We the People
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Categories: Ancient, Medieval, Modern, Not an expert

We the People

Old Iranian kāra- and spada-, Greek laos, Latin populus, German Heeresvolk, Babylonian uqu “the militarily and therefore politically significant part of the community” –

Manning, Past Approaches, Future Prospects (2021) p. 138

In my first book, I touched on something which is obvious to military historians but might not be as clear to other kinds of people. When people from the Iron Age to the 19th century spoke of <the people>, they meant the militarily and therefore politically significant part of the society. Political change had to be literally fought for- if not by revolution then by a new section of the population doing something so conspicuously useful in war that the people who ran things had to give them a voice. One reason why combined-arms tactics were harder in practice than theory was that they required integrating the poor with stones and darts, the middle sort with bows and spears, and the rich with horses and swords. Often, the thing which was tactically advantageous was politically disadvantageous for the people who were currently living easy on others’ work. The French lost the battle of Courtrai in 1302 because their crossbowmen and javelin-men were breaking up the Flemish pikemen on their own, and the French lords decided that they needed to charge so they could say they had really won by themselves. For the next century, French aristocrats lost battle after battle which was unfortunate for individual aristocrats, but aristocrats as a class kept control of French society at the expense of the peasants and the burgers. There was a vicious political battle after 479 BCE about whether working-class rowers or leisured hoplites had saved Hellas from the Mede. People who seized power often disarmed their opponents and dissolved their militias. That might make society as a whole less able to defend itself, but it made the losers in the power struggle less able to defend themselves against the winners.

We do not talk about this often in public because it is harsh. In the past two weeks, the people of Afghanistan have been teaching us how it works. The men with the machine guns and RPGs talked it over and decided that there would be a new government sooner rather then later. A Kabuli baker or a Herati schoolteacher might have had different opinions about whether the Taliban should run the country, but they were not militarily significant so they did not have a say. From the Bronze Age to the 19th century, “we the people” rarely included women. No wonder that decisions and laws tended to systematically favour men! But once a society has adopted this logic, it is hard to shift it out of it. By the beginning of July, women in many cities in Afghanistan could see what was coming and made the logical answer: they took up weapons and demanded the right to fight and a voice in what was about to happen to their country. So far those women have not succeeded. But my attempts to organize groups larger than a dozen buddies or shape my society have been total and utter failures too. If you can bear to look at events in Afghanistan or the history of the Iron Age, they have something important to teach us about how societies work and what realities are hidden behind glinting words.

Edit 2022-08-21: Compare Wouter Henkelman, “Precarious Gifts: Achaemenid Estates and Domains in Times of War and Peace.” Cahiers de Studia Iranica, Vol. 62 p. 25 [Academia.edu]

(In the Behistun inscription put up to commemorate his siezure of power) Darius vowed to rebuild temples and to restore moveable and immoveable property to “the people” (Elam. taššup, OP kāra-, Akk. uqu). This term should in principle be understood as a reference to all free and able-bodied men, of various social and economic ranks, who could serve in the Persian armies, as opposed to people of dependent or unfree status, such as *gṛda- (Elam. kurtaš) and slaves.

In lieu of a donation, if you are from one of the countries which sent soldiers to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021, please contact your political representative about letting in as many people who want to leave Afghanistan as want to.

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6 thoughts on “We the People

  1. Pavel Vaverka says:

    I sympathize with people who don’t want to live under Taliban rule. But let’s face it, elites had failed their people miserably. Corruption worse than in the times during fall of Ming dynasty https://www.routledge.com/The-Military-Collapse-of-Chinas-Ming-Dynasty-1618-44/Swope/p/book/9781138652330, from 300 000 soldiers, policemen probably 2/3 were paper names, not real people. And unlike from false cause of war in Iraq, attack on Afghanistan was right it wasn’t backward country during previous times (60’s to 1979). I supported this war (but not Iraq or Libya, Syria, these were lie wars), partly because Afghanistan has rich history, research can be conducted there.

    Yet we (NATO taxpayers, soldiers) were lied years about situation there. Or our informers, secret intelligence, military command is useless as USSSR in previous Afghan war (actually much worse, our options and theirs are incomparable). We cannot blame just Trump or politicians. I’m so sorry You don’t know Czech https://www.stream.cz/prostor-x/pelikan-afghanistanu-nerozumime-je-to-jinak-tlumocniky-bych-tam-nechal-zeny-vic-prav-nechteji-64206657 this guy lived there and is Orientalist and gave moderator brutal, honest true about our mission.

    I also think, that we should give people weapons, education, especially women, because men betrayed our trust. It was surreal worse than France 1940 and those money for soldiers evaporated! Combat without fight, new neologism into language, surrender in Afghan way, or to surrender in Afghan speed… Budget of Afghan army contra Taliban, 49trillions USD vs 32 billions USD, 75x smaller budget was enough to defeat us!!! Now no bushkazi, no cricket, women in normal clothes, women right, etc. And above all goodbye antiquity research and preservation. USA (and their allies) is responsible from old times, 6 months before Soviet invasion Carter decided to support fanatics contra official government. USA caused this, like China and SSSR (Russia) is responsible for existence of North Korea. Afghanistan as radical muslim state wasn’t predestined.

    You say people should support refugees from Afghanistan, problem is that in current atmosphere Europeans see, that every society has their criminal component, which is seen first and foremost. Violence, antisemitism increase not just in France, UK, Scandinavia, Italy, but also in sleepy land like Austria https://www.euronews.com/2021/07/01/murder-of-austrian-teenage-girl-sparks-row-over-deportations-policy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Vienna_attack With cases like this You can hardy persuade people, that most fleeing men, women from Afghanistan and other countries aren’t bad and threat to us, or drain for our finances, when covid is crushing us.

    Russia and China must laugh above result, how incompetent USA is, for us it will be not radical change. Afghanistan isn’t threat, yet we lost money and lives for few chosen ones with bank account in Dubai. I guess elite prostitutes in Persian gulf will be swamped with work and money… so in the end we know, where the money has ended. And believe me, I wrote the publishable version, not the exact. Once I have reasearched with my alumni (he’s also lawyer), where ended money from privatization of Czech companies in 90’s, mostly in the a…. of young (you know who). Strange how history repeat itself, when people are robbed by elites and the money is being used unproductively.

    1. admin says:

      Its sad seeing Anglos online who don’t know that the former government of Afghanistan was full of thieves and thugs and torturers and murderers or that soldiers and police kept deserting and selling their kit. That was in the news if you read anything other than military press releases. Or the worrying out loud (by UN officials no less!) that Afghanistan might “return to civil war” when Afghanistan was in a civil war from 1979 to 2021 and an overwhelming majority of the people with RPGs and machine guns seem to have decided that its time for an end of fighting.

      I am seeing claims that the 2009 administration in the United States did not know that their government in Afghanistan was full of thieves and thugs for their first year or two in office, and that is breathtakingly ignorant for people who proposed to run US foreign policy.

      Edit: here is an essay by a foreigner who lived in Kandahar and spoke Pashtu in the 2000s and says that in 2011 the US government decided that corruption in Afghanistan was not to be addressed https://www.sarahchayes.org/post/the-ides-of-august Around 2013 the US military started to classify its annual reports on the state of the Afghan National Army because the results were too embarrassing.

      Edit: as far back as 2007 and 2013, Gwynne Dyer (not a Pashtu or Dari speaker, not a specialist) had a suspicion that Hamid Karzai had ambitions in Afghanistan after the foreign troops left and didn’t just want to retire to a villa in the Alps

    2. admin says:

      I spent the past 10 years sharing housing with Turks and Egyptians and Iranians and Afghans, but its not really about us or what we want. We made promises to people, the consequences of not fulfilling them will be much worse for them than us, so we have to fulfill them. That is not up for discussion, just how to do it faster after the shameless Kafkaesque betrayal over the last year which was either willfully ignorant or consciously engineered to minimize the number of refugees able to leave Afghanistan and travel to the countries which send soldiers.

  2. Pavel Vaverka says:

    I dare to say what You want doesn’t happen from many reasons. We are marginal like Athens in 5th or 4th century (meaning Western world), globe belongs to big empires with resources, China, Russia ruled by autocrats. There is no will for big enterprises, unless somebody (weapon industry) is going to be rich. Cleptocracy of Afghan elites is astonishing, when will people finally fight for it self, or how many people really want something different than average regime in region is difficult to say.

    There were many chances, that Afghanistan will evolve to higher stage, than my fence, my province, I don’t care about anything else. But look what happened. It was Potemkin village from the start. Clans won’t give up their power or way of life, they are happy as they are. Resistance is small to overall count of 35 millions people in population. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so quick defeat and surrender. I know, that special units, air forces and few others were trying hard, but most government forces were doing many other things, than fighting Taliban. Also Western powers were idiotic, it wasn’t fight to death, consider how many leader of Afghan resistance returned after jail. That wouldn’t those brute Romans… This is one of those rare moments, when I miss them.

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