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This is a  seriously wrong both fact-wise, and as a line of reasoning. Prior to the European expansion in the XV century major imperial conquests did not usually result in mass exterminations. The old type of empires were "soft-touch", aiming at some loose integration and exacting tribute without destroying economy and life in general. The kind of utter devastation that the Europeans brought to the Americas, Africa and Australia was unknown in earlier epochs. So, implying that Mongols' effectiveness was due to the "kill everyone" doctrine is deeply ahistorical.
by Ivo on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 01:17:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Aztec empire would like a word with you.

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.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 01:49:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
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.

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.

by Ivo on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 03:08:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
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.

Well, the European empires were (are) a loose coalition of nation-states more engaged with pupeteering 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.

I don't see where that contradicts any part of my reasoning: Scarcity of human resources led to genocide being reserved for excessively restive colonies, rather than as a routine precursor to re-settlement.

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.

Of course that is just as true for the European empires (and, for that matter, for the American): Within the empire, there is relative peace, and the empire maintains and defends a trade system. War is something you have at the fringe, well away from anywhere it might become expensive.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 03:42:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
War is something you have at the fringe, well away from anywhere it might become expensive.

You hope.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 04:10:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
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.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 04:31:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is seriously wrong fact-wise, too.
  • Earlier empires weren't any less soft-touch and didn't mind genocides, if only as warning to others. The Mongols 'excelled' in parts of Jin China, Western Xia, Persia (where whole cities of up to one million inhabitants were slaughtered), parts of the Kievian Rus, and of course Baghdad. A memorable episode of the unification of Qin China was the 260 BC Battle of Changping, when the Qin army massacred the entire 400,000-strong surrendered army of Zhao state (note that late Warring States period armies were de-facto conscripted national armies). Rome had the destruction of Carthago, the conquest of Gallia (Caesar himself wrote of butchering one million of whom most were civilians), the putdown of the Great Jewish Revolt and the Bar Kochba Revolt.  Etc. etc.
  • Meanwhile, the modern European colonial empires did not usually result in mass exterminations, either. India, Indochina, Russia's eastward expansion was taken without large-scale butchering, and so was most of Africa (Kongo wasn't the model but the extreme). The Americas and Australia are special cases due to the effectiveness of diseases (though there was the Black Death, too) and the level of the techno-cultural gap.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 03:23:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Africa you say? Same Africa which was ravaged on several occasions by the Europeans till it reached the present day nadir? What about the millions whipped out by the famines due to the incompetence, racism, and indifference of the British? Or they don't count? Part of the European savagery was the fact that they completely dehumanised their enemies/ victims so they simply didn't count. I suspect religion really did help here to whitewash conscience century after century.
by Ivo on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 06:48:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He is talking here about mass slaughter or genocide including slaughter of women and children not 'mere' brutal colonial exploitation or the deaths of male warriors, such as the Zulu, who died rebelling against British authority when they were confronted by soldiers equipped with artillery, rifles and machine guns.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue May 14th, 2013 at 08:07:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You really like to move the goalposts. But no, "the millions whipped out by the famines due to the incompetence, racism, and indifference of the British" is neither a "mass extermination", nor does it contradict my claim that most of Africa was taken without large-scale butchering, nor is it unparalleled by earlier empires (for example the Mongols in East Europe again, Rome in newly conquered Dacia). As for completely dehumanising enemies, as a way to differentiate from earlier empires, come on! "Barbarian" wasn't a word invented in the last five centuries, nor "slave".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 15th, 2013 at 04:51:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Exterminating and enslaving entire populations who refused to submit without a fight was rather the norm prior to, I don't know, maybe the 18th century?

In the long run, we're all misquoted — not Keynes
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 15th, 2013 at 02:42:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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