today like Darfur, there's no question that if an external military force decided to intervene, it could. But what happens if the country doing the massacring also has nukes?

Milo said...

Albert:

"I don't think "space colonies" will really rise to any importance anytime soon."

We are at the Rocketpunk Manifesto. Obviously we are here to discuss what happens when they do rise to importance, no matter how much suspension of disbelief that requires.


"That's a thing started with industrialization. As shipping stuff around became tivial, zillions of fabs building the same stuff went into a bloody competition with each other and the less-able were blasted away or absorbed."

Shipping stuff across interplanetary distances is not trivial. Even if (in our plausible midfuture) it's going to be economically viable, it's not immediately going to be trivial.

Obviously once technology improves enough that interplanetary or even interstellar travel is trivial, then that will bolster the galactic economy.

So we've actually come to a useful realization: for the purposes of Romance, to have an interesting setting, things (trading, killing people, whatever) have to be possible, but not easy. Which isn't too surprising. Can't tell a story when the hero's success or failure is foreordained before you get past the first chapter.


"So not all nations have one of such industries left in its territory, and are actually happier this way, as the product is cheaper."

Yes, and we're also happier not having constant wars, but that alone won't make it so.



Hugh:

"In phase 1, the state establishes a monopoly on organised large scale violence. Sure we still have murders, brawls, and gang fights; but we don't have militias, warlords, or corporate armies."

So multiple small militias simplify into a single state-wide army. Wouldn't this phase be analogous to numerous armed nations on Earth simplifying to a single Tellurian Armada? And then in due time even a planet-state will come to be seen as quaint, and all the real force is monopolized by multi-star-system empires.

This isn't anything new. Even a thousand years ago in the medieval era, a single "political unit" (a country under control of a king, or even Catholic Europe under the Pope) was far wider-reaching than a Sumerian city-state, which was in turn far bigger than a single nomadic hunter-gatherer band. Yes, they were rather feudal and smaller nobles were doing their own stuff, but even so, there is an obvious trend of increasing power consolidation over time. This can be countered by increasing the total number of area that needs to be consolidated, i.e., expanding to other planets, and then to other stars.

Milo said...

An elaboration: over history, travel and communication speeds have been steadily increasing. As travel ranges increased, the sizes of empires' "strongly controlled areas" and "weakly controlled areas" increased with them, so things kept happening on a steadily larger scale.

The thing is that we then ran out of space. Earth is spherical, so when we got to the point we could travel far enough, we found ourselves wrapping around and coming back where we started. Thus anywhere on the planet became accessible in weeks, and undaunted, travel technology continued to advance until most important places became accessible in hours. Still continuing, technology then reached the point where our weapon ranges could reach anywhere on the planet without too much trouble. And yet we still can't manage to reach the next farther object worth going to (the moon), due to the large distance and the difficult terrain.

When we do manage to get to Luna and put something meaningful there, this lock-in will be broken. By the time travel to Luna will be easy, and dome colonies have been perfected, we'll probably be able to reach Mars or Jupiter. The next "ran out of space" event, where our world is entirely divided into places we can easily reach and places we can barely reach at all with no in-between, will only happen when we control the entire solar system and have relativistic-speed in-system travel, but still can't reach other star systems. Once we do manage FTL interstellar travel, it'll be a long, long time before another "ran out of space" event takes place. By the time you can cross the entire Milky Way in days, you'll be able to reach Andromeda in months.

Thucydides said...

Getting back to the idea of peace, one of the reasons we have armed forces of various sorts is efficiency.

In a state of nature, each and every one of us would need to be armed and ready to protect ourselves at a moments notice from various thugs and brigands who would seek to deprive us of our wealth and liberty, or even our lives. Obviously, very little would get done under such a scenario.

A professional police force protects large numbers of people from criminals, and a professional military force protects the population from external threats (This is a fairly modern distinction, and many nations still have military or paramilitary forces which carry out duties we would consider policing). In the United States, about one and a half million people take on the task of protecting the other 300 million Americans (and take on the load for a great many other nations around the world as well); perhaps the ultimate economy of force mission since the vast majority of the population can carry out productive tasks without threat or interruption.

In a rational world, even this would not be required, but even libertarians know that the world and its peoples are not always sane and rational, and a large minority of people would choose to use force or fraud against others for their personal benefit. Someone or something needs to protect the majority from this minority (and some people are so wedded to the idea they can take what they want that maybe killing them is the only effective way to protect everyone else).

Small armies and local militias are perhaps the only way to limit the spread of war (each one can only protect a limited area, spread its influence over a small area and acts as a firebreak against the spread of violence) Once again, this is perhaps a limited response that only works in our sort of culture.

MRig said...

Raymond: I'm very interested in the Second Congo War. I don't know much about it now but I'm currently in a class about these things. We've just finished Liberia/Sierra Leone and are moving on to Ethiopia/Eritrea. Very interesting stuff.

I wouldn't presume to consider Korea, Congo, and Vietnam unimportant, and on the surface it's a pretty clear refutation of my assertions about something like world peace already existing. I think it's important to clarify exactly what I mean by that.

I'm saying that about 2/3 of the world does not see what we'd generally consider "war." War still occurs in the other 1/3 of the world, and powers from the peaceful 1/3 do sometimes participate, but they do not fight one another and war does not reach their soil.

State war is pretty much extinct in most of Europe, East Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. This wonderful achievement of late modernity has, however, not yet reached the world's hinterlands. There's a pretty clear trajectory of it, though: South Korea is in the 2/3, Vietnam is well on its way if not there, Congo and North Korea lag behind.

In North Korea's case I predict an implosion followed by a massive international reconstruction under UN auspices but led by South Korea, China, and the United States, with a gradual rehabilitation of the basket-case as the old generation starts to die off.

As for Congo, I don't know. What do you think?

Tony: What exactly do you mean when you say tribal primitive?

Tony said...

MRig:

"Tony: What exactly do you mean when you say tribal primitive?"

Tribal groups that occupy regular resource areas which they more or less consider their "own", and with respect to which they perceive territorial imperatives. These groups can be nomadic, semi-nomadic, or even mostly sedentary. They can practice and combination of husbandry, hunting, or opportunistic exploitation of plant life. They can even engage in garden agriculture.

What I think is important about such a wide range of primitive (and not so primitive -- the Mongols and most other horse barbarians would have fit the description) cultures is that they recognize some piece of territory as their "own" and are willing to fight over it, rather than move on. And, because territoriality ultimately drives out non-territorial groups, these tribal cultures marginalized the hunter-gatherer to the point of irrelevance in the dicussion of warfare. You may see something as primitive as a Amazonian tribal culture and see it as hunter-gatherer because of its resource gathering tactics, but even this kind of culture exerts territorial control and engages in territorial warfare, even though it may move around and redefine what its territory is over the course of decades.

Tony said...

Milo:

"I didn't mean in the sense of intrigue, but in the sense of "We're wearing ourselves down trying to get at the enemy, but then we had the idea that they have a weak point at this one area and that if we could capture it it could throw their whole front open..." -> "The enemy ambushed our weak point and is now swarming our poorly guarded regions. Quick, we need to rig up an emergency defense! Go go go!" -> "Uh-oh, the enemy dealt with our gambit better than we thought they would, and now our spearhead force is trapped behind enemy lines. Can they hold out until we rescue them?" -> etc."

Hmmm...how to put this...

War doesn't move at the speed of plot. Information within war moves even slower. "The enemy did this, therefore we should do that" kind of plot device has some real verisimilitude issues. Most often in war, what you think the enemy is doing is not what he's actually up to. If you're strong enough to overcome that, then almost anything the enemy does is a nuisance, not a real poblem -- or a credible plot complication. Adventure happens when the enemy totally screws you up, or you make big mistakes interpreting his actions, or you're not strong enough to easily overcome your errors/misapprehensions/weaknesses/luck. Usually all three happen at the same time.

If you want an example of how to write about war, I can think of none better than Starship Troopers, particularly the First Battle of Klendathu scene. In it, Heinlein provides a top-down objective explanation of what is going on, then immerses the reader in a grunt's eye view of a military disaster (which in some respects doesn't look noticeably different from a military triumph). It's important to include bot hviewpoints, so that objective is not a detached catalogue of events, while the subjective is not an exercise in gratuitous sensationalism.

Am I making any sense here?

Thucydides said...

The "peaceful" states of the world are only peaceful because they currently have internal structures which allow the peaceful deflection of dissent and enough State power to suppress banditry to an "acceptable" level, as well as enough military power to deter potential warlords from coming in to seize the rest.

There is no reason to suppose this state of affairs will continue into the future; the Res Publica Roma eventually collapsed as conflicts over political power and the division of wealth grew into civil war; one could write similar scenarios over today's welfare state.

Fanaticism might become rewarded at some point; Ralph Peter's new novel "The War after Armageddon" has a scenario where the United States is overtaken by a wave of Christian fanaticism after nuclear provocation by the Jihadis, unleashing a new crusade (in the literal sense of the word) armed with nuclear fire and sword.

Ideology and Religion have been two big reasons that people fight, we might not even recognize them at first (reading some of the more extreme environmental screeds you get the sense that Environmentalism is a form of religion, and some "ecowarriors" and eco terrorists would fit the profiles of Jihadis or 12th century Crusaders by substituting the manifesto), nor have any real idea how to protect ourselves.

This is also the reason Western military forces do so poorly in insurgency warfare. They are programmed to recognize a straight up fight against peers, and seek decisive results on the battlefield (shock action). Western militaries "know" how to defeat insurgents, and have known since the late 1800's when Joseph-Simon Gallieni developed the tache d’huile strategy in French Indochina.

This is a long, patient strategy of organization, politics, trust building and infrastructure support, not something "warriors" would get behind. Playing "whack a mole" with the Taliban is more satisfying in the short term, fits the warrior quest to defeat the enemy through decisive battle (shock action again) and delivers short term results.

Since the military institutions we have aren't equipped or don't care to do this, we see anomalous events like the USMC seizing control of Hispaniola between 1913 and 1934, running the island in an efficient and corruption free manner (including getting roads and hospitals built), then leaving, with the island sliding back into anarchy in a few short years as no institutions or basis of institutional support were created.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"tache d’huile strategy in French Indochina.

...

Since the military institutions we have aren't equipped or don't care to do this..."


I would say that both cases say more about the strategic policies in play than they do about the institutions implementing them. In the case of French Indochina, the policy was imperialist and presistent. It made sense to build institutions and coopt locals into them. But, nota bene, that this only worked for a time. In less than a century, a combination of lost focus, dimished power, and a general local dissatisfaction with French administration led to the French being run out.

In the case of the US, the policy has generally been to fix a perceived problem and get out. No long-term persistence is asked for or even desired. That leads the implementing institutions into doing things that have tangible short-term results. IOW, one's metrics fit one's window of opportunity.

Raymond said...

MRig:

The common thread between the Korean, Vietnam (better yet, the larger thirty-year Indochina conflict) and Second Congo wars is that they were all, at their core, civil wars in a post-colonial context driven and fed by larger powers. And while civil wars are inherently nasty, they're less likely to bring nuclear weapons into play and involve a greater proportion of irregular and non-state forces. Which, by the way, have become more sophisticated and distributed and have access to a large share of arms once seen only in state armies (eg Hezbollah with aerial recon drones, Somali warlords with ersatz navies, Afghan militias with SAMs, central African militias with artillery pieces). This trend may accelerate as consumer electronics aid in the proliferation of smart weapons. Post-state structures may go even further down this path, and skirt the limitations of nuclear MAD (about the only thing which kept 2/3 of the world from warring directly with each other). One of the reasons I'm keenly interested in their evolution.

I also have to agree with Thucydides that we can't assume anything about the permanence of the current batch of states; there's nothing in theory to prevent with any certainty the United States falling into another civil war, the breakup of the (still-young) European Union, or the implosion of a China grown too ungovernable.

Milo said...

Tony:

"Most often in war, what you think the enemy is doing is not what he's actually up to."

Which is why plans you thought were going to work can end up not actually working, thus extending the story past a single chapter.

While in real wars you don't know exactly what's going on, you're also not going to blindly shoot in random directions without any idea of where the enemy is.

In my example scenario, the sides didn't have perfect information - the first side misestimated how fast the second side could react, while the second side managed to scramble up an adequate defense in time but still didn't realize the attack was coming in advance.

MRig said...

Tony: An interesting distinction...what literature does it draw from? I must admit I don't have the same level of anthropological knowledge that I should.

Robert: Good point about them being civil wars fueled by outside powers. Yet another reason I don't miss the Cold War. I've heard Congo compared, I think on this blog, to rather like Germany's Thirty Years War. Thankfully we have (for now at least) moved beyond the age in which the actions of one great- or superpower are automatically matched by the other. The post-89 world still hasn't figured out what to do instead, though.

MAD is clearly a big part of our peace, but I don't think it's sufficient to explain it. Brazil and Venezuela don't have nukes, I don't see them going at it. Sure, India would probably fight Pakistan, but India is in the 2/3 and Pakistan's in the 1/3. I think we should also consider the democratic peace theory, economic development and globalization, and the hegemony of the U.S. as contributors.

And sure, it could all fall apart. Rome lasted centuries. Will we be at each other's throats in 2210? Who knows. But the U.S. isn't on the verge of a new civil war. Even if the right got really radical ten years from now and rose up because the ATF started keeping a list of gun owners or something, it's swiftly put down and order restored.

The biggest danger I can see is a Chinese/Indian standoff, with Russia and the United States as wild cards. Even that though is decades down the line: China is rising, China will slow, India will catch up, then you get the tension. Unfortunate as it would be, the economics and the MAD would give us something more like the third World War and less like the first two.

I'm not saying world peace has been achieved and I'm not saying it would last forever. I do think we've made tremendous progress, and a truly peaceful future is a possibility of this century.

Raymond said...

MRig:

You mean me, right?

Economic development is why the BRIC countries are bigger players now, and when you add in countries like Nigeria and Indonesia, each with populations in the hundreds of millions (~160 for Nigeria, ~230 for Indonesia), large economies, and massive internal strife, you get a pretty large number of permutations of conflict.

Globalization has caused as many problems as it's solved and deepened resentments in the countries it's screwed over. And yes, we have to give at least lip service to the American hegemony's contributions to peace (or at least its redirection of the battlegrounds to the "margins"), but that tightrope has become much more treacherous over the last decade, hasn't it?

And I don't mean to imply the US is about to plunge into civil war, but the possibility (over the next fifty or a hundred years) can't be discounted so easily. (Have you read Brian Wood's excellent graphic novel DMZ? Brilliant examination of the potential and its effects. Highly recommended.)

This era just feels to me much like the century between the defeat of Napoleon and the outbreak of WWI. Peace where we care to look (mostly at ourselves), but on the other side of the world the future is taking shape. And the rank amateurs know more about the shape of the next war than we do.

Perhaps I'm a cynic. (No, wait, I know I am. I was just about to try and insist on the term "realist", which is always a symptom.) But better to be pleasantly surprised than horrifyingly caught off-guard.

Tony said...

MRig:

"Tony: An interesting distinction...what literature does it draw from? I must admit I don't have the same level of anthropological knowledge that I should."

One can find bits and pieces all over the place. The idea that even primitive peoples are almost iescapably warlike comes from Keeley's War Before Civilization.

Also, we're not living under the constraints of a high school debate competition, where every opinion has to be formally supported. We can and should reason about what we know. If we accept that territorial cultures exist, and that they fight to defend their claimed resource areas, we would naturally and logically expect the huntin-gathering nomads would go somewhere else, and eventually be marginalized as the world fills up with those who will calim territories and fight for them. We don't need someone with a PhD to tell us that.

Albert said...

Milo said...
We are at the Rocketpunk Manifesto. Obviously we are here to discuss what happens when they do rise to importance, no matter how much suspension of disbelief that requires.
Well, I didn't said "no space colonies", I said that they won't realistically become important for Earth economy no matter how hard they try (except for Mc Guffinite mines).
I'd like to add that probably this will lead to a division of Space Colony Economy and Earth Internal Economy. With very limited economic exchange between the two.

I'm assuming orbital colonies because ground colonies on barren rocks without even decent gravity don't make a lot of sense for me.

Shipping stuff across interplanetary distances is not trivial.
I was talking about what happened to Earth to get where we are now.
But that's a godd point, that can be used to explain why Earth's economy will be closed to orbital colony products. They will mine and produce for colonies in the Earth Sphere (Earth orbital space and lagrange points), but not for Earth.

Yes, and we're also happier not having constant wars, but that alone won't make it so.
You sure? When a nation goes to war, it's because people think it is the solution to their problems.
Or politicians make them believe so (from Cesar to Hitler to Bush).

The thing is that we then ran out of space.
While true for the past events, imho "running out of space" isn't a plausible explanation for war as it is for space colonization.
As the quality of life increases, the number of newborns decreases. It is nearly arithmetic for all wealthy nations.

Thucydides said...
The United States is overtaken by a wave of Christian fanaticism after nuclear provocation by the Jihadis, unleashing a new crusade (in the literal sense of the word) armed with nuclear fire and sword. Fanaticism in one religion doesn't spread so fast, it is going to need a decade or so.
Also, that kind of fanaticism tends to backfire, how many times you had religious movements that wanted to stop/bend science due to "unholy disocveries" (first with eliocentrism and now with evolutionism) or deemed modern practices "unholy" and wanted to get back to a "pure stone age" (little exaggeration).
Nuclear mastery requires stuff that most fundies would reject (like decay times) because it would prove Earth much older than (idiotic interpretations of) the Book claims it is.

Although I think that if Al Quaeda nuked twin towers instead of just kamikazing aircraft, the reaction would have been pretty much a crusade even from not-so-fanatics.

@Raymond: I fully agree on multiple possibilities of future conflict from the emerging new powers, but I think the older nations like US, Europe, Russia and possibly China and India have no good reason to fight each other anymore (over what btw?).
Future wars may very well be more akin to over-equipped civil wars than to the level of fighting and destruction WWI and WWII had accustomed us to. (although will be just as or even more bloody)

A little like Apollo was the greatest achievement in space stuff and everything else no matter how actually cool (*cough* ISS *cough*) still looks tiny in comparison.

-Albert

Tony said...

Milo:

"Which is why plans you thought were going to work can end up not actually working, thus extending the story past a single chapter."

What I'm trying to get at is that most romances don't realize just how imperfect information can be, for either the protagonist or antagonist, nor how long it takes to crystalize into something resembling a structured narrative.

Just for example, say you're writing about the US 1st Marine Division in Kuwait on 25 FEB 1991. The Iraqis in the area mounted a brigade sized counterattack that quite accidentally, but serendipitously, hit an opening between the division lead elements and the task force supposed to be guarding the division right flank. Various Marine units dealt with Iraqis that blundered into them, or that they had blundered into themselves, and things were straightened out by 1100. Most romances would follow that narrative arc, with the personal actions of the protagonists interpolated in detail.

But in the real event, there was no ccoherent picture of what exactly had happened, and one didn't really develop until months (and in some details years) after the battle. At the front line, grunt's eye level, it was literally a morning of dealing with mosnters lurking in the fog.

The narratively tidy cause-leads-to-effect formula just doesn't capture that. It misleads the naive reader into thinking reall life does proceed in logical steps, for understood reasons. For the experienced reader, the most common reaction is to snort, "How could they have known that!?" The book is then set down, never to be picked up again.

Raymond said...

Albert:

Europe and Russia still don't like each other much, and Russia's dominance over energy supplies in the region may very well come to a head. China and India have Pakistan to deal with, and that triangle's not exactly fun. (Incidentally, I can almost understand why Pakistan's ISI goes to such ludicrous lengths to get any sort of advantage, being caught in a dance with those two behemoths.) And while the US is, for now, relatively unthreatened on this continent, what happens when Brazil and Colombia and Mexico start challenging them for dominance?

Milo said...

Albert:

"I'd like to add that probably this will lead to a division of Space Colony Economy and Earth Internal Economy. With very limited economic exchange between the two."

Much like the Americas, when initially settled, had very little trade with Eurasia from whence the settlers came. Yet, many millenia later, we now do have significant trade between those regions. (Somewhere along the lines the settlers were violently replaced with different settlers, but that's not important to our discussion.)

To a caveman with a canoe, the present level of trans-Atlantic trade would seem absurdly impossible. (The Bering strait might have posed a better trade corridor, if the cultures on both sides of it didn't happen to be so primitive.)


"I'm assuming orbital colonies because ground colonies on barren rocks without even decent gravity don't make a lot of sense for me."

Orbital colonies are definitely going to need trade with the surface world, since their resources can't be coming from anywhere else.

The advantage of living on barren rocks is that you can mine them for resources. Not even resources you're trading - resources you're building your home from, resources you're synthesizing your fertilizer from.


"While true for the past events, imho "running out of space" isn't a plausible explanation for war as it is for space colonization."

What are you talking about? I was not even remotely using it as an explanation for war. I was using it to explain the peculiarities of modern civilizations, such as cheap global trade and lack of conventional war, and explained why these conditions would not continue to pertain in space.

Thucydides said...

Samuel Huntington's book "The Clash of Civilizations" points out another point of contention; various "civilizations" are deeply divided in their view of things like Justice, human rights, the role of religion and the power of the State, differences which are so great that they cannot be bridged.

In effect this means that there will be areas of conflict regardless of how interconnected the world gets, indeed this interconnection might actually fuel conflict (think of the different rules of intellectual property rights between China and the United States, disagreements which are inflamed by increasing trade between the two nations. Now expand this to encompass our and their views of human rights, property rights in general, relations between nations [how do we view Taiwan, and how do they?]

While these differences haven't ignited a war yet, they cause irritation and can be seized upon as a casus belli by demagogues eager to start trouble for reasons of their own.

WRT "The War After Armageddon", you can consider the period starting in 1979 as the beginning of a decades long series of escalating provocations culminating in nuclear attacks against the United States as the story background. More than enough to power a surge of fanaticism in the
United States and the West.

Cambias said...

Slightly off-topic:

I must confess I think the "aggressive Christian Fundamentalist America" meme is getting kind of shopworn. I've been reading SF stories about the imminent Fundy takeover since about 1980, and during that time the Religious Right has gone from a major force in politics to something virtually irrelevant.

Can we come up with some new scary ideology to grip the US and let us start Conquering The World? Radical environmentalism has the same self-limiting effect as fundamentalist religiosity.

Any suggestions?

Thucydides said...

Christian fundamentalist fanatics rising as a response to Islamic fundamentalist fanatics makes sense in a book populated with American characters. I suppose if Ralph Peters had chosen the Japanese to be the story POV setting and characters we would have been treated to a revival of "State Shinto"; which was one of the underlying drivers of Imperial Japanese aggression from the 1930's to its (forced) demise in 1945.

Culture is an important factor in the pacifism or aggressiveness of a people and a nation. European culture supported aggression on a pretty massive scale from the start of recorded history until the middle of the last century, but the two World Wars seems to have frightened everyone into different paths (although there were still pockets of violence out there such as the PIRA, Basque separatists, Cyprus and the turmoil in former Yugoslavia, to name a few).

Nothing is forever, and people and cultures do change. Radovan Karadzic was a doctor and a poet (as well as a member of a "Green" party) before he turned to radical politics and mass murder, which kind of turns the "poor, oppressed and misunderstood" trope on its head. Anyone can be tempted and if the lure of power is strong enough, the expected rewards great enough and the opportunity presents itself, then the rest becomes history...

Tony said...

Cambias:

"Can we come up with some new scary ideology to grip the US and let us start Conquering The World? Radical environmentalism has the same self-limiting effect as fundamentalist religiosity."

In recent years, it has been suggested in the serious military affairs press that one of the motivations for future military action might be rogue states that are environmental scofflaws. I can remember a time not that long ago when that would have seemed outrageous. Nowdays...I'm not so sure.

Anyway, getting back to the subject of peace vs war, war is a human means of solving human conflicts. Until human nature changes (don't hold your breath) war will be with us in some form.

Nuclear weapons have acted as a brake on interstate warfare for over half a century, but at least as much because they make seeking decision problematic as for any other reason. If your enemy can use nuclear weapons against you if you succeed more than he is willing to allow, what's the point in fighting a war? It seems to be a logic that everyone is observing, even in religiously and politically volatile confrontaions, such as the Indo-Pakistani.

This is, however, the result of convention, not some fundamental feature of nuclear weapons technology. At the moment, nuclear weapons are included in the calculus of general deterrence. They are regarded as regime survival insurance, and to some degree guarantors of territorial integrity for whoever possesses them. In the future, conditions may change. Maybe at some point nuclear weapons technology becomes so widespread that the only way to control it is to make it a convention that nobody can use them, under any circumstances, and anybody that does is going to get nuked by everyone else, for the safety of the whole community. Food for thought.

MRig said...

Raymond:
Ach, I did call you Robert, didn't I? My bad. Confused with a member of the alternate history boards, perhaps.

I certainly hope your view of things doesn't take shape, but we have to acknowledge the possibility. By the Napoleonic clock, we should expect a series of brief, bloody wars in the 80s and 90s, an escalating rivalry in the 2020s, and a cataclysmic conflagration in 2044. Of course actually making predictions based on anniversaries is ridiculous, but it's a good exercise of perspective. The years do funny things if you take 1989 as the starting point rather than 1945: short sharp wars from 2027 to 2045, arms race starting in the 2070s, war in 2088.

I'm not really arguing at this point, so I'll pose a question instead: What do you think would be a plausible chain of events that could lead to the Great War analogue in your post-Napoleonic metaphor?

Tony:
I hope you didn't interpret my last comment as a rhetorical question or an attack on you for not citing sources. I'm genuinely interested in this topic and good books about it to read.

The pattern you describe re: territorial societies makes sense to me, but the truth is often a counterintuitive thing that only sustained research can reveal. Even then it often comes up short. It shouldn't stop us from speculating and pontificating on a science fiction comment thread, but I like to keep it in mind.

I have heard an interesting interpretation of prehistory: at the turn of the Holocene, some humans settled into agricultural societies which were ruled by a priestess caste and were relatively peaceful and egalitarian. Meanwhile, the cultures which domesticated animals became patriarchal and violent, and, over the course of many centuries, ended up conquering the agricultural peoples, thus creating civilization as we know it.

This isn't necessarily in conflict with Keeley's argument, which describes the world after the conquering. I haven't read the book this comes from, but it's called the Chalice and the Blade. Could be ahead of its time, could be wishful thinking. But there is such a thing as unrealistic cynicism.

Tony said...

MRig:

"I hope you didn't interpret my last comment as a rhetorical question or an attack on you for not citing sources."

Nothing of the kind. It's really for me to apologize if I'm being too argumentative. Mea culpa.

"I have heard an interesting interpretation of prehistory: at the turn of the Holocene, some humans settled into agricultural societies which were ruled by a priestess caste and were relatively peaceful and egalitarian. Meanwhile, the cultures which domesticated animals became patriarchal and violent, and, over the course of many centuries, ended up conquering the agricultural peoples, thus creating civilization as we know it."

If one googles around, one finds out that the ideas developed in this book have been adopted by neopagans, feminist vegans, and sustainability/green theorists. One could certainly say "that figures", but, from my point of view, it's an indictment of sloppy, lazy thinking. YMMV.

Albert said...

Raymond said...
Europe and Russia still don't like each other much, and Russia's dominance over energy supplies in the region may very well come to a head. There is some distrust, but nothing really serious imho. And about resources, Russia has all reasons to rise the price, but not to start a war. Nor does Europe, without Russian gas we are pretty much screwed.

China and India have Pakistan to deal with, and that triangle's not exactly fun. But they can both easily pwn it militarily if really pissed off. That's an Iraq-like situation.
And I wouldn't be worried about nukes. Any use (even tactical nukes) would instantly tag them as "OMG NERF NAO!!!!!1!!1" from any other nation in the world.

what happens when Brazil and Colombia and Mexico start challenging them for dominance?
Dominace over what?
Economic dominance is achived in other ways, and political world dominance (what US struggles to do today) is much more pain than it is worth (and also requires a budget that most nations simply don't have).
Most wealthy nations are pretty happy to leave US play "the world's police" saving them loads of money and hassle.

Not to mention that for the time being, Mexico has *huge* problems with narcos, with dozens of dead every day. Colombia is marginally better.

Milo said...
To a caveman with a canoe, the present level of trans-Atlantic trade would seem absurdly impossible. And to get similar levels of trade in space we need the same insane amount of "magitech"(=revolutionary stuff we can't know about).
Which is out of Plausible midfuture, the setting here.

Orbital colonies are *definitely* going to need trade with the surface world, since their resources can't be coming from anywhere else. Sure, but when they start to be decently indipendent, orbital colonies will rely on semi-robotic mining outposts on whatever and hohmann cargo barges. (moon is pretty "close" in terms of delta-v, btw)

The advantage of living on barren rocks is that you can mine them for resources.
The disadvantage is that you don't have all the resources you need there (so you still have to climb up and down the gravity well), that you cannot have all degrees of gravity you want, and that a ground colony is more complex to build than a space-based one without any real benefit.
But the main point is that orbital colonies are cheaper/faster to build (because you just throw stuff in orbit and assemble, not throw it in orbit, cart it to the destination, reenter it and then assemble it to build more stuff).
You can have ground colonies after some time, but orbital colonies will be there first.

I was using it to explain the peculiarities of modern civilizations, such as cheap global trade and lack of conventional war, and explained why these conditions would not continue to pertain in space.
Oh, misunderstanding then. :)
Well, in space you have much smaller populations that even the smaller nations on Earth.
War will then be robotic (lack of people) and very costly, because their industry isn't going to compete with Earth's any time soon.

Cambias said...
Radical environmentalism has the same self-limiting effect as fundamentalist religiosity.
If tree-huggers were in positions of power, they would remove nuclear and oil from the list of energy sources, crippling their nation.


-Albert

Tony said...

Trying to get back on track...

Why do wars happen, fundamentally? Because somebody demands something of somebody else that the other person doesn't want to give up. That kind of thing is never going to go away, is it?

Rick said...

Welcome to another new commenter!

I am loving this discussion. Peace turns out worth talking about after all. Admitting that much of the actual commentary is about some aspect of war, but peace is a curiously negative blessing: first and foremost it means not having to worry that RPG fire or a roadside bomb will ruin your entire day.

The relationship of war and Romance reminds me of my surprise at finding out that Stephen Red Badge of Courage Crane had never been in the military. His description of the fog of war is totally believable, basically very jumpy guys with guns wandering around confused in the woods.

It seems to me that what is most clearly ruled out - at least more than once - is what we all want most for story purposes, World War II in SPAAACE !!!

Because if post industrial great powers are really going to make war to the hilt against each other, total war as the 20th century understood it, the silos will open and that will be all she wrote, at any rate for the belligerents.

The not quite 600 replies on the ground warfare thread all sort of step around this, because in all out war you'd just slag the planet and move on. Not always, but that would be the default.

War as an institution can survive only by accepting limits on itself, but those limits tend to undermine the logic of going to war.

Tony said...

Rick:

"War as an institution can survive only by accepting limits on itself, but those limits tend to undermine the logic of going to war."

War tends to be a self-limiting exercise. I could be wrong, but I think it's form of cost-benefit decision whether you start a war and how far you go. In the modern context, nukes have put a ceiling on how far one can go with conventional means. In a future full of astronomical velocities and energies, nukes may not seem like that big a deal, and with multiple planets and all oftheir statellites to play with, one wonders what deterrence will look like.*

* No, I don't think peace is achieved through any mechanisms other than imposition or deterrence.

Raymond said...

Rick:

"Because if post industrial great powers are really going to make war to the hilt against each other, total war as the 20th century understood it, the silos will open and that will be all she wrote, at any rate for the belligerents."

I don't think you can get the interplanetary equivalent of MAD until we have relativistic weapons, or something else similarly immediate and devastating to take the role that ICBMs have in the 20th century. Also, if the discussions in the ground war thread were any indication, slagging a planet with active defenses may be harder than we would think. This applies just as well to a sub-planetary power which achieves orbital supremacy - the retaliatory nukes become something less than a sure bet.

Interplanetary distances give the kind of buffer oceans used to on Earth before the missiles came along. (I know, I know, space is not an ocean, but once in a while it performs the same function.) And just as WWII began as a pair of barely-related regional wars, a solar war may start as a planetside one before drawing in additional combatants from elsewhere in the system. It would be a very long time before that sort of war would be likely; then again, it was more than four hundred years between the first European expeditions to North America (not counting the Vikings, of course) and the United States and Canada entered into a total war on the other side of the world. I'd expect a similar timescale before WWII IN SPAAACE! becomes plausible.

But we are talking of the plausible midfuture here, no?

Milo said...

MRig:

"I have heard an interesting interpretation of prehistory: at the turn of the Holocene, some humans settled into agricultural societies which were ruled by a priestess caste and were relatively peaceful and egalitarian. Meanwhile, the cultures which domesticated animals became patriarchal and violent, and, over the course of many centuries, ended up conquering the agricultural peoples, thus creating civilization as we know it."

Sounds like feminist propaganda to me. "Matriarchy was the primitive and natural state of humanity, and all was good, until the eeeevil men overthrew us!"

Anyway, why is agriculture good and domestication bad? Actually, agriculture promotes territorial war because territory is now valuable. But no, the eeevil ones are the men who live off the land, not the women who cut forests to make room for their lifestyle!

What animals are we talking about? Dogs were domesticated back in our hunter-gatherer days, long before the Holocene. Meanwhile, livestock animals, like cows and sheep, are strongly associated with agriculture - although they can also be kepy by nomadic pastoralists, I seriously doubt all early agricultural societies were vegetarian - and once you're growing your own plants, it's an easy step to also start growing your own animals.



Albert:

"Sure, but when they start to be decently indipendent, orbital colonies will rely on semi-robotic mining outposts on whatever and hohmann cargo barges. (moon is pretty "close" in terms of delta-v, btw)"

Yes, but now you need to lift up your resources from a surface, which is exactly what you said you think orbital colonies wouldn't do because it's too expensive. The moon is easier to lift from than Earth, yes, but if you (A) have to mine from the moon anyway, and (B) aren't engaged in trade with any other preexisting location, then why not just build your colony on the moon?


"But the main point is that orbital colonies are cheaper/faster to build (because you just throw stuff in orbit and assemble, not throw it in orbit, cart it to the destination, reenter it and then assemble it to build more stuff)."

Your way may be cheaper in the short term, but over time increased mining costs will make up for that. I need to cart stuff further to build my colony, but I'll be doing a lot less carting once it's done.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your orbital colony. If you want a liveable space station today, then just go build something like the ISS. Or... go to the ISS. But I'm looking with a mind to create a sustainable long-term colony with high growth potential. Orbital stations like the ISS are more "outposts" than "colonies".


"If tree-huggers were in positions of power, they would remove nuclear and oil from the list of energy sources, crippling their nation."

Which would be stupid, because nuclear energy is one of the cleanest and cheapest energy sources around. It doesn't pollute the water or air (much) and it doesn't cause global warming (much).

From what I've found (not a very extensive search) geothermal and hydropower energy seem to allow a decent price, although the former can cause earthquakes and the latter causes floods.

Milo said...

Rick:

"The not quite 600 replies on the ground warfare thread all sort of step around this, because in all out war you'd just slag the planet and move on. Not always, but that would be the default."

Historically not everybody used scorched earth tactics all the time, even though they were perfectly viable in every time period. (Medieval armies didn't have nukes, but that wouldn't stop them from being able to massacre a city in short order if they got past the defenders.) This may be due to moral restrains, or because the value of conquering territory intact exceeds the additional effort of capturing it the hard way. So I'm not convinced, without a much more detailed justification, that scorched earth will be universal in space warfare.



Tony:

"No, I don't think peace is achieved through any mechanisms other than imposition or deterrence."

Or if they are so far away that they cannot effectively fight.

Of course if they are that far away then they also cannot trade, send tourists, etc.



Raymond:

"Also, if the discussions in the ground war thread were any indication, slagging a planet with active defenses may be harder than we would think."

It would be easiest (or least hard) if you are able to control the planet's high orbit. Even if their surface defenses are too strong for you to take low orbit, this strongly limits their ability to interact with the meteor before it arrives.


"Interplanetary distances give the kind of buffer oceans used to on Earth before the missiles came along."

The oceans were not a buffer any more than the land was. Both were hard to send armies across. In fact, travel by sea was rather easier in many cases. The ocean-as-buffer effect is mainly if you're attacking another nation that has devoted a larger percentage of its military budget to the navy - especially an island nation. When the island nation hits you back, the ocean won't be much of a buffer since their navy is better than yours.

But yes, I agree that the buffer of space serves to mitigate MAD - the enemy's force can't slag your planet unless they can reach your planet, which gives you an opportunity to defeat them with a fair fight in space.

Thucydides said...

Colonies are easier to build in the sense that designers do not have to take the effects of gravity, temperature, landforms or crustal displacement into account when building a colony in orbit.

The design of an Island Three colony can be used virtually anywhere in the Solar System, since it already has to be protected from radiation, is temperature controlled in an insulating vacuum and the only variable of sunlight can be adjusted through the size of the external mirrors. This sort of design template is not transferrable between Europa and Mars, for example.

Colonies might resemble the polis of classical Greece not only in the sense of being independent city states, but also on their dependance on the "hinterland" of asteroids, NEO's and planetary moons (much like most city states were dependent on their agricultural outlands, and 80% of the population was actually involved in agriculture). To make the analogy more accurate, they will resemble Athens, depending on external trade to remain viable and vibrant polities in space.

Mid futures which do involve space colonization will focus on establishing multiple resource bases, clever diplomacy and heavy use of arbitrage and other market mechanisms in order to survive and prosper. This might seem to lead to a peaceful mid future in space, but any deliberate attempt to interfere with resource extraction or futures markets (regardless of the motivations behind these attempts) will be seen as hostile acts and an appropriate response will be in order for the survival of the polity.

There will be war

Tony said...

Milo:

"Or if they are so far away that they cannot effectively fight.

Of course if they are that far away then they also cannot trade, send tourists, etc."


Which inspires the question: is that really peace or just a lack of confrontation? ("confrontation" being meant here in an absolitely literal sense: with mutual frontiers)

Milo said...

If a Cold War (where the sides hate each other but avoid fighting due to fearing Mutually Assured Destruction) counts as peace, then so does a situation where the sides hate each other but avoid fighting because they would die of old age by the time their warships arrived.

Unless, of course, the colonists are passing their time fighting other factions on their own colony world. In which case they're still at peace with Earth, just not at peace in general.

Now, figuring out if it's meaningful to talk about diplomatic relations between states that are so far away that they've never even heard of each other, I'll leave to someone else. That won't come up without interstellar colonization, though (possibly slower-than-light).

Tony said...

Milo:

"Now, figuring out if it's meaningful to talk about diplomatic relations between states that are so far away that they've never even heard of each other, I'll leave to someone else. That won't come up without interstellar colonization, though (possibly slower-than-light)."

Ummm...how about the civilizations in the Americas prior to Columbus, vis-a-vis the rest of the world?

Milo said...

I meant it won't come up again in our future, barring interstellar colonization (or a total collapse of civilization due to some highly implausible disaster). It most definitely has come up on our past. It may very well be coming up right now with respect to alien species.

Tony said...

Milo:

"I meant it won't come up again in our future, barring interstellar colonization (or a total collapse of civilization due to some highly implausible disaster). It most definitely has come up on our past. It may very well be coming up right now with respect to alien species."

The point I was trying to make is that absence of war for lack of opportunity, and peace where an opportunity for war exists, are two entirely different things.

Milo said...

What's happening is more important than what's not happening. The total number of different nations you are not at war with is not, usually, very important.

What we actually have is three scenarios:
1. No war, no trade.
2. Trade, no war.
3. War, no trade.

I guess you could also find a justification for having both trade and war, for example because smugglers from the other nation don't care that their government hates you.

Also, "trade" here includes other commercial ventures such as tourism.

Do you think that only 2. consitutes true peace?

True said...

Milo:

"1. No war, no trade.
2. Trade, no war.
3. War, no trade.

...

Do you think that only 2. consitutes true peace?"


Yes. It implies a choice to go to war or not go to war. 1. doesn't imply that choice, it implies no choice. I don't think it's very logical to hold people accountable -- or give them credit for -- moral judgments in which they have no choice.

Also, just because two given states or cultures are too far apart to war on each other, that doesn't put an automatic brake on intrastate or intracultural conflict, at one or both points, that rises to the level of war. In those cases, peace could only be said to exist if intra-state/cultural war is avoided.

On top of all of this, I would ad that peace is only worthwhile if it isn't gained at disproportionate advantage or disadvantage of any interested party. Making a desolation and calling it "peace" need not apply. But that's too obvious. Achieving "peace" at the cost of conquest or even voluntary subjugation is not peace in my opinion. (And it's not likely to last for very long anyway.)

Tony said...

BTW, I find Milo's juxtaposition of war and trade, rather than war and peace, a very insightful appraoch to framing the issue. It bears much contemplation.

Raymond said...

I think we might be well-served to differentiate between scenarios of insignificant trade due to extreme cost of travel, and those of relatively insignificant trade due to low marginal efficiencies. If we're talking of space colonies, self-sufficiency will be highly valued; travel may be reasonable in cost but not so cheap as to make trade particularly profitable. This kind of scenario doesn't preclude war on religious or cultural grounds, including expansionist attitudes. It may be costly, but it may still happen.

MRig said...

Tony and Milo:

Even if there were something wrong with being neopagan, feminist, vegan, green, or a believer in the importance of sustainability, these things say nothing about the validity of any interpretation of early Holocene archaeological findings.

The idea is that agriculture and husbandry were developed in different places by different peoples. Harvesting and breeding are two different skill sets, and one does not necessarily follow the other.

I don't think this interpretation has anything to say about vegetarianism, either. The men would still hunt.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I think we might be well-served to differentiate between scenarios of insignificant trade due to extreme cost of travel, and those of relatively insignificant trade due to low marginal efficiencies. If we're talking of space colonies, self-sufficiency will be highly valued; travel may be reasonable in cost but not so cheap as to make trade particularly profitable. This kind of scenario doesn't preclude war on religious or cultural grounds, including expansionist attitudes. It may be costly, but it may still happen."

O'Neill High Frontier style space colonies imply transportation costs so low that self-sufficientcy is unlikely to have any kind of real economic value. They would be artifacts so large, requiring so much transportation tonnage just to put the materials and construction infrastructure in place, that post construction commerce would be no big deal whatsoever.

Tony said...

MRig:

"Even if there were something wrong with being neopagan, feminist, vegan, green, or a believer in the importance of sustainability, these things say nothing about the validity of any interpretation of early Holocene archaeological findings."

They indicate what a person is willing to believe. What they indicate to me is a willingness to believe in pseudo-scientific nonsense. As given in Wikipedia, the theory expounded in The Chalice and the Blade is just the kind of pseudo-science that appeals to such people.

If you don't agree, it's a free country. I don't see any point in arguing about it.

"The idea is that agriculture and husbandry were developed in different places by different peoples. Harvesting and breeding are two different skill sets, and one does not necessarily follow the other."

That's a little simplistic. But leaving that aside, the idea that agriculturalists are fundamentally egalitarian, while pastoralists are fundamentally more hierarchical, doesn't pass my smell test with me. It sounds like the projection of a personal philosophy onto the world.

Raymond said...

Tony:

I expect space colonies to be hollowed-out asteroids in their original orbits long before we bother with O'Neills and Island Threes; those are dispersed enough and frequently rich enough to make a larger degree of self-sufficiency plausible. And even with low delta-v requirements, travel takes time. If we're speaking of settlements and outposts and small colonies dispersed on an interplanetary scale, instead of within a planetary system, trade can easily be unprofitable on the whole. I ask because it's a grey area in the no-war-no-trade scenario with very different conclusions about the likelihood of warfare (at least, the kind which isn't really about trade routes or economic dominance or anything else particularly rational).

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I expect space colonies to be hollowed-out asteroids in their original orbits long before we bother with O'Neills and Island Threes; those are dispersed enough and frequently rich enough to make a larger degree of self-sufficiency plausible. And even with low delta-v requirements, travel takes time. If we're speaking of settlements and outposts and small colonies dispersed on an interplanetary scale, instead of within a planetary system, trade can easily be unprofitable on the whole. I ask because it's a grey area in the no-war-no-trade scenario with very different conclusions about the likelihood of warfare (at least, the kind which isn't really about trade routes or economic dominance or anything else particularly rational)."

I'm not so sure about your assumptions in detail. But they're irrelevant to the fundamental question.

I think we have to ask ourself what is this thing we call "peace", at bottom? Well, near as I can tell, the most fundamental thing about peace is that everyone (or enough of everyone that it doesn't make a difference) perceive that they are receiving their desserts. When enough people think they aren't getting what they deserve -- whether they objectively are or aren't is beside the point -- wars happen.

So, in any imaginable economic situation, no matter how marginal, if the people involved think they can gain some advantage by resorting to force, then they will resort to force. Maybe they can only mout a relatively small operation over the distances involved, but if they think they can afford it somehow, they'll do it. Nobody likes being cheated.

Raymond said...

Tony:

I'm not so much making assumptions as examining possibilities, and trying to make a distinction between isolation and indifference in matters of trade (or rather the lack thereof).

"I think we have to ask ourself what is this thing we call "peace", at bottom? Well, near as I can tell, the most fundamental thing about peace is that everyone (or enough of everyone that it doesn't make a difference) perceive that they are receiving their desserts. When enough people think they aren't getting what they deserve -- whether they objectively are or aren't is beside the point -- wars happen."

Agreed, certainly. I don't think I had implied otherwise.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I'm not so much making assumptions as examining possibilities, and trying to make a distinction between isolation and indifference in matters of trade (or rather the lack thereof)."

I meant "assumptions" in the technical sense, as in "Starting with these assumptions..." Apologies for any misunderstanding.

I don't really see any functional distinction. This is a discussion about choices. Parties in isolation are out of the discussion because they don't have any choices.

Now, if you want to talk about what factors could contribute to indifference, that would be interesting. And I do see a distinction between, for example, indifference do to impracticality and indifference due to lack of interest.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"I meant "assumptions" in the technical sense, as in "Starting with these assumptions..." Apologies for any misunderstanding."

No worries. Misunderstanding clarified, war avoided.

"And I do see a distinction between, for example, indifference do to impracticality and indifference due to lack of interest."

The really interesting inflection point is with just enough impracticality to naturally suppress interest, but not so much as to prevent such interest to be stoked.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"The really interesting inflection point is with just enough impracticality to naturally suppress interest, but not so much as to prevent such interest to be stoked."

Working for a very low profit margin-per-transaction Web company, I'm very familiar with that fine line.

At interplanetary distances, it could be a real nail-biter. Say you send a shipment of ice to some destination. In the months (or years) that it takes to get there, the value of that ice could skyrocket or plummet, depending on what other ice suppliers might be up to. And, unlike arbitraging on the Web or selling groceries, a single transaction could kill your business or set you up for life. The potential for conflict might be enormous, even at seemingly low -- or even negative -- marginal return. Consider Jerry Pournelle's short story "Tinker". In it, an unscrupulous mayor of an asteroid community has a passenger ship sabotaged, then corners the market on (a single) spacecraft in a position to effect a rescue.

Milo said...

"True":

"I don't think it's very logical to hold people accountable -- or give them credit for -- moral judgments in which they have no choice."

But do moral judgements actually matter? My main interest is to not get shot dead. The warm fuzzy feeling I get from someone deliberately not shooting me dead might be comforting, but it's rather optional compared to my more important objective.


"Also, just because two given states or cultures are too far apart to war on each other, that doesn't put an automatic brake on intrastate or intracultural conflict, at one or both points, that rises to the level of war. In those cases, peace could only be said to exist if intra-state/cultural war is avoided."

Correct. Therefore, even if interplanetary war is too expensive to happen, true peace would also require a lack of intraplanetary war.

Fortunately, ICBM MAD can help with convincing people that intraplanetary war is a bad idea. Unfortunately, that isn't quite working for us - it's preventing superpower vs superpower wars, but not superpower vs guerilla or warlord vs warlord.


"Achieving "peace" at the cost of conquest or even voluntary subjugation is not peace in my opinion."

The thing is that while in an oppressive state there will be no state vs state conflict, there will be a lot of citizen vs police brutality conflict. This goes back to the "does conflict between non-state actors count as war?" question.

Regardless of whether it counts as war or not, it's still undesirable.

Milo said...

Raymond:

"If we're talking of space colonies, self-sufficiency will be highly valued; travel may be reasonable in cost but not so cheap as to make trade particularly profitable."

If so, trade volume will be low, but some luxury goods will still be traded. And possibly MacGuffinite.


"This kind of scenario doesn't preclude war on religious or cultural grounds, including expansionist attitudes. It may be costly, but it may still happen."

Right.

Hmm. Speaking of luxury goods, maybe war on relgious/cultural grounds can be thought of as "luxury warfare". You can only afford to wage war over something like that if you aren't in too poor a condition economically.



MRig:

I have nothing against feminists, vegans, or greens, and only little against neopagans, but I take issue with "lost utopia" visions of history, that postulate that the speaker's preferred lifestyle was once universally accepted and led to a more peaceful culture, but was then tragically destroyed by uncouth invaders, who never allowed it to be restored in the millenia since. I disagree even more with the common idea that just because they were here first implies they were right, and that proving you were here first is a meaningful step in defending your opinions. It's just that people like feeling they're the victim - "we could have built an utopia that would've lasted forever, if those other barbarians hadn't ruined it for us!".


"I don't think this interpretation has anything to say about vegetarianism, either. The men would still hunt."

Agriculture does encourage animal husbandry. When you're living in fixed settlements, it's not going to be long before someone comes up with the idea that it'd be easier to keep your meat animals near the settlement, rather than going out to look for them. And since you have farms, you already know where you'll get the food to support those animals.

Even if argiculture and livestock domestication were pioneered in different areas, then why would one be significantly more peaceful than the other, except as a pure coincidence?

Milo said...

Tony:

"But leaving that aside, the idea that agriculturalists are fundamentally egalitarian, while pastoralists are fundamentally more hierarchical, doesn't pass my smell test with me."

Right. Generally, living in larger groups encourages more social stratification as you try to keep everyone organized. Agriculture encourages living in larger groups, by having people cluster around fixed settlements, and later by having enough surplus food that you can afford to support "cities" of people who don't do their own farming. So...


"Say you send a shipment of ice to some destination. In the months (or years) that it takes to get there, the value of that ice could skyrocket or plummet, depending on what other ice suppliers might be up to."

*refrain* There's no stealth in space.

For another supplier to get there before you, without you knowing the supplier will get there before you even launch your own ship, the other supplier needs to be significantly closer to the destination to begin with.

Of course, that's before considering the wacky behavior of the futures market, which may change the price of ice merely from knowing how many shipments are inbound over the next five years, even though they haven't arrived yet...

More important would be if in the interim the demand, rather than the supply, for ice changes on the place you're shipping to. That can happen due to much more local and fickle causes.

Milo said...

Another important thing to remember is that trade is bidirectional - both sides need to have something the other wants.

So say you send me a shipment of ice, with the agreement that upon receipt I will then send you a shipment of rock. However, during the time your shipment spends in transit, rock becomes less valuable on your planet (due to miners discovering large underground lodes of it) and you no longer think this is a good deal. When your ice shipment arrives at my world, do you still accept the original deal, or do you try to negotiate for a different price, or do you pay to have the ice shipped somewhere else that will still offer you a good price, even though that means wasting all the time and money it took to ship it to my planet?

Tony said...

Milo:

"Even if argiculture and livestock domestication were pioneered in different areas, then why would one be significantly more peaceful than the other, except as a pure coincidence?"

Because pastoralists are mean, nasty, ugly, misogynist, patriarchal, aggressive meat eaters; while agriculturalists are nice, clean, beautiful, feminist, Goddess-worshipping, cooperative plant eaters. Does there need to be any other explanation?

Rick said...

I believe that the idea of a matriarchal society in the earlier agrarian age goes back some 100 years, give or take. And it was not originally feminist in connotation - the idea was more the 'childhood of civilization,' which then had to grow up through its boistrous (male) teenage phase. Hey, it was the era of Freud.

As for belief in a sylvan lost past, it is pretty much universal.

Space geeks and tree huggers may not tend to get along, but they are arguably two wings of the same movement. Think of the connotations of 'spaceship Earth.' And as I've mentioned here before, global warming was an issue in planetary science before it became a political issue.


Back to war and peace. Slagging planets, or at any rate wrecking any post industrial civilization on them, is much easier than landing on one.

Never mind diverting asteroids; you just have to punch through with a few hundred tons mass of nuclear warheads, at roughly 1 MT/ton. If you have torchships you can toss slugs at 3000 km/s for the same punch.

Across interplanetary distances things are not so hair trigger, and there is much more time for interception, but if the strike saturates your defense you still get taken out of play.

In the pre industrial age it was easier to subjugate than to destroy, because you had to defeat your enemy's forces to do either.

Today it is easier to destroy than to subjugate, and it does not really require the full defeat of the enemy forces. That has changed the essential dynamic of war from what it was in the age of military conquests.

Milo said...

Rick:

"As for belief in a sylvan lost past, it is pretty much universal."

There is evidence that we were more peaceful and egalitarian during our hunter-gatherer age, predating both agriculture and most domestication (except dogs).

Or maybe the large distance in time and lack of permanent records means archeologists just haven't found the right evidence yet.

Anyway if they were more peaceful, then this is less because they followed a morally superior ideology, and more because they just didn't have much to fight over.


"Today it is easier to destroy than to subjugate, and it does not really require the full defeat of the enemy forces. That has changed the essential dynamic of war from what it was in the age of military conquests."

But in space you do need to get past the enemy's orbital defense fleet before either destruction or subjugation can ensue. The latter also requires you to subdue insurgents on the surface while the former does not, but dissent from a newly conquered world is just normal and having orbital fire support is a pretty big advantage.

Maybe a sufficiently patchy defense can allow me to get enough nukes through while you still have some ships left, but in medieval warfare it would also have been possible for me to march in and torch your fields while you still have an army left, if that army was in the wrong place.

Raymond said...

Rick:

"Across interplanetary distances things are not so hair trigger, and there is much more time for interception, but if the strike saturates your defense you still get taken out of play."

Isn't that true of pretty much all war, ever?

"Never mind diverting asteroids; you just have to punch through with a few hundred tons mass of nuclear warheads, at roughly 1 MT/ton. If you have torchships you can toss slugs at 3000 km/s for the same punch."

I don't expect the interplanetary equivalent of MAD until we have torchships. I'm with Milo, in that the problem of intercepting inbound craft loaded with nukes is the same problem as those loaded with long-rods. There's still a fight to be had and a chance of success, and the defenses work in similar fashions for both.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I don't expect the interplanetary equivalent of MAD until we have torchships. I'm with Milo, in that the problem of intercepting inbound craft loaded with nukes is the same problem as those loaded with long-rods. There's still a fight to be had and a chance of success, and the defenses work in similar fashions for both."

The problem with torchships is that they can be used to put kinetics on attack orbits far outside a defender's sphere of influence. The defender can possibly see the attacker do that, but once the weapons are in orbit, things get significantly tougher. Yes, I know there's no stealth in space, but there are things that can be done to reduce observability of something in an orbit and not under power. One obvious dodge is to equip each projectile with a refrigeration laser, powered by heat absorbed from sunlight. Of course it only works if it doesn't get overloaded, it can be kept pointed away from the target's sensors, and the propulsive effect of the laser itself can be accurately figured into the trajectory analysis. But with a little planning...

Raymond said...

Milo:
"*refrain* There's no stealth in space."

Tony:
"I know there's no stealth in space, but..."

No stealth in space, as far as mantras go, is a good one. Catchy, vaguely alliterative, good geek-cred talking point. We forget, however, that seeing engine flares and actually knowing what's coming are two different things. That measuring acceleration can't tell you automatically when it will begin deceleration. That engine flares out in the Kuiper have roughly the same intelligence content as semaphore in Aramaic.

(Side note: if our resident optics expert Luke is reading this thread, what spectrum would a five-million Kelvin argon plasma be radiating in? What kind of lens would you need to resolve it at 1 AU? 10 AU?)

Tony:

Torchships have a lot in common in ICBMs, then, don't they? (Relative to their respective scales, of course.) Launched from far away, possessing rapid transit times, difficult to intercept, and radically altering the calculus of war. Stemming from the same technologies which would allow us to make our first steps across larger oceans.

And the refrigeration-laser bit is something I've tossed around in my head before, too. The main problem, of course, is finding an efficient enough power supply that doesn't dump more heat than it can pump out the laser. What really might help is infrared-spectrum metamaterials...

Milo said...

Torchships are more like nuclear bombers - they're manned, and compared to ICBMs, they're big and non-expendable. Which is okay - nuclear bombers were fast and deadly enough to dissuade the Cold War from going hot.

Relativistic missiles would be ICBM analogues.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"No stealth in space, as far as mantras go..."

It's accurate enough, in principle. The problem comes in practical application. In order to catch that torch drive flare a billion kilometers away, one has to have the right astronomical instrument, pointed in the right direction, at the right time. One could reasonably, for example, track comings and goings at known bodies or artificail satellites. One might even be able to estimate their trajectories from that data. Following spaceships all over the solar system long after they have turned off their drives would require dedicating sensitive, expensive instruments to tracking duty. Maybe one could make a case for that, but who knows?

"Torchships have a lot in common in ICBMs, then, don't they?"

To some degree, yes. But I would say the real problem with torchships is what objects they can boost into fast orbits, not what they can do themselves in or around an objective/target.

"And the refrigeration-laser bit is something I've tossed around in my head before, too. The main problem, of course, is finding an efficient enough power supply that doesn't dump more heat than it can pump out the laser."

And there's the black body radiation of whatever material you choose to make your projectile out of. Still if the laser can dump more heat than it generates, you have a net gain.

Thucydides said...

A slight (or maybe not so slight) aside, but we are talking about using SF weapons and technology in a fundamentally non SF sort of way. Really, using torchships or ORION pulse drive missiles as ICBM analogues is a bit like having pirates with RPG's and AK-47's. In 1770 that would be inconceivable. Today it is just a fact of life.

Real SF needs to have some story aspect which could not take place without the science or tech in question. Since I think most of us seem to agree that peace is difficult to achieve, would a total "do over" of human nature through genetic engineering or some sort of improbable memnic engineering of our thoughts work?

Would war cease to become important if AI's were to become the dominant species and modify the ecosphere to their own liking for their own ends (we don't think of ourselves going to war against most lower species)?

If we are too far away to make commerce and tourism practical on a large scale but living in very small fragile communities would warfare become very limited or die out due to lack of opportunity?

Milo said...

Thucydides:

"Since I think most of us seem to agree that peace is difficult to achieve, would a total "do over" of human nature through genetic engineering or some sort of improbable memnic engineering of our thoughts work?"

Yes, right up until the point where some people refuse to have the procedure applied to them and go to war with you for their right to remain true humans.


"we don't think of ourselves going to war against most lower species"

But what do the lower species think?

Teleros said...

Thucydides: would a total "do over" of human nature through genetic engineering or some sort of improbable memnic engineering of our thoughts work?
I suppose, but good luck persuading people to take it. I imagine most right-wing people would have a fit over the thought of being super-brain-washed. Well, unless we're talking the US Christian Right, in which case they'd oppose it unless they were in charge ;) .

Would war cease to become important if AI's were to become the dominant species and modify the ecosphere to their own liking for their own ends (we don't think of ourselves going to war against most lower species)?
Certainly more rational political leaders may help, although it also depends on the system of government: an elected AI prime minister would still have to bow to the wishes of parliament or the electorate etc... an AI dictator that maintains power through combat drones... less so ^^ .

If we are too far away to make commerce and tourism practical on a large scale but living in very small fragile communities would warfare become very limited or die out due to lack of opportunity?
I imagine it would become a lot more limited: there might still be people motivated by ideology and such to attack their neighbours (lebensraum?), but it'd mean tactics more akin to terrorism than state warfare, owing to the fragility of the communities* involved.

*Psychologically, more warlike communities may also be less stable, if they can get their members backing their leaders via the whole "we in a war" mentality.

Milo: But what do the lower species think?
Depends on how much said lower species CAN think, of course :P . Most people do not (as far as I'm aware) consider a campaign to kill even other primates a form of war*, and they can, if not think, then do something fairly close to thinking.

* Unless they want the PR uses of a "War on Primates", as has been tried with the "wars" on drugs & terror, but that's not quite the same thing in most people's eyes as having a "real" war.

Thucydides said...

Genetic engineering could be done through many means which either don't give people a choice (inserted through a modified virus like the flu), or as part of an attractive package of benefits (your children will have an extra 50 points of IQ, be resistant to most diseases and as attractive as any Hollywood/Bollywood star!)

Memetic engineering (so far as I understand the concept) could be applied through messages hidden in mass media or instructions delivered as part of schooling and education. This would be much more problematic (not everyone would get the message, and those who did might become vulnerable to those who did not).

Now involuntary application of genetic engineering or memetic engineering could be considered a form of warfare (or a crime against humanity), and I suspect there will be a tipping point where people begin to realize what is happening around them and choose to take active measures to "protect" themselves or active measures to stop the changes from happening.

The last war is the war to end war once and for all....

Milo said...

Teleros:

"I imagine most right-wing people would have a fit over the thought of being super-brain-washed."

Wait, and left-wing ones won't?


"Certainly more rational political leaders may help,"

AIs are not necessarily particularly rational.


"an AI dictator that maintains power through combat drones... less so ^^ ."

Yes, that would be an excellent way to put an end to war!

Err... not.


"and they can, if not think, then do something fairly close to thinking."

Even fairly dumb animals can still think, just like small animals can still lift stuff. They just aren't as good at it.



Thucydides:

"Genetic engineering could be done through many means which either don't give people a choice (inserted through a modified virus like the flu),"

Ooh. Let's design a virus to rearrange people's minds. What could possibly go wrong?


"The last war is the war to end war once and for all...."

We already tried that. Didn't work.

Tony said...

Teleros:

"Well, unless we're talking the US Christian Right, in which case they'd oppose it unless they were in charge ;) ."

I'm an agnostic, and I still find that gratuitously offensive.

Thucydides:

"Now involuntary application of genetic engineering or memetic engineering could be considered a form of warfare (or a crime against humanity), and I suspect there will be a tipping point where people begin to realize what is happening around them and choose to take active measures to "protect" themselves or active measures to stop the changes from happening."


Those ignorant baseline humans -- trying to "protect" themselves against beneficial genetic tinkering and brainwashing. What were those boobs thinking!?


* Tip of the hat to Shaw, who would have loved both genetic engineering and information manipulation (as long as it was towards "right" thinking).

"The last war is the war to end war once and for all...."

The last war will be the last war. Period. What it is fought over will be decided by the participants. Dontcha think?

Milo said...

The last war will be fought over a disagreement on what the last war should be fought over.

Rick said...

I don't think that torchships really fundamentally change the equation. The reduce travel times from months to weeks, and they allow you to throw uberfast kinetics with nuclear-equivalent impact energy. But they don't reduce warning time to minutes, and there is more of a chance to stop them.

Stopping them, however, is still iffy. The attacker does not need to 'win a space battle' in any traditional sense. You can sacrifice 90 percent of the (robotic) strike force, and inflict zero damage on the defending space force, but if the remaining 10 percent gets through it still flattens the defenders' cities.


More broadly I still question whether the general fact of human cussedness automatically implies the elaborate cultural institutions of war between peer polities, any more than it automatically implies institutions such as estate serfdom.

Milo said...

Rick:

"You can sacrifice 90 percent of the (robotic) strike force, and inflict zero damage on the defending space force, but if the remaining 10 percent gets through it still flattens the defenders' cities."

Will it? They have to flatten your cities quickly, before the defenders (who also have hyper-mobile torchships) can turn around and re-engage.

Even with nukes, can you really flatten enough cities to cripple the entire planet, while actively taking fire from both the enemy's spaceships and ground defenses?

Tony said...

Rick:

"More broadly I still question whether the general fact of human cussedness automatically implies the elaborate cultural institutions of war between peer polities, any more than it automatically implies institutions such as estate serfdom."

Remember, peace is a condition in which everyone perceives themselves to be justly served. When has that ever been a feature of the human condition? Can we identify a plausible cultural, sociological, and economic environment where it could be?

Lauchlan said...

I remember reading an PDF on the anthropology of war a while back.

Unfortunately I can't seem the article now but the most relevant thing I can remember is the emergence of war on the Australian continent before colonization.

Before about 6000bce there is little evidence for war. There are depictions of violence but it's all duels.

Around 6000bce the sea level rises and the land bridge connecting Australia and Papua is submerged and the people living there are pushed inland. After this point depictions of large numbers of armed figures confronting each other begin to appear and the number of deaths caused by violence skyrockets. This continued to first contact.

There are a couple of important points in this. The first is that war is not an inevitable part of human nature( though violence appears to be) but once introduced it is very hard to get rid of.

Secondly war is not completely alien to hunter-gatherer peoples.

Thirdly is that war has been invented independently multiple times by multiple peoples.

Lauchlan said...

There is also some evidence for the idea that extreme conditions can force people to deal with disputes in a non war manner.

The Moriori people are the natives of the Chatham islands east of New Zealand. The Chatham islands are not as pleasant as the rest of New Zealand and far enough away that trade was impractical. The Moriori created a code that allowed them to settle disputes through ritual combat.

Unfortunately there relative pacifism hurt them when a group of Maori invaded on chartered European ships in 1835 and promptly ate or enslaved them all.

So yeah...

Lauchlan said...

The third and final in this series of infodumps is the Pyu people of Burma.

They lived in city states from about 100bce to around 840ce and again they resolved their disputes with ritual duels but also building competitions. Two things are really interesting about them.

The first one is fairly obvious. They survived for close to 1000 years in a region that was neither isolated nor particularly peaceful. Whether they survived by paying off potential foes, employing mercenaries, maintaining small armies for emergencies or just being too nice to attack I don't know. They where eventually destroyed by invaders in 840ce but that's a pretty good run by any standard.

The second thing of note is that they practiced imperialism. A city state that lost one of these contests could be forced to pay tribute.

Infodump complete (for now...dun dun DUN!)

Milo said...

Launchlan:

"The first is that war is not an inevitable part of human nature( though violence appears to be) but once introduced it is very hard to get rid of."

That's because people's best idea of how to get rid of it tends to be "Let's go kill those people who are causing trouble!". When you try to solve war by waging war on the warriors, don't expect encouraging results.

Anonymous said...

Lauchian said:"Unfortunately there relative pacifism hurt them when a group of Maori invaded on chartered European ships in 1835 and promptly ate or enslaved them all."
So...you're saying that pascifists wind up serving dinner or serving as dinner?

Ferrell

Rick said...

Nuclear weapons can flatten a lot. Real nuclear targeting is far more complex than just flattening stuff but you can flatten a lot.

If you can build any sort of space armada, you can build thousands of warheads - remember that Eisenhower favored 'massive retaliation' in the 1950s in part as an economy measure; nuclear forces were much cheaper than conventional forces.

Both sides in the cold war had on order of 10,000 strategic warheads, and a lot more tactical ones (not much cheaper, since the expensive part of any warhead is the fission trigger). The underlying calculus is simply that nukes make blowing stuff up cheap.


'No justice, no peace' is a powerful statement, but political reality tends the other way. Until you've established some measure of peace, justice isn't a consideration. Enemy soldiers aren't guilty, just legitimate targets.

Peace has a lot of complex, affirmative meanings - peace and plenty, peace and love - but I'm dealing with peace at the most basic level, not getting blown up or shot at.

Rick said...

Forgot to add a welcome to another new commenter! The anthropological point seems well summed up. War is 'natural' for us but not inevitable.

Tony said...

Rick:

"'No justice, no peace' is a powerful statement, but political reality tends the other way. Until you've established some measure of peace, justice isn't a consideration. Enemy soldiers aren't guilty, just legitimate targets."

Setting predatory behavior aside, a lack of perceived justice is what starts wars in the first place. One doesn't fight wars for no reason at all. Even irrational leaders have to provide a cause to their mostly rational followers -- living space, foreign devils, etc. People don't risk their lives and their fortunes over the color of a rose. They risk them over what the people with different colored roses have that they ain't got.

Peace isn't a state where justice can finally be imposed. It's a state where the perception of justice exists.

Polymarkos said...

People WILL avoid war, but only when war doesn't get them what they want. Violence, coercive or real, is a tool for human societies to get what they want. When it becomes cost-ineffective, humans will cease to use the stick and reach for the carrot.

Our technology is on the verge of creating a world wherein violence is a LOT less profitable. This will see the end of the Argrarian Revolution cycles, which displaced those of the Hunter-Gatherer socieities.

When this happens, the use of violence will change to accomodate the new megapolitical cost-to-benefit calculus.

Damien Sullivan said...

"If you have something worth trading you have something worth stealing." Unless the act of stealing it destroys it.

--

Gang wars aren't about agrarian land. But what do they themselves call what they're fighting over? "Turf". Physical access to drugs and supply and customers, with their violence mostly directed at each other, and it's all parasitic on the main economy and kind of small compared to historical wars.

For the rest of us, land is a precursor to wealth, but most of the wealth is in educated people and in capital, the products of which are worth trading but which themselves are not stealable with modern war. You could wipe out another industrialized country and rebuild, but the cost would be huge: loss of trade, loss of short and medium term consumption as you produce replacement people and capital (both expensive, and slow if even possible on the people front, given industrialized birth rates.)

And yes, the world is more peaceful now. Not all times have the same war levels; stable empire periods are more peaceful than warring states periods. China's unified, India's mostly at peace, Europe's at unprecedented peace... that's nearly half the world right there. Then North America, most of South America, Japan...

I wouldn't be surprised if there are more wars in the future, over oil or water, but I'd expect them to be poor-poor or rich-poor fights. Rich-rich, you're better off building solar powered desalination plants. Remember, it's not just whether you can gain in some simple sense (already dubious), but also a question of opportunity cost.