The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway

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In the distant past, in what might be described as the Golden Days of War, the business of wreaking havoc on your neighbours (these being the only people you could logistically expect to wreak havoc upon) was uncomplicated. You–the King–pointed at the next-door country and said, “I want me one of those!” Your vassals–stalwart fellows selected for heft and musculature rather than brain–said, “Yes, my liege,” or sometimes, “What’s in it for me?” but broadly speaking they rode off and burned, pillaged, slaughtered and hacked until either you were richer by a few hundred square miles of forest and farmland, or you were rudely arrested by heathens from the other side who wanted a word in your shell-like ear about cross-border aggression. It was a personal thing, and there was little doubt about who was responsible for kicking it off, because that person was to be found in the nicest room of a big stone house wearing a very expensive hat. Modern war is distinguished by the fact that all the participants are ostensibly unwilling. We are swept towards one another like colonies of heavily armed penguins on an ice floe. Every speech on the subject given by any involved party begins by deploring even the idea of war. A war here would not be legal or useful. It is not necessary or appropriate. It must be avoided. Immediately following this proud declamation comes a series of circumlocutions, circumventions and rhetoricocircumambulations which make it clear that we will go to war, but not really, because we don’t want to and aren’t allowed to, so what we’re doing is in fact some kind of hyper-violent peace in which people will die. We are going to un-war.

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