I love history, and what I love most about it is that it’s just a series of stories. If you read it right, it’s a how-to guide for global politics or maybe it’s more apt to call it a how-not-to guide. Either way, we really don’t pay much attention to it, so here’s a guide for all you would-be dictators. I for one welcome you as our gracious leader.
Disclaimer, I’m sure I’ve fudged facts in here quite a bit. I’ve always been more concerned about the gist of things than the details in history.
Almost every place they conquered welcomed the Romans. And why? Was it because they all looked like Russell Crow? Nope, it’s because the Romans brought things that no one else had. The Romans were technologically advanced, and they had a pretty stellar system of government in which even their conquered territories had a bit of say. I’m going to bet it was the roads and the aqueducts that really made people want to be conquered by the Romans. If you are going to steal sovereignty, the lesson from the Romans is to do it in style.
Look, lots of comedians have pointed this out, but still, we don’t listen. Don’t even try to invade Russia. Haven’t you ever played R.I.S.K. and had someone completely decimate you after you had casualties in Russia? And just imagine if each one of those little plastic triangles was a regimen of starving, freezing people who would all give their left leg to ram a knife through your heart. It never ends pretty.
3. Seven Cities of Gold
File this one under ‘Is it really worth it?” When the Spaniards pushed farther into what is now the continental United States, they were pretty freaking certain that there was going to be gold beyond their wildest expectations (already mined and refined of course) just over the next hill. So they kept marching around, dying, enslaving natives, and destroying culture for no good reason. Now, eventually this area would prove decently profitable for the Spaniards, but mostly it was just good for the space it provided on a map. If it had been me, I’d have gotten to the Llano Estacado and just given up. Personally, I think it’s high time we stop trying to invade practically inhospitable locations. Let’s take a tip from the Vikings and invade good places that have a lot of stuff we can steal.
4. The Five-Year Plan
Recently a friend of mine called me a dirty dictator name for saying that I have a five-year plan. But there’s a reason why this is on the list and it is not because I’m a control freak. The longer it takes you to win a war, the less likely you are to have good outcomes. There’s a reason why the French and the English still get into fisticuffs at football games. The Hundred Year War had a lasting impression. If you can’t beat a country in 5 years and make it yours, cut your losses and get out. Now, and here comes the tricky bit, figure out which countries you can take within five years BEFORE you go invading any. You’re going to need to build a good reputation (see #1) as a conqueror before you tackle any powerhouses.
5. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
When the Romans invaded Britain, they had a problem: the Scottish. While the Romans clocked in at close to 5 feet tall, the Scots (my hairy ancestors) were up in the 6 foot range. The Scots typically (at this time) spiked their hair up with lye, painted their bodies blue, and fought naked. The Romans, intelligently, built a couple of walls to separate themselves from these terrors. The true lesson here is that if you ever find yourself up against someone who is willing to fight in the buff, run. If you find you can’t invade a country, block it off and leave it to its own devices. You’ll be happier later.
6. The Sun has to Set on you Sometime
The British Empire was often praised for its expanse with the saying, “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” but that helped lead to the fall of Victoria’s pride. When you are out conquering nations, don’t ever get so big that you can’t control all of your territory. A good rule of thumb here is that if you haven’t seen all of it because the trip is too long or if you can’t easily get from one place to the next within a week, leave it for someone else, particularly if you come from a small island. No matter how good you are at subjugating native peoples, eventually you will run out of people to do the conquering and things will get awkward. Anticipate this and determine what is absolutely necessary for your grand empire.