Communist Mercs

Chinese private security companies grew up after 11 Chinese builders working on a World Bank project in Afghanistan were shot dead by the Taliban in 2004. Before 2006, when a new external security affairs department was established, Chinese embassies had little back-up if citizens were attacked or needed to be evacuated. 

While the Chinese government has been hesitant to send police forces to protect its interests abroad, China’s expanding footprint in Africa and other unstable areas around the world has spurred demand for private security. Between 2006 and 2010, the government had to rescue 6,000 citizens from countries including East Timor, Chad, Lebanon, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Thailand and Haiti. In 2011, conditions in Libya and Egypt meant 48,000 Chinese citizens had to be evacuated.


Beijing Security Service and Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service, two of the first security enterprises to spring up, offered basic security provision for clients operating in mainland China, with limited interests in Africa. By 2010, a new breed of security firm had emerged offering highly trained special operations forces to protect Chinese personnel in state-owned Chinese oil and gas companies or banks working in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. These included Shandong Huawei Security Group, the first Chinese security firm to open an overseas office, and DeWe Security Service, a firm operating in 37 countries that played a vital role in evacuations from African war zones. Boutique security firms such as Ding Tai An Yuan Security have found new markets addressing specific security challenges unique to the Belt and Road Initiative.

Rise of China’s private armies, by Odil Gafarov

I find it rather amusing that a strongly Leninist government would give a solid thumbs-up to homebrew mercenary groups.

“You meet all kinds on the battlefield.” — something to surprise the PCs with, again and again and again.


“Leninist”: tightly centralized, one-party control of politics and the military. “Marxist”: state ownership of the means of production.

China isn’t very Marxist anymore — less so than France, nowadays — but it’s still deeply Leninist.

Meanwhile, in completely unrelated news:

The documents described the fighters as a “pro-regime force,” loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. It included some Syrian government soldiers and militias, but American military and intelligence officials have said a majority were private Russian paramilitary mercenaries — and most likely a part of the Wagner Group, a company often used by the Kremlin to carry out objectives that officials do not want to be connected to the Russian government.

“The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators in testimony last month. He said he directed Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “for the force, then, to be annihilated.”

“And it was.”

How a 4-Hour Battle Between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria, by By Thomas Gibbons-Neff

*** BOOM *** BOOM *** BOOM *** BOOM *** BOOM ***

For the first 15 minutes, American military officials called their Russian counterparts and urged them to stop the attack. When that failed, American troops fired warning shots at a group of vehicles and a howitzer.

Still the troops advanced.

How a 4-Hour Battle Between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria, by By Thomas Gibbons-Neff

There is a time for words, and there is a time for action.

Questions remain about exactly who the Russian mercenaries were, and why they attacked.

American intelligence officials say that the Wagner Group, known by the nickname of the retired Russian officer who leads it, is in Syria to seize oil and gas fields and protect them on behalf of the Assad government. The mercenaries earn of a share of the production proceeds from the oil fields they reclaim, officials said.

How a 4-Hour Battle Between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria, by By Thomas Gibbons-Neff

Mercenaries will be mercenaries.

But as the old tune goes, you have to know when to hold them, and when to fold.

I wonder how many PC-led mercenary groups know which is which.

And if they don’t know, I wonder how they will be taught… and who will teach them.

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Thanksgiving, Imperfect

Comparing The Thanksgiving the Jacks Built with The Thanksgiving the Other Jacks Built gives you an idea of how thinks look like, 3000 years into the future… from the perspective of 1950s America.

Consider what a well-educated man in his early 30s from cosmopolitan New York City in 1955 would have guessed America to be like 50 years. Then, bring him forward to 2005, and let him see for himself.

Then, let him guess what the US will be like in 2055. And be sure to make your own guesses too!

Then, jump forward, and see how wrong you both were.

Then keep on doing this, at 50-year intervals, until you reach the year 5605, or 1087 Imperial. That gives you 20 years before the Fifth Frontier War starts in the Spinward Marches, and 29 years before Emperor Strephon is assassinated.

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In even the rather pleasant, optimistic, light-grey flavour of the Imperium I favour, there’s going to be a good deal of sludge going on in the darker corners of Imperial worlds and space stations.

“Sludge” is what I’m calling the graphic obscenity Facebook censors have to deal with. A rather mild flavour is shown below, in a video of a Bangladeshi brothel village: the visuals are clean (if a bit grimy), but the plain-spoken stories of kidnapping and trickery have a great deal of pain, cruelty, viciousness and humiliation behind the simple worlds.

It’s not necessary to get hands-on with the sludge of reality, if that isn’t the story you (or your players) enjoy, or care to investigate.

In a big-universe Imperium, though, the sludge is going to be there, and it should be occasionally hinted at, depending on the story at the time. And certain career paths — criminals mainly, but also police investigators, certain types of scouts and agents, repulsive merchants with unique goods and services, clerics & charity workers — are going to get hip-deep in the stuff.

(From a military point of view, sludge-dominated communities could be a breeding ground for revolutionaries, as well as a comfortable nesting site for criminals. For example, a despised Solomani community within a Vilani-culture dominant world could be a nice staging area for a Solomani Party cell. The converse — where racially inferior Vilani are penned in by a Solomani-dominant nation — would be a good site for violently-minded Vilani activists to set up shop.)

Travellers who wander off the beaten path — that is, most of them — will be able to uncover sludge fairly easily, if they seek it out.

But note: even in a poor third-world nation like Bangladesh, the brothels are in a single village (or neighbourhood, or underground network), hidden away from most local eyes, as well as outsiders.

Humans just don’t like sludge, and most don’t care to publicly acknowledge its existence. When it is inescapable, the Solomani dress it up as ‘the justified punishment of the spiritually/ideologically/genetically inferior lower castes’ and the Vilani shrug it off as the traditional lifestyle of these people, ‘so who are we to judge?’

Actually building adventures around sludge is something I would advise against, as it can cause real-world damage to the psyche of Referees and Players alike. Best not to deep dive into the filth.

But we can’t pretend that sludge does not exist. Not in a truly open-world, fairly realistic environment like the Traveller universe.

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Death of a Warrior

From Quora:

Is dying in a battle or in a fight the best way for a person to die?

Susanna Viljanen, works at Aalto University

No. It is the oldest lie there is. (The second oldest is that “military makes men out of boys”.)

Death in action is usually slow, painful, messy and nasty way to go. Both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans, and they saw too much death. They saw their friends and comrades die – usually in the age of 20 to 25, in which age they had hardly even reached adulthood. And they saw their own killing work as well.

Death on the battlefield is seldom clean or quick, or even dignified. True, a headshot or artillery hit will kill you in a split second, but it is messy and devastating for the comrades.

The more usual way to die is to get mortally wounded, perhaps your limbs and/or torso mutilated, in which case the death may take hours. You will die either in horrible agony or drugged. Or it may be a marauding animal which finally kills you – a bear, a wolf, a feral dog, a pig. Kudos for crocodiles and tigers, which were a danger in Vietnam. Or you may be rescued and die only in the field hospital, in which case your parents may get to bury you. No parents should ever be compelled to bury their own children. Trust me, I know this. Or you may get mortally wounded, patched up and sent to home to die in your own bed. You die in agony, contemplating the life that could have been.

If you are a seaman, expect to drown like a rat trapped inside a sinking ship. Or get cremated alive inside a burning ship. Or from hypothermia or shark attacks. If you are an airman, expect to blow up into pieces and/or burned from a missile hit.

No war has ever been won by dying for the fatherland, but by putting the other poor sod to die for his. This is something to keep in mind; we are here not for dying, but for killing, as my instructor said.

Or like the pilots of the USAAF would have sung in WWII:

Don’t give me that P-39
with an engine that’s mounted behind
it’ll tumble and roll
and it’ll make a big hole
so don’t give me that P-39

Give me operations
way down at some lonesome atoll
for I’m too young to die
I just wanna grow old

Don’t forget gasping for breath while freezing to death in the dark, when your starship is cracked open like a busted egg.

“Or it may be a marauding animal which finally kills you – a bear, a wolf, a feral dog, a pig.”

— Double points if you are fighting Blood Vargr who prefer the Old Ways. Fortunately, their claws and fangs tend to reach for your throat first, so at least the end is quick.

(And really, really messy. Just the way they like it…)

Dying in battle is not glorious. It may be necessary, though, to protect what you love. And there is something to be said, for laying down your life to protect your people.

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Expanding Imperial Culture

Imperial Impact

First, a brief preamble from the Quora article What was it like in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule?

Kang-Lin Cheng, studied at University of California, Irvine (2012)

After Taiwan became part of Japan in 1895, one of the first things the Japanese were to ban foot-binding in women, opium use among the general population (Taiwan was part of China when the Opium War happened. With Qing’s defeat, opium use became widespread among China, including Taiwan), and cutting off the Manchu hairstyle among men (all Chinese men within Chinese territory must wear the Manchu hairstyle during the Qing dynasty, which is where you shave the front half of your head, and tie and back half into a braided ponytail. This was seen as a huge humiliation among Han Chinese men for the entire dynasty)

“Different empire, different rules.”

Sometimes the changes were for the better, sometimes not.

As a rule, the Third Imperium (unlike the First) prefers to insure that newly acquired populations have a general increase in liberty and wealth under the new administration, compared to the old empire. “Better economy and tax flows, a happier population, fewer rebellions, greater loyalty.”

Contrary to popular beliefs nowadays, Japan did NOT try to assimilate the Taiwanese. If you read expats’ stories online, you may notice a lot of them complain that no matter how many years they live in Japan, the Japanese would never accept them as real Japanese. This dilemma most likely was even worse back then. Since Taiwanese operated with an entirely different cultural background, many Japanese (even high level ministers like Goto Shimpei) thought that it was a waste of time to try to assimilate the Taiwanese, as without Japanese blood and being raised in a Japanese-only environment, one could never become Japanese. There were assimilation efforts, but that did not occur until the 1930’s, when WWII was under way.

Not trying to culturally assimilate the conquered population? VERY un-Vilani.

Refusing to assimilate the conquered population due to a lack of the correct bloodlines? VERY Solomani.

Japan built many of Taiwan’s finest schools even to this day, such as the National Taiwan University. However, discrimination existed in the education society. Japanese immigrants, despite being only a fraction of the total Taiwanese population, disproportionally represented students at the top Taiwanese high schools and universities.

In the Third Imperium, education is utterly under the authority of the local government. There are genuinely Imperial institutions… but they are closely tied to the Imperial military and civil services. Even the famed University of Sylea is the University of Sylea: Sylea being the traditional name for the Capital system.

Vilani Medicine

Now, to the interesting part:

Taiwan’s first female doctor, Tsai Ah-Shin (蔡阿信), played a prominent role in modern Taiwanese medicine, particularly in obstetrics. She founded her own hospital in Taichung. It was said that she shattered a lot of myths and misconceptions that women traditionally had about childbirth, which greatly decreased infant mortality rates among Taiwanese women. In fact, if you are Taiwanese, you most likely owe your very existence to this woman, for without her, most likely, our grandparents or great-grandparents would have died in infancy.

Now, this can be seen as a typical civilian Imperial Heroine, probably receiving a civilian medal (like “The Imperial Heart” in my version of the Imperium), or maybe a knighthood, or even a barony if her work has a huge, beneficial, interstellar impact on the Imperial population.

The Vilani of the Ziru Sirka/First Imperium, having never been exposed to a disease culture tailored to attack humans (…so, no germ theory before contact with the Terrans…), simply wouldn’t have the same medical skills to offer conquered human populations.

Vilani cultural expansionists in the Third Imperium have a different problem. They have indeed assimilated Solomani medical knowledge…

(With a lot of grumbling and complaining, true. But the bottom line results are too good to pass up, especially in the post-Contact interstellar disease environment.)

…but they want to show respect and honour to the old myths and misconceptions (a.k.a. bad/low-tech medical practice) of their beloved Ancestors and glorious Traditions.

I’m sure that some Vilani medical practices were effective, much like Chinese acupuncture (perhaps including Traditional Chinese Medicine). Vilani “dietary medicine” — including forms of herbal medicine — is probably the most useful form of Traditional Vilani Medicine today.

But most likely, Modern Vilani prefer to pull the old trick of “keeping the form, and changing the content.” Much like I have always envisioned Vland (the Vilani homeworld) to look and feel just like at TL 11 culture, at the very height of the Ziru Sirka… and you need to keep an eye out for the TL 15 reality peeking out behind the facade.

Side note: Note the article’s stress on the woman doctor, and her focus on female medical concerns. The significance of patriarchial attitudes in the public work sphere particularly Solomani concern, not Vilani, who have been enjoying electricity – and thus, empowered women — for millennia longer than the Solomani have.

AND note that Solomani women have lifespans of ~70 years, with perhaps 20% of their lifespan tied to raising children. Compared to the Vilani’s average of around ~170 years, with 10% of their lifespan tied to raising children. Depending on your view of the fertility of Vilani women, they may also have a far greater flexibility on when to have children as well.

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Electronic Warfare – The Unseen Battlefield

Quite a nice video.

I admit, though, that I still think of hackers when the words “electronic warfare” crop up. More of a Chinese way of thinking, I suspect, observing their incursions to many classified systems around the world.

There is even a civilian/trader angle to this, in the guise of Huawei, A major Chinese multinational, they make lots of electronic equipment, including foldable smartphones and cheap, reliable network switches.

But are allegations against Huawei really based on a genuine concern, or just black corporate warfare between major corporations… or the governments behind various major corporations, as the case may be?

It’s easy enough to do a surface rewrite of the situation, and have the PCs dig out the truth themselves. I wonder who their patron would be, though…

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Imperial Deep Time

From North’s Leftist Fantasy: The Coming Collapse of Civilization (and the Central Planning Needed to Avoid It)

In 1963, I was assigned extracts from a 500-page abridgment of Toynbee’s volumes for a course in historiography. It was written by D. C. Somerville. It is long out of print. Our professor did not take Toynbee’s volumes or the abridgment very seriously. I think he assigned it as an example of how not to write history: “so much to cover, so little time.” They were an extraordinary performance of a brilliant mind, but no trained historian believes that anyone is capable looking at 28 different civilizations and drawing any kind of meaningful conclusion about all of them. He would have to know too many languages. He would have to look at many documents. The results of such a project could be boiled down in advance by two brief sentences: “Here today. Gone tomorrow.” Or maybe only one sentence: “This, too, will pass.”

From North’s Leftist Fantasy: The Coming Collapse of Civilization (and the Central Planning Needed to Avoid It)

If I recall correctly, the average lifespan of an empire is 250 years.

The average lifespan of a civilization is a good deal more difficult to determine, depending on your definition of the word “civilization”. Some last millennia, like China or Egypt; others for many centuries, like the Greco-Roman culture or Western Civilization.

Others last for a few centuries, like the Aztecs; decades, like the Soviet Union; or even mere years, like the Third Reich.

An Imperial observer of planetary civilizations would have a plethora of cultures, nations, religions, languages, races, and histories to investigate — far more than just twenty-eight!

(And don’t forget multiple sophont species and planetary geographies and biomes as well.)

I doubt if any conclusion could be drawn from the chaos, at least any conclusion that wasn’t “pre-loaded” from before the investigation started.

Someone is bound to try, though.

Then he writes this.

We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix.

And while our scale may now be global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to believe that greater size is armour against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalised economic system is, if anything, more likely to make crisis spread.

This is the heart of the nonsense. He is making a huge conceptual mistake. He is implicitly equating empire and civilization. They are not the same.

There is such a thing as Western civilization, but what is unique about this civilization is this: no single political entity has been the source of it. On the contrary, it has been decentralized on a scale unique in human history.

From North’s Leftist Fantasy: The Coming Collapse of Civilization (and the Central Planning Needed to Avoid It)

This leads to a very interesting question: is Imperial Civilization tied to the existence of an Imperium?

Or, a thousand years after the AI Virus was released, would the sophonts of the Spinward Marches, The Empty Quarter, Ilelish, Massilia, Alpha Crucis, and Canopus still be recognizably part of one civilization?

I think that the answer is yes…. but only the Referee of your game knows for sure!

The author does not discuss the historical decentralization of Western civilization, yet dealing with this is crucial for his thesis on collapse. Decentralized systems do not collapse. They change. Parts of them may go bankrupt. Some ways of doing things may be abandoned in less than a generation. But if we are talking about collapse, there has to be a crucial weak link. This weak link has to be hit by something that turns it into a broken link. Then the system will collapse. In a decentralized system, what weak link could this be?

I am not talking about global nuclear war. We all know that could happen. But it is a long-shot. I am talking about something inherent in our civilization that is vulnerable to something else that is inherent in it. The more decentralized a system is, the less likely are such vulnerabilities. The system as a whole is resilient.

From North’s Leftist Fantasy: The Coming Collapse of Civilization (and the Central Planning Needed to Avoid It)

Archduke Dulinor could confidently tell you what was the weak link for the Imperial Government.

But was the Emperor also the weak link for Imperial Civilization?

Maybe not — especially after you change the name of the civilization from “Imperial” to “Vilani/Solomani”.

“The Vilsol Civilization was forged under the Second Imperium and matured under the Third Imperium. However, Vilsol Culture rose to her fullest extent only after the end of the Imperial Period and the initial double impact of self-aware silicon lifeforms and the Empress Wave.

With the re-grounding of humaniti on life-bearing worlds, a drastic but brief fall in population and technical ability, and the shattering of the Solomani, Vilani, and even Zhodani human supercultures, dramatically new ways of seeing the cosmos and man’s place in it began to emerge across human space, most notably at…”

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