Peace Frog: Conquest by infrastructure

6 February 2015

I have to admit that I prefer Braudel’s longue durée over his histoire événtmentielle: Perhaps his influence runs through all the great historical accounts written since 1949, where explanations and theoretical framings are comfortably married to historiographic detail, but his eventful histories tend to be boring “one thing after another” accounts.  Not so his fabulous long-duration history which ends with this extraordinary reflection on war:

One war replaces another.  So when we say that war in the Mediterranean came to an end in 1574, we should make it clear which kind of war we mean.  Regular war, maintained at great expense by the authoritarian expansion of major states, yes, that certainly came to an end. But the living materials of that war, the men who could no longer be kept in the war fleets by what had become inadequate rewards and wages.  Sailors from the galleys, even sometimes the galleys themselves, deserting from the fleet, soldiers, or those who would normally have been soldiers, adventurers of large or small ambition were all absorbed into the undeclared war which now ranged on land and sea. One form of war was replacing another. Official war, sophisticated, modern and costly, now moved into northern Europe, and the Mediterranean was left with its secondary, minor forms. Its societies, economies and civilizations had to adapt as best they could to what was on land guerrilla warfare, on sea warfare by piracy.  And this war was to absorb much of their energy, regrets, bad consciences, vengeance and reprisals.  Brigandage subsumed as it were the energies of a social war which never surfaced. Piracy consumed the passions that would in other times have gone into a crusade or Jihad; no one apart from madmen and saints were now interested in either of these.


Having come this far, we are forced to a pessimistic conclusion. If the history of human aggression in the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century is neither fictitious nor illusory, war in its metamorphoses, revivals, Protean disguises and degenerate forms, reasserts is perennial nature: its red lines did not all break at once. Bellum omnium pater, the old adage was familiar to the men of the sixteenth century. War, the begetter of all things, the creature of all things, the river with a thousand sources, the sea without a shore: begetter of all things except peace, so ardently longed for, so rarely attained (pp. 890-1).

Earlier, Braudel tells of another form conquest can take:

Military victory was followed by another, more leisurely conquest: the construction of roads and fortified posts, the organization of camel trains, the setting in motion of all the supply and transport convoys … and finally, most important of all, that conquest which operated through these towns which the Turks had subdued, fortified or built. These now became major centres of diffusion of Turkish civilization: they calmed, domesticated and tamed at least the conquered regions, where it must not be imagined that an atmosphere of constant violence reigned (p. 665).

It is perhaps ironic to think of this as “conquest by infrastructure.”