Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beaver Wars

Dear Friends and Readers,
I am still playing with some details about a new blog, and will be posting here until I get unstuck.

I happened to hear a bit on the radio last night about recent events in Libya. I know about as much about middle eastern affairs as my dogs do, but a couple of things struck me.

1.I heard Libya is comprised of about 140 tribes.

2. Libya is a major oil producer, and we all know Oil is a scarce and desirable resource.

3. Media folks seem to assume that this is a western style enlightened "revolution", when maybe it is just one set of tribes taking advantage of a change in balances of power?

Tribalism has been the normal means of organization for most of human society and most of history. It is deeply antithetical to the way most western human people think, as we choose nation state or individualism as an identifier. Tribalism is a very different mindset. Think of it as football rivalry on steroids. The norm in tribal societies is perpetual warfare, and ideas about rule of law are diminished as the individual only has meaning in relationship to the group.

I am fascinated what happens when modern western empires interact with tribes. An interesting example is how the emerging Scottish state suppressed its tribes, beginning on the borders in the 16th Century and culminating with the breakup of the highland clans in the 18th. The Clans get romanticized a lot but an honest reading of history illustrates some incredible cruelties of one clan to another, or occasionally a chief to his subjects.

One facet of inter-tribal warfare seems to be that one group is always looking for an edge. When a technologically superior outsider (European Empire) comes in with that edge, they will use it. For example, the Aztecs beat up and enslaved their neighbors. When Hernan Cortes came, they were happy to ally with him to beat up and enslave the Aztecs.

In my part of the World, European Empires once wanted Beaver skins. The tribes were happy to provide them, and started hunting and trapping harder than ever before. In trade for Beavers, the tribes got stuff they could not make, like muskets. As Beaver depleted, warfare intensified over the now scarce resource. The Iroquois confederacy began flexing their muscle to control more of the trade, resulting in Beaver Wars that included full scale genocide. It is also interesting to note that the Beaver Wars were primarily proxy wars. Dutch, English and French supplied the arsenals, but did little fighting. However, as Beavers vanished more and the tribes became more dependent on trade goods, the Seven Years War erupted across the world.

I think it is worthwhile to study the Beaver wars for parallels to today.

1. Tribal societies want military technology they cannot make. Whether a .62 caliber musket in 1700, or a 7.62X39 mm carbine today, most of the warfighting technology was/is supplied in exchange for Oil/Beaver .

2. Warfare intensifies as resources deplete.

3. If more than one Empire wants that scarce resource, a distant proxy war can come home.

4. It is likely that the now out-group set of tribes become the victims of atrocities, many of which we will not ever know about.

5. I think this knowledge of history was once a source for the non interventionism that once characterized our Republic.


Austin said...

Good blog. The five point outlook works uncomfortably well with overview histories of northern Indiana, mid-eighteenth century. Always good to be re-inspired towards getting down to the specifics.

mobin said...

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mobin said...

sir, it is really a good blog.