War Never Changes II

Military science fiction thoughts.
  • A mil-SF writer—I won't say who—was discussing Israel's problems, suggested that things might eventually reach the point where the Jews will "overcome their aversion" to gas-chambers. But the idea is evidence of a very naive attitude, one that's quite typical of the "Realpolitik" aficionado (half of whose positions boil down to "ethical philosophy quitter-talk"). See...gas-chamber genocide is a funny thing. Because of the nature of the undertaking, it's basically only possible when it isn't justified—you can only do it to populations over which you already have control. If the Jews had not meekly submitted to being loaded onto boxcars, demonstrating that they were, if anything, excessively "good Germans", then the Holocaust would never have been possible.

    Now, some measures that can be characterized, albeit broadly, as "genocide", could be justifiable—I have previously mentioned, I think, that the 19th-century US could've executed every adult male Comanche as a war-criminal, something their culture would not have survived (not that the loss of that culture would be a bad thing...but the "women and children facing enslavement by their neighbors in return for shelter" issue would be). And you might kill so many of the able-bodied men of a small community that the community ceases to be, as I mentioned RE: the Hopi in their fights with the Spanish. And you might have some ethically-justifiable bombing campaign whose collateral damage renders a particular population (presumably one that wasn't that big to begin with) unsustainable, depending on the particulars.

    But notice that, though those justified acts could result in the destruction of an entire people or culture, that isn't the purpose of any of them. You simply can't deliberately, systematically eliminate a people, unless you already control them so completely that you have no need, and therefore no right, to do anything like that to them. Even executing all the Comanche men was only feasible after the smallpox epidemic rendered them vulnerable to being forced onto a reservation—and thus we were content to have them subdued and pacified, without pushing (wholly justified!) vendettas, not least because doing so might've made them a whole lot less pacified.
  • That's actually kinda interesting, the idea that you may not be able to "press" the issue of war-crimes, if you want to have peace. I mean, consider the fact we let the Russians sit in on the human-rights courts after World War II, when they were worse offenders than the Japanese and Germans combined. If Germany had not reacted violently against nationalism after the war, their nationalists could've made quite a bit of rhetorical hay out of that bit of monstrous hypocrisy—probably enough to gin up another World War. Japanese nationalists certainly did and do make quite a bit out of it (also, unfortunately, out of laughable "America was just as bad" claims, which requires ignoring mountains of stats). The only reason there hasn't been another Pacific War is that, while the Japanese kept every inch of their nationalism, they reacted, almost as violently as German anti-nationalism, against militarism.

    In some other war, there might not be a convenient anti-militarist/anti-nationalist reaction, and so having war-crimes tribunals might just make another war all the more likely. That's the simplistic narrative of what happened after World War I, after all, and like most lies, it involves the distortion of a truth. The French shouldn't have insisted on doing to Germany what Germany did to them after the war of 1870; it was petty and shortsighted. Of course, the "German Empire" should also have been broken back up into its, what, over a hundred? component principalities—if they'd just done that, then if anyone was going to get scapegoated by populist rabble-rousers for the hardships Germans experienced after World War I, it would've been Prussia, which at least happened to be the people responsible. Unfortunately World War I ended during the last flourishing of the blood-and-soil nation-state, and nobody could understand why Germans should not all be one state (they also couldn't understand why Dalmatian Slavs shouldn't, with results I'm sure you know about).
  • I realize that existentialism is a post-war literary phenomenon, and all (well, except for Kierkegaard—and Heidegger was post-First World War), but what's with the "soldiers not knowing what to do with themselves after the war's over" thing, that Japan's obsessed with, in its fiction? I'm pretty sure most soldiers do, actually, know what to do with themselves, once wars are over: they cause Baby Booms and economic growth so big it gets itself called miraculous.

    Warfare is an attempt to acquire a different set of peacetime conditions, and once those peacetime conditions are achieved, they become a new purpose, to replace the war itself. Nobody, not ever, really fought just for the sake of fighting. Even though Oda Nobunaga explicitly said he wanted to conquer the world (his actual motto, "Tenka Fubu", literally means "all under Heaven, by force of arms"), he wanted to conquer it, not just start wars everywhere. When Uesugi Kenshin died, Nobunaga said "Now the land is mine," not "Now I can finally start that war".

    What there is, admittedly, as part of the known "coping" difficulties after returning from war, is that soldiers know what they're supposed to do and when to do it; that doesn't exist in civilian life. But that's more similar to parolees' difficulties with free life's lack of regimentation (also a difficulty returning soldiers experience) than it is to any true "existential" issues.
  • Incidentally, you know an idea you're simply not allowed to use? People starting wars to sell weapons. This brings up Japan again: they're the fourth to sixth best-funded, best-equipped military on the planet, and they're constitutionally forbidden from going to war. Military contracts are plenty lucrative when you're selling to a peacetime military, without all the hassle and economic uncertainty of wartime conditions. Anyone who says otherwise is a paranoid psychotic. Also someone who needs to find a grownup to read and explain Bastiat's "Candle-makers' Petition" to them.

    It's simply a fact that the whole "profiteering" theory of the "military-industrial complex" is, provably, Communist propaganda. Please, what profit did we make off Vietnam? Or any war since? The last profiteering conflict in US history was the 1954 Guatemalan coup, and that was a colonial-mercantilist enterprise demonstrably fomented at the behest of United Fruit, not any armament firm. Weapons manufacturers are like insurance salesmen: they profit whether you use their product or not. And making war just to sell weapons is like breaking windows just to sell glass—we fomented the coup because we wanted (as I said) different peacetime conditions, namely ones that were more favorable to the fruit industry.

    (I really do need to write a scene where the gunrunner in my books points out that a weapons-dealer is not a "merchant of death", any more than a lawyer is a "merchant of bankruptcy". Just as you hire a lawyer to keep other people from bankrupting you, you buy weapons to keep other people from killing you. Sometimes the other party has to get killed or bankrupted in the process—that doesn't mean you're obligated to prefer it happen to you, though, does it?)
  • I think I've mentioned that the thing that actually will kill dogfighting, is drones, since they can take accelerations far beyond what pilots can. But that doesn't mean we won't have any manned aviation—you'd still probably have close-air support manned, for instance. CAS is the role where jamming would be much more likely (if you're fighting enemies with a tech-base)—not even calling in air-strikes requires consistent communications the way drone-control does.

    The Air Force hates its CAS role, or at least its brass does. And there really is no reason not to give CAS roles to the aviation of the Marines or Army, who both clamored to be given the A-10 after the Air Force decided to drop it. So what we might see is a future where there are no independent air forces, with the support roles being given to ground-based branches' aviation, and the fighter and bomber roles being handled by drones.

    I'm trying really hard to be saddened by that, but after the way the USAF brass treated the A-10, I'm kinda outta give-a-damn. Maybe you guys can get jobs explaining what you saw in the F-35—"See the people who don't know the significance of thrust-to-weight ratios for fighter-jets! Wonder at their deliberate obliviousness to everything learned in fighter design since the 1970s! Recoil in horror at their incomprehension of why 1,174 rounds of 30 mm is preferable to 180 rounds of 25 mm!" (Unfortunately, the heyday of the traveling freak-show is even deader than that of the fighter-jock, so that's actually another kind of change that's going to screw you guys. I'd commiserate, but, again, "outta give-a-damn".)
  • I'm really almost tempted to put mules in my SF setting, since that would be the most efficient way to deal with increasing loads. Then again, the mindset behind the "give the soldiers prohibitively large amounts of equipment" trend is also a mindset that insists that military animals are as obsolete as carrier-pigeons (although you can't jam carrier pigeons). So I guess the "soft-lifting exoskeleton chaps" are still what I'm going with.

    Zledo might use mules, though, or rather the animal something like a dog that they rode (or one of its relatives). The "horse" ones kinda look like Cape hunting dogs, only the non-white patches are orange structural coloring and blue pigment; they're the size of horses, with a modification of the Lhãsai tetrapod form (an extra knuckle relative to Earth tetrapods, and making the last part of the hind leg out of elongated ankle-bones instead of the metatarsals) that allows them to have the same gait as horses, despite having clawed, multi-toed feet. Don't know what markings the "donkey/mule" ones would have; maybe like a blue (structural) maned wolf with a dark-blue pigment mane.
  • It occurs to me that zledo might have bred the camouflaging into their "horses" (which are called zdhyedhõ'o, singular zdhyedhõ). Very likely, the ancestral stock of the species didn't have much in the way of disruptive coloring—wolves (or dholes, who are a slightly closer behavioral parallel) don't, they have a very slight degree of disruptive coloration—but zledo are ambush predators. Most jackals are much more strongly colored than wolves, that's why we name them things like "side-striped" or "black-backed"—they hunt much more by stealth, and thus have more need of disruptive coloration (not sure why Cape hunting dogs have it). Zled warfare, also, involves much more stealth than ours ever did (before they invented color-change fabric, all their military garb was reversible, with the other side being camouflaged), so their war-animals would need stealth.

    A zdyedhõ, although a member of the same taxonomic class as zledo, and having the same basic anatomy, is not in the same order; basically, instead of there being one major order of carnivores, like on Earth (we call them, well, "Carnivora"), Lhãsai has two, the one zledo are in and the one zdhyedhõ'o are in. Basically it's like if some of the major mammal carnivores nowadays were Creodonts instead of Carnivorans. The order zledo are in is characterized by hypercarnivory and obligate carnivory (zledo are both), while the one zdhyedhõ'o are in is characterized by hypercarnivory to mesocarnivory, with few obligate carnivores and even some omnivores. (I.e., the zledo's order is like the feliform sub-order of the Carnivora, while the zdhyedhõ'o's one is like the caniform one—which includes bears. Not sure if there's something like a panda in either order—the feliform equivalent being, probably, the aardwolf, although even that still has to subsist on animal protein.)
  • The kerfuffle over American Sniper raises an interesting question: would the people accusing snipers of being treacherous consider feinting, in hand-to-hand, to be treacherous? Of course, that begs the question of whether Michael Moore or Seth Rogen even know what feinting is—or treachery, for that matter.

    There is nothing treacherous about stealth or surprise. Treachery is wrong because it involves betrayal of trust; but what trust is betrayed, in sniping? An enemy in legitimate conflict has absolutely no right to expect that you not kill his combatants in times and circumstances of your choosing, rather than his. (And, also, as in one of the movie's surprisingly uncontroversial scenes: when an enemy makes his women and children fight for him, the guilt for their deaths does not go to the soldiers who killed them while fending off their attacks, but to the people who made them fight.)

    War is very far from being hell ("war is hell" is all too often an excuse for diabolical wartime actions), but it isn't nice, either. Certain basic decencies are not suspended, whatever certain cowardly schools of "thought" may say, but at the end of the day, war is where we kill and hurt our fellow Images of God.


All that Glitters...

Examination of the chemical abundances in the solar system leads me to suspect that, no, future people will still use gold much the way we do now.

And I've been thinking about how you'd launder whatever precious metal you were using as a de-facto commodity money—you're using it to avoid the paper-trail (which I guess a paperless setting calls an audit trail?) inherent to purely electronic currency, so you need a way to turn it into money you can use. (In a society like that, insisting on doing business in gold means you're shady, automatically.)

One thing I thought of would be, asteroid miners. Space-travel is relatively cheap in my setting—for non-fragile payloads that don't need life-support and can survive the 30 g-force acceleration of something like a Generation 1 StarTram mag-lev space launch, it's $43 a kilogram, which is comparable to shipping a package by mail. You ship it to a confederate, perhaps first re-combining the gold with other minerals (so it looks like ore), and then he takes it to some ore-processor, and you get money back. The only trouble there is there's at least two middlemen, the confederate and the ore-processor.

Ah, got it. Modified version. You sell the gold, as-is, and semi-above the table, to someone at your local COPUOS office. Presumably you have a shell-corporation/cover-identity as a mineral speculator, i.e. a person who buys and processes the produce of asteroid miners.

(An "asteroid miner" in my setting, come to think of it, is not really a person who ever sets foot anywhere near an asteroid—they're a person who owns and remotely operates asteroid-mining robots. So maybe your cover is just "asteroid miner", rather than the middleman. "He's registered as an asteroid miner but never actually leaves the planet" isn't a problem, although "no craft registered to his name has logged any deposits down whatever chute gets the minerals planetside from space" might still be. And yes, you put your mining-produce down a chute, you don't want to just drop it on the planet, first because safety and second because "claim-jumping". Maybe a criminal money launderer just owns some asteroid drones that periodically shove whatever dirt they collect down the chute, so as to keep up appearances.)


Rannm Thawts Four

Title says it all, really.
  • Apparently a bunch of people, notably Christopher Hitchens, have written that characterizing North Korea as Confucian (it's certainly not orthodox Marxism) is erroneous...and they then go on to say "It's basically a Korean version of Japanese Imperial ideology." But...I thought you said it wasn't Confucian. "Confucianism" as an explicit political idea is really Neo-Confucian, and Imperial Japan was the most powerful and second longest-enduring totalitarian regime based on those principles. The second most powerful and longest enduring? The Korean kingdom whose name North Korea still bears, in Korean. "Joseon."

    Of course, some of the worst things about North Korea are still Marxism, not Neo-Confucianism. The Joseon Kingdom may have maintained a network of state-owned brothels staffed by slaves, for its troops (i.e. it made its own people into "comfort women", something no other East Asian regime ever did, in 2500 years of history), but it had normal agricultural methods and dealt with famines like sane people do. (It was in things like "Toyotomi Hideyoshi is at the gates, and we need the provincial governor's permission to fight" that Joseon's Neo-Confucian insanity manifested itself, and bad military policy simply doesn't come up as often as the vagaries of agriculture.) North Korea, on the other hand, has the policies that made the Great Chinese Famine the biggest single famine, by death-toll, in human history—and Red China had systematically eliminated its (Neo-) Confucian scholars.

    Imperial Japan had to be actively subjected to systematic carpet-bombing before the "military takes priority" thing resulted in actual hardship (rather than mere inconvenience) for its own people; pray, who's bombing North Korea?
  • Looking into "bayonet connectors" and "fiber optics cables" led me to conclude zled cables probably have heads something like this. Never mind zled tech being deceptively primitive, I doubt most people looking at that who didn't see it labeled as a fiber-optic connector would know it was used for anything particularly advanced. (Apparently the "straight-tip/bayonet" connector is a fairly old way of doing it, admittedly.)
  • The GOP understandably makes much of the Democrats having been the party of slavery and Jim Crow. Interestingly, though, Democrats never utter a word about Republicans having been the party of eugenics. Seriously, all the early 20th-century Eugenics Boards and legislation? Republicans. Every major American eugenics theorist? Republican. (Lots of Democrats—Wilson, FDR—had eugenic ideas, but that's not what they were known for.) Vast portions of the early eugenics movement was funded by the "charitable" foundations of robber-barons like John D. Rockefeller; the Rockefeller Foundation actually founded the "psychiatric genetics" institution in Germany that one Josef Mengele got his start at.

    The reason Democrats don't say a word about any of this is that those were progressive Republicans, and many of them remained darlings of the "progressive movement" after it came to be the project of only one party. One of them was Margaret Sanger, for example—if the Democrats want to get the Republicans on guilt-by-association with her, they would first have to quit their own association with her, and the organization she founded. The foundations that once funded eugenics research are now basically fundraising arms of the Democratic Party; the last prominently Republican Rockefeller (who was a Kissingerian Realpolitik junkie, big on Third World population control) died in 1979.
  • Zledo, I realized, probably wouldn't use many knives in the kitchen—since they've got a "bird's beak" paring knife on the end of each finger. They just scrub their claws really well before cutting up all but the heaviest foodstuffs. (I'd been thinking for years that zled claws are less curved than felid ones, only about as much as, again, a bird's beak knife.)

    Similarly, I would imagine that they never invented the potato peeler, since their hands come with one built in. And, it occurs to me literally as I write this, when bored, they might well whittle with their claws. Half the world is Play-Doh if your fingers end in blades.
  • Average height in the Middle Ages, in Europe, was 5'8". It started to decline sometime in the 1200s, and by 1600 was 5'5". Most European peoples are (depending which numbers you trust) only 5'9" now, give or take a half-inch or two. Now, height is partly a factor of genetics (the pygmies of Africa got that way because their neighbors took their tallest women—though being hunter-gatherers probably doesn't help), but a much bigger factor is food. A well-fed person will be markedly taller than his malnourished identical twin.

    The Americans who seemed like giants to the European soldiers in World War I were not genetically much different from most of the Europeans, they just had really good agriculture. The medieval Europeans were not genetically much different from the "Enlightenment" Europeans. So nutrition in most of Europe was better in the 1100s than it was in the 1800s, generally looked back on as a time of great prosperity for most of the continent (although that is through the lens of the Depression and World Wars).
  • Amusing fact: I was looking up the usage of the French phrase "langage écorché" (bad language—"langage" is an old-fashioned word, something like "watch your phraseology" in The Music Man). And something like two thirds of the Google results were French analyses of the works of Rabelais. Because while Shakespeare couched his dirty jokes in double-entendre (which I always want to pronounce, in English, as "double-intender"), a couple generations earlier Rabelais was just cheerfully working blue.
  • I mentioned that a USB-type cable, that supplies power as well as data-link, probably wouldn't be necessary for my setting. But, of course, that might raise the question "Why use cables for the data, then?" The answer, of course, is security. I imagine most consumer electronics are okay with wireless linkage, but with military hardware you want to hardline it. (Wireless peripherals also increase the EM "footprint" of one's forces, making them more detectable. If I'm interpreting the listed "decibel-milliwatt" strengths of various kinds of wireless signals correctly, every two to five wireless keyboards is like making a call from a cellphone. Do you know how easy cellphones are to detect?)

    In my setting, wireless is so ubiquitous that hardlining to most devices, in and of itself, bypasses most of their security—because it's pretty much only technicians who ever access hardware that way, and they're assumed to have authorizations (plus, I mean, "physically plug something in" is, always has been and always will be, much easier to prevent than "send a radio signal"). At least among humans; zledo are military-minded and their IT "guild" also places a premium on confidentiality. They can break your security if they have to (presumably mostly as part of a police investigation), but otherwise, they will only have the access you give them. (They design computers to have layers of security.) I have a worldbuilding reason for the humans' tech having that weakness—but it also makes the job of one of my characters, an infiltration android, much easier.
  • Huh, just had a thought. Does wireless power equate to loss of privacy? I mean, when everything you carry is powered by wireless power-transmission, it wouldn't make sense to charge other people for your use of the power in their establishments. I suppose a lot of cafes and such do let people charge their stuff while they're using the free Wi-Fi, but A) ever wonder why your coffee is so expensive? and B) do you want your power-bill to spike because a bunch of people take up jogging through your neighborhood?

    The solution, it seems to me, is for the power-system to log what devices access it, and charge the accounts linked to those devices. And thus, the power-bills can be used to track people's location, because the grid has to know where it's being accessed the most as it allocates resources, and it has to know who's doing the accessing so it knows who to charge. Presumably criminals would use dummy accounts so they can't be tracked, unless they want to go to jail for utility theft à la Al Capone's taxes, but you can still track them the moment you have their dummy-accounts (like if you arrest their clients). It probably wouldn't be that big a deal; the government practically knows where you are all the time now anyway, and we trust them with our Social Security Numbers like it's no big deal.
  • Come to think of it, "banking" as a "manage the money you merely have" enterprise will probably cease to exist—an all-digital "account" might well be with the treasury of your community—and people will only work with "banks" for things like loans and the kinds of "savings account" that involves investments. ...Damn it. Now I think I need to rewrite some scenes. It's become apparent that smart criminals would probably do business in precious metals, rather than fooling around with currency, given that non-physical currency is exactly the same thing as making a call from a cellphone (and indeed, fund-transfers probably involve accessing the exact same network that making calls does).

    What metal to use? I mean, stuff like gold and platinum are probably pretty common to a spacefaring civilization, given they can mine them from asteroids; taking payment in those would be like taking payment in copper nowadays, and that's only about $3 per pound. Maybe room-temperature superconductors, some of which, apparently, might actually be organic polymers, according to a theory mentioned in the Wikipedia article on "room-temperature" (really "above 0°C") superconductors. Or at least a "high-temperature" ("can be reached with liquid nitrogen instead of liquid helium") superconductor. One component of a lot of those, barium, apparently goes for $550 a kilogram now; though asteroid-mining will probably increase supply, fusion power and rocketry might increase demand concomitantly, if not more so. Presumably, as a medium of exchange, we're talking pure barium, probably sealed in jars of mineral oil; its most common ore, barite (BaSO4), apparently only goes for $0.15 a kilogram.
  • Couple interesting ideas as I'm hammering the kinks out of my D&D setting. E.g., the dwarves don't have arcane magic, they have psionics...but they consider their psions to be mages—"power stones" are their runestones, their psionic tattoos are runic, etc. Kobolds and troglodytes are two branches of one race, the way goblins and hobgoblins are (go look up what a kobold is in folklore if you want to see why). Because I'm going back to elk for the elves' mounts, decided to make the elves the "bigger than humans" kind instead of the "smaller than humans" kind (which are the D&D canon type, outside Faerûn).

    Finally, I discovered that the "Iokharic" script (Draconic) from 4th Edition is very similar to the 3rd Edition version of Espruar, which you'll recall I'm using (as a basis) for my campaign's Elvish script. And the 4th Edition "Barazhad" (Abyssal)—the name of which seems to be Breton for "churning butter"—looks an awful lot like the 4th Edition Dwarfish script, Davek. Remember, my ogres (including orcs) and goblins (including hobgoblins and bugbears) are mutant dwarves and elves, respectively. So I'm gonna use Barazhad for Ogre and Iokharic for Goblin. (Incidentally, since I'm using Eorzean for my human languages, and it's basically Roman, I've got a boatload of other fictional scripts to pick from in creating relatives for it, since everything from Daedric to Spiran is also based on Roman.)