At this point, Learner’s assumptions branch out in all directions.
Interstellar space offers something like a savanna ecology ‒ just scaled-up ‒ and great abundance for those diligent and mobile enough to earn it. Once we’ve evolved beyond our vegetative, static, planetary phase, outer space promises unlimited stellar energy and hydrogen; more than enough for a plant-like, sun-powered civilization like ours, which feeds at great waste off a tiny fraction of the stellar energy available.
Our technology pegs us as microbial “decomposers”: global leaf mold, if you will. Indeed, we juggle sunlight, plants, animals and miscellaneous dirt to produce cities, armies, waste heat and light, carbon dioxide, methane, rust and hard membranes of concrete and asphalt. In so doing, we stir a witch’s brew of toxic refuse, solid and liquid waste and megatons of human flesh.
“The pattern of human population growth in the twentieth century was more bacterial than primate. When Homo sapiens passed the six billion mark we had already exceeded by as much as a hundred times the biomass of any large animal species that ever existed on the land. We and the rest of life cannot afford another hundred years like that.” Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002, p. 29.
Humanity may break free from this Earth-bound primitivism. In that case, we may stray into the living space of other herbivore civilizations. Let’s hope each side will have graduated from the “heroic hysteria” phase of their weapons atavism.
Then again, there may be predatory civilizations out there, fast, stealthy and lethal by design. “They may treat us,” Paul Lackman suggests, “the way European colonists treated the rest of the world.” I had in mind a much more lethal interaction: like that between a big fish and a smaller one or the way a worm would eat its way through the soil. Their hunger might tempt them to engulf all life that showed the slightest sign of weakness, down to planetary bedrock.
These days, a bubble of electromagnetic signal pulses ever louder from the Earth. As we speak, its radius spans over one hundred light years: thirty times the distance to the nearest star. This bubble is spreading out at the speed of light: the radio signature of a second sun that’s not there. It includes 2,056 electromagnetic pulses from idiot-savant nuke tests, (http://www.mayomo.com/103218-time-lapse-map-of-all-nuclear-explosions-since-1945) as well as the snap, crackle, pop signatures of our particle accelerators.
If any hungry entity could sort out this signal from the background sizzle of cosmic radiation, they could. Our ultra-primitive radio signals might attract them, the way the bleating of a calf tucked out of sight by its mother might betray them both to ravenous hyenas.
Their ingestion of the biosphere might turn out to be lethargic if we put up a proper fight to begin with. Defense against this form of predation may be the only justification for our inbred ferocity. For the same reason, rams bash each other’s skulls during rituals of courtship duels — so that their offspring could better fend off mountain predators.
Robert O’Connell’s study of weapon management, Of Arms and Men, concludes that most battles are ritual duels fought between equivalent armies. They resemble courtship competition among ungulates and other beasts. Like rutting males, each army risks the damage of a tolerable number of its soldiers (cells), only to withdraw and perish unfulfilled if the affair goes south.
He dubbed this phenomenon “intra-species warfare” interspersed with “extra-species” fights during which a more heavily armed aggressor dehumanizes and exterminates its victims until weapon parity, attrition and/or genocide bring on martial exhaustion.
We could face both challenges in the future, whether fighting among ourselves or among aliens.
True war is the Clausewitzian ideal chock-full of weapon justifications: the Chinese School of Law, Realpolitik and Machtpolitik (the politics of “realism” and power). It boasts of elaborate battle preparations; the self-sacrifice, professionalism, noble bonding and peacock panoply of professional soldiers; the elitism that lets them themselves above non-combatants, etc.
Real war is the art form of the bully and the tyrant. It sets loose routine massacre, vandalism, rape, terror and subversion of conscience. It is the disgraceful way we express our reptilian neural wiring and paleomammalian reflexes that govern human fear, authoriphilia (love for authority) and aggression.
Weapon mentors take great pains to disguise real war as true war.
John Keegan characterizes as typical of Western combat, the face-to-face, fight-to-the-death ritual scrums “invented” by urbanized Greek farmers. He distinguishes them from cavalry/missile duels fought on the steppes of ancient Asia and during modern tank battles. To him, the latter are examples of “sissy” war. He favors the symmetry of steel-thorned hedges of foot soldiers harvesting each other's flesh, and of regiments of the Enlightenment playing “firing squad” against each other in neat, tightly packed checkerboard squares.
This preference may be a matter of taste or perhaps atavism. A case may be made that the first “battles” (aside from the murder of intimates and Freud’s assassination of the Father?) were fought between small bands of hunter-gatherer-scavengers who confronted each other during the harvest season over precious patches of crops, clean water and fishing holes. Did they wield the first generation of weapons adapted from hunting, gleaning and fishing gear?
It may be that the primitive tactics of warfare – like fire starting and other displays of sentience – were first tried out as child’s play (inspired by a shaman’s crazy ad-lib?). The most promising games were taken up more systematically by their mother and elder sisters, then adopted by young males, and finally made commonplace when those young males took over from grizzled elders who never tolerated such shady newfangled tricks in the first place. This according to The Hundredth Monkey by Ken Keyes, at http://www.spiritual-endeavors.org/free/100monk-pre.htm.
This is the common thread of primate adaptation, the well-worn path of Learner revolution. I expect that World Peace might evolve along the same lines, once pass away all those who never wanted anything to do with it in the first place. Hopefully, they’ll do so quietly, without dragging the rest of us down with them and burning up the planet.
Note Hitler’s last wish: he wanted to pull the whole thing down with him once his master plan had failed: another common aspiration among unsuccessful psychopaths. It’s likely they would rather see the planet cauterized if they can’t possess it entirely (read rape it, and us). Thus, climate “skeptics.”
Paul Lackman reminded me that Roman Legions fought with a short sword (gladius), and Zulu amabutho (regiments) did so with a short-handled spear (assegai or ixwa), some of the deadliest edged weapons ever forged, along with Nepalese kukri and perhaps the most deadly of all, the round-bladed fransisca of the Francs. Note also, a Congolese multi-purpose throwing weapon called a shango, forged so as to roll over a cowhide shield and strike its bearer.
Nations intended their warriors to attack in hand-to-hand combat; this despite their recruits’ sensible aversion to that option. Throughout the ages, weapon mentality propounded the “spirit of the bayonet” regardless of the casualties it caused on both sides. The most likely outcome of two sets of men fighting with long pointy sticks or similar weaponry is a dense carpet of agonizing bodies never comatose soon enough, with both sides’ blood-crazed leaders calling for fresh troops to exploit the back and forth of mutual carnage.
Shaka Zulu punished warriors who lost their spear in battle. He forbade his soldiers to throw them (the customary fighting method); instead, they were to thrust and slash with them in close combat. It was said Shaka’s recruits could not take a wife until they had killed an enemy in battle: another example of sublimation of the sex drive into military violence.
The Zulus endured runaway population growth and resource depletion: the same problems we face today. So did all the South African tribes prior to the Mfecane (“Crushing”). Entire valleys were carpeted with human bones during this Zulu-initiated genocide of neighboring Bantu tribes, aggravated by them in turn as they fled from the Zulus. This devastation took place just after the first waves of European tribal immigrants flowed in to compound the military problem of Africa.
If forced to choose between these fighting methods, one could favor the swift-mounted herder of helpless foot soldiers into petrified or routed herds ripe for slaughter. During countless mobile battles of annihilation – Carrhae, Adrianople, Angora, Liegnitz I, Mohacs, Little Big Horn, Kursk and the Southern Golan – this aspect of the threat formula has been perfected. Unlike Keegan’s pedestrian ideal, modern combat puts emphasis on mobility, long-range missile attack and distancing from the target both physical and psychological. From this perspective, the infantry is there to occupy terrain, deny it to the enemy, abuse local civilians and get ripped to pieces by devastating volleys of mobile firepower. Lethal drones vs. roving IED bombers serve as the latest, most relevant examples.
In the final analysis, these quibbles are secondary to Learner purposes. From playground to parade ground and from kindergarten to kindermord (baby murder), our institutions have subtly lured us into the meat grinder.
Even though we may have heard a lot about the warrior king Shaka Zulu, another African leader demands our attention. Weapon mentors have ignored him while they’ve flooded the collective memory with books, movies and television programs about the warrior psychopath, Shaka.
Moshoeshoe (Moshesh, Mosheshwe or Mshweshwe – pronounced moh-shwayshway) was born a prince of the Basotho in 1786. He was an angry and impatient young man. So his father sent him to study under Mohlomi, a famous chieftain, who taught him dignity, self-restraint, patience and leadership. Moshoeshoe learned the value of hard work; that powerless people deserve justice and the poor, compassion. These lessons served him well under the most trying circumstances an able ruler could face.
After a great drought brought on the mfécane or lifaquane, (like ours soon to come, thanks to global warming), Moshoeshoe withdrew with his people to the mountain fastness of Buta-Buthe. When Tlokoa tribesmen invaded his territory in overwhelming numbers, he withdrew with a few survivors to Thaba Bosiu or Bosigo (the Mountain of the Night) from which he would never be dislodged.
His warriors captured two Tlokoa cannibals who had killed and eaten his grandfather when he fell behind during the retreat. Moshoeshoe forgave them and granted them farmland so they could give up cannibalism. He said he had to revere the resting place of his grandfather.
Thanks to a series of brilliant military campaigns and diplomatic coups, he defeated a succession of aggressors against his people. He threw back triumphant forces of the Tlokoa, the Nguni, the Ndebele Zulu (after whose defeated troops he sent cattle and rations, wishing them peace — they never attacked him again), Voortrekkers and British Regulars. Any army too powerful to defeat, he would negotiate its deflection against another group. He was a better general than his enemies and a better negotiator than his neighbors. All his wars were defensive. What he held onto, he never let go without a hard fight. He always sought peace.
He welcomed refugees from the four corners of Southern Africa and multiplied his few thousand survivors twenty-fold. He forged the Basotho nation and held it together through every adversity despite its traumatized and scattered constituents. His was perhaps the only place in South Africa where a homeless refugee and his family could find welcome, security and justice. In return, they offered him their desperate loyalty and valor. No other native district thereabouts stood up so well against the tests of time and man.
In 1838, some wandering priests arrived from the Evangelical Missionary Society of Paris. He welcomed them, encouraged them to create an alphabet for his language and to set up schools for his people, and sent them to negotiate with Queen Victoria on his behalf. Though he could quote Bible verse, he never became a practicing Christian.
When the Voortrekkers finally defeated him in 1868, he put his whole nation under British protection. As was their habit, they stole his best land. Eventually, the truncated remainder became modern Lesotho. Moshoeshoe died in 1870.
There are admirable warriors and there are the others. Learner does not recommend that we despise warriors, but that we condemn dishonorable ones who delude themselves that anything less than permanent peace could be victory. Victory means permanent peace: anything less is of no more consequence than a train wreck; it insults the sacred memory of those who died during the war. Without permanent peace, there is no victory; without victory, no honor. Without honor, there shouldn’t have been any fighting to begin with, except in the most extreme case of self-defense.
Moshoeshoe understood this exactly — as all of us should. And, whenever possible, he welcomed and accepted the Other, the unknown stranger.
The way we must learn to do.