Cowardice and Cannibalism

From The Telegraph:

The former President George HW Bush narrowly escaped being beheaded and eaten by Japanese soldiers when he was shot down over the Pacific in the Second World War, a shocking new history published in America has revealed.

The book, Flyboys, is the result of historical detective work by James Bradley, whose father was among the marines later photographed raising the flag over the island of Iwo Jima.

Lt George Bush, then a 20-year-old pilot, was among nine airmen who escaped from their planes after being shot down during bombing raids on Chichi Jima, a tiny island 700 miles south of Tokyo, in September 1944 – and was the only one to evade capture by the Japanese.

The horrific fate of the other eight “flyboys” was established in subsequent war crimes trials on the island of Guam, but details were sealed in top secret files in Washington to spare their families distress.

Mr Bradley has established that they were tortured, beaten and then executed, either by beheading with swords or by multiple stab-wounds from bayonets and sharpened bamboo stakes. Four were then butchered by the island garrison’s surgeons and their livers and meat from their thighs eaten by senior Japanese officers.

The future president escaped a similar fate because he ditched his plane further from the island than the other crews, and managed to scramble on to a liferaft. American planes launched a hail of fire at Japanese boats which set out to capture him, driving them back, and he was eventually rescued by a US submarine.

One think I always liked about Traveller’s Imperial Nobility is that they were willing to stick their neck out with the men they sent to die. They definitely have their faults, but cowardice is generally not one of them.

Also, it doesn’t count as cannibalism if a sophont eats a sophont of a different species. Something the less humanized Vargr always keep at the back of their mind, in case of a major emergency….

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Security Tidbits, Low-Profile Massacres, and Wombs

In general, I don’t really take Solomani Security all that seriously outside of Confederation borders: it smells too much like the 1940 Gestapo or the 1970s KGB than anything worthy of respect today.

So they placed monitors all across society? Exactly what are these ham-fisted showpieces for? Haven’t they heard of comprehensive internet surveillance yet? All brutal thuggishness and torture, no subtle information management and implicit media framing!

Well, the Russians are getting better at it, when it comes to mass market media manipulation. But frankly, I respect the Chinese security services far more: much like their diplomatic corps, they know their limitations, and do very well within them.

Now, I always imagined the Imperial Intelligence Community to be a feuding, balkanized conflicted mess of competing interests – and that’s just the guys formally tied to the Iridium Throne, never mind the various noble agents, corporate executives, planetary governments major and minor, political and racial movements, etc, etc.!

But there is one thing such a chaotic whirlwind can provide: if it’s baffling to the Imperials, it’s simply incomprehensible to outsiders, including the mind-reading Zhodani and the racially motivated Solomani governments. Without a single neck to slice or a single mind to corrupt, you can never, ever be sure that things will go smoothly.

As an example, let’s take the ending of a recent article from the Observer:

Although our whole Intelligence Community has long treated counterintelligence as an afterthought, NSA’s security problems are unusually serious. Whether the Agency’s present leadership and organization are capable of reforming this mess is something Congress needs to examine without delay.

At bottom, if you’re not willing to take counterintelligence and security seriously, there’s not much point in having intelligence agencies, since you’re giving away your secrets—which were obtained at high cost in treasure and sometimes blood—to your adversaries. Although NSA’s 65-year history with catching moles and keeping its secrets since the Agency’s establishment in 1952 is middling at best, it’s painfully evident that basic security is lacking at present.

It’s welcome news that Washington is finally asking why anyone in the U.S. government is using Russian software for security purposes—especially when Kaspersky has been known for years to possess troubling ties to the Kremlin—but it should be also asked why anybody thought that was a good idea in the first place. Reports that the Pentagon will continue to purchase software that’s been examined by Russian intelligence defy belief and bespeak a fundamental lack of seriousness in Washington about security in the online age. Left unchecked, these systemic shortcomings will cripple our national security and make war more likely—and that we will lose any war that comes.

I will grant, SolSec — and the Zhodani Thought Police — do take counter-intelligence more seriously than the Imperium: but then again, they are also more unified societies, with less tolerance for difference and nonconformity. Still: the Imperial Vilani aren’t slouches in this area – being quite sensitive to irregularities – and no Imperial group would pass up the chance to paint a political enemy as a tool of the Confederation or the Consulate the Space Nazis and the Mind-Rapists.

It pays for Imperials to do counter-intelligence, not so much in ‘the security of the Throne’ but in ‘the once-in-a-lifetime chance to destroy an enemy’.

Two Decades Later, Algeria Protects Mystery of Bentalha Massacre is the kind of thing I would definitely expect to see in the Imperial Empty Quarter, especially when it’s ‘our bastards’ doing the mass murdering.

From the beginning of the civil war, hardliners in the military junta, known as “eradicators,” had adopted a worse-is-better approach to fighting the Islamist rebellion. After cancelling democratic elections at the beginning of 1992 since they would have brought Islamists to power, top generals were happy to see their enemies radicalize further. They knew that the surest way to undercut the appeal of political Islam was to see it associated with slaughter and mayhem. Led by the regime’s secret police, the feared DRS, Algiers began a clandestine campaign to defeat the radicals from within.

Happily for the junta, there were plenty of jihadists eager to murder in the name of Islam, including a couple thousand Algerians who had recently returned from Afghanistan, where they had fought the Soviets alongside mujahidin from many Muslim countries. Thus was GIA born, and it quickly garnered a reputation for indulging in slaughter for its own sake. By the time of Bentalha massacre, GIA had declared war on all Algerians—keep in mind the country is almost entirely Muslim—who did not support them. It was this bloodthirsty radicalism, aimed at innocent civilians, which caused Al-Qa’ida to withdraw its endorsement from the group in early 1997.

I can’t actually prove that Islam is a descendant of the ancient Aztec religions… but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Blood Vargr taking notes from a respectable distance.

Samraoui’s detailed account is stunning, depicting DRS infiltration of GIA top to bottom from the group’s birth; several top GIA emirs were, in reality, DRS agents, and the jihadists were secretly serving the wishes of the junta—though few of the terrorists knew it. “GIA is the creation of the Algerian security services,” as Samraoui expressed what he had witnessed, concisely.

This reality, shocking to Westerners, is less so to Algerians, who are accustomed to their less-than-democratic rulers, whom they simply call le pouvoir (“the power”), doing nasty and dishonest things at their expense. That the DRS was trained and mentored by Soviet spies during the Cold War provides the final clue. What the junta executed in the 1990s was merely an unusually bloody version of the standard KGB methods of penetration and provocation, without any concern for innocent life.

So, maybe a different bloody religion, the Faith of the Revolution, was the primary factor here.

Does SolSec help out the more radical jihadists – or useful Imperial leaders, local governments, and other assets – with useful pointers and specialized equipment? Not in the 993 Empty Quarter (…but perhaps a century ago, during the Hebrin Rebellion…): it’s just too far to make it worthwhile, except for a few low-stakes, long-shot gambles.

But it is a certainty that they would have agents hooked up to each and every Islamic community within the disputed sectors of the (ongoing in 993) Solomani Rim War!

Two decades later, the massacre remains significantly under-investigated story. Although Algeria’s whole civil war requires a serious examination with a skeptical eye, the Bentalha massacre serves as an ideal microcosm of that mysterious conflict. The list of those uneager to ask questions over the last 20 years is long. The military regime naturally didn’t want anybody investigating the slaughter, which it played a sordid hand in. Neither was France eager to dig deeply, since the last thing it wanted was the collapse of the Algiers junta, which would bring millions of refugees and a jihadist caliphate just across the Mediterranean from Marseille. No less, Washington found it politic to remain incurious, since the Algerian junta, warts and all, has been a reliable partner against the jihadists since the early 1990s.

“Our bastards.”

A dreary fact of life for those mercenaries/soldiers/agents/operatives who actually have a morally semi-decent goal in mind. But maybe… when it doesn’t matter much anymore to the Men who Set the Rules, who already got what they want or already cut their losses and ran… the PCs might arrange for a little justice smite a particularly loathsome character.


But if it happens – and who would ever expect it, really? – deeply satisfying.

Three cheers for fictional universes!

OK, that’s too cynical and – more importantly – a lie: too many Mighty Man and Untouchable Powers have toppled and fallen in my lifetime to dismiss justice in such a dangerously cavalier fashion.

And of course, I know full well that Justice is actually enforced by God: swiftly or slowly, the sword will certainly arrive, and without the mercy of Christ, we all would most certainly be cut down, and tossed to the fire to roast.

So instead, let’s end with a better quote:

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

Dreams become reality: the spirit moves, and then the flesh.

Three cheers for fictional universes!
For it is, sometimes, the womb of a better reality.

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An Aged Imperial Traveller

From Quora:

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Starry Nights, of Deep Awe and Deep Fear

From Quora:

 One absolute truth, that most people rarely consider, is that the world during the first millennium was a very, very dark place after nightfall. Even though cities existed during that thousand year epoch…the world descended at night into a darkness we would have trouble comprehending. Even the interiors of people’s homes were pitch black except for minuscule pools of dim candle light. Other than vague moonlight, the only available light was small oil lamps or camp fires…as well as torches. But that would have only been a tiny glow in a vast blackness. It’s why the world is still diurnal. Our entire history as a species slept at night because of the often impenetrable blackness and the lurking danger.

The beauty of this situation was that the clear night sky would be ablaze with stars and planets, galaxies, moons and comets, asteroids and meteors. It was so vivid that ancient people not only looked at the night sky with curiosity, they studied it. They had naturally “dark adapted” eyes. The night sky was so clear that they became familiar with it to a degree we can’t imagine. They understood its contours, they had names for everything. The Milky Way has a name like an avenue because it was a route to be traveled and understood. It wasn’t just something out there to be feared…it was very present and revered. It’s ironic that the more we know the less we see and that our modern astronomers and telescopes are practically reaching back to the Big Bang and the beginning of time in our universe, able to literally see the invisible, but most of modern humanity is wholly unacquainted with our own cosmic neighborhood.

The ancients “read” the night sky and correlated it to the passage of time and the change of seasons and they wove its meaning into their daytime pursuits. As agriculture took root and cultures shifted from nomadic to agrarian with the consequence being the establishment of villages, then towns, then cities, the night sky helped guide the people towards accurate planting and harvesting routines. It fueled mysteries that defied knowledge and it became central to ancient religions. But it also hastened the growth of civilizations. The insatiable ability for humankind to not just acquire knowledge but to actually imagine it into reality is nothing less than miraculous.

It was the night sky and people’s confident knowledge of it that guided the early Polynesians and Peruvians to populate the Pacific and it was the night sky that possibly guided the Chinese and Leif Erickson to cross vast oceans to plant seeds of new cultures on new continents and sowed the seeds of destruction of many civilizations in the “new world”. Early mariners charted their courses by the night sky as well as in tandem with the motion of the sun. The stars told them when the easterlies would blow them across the Atlantic or when to hunker down because the coming season would produce no trade winds. The modern horoscope and constellations descend from such ancient observations. Our earliest mechanical clocks had hands that circled the dial like the earth spinning on its axis, counting the beats of time like metronomic slices of the universe itself, cosmic ideas turned into lyrical realities, existence made measurable and real.

Modern society has virtually erased the night sky with twenty four hour global economies and the glowing lights that illuminate such economies…but our modern world owes a huge debt to the wisdom that was gleaned from a shockingly visible universe that held profound meaning to our ancient ancestors. Our ancestors beheld the vastness of the night sky and tried, with wonder and great success, to figure out our place in that cosmic firmament.

Do yourself a favor…drive out to Joshua Tree National Park…or Anza Borrego State Park east of San Diego…or deep into the outback down under…pack a tent, some blankets and pillows and whatever gear will help you survive the night…lie back under the ceaseless inky dome, listen to the coyotes yelping and bickering in the darkness and then watch the show unfold above and all around you. It is breathtaking. It is humbling. It is the infinite. It’s what the night sky looked like a thousand years ago for everyone. See what they saw ! Carpe Noctem !

Now, imagine visitors from that starry realm.

In the Traveller Universe, nobody’s going to mistake Star Travellers as Messengers from God: the theft, slaughters, oppression, and lies will see to that right quick. Regardless of the species committing them.

But the Major Races, those who were never on the receiving end of First Contact? They will always see the stars in a different light than the Minor Races. A certain confidence, when facing the Night. And — excluding the atheistic and psionically deaf Hivers — a source of reverence and awe, an awareness of the numinous glow filling the heavens of limitless potential and splendor.

A difference of perspective, if you will.

From the realist perspective, of course, there is no species out there to conquer and enslave and exterminate, and there is nobody out there who wants to conquer and enslave and exterminate us. But that’s reality, not Traveller.

Denziens of the Traveller Universe look at the stars differently than we do. Especially if they are not one of the Major Races.

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The Lucrehulk

Not a bad idea for an AI Virus empire…

( Alternate Traveller Universe #347 off the port bow, approaching from Timeline #64c!! )

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Fun Times on Battlefields

What is the most badass psychological war tactic that has been used on a battlefield in world history so far?

A favourite tactic of the Gurkhas was to crawl into an enemy tent and slit the throat of all the occupants except one. That soldier would awaken in the morning to find everyone else in the tent dead.

During the Falklands War, I understand the Gurkha soldiers were frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t find anyone to fight. Their reputation was so fearsome that, if it was known the Gurkhas were in the vicinity, the Argentines would evacuate immediately.

A low-tech tactic that is more terrifying than a LOT of high-tech equivalents.

George Etteridge
Answered Sep 26

The British Royal Navy has pulled a fair amount of crazy stunts, especially in the 19th century. However, one man on a small sloop in the Mediterranean did it so well that pretty much every fictional British naval captain is based on him to some extent.

His name was Thomas Cochrane, and his ship was the HMS Speedy.

Now, Cochrane was undeniably badass, but he also had a healthy disrespect for authority, which is why he only had the Speedy and not any bigger ships.

In “Master and Commander”, when you see the British ship put a lantern on a raft and send the more powerful French ship pursuing it off on a wild goose chase after the raft instead of the British ship, that was based off something Cochrane actually did.

Another time, when a Spanish ship threatened to capture him, he put them off by pretending there was an outbreak of a nasty and infectious disease on board. The Spanish didn’t want any of that and so left them alone.

Another time he got close to a superior ship by flying the flag of a neutral nation on his ship, then flew the Royal Ensign when he was below the guns of the enemy, boarded and captured it. (As far as I can tell, flying a false flag was not considered a war crime if the correct flag was hoisted prior to opening fire.)

Another time, when he was raiding a French coastal signal post to steal its signalbooks, he copied them and left the originals so the French wouldn’t know they were stolen.

So now, every Traveller Referee knows what his bedtime reading will be.

Nathan Land, Silver-Tongued Storyteller

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Galactic Habitability Zones

From the initial post on a series of Facing Reality About Life on Other Planets, we get the following:

Let me start with the first: location within the parent galaxy.  We ride in the Milky Way galaxy, about half way between the center and the edge.  That is a safe place to be, as the center has all sorts of things going on such as black holes and supernovae.  The center is a place with a high radiation environment which would be destructive to life, and even to basic chemistry processes.  On the other hand, being close to or at the edge of the galaxy would be in a region of low density of materials, probably not enough to collect into a planetary body.  The half-way position results in a reasonable sized habitable zone around stars.

Our galaxy has spiral arms, and we don’t want to be located in one of those.  We are between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms of the galaxy.  These are regions of star building activity, where we do not want to be. We are in a nice safe gap between the arms.

Something to keep in mind, for the aspiring galactic emperors among us!

Of course, by going down all the material restrictions on the rise of life, you get by the end of the series (the chemistry article with all the nifty links to summarize the entire series) a fantastically small number, ranging between less than one living world per galaxy to far less than one world for a universe of our size.

To set up a Travelleresque universe within the limits of what we know today, just set the date far ahead of what it is now: not the 51 century AD, but more like 500th century AD. Assume that several hundred human and human-origin interstellar civilizations rise and fall in this area, leaving a band of human, near-human, and inhuman intelligent species right across the habitable band of the galaxy – and more than a few inhabited and terraformed worlds, scattered beyond this band.

(That habitable band is for the RISE of a species, and need not greatly restrict outside colonization with the use of Dyson Swarms, proper radiation shielding, rebuilding various stars to restrict radiation, taming the black holes near the centre of the galaxy, etc.)

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