The second chapter of my running commentary on this book....
The book uses the name "Zomia" to describe the region under question: all the lands at altitudes roughly 300 meters and higher, stretching from the Central Highlands in Vietnam all the way to the far northeast tip of India. This region, up until approximately 50 years ago, was fundamentally an ungoverned region. The book goes on to explain how and why.
Other parts of the world have shared similar geographic and political characteristics. Some extend the region even further westward all the way to Afghanistan. The author allows for this, but the further region is not his area of study.
This point, however, caused me to reflect. Coincidentally (or not, perhaps) the two bookends (Vietnam and Afghanistan) have a couple of obvious shared relationship…I will pause for a moment on this.
I have come to appreciate that the underlying objective of the wars of the West over the last 100 years and more is for control. Not for oil, not to stop the spread of Communism, not to make the world safe for democracy, not for women’s rights, not for WMD. I first came across this concept of war for control at The Daily Bell.
Just control. If a region can be brought under control, then all exploitation is available to the conqueror. Yes, this may also include exploitation of local natural resources, but mostly it appears it is for exploitation of the population through the mechanisms of western style regulatory democracy. Central banking, funny money, taxes, corporate-state mercantilism, etc.
Has there ever been a more thorough system of control developed? Better than slavery and serfdom, as the victims of the modern western state are groomed to one day (perhaps after a generation or two) be voluntarily plucked.
So what of the two shared relationships? Let’s go to the less obvious (at least to me before I began reading this book) first. The two bookends (and the regions in between) shared the feature that they were quite ungoverned in the altitudes above approximately 300 meters. No state was receiving the benefit of exploiting the population. (I will discuss the reasons why in future posts.)
Now to the more obvious shared relationship: the two share the position of being on the opposite side in multiple and various wars against the west.
In hindsight, it is very difficult for any standard explanation regarding the purpose and objectives for the war in Vietnam to hold together. For Afghanistan, we don’t even need much hindsight. This war and its objectives cannot be explained.
So what if the objective was merely control, control for exploitation via the mechanisms of western political and economic levers? All tried and proven levers useful to extract wealth from an almost unsuspecting population. Perhaps you don’t believe this is true, and you might be right. But the shoe certainly does fit.
Left alone and outside of the sphere of state control, this population worked primarily for their own benefit, and that of family and community. However, once controlled, they could be counted. They could be taxed. They could be easily conscripted. They could be levered up to increase the wealth of those in power – wealth being one of the byproducts of such control.
The control does not have to be direct – it was not needed that Vietnam became the 51st state. With the mechanisms of mercantilism in place, wealth can be extracted. This is sufficient.
It strikes me that there is good reason to look at this region (including Zomia, but in fact running further west to Afghanistan) in this light. Also to look at other regions with similar characteristics elsewhere in the world in the same way.
As mentioned earlier, I will get into why these areas were ungoverned and why the people lived in such a state. For now, it is perhaps enough to consider that this idea of control is enough of an objective for war. For the spark of this insight, I owe The Daily Bell. For bringing the idea to fruition, I am indebted to the author of this book.