As good a place as any to die

Dunkirk is not a war movie. It’s a movie about staying alive in the places between the world, a kinder of Stranger Things set in the strange space between France and England. This is why there are a million reviews comparing it to Brexit (or saying it has nothing to do with Brexit). Of course it has nothing to do with Brexit, because it’s about an entirely different kind of catastrophe, the catastrophe of young men – themselves still embedded in a kind of in-between place, not yet adults but no longer children – being forced to survive in a space outside of human experience, created by humans and populated by humans but having nothing in common with everything we know as we grow up human. This movie attempts to depict war as a kind of empty, in-between place, where death and struggle are everything to the people trapped in that space, but the broader metaphysics of its structure are unknown and unknowable.

Aside from a few moments at the beginning, where we see the main character of the movie pushed out of the normal human world and onto the beach, and the last few minutes when he returns to a normal railway siding in England[1], this entire world happens in in-between spaces. There are long scenes on the beach, as soldiers wait helplessly for evacuation; scenes in the air, as fighter pilots completely cut off from home do battle with unknowable enemies in empty spaces between the countries; scenes in the water, as the small boat goes about its difficult work on the channel; and scenes at the surface of the sea, between deadly deep blue death and the open sky, as soldiers struggle to stay alive after their sole chance to escape this horrible purgatory is suddenly and horrifically sunk. Everything happens in the Upside Down, trapped between the world we know and hell, or fighting to get out of the gap between France and England. Occasionally we hear people yell names of places, like stone markers in the void – “out of Dartmouth!” – but mostly we are lost in this tiny slip of water and beach and deadly sky, trying to find our way back.

The scenes in the air, in particular, are like battles in the Astral Plane. Is Christopher Nolan a D&D player? We have these two adventurers, flying through a vast blue space, fighting faceless demons that come out of nowhere, going to a specific mission in a far place somewhere abstract inside that blue vault. They are tied to their origin by a thin silver cord, in this case the fuel in their tank, which gives them just 40 minutes of combat time over their destination. Any mistakes, any deviations, any conflict they aren’t expecting, and they risk snapping that thin silver cord and being lost in the blue. Crashing out here means a slow, awful death in nowhere, unless another Astral traveler – one of those small boats “out of Dartmouth” – happens upon you in that vast, empty limnal space between the worlds. We watch people fall slowly and gracefully out of that sky, their power in the Astral plane broken, and we know they are gone forever, slowly and horribly. One person disappears without any word as to how or why. We’re out of time and place, trapped between the worlds, and these things happen. No one comments on it, and the mission continues.

The sense of dislocation is heightened by the arbitrariness of death in this cruel space. No one here wins by being brave or decisive – death happens in a moment, out of nowhere, or comes screaming down out of the sky and there’s nothing you can do except crouch down and hope it misses you. This is not a war of brave men and heroes, but of ordinary men trapped in horrific circumstances, hoping that the terror will fall on someone else. Even their grift is meaningless – our hero and his French mate find a man on a stretcher and run him to a ship, hoping to get on board and escape with the ship, but as soon as their hapless charge is on the deck they are booted off because there is no room for worthless people. But then they watch as the ship is sunk by a random Stuka, and their lucky break and the cunning scheme that followed is revealed to be just another lottery, that this time they fortunately didn’t win. There is no working this scene, no winning, just the random luck of death or salvation. This limnal space has its own logic, and its own justice, and watching this movie we know we aren’t here to understand it or change it, just to witness it.

This emptiness and arbitrariness lends the movie what to me is its most powerful political message: a story about war as a destroyer of ordinary lives, and the importance of remembering that it is ordinary people who suffer in war. Most of the people in this movie don’t have names – they line up like ants on the beach, they die when the Stukas come, they flee on ships and die when the Heinkels come, they hide in abandoned boats and die randomly for no reason at all, and all the time we understand that they are just ordinary people with no special story or purpose. This sense of war as destroyer of ordinary people is reinforced with the few scenes that connect us to the world outside the channel. The boy in the rescue boat who dies was always a loser at school, and had no special future or dreams; the navy men watch as the rescue boat slides away, no navy men on board, almost dismissive of the efforts of the captain and his crew, strangely uncaring that he has left without his navy attachment; no one believes the small boats will survive in the war zone; when our hero returns to England he gets no fanfare and speeches, but a bottle of brown ale through the window of his train and a simple cheer from a few people on the platform[2]. Even Churchill’s speech is not read by Churchill, but by a boy returning from war, who strips it of all of its import and reads it as if it were a simple statement of narrative fact. There is no moment in this movie where we see the war or the policies that drive the war through the eyes and voice of anyone except a normal, ordinary British person, who of course had no control over the course of political events that led to this nightmare and has no control over the policy that will throw him back into it. There is only one officer in the whole film, and he does nothing to convey the views of the higher-ups except their desperation in the face of the catastrophe unfolding in France. This is a war movie about how ordinary people struggle and die, not a movie about glory, heroism or leadership. Of course there are other war movies that purport to do this, but Dunkirk doesn’t have the sensational gory violence of Saving Private Ryan, or the cruel authoritarianism of Letters from Iwo Jima, stripping the war of all that gore and higher purpose and reducing it to these people trapped in the in-between, looking for a way out.

This kind of work would be a boring two hours’ struggle if it weren’t for a few elements that keep the film going and make sure you the viewer stay on the edge of your seat. The plot is a carefully layered series of interlocking stories that only meet near the end and keep you guessing where you are and what is happening all the way along, without gotchas and without detracting from the overall purpose of the movie. The soundtrack is beautiful and nuanced and carefully balanced to keep you engaged with both the tension and the beauty of the setting, which is very well filmed. The sounds of the sudden violence are also visceral and gripping – the Stukas are especially alarming but the sounds of water and the particular noises of sinking ships, the ticking clock, the horrible sound of the Heinkel’s cannon and the strangely unreliable sputter of Spitfire engines are all designed to keep you on edge and completely engrossed in the experience of being trapped in this world between worlds. The only normal sounds here are men’s voices and our men don’t speak much – and when they do it’s often to tell someone to fuck off, to get off their boat, to get out of their way, to turn around, to stop. It’s one of those movies where the soundtrack, the sound effects, the acting and the setting all work together to produce a powerful and absorbing epic.

If you are into survival horror this is definitely a movie you should watch, and if you’re into classic stories of heroism in war it’s probably not going to appeal. It also won’t work for people who looking for trenchant critiques and political statement. But if you want to see a movie that grabs you at its start, drags you out of your world into a strange other dimension, keeps you tense and terrified until the end, and at least shares a little hope with you in its last breaths, then this is definitely worth seeing. And for its soundtrack and sound effects you need to see it in the unrestrained setting of a large and powerful cinema. It is a beautiful movie with a powerful message subtly delivered, and a unique addition to the war movie genre, and it stands alone in that genre for its unique artistic intensity. An epic achievement by Christopher Nolan, and I heartily recommend it.

Picture note: The photograph is by Morgan Maassen, who I follow on Instagram. If you’re looking for someone to add to your feed I definitely recommend him. Also Tomoka Fukuda and all the free diving instagram accounts related to either of these people.

fn1: Spoiler alert! Most of the soldiers get evacuated by a fleet of small ships.

fn2: This is a simple and yet very moving scene, which leads to him reading Churchill’s speech in the newspaper. It indicates a determination to separate the fates of the men depicted in the movie from any of the great political debates surrounding the key events of the war – very different to a Vietnam or Gulf war movie, which will always have some reference to its own unpopularity buried there.


SPOILER: Everything they do turns to shit

SPOILER: Everything they do turns to shit

Last week David Cameron, British PM, put the case for bombing ISIS. It was interesting not for what he didn’t say but for the extent of what he did say. In stark contrast to the last time a British PM tried to ginny up a war, this time he was unstinting in his efforts to present facts and legal material in support of his bloodthirst. I watched it live (by coincidence!) and was interested to see that he released the legal evidence for war – something Blair never did – and spoke in detail to a list of reasons why bombing ISIS would be a war of self-defense, justified by not just international law but common decency. I can’t find the speech online, but you can read highlights here. In my opinion this was one of Cameron’s finer moments, reminiscent of the Cameron I saw on TV in 2009 before I left the UK, making strong speeches upbraiding the Labour Party for abandoning equality and promising that the Conservatives would be a party of greater equality and opportunity.

He does a good act, does the pig-fucker general. He let it all down today when he called the opposition leader a “terrorist sympathizer,” a cheap and pathetic shot that he really didn’t need to deliver after making a strong and passionate speech in favour of a war that, I think, many people would be happy to support. Why smear shit on that gilded lily? This particular insult is particularly stupid because while many people might suspect Corbyn of being a bit too close with Assad, it’s really obvious to everyone that a) this wouldn’t be happening if Assad had a few more friends and b) Corbyn is obviously a pacifist, which means he is not a terrorist sympathizer and everyone knows this. Saying something like “Corbyn can’t be trusted with the nuclear arsenal” is a perfectly reasonable slur; there is, however, no logic to claiming a pacifist is a terrorist sympathizer, and coming from someone in a position of such strength as Cameron this is just pathetic.

It’s also redolent of the worst rhetorical excesses of the period leading up to the Iraq war, when anyone who didn’t agree with a plan to kill a million Iraqis, displace 4 million more, and ignite a powder keg in the middle East was derided as a coward and a friend of Saddam Hussein. After those heady days of bloodthirsty stupidity it’s a very, very bad plan to show any hint of the same arrogance. This was on display in both Cameron’s speech and Corbyn’s reply, both of which were heavy with caution about the idea of sending British soldiers to the middle East. Cameron was at pains to point out that this was not a war of choice, and Corbyn was at pains to point out that the Labour Party is no longer the party of indiscriminately murdering foreigners.

Progress! And how did this progress come about? Because everyone in British politics is now desperate to avoid being compared to that most sinister of Vampiric figures, Tony Blair, the muppet who sucked Britain into a devastating war with a country it had no reason to invade, against all reason and popular will. Excepting the Scottish National Party, who are a kind of post-Blairite success, the rest of the parliament were engaged in a ten-hour long debate this week with not each other, but the ghost of Vampires past – Tony Blair. They could as well have burnt his effigy and all gone home, because until a couple of generations have passed and that evil grinning demon is dispelled from the British conscience there is no possibility of having an honest debate about war. How can you debate something when the shame, stigma and sin are so deeply ingrained as this? Little knowing, Shakespeare prepared a scene for just this moment in British political history: “Out, damned spot!”

But like the play, it won’t wash out, and as a result Corbyn’s response to Cameron’s speech was, in my opinion, crabby and limited. He could have set a higher tone by commending Cameron for his thoroughness, reminding everyone from the start of what a heinous mistake the last British effort was, and engaging the points that Cameron made rather than reading off a list of questions that Cameron had basically already answered. Corbyn’s speech was aimed at an absent Tony Blair, and those of his ghouls who remain connected to the parliamentary Labour Party, rather than the ostensible warmonger standing in front of him. Was ever a political party more hamstrung by its recent history than this? They elected a near-pacifist, who has completely reasonable grounds for his beliefs, and is strong in them, but the first time a war comes along he actually has a really good opportunity to engage with the British public by renouncing those beliefs “for a greater good”: only he can’t, because he and his whole party couldn’t go to war against Darth Vader himself if he was murdering puppies by the bucketload, because even the suggestion of a warlike impulse and the entire country will yell “FUCK! Blair!” and head to the bomb shelters.

He doesn’t have a reflection, but surely Blair’s shadow stretches far.

Later in the week Corbyn recovered some poise, and wrote a much more solid opinion piece for the Guardian, explaining in more detail why war won’t work. He seems to be largely supported by his party, though reports say he is allowing a conscience vote, which is good. War should be a matter of conscience, though that wouldn’t have stopped the Blairite clique, who are as completely lacking in conscience as they are in souls. Corbyn’s piece points out that without boots on the ground we can’t win, and the only boots on the ground that can win are local, but the local forces are either useless or very very dubious. He also points out that British planes won’t add much to all the other powers there so why bother? I have the same feeling about Trident: just let it all go boys, you’re no longer a world power! But the deeper point I think is more important: without ground troops bombing campaigns are a waste of time, and there is no army ready to deal with ISIS.

ISIS are the Khmer Rouge of the Middle East. Just like the Khmer Rouge, they sprung out of destruction and waste, sowed now as it was then by the US air force and triggered by a local insurrection. In the end the Khmer Rouge were brought down by a Vietnamese invasion, which it appears many scholars think met all the conditions for a “just war”: they invaded Cambodia to protect themselves, stop massive refugee flows, and end a despotic and genocidal regime. Cameron was at pains to make the same points in his speech, though he didn’t compare the UK to Vietnam, and I think he’s on solid ground. The difference, of course, is in the source of ground troops: Vietnam is a neighbour of Cambodia, and sent in 150000 Vietnamese troops, defeating the Khmer Rouge in two weeks (ha!), but there is no similar ground force available to beat ISIS. If the western powers are going to depose ISIS they’re going to need a local force, and the only local forces available are either unacceptable (Iran, Hezbollah, Assad) or uninterested (Turkey).

When I read the debates about what to do about ISIS I find myself trapped by the same demons as Corbyn. On first blush it appears like the perfect humanitarian intervention – no clearer case has presented itself in 30 years. But our recent history of interventions and the recent history in the area make me think that no intervention is going to work. Which leaves ISIS rampaging across the region, destroying everything they touch, even though there’s the possibility of a coalition of global powers acting together for the first time since world war 2 to destroy an unqualified evil, uncompromised by concerns of local politics or history. Since the Khmer Rouge no one has been so obviously cruising for a bruising as ISIS, and no coalition more clearly ready to form since world war 2.

And yet over it all hangs the shadow of Blair and Bush. Vox recently published a great article featuring a debate between Christopher Hitchens and a few other randoms, in which Hitchens was 100% convinced that no harm could come from invading Iraq, while someone else in the debate was predicting, essentially, ISIS. Reach back in history and view that, and weep at how stupid our political masters can be. If they hadn’t invaded Iraq, a million people would still be alive and ISIS probably wouldn’t exist; and if they did, the political will to destroy them would be intense and unstoppable.

There is no place in hell hot enough for the people who made those decisions in 2003.

Today is the 70th anniversary of victory in the Pacific (VP Day), when Japan surrendered to allied forces. For the USA, UK and Australia this marked the end of four years of merciless war; for China it marked the end of about 20 years of colonial aggression on the mainland; and for Korea it represented the end of 35 years of colonization by Japan. For the rest of the Asia-Pacific region the end of the war brought on in many cases a new era of instability as colonial governments collapsed and the independence movements of south and south-east Asia took off. The start of peace for Japan was only the beginning of years of civil war, colonial confrontations and communal violence in the rest of Asia, and in comparison to the slaughter and chaos visited on these countries before and after the war ended, the other allied powers’ experience of the Pacific war was relatively pleasant. Still, Australians have many reasons to mark VP Day as a major event in our history, both on account of the huge loss of life sustained, the cruelty experienced by Australians at the hands of Japanese captors, and the profound political implications for Australia of the collapse of British colonialism in Asia, and the UK’s inability to protect Australia (or even win a single battle against Japan!) Japan’s early, complete and ruthless victories over the supposedly superior army, navy and air force of the UK shook the foundations of the UK’s colonial project and brought on the rapid collapse of not just British but also the Dutch, French and Portuguese colonial project. For Australia that meant a major reorientation of our political outlook, first towards the USA and then (much later) towards Asia.

While the long-term political consequences of world war 1 were a second war in Europe, the holocaust and the cold war, the long-term political consequences of the Pacific war were decolonization, rapid development, and ultimately a long peace and relative stability in all of Asia, presided over initially by US power, then by a resurgent and determinedly non-colonial Japan, and now by the three great industrial powers of China, Korea and Japan – once mortal enemies who now have a shared goal of peace and development in all of Asia. Seventy years after Japan’s colonial ambitions were thoroughly repudiated, at great cost to China and Korea, they share a broad set of goals in the region. These goals are disturbed primarily by only two issues: border disputes that no one is really willing to go to war for, and the issue of Japan’s acceptance of its past crimes. Every VP Day there is renewed controversy about exactly how much Japan admits past wrongdoing, and renewed calls for an apology for past acts, and it was expected that on this day especially the Japanese government might do something special about this.

Unfortunately Japan’s current prime minister is a historical revisionist like no other in a long time, and is playing to a right-wing rump at home that prevents him from properly acknowledging Japan’s guilt. He is exactly the wrong prime minister to be making statements of contrition, but it was him who had to give a speech, widely reported, in which he stated that he did not want Japan to have to continually make new apologies. Seventy years on, he wants to draw a line over the past, and look forward to a world without war. Such lofty ideals might sound better if they were coming from someone who was not intent on denying the truth of the comfort women issue, and who was not trying to reform Japan’s constitution to enable this peace-loving nation to deploy its (considerable!) military in joint self-defense actions.

But putting aside the political background of this particular PM, is he actually wrong? Japan has made many apologies over specific incidents and general wartime aggression and violence, and in particular on the 50th anniversary of the war made an apology with the full backing of the Cabinet (the Murayama statement) that is widely seen as an official apology. This statement has been repeatedly reiterated and referred to in subsequent dealings with the affected nations, and at other VP Day events (including in 2005). Abe did not explicitly reference that statement, but he did implicitly endorse it when he stated that “Such position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future”. He went on, however, to make clear that he thinks that Japan should stop continually apologizing, while remaining aware of the sins of its past and endeavouring never to repeat them:

In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.

This statement is being taken by some in the media as a repudiation of past apologies and a statement of intent to forget the war, but I don’t think it can be seen that way at all. It’s simply making the obvious point that when a population has apologized, and is no longer connected to the people who did these things, there comes a point where you have to stop expecting remorse to be a key part of how they memorialize those past mistakes. Instead Abe proposes that future efforts to remember the war be focused on better understanding of the events of the past, and stronger efforts to build a global society that does not or cannot seek war to resolve economic or political problems.

As a citizen of a nation that has only recently apologized for past wrongs that were committed recently enough for a large part of the population to be connected with them, I think he raises a strong point. In 2008 the Australian federal government apologized officially to the living Aboriginal people known as the Stolen Generation who had been stolen from their families by commonwealth policy, and also made a broader statement of recognition of guilt for genocide. This apology came after long years of campaigning (in which I as a young Australian was involved) and a broadly-supported reconciliation movement which wanted to see not just an apology but full recognition of Aboriginal people’s history and the history of genocide against them, and proper compensation where proper compensation could be given. This reconciliation movement was tied in with a land rights movement that saw victories and defeats but was built on a fundamental acceptance of the role of white Australia in stealing land from black Australia and benefiting from that theft.

I don’t think at any point that when we were campaigning for that Apology, we ever intended that the government should repeatedly apologize and continually be forced to officially admit its guilt in some public and formalized way, even as it continued to work on development and welfare improvements for Aboriginal Australians. We saw the Apology as a moment to convey acceptance and recognition, and … well, to say sorry. There is discussion about formalizing a national Sorry Day, but this wouldn’t be a day intended to force every PM to continually reiterate these apologies; rather, it would be a day of recognition of the past, with local events intended to revitalize and reauthorize our commitment to working together to make the future better. I think if the official Apology had been proposed as an ongoing, annual ceremony of abject admission of guilt, no one would have supported it and no government would have done it.

There is something about apologies that requires at some point they stop. As a nation we can have ongoing recognition of the past, through e.g. national memorials, national days of commemoration, or whatever; but the requirement that every government reiterate the sorrow of its predecessors for deeds committed (ultimately) after all those involved have passed on (or been found guilty) doesn’t seem to be the right spirit of apology.

In the case of Japan, the entire Asia-Pacific has VP Day in which to remember the events of the past, but that doesn’t mean that every VP Day the Japanese government should craft a new apology and seek forgiveness again for something that happened 70 years ago; rather, a simple reiteration of past statements, the laying of a wreath, perhaps the unveiling of any new local projects (Japan is involved in projects throughout the Asia Pacific, including research projects aimed at better understanding the war itself); surely, after 70 years and multiple apologies, it’s time that everyone recognized that the past is the past, what was done was done, and moving on from that past to make a better future requires that the events of the past not be raked up and made fresh, whether out of anger or sorrow?

The same can be said of Australia’s genocidal past. There are ways still in which Australia hasn’t come to terms with that past, but mostly these are best confronted and expressed not through apologies but through concrete actions: efforts towards the finalization of land rights law and land reform; redoubled efforts to improve Aboriginal health, welfare and employment; and better incorporation of Aboriginal people into Australian political life. Although in many cases the problems that still exist are bound up with racism that needs to be confronted through political action (see, e.g. the recent shameful treatment of Adam Goodes), this political action needs to be expressly practical. This is exactly what happens in Australia now, too, I think – for example, Adam Goodes’ treatment was not tackled by further apologies, but by practical action by the football association and statements of support and respect from other football clubs and their captains.

In my view apologies are a very important part of the process of political reconciliation and healing, but they should not be some kind of constantly-repeated process of formal self-flagellation because, while on an individual level an apology usually involves an explicit admission of personal guilt for a personal act, on a political and national level they do not represent guilt, as most of the people whose representatives are doing the apologizing were not responsible in any way for the crime. Political apologies are an act of recognition and restitution, not an expression of guilt. At some point the apologies need to stop, and life needs to proceed with practical political commitments and goals.

So I think it’s time that Japan stopped apologizing, and the other nations that were affected recognize that Japan is a good neighbour, an exemplary world citizen, and a nation that is genuinely aware of and remorseful about its past crimes, with a real intention never to repeat them. Japan doesn’t deal with its past crimes in a perfect way, and indeed much work still needs to be done on understanding what Japan did (many records were lost), on coming to terms with the comfort women issue, and on dealing with the (frankly ridiculous) Yasukuni Jinja situation[1]. But these are all practical efforts, that will advance future understanding and respect much more than further apologies.

I also think it’s high time that people in (and on occasion the politicians of) the USA and UK stopped criticizing Japan’s “lack of apology” and instead started thinking about doing themselves what Japan and Australia have done: Apologizing for their own crimes. There is a new willingness in India to make demands for recognition of Britain’s colonial crimes, but many British people – including most of their politicians – still cling to the repulsive notion that the colonization of India was an overall plus for its people. The UK, Holland, Spain, France, Belgium and Portugal all owe apologies for severe and extreme crimes committed expressly in the interests of stealing other people’s land. Similarly the US puts a lot of effort into memorializing Vietnam but hasn’t apologized for its murderous war, let alone subsequent adventures that killed a million people, and whose architects are advising Jeb Bush on foreign policy. Indeed, Kissinger and McNamara are still respected in the USA, when they should be in prison. I think it’s time that the world recognized that while the great crimes of the 20th century have been pored over and guilt ascertained and accepted, there are many slightly lesser crimes that go unremarked and unrecognized, and that a mature nation should recognize those crimes. Rather than seeing Japan as a recalcitrant revisionist, Japan should be seen as a model of how to acknowledge and atone for past crimes, that “better” nations like the UK and USA could learn from.

A few other notes on Abe’s apology

Abe’s apology, which can be read here, is extensive and, I think, quite powerful. He talks about how Japan lost its way and went against the trend toward peace that other nations were following, and explicitly blames colonial aggression for its actions in China. He thrice refers to the injury done to women behind the lines, giving a nod to more than just the issue of the comfort women but also to the general evil of rape as a war crime, and explicitly identifies the need to prevent this from happening in future wars. He also has some very powerful thoughts to add on the nobility of China and Korea after the war, when he states that Japan must take to heart

The fact that more than six million Japanese repatriates managed to come home safely after the war from various parts of the Asia-Pacific and became the driving force behind Japan’s postwar reconstruction; the fact that nearly three thousand Japanese children left behind in China were able to grow up there and set foot on the soil of their homeland again; and the fact that former POWs of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and other nations have visited Japan for many years to continue praying for the souls of the war dead on both sides.

How much emotional struggle must have existed and what great efforts must have been necessary for the Chinese people who underwent all the sufferings of the war and for the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military in order for them to be so tolerant nevertheless?

I think this is a powerful statement of respect for how well Japan was treated after the war, and recognition that there is a great willingness on all sides of a conflict to move on from it despite great cruelties committed. I think also the paragraphs near the end of the speech, which start “We must engrave upon our hearts” are also very powerful, showing how Japan and the world can strengthen efforts to make sure that the crimes Japan committed are not possible anywhere in the world in the future.

Also, I note that this apology is a Cabinet Statement so represents official government policy, not just Abe’s personal opinion. I think it’s a good basis to move forward, recognize that Japan did wrong, and accept that apologies should not and cannot continue forever.

Instead of constantly dwelling on a world consumed by war, let’s work on building a world without it.

fn1: I personally think that this problem could be solved best by opening an official national war memorial – Japan currently has none – that explicitly excludes the 14 war criminals, is non-religious, recognizes Japan’s war crimes and war of aggression, includes a memorial to the people killed in other countries by Japan, and has a high quality modern museum that accurately reflects the truth of the war. Then on some nominated day that isn’t VP Day, politicians can officially go there and pay their respects to the dead and officially, without controversy, reflect on what was, ultimately, a great tragedy for the Japanese people.

Another perfect moment in British colonial development

Another perfect moment in British colonial development

I am in London for a week doing some research with small area analysis, and on the weekend had a brief opportunity to actually see the city. As is traditional by now on my annual trips to London, I visited the World Wildlife Photography Exhibition (which was a bit weak this year, I thought), and having a bit of time to kill wandered up the road to the Science Museum. Here I stumbled on a small and interesting exhibition entitled Churchill’s Scientists, about the people that worked with Winston Churchill before, during and after the war on various projects, and Churchill’s powerful influence on British science.

This year will see the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, and you would think by now that popular culture of the victorious countries would finally have got to the point where it is able to handle a more nuanced analysis of the politics of that time than mere hagiography. It’s clear that the allied powers were uncomfortable about some of their actions during the war: the careful elision of Arthur “Bomber” Harris and his fliers from peacetime awards is an example of British squeamishness about the morality of the bomber war, but this squeamishness doesn’t seem to have manifested itself in any kind of clear critical reevaluation of the behavior of the allies at war, at least in popular culture. This silence is starting to be broken by, for example, Antony Beevor’s uncomfortable discussion of rape in Berlin, or his discussion of the treatment of collaborator women in Normandy; but it is generally absent from public discussion. Churchill’s Scientists is, sadly, another example of this careful and deliberate overlooking of the flaws of wartime leaders and their politics when presented in popular culture.

The exhibition itself is small and interesting, walking us through various aspects of the scientific endeavours of the pre-war and post-war eras. It describes the scientists who worked with Churchill, their relationship with him and the public service, and how science was conducted during the war. Churchill was very close friends with a statistician who advised him on all aspects of war endeavours, and also was very supportive of operational research, which was basically an attempt to revise wartime strategy on the basis of evidence. The achievements of these scientists given their technological limitations are quite amazing: drawing graphs by hand on graph paper to attempt to explain every aspect of the statistics and epidemiology of rationing, conducting experiments on themselves to understand the effects of low-calorie diets, and feverishly working to improve tactics and technologies that were valuable to the war. The post-war efforts were also very interesting: there is a life-size installation showing the original model of myoglobin, which was studied using x-ray crystallography and then built by hand using cane rods and beads to create the three-dimensional structure. There is a telling quote about how scientists became used to asking not “how much will it cost” but “how quickly can we get it done and what do we need?” There are also some interesting examples of how the wartime expectations of scientists translated into peacetime success: they had contacts in the ministries from their wartime work, they were used to having funds and knew how to raise money, and they had access to hugely increased resources as the ministries dumped wartime surplus in universities and research institutes. In the 1950s this translated into rapid advances in medicine, genetics, nuclear power and astronomy, all of which are documented in the exhibition.

There are, however, some political aspects that are overlooked. Currently in the UK there is an ongoing debate about whether to stop conducting the Census because it costs too much, and it is clear that since the war there has been a shift in funding priorities and a move away from the idea that science should be funded at any cost. I would have been interested to find out how this happened: did Churchill change his attitude towards funding for science or was this a post-Churchill trend? Was Churchill the last of the Great Investors? What did subsequent conservative party leaders make of his legacy and how do they talk about it? Why is it that the country that invented radar, that perfected antibiotic production, and that contributed more than any other to modern geographical statistics and demography, can no longer “afford” the census? Was the war a high point and an aberration in the history of British science funding? Did its successes distort the post-war scientific landscape and expectations? None of this is really described in the exhibition, which limits itself to Churchill’s positive legacy, and doesn’t seem to want to explore how it was undone. There is also a bit of attention paid to female scientists in Churchill’s war efforts, including women who developed X-ray crystallography and did important nutritional epidemiology research. But we know that much of the computational work done in the war and immediately after was also done by women, but they were slowly squeezed out of the industry after the war. I would have been interested in some description of what happened to all those female scientists and ancillary staff after the war – were they forced out of science the way women were forced out of factory work, or did Churchill’s support for women in science during the war permanently change the landscape for women in science? It seems clear that Watson and Crick’s work – initially sparked by x-ray images of the DNA that are shown in this exhibition – must have been built on the work of crystallography’s pioneers, who were women. But where did those women end up when the war effort wound down?

The other aspect of this exhibition that is sadly missing is a discussion of Churchill and his scientists’ darker sides. We are introduced to the exhibition through Churchill’s love of flying; the website for the exhibition quotes him talking about new technologies in aerial bombing; and the exhibition itself talks about his support for a British nuclear weapon. But nowhere in the exhibition is his enthusiasm for terror bombing discussed, nor the unsavoury way in which he developed this enthusiasm, running terror bombing campaigns against Iraqi tribespeople in the 1920s. Arthur Harris is only presented once in the exhibition, dismissing a biologist who proposed a campaign of tactical bombing of railway junctions (he “wasted his time studying the sexual proclivities of apes,” was the dismissal); but nowhere is the corollary of this position – Harris’s lust for destroying cities – mentioned, or the extensive scientific work that went into developing the best techniques for burning civilians alive. In the year that western governments will demand Japan apologize for its wartime atrocities (again!), one would think they could at least mention in an exhibition on wartime science the extensive research that went into perfecting the practice of burning Japanese civilians alive.

In case one thinks this might have been just an oversight on the part of the curators, later we see a more direct example of this careful elision, when the exhibit focuses on Britain’s post-war nuclear weapons program. Again, we have been presented with Churchill’s direct interest in blowing stuff up; here we are shown video of a nuclear test, and discussion of the research that scientists were able to do on the environmental and physical effects of the bombs. The exhibition doesn’t mention that many of these tests, conducted in Maralinga in Australia, were conducted on land that Aborigines had been expelled from and were unable to return to. It also doesn’t mention the contamination of Aboriginal customary lands, any possible harmful health effects for Aborigines living in the area, and the controversies of the Maralinga inquiries and subsequent compensation for soldiers and workers. Not even a one sentence reference.

Given that we know Churchill was a deeply racist man who supported colonialism and had no interest in the rights of non-white British, it seems hardly surprising that he might have had a slightly cavalier attitude towards ethics in research and military tactics where it was directed against Iraqi tribesmen or Australian Aborigines. It seems like 70 years after the end of the war it might be possible to start talking about this stuff honestly outside of academia, and to publicly reevaluate the legacy of men like Churchill, and many of his senior scientists, in the light of everything we know now, rather than simply portraying all their efforts through only the lens of wartime heroism. Churchill was undoubtedly a great man and a powerful leader, and the world owes him a debt of gratitude. He was also a racist and a colonialist, and some of the decisions he made before, during and after the war may not have been either right or the best decisions for the time. It also appears that despite his greatness, the legacy of his interest in science and education was soon undone, and the reasons for this are important for us to consider now. What does it say about Britain that 70 years after the end of the war it is still not possible to honestly assess Churchill’s wartime efforts but only to extol his great contribution to science; yet 70 years later his contributions to science have been so far wound back that the government is considering abolishing the Census? Does such hagiography benefit Britain, or British science? I would suggest not.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, and we are going to see a lot more public discussion of the actions and contributions of the great people of that time. I fear that this discussion is going to be very shallow, and sadly empty of any attempt to critically reassess the contributions of the people involved, and how they shaped our post-war culture. This exhibition is a good example of how the war will be presented this year: stripped of moral context, all uncomfortable truths banished from discussion, and all long-term ramifications for post-war politics and culture carefully sanitized to ensure that no difficult questions are asked, or answered. Perhaps we aren’t doomed to repeat history, but I think this year at the very least we are going to be bored stiff by it.

A relic of days gone by

A relic of days gone by

Today’s Guardian reports possibly the most pathetic and desultory news in the history of war: two British Tornado aircraft destroyed an ISIS pick-up truck. Two jets that cost $27 million each managed, between them, to blow up a battered Toyota pick-up truck, that ISIS probably scored for free but will probably cost a maximum of $5000 to replace. Fortunately the pilots of these two hyper-sophisticated jets made it back safely to their base in Cyprus without being shot down and beheaded. All in all, a good 6 hours’ work!

This story is so full of pathos and futility that it is hard to stop laughing. Is this our contribution to the protection of Kobani and the hundreds of Kurds fixing to die there? We fly two planes for six hours, and use a $50,000 bomb to blow up a pick-up truck? This is how the mighty West is going to stop ISIS from executing every Kurdish soldier in Kobani?

Media reports that hundreds of Kurdish Peshmerga have crossed the border into Syria to fight thousands of ISIS soldiers who have captured many villages in the area and are closing in on Kobani. Assuming those thousands are actually 1000, and that they are all in pick-up trucks, how many missions will the RAF have to fly and what will it cost? Sky news reports that the cost of operating one Tornado on one mission is 210,000 pounds, without dropping a bomb. A single paveway bomb costs 22,000 pounds. So for two Tornadoes to blow up one pick up truck cost 442,000 pounds. Of course, they might have dropped all four of their paveways, and two Brimstone missiles (105,000 each), destroying six pick-ups at a total cost of 708,000 pounds.

If we assume that those 1000 soldiers are all in pick-ups, and all the pick-ups have a weapon on, we could guess 4 dudes in the back (around the gun) and 2 dudes in the seats. Assuming that the Tornado hit the pick-up truck in tandem, that kills 6 men. With 6 men per truck you need about 150 trucks to get to Kobani, and at 6 trucks per mission (assuming full use of all those super-cool weapons) then you’re looking at 40 or so missions, minimum. That’s 28 million pounds to blow up 150 pick up trucks and kill 1000 ISIS soldiers. Of course this estimate is ludicrously optimistic, and if the report is to be believed (and previous reports in which the RAF flew 5 missions without finding a target) then probably it’s more likely that one mission= one pick-up truck, on average. So 150*444,000 pounds, or about 70 million pounds.

Of course, those pick-up trucks had weapons mounted on them. News reports suggest that ISIS captured 50 or so M198 Howitzers, which cost $500,000 each. If we assume that 10 of them are being used in Kobani then the attacks might cost them $5 million. So for 70 million pounds, we can degrade $5 million worth of weaponry and maybe $1 million worth of pick-up trucks. It appears that the RAF is flying a couple of missions a day, so even at its most optimistic this task will take 7 days (more like 10 or 20, assuming it’s possible at all). Will Kobani still be standing in 7 days’ time?

ISIS are rumoured to have $1 billion in reserve, and 30,000 soldiers. If they capture Kobani they will replenish all the pick-up trucks the RAF destroys (newsflash! pick-up trucks are ubiquitous, and Tornadoes are not). It’s probable that all those Kurdish fighters coming into Kobani are bringing weapons, probably heavy weapons supplied by the Australian army to the Kurds in Mosul. So ISIS will win back everything they lose without expending a cent of their savings. Once they’re in the city bombing them will be impossible. Meanwhile ISIS are said to be at the gates of Baghdad, even attacking a prison and the HQ of the Badr militia two weeks ago. It seems pretty obvious to me that air strikes are not working, troops on the ground are the only solution, and the Iraqi army is either sympathetic to ISIS, or not willing to stick around to be executed after they lose. So long as ISIS keep moving, and US and British air strikes are being launched from bases many hours’ flight away, it’s going to be impossible to seriously impede their combat ability. Two tornadoes fly out, locate a squad of ISIS trucks, blow up the best target, return home; three hours later two more Tornadoes turn up, but they have to look around to find the targets, because the trucks have moved. It appears that they frequently fail to find a target, and return without firing a shot. If air war is going to work, it is going to need close air support weapons – A10s and helicopters – but no one dares to deploy a helicopter near ISIS since they captured US anti-aircraft missiles, and the only country capable of deploying A10s in range, Turkey, was denied access to them. So we have high speed jets at the limit of their range scouring empty desert looking for pick-up trucks. This is how we are going to stop ISIS from killing a couple of thousand Kurdish men (and any civilians without the means to escape).

This is so pathetic. The journalists reporting on this intervention are so chuffed about all this hardware and blowing-up-stuff. My god, the Europeans even have a cruise missile named after a GI Joe character (Storm Shadow! What’s not to like?!) How can they not be devastating? But the sad fact is that ISIS have pick up trucks, and dudes with attitude. Spending a quarter of a million pounds to blow up a battered technical and a dude with attitude is not efficient. Nor is it going to help the people fighting those dudes. ISIS are fighting a classical war of movement, and given their numbers and the tools they’re using, it’s ridiculously inefficient to try and destroy them using modern air warfare. Boots on the ground, or go home!

The sad reality is that there’s nothing we in the West can do from afar to stop this monster.  ISIS is the Middle East’s Khmer Rouge, and they have arisen from the same hellish swamp: just as the Khmer Rouge seized power violently in the aftermath of the US destruction of Cambodia, ISIS are seizing power violently in the aftermath of the mess created by the US in Iraq, and by the US and Europe in Syria. It’s an object lesson in failed states: create them, and the psychopaths will come. The best way to stop ISIS was to stop the second Iraq war, but our leaders (of all political stripes) were so stupid, vain and cruel that they thought the second Iraq war was a grand idea. ISIS is the brainchild of Tony Blair, John Howard and George Bush. They made it, and their inheritors cannot stop it unless they are wiling to expend the lives and blood of western soldiers that they were so loathe to shed in the past war. Of course that’s not going to happen, so instead they’ll spend millions of dollars blowing up pick-up trucks for a year, until they have trained a force of rebels who will enter Syria just to die. This is what our “civilized” society created, and what our leaders refuse to commit to fixing.

So what should Barack Obama do? I think he should take the $70 million required to defend Kobani, and invest it in a time machine. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have any idea how to build it, so long as the money is put down, and a law passed to guarantee a million bucks a year until the thing is made, everything will be fine. Eventually (maybe a thousand years from now), someone will finally make the time machine. Then the first thing they will do is go back in time and deliver the plans to Barack Obama, at the opening ceremony of the research project. Brilliant! Then someone can go forward in time far enough to get a mind control machine; then they can go back in time to 2003, and stop the second Iraq war. Then ISIS will never happen, and everyone will be happy.

Or we could spend $70 million blowing up second-hand Toyota pick-up trucks, at half a million bucks a pop. Which do you think is the more cost-effective strategy?


Many people have pondered the real reasons for the Iraq war, the stated reasons being so blatantly false. Most critics have claimed it was a war for oil; some have suggested it was a stupid mistake by a clique of idiots; others have proposed the darker conspiracy theory that it was intended to unleash chaos specifically to keep the oil in the ground. Well, today Tony Blair revealed the truth: it was a crusade by Protestant extremists. In a piece for the observer, Tony “the Vampire” Blair gives his considered opinion of wars in the 21st century, and decides that they will be primarily driven by religious extremism.

Well, the Iraq war was the second war of the 21st century, its longest-running new war, and certainly a fairly serious business. Before it was invaded, Iraq was a secular dictatorship. It was invaded by a ragtag coalition of Christians, and the leaders of the coalition of the willing were two Protestant nations. Surely we should apply the Vampire’s logic to the big war that he started? Western religious extremism is surely the greatest threat to world peace …

We can do better than that though, can’t we? Now we can look to the religious roots of the Senkaku Islands conflict, driven by the irreconcilable differences between Confucian fascists on the one hand and Shinto Extremists on the other. The increasingly tense dispute between Indonesia and Australia is not really over boat people, but over interpretations of whether Jesus was the son of God. And what is this shit about the conflict in the Central African Republic being ethnically based? It’s clearly a threeway fight to the death between born-again christian fanatics, shamanic exterminationists, and moderate Islam. Right?

History tells me that people in the UK voted in quite large numbers for Tony Blair, several times. I find this hard to believe. Was there ever a time when if he opened his mouth, lies or garbage didn’t come out? Because I don’t remember it, but surely millions of British voters (adults, apparently!) couldn’t have been so easily fooled? Once again there can only be one explanation: Tony Blair is an extremely powerful vampire, with incredible powers of mass hypnosis. Put a stake through that beast! Or at least, keep its hideous rantings off the pages of national newspapers …

Aggressiveness: 10. Ferocity: 10.

Aggressiveness: 10. Ferocity: 10. Come visit his country …

As some of my readers know, I have been having fun conquering the world as Japan in Hearts of Iron 2, and that I’m reporting it all cynically in the tone of a Japanese leader forced to war to defend Asia against colonialism. Before I played Japan I had a go as Germany and didn’t do very well – the Soviets declared war on me in 1942 (I can’t think why!) and I got wiped out because my army was busy trying to secure oil in Africa.

Something noticeable about Hearts of Iron (HOI) and its successors is that there is no genocide option, even though some people believe the Holocaust was crucial to German war aims and so should probably be in the game. I understand that there is some debate about whether the Holocaust was a net benefit for the Nazi war machine, but some historians argue that the Holocaust policy developed slowly, piece-by-piece, in response to changing economic and industrial demands, and was actually primarily driven by the need to secure economic resources, especially food. Taking this as the basis for the Holocaust, it’s easy to imagine that a mechanism to represent it could be included in the game, to make it easier for certain countries to develop rapidly in the run-up to total war, or to respond to war needs.

The easiest way would be to incorporate a slider, that runs from 0 to 100 representing just how horrific your intended genocide is. Maybe 5 just means marriage and employment restrictions, while 100 is the fully mechanized destruction of entire races. The process is abstracted, and essentially represents a transformation of money, manpower and transport capacity into a reduction of supply needs and an increase in industrial capacity (or even an increase in supplies). This is pretty much what the historians I linked above argue: that the Holocaust was designed the way it was in the steps it was because it was aimed initially at seizing the economic assets of European Jews, to make production more efficient, and then at restricting their food consumption in order to ensure that other Germans didn’t starve. This is also what Stalin was doing with his “dekulakization” in the 1930s – forcing small, unproductive landholders off of their smallholdings into large collective farms, and because these farms were intended to feed many more people than those who worked in them, the excess population of smallholders would have been an economic deadweight – hence they were sent to the camps to die. Plus of course, when Germany invaded Eastern Europe they expropriated huge amounts of food and money, and essentially instituted a policy of starvation to ensure that no untermenschen used food that could have been feeding Germans. Under this analysis of the Holocaust, it was beneficial for the German war effort. If so, it should be modeled in the game in the interests of historical plausibility[1]. Wouldn’t it be great if when you were starting to lose you could slide your slider up to 100 so that you weren’t vulnerable to blockades? The computer could even use the demographic composition of your empire to give you options about which race to exterminate. We’re all about historical plausibility, right?

Suggesting such a process sounds kind of sick, doesn’t it? Which is why Paradox Interactive made a specific, explicit decision not to model this in the game. I remember somewhere a statement from Paradox about this, but I can’t find it any more – maybe it was in the Hearts of Iron manual that I no longer have. Anyway, we can find this on their forum rules for HOI3:

NOTE: There will not be any gulags or deathcamps (including POW camps) to build in Hearts of Iron3, nor will there be the ability to simulate the Holocaust or systematic purges, so I ask you not to discuss these topics as they are not related to this game. Thank You. Threads bringing up will be closed without discussion.

NOTE: Strategic bombing in HoI3 will be abstracted and not allow you to terror bomb civilians specifically. Chemical weapons will also not be included in the game. Any threads that complain about this issue will be closed without discussion.

Not only did they decide not to model these things, but they make very clear that they aren’t going to talk about their decision. We all know why: games that model the holocaust are beyond poor taste, and any gaming company that included such a mechanic in their wargame would be toast pretty fast.

It is, however, okay to model genocide in Europa Universalis 3. Yesterday commenter Paul pointed me to this post in which someone trying the game for the first time talks about how uneasy the colonization process makes her feel. I agree with a lot of this writer’s criticisms of the way the Native Americans are portrayed in the game, and I would like to add two.

  1. Terra nullius: by making colonizable land grey and devoid of units or cultural structures of any type, the game essentially buys in to the legal fiction of terra nullius – that no one owned the land or had a use for it before white people came. This legal fiction was overturned in Australia in 1994, and where not openly declared the general principle often underlay the willingness of white invaders to breach treaty agreements (as they did again and again, for example, when dealing with native Americans). In the game, although the natives are known to be there (you get a count in the colony window), they are not represented as unit types and structures the way Europeans are – the land is not owned in the sense that European land is owned, it just has some people on it. Terra nullius is a pernicious and evil concept that does not reflect the actual state of indigenous life, only the racist perceptions of the colonizers, and it’s sad to see it being reflected so clearly in this game
  2. Elision of native struggle: A common phenomenon in western popular and academic depiction of colonization is the minimization or dismissal of indigenous struggle. This is very common in Australia, and until the publication of Blood on the Wattle, popular understanding of Aboriginal history was that they didn’t really fight back, a belief that derives from early 20th century racial ideas of Aborigines as “weak.” Obviously in the US this is not so readily done, but for example the Sand Creek Massacre used to be referred to as the “Battle of Sand Creek,” though there were very few Indian soldiers involved, and popular lore about Custer’s Last Stand doesn’t usually include awareness that he was attacking a civilian camp at dawn when he was beaten. In the game, native struggle is implied in the aggressiveness and ferocity statistics for each province, and the effect they have on colony growth, but it is not actually visible or witnessed through the need to coordinate military actions against active opponents as happens in any European conflict between even the most irrelevant powers – it is a low background noise to your successful colonization, mostly

I think these two points show that the designers of Europa Universalis haven’t just implemented a game with a colonization strategy; they have implemented a game with a colonization strategy that implicitly reinforces common modern misconceptions about how colonization worked that tend to underplay its genocidal and military aspects (see also the way natives are absorbed into your population once it becomes an official province – this takes about 20 years and is in no way reflective of how colonization absorbed real native populations – such absorption took more than 100 years in Australia, for example, and only occurred at all through massive force and state coercion). I don’t really think this is a moral decision, but I also don’t think it’s defensible. There are lots of other ways that the game could have been designed, from making America the same as Asia to having a single Native American “state” and a different conquering mechanism – or, as April Daniels suggests, just a better and richer experience playing the Natives. There is DLC for this, but that’s not a defense, and neither are the butthurt bleatings of the gamers in the comments. It’s also noteworthy that the people attacking Daniels in comments of that blog are tending to subscribe to the same misconceptions that are buried in the game itself – there wasn’t much war, might makes right, smallpox did it not us!, natives really did get merged into the colonial population without a fight! This kind of response just shows that the west hasn’t come to terms with its colonial past yet.

So here’s what happened: Paradox spent years developing a game set in Europe in which they explicitly avoided modeling a genocide that occurred in Europe and that was crucial to the historical plausibility of the game; they also spent years developing a game set in Europe in which they explicitly developed a model for genocide that occurred outside Europe and that is crucial to the historical plausibility of the game. The former decision was probably (to the best of my recollection) made for moral and political reasons; defenders of the latter decision want me to believe it was for game mechanical reasons, even though the model they developed happens to reproduce some common misconceptions about how the native American genocide unfolded. I’m unconvinced. I think the designers didn’t consider one genocide to have the same weight as the other. Which isn’t to say that they consciously made that decision, but neither did all the cowboy movie directors in the 1980s who made multiple movies that included the Sand Creek Massacre, but didn’t ever get around to depicting Babi Yar from the Nazi perspective. Our culture makes some stories acceptable even though they are steeped in evil, and some stories unacceptable. Many people reproduce those stories without thinking, and that is what the designers did. (It’s also worth noting that Paradox is a Swedish company, and Sweden was not a colonial country in recent time; maybe for them the horrors of world war 2 are much closer than the horrors of genocidal America, and everything that happened in that period in those far-flung places is just a story).

I think there are some big questions buried in EU3, which we also need to ask when we play GTA or watch some nasty slasher pic, and April Daniels asked some of those questions in her blog post. Those questions are also relevant to the genocide issue in EU3 but they’re bigger than that. Why do we make games about war and killing at all? Why do we think it’s okay to drive around LA killing cops but we universally object to rape stories? Why are we so complacent about the destruction of whole cultures in Australia and America, but so touchy about mass murder in Europe? And why do some fanboys get so stupidly butthurt when people who enjoy the game (or the movie) analyze it a little more critically than wow!wow!wow!? My Ottoman Empire has begun its colonial project, in Cameroon and Cayenne and St Helena, and I’m playing that part of the project with the same sarcastic amusement with which I describe the Empire’s “reclamation” of knowledge in Northern Italy; I will probably kill a lot of natives if I have to, and convert the rest[3]. I’m not particularly fussed about this. But I’m also aware that this game is racist on many levels, and it includes genocide as a central mechanic. Some people may not be comfortable doing that, and they may want to write about it. I think it’s possible to simultaneously enjoy the game and accept these things, but I also think the game could have done better on this issue. If I’m going to kill natives and steal their land, why should it be different to the way I kill Germans and take their land – is there something the designers want to say here? There is a long, long way to go before people in the west can accept and understand the genocide that made America and Australia possible, and the deep wounds colonialism left on Africa. Until we do, I guess we can expect that games like EU3 will fall short of genuinely trying to describe the histories and cultures of the people who were exterminated.

fn1: though actually a very interesting experiment would occur if paradox were to include the Holocaust as a single historical decision that was actually bad for the German war effort, and secretly spied on players[2] to find out how many clicked “Yes, do it!” even though the decision is negative.

fn2: or used NSA data

fn3: actually since I westernized[4] I’m so far on the “open-minded” slider that I can’t actually generate missionaries, so I can’t convert anyone. I’ve conquered so much of Europe that my culture is more christian than Muslim. What to do…?

fn4: racist much?

How to flay an Austrian dog: 1, Make a careful incision along the belly

How to flay an Austrian dog: 1, Make a careful incision along the belly

From reading forums I have got the impression that I am not the only one who found defeating Austria difficult, and now that my war machine has got to the point where beating Germans is not so tough, I thought I would explain the tactics I used. For the Ottomans, defeating a European power (and the leader of the Holy Roman Empire) is not easy, despite our large manpower – they are far more technologically superior, they have allegiances, and they have a lot more men than one expects. So here is how I did it, and a little bit about why.

Why take Austria?

Well, because it was there …

There are easier European powers to defeat than Austria (Naples, for example, or Lithuania) and I could have spent my time laying waste to my Muslim rivals, but there are several reasons why I wanted to get started on Austria.

  1. History: I suspect that this game follows history, and historically from the beginning of the 17th century the Austrians began to work on uniting Hungary with Austria, which means taking it back from me. I wanted to get them first
  2. Tech lag: the longer you wait, the more Austria’s technology advances, and unless you’re lucky enough to Westernize earlier, they will get further ahead (especially in infantry). They also begin to grow in size as they absorb smaller kingdoms, and it’s not a good plan to lose the one advantage you have (numbers). Also, the more provinces you have the slower your research gets, so if you try to grow into muslim lands you will be able to keep up the manpower effects but you will gain a lot of low value provinces that drag back your research progress but don’t provide enough money to compensate for that effect; so growing into Austria is a good way to avoid this. Also, Austria holds a Weapons Manufactory, and taking that Manufactory gives me an army research bonus
  3. Completing the University Blitz: Austria held Parma in Italy (the Northwest tip of my possessions in the above map), and was allied with other university cities, so targeting one of those allies would be a key part of the war and means that if I was forced to a white peace I would still increase my university possessions
  4. Killing people and taking their stuff: Austria has 3 or 4 provinces with gold, which is a really big income boost. Taking them early (and also one trade centre) will really boost my attempts to catch up with Castille and France.

Austria also held claims on a bunch of my cores, and in the period just before this war started I was spending a lot of money sending gifts to them just to stop them declaring war on me. If it’s going to happen …

The basic strategy

Capturing Austria will take several wars, because even after total defeat the game won’t let you annex a multi-province nation and with a maximum warscore of 100% you can only grab a few provinces each time. So my basic plan was to lure Austria into a war with an attack on an Italian ally, and take the central provinces (splitting the nation in two) and the Italian universities on the first battle. I would then use an attack on another weak member of the Holy Roman Empire later to get a second war going, and use it to take the gold-holding provinces; then I would finish the last parts in subsequent, easier wars. It actually only took me three wars, but this was because the Netherlands stole some of Austria’s Baltic provinces at the same time. Luring Austria into battle is essential because it is always allied with another big power, and I can’t fight two big European powers at once; but because it is the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, Austria is obliged to come to the aid of even the smallest, shittiest Imperial member, so is very easy to lure into war even when it is not ready.

I also could not beat Austrian armies in a straight fight, but needed to be numerically superior to them by a factor of 4 – and then to have reserves since I would lose something like 25% of my men in the first engagement. So I built up my armies over a long time, to ensure I had manpower sufficient to reinforce an army of 180 divisions over a two year war. Also, after my previous University Blitz I had rapidly improving government research, and I used my new national ideas to ensure I had a big army as capable of taking on the Austrians as possible: I took Grand Army and Military Drill.

In order to defeat Austria in a war I used a strategy of separating the armies, to ensure that I didn’t have to fight two of their biggest forces at once. This meant using Italy as a lure, and getting them to send one whole army over there and capture my provinces, while I destroyed the other one on a war in my own provinces. I could then rebuild my existing armies quickly with reinforcements, and go smash the second army while secondary units of mine would take on any newly-formed units. But this meant I had battles of about 75,000 men vs. about 20,000, and was still losing 30% of them.

War 1: The Italian Trap

The first war started with an attack on a minor Italian state – Modena, I think. Modena is part of the Holy Roman Empire and is not allied with Naples, so made a perfect target. Soon after the war started Austria moved a large number of troops into Northern Italy, where I had a large army laying siege to Modena, but I removed my forces by sea before they could get bogged down in battle. The Austrian army then charged around Northern Italy razing my cities (another point worth noting is that the Austrians reduce cities very quickly, so don’t count on getting even a month to recover in a fast war with these people – they will have opened your city up and moved on before you have time to reinforce – which also means you need to build troop units far behind the lines to avoid losing them to rapidly moving siege units). However, in the time they were charging around “liberating” my Northern Italian possessions, their second army moved into Pressburg and then Pecs, central provinces in Hungary. This army was about 30,000 strong. They had other forces of 1-2 divisions (1000-2000 men) fanning out through other provinces, but these did not concern me. In total I would say they had 50-70,000 men, to my 140-180,000. But a lot of my men had to be fanned out to guard my eastern approaches and prepare for the inevitable uprisings, or were in reserve to be rushed in as reinforcements after the first destruction. For example, I had 8000 men in Nis to handle uprisings in Macedonia, and another 10,000 or so in Athens (also covering against seaborne assault). I also had a line of single divisions on the frontier. But in Pecs and all its adjoining rearmost regions I had armies of 10-25,000 men. When the Austrians attacked I used the scorched earth strategy – which is why I had single divisions on the frontier – and withdrew my men, though most got caught in the Austrian advance and ground into the mud. The main Austrian army then laid siege to Pressburg, but the scorched earth meant they lost perhaps 4000 men waiting for the city to fall. They then moved on to Pecs after about a month, with Pressburg safely in their possession (bastards). I was waiting though, with a base army of about 20,000 in Pecs and armies moving in from every adjoining province[1]. When the Austrians arrived in Pecs they found themselves caught by an army of 70-80,000 men, and their own demoralized by marching over scorched earth for weeks, and now numbering only perhaps 22-25,000. The result was a victory for me, though a fairly costly one – I think I lost between 30-40% of my men, while they only lost 20% of theirs. Fortunately for me though this ill-fated army retreated into one of my provinces, so I could pause to give chase to ensure my men arrived after the end of the month (with morale and numbers restored) and I think also some Serbians got in on the action. This second battle was pivotal, with my forces dropping only perhaps another 25% while the enemy was routed and lost half its numbers. They then had to retreat back through three provinces, being chased all the way, and when they returned to Austrian territory they numbered perhaps only 4000 men. I was then able to send my surviving army to mop up the small Austrian armies (of 1000-2000 men) laying siege to my northern cities, and rush in the reinforcements I had held in reserve earlier.

By now my men from Northern Italy had arrived and, confident that I had no need to defend Dalmatia I could move a reserve from there into Austria proper, so another force of perhaps 50,000 assembled and began marching across the border. To my surprise, the remaining major Austrian army had stayed fast in Parma after reducing my northern Italian cities, I think because in a sea battle I had accidentally sunk all the Austrian transports[2] and the soldiers did not walk across all of Italy and Austria to join the campaign. I tried drawing them out by destroying their cities in southern Austria but they weren’t tempted, and now my window of opportunity was closing – if I didn’t deal with them quickly a new army would form in Austria while I wasted time in sieges (maybe this is what the Parmiano army was waiting for?) and then I’d be toast, since I didn’t have enough manpower (or money) to build up another army of 70,000 men within a year, having spent most of my available manpower reinforcing the huge losses from the first battle. Did someone say “Human Wave Attacks”? That’s my army’s killer app…

So, we marched into Parma, and left behind a veritable horde of small units, 1000 men per province, sieging every city we could get our hands on – the sooner we bring down their cities the sooner we forestall the development of a major army. This behind-the-lines siege strategy is essential bookkeeping because once the first army was liquidated and its survivors marched to the cliffs of Herzegovina to meet their fate, Austria would have to raise soldiers simultaneously across many provinces. This means stationing a single troop unit in each province enables these new units to be killed all at once as they emerge from their little Austrian cocoons, before they are properly able to fight, and 20,000 manpower get washed away in a storm of blood before they can harm anyone.

The battle in Parma went quite quickly, possibly because the Austrians had forgotten to take over Firenze before they retreated to their Parma castle, and so my armies could reinforce after each battle. I think it took four or five battles before we finally drove them into the Papal State; but before they returned to attack me, my siege units completed the siege of Parma and my conquest of Austria was complete. Result! I demanded Karten (Weapons Manufactory), Streirmark, and Parma (university), as well as the liberation of Riga. That brings my warscore up to 99, and that’s all I get for a year of war – after which I have to settle down to several years of putting down insurrections and rebuilding my manpower. Oh Austria, were you worth it?

How to skin an Austrian dog: 2, carefully peel back the flesh from the left flank

How to skin an Austrian dog: 2, carefully peel back the flesh from the left flank

War 2: The Croatian Trap

I used a similar combination of diversion and scorched earth on my second war, and again started it by attacking a small Italian state. This time I chose the rump of Naples (see the map above), because it gets me the high value provinces south of my university cities, and by now Naples was becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage, protecting me from retaliation from France or Poland. Although this happened only a few years later, I noticed my Land technology had increased in this time – this is because of the effect of having France as a neighbour, plus the Kranten Weapons Manufactory (see below for more about this). I also had access to Austrian infantry units, recruited in Streiermark and Kranten, which are vastly superior to even my Condotta infantry. This eased up the challenges in battle a little, but I still had tough fights ahead of me and this time the Austrians were much less surprised – by the time I had quelled dissent and rebuilt my armies they had a force of some 35,000 men in the northern section of their divided kingdom, and 20,000 in the south. That’s not pretty. However for this battle I had an advantage – a brief alliance with Persia, which meant that halfway through the battle a whole horde of Persian soldiers came stomping in to take over siege duties. These guys died in their multitudes if they so much as caught sight of an Austrian soldier, but they were good for capturing territory.

This time I set a trap for the southern Austrian army, with the full intention of destroying it as quickly as possible. In the map above, the large grey province sticking into my glorious Empire is Croatia, and the green province beneath it Dalmatia. The salmon-coloured nations are Bosnia, my vassal, and to their east Serbia. I positioned a large army in Dalmatia, and another in Bosnia, then more in the provinces north, south and east of it. I then scorched the earth in Bosnia, and waited. Austria lays claim to Bosnia as a core, so leapt straight into my trap, sending its 20,000-strong army to get it back. Once they moved into Bosnia I used the same tactic as before, pouring soldiers in from all sides, but now I also sent my men into Croatia to seal the trap. The Austrian army was beaten more effectively this time, and simultaneously suffering attrition from the scorched earth. When it retreated, it fell into the ambush I had set, and was completely annihilated in the valleys of western Croatia. I immediately withdrew my men into my own territory to get resupply, and lined up the same wall of troops around Pecs in central Hungary, to face off against the Northern army. This time my troops had not been so badly mauled, and I rushed up reinforcements, but I still only outnumbered my enemy perhaps 2.5:1. Luckily those new Austrian troops, plus a slightly better land morale, made the difference, and I won at Pecs – though I think I lost 60% of my men trying. I couldn’t press my advantage but had to rush in more troops from far afield – again, the Italian troops who were on anti-partisan duty in the north of Italy had to be shipped in. This is a dangerous tactic, since even if Naples capture all of Italy they cannot force me to surrender, but if Italian partisans hold a portion of a historical state for long enough they can declare independence. I also, of course, left my northern borders undefended against Naples, but Napolitan forces were much reduced and I could be confident that they would not be a threat. With this new force brought in, and also moving up my southern Greek anti-partisan forces, I was able to quickly return to the offensive, and spent a few months chasing that army around western Hungary until, finally, I cleaned it up.

This time I took the remaining states bordering France, and – most importantly – Tirol, which has a large gold supply. I also forced further concessions from Naples. Now Austria was reduced very much in size, and had lost all its manufactories and universities, as well as its trade centre and gold resources (all located in Tirol).

How to skin an Austrian dog: 3, gently draw out the flesh intact, and throw the remains over your right shoulder

How to skin an Austrian dog: 3, gently draw out the flesh intact, and throw the remains over your right shoulder

War 3: The Cake-walk

After the second war there followed another couple of years of pushing down revolts and rebuilding armies, but then I noticed that Austria had somehow become embroiled in a war with several neighbouring states and the Netherlands. Not wanting to lose the best chances, I declared another war – this time on Ferrara, which had foolishly reneged on its alliance with France and stood unprotected right there by my other northern Italian states – and led a rapid invasion party. This time Austria capitulated quickly, and gave up all its provinces except the capital, Wien. Wien itself capitulated after a further short war, and I was gracious enough to annex them into my empire. Austria thus no longer existed, and it only took 40 years including all the preparation and recuperation. I also seized all of Northern Italy, a province next to Lithuania, and a couple of small German states (like Salzburg) that had to suffer necessary collateral damage as part of my war. At the end of this war, as the map shows, I have captured all of Austria, Salzberg, a province south of Riga, most of Bohemia, Thuringen, and have nearly stomped Hesse. I also now have all the northern Italian university cities except Liguria and Venezia, most of southern Italy, and have lost nothing. The only problem is a single province that the Dutch took from Austria as a peace settlement before I could win the war. Notice the large number of small city-states and one province principalities that got absorbed into my empire during this titanic war – I’m sure they’ll thank me 100 years from now …

A few lessons about fighting technologically superior forces

Fighting significantly stronger forces can be devastating, even if they are numerically much weaker than your own – just as I experienced when I slapped the Golden Horde all the way back into Asia. It’s particularly tough if your war lasts more than a few months, since you will inevitably draw down on the forces that are responsible for maintaining civil order. So here are some tips:

  • Lure them into war by attacking weak allies, so they are isolated from alliances
  • Don’t underestimate even small allies – a two province German state fielding an army of 10,000 highly trained infantry will be enough to turn the battle in their favour
  • Get yourself an ally, even a terrible one. They can do siege work while you do the hard work of smashing the enemy, and although siege work is often seen as something to do after you destroy enemy armies, it is crucial for keeping a lid on reinforcements if you are fighting a war of attrition. If your enemy has money and manpower and you leave his provinces unguarded, expect him to raise another 15,000 man army in a couple of months – just after you lost 30,000 or 40,000 men
  • Fight him on your land, not his, so you get resupply bonuses and he doesn’t. If you can use the lure tactic (I am terrible at this) then use it to draw your enemy far away from resupply
  • Pay attention to tiny things: the date you arrive in a province makes a huge difference to resupply and morale (always arrive after the last day of the month); attrition rates in a large army can be equivalent to losing a whole division; when your army tradition is up, hire better generals and take the time to load them onto your biggest armies.
  • Be very careful to ensure all your armies converge at once – even a day of difference can be a disaster. These Austrian juggernauts tear through small armies like a threshing machine, and if your grand army of 80,000 arrives 20,000 apiece staggered a few days apart, you’ll lose the battle and 60,000 men
  • Hire advisors who can keep revolt risk down, if you can, because you don’t want to lose a core province permanently to some nationalist bigots while you were chasing the bigger prize
  • Once you own a province from your powerful western enemy, rapidly generate their best troops from that province – they will be far better than yours and can form a bulwark in the next battles, and you will lose access to these units after 50 years, so you want to generate them during the period that the provinces are not core, and spread them through all your armies
  • Save before peace agreements and check which land you want very carefully – take the provinces of highest value to your enemy first. You may not be able to find out the best approach (e.g. where universities and manufactories are) without signing a peace treaty and checking, so be willing to reload and try again
  • Keep an eye on Great Britain and Castille – as your reputation tanks from multiple small wars you may need to spend a lot of money keeping them on good terms with you
  • Keep an eye on your manpower – if it begins to get really low you will need to bring reinforcements from anti-partisan duty, or else you won’t be able to field sufficiently sized armies
  • Preparation! Go to war with a full manpower complement and your army already built (it may take two years to get to this point) so that you can guarantee resupply and the ability to build another 30,000 man army within two months – your casualties are going to be horrific
  • Remember you’re fighting a war of attrition and your soldiers are just peasants. Be ready to throw them away – digital men love to die for a cause
  • Save often, because even the smallest mistake is going to lose you 70,000 men in a month
  • Avoid war taxes and try to fight on savings. War exhaustion really soars up when you are fighting a war of attrition, and you don’t want to load taxes on top of that
  • Design your strategy so that you capture a province neighbouring France early – the neighbour bonuses from France are staggering

Now that I’m used to this strategy I’m much more confident about taking on technologically superior opponents. I have the men, they have the guns, but I can do it if I’m careful and methodical in my planning.

A brief note on neighbour bonuses

I was really shocked to notice after I captured some provinces bordering France that the neighbour bonuses on research had shot up to 30 or 40%. Now I have 6 universities and neighbour bonus from France for a total government research bonus of 60%, equivalent to an increase of 60 ducats a month in research – I get research outcomes in all my research fields of up to 40%, equivalent to 200 ducats a month in income just from neighbouring France. This has been particularly effective in my Naval research, which had been lagging. So get this early in your strategy.

If you’re playing the Ottoman empire this can be done early by grabbing Liguria (of the Kingdom of Genoa) before France gets it. This option arrives early when you get the mission to take the Crimea, which Genoa holds – with a good navy you can grab Liguria after two wars, and they aren’t actually militarily so tough, nor do they have good allies. I didn’t do this but as I understand it they have a university and maybe a manufactory. They become a neighbour of France 100 years before you can complete the capture of North Italy, and they also have a centre of trade (5 ducats of income a month from harbour fees).

I’m also wondering if this tactic could be an effective way of making yourself a huge power in Asia. Take a small Asian country and send a force early on to take a piece of land adjacent to e.g. the Ottomans. Then use this neighbour bonus to get a huge research bonus over all your Asian neighbours. Then use this land as a stepping stone to grab a single state adjoining France (anyone would do, North Italian is best) and your neighbour bonus will be huge. Then you can dominate Asia. I would say that for the Ottomans or any Islamic state, having a province adjoining one of the major western Europeans is worth expending a lot of blood and treasure on. In fact now in my game Syria adjoins the British province of Alexandria, and is developing its land and naval forces faster than e.g. Persia or the Golden Horde (who adjoin Muscowy). These neighbour bonuses now have me stellar distances ahead of my Islamic brother states – I think the Golden Horde are still stuck on Land 16 or 17, while I’m on 23. France is on 27, so I’m catching up.

I think these tactics are key to catching up and competing with the western “lucky” countries. When I started playing the Ottomans I didn’t know about the crushing disadvantage of being Islamic (slower research, inferior units) but if you use the neighbour bonuses and careful strategy, these disadvantages can be turned into challenges rather than game breakers. Dragging myself up through Austria to threaten the entire Prussian north has been a really enjoyable part of the game, and it certainly has been a challenge! But now I’m beginning to feel I’ve turned a corner, and my empire is nearly ready to take on the majors …

fn1: You can’t have more than a certain number of units in any one province without suffering serious attrition, and I couldn’t spare any incidental loss of men, so I had to fan my men out until the key moment.

fn2: 41 of my ships to 18 of theirs, and I sunk 6 of theirs and barely won… another example of the devastating effect of huge tech differences. Never split your fleet if you are in a war against a western power.

[This being the victory speech of Padisha Mehmet II, made at the Gates of Vienna in May, 1628]

Oh my Brothers in Arms, peace be upon you that are righteous in the path of the One True Faith! [cheers] [raises arms for sudden silence] I see you now as we all have become in these 40 years of continuous war. We are all wearied, brothers, by this great war that was brought upon us, and by the things that we have been forced to do in the service of Allah, the Source of Peace. I know many of you thought this day would never come. You have marched the mud and snows of this bitter land for so long, some of you have forgotten the feeling of sun on your back, or the sound of the sea. I know you thought you would never see your Mother again, or pray on a mat that was not frayed and worn and splattered with the blood of the infidel.

Oh my Brothers in Arms, peace be upon you now that have won a great victory for the One True Faith! [cheers] Look behind me at these gates, my brothers! [cheers] [turns to face the shattered walls of Vienna] Behind these ruined gates the people of Austria cower in advance of our measured tread. They are not just weary in body, as are you my brothers: no! They are ashamed, my brothers, as are all the infidels! For they waged war against us in the name of a false belief. They thought to crush us, but their efforts broke against the rock of our faith! [cheers] Now do they not know that God is Great, and there is no God but God?! [cheers] [raises arms for sudden silence]

Oh my Brothers in Arms, is this not right and good? For our Prophet, may peace be upon him, did he not warn us of this day? Did he not say,

So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Have we not done as he bid in all things, my brothers? We were unjustly attacked by the pale wretches of Christendom, and did we not defend ourselves? [cheers] Did we not rebuke them justly for turning their greedy, godless gaze to lands that are and always have been ours? [cheers] Did we not punish them justly for making war against the children and women of the Empire of Peace?! [cheers]  And do they not now repent!!? [cheers]

[waits for the crowd to fall silent – it is a long wait]

Oh my Brothers in Arms, let us now be frank with each other. I know that many of our people questioned my father’s judgment when he first declared war on the Austrian dogs all those years ago. No! Do not protest! Are we not a free people, that our fathers can voice their opinions and their fears without trepidation or restraint?! And are our fathers not wise? Are we not an Empire of Peace? Well then, behind these gates the greatest threat to that peace schemed our end, and now that threat is done! There are great powers in Europe, but we have proven ourselves equal to the most ferocious of them, and now it cowers before us like a terrified dog. We are free to do as we like, and all of the unbelievers in Europe shake with the realization that the people of the One True Faith will not bow down to them, but will fight to defend that which is ours. And let us not doubt this: Europe is rich, rich from conquering other lands and stealing their wealth. Now we have taken those riches for ourselves, riches such as I know many of you could not have imagined these unbelievers would hold. Now we have the gold of the great mountains, we have rich fleets and salt mines and we possess all the industry of this land. Where once that gold bought arms to kill believers, now it will buy bread! [cheers] Where those fleets harried merchants trying to sell the fruits of your hard labours, now they will carry oyur products to trade with the world. Where that industry built cannon to break our cities, now it will make ploughs for our fields. Where that salt was horded for fat, rich Austrians, now it will be shared with shepherds and herders across our Empire! For we have brought peace to Europe, and now Europe will begin to join our Empire of Peace!!! [cheers]

[waits for the crowd to fall silent – it is a long wait]

Oh my Brothers in Arms, let us now think of peace and unity. Before me I see gathered faces from all of our vast Empire of Peace. There, a doughty Georgian sapper – over here, yes here! [points] I see a squad of archers from the plains of Dagestan! You have come far, have you not?! There, a Hussar from Vilnius, still weary from carrying his lance so far and fighting so long! And here before me a Turkish man, whose family has held faith with our empire since the Turks first discovered the One True Faith. And all of you united under our crescent banner! Behind me, cowering behind these gates, a new people wait in fear of you. Would you have those people unwelcome in our empire? Did we not welcome the Tartars, the Hussars, the Hungarians who for so long demanded their liberation from Bohemian oppression? Then let us also welcome these pale-skinned infidels! Show them peace and treat them according to the teachings of our Prophet. Soon those gates will be broken down, and I will enter the city to take possession of Austria in the name of Allah, the Victorious. When you enter the city with me, remember our Prophet’s final sermon, and his injunction as to how to behave well towards unbelievers. For did he not say

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.

We know that our enemies in Europe do not believe this, or any of the words of the Prophet (may peace be upon him). Let us show them that we are better than them, that we are moral where they sin; we are peaceful where they make war; we are generous where they are greedy; and we are just where they are cruel! Be as good and peaceful muslims when we enter this city, and show no anger or resentment towards these people who made war on us. For we have subdued them, and have no further need of anger – for we are victorious.

Oh my Brothers in Arms, let us throw open the gates of Vienna, and make our triumphant entry into Europe!!!

[long cheers; the Padisha holds his arms aloft for some time, then climbs atop a white horse, and rides towards the gates. Explosions sound from the walls, and the gates fall inward in a cloud of smoke and flame. To the sound of cheers and the thunder of many cannon, Padisha Mehmet II enters the city of Vienna, trailed by whisps of smoke from the shattering of the great gates. He takes Vienna, and our Empire takes history!]

There is no worse calamity for knowledge and its people than when outsiders intrude

There is no worse calamity for knowledge and its people than when outsiders intrude

Everyone knows that the people of Christendom are lazy and morally weak. What else is to be expected of people who have been led so far from the path of righteousness as to believe Jesus is the son of Allah, the One and Only, who begets not nor is begotten? These people show themselves in all things to be misguided and confused; to eschew work where leisure could suffice; to revile hygiene where baser instincts can take hold; and to turn away from all enlightened thought to superstition and idolatry. Yet, it cannot be said that they are ignorant; for in Northern Italy and distant France lie almost all of the greatest institutions of learning in the modern world. How can it be that such idle and debased people – so weak of thought and ideals that even their skin is pale – could be in possession of all the greatest institutions of learning in the known world?

Of course they did not build that; they inherited this legacy of great thought from their predecessors in the Islamic world, and then they debased it. Their learning comes from the ancient Greeks through those most barbarous of idolaters, the Romans; and from the Arabs did they learn all they know of mathematics and science. Yet in the long dark era of our subjection and chaos, we allowed this learning to slip away, and a golden age of knowledge tarnished irrevocably, so that all that is great about modern science and philosophy is held in trust by the faithless sinners of western Europe.

Have we not sinned as a people, to allow this knowledge to pass from us into the hands of infidels? Did not Ibn Taymiyyah say that the people of the One True Faith should

Seek (beneficial) knowledge,
because seeking it for the sake of Allah is a worship.
And knowing it makes you more God-fearing;
and searching for it is jihad,
teaching it to those who do not know is charity,
reviewing and learning it more is like tasbeeh.
Through knowledge Allah will be known and worshiped

Sadly we have failed to respect this Islamic ideal for many years, and in the midst of our internecine strife we have allowed the unbeliever to take hold of all beneficial knowledge, and to keep it from us. Does our worship of Allah the Most Merciful not suffer because of this lapse in our vigilance over jihad?

However, those times of internecine strife have been replaced with a time of prosperity and glory, under the great Mehumet I, and now we are able to look to the west, to those nations near us that hold so much of the lost knowledge that is our rightful legacy; and we are able now to reach out, and to take that knowledge back. Of course, we cannot take knowledge from the minds of men, even of infidels; nor can we exert control over how new knowledge is found in the hearts and minds of men (and does not Allah decide in His infinite power, as the Great Teacher, what all men will know and when they will know it?) But we can control the physical spaces in which knowledge is gathered, taught, and protected for future generations. We cannot reclaim the mind of the unbeliever, but we can strike out to take physical possession of the places that teach that mind, that form it; and in so doing we can establish  an Islamic Enlightenment, that ensures all knowledge is right and proper, and attendant to its legacy of Islamic principles.

Of course, to do this we must invade and subjugate Northern Italy. But such are the trials of jihad.

Huseyn II reigned for 16 years after he conquered Hungary, and during this time he made some more small gains, taking islands in the Aegean sea that had long been home to pirates and crusaders. Rhodes, Naxos, Crete and Corfu fell to our glorious soldiers, and in the twilight of his years Huseyn II’s scholar and archivist was able to take ship from the most southern edge of the Aegean sea all the way to the tip of Croatia without ever losing sight of the Empire that Huseyn II had built. However, this was not enough for Huseyn II, who had glorious visions of reclaiming not just the physical domain of Islam, but also its cultural legacy. For this reason late in his reign he declared war on the newly-founded state of Naples, which incorporated the city-states of Firenze, Romagna and Siena. Though Naples had military technology far in advance of our own, and was protected by powerful allies, through Huseyn II’s cunning diplomacy we were able to fashion a war in which Naples was isolated from its powerful friends, and through bravery and force of numbers we subdued the entire Italian peninsula in a brutal two year war. Though our brave soldiers faced warfare against modern cannon and forts, in mountains and forests unfamiliar to them, as ever the Christians wilted before the heat of our righteous fury, and the university cities of Firenze, Romagna and Siena were taken. Thus, in the year 1560, did the Islamic Enlightenment begin …

In his wisdom, Huseyn II recognized that to rule all these lands would be impossible, so he opted to carve off only the Northern states, and to vassalize Sicily and the Papal State; he then cast the lesser pickings of Southern Italy back to the Napolitan dogs. All praise should be given to Huseyn II for his tolerance: here he stood, at the doors to the Vatican itself, in possession of the very centre of the unbeliever’s faith, but recognizing the value of art and history for itself, he chose not to raze the city and put all its infidels to the sword, as all accepted to be his right; instead he gave the city its freedom, and allowed the curia to remain as a symbol of the lower status of Christianity. Perhaps when intelligent Catholics look upon their vanquished city, they will reflect on who is the One True God. If they do not, perhaps in future they will be chastised again by our glorious armies. For does our Holy Book not say,

If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous chastisement shall befall the blasphemers among them.

And are not our emperors just in offering this chastisement?

Before his death in 1564 Huseyn II implemented imperial rule across this whole vast land, but sadly his successor Seyfetim I achieved nothing with the fruits of Huseyn’s work or the new-found enlightenment, and died leaving only bastards. After a brief struggle amongst them, Mehmet I cousin of Huseyn II took the throne, and he rules to this day in glory from the centre of our Empire. In his wisdom Mehmet I realized that it is not enough to take possession of the great centres of learning in Christendom, and thus to restore the legacy of Islamic thought to the Empires of Islam; like a wise and learned father, the Ottoman Empire must also chastise those of its more junior and less educated Muslim brethren, and bring the true fruits of Islamic thought to them. Nowhere was this more the case than with the Golden Horde, that great seething sea of barbarity spreading east of our holy land, which was barely Islamic except in name, and ruled by degenerate horse-loving wretches from beyond the great deserts. This Horde was a constant problem on our borders, and served to destabilize all it was in contact with. What the folk of the Horde needed was discipline and education, in equal measure. And who else should offer such, but a loving and firm-handed father?

Thus it was that in the early years of his reign Mehmet I began war upon the Golden Horde. In this war the wisdom of Huseyn II’s belief in the power of education was made manifest. Our soldiers and our culture were so far in advance of the Horde that even our smallest army had but to stride onto the battlefield, and countless throngs of our enemies would be banished. In but two years of warfare a handful of divisions of our mighty army spread out across the Horde, taking its lands in our grip from Dagestan south of our Empire all the way to India. Behind us we left a trail of vanquished armies and unsettled local warlords; as the Horde’s client system fell apart under the pressure of our armies, and the subject peoples saw the vulnerability of their former masters, they rose up against the Khanate. By the time our armies had rampaged across these vast distances to India the land was aflame with rebellion. We retreated again, choosing instead to take only the lands closest to our own; and at the end of this huge crusade, the peoples of Dagestan, Qarabagh, Azow and Astrakhan had been brought into the loving embrace of the Ottomans. Closer to our own shores, those foolish nations that had previously allied with the Timurids, then turned to the Horde for protection, were suitably chastised, their lands taken and their leaders executed; the rump of the kingdoms of Crimea and Candar was left an empty shell, vassal to our will; but the rest of their territories were absorbed into ours. Now our grip on the Black Sea was complete but for those ports held by Poland, and the nearest of our Islamic neighbours who had fallen to the degeneracy of the Horde were back within our grasp. We also possessed the great trading posts of Astrakhan, and were within striking distance of the gold mines of Samara.

Of course I joined this crusade across the steppes of the Horde. From my vantage point on horseback, as I stood outside my Yurt staring up at the vast Eastern sky, or when we stood in the ransacked rooms of the Khans’ shabby castles, smelling the smoke and hearing the screams of dying prisoners, it became clear to me that the Ottoman Empire offers all of the Islamic world a better, more enlightened way to live; those that do not take it must one day be forced into it for their own good. It was also clear, as I looked into the eyes of freed slaves, or witnessed the violence-charged resentment of ordinary citizens of the Horde, or saw the explosive violence meted out to vanquished armies by the peasants they had previously oppressed, that the Horde was collapsing. Barely an empire any longer, it was held together by the twinned tyrannies of low men and huge distances, and was an anachronism in the modern era. To its north Muscowy grew in confidence; to its East, the Ming empire; to its south a brace of new empires jostling for power. The Golden Horde was going to collapse under internal division, and then be torn apart by these powers; and at some point we, the Ottomans, would have to step in to assure peace and to prevent the worst excesses that we saw in the end times of the Timurids, and were then powerless to stop.

But for now, we can do no more. Exhausted after two years of campaigning on those vast and open spaces, I returned to our capital to discover talk of a new and greater threat than any we had faced before: the Holy Roman Empire was looking eastward, to us; and the head of that greedy and evil Empire was none other than the King of Austria, our closest neighbour. Rumours grew that Austria hoped to retake Hungary from us and forge a new, larger Austro-Hungarian kingdom that would no doubt spell disaster for all Europe. It was our obligation to ourselves and also to all of Christendom to stifle that ambition. In the Autumn of 1582, war with eastern Europe’s greatest power loomed …