History of Interplanetary and Interstellar War

Image from Grant Thomas

Even before the first ant colony launched a surprise raid on a colony of a different species, even before the first chimp troop attacked a neighboring troop, war existed. Archeoxenological evidence is still scanty, but it is believed that some races were fighting among their own kind, and enslaving other species, even before metazoan life had appeared on Earth. War has been postulated as the cause for the extinction of past races (although the evidence is controversial). But certainly, human ingenuity and development of weapons allowed for bigger and better wars. But as ever more advanced technology allowed for ever more devastating weapons, all-out war became counter-productive. Since atomic age Old Earth, large-scale war was too terrible to contemplate. This situation continued in the interplanetary age, when a single large rock thrown from a mass driver could easily take out an entire orbital or a planetary city, killing millions. Strategy became a deadly game, with fleets shadowing each other, jockeying for possession of favoured orbits, or engaging in some bloodletting against insurgents out in the belt.

There is another reason why there were no major wars during the Information and Interplanetary ages. As the nation-state declined and the megacorps moved in to fill the void, it was realised that big wars were not good for business. Your company is not going to make any profit if half your customers are dead. Brushfire wars were another matter, and were supported because the military-entertainment complex depended on them.

Arms control depended on the technology of mass destruction (whether Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, or Nanite) remaining in the hands of governments who at least could act with some responsibility (if only self-interest). Once advanced nanotech fell into the hands of the masses, every terrorist with some intelligence (and even some without) had access to nano-weapons, and the Technocalypse was inevitable (the surprising thing is not that it happened, but that it took so long to happen).

The Federation/Interstellar Era saw the continuation of the memetic control by the AIs. But with increasingly cheap amat, and eventually conversion drive, and the opening of the interstellar frontier to development and exploitation, the colonial megacorps found themselves fighting small scale consolidation wars, which the Federation was powerless to prevent. The consolidation wars were however rarely reported by the corporate owned media (the Cyberians and other subversives however had a field day with them). Instead, occasional proxy wars manipulated and supported by the military-entertainment complex and the big armaments corporations provided sporadic excitement. Of greater concern were the increasing number of ascensions and transcensions that were occurring, despite government efforts to limit the availability of replicators (since the Technocalypse era possession of unlicensed replicators was a serious offense throughout the Federation). While most transcension events were harmless, a few resulted in hostile blights which would take over a polity or an unoccupied solar system and use it to create goo swarms or in other ways subvert the interstellar community. Sending a fleet to crush the blight was always big ratings driver and provided the spectacle of a "just war" that was lacking when a Federation Dreadnought was vaporising a couple of "pirate" ships out in the Oort cloud.

The rise of the Houses and colonial oligarchies meant that large and small wars became more common as the the Federation declined. Many conflicts occurred in isolation from each other and most often (there were some notable exceptions) limited to a single solar system. Some of these wars were bloody indeed, others were little removed from spectator sports.

As the centuries progressed interstellar travel became cheaper. This would have allowed the megacorps and great Houses more scope for interstellar conquest and exploitation, were it not for the rise of the second, third, and fourth singularity hyperturings, and the mainbrains far above even them. AIs took more of a leading role, and the lower hyperturings especially cleverly played on their role of defending sapients against transcended blights. Blights and perversions remained common but were mostly minor. A few major ones caused headaches and led to several interstellar wars (such as the Amalgamation containment effort). It is also widely believed that the Conver Ambi, the Daharran Advance and the Laughter Hegemony result from the after-affect of perversions. Even the famous Version War has been traced back to accumulated memetic subversion by hypersingularity blights.

Nevertheless, war continued to be a part of civilization, especially in the Outer Volumes where the central mainbrains and empires have less authority, and local warlords can establish neofeudal fiefdoms. Most wars are still local, or at most affecting a number of regional star systems. Self-replicating autowars from earlier battles remain a serious problem for the interstellar community. Rogue commanders of relativistic fleets who don't know the war is over are another factor, but their impact has been fairly overrated (due to the popular adoption of the isolated commander as a sympathetic anti-hero in a number of virches and interactive games).

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Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev
Initially published on 05 August 2001.