Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: carthage, dan carlin, hitting someone with a rock, predators, punic wars, romans
What happens when war becomes even less monkeysized? There’s an evident worry that moving from shooting up the enemy or flying over them and trying to drop a bomb on their head, to piloting a drone from a computer, might be a touch too far. This excerpt is from an excellent interview in Der Spiegel with PW Singer from the Brookings Institution
The act of going to war used to entail you taking upon great risks. You might not come home one day. You might not see your family again. Now it’s different. I heard a drone pilot explain it this way: You’re going to war for one hour, and then you get in the car and drive home, and within two minutes you’re sitting at the dinner table talking about your kids’ homework. This is a very different experience of war.
The argument is basically that things have gone too far, that by dehumanising the war experience you risk more of it without the attendant horror that keeps it in perspective. I have some sympathy for this as I am, after all, Mr Monkeysized. But then I was recently listening to three and a half hours of podcasts from Dan Carlin about the Punic Wars, and in particular the battle of Cannae. Now that was visceral – especially when Dan described some of the dozens of thousands of trapped Romans awaiting death digging holes and sticking their heads in them in the hope of suffocation rather than being chopped up by Carthaginians.
No doubt the smart-alecs who invented the bow and arrow, or the cannon, or the slingshot, or the musket, or the howitzer, or the dog-with-a-bomb-strapped-to-it, or the Avro Lancaster, or the ICBM could all be accused of the same, taking the up-close nastiness of war away from the much more primeval and monkeysized twatting someone on the head with a large rock.
My view is that war is a distinct case that does not lend itself to criticisms of being unmonkeysized. Far better, in my view, to remind oneself of the visceral nature of life and death by forcing people to kill and prepare an animal (rabbits etc…) before being allowed to eat meat. That’s where the real disconnect takes place, not in a drone attack somewhere near the Durand Line.
I recently visited Mozambique with Mrs Monkeysized. It’s where the little picture of the door that I use comes from:
This is the door to the oldest European building in the Southern hemisphere, the Capela de Nossa Senhora do Baluarte on Ilha de Mozambique, the Portugese capital of East Africa for several hundred years. It’s a remarkable place, where history turned on a sixpence more than once – arguably a failed Dutch attempt to take the island was responsible for what we now know as South Africa. But I digress.
What’s really remarkable is that this was a major Portugese outpost in Africa for centuries, where the Portugese established an empire with a sense of permanence. They built their majestic imperial buildings and ruled, as the rest of the world tumbled through the centuries, from the Thirty Years War to the Crimea, from the British East India Company to Stalingrad. Sure, after several hundred years, the capital moved south to what is now Maputo, but the Portugese only left in the mid seventies. And now what? Well, this is the hospital:
I know some troubled, war torn bits of the world, and they don’t look as bad as parts of Ilha de Mozambique. The place is largely ruined, and the people live in the ruins. It was a glimpse of that fascinating moment in history when an empire fades. Not a step in the path of never-ending progress, but a jolt.
It felt like Britain after the Romans had abandoned their villas and temples to the drizzle. It is a fascinating monument to impermanence. Empires wax and wane. Look around you – think about exactly when the building you’re in will finally disintegrate. In a thousand years, bulldozed (or 3010 equivalent) for a fast food outlet? Or in thirty years, on a battlefield between humankind and the robots? What about the country you’re in. When will that cease to be? Because as sure as eggs are eggs, it will cease to be. As you will.
Not only was Ilha de Mozambique fabulously monkeysized, it was also beautiful and worthwhile. One night we splashed out $10 on two lobsters the size of dachshunds. The lack of lights at night becomes less of a worry once you gauge the friendliness of the people who live there. And unlike aid, of which I remain largely sceptical, and governmental projects, which almost always result in disaster, being there and spending money felt like it was a benefit to the people of that country.
Go there before, like the Portugese and the Romans, you run out of time.