The Rise of Jade Force
Chapter 1: The Two Colonels
March 20, 1972
With his back to the wall, Colonel Wynn waited patiently, seated at the corner table of the restaurant. He was waiting for his lunch companion to arrive. His eyes danced around the room taking in the handful of other patrons scattered discretely around the room. There was the occasional uniform of an Amra or East Vam officer, but the majority of patrons were businessmen from Amra, East Vam, and Franka.
It was kind of strange that so many businessmen were gathered here, since East Vam didn’t have any real exports with the exception of drugs or any imports except weapons. The country only produced enough rice and other agricultural products to feed its own population. There weren’t any major mineral resources except for an old played out jade mine. There were no manufacturing facilities.
This was the finest restaurant in Sage, the capital city of East Vam. The white linen tablecloth, real silver tableware, crystal glasses, and Frankan plates complimented the luxurious wood walls, crystal chandeliers, and the handwoven carpet on the floor. If one didn’t know that the restaurant was located in Vam one would swear that they were in one of the finest restaurants in Ranis, Franka.
Colonel Wynn checked his wristwatch. It was a few minutes after noon. His normally prompt dining companion was running late. He frowned while speculating as to what might be keeping his friend. It wasn’t like his friend to show up even a minute late. Unconscious of his action, his hand slipped down to his side to check his weapon.
With a frown on his face, Colonel Nguyen entered the restaurant. He hated showing up for an appointment late, but General Luc had kept the normal midweek briefing an hour longer than normal. The extra hour was more about politics than military matters, although in this particular war it was hard to distinguish politics from military issues. Too often they were one and the same.
The maître d’ greeted Colonel Nguyen in flawless Frankan, “Your dining companion is waiting for you at your usual table, Colonel Nguyen.”
Colonel Nguyen was one of the rare exceptions among members of the East Vam military regarding how he was addressed by rank. Most East Vam military were addressed using their given name. Colonel Nguyen was addressed by his family name. It was a practice instilled while a cadet at the Frankan Military Academy which followed the practices of the West.
“Thank you, Pierre,” the Colonel replied in equally flawless Frankan. “There’s no need to show me to the table.”
“Thank you, Colonel Nguyen.”
With his classic Vam features, Pierre did not look like a Pierre. However, it was his real name and not a pretense as many customers believed. He had been born in Ranis, Franka and, as a result, had dual citizenship. His father had given him the name Pierre hoping that it would ease the child’s time in Franka. Pierre had trained at one of the finest restaurants in Ranis.
Although Pierre hadn’t attended the Frankan Military Academy, he was one of the few Vamese whom Colonel Nguyen had known while a cadet at the Academy. Colonel Nguyen’s father had been the military attaché, stationed at the Vam consulate in Ranis, while Pierre’s father had been the chef there. The two young boys had played together at the consulate. Even to this day, the two men remained close friends and visited each other’s homes quite frequently.
Colonel Wynn spotted Colonel Nguyen the moment he entered the dining room. He rose from his chair to greet his friend. They shook hands before Colonel Nguyen took his normal seat with his back to the wall. Thus, the men sat cattycorner to each other, so that each faced the other patrons. Although both men were security conscious, the seating arrangement was more one of convenience than security. They often shared articles and sitting in that way facilitated their discussions.
“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting.”
“That’s okay. I haven’t been here for long. I hope there wasn’t a problem.”
“There wasn’t a real problem. General Luc decided today was a good day to review the history of the war.”
“Let me guess: West Vam is a foreign country that is invading East Vam.”
“Yes. It seems there is a rather nasty case of amnesia going around. No one remembers that this is a civil war.”
“I had a similar briefing Monday. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.”
“This war is a mess,” Colonel Nguyen declared with a low growl.
“And it is going to get messier now that the politicians have decided to rewrite history.”
Relaxing a little, Colonel Nguyen said, “I missed having our normal weekly meeting, last week. How was your trip to the Rock?”
The Rock was the name for the building which held the War Ministry of Amra. It was located just outside the Amra capitol city of Varish. Built almost a hundred and fifty years earlier to house the major ministries of government, it remained one of the largest buildings in the world. As a result of the continued expansion of Amra, the building ultimately became too small to hold all of the government ministries. The War Ministry grew to fill the entire building while other ministries moved into buildings of their own.
“It was disturbing,” Colonel Wynn answered with a frown.
“In what way?”
“I ran into a number of antiwar protests while I was back in Amra. The antiwar movement is getting very strong and the War Ministry is losing political support. I’ve got a feeling that we’ll be pulling out in a few years.”
“I hope for our sakes, that the Great Khung was wrong,” Colonel Nguyen said, deftly turning the subject to the topic of this week’s lunch.
Colonel Nguyen, despite being a member of the East Vam Army, had undergone officer training at the Frankan Military Academy back when Vam was still a protectorate under the Frankan government. As was the practice at the Amra Military Academy, all graduates earned a college degree in a military-related field. His degree was in military history, and that subject remained a passion of his even to this day.
Colonel Wynn was a graduate of the Amra Military Academy. As was Colonel Nguyen’s, his college degree was in military history, also. He continued to read everything he could find on the subject.
The two men had met when Colonel Wynn was stationed in Vam as the Amra military intelligence liaison to the Vam military intelligence agency. It didn’t take the two men long to discover that they both had a common passion for military history. Each man recognized that the history they had studied was West-centric. They had decided to meet each week to discuss a different military topic that was East-centric. The weekly meetings had become the high point of each man’s week.
“What are you hoping that he was wrong about?”
“He said that there are no innocent bystanders in war. Once a country chooses a path of war, the leadership must support the war while the military fights it. The population either provides material support or works to undermine the war effort. If the population undermines the war effort, no general, no matter how skilled he may be, can win the war.”
“He wasn’t wrong about that. Khung always targeted the general population when advancing into new territory. All he had to do to conquer a city was to convince the people that they would be better off surrendering their government officials to him rather than support the military in a war,” Colonel Wynn replied.
Although neither man had ordered, the waiter placed drinks in front of them: a gin martini for Colonel Wynn and a whiskey on the rocks for Colonel Nguyen. Neither man had ever ordered anything different in their past visits to the restaurant.
The waiter interrupted, “Excuse me, gentlemen. I don’t mean to interrupt, but before you get too involved in your discussion may I take your order?”
Although such an interruption was normally outside the accepted behavior of a waiter, in this case it was appreciated. There had been times in the past that their conversations lasted through the dinner hour before either man gave thought to ordering a meal.
“That’s a good idea,” Colonel Wynn said.
“I’ll take my usual,” Colonel Nguyen said.
“The trout almondine?”
“I’ll take my usual,” Colonel Wynn said.
“The pork chops with mustard sauce?”
“I’ll put your order in now,” the waiter said.
“Where were we?”
Colonel Wynn answered, “There are no innocent bystanders in war.”
“The Great Khung waged a psychological war on his enemies as much as a martial war. He would allow the handful of survivors of cities that failed to surrender to him to travel to the cities that were next on his campaign. The survivors would tell stories about how his army had slaughtered men, women, children, goats, cats and dogs of any city that put up any kind of resistance. It only took a few days of telling and retelling of events before the town’s people were terrified.”
“The West says that he was a bloodthirsty monster, but I bet that he didn’t have to kill nearly as many people as would have been required using any other strategy,” Colonel Nguyen said.
“I think his reputation as a bloodthirsty monster is a result of the millions he killed in Palarma rather than his tactics.”
“Palarma was retribution. He was making a statement for History. It wasn’t war.”
The Great Khung had sent an ambassador to Palarma. The King of Palarma killed the ambassador and sent the body back to the Great Khung. The Great Khung sent another ambassador with the message that an attack on his ambassador was the same as an attack on his person. The King of Palarma was not impressed. The second ambassador was killed and the mutilated body returned.
The Great Khung let loose his horde with orders to lay waste to the land of Palarma. His horde swept through Palarma killing everyone and everything. Fields were salted, wells were poisoned, and buildings burned to the ground. By the time his horde finished, there was nothing left of Palarma.
For ten years, he had a small army that periodically swept through Palarma killing anyone who dared move into the dead lands. Even after seven hundred years, Palarma hadn’t fully recovered. It remained one of the poorest regions of the world.
Colonel Wynn said, “I agree with you, but most historians don’t. All they see is that he killed millions of people.”
“His destruction of Palarma established that ambassadors are to be protected, not killed or subjected to torture. Modern diplomats owe their special privilege to him. He defined diplomatic immunity.”
“You’re right. Unfortunately, historians focus on the deaths.”
Bitterly, Colonel Nguyen said, “Most historians wouldn’t recognize a war if they saw one. They think war is men in uniforms killing men in uniforms. They don’t realize that war is about one state forcibly imposing its will upon another state, usually with the intent of eliminating it.”
“I don’t think the Great Khung would agree with you,” Colonel Wynn said.
“Why do you say that?”
Colonel Wynn said, “More often than not he left the government of conquered territories in place. He demanded tribute, but he left the governmental, cultural, and spiritual structures alone. He kept the political power using just a handful of people. For example, when he conquered Chen, he killed off the royal family and a handful of ministers. The rest of the government remained the same. As far as the rest of the population was concerned, it was as if the next emperor had ascended to the throne. Nothing changed except for the guy at the top.”
Colonel Nguyen said, “When he marched through Vam, we weren’t a unified country. We were more like a dozen different kingdoms. His occupation was a little more brutal here than that.”
“You had a lot of rulers and their sycophants die, maybe even a small town or two. It still didn’t change Vam. You have to admit that Vam retained a unique cultural identity despite a hundred-year rule by the Onor.”
Colonel Nguyen said, “That’s true. I hadn’t thought about it like that before.”
“Chen, Sun, Japa, Kor, Vam, Filop, Yuraga, Cartoom, Thaison, Troy, Venu, and Joma all have very different cultures. All of them are different than Onor. The exception is Khung which was settled by the Khung’s Onor horde upon his death.”
After the Great Khung had united the Onor tribes, he marched his horde to the north conquering Chen, Sun, and Japa. Despite the huge distances involved, that initial campaign only took five years. Chen, whose population was a thousand times greater than Onor, fell to the horde without much of a fight. Sun and Japa were a little more difficult to conquer, but ended up being easier to rule.
Once those regions had come under his full control, he sent his horde eastward conquering Kor and Vam. His horde continued eastward, island hopping along the Pathway Islands to the Eastland continent.
When his horde reached the Eastland continent, they were faced with a patchwork quilt of independent countries. He conquered a huge area and then united the individual kingdoms into one country which he named after himself. He sent his son-in-law there to serve as ruler of the Eastern Capital of the Khung Dynasty. Upon the Great Khung’s death, Khung ultimately became an independent country with loose ties to Chen.
The Onor march across the Eastland continent continued through Venu and Joma. Then came the problem with Palarma. The hordes march eastward halted after it had destroyed Palarma since his horde wasn’t willing to have a wasteland in the middle of its supply line. Rasbi, Hamasada, Ulamb, and Grete escaped his attention.
Colonel Nguyen said, “I could argue that he negotiated the surrender of all of those countries. Those surrenders weren’t the result of war. The kingdoms and towns that resisted him were destroyed totally. Their destruction was the result of war.”
“You’re saying that because he was able to bully most countries into surrendering to him with the threat of war that he didn’t have to go to war with them. The countries that resisted his bullying were destroyed by the war he had threatened them with,” Colonel Wynn said.
Colonel Wynn was about to reply when the waiter placed a plate of food in front of him. It was only then that he noticed he hadn’t even started on his drink. He took a sip of his gin martini.
The two men each tasted a bite of their food.
“I am reminded that the Great Khung’s campaign eastward was not a continuous flow east, but one of conquer, consolidate and incorporate. He moved in little leaps so that he was always in a position of strength when he faced a new opponent.”
Looking thoughtful, Colonel Wynn paused while cutting into his pork chop. He said, “Although the history books say that he conquered Kor and Vam, it is a little misleading to say that he conquered Kor or Vam. The history books are using modern geographic areas denoted by the current geopolitical boundaries of Kor and Vam. Neither of those regions were actual states under a single rule at that time.
“The geopolitical entities within that region were actually small independent kingdoms encompassing maybe one or two hundred square miles each. Fighting a small kingdom is a much different thing than fighting a unified Kor or Vam.”
“That’s true,” Colonel Nguyen said. “It is easy to forget that there wasn’t such a thing as Kor or Vam at the time.”
Colonel Wynn cut off a small piece of pork chop and speared it with his fork. Before putting it in his mouth, he said, “What do you think the Great Khung would do regarding this war?”
Colonel Nguyen finished chewing on a bite of his fish. He took a sip of his drink before answering.
“I think he wouldn’t fight it the way we are. All of East Vam is a battlefield. We’ve got West Vam sending troops into our country. We’ve got hundreds of rebels inside East Vam supporting the West Vam war effort. The first thing he’d have to do is unify the country. He’d start at one end of the country and slowly gobble up the towns making sure that he eliminated all opposition to unification.”
“So what would he do with the rebels inside East Vam?”
“He’d kill them. He’d destroy entire villages that are hiding rebels who are supporting East Vam.”
Colonel Wynn said, “You’re saying that he’d do what that unit of our guys did a couple months ago.”
He was making reference to a situation in which a squad of Amra soldiers had over-reacted while searching a village which was hiding rebels. The villagers had loudly, and angrily, protested the search of their homes. An old woman was beating on an Amra soldier when a rebel had charged out of a building firing upon the Amra soldiers. Surrounded by angry villagers, the Amra soldiers opened fire, indiscriminately killing nearly everyone in the village.
Then the press became involved. With a body count of five dead rebels and eighty dead villagers, the world declared it a war crime. It didn’t matter that some of the villagers were trying to push the soldiers out of their homes. The world pointed an accusing finger at the Amra military. The Amra military pointed an accusing finger at the squad of soldiers, declaring they weren’t following the rules of engagement.
This had become an event that had given the anti-war protesters ammunition for their protests. Amra soldiers were cast into the role of baby killers. It was true that a baby had been killed, but it wasn’t an intentional act. It was just one of those things that happen in the heat of battle when men are convinced they are surrounded by the enemy. Bullets fly, not necessarily at anyone, and then abruptly stop somewhere. If a baby is at the place where the bullet stops, the baby dies.
It didn’t matter. The civilians were dead and it was soldiers who had killed them. Now it was the time for the soldier to pay. The military was scrambling to explain how it was executing the war effort while the press and protestors were undermining the ability of politicians to justify the war. The clock was ticking down towards the inevitable withdrawal of Amra from the Vam War.
“Yes. He would have rewarded those guys instead of charging them with a war crime.”
“There were innocent civilians in that village.”
“There are no innocent bystanders in war, and that is particularly true in this case. In a village of a hundred people, it is impossible to hide five rebels without everyone in the village knowing it. By hiding them, the entire village chose a side, actively supported it, and lost their innocent bystander status,” Colonel Nguyen said.
“They were afraid of what the rebels would do if they didn’t give them safe harbor.”
“It doesn’t matter if they were afraid or not. It is their actions that count. They surrendered to the enemy and then supported them by giving them safe harbor. They became rebels.”
Knowing that he was about to push a hot button, Colonel Wynn said, “The Sviss Treaty One says otherwise. They were civilians and, hence, not to be attacked.”
“The Sviss Treaty One was probably the stupidest treaty ever signed in the history of mankind.”
“It was signed for a noble reason,” Colonel Wynn said.
From a humanitarian perspective, the first of the Sviss Treaties was noble. It outlined a theory of war in which there were combatants and bystanders. It was right and just for combatants to fight each other, but they were not to involve the bystanders. It required combatants to have visible insignia, i.e., uniforms that identified them as combatants. This allowed one to know on which side they were fighting. Anyone not wearing a uniform was a civilian.
In Colonel Wynn’s mind, the treaty invoked images of children merrily playing in a playground secure in the knowledge that they were safe even though a battle waged around them. Bullets were to change trajectory to avoid injury and shrapnel was to drop to the ground at their feet. It was very naïve in vision and impossible in practice.
“I disagree with that. The myth is that it was set up to make war appear more humane, but that is ludicrous. Humane? There’s nothing humane about war. It is an ugly, brutal, violent act that should sicken any sane man. Pretending that war is humane is hypocrisy of the worst kind.”
“It might be a little hypocritical.”
“A little hypocritical? I think hypocritical is the wrong word. It is diabolical.”
This was the strongest statement that Colonel Nguyen had ever made about the Sviss Treaty One. Colonel Wynn was curious.
“Diabolical? That’s a rather strong word.”
“It’s the right word. There is a sense of evil about the Sviss Treaty One.”
“You’re going to have to explain that to me,” Colonel Wynn said.
“We have to look at it in terms of how the treaty came about. In the first Great War, a lot of people died. It was horrifying in terms of the cost in human lives. There were acres and acres of land covered with rotting bodies. Political leaders, military men and civilians looked around and said that such a horror should never happen again.
“You would think that the best way to prevent such horrors from reoccurring would be to find a way to prevent wars from ever starting. That’s the logical approach, but the politicians were too cynical for that. Despite the horrors of war, I believe they rather liked war. It’s so easy to have the military accomplish what they can’t do through negotiation. So instead of trying to find ways in which to avoid war, they came up with ways to make war look less horrifying.
“It was like they were saying, ‘We’ll still have our wars, but we’ll make it look a little less messy. We’ll just sacrifice a small enough fraction of the population on the altar of patriotism so that we can get our way without anyone really caring about how many died.’ In my mind, that’s evil.”
Colonel Wynn said, “Maybe they knew that war was unavoidable.”
“Maybe it is unavoidable, but it should remain the last resort.”
“Even as a last resort, it could still be fought humanely.”
While waving a hand in the negative, Colonel Nguyen said, “If war becomes humane, then war has no moral consequence. If war has no moral consequence, then it is easily entered into without guilt. War becomes more common. More people die.
“On the other hand, when war is ugly and full of consequences, you try every means possible to avoid it. War becomes the tool of last resort because no one wants to face the true horror of war.”
“I wouldn’t say that Sviss Treaty One makes war have no moral consequence,” Colonel Wynn said.
“Of course it does. It basically outlines a set of conditions that, if followed, will limit the horrors of war to only those who wear uniforms ... which is a very small percentage of the population ... while protecting from harm the politicians who created the war, and the civilians who are busy making or buying the weapons used by the soldiers.
“We’re supposed to limit collateral damage when fighting. What does that mean? You’ve got a hundred people living in the war zone and you’re only supposed to shoot the one in a uniform? We’re supposed to protect a guy if he isn’t wearing a uniform. So long as he’s out of uniform, it doesn’t matter if he drove the truck that delivered the bullets.”
Colonel Wynn said, “The guy becomes an irregular combatant and loses protection under Sviss Treaty One.”
“Only if you actually observe him handing over the bullets. If he’s standing within a few feet of a box of bullets spouting patriotic slogans, then he’s just a poor unfortunate soul to have wandered into a dangerous spot when and where he shouldn’t have been. He’s protected under the Treaty.”
“Our rules of engagement state that we can’t fire upon someone out of uniform until they’ve fired upon us,” Colonel Wynn said.
“You don’t win a war fighting like that and that is why I think our side is doomed.”
Their conversation had entered old territory at this point. They both agreed that East Vam was going to lose the war regardless of how many resources Amra brought to the table. Amra wasn’t fighting to win and East Vam wasn’t unified in fighting West Vam. The only question they had concerned how long East Vam would hold out before losing the war and what would happen when the government fell.
The government of East Vam was corrupt. It didn’t have the support of the people. There were West Vam spies at every level of government, including inside the military. The population as a whole didn’t care if the government was East or West Vam. They just wanted to get on with their lives.
The political leaders of Amra were fighting for some weak vision of a political ideal. The soldiers fighting in East Vam didn’t care about the ideal, particularly since so many of them had been drafted unwillingly into the war. For the average citizen, East Vam was just some backwater country of uneducated peasants who grew rice and would probably be better off under the rule of West Vam.
The two men were silent while eating more of their lunch. The food, as always, was excellent and deserved a little attention.
Colonel Nguyen said, “I would have liked to command an army like the Great Khung’s horde.”
“It was so clear. Surrender or die. If they surrendered, leave a guy or two to oversee things and accept a little tribute every year. If they resisted, kill them all and leave the remains as a testament to what happens to those who resist. It has a simplicity and clarity of purpose that is missing in our world today.”
“I’m not sure that such a simple approach would last long, today.”
“I think it would. You could march across the Ringland continent and take half of it before anyone would even raise a protest. Ringland has nothing and no one cares about it. By the time anyone got concerned about what you were doing, you’d have an army comparable to anything that Amra, Chen, or Khung could raise,” Colonel Nguyen said.
“You’d raise an army of illiterate undisciplined troops who were more of a mob than a military unit. It would take ten of them to equal a single Amran soldier,” Colonel Wynn countered.
“Perhaps. It might be necessary to go slow at first.”
“Slow? I’d say you’d have to move slower than a glacier. The literacy rate in some of those areas is in the single digits. I doubt you could find one in a hundred who could read a map. Even with intensive training, most of the men wouldn’t be as good as your infamous Private Bu.”
Colonel Nguyen grimaced upon the mention of Private Bu. Only a few weeks earlier, he had to sentence Private Bu to execution by firing squad. The idiot had thought it would be a nice joke to toss a grenade into quarters one night. It never occurred to him that the pin might fall out after hitting the far wall. Two men had been killed and another four were wounded while asleep in their beds.
“Private Bu should have stayed in the rice fields where his stupidity wouldn’t cause a problem,” Colonel Nguyen said.
“You’re right. He wasn’t fit to be a soldier. Nor would be most of the men in Tala, Massar, and Domma.”
“How many Dommans does it take to change a light bulb?”
“That’s a question that’s impossible to answer since no one in Domma has ever seen a light bulb.”
“Replace the light bulb in that joke with a gun and it would be just as true.”
“I see your point. You’d lose half your army the first time they put bullets in their guns. They’d either shoot the guy next to them or themselves.”
“There will never be an army like the Great Khung’s horde.”
Colonel Nguyen shifted in his seat and then said, “I disagree. It could be done, but it would take some time.”
“First, you would need to create a small highly-skilled army.”
Colonel Wynn said, “Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse? First, you need a country.”
“No. With a good army you can always get a country. With a country, you can’t always get a good army.”
“So how would you create a small highly-skilled army?”
“I’d collect two hundred or so orphans who are about five years old.”
“Just pick up two hundred or so orphans? Just like that?” Colonel Wynn asked while snapping his fingers.
Realizing that the finger snap might be misinterpreted by the staff of the restaurant, he looked around. The waiter was on his way over the table. When he was sure that he had the man’s attention, he waved him off.
Colonel Nguyen said, “There are tens of thousands of five-year-old orphans living on the streets of some of the worst cities in the poorest countries in the world who would sell their soul for food, clothes, and shelter. You could easily collect that many orphans. You’d even have the pick of the litter based on strength, intelligence, and sheer will to survive.”
Colonel Wynn sat back in his chair. He looked up at the ceiling while considering what Colonel Nguyen had suggested. He knew the man was correct. He could step out the door of the restaurant and find half dozen orphans of the right age within two blocks. One, maybe two, would have that spark that sets him apart from all of the others. All of them would have survival skills that would be useful in a soldier.
“I can see that it would be relatively easy to find that many orphans and you could probably pick the best of the lot. What would you do with them once you had them?”
“I would train them in the martial-arts style of the fighting monks of Chen. I would teach them to read and write. I’d teach them mathematics, military history, foreign languages, and logistics. I’d teach them science and engineering. I’d train them in medicine. I would craft them into the greatest fighting force in history.”
“You would teach them?”
“Well, I’d get teachers in to teach them,” Colonel Nguyen said looking a little embarrassed at the claim he was making despite not meaning it that way.
“So you’d have an army of two hundred orphans. That’s not a very big army.”
“I’d collect more orphans every two years or so.”
“I guess with that many boys you could create a pretty threatening mob...”
“I wouldn’t select only males. I’d try to get an even number of males and females.”
That actually surprised Colonel Wynn. He figured that his friend wouldn’t want women in his army. “You’d include women?”
“Sure. Look at the West Vam army. Almost half of their troops are women. I’d almost say that the scary half of their army is the women.”
“Okay. Still, an army requires weapons, vehicles, supplies, and a base of operations. Without those, you’ve got a mob shaking their fists in the air.”
“We can discuss how I would take care of those essentials later,” Colonel Nguyen said after looking around the room.
Colonel Wynn picked up the hint that now was not the time or place for that discussion. He stared at his friend realizing this wasn’t an off the cuff idea on his part. The entire discussion had slowly been laying down a framework for this exchange. He’d been thinking about how to recreate an ancient style army for a while.
“Did you write a thesis at the Frankan Military Academy?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What was it about?”
“The title of my thesis was, The Ranks within a Barbarian Horde.”
“I didn’t realize that barbarian hordes had ranks.”
“They don’t. That’s what I found so fascinating about the subject. Think about it for a minute.”
“They had no chain of command other than the guy at the top.”
“Wrong. They didn’t have a fixed chain of command such as that imposed by military rank because that doesn’t work when you’re a horde facing new challenges every day. They had a fluid chain of command in which one day one man would be in charge and the next day it would be a different man.”
“I don’t think that would work.”
Colonel Nguyen smiled and replied, “You’ve got one officer, a major whose whole military career has been spent in supply. You’ve got one soldier who has been through twenty different engagements on the battlefield. Everyone else in camp is a new recruit. Suddenly, the camp is attacked. Who do you want in charge?”
“Point taken,” Colonel Wynn said.
“Our training is to look to the major, but he’d probably get us all killed. You know it and I know it. In a barbarian horde, everyone knows who should be giving orders and it wouldn’t be the major.”
“I’ll admit that I’ve worked around a senior officer a time or two.”
“But when the food gets low, which man are you going to turn to?”
“If you had to build a bridge?”
“I suppose the major,” Colonel Wynn answered.
“No. You’d choose the new recruit who worked construction a couple of summers before joining up. If you didn’t know who he was, you’d ask around. In fact, you’d probably gather together a couple kids like that to have them solve the problem as a team.”
“I’ll concede the point.”
“That’s how a barbarian horde operates. A horde that doesn’t operate that way, soon stops being a horde and turns into a handful of refugees,” Colonel Nguyen said.
Colonel Wynn thought about it for a moment. He could see that there was a kind of beauty in that type of structure. He was about to argue that it wouldn’t work for a large horde, but stopped when he considered the size of the Great Khung’s horde. It must have worked that way. A horde didn’t stop and restructure itself in the middle of a campaign.
“So how would you structure your army of orphans?”
“Like a barbarian horde. Every member would be tested and rated with respect to different skill sets. He or she would wear his or her ratings that exceed some minimal level on a patch for all to see. When a particular combination of skills was required, the person with the highest rating in all relevant areas would step up and take command.”
“What if no one has that particular combination of skills?”
“Then a group of people would join together to work out a solution. Remember, war is about life and death, not ego or social standing.”
“I can see where it would work,” Colonel Wynn said. “I’d assume that between campaigns, individuals could be retested to establish new ratings.”
“Exactly. I would also gather individuals into cadres of common skill sets that are required for the normal operation of an army. So I’d have a fortification cadre, a battle cadre, a logistics cadre, a transportation cadre ... so on and so forth. For special needs, one could draw individuals from the various cadres because it is the specific skill sets in war that are of value rather than general skill sets that are used in daily operations.”
Even in the Amra army individuals with specific skill sets might be pulled out of their regular units for temporary assignment on a special task force. Over the course of his career, he had served on a number of special task forces. He had been surprised more than once at the skill set that was assembled in response to some unusual circumstance or event.
Colonel Wynn realized that having an entire army structured to support that kind of immediate flexibility was a radical change from how he had been taught that a military should be organized. In a way, the idea bothered him. He was an officer of the Amra military, the most powerful army in the world. Shouldn’t it serve as an example for how an effective military force should be structured? What his friend was suggesting was a completely different approach.
He tried to find a modern example where that kind of structure was employed. It dawned on him that there were no ranks on sport teams like baseball, basketball, and football. Positions were held by individuals trained for them. Once a play was started, there were no orders given. Each individual was left to function according to his training and skill. There wasn’t a staff sergeant in charge of the front line or a major in charge of the backfield on a football team shouting orders throughout a play. Communication wasn’t in the form of orders, but rather in situational awareness.
There was a lot of self-correction and adaptation that took place on a sports team. A quarterback who was abusive could suddenly discover that his blockers had stepped to side allowing a defensive lineman through to clean his clock. It didn’t take long to learn the lesson.
By now, the two men had finished their lunch. The waiter came over and removed the dishes from the table. The linen was cleaned with a little table crumber. As soon as the table was cleared, the waiter returned with a small silver pot of coffee for Colonel Wynn and a small pot of tea for Colonel Nguyen.
The two men took sips of their hot beverages.
Colonel Wynn said, “You’d train all of these young men and women and put into place a new form of military structure. What then?”
“After twelve years of training, I’d hire them out as a mercenary force.”
“Yes. It would give them battlefield experience while keeping them together as an army. Considering the state of the world, they’d have a lot of opportunities to keep sharp.”
“There are enough little fires brewing around the world to keep a mercenary army busy. However, based on what you said about their training, you haven’t trained a bunch of grunts. You’ve put together a very large special-forces team.”
“That’ right. I’d hire them out for individual missions, not as labor that fights alongside their employer. They’d have to be well defined missions consistent with the training of my army, easily verifiable that the mission was completed, and of finite duration.”
Colonel Wynn could see where something like this would end. The army would slowly get eaten up over time through normal attrition despite replenishment every other year with another crop of trained orphans. It wouldn’t ever grow to be a horde.
“You’ll never get a horde that way,” Colonel Wynn said giving voice to his thoughts on the matter.
“Let’s say that we take a job in some little backwater country with a corrupt government that is short of money. What’s going to happen?”
“They’ll renege on the contract. You’ll show up to collect your pay, and find yourself surrounded by an army with orders to shoot to kill. It happens all the time,”
“Exactly. That’s how I’d end up with a country.”
“Excuse me? How do you see that playing out?”
“Let’s go back to talking about the Great Khung. How would he handle that situation?”
“He’d destroy the place.”
“I doubt he’d destroy the country. I think he’d destroy the leadership within the government.”
“A leadership that controls an army—”
“Would he engage the enemy army straight up?”
It would become a matter of a small highly-trained agile force against a large ill-trained group. The small force could move around the country doing significant damage before the large force was even able to get their troops onto transport trucks. Even in a relatively small country, they could probably get two or three days ahead of the troops and do real damage to the government before encountering any resistance from the military.
The Great Khung often broke his troops into two or three smaller armies with orders to show up at a certain place at a certain time and take the town. The defenders would wake up one morning to discover three armies on their doorstep attacking from three different directions. The result, from the perspective of the defender, usually wasn’t very pretty.
If a small force was able to pull the larger army away from their real target with attacks well away from the capital, the smaller army could show up at the undefended capital and take control in a matter of days. Fifty dead politicians later, they’d own the country. A few generals dead and they’d own the army.
“No. In fact, he’d probably target a couple of small towns to draw the army away from the capital and then move in on the capital taking out the leadership of the country.”
Colonel Nguyen said, “Within just a few days, I’d own that country. Then I’d do exactly like the Great Khung and leave the government bureaucracy in place. I’d place my army above the local army. I’d use the local army for the grunt work.”
“You’d have your horde,” Colonel Wynn said.
“There’s only one question.”
“Where would the money come from to start it all?”
Colonel Nguyen looked around the room. The lunch crowd was long gone, and they were the only two customers in the place. The waiter was at the far end of the room.
Finally, he said, “Do you remember what happened when Abbu was deposed in Barmud?”
“Yes. He ran off with half the assets of Barmud.”
“Was he successful?”
“Not really. Someone stole it from him when it was being smuggled out of the country.”
Shaking his head sadly, Colonel Nguyen said, “You know, we’re never going to win this war. When the country falls, the rats are going to be getting off the ship. They’ll be taking as much cheese with them as they can.”
Edited by Morgan
Edited By TeNderLoin