I have only recently discovered that van Creveld, an author I always admired, also has a fine blog as well.
Just going back to the more recent posts, I came across two posts that would be gremane Imperial forces in the Empty Quarter: Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy, Topoi, and Two Articles Caught my Attention Last Week.
The first is a warning to leaders of strongly dominant forces, rooted in a certain kind of moral framework:
The killing last week by an Israeli soldier of a wounded Palestinian terrorist who was lying helplessly on his back has sent the country into a turmoil. No sooner was the picture published on the Net then the Israeli media mounted a wave of protest….
In his defense, the soldier claimed that the terrorist was moving and that he was afraid that he, the terrorist, might be carrying an explosive belt on his body. This was denied by the man’s commanders and made doubtful by the fact that the terrorist, who had been lying there for no fewer than six minutes before he was killed, had been examined and found unarmed. As always happens in such situations, charges and countercharges quickly multiplied until they congealed into a single opaque, stinking, tissue of truths and falsehoods. I do not know what the outcome is going to be. But I am prepared to bet that the soldier will not be punished as murderers in Israel usually are, i.e. with life in prison. Assuming he is punished at all, almost certainly he will get a pardon of some kind.
All this is still in the future. Meanwhile the fallout from the case is splitting Israeli society from top to bottom. Not to mention other soldiers’ justified fear that, should they be caught in a similar situation or commit a similar deed, their superiors, instead of backing them up, will wash their hands of them.
Ugly charges and countercharges – and the usual chain of unexpected consequences – start to get rolling…
Now, in the Empty Quarter, the moral framework that the writer is coming from Simply Doesn’t Exist. All Muslim societies know how to deal with infidels: all Vilani cultures know how to deal with people who refuse to conform. The Bwap believe in the rules… period.
The Hindi generally don’t have such hard borders – their hardliners are more tuned to caste enforcement, not punishing unbelievers of a religion with very porous boundaries. But no matter: I am confident that they have learned much from the period of Arab Domination, as they discover for themselves how Islam handles polytheists.
(“…and mystical psionics, too!” the Arab nobility of the time would say, with an eye on the Iridium Throne.)
Anyways: back before the Hebrin Rebellion, the Arabs had no problem with crushing any number of
anti-Arab anti-Imperial rebels. But today (993 Imperial), the local Imperial forces are carefully managed according to tribe, with various attempts to install professionalism and a “Emperor, then Tribe” mentality… with various degrees of success.
Most of the regular Empty Quarter forces are currently fighting in the Solomani Rim War: it may well be that the fires of war will merge these Soldiers of the Emperor into a single unit. (Judging from the behaviour of the Empty Quarter during the Rebellion period, I would argue that it did do so: the sector was mainly loyal to Emperor Lucan, regardless of his unlawful behaviour.) But right now, it’s only the local forces who are guarding the worlds…
The second, Topoi, is a variant of Kipling’s The Gods of the Copybook Headings: the same historical lessons, taught over and over and over again.
From Lycurgus, Solon, Heraclitus, Herodotus, and Plato on, many ancient statesmen, philosophers and historians believed that history was cyclical. Rise and fall, rise and fall. Repeated over and over again. Medieval sages such as Honoré Bonet and, in the Islamic World, Ibn Khaldun agreed. So did some twentieth-century scholars such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. The details vary from one thinker to the next. But the gist of the argument is always more or less the same; if ever there was a topos, (Greek, singular of topoi), meaning a theme or archetypical story that people keep telling themselves, this is it.
As this particular topos goes, originally war was waged by men of poor, nomadic tribal societies like those of which, long ago, all of us used to be a part. At first they fought over such things as access to water, hunting- and grazing ground, domestic animals, and, not least, women. At some stage one tribe, often headed by a particularly able leader, defeated all the rest and united them into some kind of league, confederation, or federation. As the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Huns, Magyars, and Mongols all did.
Next, the victors took on their richer, settled, neighbors. They fought, triumphed, conquered, and subjugated. Having done so, they discarded their nomadic traditions and took up life in the cities under their rule. Exploiting the labor of others, they grew rich and soft. They also indulged in every kind of luxury, allowed themselves to be governed by women, and witnessed a sharp decline in fertility.
Having abandoned the military virtues, at some point they started looking down on them. Hiring foreigners to fight in their stead, they ended by losing the qualities that had made them great. Attempts to substitute technology for fighting power, such as were made both in fourth-century AD Rome and, repeatedly, in China, did not work. Nor is there any reason why they should, given that the barbarians could often capture or imitate the technologies and find renegades to operate them. As, for example, Genghis Khan and Timur did. Each empire in turn was overrun by its poorer, but more virile and aggressive, neighbors. More often than not subject peoples, long oppressed, rose and joined the invaders. The end was always the same: ignominious collapse.
The Imperium has been a major exception, perhaps because of Vilani involvement, perhaps due to the broad (and cheap!) no local interference policies of the central government. Most empires don’t live to see their 300th birthday, but on her 1000th birthday the Imperium was able to fight – and, arguably, win – a major war against a competing power, and do so as a broadly united culture and polity.
True, this extraordinary state of affairs didn’t last much longer – only 116 more years, actually – but this is a major (fictional) historical achievement. I am interested in finding out how this is possible in a plausible fictional universe, where the nature of men remains as it is today.
(The Zhodani and the Vilani are both tightly uniform and conformist cultures – one enforced by the Thought Police, the other by Conformity and Tradition – so these human cultures have a reasonable excuse for their unusual longetivity.)
The last article is on feminism, and the place of men in society.
With plenty of patriarchal Arabs and Hindi cultures in the Empty Quarter (and patriarchal Bwap, too!) men lead and women follow, by and large, with the Vilani being the major exception.
The difference in size, known as dimorphism, is easily visible among humans as well.
Note: there is little/no sexual dimorphism among the Vargr. Vargr females are still tied to home by their need to suckle and care for pups for over a decade… but killing, they have no problem with. At all.
In my writing, I assume that Vargr females are more serious and less flashy about their network than the males are. For them, it isn’t about Charisma, Crowd-pleasing behaviour, Building a Following, or Making a Name: it’s about food on the table and the survival of their pups, nothing more. “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
Only a small minority of women are as large as the average man. True, humans are less dimorphic than many other mammalians. But the difference between the sexes is sufficiently large to put most women at the mercy of most men. That, incidentally, is why much of the advice that tells women to practice “self-defense” is misguided. Should they try, then usually the outcome will be injuries. It also explains why, starting when they are toddlers, boys are always warned against hitting girls. Even if, as often happens in early puberty, they are larger and heavier than them. Doing so is considered “not nice” at best and can lead to serious consequences at worst.
Irregardless, I still would advise outsider women bear arms while within the Quarter. Not only because women can die on swords (regardless of if they bear them or not), but being outside the tribe means that you have no protection against predators.
And no legal protection either, if you are an infidel woman on a Shari’a-governed world.
(And then, there are the visiting Vargr and other nonhumans, who don’t realize that the laws against murder – such as they are – don’t cover nonhumans on local Solomani worlds…)
Also, “God made Man, but Smith and Wesson made them equal.” This even applies to pistols: .22 calibre weapons kill more people than .45 pistols, after all. Something about bullets dancing happily about as they bounce around organs and ribs…
But there are other repercussions as well. Many “less advanced” societies do not have strong police forces. Instead it is the task of the male members of each clan to protect their own womenfolk.
That sentence should be memorized by Referees roleplaying in the Empty Quarter. “The Tribe Takes Care of Its Own.”
That is why women are subjected to so many restrictions. Such as prohibitions on leaving the home, taking up work outside it, and, in Saudi Arabia, driving. When they do these things they are obliged to cover their bodies and faces and/or take on a male escort. A woman who stays inside, or who is escorted when she goes out, is less vulnerable to sexual assault and the consequences it may bring. So is one who instead of wearing provocative clothing, hides her face behind a veil.
Against the prevailing social and cultural background, all these measures make excellent sense.
Less condescension, more intelligence!
Then again, van Creveld lives in Israel, where there is little time for inaccurate, ignorant stereotypes when it comes to understanding the Arabs… but lots of time for real, useful knowledge you can build on and work with.
Thanks partly to the police, partly to what a famous twentieth-century scholar used to call “the civilizing process,” life in the West today is relatively secure. As many researchers have pointed out, the number of crimes per 100,000 of population has been declining for the last two centuries or so. That, incidentally, is one reason why the death penalty is being reserved for more serious crimes, and used much less often, than was the case before 1800. Still women before they need anything else need security. Something tall men, big men, strong men, can normally provide better than weak men, small men, short men can.
Let’s assume, as I, on the basis of the research I did for a number of my books do, that the best days of Western liberal democracy are behind it. And that, as a result, the future is likely to see civil society upset by growing crime, terrorism, and various combinations of the two. In that case women will need protection more than ever. In Europe, where wave after wave of Muslim immigrants are arriving, this is already happening. No doubt men will do their best to provide that protection. But they will do so at a price: to wit, obedience and the inequality it implies. Not necessarily because they are oppressive by nature, as so many feminists have foolishly claimed. But because you can only protect those whom you control.
There are reasons why the Empty Quarter is the Empty Quarter. “You can only protect those won you control.”
There will always be a need for strong, tough men with some good armour and a reliable weapon: that’s just the way the Empty Quarter is. But to thrive – or to govern the region successfully – you need to understand what’s going on before your eyes. First you understand, then you can shape and predict, and the door to mastery appears.
A big, strong fighter with real brains and a good set of eyes and ears can go very far in the Empty Quarter… if, and only if, he can get the tribes to recognize his leadership. A man without a tribe is easy pickings: a wealthy outsider without a tribe to back him up is simply screaming to be disappeared. The local Vilani – somewhat more muscular and tougher than the Solomani Arabs & East Indians – are the model for an outsider to learn from.
A skinny man with brains can get by as an explorer, and sometimes a trader. For fights, technology really does help… but be cautious here, for things break, and supplies and power can run out. The Bwap – not very strong, dependent on humidity for their life support, but with governmental connections absolutely everywhere – can be a good teacher here, if you are willing to learn.