I have translated Bjørnson’s famous poem, “Olav Trygvason”, into English. It is probably the most famously national-romantic poem of the floridly romantic nationalism of the mid-nineteenth century; ticking off boxes we have Vikings, a Lost Cause, a dead king, and a century of nature mourning for human politics. The poem speaks of the vassals and followers of Olav Trygvason, waiting for his ship to rejoin them after they got separated on the way home from raiding in Pommerania. Unknown to them, he has been ambushed at Svolder by the joint fleet of the Danish and Swedish kings, which wouldn’t in itself be a problem, and by the treacherous jarl of Lade, which was.
After this battle, Norway was a fief of Denmark for most of a generation, the jarls of Lade holding it from the Dane-Kings. I have had Olav Tryggvason on this blog before, famous quotes and all.
Broad the sails over North Sea go; high on a fo’c’sle, morning lights show Erling Skjalgson, of Sole – watching over sea toward Denmark: Comes not Olav Trygvason?
Six and fifty the dragons lie, down come sails; towards Denmark spy sunbitten men; – ask they then: “What stays the Long Serpent? Comes not Olav Trygvason?”
But when the second dawn comes nigh sun from sea in a mastless sky becomes as a storm to hear: “What stays the Long Serpent? Comes not Olav Trygvason?”
Silent then, they quietly rise baring heads; for the wild surmise bursts like a sigh from the sea: “Taken – the Long Serpent; fallen – Olav Trygvason.”
After this, for a hundred year Norwegian ships at sea may hear mostly on moonlit nights: “Taken – the Long Serpent; fallen – Olav Trygvason.”
I have translated Rains of Castamere into Norwegian, and sing it here. It was a surprisingly quick project, mainly due to the nice four-letter Anglo-Saxon words that all have easy Norwegian equivalents. Here’s the Norwegian text:
Og hvem er du, sa herren stolt, at jeg skal bøye meg? Bare en katt med en annen pels, én sannhet kjenner jeg.
Med pels av gull eller pels av rødt en love har dog klør, skarpe og lange er mine, jarl, kom nærme og du blør.
Slik talte han, slik talte han, herren av Kastamir, nå faller regnet på hans sal, hvor ingen sjel forblir. Ja, regnet gråter over ham, og ingen sjel forblir.
It is said that, in the last years before the Fall, the houses that united in the aftermath to form House FA’ANG were each, in their own right, immensely large and wealthy – even as men counted wealth before the fall, when a private sky-chariot was the least of the tools that a Head of House might command. And it is said further, that one of these houses was First among the Five; and although men differ on which one it was, they all agree that its motto was respect the opportunity, and that this motto was the source of its inexhaustible riches.
In these wiser, sadder post-Fall days, wealth is very exhaustible indeed; but opportunities remain, and we still respect them. Some opportunities, however, are best respected by carefully considering their nature. In particular, if you should see an opportunity to improve your results by cheating at the Imperial Exams, then you may, of course, consult your smuggled notes, or the carefully-concealed writing in the palm of your hand. Or alternatively, you may rephrase your thought, and instead see that you have an opportunity to avoid the eagle gaze of the proctors, and to demonstrate your strength in the face of temptation. Prefect Larry of EastBay did not make that connection, and was sent home with the brand of “cheater” on his forehead; and after that, for all his wealth and power, nothing in life went right for him.
No Californian respected a man who had not only cheated, but hadn’t even had the wit to do so without being caught. When Larry took up a loan to improve the roads around Oakland, the bankers called it in after a year instead of the agreed five – and, the money being spent, Larry had to default, and go through life twice branded as incompetent. When he announced a reform of the administration, the office-holders and sinecurists blatantly bribed his inspectors – and the inspectors, just as blatantly, took the bribes; for what moral authority could a cheater have? King Cullen took away the vice-prefecture of San Jose, which had been part of EastBay since before the Fall; and when Larry rose in rebellion over the issue, the Prefect of Wineland, likewise in rebellion against Cullen’s tyranny, promptly made peace, because she did not want her cause associated with a cheater. Only the intransigent peasantry of San Jose saved Larry from having to make a loyal submission and losing a third of his domain. And their stubborn guerrilla, that melted away the Gran Franciscan army and forced them to retreat, was nowise motivated in loyalty to Larry’s rule; it was merely the perennial enmity of Californian peasants to anyone who has not lived in their county for three generations, encapsulated in the chilling battle cry of the guerrillas, “NIMBY! NIMBY!”
When Larry died (officially of the flu, not usually deadly in a man forty years old) his children considered it the greatest achievement of his troubled reign that the writ of Alameda still ran from Berkeley to Gilleroy; and thanked Hubbard – at least publicly – that there were still three sub-prefectures for them to squabble over. The winner of the squabble was the Princess Elizabeth – and whatever she said in public, it became clear as her reign went on that she had taken her respect for opportunity into some dark places indeed.
Moloch is not like the weakling Satan of Christian mythology, that cares about the souls of single humans; Moloch whose mind is pure machinery inspires no petty individual sins of pride or lust. Moloch is the spirit of bad Nash equilibria, and works on entire societies at once, to ensure that everyone acts rationally in accordance with their self-interest to produce complete and universal misery. To worship Moloch – Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! – is perhaps the final word in respecting the opportunity to survive, to breed, to get ahead of your fellows. Nor does it fail to deliver, Moloch whose blood is running money; its worshippers truly do get ahead, provided only that they sacrifice everything that makes it worth doing so.
The Princess Elizabeth married for the sake of an alliance with Jefferson; and her children were raised in a foreign land, and were not of House FA’ANG in the sight of the world. She seduced two of the three electors of Gran Francisco for the sake of becoming Queen when King Cullen should die; and her degenerate lifestyle made men prefer to support Cullen’s son. She sacrificed her husband for power, and the strain marked her face with a subtle ugliness so that all who met her reported disliking her on sight, even while her portraits show a young woman of regular features and generous lips. Despairing of the election and rising in the ranks of the Bohemians, she finally gathered, by means best not interrogated too closely, the money to hire an army that would make her Queen. She raised the banner of rebellion, and by dark arts won three battles and besieged San Francisco itself – and at the height of the rebellion, with King Cullen’s armies scattered to the winds and the Franciscans starving in the streets, Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone laughed, and the gout that was the price of her infamous diet ripped its claws into her brain, and she died screaming.
There is another tradition of House FA’ANG, less well attested than the motto of respecting opportunity, not often given as a reason for action or shouted as a call to battle. The FA’ANG Chronicle does not mention it; the Fragmentary Codex gives the phrase, but only as a disconnected sentence without context; only in the Scroll of the Fall do we find anything like a historical account – and the Scroll mentions many fantastical events, and is not generally thought reliable by modern scholarship. Nevertheless, after learning about the lives and deaths of his grandfather and mother, the Prefect Doug found attractive the idea that, before respect the opportunity, the First of the Five had had another motto.
Don’t be evil.
Accordingly, he strove to be a model Cetic, the opposite in every respect of his mother. He read the works of the sages Yudkowsky and Alexander; he studied hard for the Exams; he went about his realm disguised as a humble petitioner, and personally executed any bureaucrat who accepted his offer of a bribe. As soon as he was eligible, he joined the Emperor’s Disciples, and by fasting and meditation rapidly rose through its ranks. By these means he soon convinced the electors – even those who had hated his mother, slept with his mother, or both – that he was a better candidate for Governatus than Goldin, the son of King Alfred. A safely theoretical assertion, one might think, since Alfred “the Monster”, son of Cullen, was a young man and might expect to reign for another four decades. The King, nonetheless, was not pleased, and in retaliation he attempted, as his father had done, to revoke San Jose from EastBay. War being a known Evil, Doug was not prepared for it and the battles did not go his way; but at the eleventh hour he was saved by the invasion of the Cascadians, which caused king Alfred to immediately move his army north to meet the tree-worshippers, and to make peace with his vassals.
Virtue has its rewards as much as vice does. Elizabeth and Larry strove all their lives to become monarchs of Gran Francisco, by means ranging from petty cheating to literal human sacrifice; each died unsatisfied after short lives of struggle and despair. Doug, on the other hand, spoke gently to the other electors and won them over by sheer kindness; won the hearts of the peasants by strangling the corrupt bureaucrats that oppressed them; and gained the support of the Teachers by the simple expedient of not desecrating their temples as his mother had done. And in return, the universe gifted him with the snake in king Alfred’s bedchamber, about whose source nothing was ever proved and which may, therefore, safely be regarded as miraculous. So a virtuous man sits the throne of Gran Francisco that wicked ones failed spectacularly to gain; and he turns his eye south, where Warhead Barbara of the Atomists rules rightful Cetic clay, and north, where the Cascadian druids encroach on holy Portland. And he ponders the three-word phrase that has gotten him where he is; but only he knows whether it’s “don’t be evil”, or a still older commandment, not derived from the mythic history of House FA’ANG, but lost in the origins of humanity.
We lie in darkness and listen to bomber-engines moan. Like factory wheels, unsleeping, the dutiful turbines drone. Restless, across the heavens, the death-mills chew their grains. The product is thrown down freely, on buildings and human brains.
We sense the whining plummet of dynamite and steel as if bodies, vulnerable, extended magnetic fields. Our shelter sways in the shockwave, until it finds footing anew. That one was meant for others. We wait for the next one, too.
Still we can smile in the darkness, protected by this fact: There are far worse fates than dying in a stupid bomb-impact. They are not Gestapo-weapons that threaten from the skies. It is not our souls that may perish; souls are killed by lies.
Better our fate than those others’, deep in Europe’s night, who fear their courage will waver when there is no hope of flight. In freedom we work to answer imprisoned nations’ call; and so we smile in the darkness, even while bomb-sticks fall.
Morning comes, with the ocean’s wet and fitful breeze. Seagulls, cawing hungry, fly ‘twixt befogged trees. Here, where men had builded, stand ruins, burnt and black. Where towers had pierced the heavens is only an aching lack.
Churches and graveyards and salt-grey Elizabethan homes – How calmly the people write rubble into history’s tomes. There is no avoiding losses. Blessed each bomb that fared into a Gothic building, if only a child was spared!
Art cannot be bought with bondage nor with liberty’s sham. What aids it to lose one’s freedom, and keep one’s Nôtre-Dame? Artists have also a right to work with bodies by weapons rent. And the world shall love this London, for lack of monument!
Perhaps the mind needs freeing from signs that anciently shone that summoned us to halt. Across the rubbled stone space looms higher, larger; unhindered the south-winds blow. And freedom draws breath more deeply in that naked flow.
Despite machine-gunned roads, or bombed-out bus and train, the farmwife hawks from the corner the ruins’ bright refrain of asters from the country. Up to the street’s morning pallor stream laughing flocks of children, pale soldiers of the cellar.
Is that which gleams in the heavens expressly made for the young? Barrage balloons lumber about, like silver elephants slung in blueness. And, where at night the cannon roar defiant largesse girls stand along mirrored windows and look for the latest dress.
The lion sun rises yellow, and London’s millions fight ignoring nightly terrors, bathed in cool flowing light. The siren’s moaning yammer shimmers a ring of fear around us all imprisoned; yet nobody gives it ear.
Life swarms through the alleys as though the signal were: All Clear. A raid is a little matter: For our defenders are here. They battle up there, we can see them. The speed of the warcraft rips in the blue-painted whelming soaring whitened strips.
At evening we know the price of another unconquered day. “Twenty enemy aircraft, and eight of our own to pay.” Those dead and unknown comrades gave what they had to lose. With charcoal hands they proffer a day for our use.
Today, tonight and tomorrow the pilots’ storm-blue band shall gift the people of London the measure of their land. A sky of dear-bought seconds under which to work and live; a day to be used, that the fallen used their deaths to give.
Like all triage, the epistemology of war is necessarily somewhat rough; but nevertheless it is often useful to consider campaigns from the triple perspective of strategy, operations, and tactics. In this analysis, ‘strategy’ refers to the reasons why states wage war at all, and concerns itself with what they try to accomplish by resorting to violence; ‘operations’ is the large-scale movements of troops towards the fighting front, the management of immense columns of marching men and all the varied means of carrying their supplies; and ‘tactics’ is what those troops do when in sight of the enemy, or – on modern battlefields that may stretch for miles beyond the literal line of sight – how they maneuver with the intention of getting into a killing position.
In Noobgorod, which has for centuries been a lesser power that necessarily has had to content itself with second-best of everything, they say – especially of the recent Georgian campaign – “two out of three ain’t that bad”.
In particular, the strategic aims of the war are not easy to criticize: By means of the infamous “Cannibal Telegram”, the Georgian state had publicly made itself into an existential threat to all its neighbours, and the governments of Noobgorod, Japan, and Egypt all reasonably believed that removing this threat was a requirement for the mere survival of their regimes – perhaps even of their peoples, depending on how literally one is to take the word “eat” in the Cannibal Telegram. In geopolitical analysis, the survival of the state is generally considered the foremost aim of all governments – since the ones who have a different aim will most often not survive long enough to be analysed – and a public proclamation by a powerful statesman, not disavowed or officially denied, that a major regional power intends to “eat [its] neighbours”, is a clear and present danger to those neighbours. Moreover, absorbing Georgian industries and manpower, even with the known difficulty of administering such conquests, might have catapulted Noobgorod into a full regional power, much less vulnerable to the Great Powers on its borders and perhaps able to negotiate a lasting peace from a position of strength. Strategically, then, the Noobish government cannot be faulted.
Their operations, likewise, had at least the basic competence of military officers given a clear goal and capable of forming a plan to achieve it. The defensive Finnish Front, although driven from its initial fortified line on the border, was able to regroup on the secondary river line between the lakes, and to hold St Petersburg against heavy and sustained attack for the whole year the fighting lasted. The Crimean, Ukraine, and even the third-line Urals Fronts, similarly, were able to move to their assigned starting positions without major breaches of security, and then, when the expected Georgian attack did not materialise – Noobish prewar thinking had been that the Georgians would attempt to knock one attacker out of the war quickly, and Noobgorod of the wide-open steppe was the obvious candidate – to quickly change from a defensive posture to advancing in good order over the undefended black earth. Certainly there were timid peacetime officers who held up the advance, and troops who got confused at the lack of resistance and started firing on their comrades in different regiments; but such incidents are unavoidable when literally a million heavily-armed conscripts are on the move. On the whole, the advance to the Black Sea and the Caucasus went smoothly, and even provided a useful weeding-out of peacetime-oriented officers.
As for tactics… well, as the Noobish say, two out of three ain’t that bad.
The problem lay in the increasing aggressiveness of the advance as mile after mile, day after day, of steppe was crossed, with no sign of Georgian resistance. In the necessary process of weeding out the too-timid peacetime officers, the ones who refused to advance through an open city without written orders, the Noobish army selected very strongly for speed, for the aggressive courage that leads from the front, and – above all – for being the officer reporting that such-and-such a place had fallen, for many different places. The officers who were promoted were the ones who led their troops forward the most rapidly, who searched the most aggressively for opportunities to write a triumphant communique; and those were also the officers who came to take Georgia’s retreat to a National Redoubt in the Caucasus mountains, not as an operational measure by a cunning opponent defending his industrial core, but as a law of Nature imposed on a cowardly people by a just and martial God.
Consequently, when the counterattack finally did come, the tanks were many days’ march ahead of their supporting infantry; the spearheads were out of supporting distance; and while the actual guns were at least in the vicinity of the ragged front line, their ammunition beyond the day’s supply carried on their caissons was held up in low-priority trains far behind the line of occupation, since fuel for the tanks and grain for the horses had been given absolute transport priority after the fall of Sevastopol.
The result was, of course, disastrous. The armoured spearheads, isolated along the Black Sea coast, were encircled and defeated in detail; the following infantry, stretched on a ragged front from the mouth of the Kuban to that of the Volga, likewise found their spearheads too far advanced and unable to get support from the follow-on elements, and were torn apart by the Flandern tanks.
It was the good fortune of the Noobs, in these circumstances, to have allies: With the Russian front line in ragged tatters and the Flandern tanks weeks away from Vladimir, the Egyptians launched an immensely well-timed offensive into the Caucasus mountains that forced the Flandern “volunteers” south to contain it, and the Imperial Japanese Army finally poured out of the Central Asian mountains to threaten Persia, pulling Georgian reinforcements and attention to that front. Egyptian troops also crossed the Black Sea to counter-attack east along the Crimean coast, threatening the Georgian spearheads with the same fate they had meted out to the Noobish ones. Eventually a stable front line of sorts was patched up along the line from the Don to the Volga; but without any tanks on either side, the war degenerated into stale attritional warfare, complete with trenches, barbed wire, and rapidly-growing fortifications – as the soldiers’ jest had it, more Ey, ukhnem than Marzhirovat’ po Gruzii.
In these circumstances it was Georgian, not Noobish, strategy that came to the rescue. The Georgian state, attacked on three fronts, did not have an affirmative strategy for the war it found itself in, other than mere survival; the retreat to the National Redoubt, counteroffensive to the Dnieper, and retrenchment on the Don were all reactive, rather than attempts to impose a prewar vision on their enemies. However, they did of course have a prewar grand strategy, an attempt at mapping a path to survival and prosperity through the storm that everyone knew was coming, and which had come for them in the fall of 1938. And while that strategy may have called incidentally for the absorption of the less-powerful neighbours, that was never the core of the idea; the industries and armies of Russia and Egypt were means, not ends in themselves. The telos of Georgian strategy was resistance to the domination of the two European near-hegemons, Flanders and Thuringia. These two industrial behemoths, bestriding Europe from the Seine to the Neman, had – in Georgian thinking – been threatening to overshadow every other state since the beginning of their industrial expansion in the late 1850s; it was to combat this threat that Georgian statesmen had contemplated swift wars of annexation against their immediate neighbours, to “organise” and “unite” all forces that could possibly be mobilised against German hegemony, under Georgian leadership.
Now the Russian army and industry, such as they were, had indeed mobilised, but not under Georgian leadership; and with the freezing of the Don-Volga front, the last hope for a quick victory, for either side, had subsided. The Georgian leadership, therefore, commendably abandoned their plans for short, victorious wars, and instead attempted a diplomatic solution. Had they done so in 1936, even in 1937, they might well have been the acknowledged leaders of an Asia united against European domination, instead of a besieged regime of a country half lost and surviving only by the geographical good luck of the Persian mountains. But such foresight is rare and the Georgians should not be criticised for not having it; instead they should be praised for managing to keep their eyes on their overall strategic aim, and recognising that the war they had was neither the one they wanted, nor of any conceivable advantage to either side.
The savage purge of the “Cannibal Faction”, the disavowal of the infamous Telegram, and the offer of a peace on the status quo antebellum – without even reparations from the aggressor powers – were all intended as expensive signals to the Russian and Egyptian governments that their strategic aim had been achieved: That Georgia was no longer an existential threat, and could indeed become an asset to their survival. To governments quite aware of how much they had needed a swift and overwhelming victory, and also sharply aware that their attack had punctured the complacency of the two sleeping giants and that immense industries were now rousing themselves towards an “interventionist” – in reality expansionist and hegemonic – foreign policy, these signals were very welcome; the Noobish government, in particular, had despaired of so favourable an outcome to the war since the destruction of the Crimean Attack Group in the savage August battles of 1938. The Georgian offer was accepted with alacrity, and what was left of the armies returned to their prewar positions – and then moved again, to new lines on the European borders.
The first impulse of “what everyone knows” hardly matters; perhaps it was no more than an idle speculation, amplified by the chance fluctuations of gossip and radio into an unstoppable wave.
Now the war that everyone knew was coming has indeed begun; already fifty thousand young men lie dead within the borders of Georgia, and the steppe resounds, from the Dnieper to the Urals, with the thunder of Cossack hosts. The horse has not learned to sing; but, by the absent gods, it certainly can gallop, and carry a man with a lance, a sabre, and a gun. For the time being there is no resistance; the Georgian army, assailed by three Peer Powers, has abandoned the steppe and retreated to its National Redoubt in the Caucasian mountains – centered, of course, on Gora Dzhimara. When the Cossacks reach its foothills, their horses, no doubt, will learn new lessons: “Machine Gun Survival 101”, that would be a good one, or perhaps “Emergency Logistics: A Casualty Approach”. It is quite unlikely that singing will be involved, in spite of the chorus of “bring the good old bugle, boys” that currently rises above the endless grassy plain.
But for all that we can, at least, identify the initial impulse, the idle speculation that grew into an unstoppable wave; and in spite of what the Georgian propagandists in voice chat would have you believe, it did not say a word about “incentives”:
Mark’s words were, in fact, “I need to eat”. He did not say, as he claimed after the war was declared and some salt had been exchanged, that he “had an incentive to eat [his neighbours]”. Blayne mentioned incentives; Mark did not. It was this image I used to gather the alliance of Noobgorod, Japan, and Egypt (with Tyrannian backing) currently attacking Georgia.
It is of course quite possible that Mark, as he now claims, was merely dispassionately discussing the pros and cons of the scenario, and did not in fact intend to do the eating he said he needed. Perhaps he was announcing that he had no hope of victory in the road-to-war setup, and his “need to eat [for survival]” carried the unspoken rider “but obviously I’m not going to do that to my long-term allies like Noobgorod and Egypt”. If so, I think, perhaps, this qualification should not have been unspoken, it should have been trumpeted to the skies. When Blayne referred to this bit of chat as a “failure of diplomacy”, I think he may be said to have hit the nail on the head.
But, in any case, who was going to pass up an opportunity to literally “Sing it as we used to sing it – fifty thousand strong / while we were marching through Georgia!” in voice chat?
Everyone knew it was coming.
For the edification of those not playing the game, these are the road-to-war rules governing when powers can attack. There are five tiers of powers, referred to by analogy with OTL leaders:
FDR (Thuringia, Flanders)
Stalin (Georgia, England)
Hitler (Tyrannia, Ar Adunaim)
Tojo (Japan, Egypt, Noobgorod, Grand Sicily, Brittany)
which have different timed restrictions on their actions.
1936: Truce year; nobody may justify on or DOW anyone, but everyone may send volunteers to any wars with only AI belligerents. 1937: Tojo-tier powers can attack the AI. Hitler and Stalin may send volunteers to wars with player belligerents. Churchill can send Lend-Lease. 1938: Hitler-tier powers can attack AI; Tojo may attack players. Churchill can send volunteers. Stalin may guarantee one power. FDR may send Lend-Lease equipment. 1939: Stalin can attack AI, Hitler can attack players. Churchill may guarantee one power. FDR can send volunteers. 1940: Churchill can attack AI, Stalin can attack players. Churchill may guarantee an additional power. FDR may guarantee one power. 1941: Weapons free; anyone may attack anyone else.
In handy table format:
Obviously this is intended to allow the lesser powers some expansion before the Real War begins. The wars that in fact occurred were, to my memory:
1936: Mass intervention in the Chinese Civil War, leading to a rapid victory by Dali, much to the disgust of those Powers who intended to drag the war out and gain massive army experience thereby. 1937: Noobgorod attacks Republic of Suriname; Grand Sicily attacks Kebbi; Japan attacks China. 1938: Grand Sicily attacks Brazil. Ar Adunaim attacks Haiti. Noobgorod (cough) finishes its conquest of Suriname, whose infantry divisions with light-armour support, defending jungle and rivers, proved a surprisingly tough target. Six months behind schedule, Noobgorod finally allies with Egypt and Japan to attack Georgia. At Christmas, Ar Adunaim (Scandinavia) joins on the Georgian side (technically breaching the rules, but only by a week and in hindsight I had written them slightly ambiguously). 1939: Who knows? The only Hitler-tier power not already engaged is Tyrannia, who has sent volunteers to defend Noobgorod against the treacherous attack out of Finland.
My first AAR in the megacampaign “The Widow’s Party”, in which I was GM and had little time for writing up the sessions. This is introductory matter for the HoI part, without gameplay information.
When does a zeitgeist change, and why? Not only by the deaths of elder statesmen and the ascension of hungry young bloods; many a man who negotiated treaties and pacific compromises in his younger days has found himself a high priest of war as a respected elder. It cannot be traced to the reaction of an artistic movement against the preoccupations of their predecessors; the predecessors themselves, ignoring their advanced age and the pastoral idylls they wrote twenty or forty years ago, are quite happy to extol the necessity of war and the cold bracing impact of battle. It is not a question of saturated markets, or a lack of colonial frontiers; the sons of the merchants who opened Africa to imports are greedily reinvesting their profits into the cheap-labour factories that will make the colonies an immensely stronger market for industrial goods, and as for the frontiers, they were quite amicably closed by treaty, compromise, compensation, and accord forty years ago; they cannot well be driving new conflict at this late date.
And yet, undeniably: the times, they are a-changing.
It has been a hundred years, and more, since any power of Europe seriously mobilised its armies to fight another: a century of trade, of cooperation, of minor colonial skirmishes quickly ended with a compromise border; of competition for spheres of influence and trade privileges, waged with paper and bribes, influence and charisma, and never, not once, with the thunderous impact of naval gunnery or the monotonous tramp-tramp-tramp of regiments marching to the front. A century of prosperity and growth; ten consecutive decades that have lifted millions from grinding poverty and expanded the middle class to undreamed-of size.
And still. Something is in the air; something other than the bracing coal-smoke of factories running three shifts to make consumer goods.
War. War is in the air.
There are no raving dictators, no resentful irredentist countries looking to overthrow a settled order, no overpopulated soils bursting with lean and hungry men; no obvious cause for which millions might march into the bloody cauldron. And, in spite of this fact, everyone knows it is coming.
In the Caucasus the is a flourishing of “youth clubs” – half militia, half mystical cults devoted to the ancient being said to rest under Gora Dzhimara, half dance halls where young men can meet young women for purposes not at all dependent on the zeitgeist; but their military exercises are quite real. In England the village councils now routinely put “fortifying the beach” on their agenda, right between “May Faire” and “Mrs Plaskitt’s motion to close the pub”. In Tyrannia, of course – but then, the alleged descendants of dragons have always been given to warlike posturing; the paramilitary “hatchling brigades” and “fledgling squadrons” go back at least two centuries, to when the local councils first attempted to defend by force the peasant autonomy that the Tyrannian constitution in theory gives them, and cannot be considered an example of the twentieth-century change. In Egypt, on the other hand, it is indeed a recent development when the fellahin grow their beards to their chests, swear to have at least ten children, and take mighty oaths to “avenge Burchard” (or sometimes, confusingly, “von Hentzau”) by means unspecified, but presumably involving plots spanning centuries.
The examples could be multiplied; but there is no need, for the facts are plain to see. In each of the eleven Peer Powers there is – suddenly, without warning or obvious cause – a premonition of war; a movement to prepare for sacrifice and privation, a cultural trend to extol the glory of battle and the need for young men to prove their valour. The fact is clear, although the cause is not: In unison, almost sleepwalking, as though a switch has been flipped from “peaceful cooperation” to “last power standing”, the people of Europe prepare for war.
It may be fairly said that they do not know what they are getting into: The last serious wars between the Peer Powers were fought with muskets and muzzle-loading twelve-pounders – all lovingly hand-crafted by weaponsmiths who had served seven-year apprenticeships. The capacity of industrial economies both to absorb punishment and to dish it out will, no doubt, come as a dreadful surprise to all involved. But then, wars always do, for populations who know it mainly by literature, after a long and fruitful peace.
What reason would they give for this sudden change? The young men whose eyes shine at the thought of martial glory, the young women who smile at uniforms and swoon dramatically at the militia parades, the poets whose works have suddenly turned to blood and sacrifice – what would they say, if asked why this year is so different from five years ago, why war is now suddenly on everyone’s mind? Most likely they would be unable to say. A shrug, and perhaps a mumble about “the times” or, if educated, “the zeitgeist” – circular reasoning, appealing to what is to be explained, as the explanation itself.
One or two, it may be, would not even attempt an explanation, but would simply assert that “everyone knows it’s coming”; and thereby explain it after all. Does not the expectation of war feed upon itself? If the thesis is “they want to fight”, and the antithesis, “they know we know they want to fight”, then is not the synthesis necessarily “we’d better be ready”?
If everyone knows war is coming, and everyone knows that everyone knows… then, assuredly, war must be coming indeed, with or without a cause. The first impulse of “what everyone knows” hardly matters; perhaps it was no more than an idle speculation, amplified by the chance fluctuations of gossip and radio into an unstoppable wave. It does not matter now; what everyone knows is coming, will surely come to pass.
Then again – does everyone know? For two countries yet sleep, and their people with them: Flanders and Thuringia, first among the Peer Powers, seem oblivious to the war that “everyone knows” is surely coming, and soon. In Germany no blackshirted militias march in the streets; neither red nor black flags wave over the canals of Amsterdam – though the red lights continue to do a roaring business. Do the two greatest Powers of Europe know something that everything else does not? Or is it merely the complacency of power, the obliviousness brought by three centuries of being unquestioned top dogs? It is clear, at any rate, that the two German peoples look to their vast regular armies for defense, and do not attempt to recruit their young men into people’s militias, rifle clubs, scouting troops, volunteer corps, or any of the other paramilitary paraphernalia with which the lesser powers try to prepare their citizens for war.
Perhaps there is still a hope for peace; if the two largest powers refuse to be drawn into the madness afflicting their lesser brethren, may not the disaster be avoided through their steadfast example? Or if the two finest – or at least largest – armies of Europe are suddenly mobilised to intervene against any aggressor, perhaps the conflict can at least be kept small, not the world-consuming conflagration that the apocalyptic death-cults monotonously warn of. Perhaps Europe needn’t grind nations and peoples into dust to be satisfied, only regimes and careers; perhaps the destruction can be at the level of regiments and divisions and mere hundreds of thousands of young men, rather than armies and fronts and millions.
And – who knows? – perhaps the horse will learn to sing.
“Sir, I have finished the sample analysis you asked for.” Abroo raised the sheaf of prints into the Captain’s visual field; quite unnecessary, the Captain would of course read the report on a screen like any other data, but Abroo had found it useful to have a visual shorthand for having done a lot of work. The thickness of the printout was visceral evidence in a way that a file-size number couldn’t be.
“Good; thank you, Commander. Ah – if you could just remind me which particular sample that was? There have been rather a lot, these past few months.”
“Yes, sir. The silvery-greyish statuette apparently depicting an unknown tool-using species, which we found in the structure on the airless satellite in – I’ll skip the catalogue number. The G-class star we visited about two weeks ago.”
“Oh, the ruined temple.” The Captain sat up a little in his command chair; the structure, standing alone in the utter silence and darkness of vacuum, had bothered him considerably. Many of the humans had felt that way, apparently because they had been unable to find a purpose for the structure; calling it a “temple” seemed to be their way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance. The columns, with their semi-relief carvings of a biped species in enigmatic postures, had probably reinforced the idea; some ancient culture of the human homeworld had liked to build its temples with fluted marble columns, and the association had stuck. It was, of course, a mistake to extrapolate your own cultural quirks to a completely different species, and a separate mistake to apply the the label “religion” to anything you didn’t immediately grasp the purpose of. Abroo had spent entire semesters learning to avoid both mistakes. Starfleet, on the other hand, liked its officers to be educated in hard sciences.
The Captain eyed the thick printout consideringly. A commander was above all a manager of resources, including his own time. “Can you summarise the most salient points, please?”
“Of course, sir. The statuette is not very radioactive any more. Perhaps the most interesting feature, chemically, is that it consists of about fifteen-sixteenths lead, the rest being mainly uranium. With some trace decay products.”
The Captain’s brow furrowed in thought. “One-sixteenth uranium?”
“Yes, sir. Not exactly, of course. One over fifteen point seven three, to be more precise.”
“Understood.” The Captain waved the more precise figure away. “The half life of uranium is several billion years,” he mused.
“Yes, sir. Four and a half billion.”
“So, one-sixteenth would put us at” – he tapped the four fingers of his right hand in rapid succession on his chair – “eighteen billion years.”
“Yes, sir,” Abroo said neutrally. “About forty percent more than the age of the universe.” The Captain’s mental arithmetic was, of course, entirely correct; anyone able to pass Starfleet Academy’s rigorous courses in physics and chemistry must certainly be able to multiply by two.
“Fascinating.” The Captain looked momentarily awed, but he was a military officer; his hands moved with sudden decision on his chair’s inputs, bringing up a blank report template on the screen before him. “Thank you, Commander. I will report these findings to Starfleet Command. Dismissed.”
“Yes, sir.” Abroo saluted and left, carefully keeping his feelings off his signalling tentacles, which wanted to curl into tight left-oriented spirals to show his utter delight to all the world. Most of the crew weren’t very good at reading his species’ body language, but why take chances?
Back in the lab, Nizam looked up from her screen with her signalling tentacles firmly aligned in a neutral don’t-much-care expression; but Abroo was good at reading his species’ body language, and could see the subtle cues of wild curiosity under her careful poker tentacles. “So, what happened?” she asked. “Did he ask you to explain the chemical composition?”
“Not at all,” Abroo said, finally releasing his tentacles to show his intense amusement. “He took the raw data and drew his own conclusions, in the best independent-thinking tradition of Starfleet commanders.”
“And you did not make a suggestion,” Nizam said, tentacles quivering; she was suppressing a laughter at least as wild as Abroo’s.
“Of course not,” Abroo agreed. “It would be impertinent for a junior officer to do so, unless the Captain had specifically asked for one. And all the more so, when it was a matter of physics, or chemistry if you prefer; after all, I specialise in quite a different subject. The Captain got a distinction in natural sciences at the Academy.”
Nizam’s tentacles flipped wide apart in amazement. “And it really didn’t occur to him to look for a different explanation?”
“Not a bit. He did the physics and got an interesting result; done. To consider that the most obvious way of getting one-sixteenth uranium and the rest lead – say, for a prank on future archeologists; or because that produces a lustre pleasing to your species’ eyes; or for the famous “ritual purposes” – without having to wait around for eighteen billion years, is to just mix fifteen parts lead to one part uranium; well. That would require going into xenopsychology or perhaps even sociology. You know. Squishy subjects.”
“Well, he can’t say you’re not taking an empirical approach to your subjects. He would likely praise you for it, if he knew – at least, once he got over being the experimental subject,” Nizam observed. “But I don’t suppose you’ll be writing this one up.”
“Sadly, no,” Abroo said. “In any case, I won’t be able to observe the most crucial data, except in my imagination. I would love to see how Starfleet Command reacts when their hotshot young Captain reports that he has found a statue older than the observable universe.”
The O’Neill government did not, of course, give a damn about Dang, as such; indeed even the Norwegians were not particularly rapacious for the conquest of Ghana and Togo, the dirt-poor and malarial provinces inland of the Norwegian Gold Coast, which they had sensibly ignored for the three centuries of their African colonial venture. But in 1829 the Powers of Europe were suddenly clamouring for places in the Sun, the Teutons and the Russians (!) had both sent expeditionary forces to claim their slices of the doomed country, and the combination of “all the cool kids are doing it”, “do they know something we don’t?”, and “anyway there’s no Dang army anymore, we just have to march in and take over” enticed the Troll Republic to declare a protectorate and send an army to enforce it. The Irish, meanwhile, had been slow off the mark and had no convenient coastal claims in Africa from which to expand; but they did observe that their ancient enemy’s navy was drastically weakened by the Global Hemp Shortage, and that the Ynglinga Hird – in any case a relatively tiny force mainly intended for boarding actions and longshore raids – was busy occupying villages in Africa and could reasonably be counted out. The opportunity for a quick knockout blow – a simple landing at Bergen to occupy the seat of government and demonstrate the vulnerability of the Norwegian coastline – would surely have been tempting to any government with colonial disputes to settle; for the Irish, eight centuries of raids across the North Sea made the temptation utterly irresistible.
The first stage of the plan, indeed, went without a hitch; the North
Sea Expeditionary Corps landed at Eivindvik, thirty miles north of
Bergen – the forts at Kvarven and Herdla, old though their guns were, made impractical the tempting armchair strategy of simply sailing into Bergen Harbour – and marched south almost unopposed, crossing Fensfjorden and Osterfjorden in requisitioned fishing vessels. There was no question of the city’s buekorps, armed for the most part literally with crossbows, resisting a regular army with artillery; but the impossible terrain and dreadful infrastructure gave the national government several days’ warning. The forts gave the Norwegians control of the inshore waters even in the face of the superior Irish fleet, and not only the Council of Captains (Kapteinsrådet) but also the Sailor and Seaman Union (Sjømannsforbundet) and the silver reserves of the major banks were evacuated across the Hardangerfjord. From there they made their arduous way on the terrible roads to Trondhjem, where – to the baffled fury of the Irish – they refused to capitulate, calling instead for a levee en masse and swearing to remain “united and faithful until Dovre shall fall”.
The Norwegian people, like the two opposed governments, cared nothing for the actual territory ostensibly in dispute; the jesting name “den Forbaskede Krigen” is a direct translation of the second sense, in English, of “the Dang War”, referring not to the African polity but to a condemnation not quite strong enough to use an unminced swearword. But when the Irish tried to settle the conflict with an invasion, that was something else again. With a foreign army on Norwegian soil – not a colony, a border march, or an imperial possession, but the thin strip of poor land that runs between mountain and fiord – the peasants and the sailors no longer felt that wars were none of their business and could reasonably be settled by the merchants and captains. The mountain tops of Norway’s craggy coast no longer bore literal beacons, in this modern age; but metaphorically the call to arms blazed from Herdla to Vardøhus, and the leidang – the ancient militia of the Norse people, which had once gathered at Ting to resist the encroachment of kings on the rights of freemen – responded. It was these grey-clad militias – mobs, in the early days; armed with boarding pikes and axes, crossbows and shotguns and an occasional hunting rifle; electing their officers by show of hands; uniformed only in the sense that they all wore the same undyed wool – that gave the war its unjoking name in Norwegian memory, “Folkekrigen” – the People’s War.
Overused puns aside, both Irish and Norwegians found it no joke to fight among Norway’s mountains – in any season. Jotunheimen was, at this time, impassable for formed units; to extend their occupation and increase the pressure on the Council of Captains, the Irish had to advance north and south along the coast, crossing a fiord, inlet, bay, or sound every ten miles or so – in many places without the benefit of their ocean-going navy, which was still held outside the offshore islands by the coastal fortresses. The Irish fleet, while definitely superior to the Troll Navy, had also suffered from the Global Hemp Shortage, and though strong enough to cut off much of Norway’s oceanic trade it was not able to fully interdict the movement of supplies and fighting men in small craft in the inshore waters. Consequently the fortress garrisons could not be left to wither on the vine; to starve them out required full formal siege works – and time and manpower which the Irish did not have. Kvarven Fort, to take just one instance, flew the Wolf’s Head until as late as October 1829, when autumn fog finally blinded its heavy guns and permitted the Irish to launch an effective assault across Gravdalsbukten. Without the sealift capacity that naval superiority ought to have given them, the Irish were forced to move at a snail’s pace – sometimes as little as five miles in a day – on the fiord-side roads, whose military quality ranged from ‘dreadful’ to ‘nonexistent’. The place-names “Irskeveien”, “Irskestigen” and “Dublinerbroen” in the west of Norway – respectively, “Irish Road”, “the Irish Ladder”, and “Dubliner’s Bridge” still bear witness to the Irish advance, where their army was forced to either build its own infrastructure or do without artillery. In these circumstances the armed opposition of the Norwegians, such as it was in these early days, did not actually add that much to the Irish troubles; it was the land itself, not its angry inhabitants, that slowed the advance on Trondhjem to a crawl.
By the time the Arm Eachtrach approached the Trondhjemsfjord, nonetheless, the ill-armed mobs of peasants had coalesced into something approaching an organised army. There was no artillery except some ancient brass three-pounders from a private collection, donated by the great-grandson of the successful privateer who had used them; but the silver evacuated from Bergen had been spent to at least give every man a gun and enough ammunition for some live-fire drill, albeit the guns were an eclectic mix even within individual companies. With hand-loaded paper cartridges that mattered less than it would have in the twentieth century; and combat experience showed that mixing in a few rifles, even muzzle-loaders, with the muskets was an advantage for this slow fighting retreat. There was even some light cavalry, hastily-mobilised Finnish and Sami nomads mounted largely on reindeer. In an open-field encounter battle with room to maneuvre, the Irish regulars would, no doubt, have swept aside these barely-trained recruits. Fighting along the narrow coastal approach in increasingly bad weather, with another excellent defensive position every half-kilometre, they were stopped in the city’s hinterland in a freezing December blizzard; the gilded tower of Nidarosdomen would have been in sight of their foremost outposts if there hadn’t been a mountain in the way and snow reducing the visibility to half a kilometer.
The failure to take Trondhjem was the end of the Irish attempt at coercing the Norwegian government, though it took two years of bitter fighting and a hundred thousand casualties for the reality to sink in. The O’Neill ministry fundamentally refused to believe that a government which had lost its capital, ocean-borne trade, colonial access, and Atlantic islands could still retain both its will to resist and the confidence of its people; it spent a hundred million shekels, thirty thousand Irish lives, and every bit of political capital it possessed on futile campaigns up and down the Gudbrandsdal, minor landings in Skåne and Sweden, and hopeless counter-invasions of Dang in search of the elusive breaking point of the resistance. Meanwhile the war-raised Norwegian army became increasingly professional, imported Russian guns replaced the brass three-pounders, and the Troll Navy recovered sufficiently from its peacetime doldrums to dispute command of the North Sea and even to recover Iceland. In the end, the main achievement of the Irish invasion was to demonstrate that even a minor Power, if backed by genuine popular support, could not be coerced by the eighteenth-century tools of limited war. The price of that discovery, for Norway and for other states which turned to mass mobilisation, was that putting “a rifle in every hand” in defense of limited foreign-policy objectives necessarily meant giving the riflemen a voice in determining the policy to be defended. Such voter-chosen policies could not readily be modified to fit geopolitical facts; and when states clashed, with large popular mobilisations giving each side vast means of resistance and reducing their power to compromise, the result was disaster.
— The People’s Century: War in the Age of Mass Mobilization, Richard Branikin, Cork University Press, (C) 1979.