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On the one hand, we have air strikes, drones, artillery and what not - easy kills from a distance. But on the other hand, pretty much anyone can put together a rather nasty bomb, and an AK-47 can turn just about anyone into a soldier.
That wasn't the case in the medieval and early modern worlds, when weapons were hard to use effectively without training and experience. It was harder for a popular resistance to be effective.
Another key difference in the modern world is the ideology of nationalism. On average, ordinary people seem to care more about who their rulers are than in the past, and are much less likely to tolerate a foreign conquering power.
But more to the point, "kill everyone" only makes sense as imperial doctrine if (a) you have surplus population in the imperial center that you want to resettle, (b) you have surplus population somewhere else in the empire, and the cost of killing everyone and relocating a workforce to exploit the resources formerly occupied by the people you killed is less than the expense of bribing or threatening the local strongman to force the locals to exploit the resources for you, or (c) the locals are annoying to the administration of neighboring colonies.
In ancient times, (a) and (b) were fairly uncommon. And I doubt that you'll find any ancient empire which didn't intermittently exterminate particularly annoying colonial populations.
Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.
Your way of reasoning is leading to nowhere because you extrapolate the (supposed) objectives of today's imperial doctrine to the past. Prior the industrial era, however, things were different: for starters there was never "surplus population", on contrary human resources were often scarce and valuable; and back then natural resources were abundant. What was valuable were manufactured goods as they involved (i)human labour; (ii)human expertise; and (iii)frequently long haul transportation. That is one of the reasons why successful empires of the old type (like the Ottomans) build a space essentially free of sharp antagonisms where normal life could continue with productivity and trade in relative peace.
I am yet to read the book that prompted this thread, but from reading the excepts and others' commentaries the same mindset apply to the "Mongols". While certainly violent they were focused on controlling, benefiting from, and advancing existing arrangements; conquered entities usually continued their existence more or less unchanged. Compare and contrast with the conquest of the Americas which was by all accounts the proto total war: populace dispossessed; almost completely exterminated; indigenous culture razed to the ground; almost nothing survived from the natives' way of life.
Hahah... perhaps you better follow your own advice and have a word with the Aztecs as they were never an "empire" in the total-itarian sense that is used, and implied, today; they were rather a loose coalition of city-states more engaged with puppeteering their neighbours/vassals than razing everything to the ground.
Razing everything to the ground, while admittedly spectacular, was never the dominant doctrine of the European empires. It was employed in some places at some times, of course. North America, Oceania and against some particularly restive colonial populations elsewhere. But you would be hard pressed to find any empire, European or otherwise, which did not have genocide as the final escalation point in their doctrine.
Prior the industrial era, however, things were different: for starters there was never "surplus population", on contrary human resources were often scarce and valuable; and back then natural resources were abundant.
That being said, it is quite clearly false that there were no non-European empires which had a surplus of population with which to re-settle newly vacated land. Both the Indian peninsula and East Asia saw quite a few such migration waves, although it is non-trivial to determine the extent to which the conquered people were obliterated rather than assimilated, on account of the scarcity of disinterested contemporary commentary on such matters.
And of course, we have a great paucity of knowledge about the wars of hunter-gatherer societies, so it's hard to say one way or another whether "kill all the males, rape all the females" was the rule or the exception. We know from other primate species that it is a perfectly valid tactic for trooping primates, but how much of that applies to humans is unknown.
What was valuable were manufactured goods as they involved (i)human labour; (ii)human expertise; and (iii)frequently long haul transportation. That is one of the reasons why successful empires of the old type (like the Ottomans) build a space essentially free of sharp antagonisms where normal life could continue with productivity and trade in relative peace.
War is something you have at the fringe, well away from anywhere it might become expensive.
...and even that might be an illusion; what you see from the centre of the Empire – while further-away parts see incursions, revolts and retortions. I have a long-running suspicion that all the Roman Emperors with a bad name (Nero, Commodus, Caligula) got their bad name for being a meanie to some patricians of the capital.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
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