Furies — Lauro Martines

Cover of Furies


Furies: War in Europe 1450 – 1700
Lauro Martines
320 pages, including index
published in 2013

A lot of history books about war and warfare, even when they look at the impact war had on wider society, on the civilians and soldiers caught up in it, are remarkably clinical and dry about the violence it brings with it. Not so Furies: War in Europe 1450 – 1700. Before it’s good and well started, you get the first grizly massacre to process, no horrid detail spared, all the better to prepare you for the rest of the book. This is not an easy read, not your average military history wankfest, this is a book with a message and that message is that war in Early Modern/Renaissance Europe was hell, a total war where nobody cared if you lived or died.

That period from roughly 1450 to 1700 was one in which a military revolution took place, with Europe emerging from feudalism and war as a noble pursuit for knights and aristocrats giving way to mass warfare by any means necessary. It was a revolution brought about through the introduction of gundpower weapons making possible new ways of making war, as well as the growing strength of the emerging European nation-states. Add to that increasing religious schism and you have a recipe for warfare on an apocalyptic scale and Martines is not afraid to show what that meant on the ground, for the people caught up in the war.

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Cameron thinks WWI makes for a great commemoration

Charlie Stross gets a mit annoyed with David Cameron wanting to turn the Great War into another feel good British kneesup like the Diamond Jubilee and tells him what the war was really like:

If you’d been 16 in 1914, then of your class at Eton probably 4-6 would have died (Eton boys ended up as officers: the death rate among junior officers was double that among the non-commissioned ranks). Another 6-8 would have been wounded—faces burned off, arms and legs and spines shattered, lungs scarred by gas until they coughed themselves to death in middle years—these are not pretty injuries, duelling scars or badges of honour: these are vile blows that turn strong young men into lifelong cripples (the sort of people who these days fail their ATOS work assessments and are denied disability payments two weeks before they die of their condition: but I digress).

Cameron is of course the modern equivalent of the people who started and profited from World War I and it’s somewhat fitting that he would think so lightly of it, considering how callous his early 20th century counterparts were about the war.

The grey realist seventies

agata pyzik talks about living in the seventies:

One of the reasons the punk generation reads dystopias like A Clockwork Orange as if they were their lives, and looks longingly towards the communist East in their aesthetics, is their depoliticisation. The generation of their grandparents was the one who survived the war, believed in socialism, was changing the world, joined political parties. Earlier, to piss off your parents, you’d join a communist party. By the 70s, those who wanted to change the world, were discredited and all that had left was the aesthetics.

[...]

If you look at any footage of West Berlin in 70s, you see a murky, sinister city, whose punctum, trauma, is the Wall. People gravitate around it. Living next to a prison, even if theoretically you’e not the prisoner, you can develop symptoms of suffocation. Seeing people regularly being killed over an illegal crossing of the Wall, not being able to walk through your city, imagining what there can be on the other side.

One of the things that defined the seventies, especially the second half of the decade, was the freezing of the Cold War into stalemate. The excitement of the fifties and the sixties, when war between the capitalist and communist blocs seemed just around the corner had ebbed away, Vietnam was just a memory and all that was left were petty little squabbles in Third World countries of no great interest to people in Europe or America. You can see that period reflected in Jerry Pournelle’s mil-sf stories of the period, with their background of a codominiom of the US and USSR ruling the stars for the next couple of centuries.

The late seventies and early eighties before the feverdreams of Reaganomics and yuppism took hold were a time without great dreams, a grey, dour, chilly time where economic depression and political stagnation looked to be permanent.The generation that grew up in the seventies was perhaps the first to really grow up with the Cold War as a constant, something that had always been there and that short of nuclear war would not go away.

And then at the tail end of the seventies there was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the first major crisis in the Cold War since Vietnam and there was a president in the White House, a southern Baptist, who was a ruthless son of a bitch despite his public image, who deliberately set out to create the USSR’s own Vietnam from this invasion. A few years later he would outflanked on the right by another born again Christian and actor, who was even more determined to suckerpunch the Russsians, fed as he was by Team B propaganda about the overwhelming might of the Soviet War Machine. In the USSR meanwhile, the leaders there were well aware of how vulnerable they really were and several times during the early eighties would creep close to starting the inevitable war themselves out of fear of being surprised otherwise.

The realists were in charge during this time and they all agreed that the Third World War was inevitable and that sense of realism is visible throughout popular culture in the late seventies and early eighties. Nihilism and cynicism ruled as we all expected to die in nuclear holocaust anyway. The idea that a youth revolt could avoid this, that the counterculture could offer an alternative had been shown to be false.

Is it this shared experience that paved the way for the neoliberal revolution of the eighties, as nuclear war receded as a threat? Perhaps.