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Old 04-01-2016, 02:50 AM   #1
Join Date: May 2012
Default Socio-Economic Factors Influencing the Last War

I just watched a couple of episodes of Apocalypse WWI. Its depiction of the world of the early 20th century, la Belle Epoque, and especially the international politics of the years immediately before hostilities broke out, feels like it belongs on a different planet. It's frankly frightening and depressing, and I can't recommend it enough.

As I started to develop an understanding of the core dynamic behind the apocalyptic nature of WW1, I started thinking about the similarly apocalyptic dynamic implied by the cratered wasteland that is the Ogre map (and the accompanying implication that this map represents a typical European battlefield of the Last War). The comparison has frequently been made by many people here, including myself, between WW1 and the Last War. I've come to realize that this comparison, while tempting, is true only on a superficial level, and that while the socioeconomic contexts of both wars result in similarly extreme environmental devastation, the contexts themselves are fascinatingly different.

WW1 Core Dynamic: Rapidly advancing offensive weaponry technology has combined with stagnant military doctrine and complete disregard of the leaders and officers for the lives of their men, to create human suffering on an unimaginable scale. Casualties are enormous because there is no meaningful defensive technology that can protect an individual soldier on the move against the typical weapons of the day. Once the defenders have dug in, most battles are futile slaughters because (until the invention of the tank) attacking units are massively vulnerable to even the most basic prepared defenses. The extreme environmental damage of the Western Front is a byproduct of both sides digging in tightly to take advantage of the overwhelming defensive power of prepared defenses, and consequently the same piece of land is fought over often enough to utterly devastate it.

Last War Core Dynamic: Rapidly advancing offensive weaponry technology, combined with rapidly advancing defensive technology (motivated by a plausible continuation of the modern overwhelming desire of Western nations to minimize human battlefield casualties) has lead to environmental destruction on an unimaginable scale. Casualties remain high only because offensive technology has stabilized at a slightly higher level than the defensive technology (though defensive technology remains much much more effective relative to the offensive weaponry of the day than it is today.) The extreme environmental damage seen is a byproduct of the sheer power of the offensive weapons being used, but does not necessarily imply the static front line of WW1's Western Front.

WW1 lasted for slightly over four years, and ended with the complete economic collapse of several of the nation states involved. The Last War, on the other hand, lasted for over 20. There is obviously a key difference between the economies of La Belle Epoque Europe and the superstates of the mid 21st century. But what?

I submit that the difference is this: The North American Combine and the Paneuropean Federation are post-scarcity societies, their economies based heavily on nanotechnology-equipped factories that can manufacture effectively unlimited masses of tanks and powersuits for little more then the price of the raw materials stock. Like modern Western Civilization, they place an enormous premium on the minimization of human battlefield casualties. Both armies spare literally no expense in providing the best defensive technology possible to their soldiers. In stark contrast to WW1, where soldiers were lucky to receive socks and rations, every infantryman gets an advanced powersuit or a tank to sit in. Additionally, both factions invest heavily in cybertanks, to remove the requirement for human presence on the battlefield altogether. [Yes, I am disregarding the "militia" rules from Ogre Battlefields and Ogre Miniatures. They're awkward, no one uses them, and they didn't make it into ODE anyways. :) ] This in turn necessitates the use of heavy nuclear explosives on a massive scale, because nothing less is reasonably likely to destroy or even mission-kill the opponent's power-armor and vehicles. Their use is further motivated by the reasonable fear that the other side might develop and deploy battlefield nanotechnology (which in addition to being potentially militarily overwhelming, may very well render the land itself permanently contaminated and useless), nanotechnology being, as we understand it today, very powerful, but very vulnerable to extreme heat and radiation. These in turn generate enormous environmental devastation and [presumed] civilian casualties. However, unlike Belle Epoque Europe, the enormous environmental devastation and civilian casualties do not meaningfully affect the industrial capability of the region. They do however, strongly motivate the population to continue to support the war effort, for both self preservation and angry vengeance. We begin to see why the war could last so long.

What are they fighting over? They are fighting over the only thing their post-scarcity industrial economies cannot create more of - control of land. The invading armies are not the slightest bit concerned about the condition of the land when they get it - the nanotechnological industrial base will allow for relatively straightforward reseeding of crops and forests (and removal of dust and fallout from the atmosphere), once control of the land is secured. The extermination of the civilian population of the region is apparently considered an acceptable means to achieve control of the land.

So what happens when two post-scarcity societies go to war over land, caring enormously about human battlefield casualties and almost not at all over environmental devastation of the contested territory or civilian casualties?

Welcome to the Last War.

[tl;dr: The Combine wants PanEuropean land. A nanotechnology-based industrial infrastructure manufactures fighting vehicles, power-armor, and cybertanks for almost no cost, for both sides. They care enormously about minimizing human battlefield casualties, but have almost no concern for environmental damage or civilian casualties. Defensive technology is sufficiently advanced that heavy nuclear weapons are required to produce mission kills and actual kills on the battlefield, and PanEurope's similarly post-scarcity economy allows them to manufacture enormous amounts of military equipment, again with no perceptible drain on the civilian economy. PanEuropean civilians are motivated by anger and desire for vengeance to defeat the Combine. These factors generate the main characteristics we see in the Last War: an extremely long war generating enormous environmental devastation.]
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Old 04-01-2016, 11:10 AM   #2
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Default Re: Socio-Economic Factors Influencing the Last War

And this explains why the town hexes are pristine every time I replay the Raid scenario-- they were rebuilt using robots and nanoconstructed materials. :)
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Old 04-01-2016, 11:35 AM   #3
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Default Re: Socio-Economic Factors Influencing the Last War

Watch those nanobots closely though, so they don't go off and build a supersize replica of "Red Dwarf".
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Old 04-01-2016, 12:32 PM   #4
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Default Re: Socio-Economic Factors Influencing the Last War

I omitted it in my initial writeup, but yes, exactly this. Towns are expected to be as easily rebuilt as any of the military equipment.

In WW1, they fired a billion shells. I'm not saying heavy tanks and infantry powersuits are as cheap as shells, but they may very well be as cheap as horses were. (The major powers ended up using about half as many horses as they did soldiers!)

War look interestingly different if you can build a bleeding-edge heavy tank for about what a college student pays for their first used car. Logistics and diminishing tactical returns become the primary limits on how much materiel actually appears on the field. When sound tactical doctrine limits how many units you want to squeeze into a square mile of space, that may tend to limit your production, even if you have the resources build significantly more than that.
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Old 04-11-2016, 06:54 PM   #5
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Default Re: Socio-Economic Factors Influencing the Last War

Another discussion on the Last War!

Ok, I too have thought on this subject and though there's a lot of overlap, my conclusions are different in some key ways. Therefore I respectfully disagree (on certain parts) and present my own analysis:

Couched in the terms of the original post, the world of the Last War is not a post-scarcity society fighting over resources to feed the nano-factories. The very nature of post-scarcity renders that effort needless: a continents' worth of land can easily support a continents' worth of people and given the weapons of the day, it is far better to invest in what you already have than to risk it all to grab more. Nano-tech plus AI means that the equation of make vs. take swings overwhelmingly in favor of "make".

No. The socio-economic situation of the Last War is far, far worse...

The world of Ogre is a PRE-post-scarcity society. The 'PRE' part is the key. It's not about resources. It's not about technology. If it were any of those things, the Last War would never have been fought at all or it would be far more rational, and ended sooner. No, the Last War is about history, culture,... and human nature. The tragically rational fear that gripes when you see your future being appropriated by others who got there first.

Technology has been shrinking the world and Nano/AI is the last real revolution. Neither technology's promise nor human potential is infinite, at some point they come to an end. And once you can manipulate atoms technology is done. It's only limitations are the physical laws themselves -- and no revolution can change those. And just as the industrial revolution made Western Civilization dominant for centuries, whoever wins this last revolution will dominate for the rest of the foreseeable/theoretical future -- and reshape humanity in their own image. Nanotech is history's end-game, and every cultures' last chance to leave a legacy. Once post-scarcity is realized, the mold is set. Consider:

The Combine views human beings as defined by their economic activity.
The Paneuros believes the individual is a social construct.
The Middle East wants to rule for the glory of god.
China wants its Middle Kingdom back.

Each faction has a broadly different view of what humanity is and what it should be. In a sense there's nothing new here, really. The Last War is a story as old as mankind itself. Yes, the weapons and technology are new, but then, they've always been new. What's different now is the end-game nature of the socio-economic (to which I will add 'cultural') factors.

Of course the particulars of pre-post-scarcity technology just make things even worse: and low-kiloton nukes as common munitions aren't the problem. The problem are those very AI-factories that produce such easy abundance: they break the devastation feedback that normally ensures any war burns itself out like a fever. The real reason WWI ended was because Germany simply collapsed from exhaustion. A similar argument can be made for the Cold War. At some point, a society decides that what they might gain is worth less than what they've already paid. Instead, with nano-factories the war keeps going on and on. You won't even run out of troops. With AIs that 'bake' military expertise right into the hardware, the current age of highly trained professionals once again gives way to Napoleonic armies of mass conscripts. You don't need the cream of your youth to do the fighting, much less the 'Special Forces' types -- you can keep putting below average young men with a few weeks training into battlesuits and ship them off to the front. And the war just goes on and on.

Bad enough? It gets worse. Consider the Final War's omnipresence. Even the "World Wars" of the 20th Century weren't: vast swaths of humanity either sat them out or were involved for appearances sake. The influenza after WWI killed almost as many as the whole Great War. In both cases the worlds' population was greater after than it was at the start: even Hitler and Stalin and Tojo put together couldn't kill people faster than millions of mothers around the world could quietly give birth to more. By contrast the Final War cut the world's population by more than we'll ever really know. And worse it was *everywhere*. No nucleus of civilization to rebuild from, not even romanized barbarians to sweep aside a degenerate Rome and rebuild. No Constantine, no Charlemagne. Nothing except nano-factories nobody left alive understands... and what's worse: no longer need to.

Add to this a cultural ennui that makes the "Lost Generation" of the 1920's look like a joke. If four years of WWI could shatter the "Imperial Arrogance" of the 1910's across a continent, imagine what 20 years with nukes across the world would do. Effectively man devolved to a "magical" existence. Materially and psychologically dependent upon the AI, with no understanding, nor any need to understand. And thus with no hope of ever rising again.

And that brings us to the last and most horrible aspect of the Last War: Unlike every other war, there's no recovering from this one. The mold set by post-scarcity will be that of a crippled humanity.

tl;dr: HeatDeath and I both reverse engineer the length and savagery of the Last War seen in the fluff through technology. Where we differ (IMHO) is that he sees events in terms of a post-scarcity society. I see things in terms of the run-up to post-scarcity, where each part of humanity is vying to shape it, either for dominance or at least to avoid eternal inconsequence. Our fundamental difference (again, IMHO) is that his explanation is too logical, too rational. It makes too much sense to sustain a war of this magnitude for 20 years. But where HeatDeath sees a battle for resources, I see a battle for the future, for legacy. I feel this better explains the savagery of the Last War: technology made it possible, but human nature gave it it's form in the face of a technological 'end of history'.

Last edited by FJCestero; 04-12-2016 at 06:42 PM.
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Old 04-12-2016, 12:26 AM   #6
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Default Re: Socio-Economic Factors Influencing the Last War

I like the idea of "Pre-post-scarcity". No one's actually had a singularity yet. The idea that every major transnational state knows that every other transnational state is perhaps one breakthrough away from a hard-takeoff scenario, and is willing to fully mobilize to decades of total global war, on the very eve of the singularity, fighting desperately to make sure that they're the ones who get to imprint their culture and values on an unimaginable future that includes the entire future light cone - that's dark. A kind of dark that makes WW1 look like a high school pep rally by comparison. I like it. It's a motivation that could plausibly motivate 20+ years of total war, and that also provides an economic regime that renders 20+ years of total war economically plausible. The singularity is a prize that might just be worth this level of effort. [We agree as well on this point: shaping the singularity is, like my initial suggestion of land and territorial control, also very much something that you can't buy with a mature nanotechnological industrial infrastructure.]

We agree on the fundamentals of the technological and economic issues, as well: tanks and powersuits are cheap. Really cheap. Really unimaginably cheap by modern standards. It's a curious thing: for just about any technological artifact we can build today, we can substantially improve it if we're willing to quadruple, quintuple, or exponentiate the cost. It's difficult for us to imagine the impact on war if a bleeding edge main battle tank costs as much as a used car costs now, and it doesn't matter how much more you try to spend on it, that's as good as you know how to build. I'm trying to imagine the last time this was the case. WWII military technology may have fit this bill. At any given point, Boeing was building the best bombers they possibly could (or at least the best bomber formations they could - each individual aircraft in a WWII bomber stack is best viewed as a component of a larger composite weapon - the bomber stack, and the cost-per-aircraft isn't quite irrelevant - the formation loses effectiveness if it contains too few aircraft, no matter how awesome the individual aircraft are) with no expense spared.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, in this economic regime, logistics and diminishing tactical returns become the limit on how much materiel ends up in the field. I can visualize fairly easily how limited surface transport capacity prevents the Combine from driving ten thousand Ogres in from the continental shelf. I'm having a harder time visualizing, though, in the face of this, why Paneurope doesn't have a HVY for every single hex of the GEV map. Unless the Combine is noticeably more "pre-post-scarcity" than they are.

Last edited by HeatDeath; 04-12-2016 at 12:54 AM.
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Old 05-03-2016, 06:04 AM   #7
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Default Re: Socio-Economic Factors Influencing the Last War

Originally Posted by HeatDeath View Post
I'm having a harder time visualizing, though, in the face of this, why Paneurope doesn't have a HVY for every single hex of the GEV map. Unless the Combine is noticeably more "pre-post-scarcity" than they are.
Population limits and time limits. Even if you draft every possible person at 16, the kind of meatgrinder envisioned chews them up faster than they can possibly be replaced (and people can't be fabbed - there's a 16 year lead time). Not to mention the awful morale effects; Napoleon's dictum about the moral and the physical applies.

Time - it takes time to fab the gear, time to deploy them to the front, etc. Molecules are expensive to move, and the more complex the molecule, the more expensive it is to move.
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