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Force Majeure

Wisdom is a rare thing. It crops up in the most unexpected of places, and one of the marks of the truly wise is to see lessons and take them from wherever they can be found, regardless of their surroundings.

David Eddings is, in my opinion, the finest fantasy writer alive today. In his "Mallorean" series, there is a part where two great armies are fighting in the empire of Mallorea -- and neither answers to the Emperor. The Mallorean emperor is counseled to let the two fight it out, let one defeat the other and then use his forces to crush the weakened victor.

Zakath, the emperor, rejects this advice and rides out to confront both armies. It is his policy, he says, to not allow any forces other than his own to win a battle within his territory.

In the books, it doesn't go exactly as planned. Zakath discovers that the armies are demon armies, and is persuaded to spare his forces the inevitable slaughter. In the end, the demon armies are defeated by magic and gods.

But the principle Zakath espouses is a sound one. One of the criteria for a nation-state is that the government must needs hold a monopoly on the use of force.

No government can withstand the presence of a large, armed body within its borders that is not answerable to that government. Mao declared that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," and that monster was an expert on power and guns.

We can see that throughout the Muslim world.

In Iraq, the government has control over only one of three (or more) large, armed factions. The single most powerful force in Iraq today is the US military, and while we are allied with the Iraqi government, and influenced by them, they do not exert control over us. But there are also large groups of "militias" and "insurgents" and other terrorist groups who also wield military power -- and pose a tremendous threat to the future stability of Iraq.

In Lebanon, the government has been almost subsumed by Hezbollah, to the point where the Lebanese army is banned from large swaths of their own nation -- and is currently fighting a "militia" allegedly aligned with Al Qaeda in the north.

The supremacy of military power is one of the key definitions of a nation. In a democracy, this is checked by the political power of the people -- and by commanding that the military give their highest allegiance not to the government, but the founding principles of the nation. In the United States, members of the military pledge not to George W. Bush or the presidency in general, but the Constitution. And the people have the ultimate political power in the United States -- we can (and often do) change our government, without ever having to pick up a gun.

A government cannot survive without the faith of the people. And, for better or worse, the people's faith and trust is most often earned by strength of arms -- even when not used. Most people feel more secure if they know that the government holds more power than criminals, than terrorists, than "insurgents," than any enemies foreign or domestic.

Because when they don't, you end up with Iraq. Or Lebanon. Or Afghanistan. Or Yugoslavia.

Comments (32)

Jay, you forgot the apostro... (Below threshold)

Jay, you forgot the apostrophe. He's *Kal* Zakath.

Funny you bring it up, I just started rereading the Mallorean.

If Eddings is as good as it... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

If Eddings is as good as it gets, I really wish Zelazny was still alive!

Larry, by the end of the Ma... (Below threshold)

Larry, by the end of the Mallorean he's not Kal any more. Not even 'Zakath.

But you are right; he was using that prefix at the time of the incident in question.


Just brought it up because ... (Below threshold)

Just brought it up because I'm on Guardians of the West.

Don't get me wrong, I love Eddings' work, but greatest fantasy author? I have a hard time swallowing that.

[snark] "The Mallorean?" I ... (Below threshold)

[snark] "The Mallorean?" I liked it the first time I read when it was called "The Belgariad." [/snark]

So he's a bit formulaic, bi... (Below threshold)

So he's a bit formulaic, big deal. Can't you just enjoy a book for what it is, not what it resembles?

I think Sistani has confron... (Below threshold)

I think Sistani has confronted the evil in Iraq with his magic, and his God. Sadr, from Iran, calls for the removal of al-Qaeda from all of Iraq, making common cause with the Sunni Arab tribes, whose city kin we protected from Shia death squads. Sadr's main death squad competitor, the Badr Brigades, have just thrown in with Sistani, ostensibly reducing Iranian mullah inflluence with them. Sistani is a quietist, distinguishing between church and state, and he is the saint who forgave us for the slaughter of the Shia Marsh Arabs.

I still haven't forgiven th... (Below threshold)

I still haven't forgiven the Malloreon for undoing all of Ce'Nedra's useful character growth while failing to undo any of her annoying traits, and God knows it repeated from the Belgariad hardcore, and the 'climax' was extremely anticlimactic... but yeah, I still enjoy rereading it. Eddings can sure do engaging characters, even when nothing else is engaging you at all.

Fiction? What's the attrac... (Below threshold)

Fiction? What's the attraction?

Just jokin'

While I've enjoyed Eddings,... (Below threshold)

While I've enjoyed Eddings, (the first book of his I read was "The Ruby Knight") I like Terry Goodkind even more.

Oyster, I agree. Terry Good... (Below threshold)

Oyster, I agree. Terry Goodkind is great.. although he apparently has some issues with the female gender. Can't wait for his next book, which I believe wraps up his Sword of Truth series.

I like Goodkind as well, bu... (Below threshold)

I like Goodkind as well, but the take-all for me is George R.R. Martin. I have not found a better author than him. Orson Scott Card did a very good job with the Ender series as well.

I forgot how many books of ... (Below threshold)

I forgot how many books of the Sword series I got through with Goodkind, but I began to end up with the feeling that the one I finished should have been the last. I had the same problem with the Wheel of Time. I think after the sixth book I just burned out.

I have enjoyed Eddings and ... (Below threshold)
nogo postal:

I have enjoyed Eddings and Goodkind.but but they do not compare with King's epic Dark Tower series..

Gah Nogo! I was just about ... (Below threshold)

Gah Nogo! I was just about to post that. That series was unbelievably good. Wolves of the Calla I think was my favorite. I think he ended it in the best and most poetic way he could.

Jay, to respond to the actu... (Below threshold)

Jay, to respond to the actual topic of your post, I think that what you said is true to a point, but like in anything you have to pick your battles. If two superior forces go to war in your country, it may be a loss for you but you'll still exist. In your example, if Zakath's forces had joined the battle and been slaughtered his country probably would have ceased to exist. It's hard to regain people faith in you if you're dead.

Well, except for certain deity.

The entire series I meant, ... (Below threshold)

The entire series I meant, not Wolves of the Calla.

Nogo, you should read George R.R. Martin, I think you'd like him. The first book in the series (ongoing) is Game of Thrones.

Yeah Jay, sorry to just use... (Below threshold)

Yeah Jay, sorry to just use the thread to talk about my favorite authors. I did like the post...which often means I don't have much to expound on.

Dark Tower was great, until... (Below threshold)

Dark Tower was great, until it lost me after the looooong hiatus in the middle. I started other series and still haven't picked it back up.

Agh! I still have nightmar... (Below threshold)

Agh! I still have nightmares about lobstrosities. And I'll never be able to eat another tuna fish sandwich without calling it "tooter fish".

Ever read any of R.A. Salvatore? I loved the Icewind Dale trilogy and the Drizzt series.

The King of Lebanon sends h... (Below threshold)

The King of Lebanon sends his forces against al-Masri, the chief of Fatah Islam, an al-Qaeda cell, and against Hzb'Allah; against both Shia and Sunni. Must it be magic in the land of the Cedars?

And why did al-Qaeda, via a... (Below threshold)

And why did al-Qaeda, via al-Masri, kill Foley in Jordan in 2002? Jordan, who knew a lot about Africa was there with(strike with it should be at the same time as) Val Plame, or something like that.

er, that should be Foley wh... (Below threshold)

er, that should be Foley who knew a lot about Africa. He was a big USAID guy, probably knew a lot about markets, even sub rosa ones.

And we know from eRiposte's... (Below threshold)

And we know from eRiposte's elegant scholarship that the French discovered an active black market in Yellow Cake in Africa, in 1999.

Ah, the turn of the century... (Below threshold)

Ah, the turn of the century, right about the time Joe Wilson made the first of four, yes, count 'em, four trips to Africa for the CIA, only two of which are well publicized.

Oyster,I'm familia... (Below threshold)


I'm familiar with Icewind Dale and the Drizzt character, but I've never actually read the books. I'll need to add that to my reading list (which is freaking huge)

Funny about the lobstrosities and tooter fish, I always feel odd when I hear Elton John singing "Someone saved my life tonight".

Khan, douane, Liby, yawn.<b... (Below threshold)

Khan, douane, Liby, yawn.
Niger bake's gateaux jaune.
Let us pray,
A beast's at bay,
Besides Mediterraune.

Yah, count George RR Martin... (Below threshold)

Yah, count George RR Martin as my vote for the greatest current living fantasy writer. And Zelazny is definitely a high mark IMHO.

As for nations, faith is earned by the people to the degree that the governments can keep their word. This includes force of arms, but also their promises. Getting the electric, water, and sewage functioning back to pre-2002 levels would go a long way towards making things in Iraq settle down.

But no matter who's in charge, the problem that remaines is Sunnis and Shiites want each other dead, dead, dead, and would then follow their dead enemies into Hell to shoot them a few more times.

I thought Eddings first stu... (Below threshold)

I thought Eddings first stuff was good,but I just read the Dreamers series and it sucked. I was never so glad as to get into Robin Hobbs new series Soldiers Son...also reading L.E.Modsitt's Corean Chronicles...two of my favorite authors there. RR Martin is another great one.

good point about the state ... (Below threshold)

good point about the state holding the monopoly of force, jay

Eddings was my introduction to fantasy. i've had to eplace a couple of the begarion books i have because i had read them too much.

zelazny was awesome. his death shook the world as far as i am concerned.

as far as current fantacy authors? it's kinda hard to say since many of them have just been pumping out fomulistic books. i like glen cook (the original Black Company books and his recent Tyrannies of Night series). Robert Jordan, just because i like insanely complicated plots. heather gladney wrote the first first person narrative i enjoyed. wish she would have had the opportunity to finish her trilogy. heh, i just realized i could go on and on about this.

fictional stories, history, and politics are my favorite hobbies away from the card tables.

It's al-Absi, not al-Masri,... (Below threshold)

It's al-Absi, not al-Masri, and it it Fatah al-Islam. Keep your eye on this little AQ cell in a Palestinian refugee camp north of Beirut.

Scrapiron's heard about it,... (Below threshold)

Scrapiron's heard about it, too. The Lebanese Army fighting an al-Qaeda cell led by the assassin, possibly, of the American, Foley, in Jordan, in 2002.






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