The End Is Not Yet: Enough Rope

After the long run of posts finishing off the first timeline, I return at last to the second timeline, specifically its late nineteenth century.

This week I have several developments I want to comment on, so I’m going to take a player’s-eye view rather than attempting to put things in a game-timeline-internal format such as a history book.

Firstly there are the internal politics of Norway. The success of the First Chinese War, and the effective destruction of the regular army in the Delaying Action at Jinan, vastly increased the prestige of the Ynglings at Dovre, for several reasons. First, their eugenics, tactics, and training techniques clearly work. Second, they had been in favour of a victorious war; nothing succeeds like success. Third, they controlled, for some years until the regular army could be rebuilt, in effect the only military force in Norway capable of projecting any power. And fourth, they could ‘invent’ techniques of uptime party organisation and propaganda new to the Norwegian electorate and to their opponents: Mass rallies, tight party discipline, lowest-common-denominator editorials. Everything is a continuum; looking at our own timeline, you can see all the techniques used by Hitler in the thirties, existing in embryo form in the nineteenth century. But the Ynglings can introduce them all at once, no buildup, and leave their opponents scrambling for years on end. Take party discipline, for example: The Ting at New Bergen has ‘parties’, in the sense of groups of people who recognise similar interests and can generally be persuaded to vote similarly. But they’re not like modern political parties that will support your campaign financially, but will also kick you out if you don’t toe the party line (indeed, the phrase itself is a twentieth-century coinage). Having a group of people who always vote en bloc, and who have access to campaign funds outside their own personal wealth, is an innovation and a powerful one. Hence the Unity Alliance (Norwegian “Enhetsalliansen”, from the motto, “United and Faithful ’til Dovre falls”) has had electoral successes out of all proportion to the number of people who actually agree with its full ideology.

There are, however, limits to this process; new and better methods are very well, but quantity has a quality all its own, and quantity, both of population and of wealth, rests entirely with the settler aristocrats of the Americas and their traditional support among the farmers. The Scandinavian Ynglings can allocate their funds much more effectively, they get a lot more political mileage per dollar spent, but the economy of Scandinavia remains small compared to that of America. Dovre is not unaware of this, of course; hence it is making a push to get into an unassailable position quickly, before the older political trends can reassert themselves and acquire the new methods.

Thus, the hot political issue in Norway is expansionism versus isolationism. The Unity Alliance wants expansion. The Peace Party wants exactly what its name suggests, just as it has for the past hundred years, even when the Tingsmenn and the English squires were its opponents. But although it has expanded a bit beyond its traditional area of strength in the south of America, the first-past-the-post system of Storting elections means it can’t get many representatives outside the South, and worse, its presence often has the effect of splitting the anti-Unity vote. That leaves the Tingsmenn, whose radical wing has broken away to form the nucleus of Unity. It has two main parts: There is the ‘hard core’, which is coalescing into a political party in the modern sense of the term, opposing the Unity Alliance; and then there are the independents, who try to vote on the merits of any given issue, in the old style. These independents hold the balance of power, and the contest takes the form of attempting to convince them. Meanwhile, the Unity Alliance is extending its machine into new districts, and the core of the Tingsmenn are rapidly building one; so in a decade or two, when the independents can’t get elected anymore, the struggle will instead consist of trying to convince the electorate directly.

The core don’t much care about war versus peace, as such; their main concern is the continuity of the social order in the Americas – that is, keeping the Ynglings, especially the big farmers but also the industrial and commercial barons, on top. It’s worth noting that this is not based on descent or bloodline, unlike the Ynglingism that emerged in the previous timeline; it’s just the natural tendency of any property-based ruling class. It just happens that in Norway, “upper class” and “Yngling” are more-or-less synonymous, and if it should happen that some prole works his way into wealth, the first thing he’ll do will be to shop for an Yngling debutante to give him (or at least his sons, if he’s married already) respectability.

However, whatever they might feel about the merits of war, the Tingsmenn oppose the Unity Alliance (because they rightly expect social upheaval should it win); and since expansionism is the chosen battlefield of that party, the Tingsmenn must, to be effective, enter the fray at that point. But “war” is a broad issue. It is one thing to be in favour of military expansion; it is something else again to pick a target. Militarily backward Finland, for example, would make an easy victim – or so it is often claimed, at least; but then again, it is not clear that lands so gained would be worth anything. Conversely Germany still retains southern Sweden, and control of the opening to the Baltic has obvious economic value; not to mention that Lubeck is still majority Norwegian by ethnicity – but against this, Germany is a much more formidable opponent. Thus the hard core of the Tingsmenn have fought a delaying action not by opposing war in general, but by always supporting a different war than the one under discussion at any given time – which has allowed them to maintain a majority against resolving any particular conflict by force.

That majority, however, was growing rather threadbare by 1880; and, not coincidentally, that was when Bjørnar Svensson, leader of the Tingsmenn, turned from wrestling to judo. For the conflict of the day was China, and its unexpectedly early recovery from the First Chinese War. The Unity Alliance had, of course, been beating the war-drum; how could it do otherwise? But Svensson had information to the effect that the Dovre-Ynglings were not really eager for renewed war with China, being uncertain that they could win. Consequently he suddenly changed directions: He offered to test the expansionist policy. In what became known as the Political-Science Speech, he said he would vote in favour of the war, if it was agreed that the war was an experiment. “We have been told,” he said, “of the many benefits that war will bring our people; very well, let us put it to the test. Are we not men of science? We will run the experiment; we will fight China; and if it redounds to our benefit, then we shall humbly admit it, and say that the Unity Alliance has taught us something new. But if it be not so, if it leads only to bloodshed without benefit, then we shall claim, instead, to have taught the Unity party something; and we hope that they will be men enough to likewise admit it.”

The gauntlet had been cast, and Dovre had no choice but to accept; the Second Chinese War was voted in, 294 against 90, with 32 abstentions, the opposition consisting almost completely of Peace Party delegates. Svensson’s intention was to give the Unity Alliance enough rope to hang themselves, and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams: The war was a disaster. Norwegian casualties were terrible again, and the eventual tribute extracted (although admittedly a very considerable addition to Norwegian revenues) was a mere token compared to what had been bruited about initially. In August 1885, two months after the signing of the treaty, Svensson asked the King to dissolve the Storting and call for a general election (later called the “Porcelain Election”, since it was seen as a referendum on Chinese policy), in which he hammered away at the theme of “We did the experiment, and the UA policy failed”. As a result, the Unity Alliance lost almost half its seats:


1880 1885
PP 85 88
T 102 155
UA 131 70
I 98 103

With the momentum of the UA blitzkrieg broken, and America gaining vast hordes of voters while Scandinavia has only its natural increase, Norway will likely revert to the more peaceful trend of its foreign policy in previous centuries, intervening in foreign wars only for clear gain rather than starting its own.

Another development reinforces this trend: The discovery of the Georgians on the Moon. There is no doubt among the Inner Circle at Dovre that here, at last, is their ancient enemy. The occasional savage grin can be seen; “Ah, now we know where they are. Let’s get them.” Revenge for the penicillin affair, for the Black Death and the consequent loss of control of mainstream Norwegian politics, for the Occupation and the two Diasporas – Dovre has quite a score with the Angel. The difficulty lies in acting on the knowledge; and, of course, the struggle for control of Norway cannot be abandoned just because a juicier target presents itself. Indeed, control of the huge industry of the Americas is going to be absolutely crucial for waging the eventual war in space. Plain politics having failed, the Dovre-Ynglings will look for other means; but they’re not going to give up.

Lastly, a look at the development of the eugenics program. It has pros and cons. The uptimers have not made rookie mistakes such as happened in OTL, like trying to breed for a manly handshake or “intelligence” in the shape of a high forehead. But still, after the penicillin affair, they had to instil the eugenics movement as a trend among the people rather than controlling it centrally; and consequently a bit of folk genetics has crept in. (Note that at any given time, there are at most three, and more usually two, uptime Ynglings at Dovre; there are limits to their control and there certainly cannot be micromanagement.) Thus, the actual tests are sensible enough: IQ, reaction time, muscle development in response to specified exercise programs, memory. But the judgements are all done around ages 15 to 20, and performance at that age has become a huge selection pressure – as noted previously, to the point of semi-voluntary suicide (or lately, emigrating to America) for those who do badly. This produces people who are smart, fast, enormous – as tall as OTL Americans, and almost as bulky but it’s mostly muscle. But they peak young. There is very little selection pressure for qualities at age 30. By then they are married and have had four kids – or as the case may be, they did badly and won’t get married at all. Sure, there’s some points to be lost in the marriage market if someone notes “Well, I dunno – all his grandparents died of heart attacks at 35.” But this is very much a second-order effect compared to your score in the Yearly Games. So the Norse are hugely impressive at 20, but at 35 their incidence of heart disease is a hundred times what it is in the rest of the world (and it gets even worse as they age), because the gene expressions that give them the huge muscular development have some unfortunate side effects. Likewise they have very strong bones, and those that make it to 50 have high rates of arthritis and calcification. Excellent memories, and they would have high rates of autism except that the affected children don’t generally see their tenth birthday. And so on. Everything’s a tradeoff. It’s possible to improve on evolution, but only in the long run. The Norse have had 400 years, and they’ve achieved spectacular results – but they’ve had to take the bad with the good.

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3 Comments

Filed under There Will Be War

3 responses to “The End Is Not Yet: Enough Rope

  1. Kuiperdolin

    Another problem here is gene depression (to an extent that depends on the population size -Scandinavia is tiny in a world of word-spanning empires- and on how hard the selection is) and a gene pool that gets dangerously shallow, effecting difficulties to adapt to any unforeseen constraint. Just like supercrops or superbreeds that cannot fight off the least disease. In fact, would it not be ironic after their role in bringing the Black Death if the eugenic Ynglings were wiped out by this-timeline-Ebola ?

    I guess they can mitigate that by interbreeding with a controlled amount of “wild stock” from the Americas, though.

    • kingofmen

      Well, I guess it’s not a major spoiler if I reveal that Ebola doesn’t happen within the game timeline, ie before 1950 or so. 🙂 After that, the Ynglings presumably invent proper gene-manipulation techniques and get out of the hole they’re in by carefully diversifying their genetic assets.

  2. Pingback: The End Is Not Yet: And Stay Hanged | Ynglinga Saga

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