Yathrib has been in a state of just war with the Kurgans. Now there is no such thing as a delicate or humane war, but just war is the kind of conflict that abides by certain rules. Those rules are restrictive and inefficient and though it is far more effective to ignore those rules, the consequences have so far been something that the combatants on Yathrib have been unwilling to endure. This is changing, and indeed has changed in areas like Alivere and Ghilat.
Principles of Just War
Traditionally, just war has embraced a set of principles, largely designed to allow regular conflict to not escalate to the end of society. For instance, just wars often embrace the following principles;
- Proportionality: Generals have tried to use only as much military force as is required, so that collateral casualties are minimized and wars do not spiral out of control into webs of triggered alliances and oaths of fealty.
- Just Cause: Society has expected there to be a good reason to go to war, so that everyone does not need to constantly fear naked ambition, in turn triggering escalating conflict.
- Just Conduct: Generals are expected to follow rules about who and how to attack, avoiding treachery, the deliberate targeting of civilian populations and the like. This is mostly designed to keep war from devastating lands and peoples.
- Just Means: In keeping with the principle of just conduct, some weapons of war are forbidden, such as plague bombs, war beasts and other horrors. While this also helps mitigate the devastation of war, there is general agreement that such methods shock the conscience and the Church.
- Fair Treatment of Prisoners: Those taken captive can expect fair treatment; lords are released, paroled and ransomed, and their soldiers are allowed to return to their lands. Such guarantees help keep people working and prevent brutality that in turn might lead to escalating conflict.
Many of these principles are observed as much in the breach as in conformity, and only the most antiseptic of campaigns is perfect in every way -- but they represent ideals warlords strive for, or least strove for prior to the Emperor Wars.
The Emperor Wars changed a great deal; just war principles are restraints on conflict, and it is almost always advantageous to break them, particularly if your opponent is still following these principles. As a consequence, the last 50 years have seen conflict of a level of brutality not seen in many generations, and this new post-Wars world is still coping with the aftereffects. It remains to be seen if just war will retain any moral authority, though the Church and many in polite society push for a return to the old ways.
Levels of Conflict
It is useful to think of war in five levels of conduct. At each level the commander or general is saying something about how he perceives his enemy and in return how his enemy should perceive him. The social rules surrounding each level are vast and are adapted to individual circumstances, so below are some examples that are meant to be illustrative but not exhaustive. These levels are based, broadly, in how much warriors respect the principles of war, though of course there many things that go into getting a sense of how just a war is.
Most warfare occurs with a mix of the elements below and the levels as described are designed to serve as a guideline to measure conduct by, not as discrete packages to be taken as a whole. A general might conduct a war with the most brutal tactics available, then decide to be lenient in victory. Instead, the levels below should serve as a tool to help determine how to view the actions of characters.
Level 1: War of Principles
The first level is a war of principles. This is the kind of war fought between generals who, in the abstract, respect each others' station and titles but have some interpersonal issue. When two nobles of the Empire cannot resolve their conflict in a duel this is the kind of war they make against one another. Each house has its own culture with regards to what kind of tactics can be used on the battlefield but the purpose of this kind of war isn't to kill or cause casualties among the soldiers or peasants of one's opponent. Rather, it is designed to force submission and often an apology. In essence, this is simply a duel using soldiers rather than rapiers.
The victors of such a war are expected to accept their opponent's surrender graciously (even if such grace is only superficial) and the loser is expected to show proper humility (even if only in public). Surrendered nobles are often released either on parole or occasionally after a sufficient ransom has been paid (along with the soldiers who surrendered with him). Depending on the scope of the original wrong that gave birth to the conflict the victor can ask for reasonable concessions from the loser. Such terms can be as trifling as keeping the loser's sword as a token and reminder, or as serious as requiring a political marriage. It is not uncommon for children to be taken and raised in the victor's court in order to prevent reprisal wars. War reparations are uncommon (dealing in money is crass and making war over it is ignoble), but occasionally if the original wrong was damage to a noble's property some reasonable compensation could be demanded.
'War of principles' is a misnomer in that it is not behavior that is designed to overthrow rulers or conquer territory so it might not properly be considered 'war'. It is the conduct of one noble against another over a grievous wrong, but it is not an attempt to destroy a peer by stripping them of their land and rights.
Level 2: Just War
The second level of war, then, is that of true conquest: the just war, which has been the dominant model for warfare for much of the last thousand years. This is the type of war which one noble would direct against a rival claimant to land (or, until recently, the Kurgan) and it is designed to oust the rival and conquer the territory. The rivals in such a war acknowledge each other as peers, even if they are bitter enemies, and as a consequence they extend to one another a certain level of respect both on the battlefield and after the war is settled.
Like above the desire on the battlefield is to win, but to do so in the manner of honorable men. Chemical and biological weapons, terror tactics, poisoning wells, and destroying infrastructure are examples of behavior that neither side at this level would employ. Hit-and-run tactics or raiding far from the conflict zone to pull defenders away is considered 'gauche', though a certain amount of these tactics is tolerable. Ideally, such a war consists of armies meeting each other, settling their differences in the field, and the loser retreating or surrendering. Rarely do things resolve that way but a war conducted in such a manner is considered to be how 'honorable gentlemen' conduct themselves.
Raiding in such a conflict consists of armed individuals who are engaged in rapine and robbery, but not burning fields or running down peasants. The overall impact on the raided communities is less severe and the wealth generated is less substantial for the raiding parties, but such conduct has the advantage of being understood socially as 'tolerable' border conflicts that are unlikely to escalate into full blown war. At present it is assumed that any place with a unfriendly border has at least a low level of this kind of conflict occurring regularly.
Nobles who are captured during a battle or who surrender are given appropriate respect along with their men, and while it uncommon to release captives on parole it is not unheard of. Ransoms are far more common, with ransom amounts being determined according to the captured individual's prestige and title. As the purpose of the war is conquest, soldiers in towns that surrender are typically left to retreat along with their leaders once the ransom is paid and though looting and pillage occurs (it is functionally part of a soldier's pay) it tends to leave the conquered town in a state to recover within a year or two. Another common form of victory (at least among Known Worlders) is a marriage contract in which the captured noble is given the option of marrying someone of the victor's choice and losing their family name (thus a captured Hawkwood might be forced to marry a Hazat, and their children would carry the Hazat name).
This is the level at which much of the war with the Kurgans has been fought for the last several years. It is the level that tolerates Taifa baronets and Taifa barons who surrender, and it is what has prevented much of the Shining Gulf (which was once conquered by the Kurgans in recent history) from becoming a barren wasteland. It is also the most restrictive and least efficient kind of true warfare as it affords the enemy a number of opportunities to retreat from the field in tact.
This is the level at which much of the pre-Emperor Wars consolidation was fought at. Particular conflicts would become more brutal -- indeed, on some places brutality approached the norm -- but the just war remained the notional baseline for how conflict should be conducted on Yathrib and in the Known Worlds. Now, with the Known Worlds emerging from a century of war, that orthodox view is being questioned, with some saying that a return to the just war model is impossible.
Level 3: Amoral War
When the Emperor Wars began the old model of warfare disappeared; rather than fighting for themselves, nobles became cogs in machines, and as a consequence the sense of war as the sport of kings diminished and instead war became an activity with a goal: acquiring and controlling power.
As war becomes more about conquest and less about maintaining one's reputation certain aspects of 'honorable' conduct give way to practicality. Ethics do not disappear, but they are never uncompromised; honor becomes a thing to fill in the gaps where effectiveness will be not too much diminished by just action.
The objective when fighting at this level balances the concerns of winning versus honor differently than above. Tactics which were tolerable but impolite become commonplace such as hit-and-run tactics on supply lines, the use of the occasional false-flag gambit, and raids against critical civilian populations and infrastructure to draw the enemy out. Occasionally commandos raids designed to kidnap vulnerable important personnel or targeting individuals on the battlefield occur but, like above, are considered to be 'pushing the line'. This is a level of war conducted by one who accepts that he may have to apologize to some people at the end, but who prefers apologies to the risk of losing.
Raiding at this level sees small villages brutalized and trade caravans more often killed than simply robbed. Though there is restraint in burning villages or killing peasants, the purpose of the restraint is often to preserve enough of a population such that next season's raiding will be lucrative and not out of some honorable intention. This is a lucrative form of raiding and the type employed when a general dedicates his forces to organized raiding.
Ransoms are uniform at this level, and only occasionally punitive, with the ransom demands a bit higher than the station of the captured. When such a condition occurs sometimes the goods of the captured soldiers or noble are sold off or taken as a prize. Soldiers or nobles are not often kept as prisoners as there is rarely a place to house them, though at this level captives of rank or title are afforded some courtesies. Even once ransomed nobles are often required to give an oath to not return to armed conflict, though with the war against the Kurgans such an oath is viewed as cruel to demand, as oathbreaking is a sin for Kurgans and Known Worlders alike and it forces a choice between sin and honor.
Level 4: Unrestrained War
This is the sort of war that defined the last years of the Emperor Wars; unrestrained conflict with the goal of total victory.
At the end of such a war, the general's name carries with it an odor of conducting himself in an brutal (if effective) fashion, and indeed polite society would have labeled him as dishonorable in the years before the Emperor Wars. Now, society is unsettled; some see the end of war as a return to the old, more restrained ways, while others believe the box opened during the Wars can never be shut.
Decisions at this level of war are made primarily with a mind toward practicality and 'honor' is rarely mentioned save to deny the enemy's claim to it. Though still eschewing some of the 'total war' elements of the most brutal and severe form of warfare, on the battlefield there is little quarter given and surrender is ruinous. As a consequence, warfare fought at this level is often a bitter struggle for survival.
The objective of this level of warfare is to take everything the enemy has- their morale, their land, their soldiers, and their capacity and willingness to fight. Strategies such as terror attacks on peasants, kidnapping and imprisonment of important individuals with few if any special courtesies, the targeting of critical personnel on the battlefield, and the targeted attacks on civilian infrastructure are all common, Fighting is often brutal with an eye toward preventing retreat and incurring as many casualties among the enemy as possible. Poisoning of wells, burning of fields, and even the occasional use of chemical or forbidden weapons occur whenever appropriate and effective.
To raid at this level is to take everything from anyone too weak to protect themselves and to leave them broken in spirit. Farms are looted then burned, small villages see their women raped or their people carried off as slaves, and entire regions can be decimated as a raiding force moves through. This is an uncommon form of raiding, as it cripples a region for years despite providing a very lucrative one-time wealth boon.
In victory terms of surrender are designed to cripple or utterly destroy an enemy. Soldiers are stripped of their equipment, nobles are ransomed for their entire worth or stripped of their titles and holdings entirely. Particularly noteworthy enemies are imprisoned in dungeons or even executed, their soldiers sold into slavery or, more rarely, killed with them.
This is the level at which much of the Emperor Wars was fought, and the level which many of the crusaders who arrive on Yathrib expect to fight. To achieve this level of warfare one must truly hate your enemy.
Level 5: Unjust War
This is the sort of war that where even the most jaded general agrees that victory has taken priority over honor and justice, the kind of conflict reached only in the worse battles of the Emperor Wars and sort of battle that perhaps prompted cooler heads to begin to seek peace. No quarter is given, and surrender is only an option for those lucky few with friends sufficiently well connected to prevent a death sentence. No weapon or tool is denied the army in the field and the goal is to win at all costs.
Plague bombs, chemical weapons, suicide bombers, orbital artillery strikes on civilians, destruction of terraforming engines or atmosphere generators- if they help achieve victory then they are used. Captured soldiers and nobles are tortured, for information or just to break their spirits. The former are executed or sold into slavery, the latter receive a similar fate if their ransom is not paid. The weapons of five thousand years of human development, inhumane and monstrous, are unleashed and the general who employs them can expect censure by the Church, his peers, and his enemies, but he can also expect victory if his opponent does not use such weapons and techniques as well.
Raiding at this level leaves nothing in its wake. Once every man, woman, and child is enslaved or killed and everything of value taken, the buildings are set ablaze and the fields salted. This is the most complete liquidation of an enemy's lands into capital, but it will be a generation before anything grows again.
To lose at this level is to die and to surrender is to gamble that one is more valuable alive then dead. Ransoms, when offered, include everything that the enemy has or is worth.
Only on the most brutal battlefields of the Emperor Wars were these tactics used consistently. This is a kind of warfare that has little or no emotion to it- to be willing to engage in the acts required to conduct war at this level one must be able to view one's opponents as less than human.
So far a number of battles have been fought, and here are some ideas of how staff views them. Keep in mind that the numbers are shorthand, and represent an averaging of all of the elements in the battle:
- The Rape of Alivere - 4.
The crusading army acted with little interest in showing their enemies honor or dignity, butchering everyone who even looked Kurgan within the walls. No forbidden warfare was used and the attack itself was conducted in a traditional manner, but the behavior of the crusaders inside the town itself was far from it. The sacking of the manor was likewise brutal with no quarter given.
- The Fall of Ghilat - 4.
By some accounts the Kurgans and Momoko treated each other honorably and well, though like above the conduct involving the sacking of the town was unnecessarily cruel. This was an example of how escalating a conflict is reciprocated, as most people assume the sacking of Ghilat was a reprisal for Alivere. Note, however, that this is an example of changing times: the Second Battle of Ghilat, where Sans lead Ghilat's armies against the Kurgans, was fought honorably at around a 2.5; the only dishonorable thing was the betrayal by El-Dinat.
- The Siege of Zatan - 2.5.
The armies besieging Zatan have, in the lead up to the siege, destroyed Kurgan infrastructure and made repeated attempts to fight 'decisive battles' and cut off escape options. Similarly, reports circulate that the Known Worlders have butchered peaceful Kurgan caravans in the surrounding area. These are mostly offset by the gesture of escorting Kurgan children to safety, and so the general belief is that the siege of Zatan has been more or less in accordance with principles of honorable war.
- The Battle of Teldam Strand - 2.5.
A straightforward battle in which neither side used duplicitous tactics, the Battle at Teldam was marred only by Baron Julien's crusaders ferocity and bloodthirst. As that accounted for only one flank of the battle, along with the prisoner exchanges and fair treatment of the Kurgan wounded, this battle was more or less 'par' for traditional conflict between Known Worlder and Kurgans.
- The Battle of Red Holler - 2.
A straightforward field battle outside Arsuf, masterfully commanded by Karl Justinian and less so by Arkady Decados and Chiaka Justinian, this battle had all of the hallmarks of two enemies who were willing to abide by the rules of war and see that the best warrior would win.
- The Traitors' Banquet - 4.
Sidon today grumbles and seethes at Lord Martin's betrayal, but ultimately Baron Martin betrayed hospitality in violation of honorable war. Though it is not strictly a battle, staff chose the number above to represent how upset PC and NPC reaction was to Baron Martin's behavior. This means that an NPC treated with a similar level of disrespect would be as upset as the various affected parties were at Baron Martin. Note that were it not for the betrayal of hospitality this might have only been a 3; if, for instance, commandos opened the gates to secretly allow Martin's forces in it would have not been a particularly honorable fight but it wouldn't have the stain of treachery.
Respect and Honor
The descriptions above describe what is and is not a just war, but tied closely to that rubric is a sense about respect and honor. Respect is a shifting target; it is disrespectful, generally, to engage in a level of war one's opponent has not committed to or to escalate a situation beyond what the facts deserve.
Waging a full-scale war -- even a just one -- over a point of honor, for instance, is disrespectful, no matter how bad the insult given by the enemy is, and similarly waging an amoral war against an enemy who expects a just fight shows a lack of respect.
Disrespectful actions may also be dishonorable actions, depending on context -- for instance, it is dishonorable to try to take someone's lands when all they believe is at stake is an apology. Even if both sides agree that no quarter is to be given, however, individual acts can be dishonorable, like oathbreaking, employing evil weapons, or callous and cruel treatment of the enemy.