June 28, 2011
From SSP author Christopher R. Howard:
Mongolia – the setting for my novel, Tea of Ulaanbaatar – traveled the path of the Society as War Machine, and emerged the worse for the experience. What Mongolia offers is a dire lesson for those who would travel in her empire-building footsteps, and a glimpse of America’s future.
Forget the Romans. Forget Napoleon. Forget Hitler. True aficionados of the Great Game understand that the Khans came the closest to winning, to taking over the whole shooting match, as any empire in history. From Romania to Iran to Vietnam, the Hordes were nearly unstoppable during the 13th and 14th centuries. They bested the three greatest Russian generals of all time: December, January, and February. They pillaged Baghdad for seven days. They conquered roughly twelve million square miles and one hundred million souls, seizing the largest contiguous empire ever known.
In modern America, we aspire to a similar path. We fight official wars (Congressionally-authorized engagements) in Iraq and Afghanistan. We fight unofficially in Libya and Pakistan and elsewhere. We wage the War Against Terror. We wage the War Against Self-Medication, abroad and domestically, employing police on shoot-first, ask-questions-later building seizures against our own citizens. We have bankrupted our nation, in part, to prosecute these wars. War for the sake of war. War because people should want to live like us. War because nobody can stop us.
Now, Mongolia, over seven centuries after the death of the Great Khan’s grandson, is among the bottom third of the poorest nations on the planet. According to a 2007-8 report by the Mongolian National Statistics Office, a third of its population does not have enough money to buy sufficient food. In the late 90s, when I was there, they received the most foreign aid per capita of any country on Earth.
The American Peace Corps volunteers of Tea of Ulaanbaatar, foremost the protagonist Warren, deal with this parallel in a variety of bad ways. The Gulf War lies behind them, and America’s contemporary wars loom ahead. They ultimately turn to the blood-red, hallucinogenic Mongol tea, Tsus, as a means of escape. The tea, more powerful than anything the West has ever seen, grants its long-term users the same visions of a warlike apocalypse, as if to say:
To be consumed. To wither and deaden. This is what comes from empire-building. What are you going to do about it?
At least the Mongols can say they didn’t have the benefit of history in their policy-making.
(An edited version of this blog appears on the Kindle Daily Post here.)