Thursday, 1 August 2013

War, Wells And Anderson

Everyone knows that sf writers follow in the footsteps of HG Wells but it is not always obvious how. Wells predicted not only spacecraft but also aircraft - that nineteenth century nation states armed with twentieth century weapons would wage World Wars. Soldiers on battlefields would be replaced by aviators bombing major cities. Not only armies but also populations would suffer and die in large numbers.

Wells wrote The War In The Air in 1907. He added a Preface in 1921 and another in 1941. The latter ended, "I told you so. You damned  fools." (Wells, The War In The Air, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1973, p. 8)

Poul Anderson's collection, Conquests (London, 1981), addresses exactly the same theme as Wells' novel, The War In The Air: future technological warfare. The first story, "Kings Who Die," adds the more familiar Wellsian theme of space travel. In fact, the exportation of institutionalized violence into space is effectively offered as a partial solution to the problem propounded in The War In The Air, and experienced in World War II. The United States and United Asia have learned better than to bombard each others' cities or even each others' Lunar bases. Only soldiers die and only in space.

But why can this endless, carefully controlled slaughter not be ended to make way for peaceful coexistence on Earth and in space? The Unasian General Rostock practices brain-computer symbiosis like a character in Anderson's later novel, The Avatar. From all the data available to him, Rostock deduces that the sacrificial deaths of the revered soldiers is "'...an outlet for the destructive emotions generated in the mass of the people by the type of life they lead. A type of life for which evolution never designed them.'" (p. 35)

Rostock wants the American prisoner Diaz to join with him in devising a solution but first Diaz must help Rostock's fleet against the Americans! Is Rostock's claim to want peace merely a ruse to get Diaz's help in the war? I would be with Rostock in wanting to end war but a credible first step is not to enlist a prisoner's help in waging the war. Diaz agrees, a strange thing for an Anderson hero to do, but it turns out that he is acting under a posthypnotic command that he had agreed to but, of course, willingly forgotten. Appearing even to himself to cooperate, he gets close enough to Rostock to sabotage the latter's computer with an oscillator hidden in his body.

So, by the end of the story, the highest loyalty open to Diaz is to his country, not the more general loyalty to humanity apparently offered by Rostock. I have to agree in disagreeing with Rostock's means, if not his end. (Similarly, Aycharaych asked Flandry to help him preserve Chereion but that would have required Flandry to betray his allies, including his murdered fiancee's family. Good end, bad means.)

How plausible is Rostock's theory that the war is a revival of human sacrifice? This, if true, would be horrific and governments would have to agree to stop the slaughter, then find some other way to address their disagreements. But I think that they should do this anyway.

9 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    Here, I again agree with Anderson and disagree with you. War happens because conflicting parties are unable or unwilling to compromise their disagreements. Or because they believe doing so would undermine them or violate their very reason for existing.

    I need only point out how the mere existence of Christianity and the Western civilization which sprang from it is considered a deathly threat to Islam. The beliefs, ideals, and values of Christianity/the West are simply not compatible with those of Islam. That is why we are seeing resurgent Jihadism propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Muslim groups within Islam.

    Sean

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  2. Hi, Paul!

    I forgot to add that besides H.G. Wells, Jules Verne was also one of the fathers of modern SF. A few examples of Verne's SF being TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON.

    Sean

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  3. Sean,
    I would hope, though, that in the scenario of "Kings Who Die", both the US and the Unasian governments would have enough sane people that could agree to coexisting on Earth and stopping the slaughter in space.
    Paul.

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  4. Hi, Paul!

    While what you suggest is the ideal, it won't happen unless the great powers agree there are no crucial conflicts of belief and real politik dividing them. IOW, a situation kinda like what happened in Europe from the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 to the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914. But I see no end, at present, to the age of chaos we've been living in since 1914.

    Sean

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  5. Sean,
    Nor do I! But I thought that the two governments in "Kings Who Die" had a better chance. Rostock should have submitted his findings to his government, not schemed as he tried to.
    Paul.

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  6. Hi, Paul!

    Then I can only conclude Rostock did not inform his superiors of his findings because he knew they would not believe them. Which, all by itself, would seem to lessen the likelihood of them being true. That is the conflict between United Asia and the USA was not simply a disguished form of human sacrifice, there were actual and real points of disagreement between USA the and UA.

    Sean

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Sean!

      From what we see of Unasian society, and what is implied, they're not a free society, and not likely to be receptive to that kind of criticism, true or not. And no doubt the U.S.A. and U.A. had actual and real points of disagreement, but why exactly did these result in the kind of war they were fighting, where neither stood to conquer or wipe out the other, and there didn't seem to be anything to gain economically, nor any captive nations to liberate on Mars or the asteroids? Human sacrifice seems to fit.

      Regards, Nicholas

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    2. Hi, Nicholas!

      Thanks for your note. I would argue that the reason the USA and UA were content to fight mostly off Earth was because these powers were too STRONG to make it safe trying to settle their quarrels on Earth. Any such effort would all too likely end up with both nations being destroyed. So their space navies will maneuver and clash off Earth. No doubt, both hope they would end up becoming so strong they could dictate terms to the other power.

      All this reminds me of the former Cold War between the USA and her allies vis a vis the late, unlamented USSR and her East Bloc satellites. Esp. after the death of Stalin when his more cautious successors strove to undermine the US and the West by means short of open war and invasion. Fortunately, the US managed to hold the line well enough to outlast the USSR.

      Sean

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  7. Yes, I thought his theory might explain some of the social psychology involved but not the whole war!

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