This is the End

Charge of the Light Brigade by William Simpson

Charge of the Light Brigade by William Simpson

We’ve come down to a subject I’ve been deliberately avoiding for weeks, something I perhaps find terrifying, something for which, if I elucidate it incorrectly, I will never ever be forgiven.  So we’ve described the conception of Western Civilization, its spread, its development, its survival through times of darkness, and we’ve come upon the precipice of the great conclusion: the modern period which saw the rise of powerful western states with modern legal systems, modern manufacturing, modern notions, and modern ways of making war.  Everything, quite naturally, changed.  This conclusion will necessarily be a multi-part document.  I want to talk about the ways in which the interaction of western states changed, starting with the Crimean War.  I also want to talk about the World Wars in context, and I finally want to discuss our contemporary, what’s often called the “Post Modern Period,” which in our general malaise is more a threat to our way of life than any regiment of bayonets or battery of artillery.

Europe is a pretty small place, tiny compared against the rest of the old world and not necessarily resource-rich either.  It’s absolutely dwarfed by the Americas, which incidentally have more potential upwards than does our moribund Europe, but that’s a discussion for another time. In the modern period, Europe saw a population explosion that suddenly made it far more important than it had been in any other time in history.  European states were able to raise armies of hundreds of thousands if not finally millions, monstrous considering the typically largest of medieval armies would have only constituted perhaps ten thousand men.  The conditions for this population explosion had quite naturally been mercurial advancements in both manufacturing and agricultural sciences, making the best of the relative impoverishment considering the resources at the fingertips of the rest of the world.  In addition to these were also advancements in transport, communications, and all different manner of natural philosophy.  Europe, which had previously been highly balkanized thanks to a combination of severe terrain features and a mutual disregard, nevertheless remained so in terms of sovereignty, but now they had the capacity to bother each other like never before.  Cue the Crimean War, one of the most shameful acts of brutal self-interest in European history, one in which the Russian Empire come across as the good guys.  Good work, Britain and France.

French cuirassiers at Friedland by Ernest Meissonier

French cuirassiers at Friedland by Ernest Meissonier

We’re living again in a strange alternate universe.  Roma Surrecta, in a way.  European monarchs are styling themselves after the Caesars.  The Russians have Tzars.  The French actually installed several Emperors beginning with the most notable Napoleon I.  In a few years, the Germans will unify their disparate states under the leadership of a “Kaiser.”  And despite the rather brutal autocracy common to many of these sovereign nations, the people generally will enjoy a freedom impossible to the rest under heaven.  The Russians abolish serfdom.  Napoleon brings about a short end to the rule of kings and the rise of French citizenship.  When I can think of something good to say about the Kaiser you’ll be the first to know.  It’s like a mirror of the height of the Roman Empire, broad and liberal citizenship governed by a sometimes brutal autocracy which is itself nevertheless at the mercy of the vulgus.  Now, why am I telling you all this?  Sometimes I lose track myself.  The point is, Europe is going places, has remembered the incubating glory of the Classical Period.

The lead-up to the Crimean War would typify the Modern Period.  The moribund Ottoman Empire gets itself into a brawl with the Russian Empire, the latter of which is declaring itself the guardian and patron of Orthodox Christians, a great many of whom live under the sovereignty of the Ottoman state, particularly those living in the Balkans and Greece.  The conflict goes badly for the Ottomans and the Russians appear to be breaking through, and just when freedom seems to be whispering on the wind for the Ottoman Christians, France and Britain show up ready to stop the Russians in their tracks, fearing that if the Russians gobble up the Ottomans they might become too powerful to contest with on a larger scale.  Long story short, they invest the Crimean Peninsula alongside their unpleasnt Ottoman allies and, the war turning bad for Russians, despite inflicting horrific casualties upon the unlikely trio of villain allies, the Russians are forced to sue for peace, which is immediately accepted thanks to the war’s complete lack of popularity at home.  I imagine it’s a hard sell, asking the citizenry to prevent the liberation of fellow Christians by attacking a Christian state all the while in participation with Ottoman slavemasters.

Sevastopol Panorama by Franz Roubaud

Sevastopol Panorama by Franz Roubaud

There’s actually a great deal more to discuss, like the issue of Greek independence and the like and the remaining run-up of minor conflicts leading to the bloody business, but this sets the tone.  European states, despite possessing fairly crystallized borders from here on out, will never stop bothering each other, and they’ll be able to do it on a scale never before imagined.

Something else I’d like to discuss.  You would think all this infighting would have a net destructive effect upon European society, and in the context of the Worlds Wars, you’d be completely correct, but in the run-up to that period, huge advances in military technologies were made as a consequence of this constant infighting, leading to a war of innovation, military technologies for which there would be no parallel in the hands of other states until the absolute conclusion of the Second World War.