I’m paraphrasing but something Dr. Jerry Pournelle said at the end of one of his stories stuck with me: Something to the effect of ‘All soldiers do is buy you time, for politicians to find a solution.’ Pournelle is a man whose thinking I admire, if not always agree with. Actually, you’re not going to find anyone I always agree with. This is called ‘thinking for yourself’. Everyone should try it. Sadly, many people find it ‘too hard’ and simply follow the herd. Not thinking for yourself is not a great survival strategy. I can only conclude it is increasing as a result of humans no longer permitting ‘didn’t think’ to be a capital crime as it had been for most of our species history. I hope we don’t pay dearly for this.
Anyway, I finished reading yet another fantasy novel (no, I won’t say who it was by, except it wasn’t published by Tor. I won’t buy or support their books) ending in a victorious war, in triumph. That’s an acceptable-to-many-readers end.
Of course, to people who read and look at the patterns of history (history doesn’t so much repeat as follow pieces of the same pattern) the end of one war all too often is the seed for the next – principally because soldiers can win wars, but it is a rare politician who can win a peace.
Part of that is – outside certain exceptions – it takes two politicians to tango – or rather make peace – and it is a requisite that they be from the winning and losing sides. I get very confused about US politics, so forgive me any gaffes, but to this outsider it seems that the Republicans missed the memo ‘from winning AND losing side’. Opposing your own side to find favor with the losers… is not going to work. That’s the wrong way around. Perhaps someone needs to explain this to them.
Speaking as someone who has some small experience of the consequences of war, and lived in a country with a civil war – you don’t want to go there. Common sense says yhe rank and file of neither side really does (contrary to popular belief being dead or maimed and on the ‘winning side’ still leaves your friends and family dealing with it.) There are times when it is necessary (a large part of the themes of several of my books, including the pacifist-who-had-to-learn-to-kill in SLOWTRAIN.). A good example might be when the ‘other side’ informs you they intend to eliminate you, or that which you hold dear – be that your nation, culture, or history. People who don’t want war should think carefully about saying ‘You’re on the wrong side of history’ – because that is – de facto – telling their foes that that they intend genocide.
Look, war is always ‘conquest’ of some sort (even elections might be viewed as war with reduced bloodshed) and the ways of ‘winning the peace’ are a well-established matter of historical record. So long as you don’t erase history, you can learn from it, and seriously, it tends to make books better. Now, one of the most difficult bits to erase is written in DNA. There are lots and lots of female lines… but a handful of male linages by comparison (regardless of race, place or anything else). That’s because all humans had the same basic strategy to win the peace, if you go far back enough. I’ve seen it live, in action, in a baboon troop. The conqueror/s kill all the males (including the children) and take all the women (who didn’t get much say in it. No=kill you too). The only way out of this was to run away, quite possibly applying the same to those whose territory you now invaded. There are no living humans whose ancestors haven’t, somewhere down the line, taken territory (and women) from someone else. Remember this next time you write your ‘noble savage’ tale. Of course the SWJ crew will attack you for this despite the fact that it is plainly true and un-erasable (getting rid of the Y-chromosome is more of a problem than your average statue. I know, it is goal in certain quarters, but in the meanwhile belittling it is the best they can do. It doesn’t change the facts. ).
When ‘conquest’ moved beyond merely acquiring your neighbor’s lands, hunting/livestock and women, but actually became about leaving the people conquered alive because they had more value alive than dead… winning the peace became a far more complex and varied problem. These of course blended into each other – and no, I am not going into infinite detail: this is a blog post, not a 10 million word treatise on the subject.
The simplest was a variation on the basic. Castrate the males, and enslave the conquered. Castrated slaves continued to flow out of Africa, eastwards, particularly into the Islamic world, and within Africa… well. I don’t think it has stopped. It’s quite a popular concept in certain extremist militant feminist circles. It certainly has a history of allowing the conquerors to stay on top, as it were. Of course it has failed too at times, notably where the conquerors allowed the castrati to rise to power.
The next step was the Saxon variation. Basically, after winning the war, kill any male who wasn’t a peasant, take the women as chattels, reduce the losers to what we would think of as slaves, destroy their culture, punish any sign of failure to accept subjugation with utmost brutality. Look at the number of Saxons who held England – and you realize it was both successful and the only possible way of succeeding.
After that, things become slowly more complex and nuanced. Conquerors started catching on to idea that the conquered could have more value than just fresh slaves and women. That it was possible sometimes to merely replace the rulers and get a new but working system to add to your holdings.
This was the start of this politics and tango stuff, because it required a balance between fear and reward. The Mongols (As I wrote in MUCH FALL OF BLOOD) honed this. They made a grim example of a few places. Very grim examples, and then offered a very tempting deal: Surrender… and for joe citizen things got better. They offed the head honchos of the conquered, took the princesses to add to the impressive collections of Mongol leaders wives (which is why Chinngis Khan’s genes run in so many of us) and actually lightened the tax load a little, and provided a system of justice that was less arbitrary, and made for a safer society – as long as you didn’t even hint at raising a finger to the conquering Mongol.
One can come up with similar variations on this strategy across Europe, India, China, Japan, Indonesia and the pre-European Americas and I suspect whole lot of places I know less about than I would like to. The commoners swapped rulers. The rulers fought to have possession of what de facto were a taxable resource. Peace might be hard to find among rulers, but realistically the peace was won for great mass of humanity just as soon as Baron X was killed by Baron Y.
Somewhere down the line someone figured out letting the ordinary people in on the wheeze was a bit cheaper than having to share out the loot with what were de facto mercenaries, fighting for reward. Yes, that is a rather cynical interpretation of patriotism and nationalism (which have roots too, in the genetic inter-relation of tribes of pre-history.) No, I’m sorry my American friends, you are not the first to cheerfully combine people of various ethnicities and geographical localities under one flag. Look at the make-up of Belisarius’s army for a good example (thanks to Procopius of Caesarea, who himself is a good example). The key was that they remained loyal to Justinian, and not their little factions.
This nationalism saved on the cost of cannon fodder, but vastly complicated winning the peace, unless you went right back to Saxon or earlier – which was not as profitable as merely annexing a new tax-base. Russia, Britain, Japan, China, Germany, Italy and many more… often conquered fractious states, some close at hand, some far off. And some were more successful at winning the peace than others. If you want to really pull it apart, the successes kind of went along with the Mongols. Either kill off, exile (risky) or better still buy off (allow to keep their jobs/positions is a form of this) the hierarchy – except the top. They had to go or be incorporated into the conquerors (see Chinngis’s collection of princesses). The people you really, really didn’t mess with were the tax base. You actually gave them perks, respect (even if they had lost) allowed them to keep some of the things dear to them – especially symbolic things which people fight and die for, but actually don’t have much tax value. Unite them under NEW symbols. And yes – you sat on your own troops, if they then took their national prejudices out on the newly conquered. To read a work of fiction by someone who understood this well, you could try LORD KALVAN OF OTHERWHEN by H. Beam Piper.
The key remains to gain reciprocity and mutual respect and honorable conduct: where the conquered foe and the conqueror end up making concessions to the other. The Second Boer War had a huge level of bitterness to overcome. They were at least to some extent successful – people like Generaal Jan Smuts and my Great Uncle, Generaal Koos de la Rey, were both respected by the British conquerors – and in turn, gave respect. Two more honorable men would be hard to find – and this meant that bargains made were honored and concessions given were recipriocated. The British made some reparations, and, as Kruger had fled, did not attempt any major purge or punishment. The boers were allowed to retain their culture and celebrate their heroes, and to have some political power under British rule. Peace had a few fractious moments – including the shooting of Koos de la Rey – but it was successfully won for generations.
Of course other methods were tried in other places, including genocide. And of course, some conquered people took the generosity of the conquerors – and smiled, and did their level treacherous best to destroy the conqueror. Sometimes they succeeded, and sometimes (more often) they lost. Inevitably reaction started by killing the leadership and making conditions harsh for their followers. Rather often that crushed them – those rebels are forgotten. But the peace was not won until the losers desired it and winners wanted to give it.
If you want an example of how not to it – which I think has some applicability to modern America – the treaty of Versailles is a good bad example. Germany lost – and various allied forces set out to cripple, hurt and to shame her. A global group set out to crush a national group. You can argue that they had cause, or that it was fair, or didn’t go far enough. What you can’t argue with is that it led to a far more vicious German regime, and another war, which, had Hitler not insisted on his ‘military’ ideas being followed, might have ended differently, or gone on much longer. As both of my parents served with Allied forces, I am glad it did not.
But afterwards the victors actually learned from the mistakes of Versailles and actually did a pretty good job of winning a fairly long peace, at least with their principal foes. It struck me, fairly pointedly that while comparisons between modern times in the US and the conflicts between the brownshirts and the reds leading toward Nazi Germany are frequent, it might also be seen as a global group trying to repeat Versailles. That didn’t work then.
The losers certainly are showing no signs of wanting to make peace, to accord respect, to match concessions with concessions. I kind of keep waiting for the winners to behave as winners do, in these circumstances. It seems the losers are hoping for actions against the foot-soldiers. But historically reprisals have inevitably been at the leadership, first.
Interesting times. I am glad I live elsewhere.
So how does all this tie into writing? It comes back down to understanding motive, and when you build such motives into your war-end either peace or another round of war will follow. The latter is more pleasant in fiction. It’s also useful for sequels –which are also more pleasant in fiction.