Ohio Barbarian

Last active
22 hours, 7 minutes ago
User Picture

A Modest Proposal for Dealing with ISIS or ISIL or Whatever

By: Ohio Barbarian Monday September 15, 2014 2:46 pm
The last sultan saluted by soldiers as he leaves his role after the end of the sultanate.

The last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire abolished his role in 1922. If we revived the Empire to fight ISIS, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Well, you’ve probably heard a lot lately about all of the proposals being put forth to deal with the Brand New and Improved Terrorist Threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria(ISIS), or as the current Fascist President of the United States calls it, the Islamic State in the Levant(ISIL), or whatever you want to call that genocidal pack of Wahhabist(I think) Sunni Muslim religious fanatics who’ve made a fair amount of progress in establishing their very own Islamic Caliphate in portions of Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Obama, chastened from the American public’s rejection a year ago of a Brand New Shiny War in Syria and by his grossly stupid underestimation of Russian resolve where it comes to Ukraine,  driven by corporate concerns about the safety of Iraqi oil fields (which he never mentions, BTW), and the constant beating of the war drums from everyone from Hillary Clinton to Lindsay Graham to (again, never mentioned) American weapons manufacturers, is for an air campaign against ISIS supported by various Arab “boots on the ground.”

The war hawks, like Graham and John McCain, want to send in the American Army and Marines. It doesn’t matter that that approach turned out so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, but hey, send in the troops often enough and sooner or later it’s bound to work out, right?

Yeah. Right.

Don’t these fools know their history? There’s a simple solution. When was the last time what we call Syria and Iraq were more or less peaceful and stable for centuries?

I’m waiting. Bueller? Bueller?

Yes! When they were both ruled by the Ottoman Empire!

The Turks controlled that whole area for at least 500 years. There wasn’t much war in the region, the imperial government in Constantinople(er, Istanbul) pretty much let the locals run their own affairs so long as everybody mostly paid their taxes, saluted the red flag with the Crescent and Star, and didn’t harass or kill imperial Turkish officials or anything like that.

And the great thing is that the Turks are still around! Why not arm the Turks with those A-10 Warthogs that are being decommissioned,  give them a bunch of Patton and Abrams tanks, helicopter gunships, and old F-16′s and tell them to go forth and re-establish their Empire as it existed in, say, 1914? That would include Palestine, I mean Israel, I mean both, but they could be autonomous provinces subject to the heel of the Turkish boot. Arab-Israeli conflict solved! That would include Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, too. Assad could become a Turkish bashar or be executed, his choice. ISIS? Well, the Turks could just genocide their ass. I’ve heard Armenians say they have some experience in that department, and who cares about a bunch of fanatical ragheads, anyway?

Yeah, Kuwait, Yemen, and the east and west coasts of Saudi Arabia would go to the Turks, too, but it was Saudis who carried out 9/11 anyway, so screw ‘em. I’m sure the Turks would make very reasonable oil deals with the West, too, so long as they got a reasonable cut for themselves to help solve their own domestic problems. The House of Saud could retreat to the inner desert where Lawrence of Arabia found them back in World War I. They’d still be rich and, if they fought, well, the Turks could deal with them, too.

We can revisit the situation in a few centuries and see whether or not it needs any tweaking. Who knows? The Turks might even rediscover their inner Mustafa Kemal and just secularize everything. Wouldn’t that be a shame? Hell, they might even let women dress as they please and let them vote!

Why not? Well, I’m sure there’s a whole host of good reasons why not, but is my modest proposal really any sillier than what is being floated about by our so-called leaders?


100 Years Ago This Week: The Battle of the Marne Changed the World

By: Ohio Barbarian Monday September 1, 2014 8:40 am
Photo shows a 17 cm SK L/40 i.R.L. (on wheeled carriage) in action : a 17 cm naval gun mounted on a wheeled carriage, used as a heavy field gun by Germany in World War I.

The Battle of the Marne: A world-changing conflict.

On this Labor Day of 2014 I’d like to reflect on something that happened across the Atlantic almost exactly 100 years ago which caused repercussions which shaped the world into which all of us were born. Most Americans nowadays haven’t even heard of it, perhaps because no American soldiers and few civilians were anywhere near it at the time, but I find such an attitude ignorant at best and pure hubris at worst.

Anyway, a hundred years ago this week, just four weeks after World War I began, six massive German armies had conquered all of Luxembourg, all of Belgium except for a tiny corner of it on the English channel, and most of France northeast of Paris. German troops in fact had crossed the Marne River in force and their lead elements could even see the Eiffel Tower. In spite of heretofore unprecedented casualties inflicted by the relatively new war technologies of accurate rifles, mobile artillery(usually pulled by horses), and rapid-firing machine guns, 100 years ago today the German Empire seemed poised to capture Paris and dictate terms to a bloodied and humiliated French nation, hold off the slowly mobilizing British Empire, and turn east to crush the Russians who had gone to war to defend their beleaguered Serbian allies in the Balkans.

I don’t have the space, and I’m sure most readers don’t have the time, to go over every little military historical detail that has been written and argued over by historians ever since. I recently read The Marne, 1914, by Holger Herwig, a Canadian of German descent who studied German records made available to Western historians after the collapse of the German Democratic Republic(East Germany) in 1989. I disagree with many of his conclusions about the quality of the decisions made by German, French, and British commanders, but he does seem to get most of his facts straight.

The Germans had been consistently shocked by two things since they launched their great crusade to knock France out of the war quickly. First, Belgian soldiers and then Belgian civilians had refused to meekly submit to superior German arms and had fought them tooth and nail. The sniping of civilians behind the lines led to fierce German reprisals where several thousand Belgian civilians were summarily executed and even more were deported by train to Germany. Those events fed Allied propaganda that would, three years later, help persuade President Woodrow Wilson to send America into the war on their side. Had it not been for the Battle of the Marne in 1914, however, there would have been no France to go to the aid of.

Basically, generals on both sides were totally surprised by the huge number of casualties suffered by both the Germans and the French. There is no exact count, but it is safe to say that both had already lost over a hundred thousand dead each and twice that many wounded or captured before the Battle of the Marne even began. It makes American losses in Indochina, some 58,000 dead, seem almost like pocket change. And there was worse to come.

Both Germans and French had marched hundreds of miles, on foot, over the previous four weeks, sometimes fighting major engagements every day for over a week at a time. The soldiers on both sides still capable of fighting were exhausted, sick, hungry, and yet somehow still determined. In fact, German officers, so confident in their detailed war plans and in the fighting superiority of the Teutonic Germans over the decadent wine-and-cheese-loving French, seemed to have a hard time believing that the ordinary French soldier still had any fight left in him. After all, the French really have no stomach for a fight. Everybody knew that. We even hear that today.

The Germans were wrong. The French leadership had totally miscalculated the German avenue of attack through Belgium and refused to even acknowledge the possibility until Brussels fell after a couple of weeks. They did, however, eventually realize their mistake and made a more-or-less orderly retreat which avoided encirclement and annihilation over about 300 miles from the Belgian border to the gates of Paris. Then, the French Army, only desultorily and maybe even reluctantly supported by a British Expeditionary Force which regarded its own survival as all-important, turned and made a stand.

The stand took place over a front several hundred miles long. German communications in particular were confused, slow, and incomplete, though the French had more than their share of the same. The French went all out. They mobilized another army and threw it into a gap between two of the exhausted French armies that had made the fighting retreat from Belgium. Several thousand Parisian taxi cabs were used to ferry reinforcements to the front, less than 20 miles away from Paris itself in places, and wounded back to hospitals, though most of the movements were in fact made by rail. While many of the wealthy and the government itself fled, most Parisians prepared to fight grimly on in a siege.

Fascism in Cleveland Faces a Voter Revolt On One Hand, Defiance On the Other

By: Ohio Barbarian Friday August 29, 2014 2:13 pm
A group of sports fans tailgating with food and drink in a parking lot

Despite a ban, the beer keeps flowing for tailgating sports fans in Cleveland.

Local politics can be fun. Several years ago, the City of Cleveland and a number of other local municipalities put up portable robotic radar camera speed traps, more commonly known as traffic cameras, all over the place. There are only a dozen or so of the infernal things, but they can be moved at will.

If one catches your vehicle speeding, you get a $100 ticket, whether you were driving the vehicle or not. My wife got zapped by one over a year ago, and so did my checking account. So did thousands of other Northeast Ohioans. And, if there’s one thing that unites both left and right, it’s a government trying to extract money from them in any way it can without benefit of due process of law. These tickets are appeal-able to a local court,  but the filing fee is as much as the ticket, and if you lose in court, now you have to pay both the ticket and the filing fee. Nice little Catch-22 they’ve got going there.

But Cleveland voters have this old progressive thing going for them called a ballot initiative. Opponents of the traffic cameras recently gathered over twice the number of signatures required to place a ban on the revenue-generating devices on the November ballot. 

Gee. Wanna place any bets on which way that election is going to go? It would be one thing if the money went to doing something that voters could actually see, like filling potholes, but Nooooo…there’s no accountability for where it does go. So. Well, there’s one small impending victory for the people.

Meanwhile, it was recently announced that all alcohol, including beer, is now prohibited from tailgating at Cleveland Browns games. It seems that the Cleveland Browns owner and the NFL were upset by people bringing in their own beer, purchased at more or less reasonable prices from grocery stores, before the games and then refusing to buy $10 beers from vendors in the stadium. the profits of which in part go to the Browns’ owner and the NFL. So they pressured the city into enacting the ban.

That one is being met with outright defiance. Even the Cleveland Police say that their policies haven’t changed, and that so long as one isn’t being obvious about drinking beer in the tailgate lot(and especially if one offers a passing cop a burger or a brat) they’re not going to look to closely. Just don’t get all rowdy and they’ll look the other way.

Come on, now. Tailgating was originally instituted as a public safety measure, you know, let people get all boozed up the night before the game, crash and burn in the trailer, have a BBQ in the morning, then go to the game and THEN drive home after they’re all sobered up. It’s pretty easy to follow the money on this one, and those benefiting from the ban have way too much already.

What can I say? Sometimes, I really love this place.

Ohio Governor’s Race: You Can Stick a Fork in Fitzgerald, He’s Done.

By: Ohio Barbarian Saturday August 23, 2014 1:02 pm

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, who won the Democratic nomination for governor of Ohio against virtually no opposition, is set to fade away. I personally think it’s a good thing. So do most other Ohioans. In the face of recent polls showing incumbent Republican Governor John Kasich maintaining a solid lead, and with a Green candidate on the ballot who will probably get 1%,  but probably no more than 3%, Fitzgerald running out of money and the Democratic Party appears to be giving up on him.

Fitzgerald has several problems that are just not going away. He was an FBI agent who later became a Cuyahoga County prosecutor, and then Mayor of Lakewood, an inner ring suburb of Cleveland. He came pretty much out of nowhere to be selected by the local Democratic Party machine to become the first county executive after the county commissioner system was dissolved by voters after a string of scandals.

One of his commercials tries to use his FBI experience investigating political corruption in Chicago to his advantage, but it hasn’t worked. My wife even said, “Oh, so THAT’S where he learned how not to get caught!” It recently came out that he drove without a valid driver’s license for ten years, and that police caught him in a compromising position with an Irish economic emissary in a car in an industrial parking lot at 4 in the morning. Fitzgerald claimed that they got lost–in his own county. It was after that that he claimed that he was the designated driver, which led to all sorts of bawdy jokes, and that he had never gotten drunk in his life.

Yeah, right. That flies in the face of popular wisdom, no matter how politically incorrect it may be. A guy with the last name of Fitzgerald has never gotten drunk? Or, as Mark Twain said, “Never trust a man with no vices.”

He also ran on the platform of “streamlining government,” which is a catch phrase for installing county human resources people and directors who make a practice of punishing and firing county employees whenever possible, and doing everything they can to make longterm employees quit, thus saving the county money. His investments include spending a hundred million or so of county taxpayer money to build a hotel and give it to the Hiltons, as if they needed the break. Meanwhile, potholes were so bad across the county during and after last year’s harsh winter that body shops are swamped with so much business they can’t handle it all.

In short, he’s just another corporate Democrat, who isn’t trusted by local government employees who won’t vote for him, and he looks like a spoiled child. In my ever so humble opinion, of course. Oh, he’ll no doubt carry Cuyahoga County, but not by a big enough margin and not with enough turnout to allow him to win. In the rest of the state, he’s largely unknown, and Republican attack ads have been skillfully done, and at least half true. They don’t have to lie about this guy.

The incumbent, John Kasich, did commit a major blunder shortly after his election by signing a bill that would have prevented public sector workers from being in unions. The latter struck back, got the issue on the ballot, and Ohioans decisively rejected the Wisconsin and Michigan-style law. To his credit, Kasich learned his lesson. When his fellow Republicans tried to target one public sector union at a time, starting with the teachers, Kasich said Ohio voters had spoken clearly, that he had heard them, and he would sign no such thing in the future. Since then, the issue has been dead here.

Kasich has surprised people, including me, several times since then. He went to visit Youngstown after there was a school shooting at a predominantly black school. He broke a campaign promise to the Republican right to privatize the Ohio Turnpike. He proposed taxing all natural gas and oil extraction in Ohio at a rate of 10 per cent, which is what Texas at least used to do, to the horror of the oil industry. The proposal went nowhere in the Republican legislature, but he did actually try.

Kasich also pushed hard for, and won, Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, saying that providing more people health care was just the morally right thing to do. For a Republican, by today’s standards, he’s been fairly harmless and has actually accomplished a few socially good things. And Ohioans at least know who he is. They’re not sure about Fitzgerald, they’re not angry at Kasich anymore, and so will go with at worst the lesser potential evil.

So, unless something really major and negative about Kasich breaks, I’m calling this election. Cuyahoga County will have a new county executive, Armond Budish, who was Speaker of the Ohio House when Democrats were in control, and has a strong pro-labor record. Kasich will stay governor, and I hope Fitzgerald will fade away, though he probably will run for something else in a couple of years.

He’s an ambitious man, but for now, you can stick a fork in him; he’s done.

Malaysian Press: Ukrainian Fighter Jets Shot Down Flight MH 17

By: Ohio Barbarian Saturday August 9, 2014 7:09 am

We’ve all heard the Obama Administration and our corporate media strongly implying, if not out-and-out declaring, that Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17 with a surface-to-air missile last month, therefore, Vladimir Putin and Mother Russia itself are responsible. Now, according to a story from a newspaper that is, to be generous, heavily influenced by the Malaysian government, that premise is being challenged by Malaysia itself.
Flight MH17: THE SKY IS NOT THE LIMIT anymore: safety zone of high altitude civil airspace has ceased to exist
According to those damned good investigative journalists at the World Socialist Web Site, the article in the New Straits Times of Malaysia claims that expert analysis of photographs of the wreckage shows a pattern of the airliner being hit by an air-to-air missile first, and then finished off by machine gun and cannon rounds fired from the air, and even aimed at the cockpit. Please read the whole story, which is well-written and not very long.

If there really is a neutral party to all of this that just wants to get to the truth, it’s probably the Malaysians. It was their plane, after all, and they really have no vital interests tied up in either Russia or Ukraine. I’m far more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt over the claims of the Obama Administration, the Kiev regime, or Vladimir Putin, for that matter. Speaking of the latter, though, according to the article the Russian military DID say that there were two Ukrainian fighter jets trailing the airliner just before it went down, although of course that was pooh-poohed by the Western corporate media.

If this is true, and it may well be, it would seem that the fascistic government in Kiev, installed by a coup backed by both Washington and Berlin, was so desperate for military support from the West that it murdered an airliner full of innocent neutrals in order to paint the Russians as really, Really BAD PEOPLE. It doesn’t really matter whose idea it was or, at this point, even if it was a mistake. That’s how the whole incident has been spun.

Well, one thing’s for sure. The current regime in Kiev really, really doesn’t deserve my, your, or anyone else’s support.

Israel! Beware! The American Financial Aristocracy is Thinking of Writing You Off. Maybe.

By: Ohio Barbarian Monday July 28, 2014 3:59 pm

I saw something I have never seen before today. A major American television news network, CBS, aired three, yes three, stories in a row that at least allowed for implicit criticism of Israel.

All three had the same focus, the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli air, rocket, and ground force attacks on Gaza. One even mentioned that while over a thousand Palestinians have died in Gaza since this latest round of insane, ethnic and religious bloodletting began, only 51 Israelis have died, 48 of them soldiers. They probably count the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered only  a few weeks ago, which is only fair.

I freely admit that my first socialist, cynical, and anti-imperial thought was “Why was this allowed?”

Then a possible answer. Our financial aristocracy may be beginning to see that continued investment in Israel is, well, unprofitable in the long run. Hell, most of the WORLD is sick of Israel. Is that little country with no oil, no profitable resources, no cheap labor force, worthy of supporting anymore?

Maybe. Or am I nuts?

Please let me know what you think.

The Barbarian’s Book Review: “War! What Is It Good For?”, by Ian Morris

By: Ohio Barbarian Saturday July 26, 2014 8:13 am
What is it good for?

What is it good for?

Ian Morris is an Englishman, an archaeologist,  and currently a professor of history at Stanford. I recently read his latest book, War! What Is It Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots, published this year. If nothing else, it was worth it because his theory of the benefits of war is certainly something so completely different that Monty Python definitely missed out on a good skit.

Morris proposes that there are two types of war, productive and non-productive. Productive war results in the creation or enlargement of a nation-state, empire, government, or all three. He calls it productive because, over the long term, murder rates drop way down and prosperity for most people in the empire goes way up when compared to their situations in either stateless or hunter-gatherer societies.

The case for the latter is derived from archaeology, which has dug up so many prehistoric human skeletons whose original owners met their demise at the hands of other humans. Morris provides a bunch of examples, from the incredibly preserved Ice Man discovered in the Alps a few years ago(who was definitely killed by arrows) to Sacred Ridge in Colorado, where in about 800 CE at least 35 villagers and their animals were all massacred, the former by being scalped first. So the myth, popular in some political circles, that Europeans taught Native Americans scalping is so much balderdash.

Clearly, Morris argues, prehistoric peoples were not the peaceful islanders portrayed by Margaret Mead in Coming of Age in Samoa, not even the Samoans, who built hill-forts and have sagas about raids of one clan or tribe or the other on their not-so-distant relatives. A world or area without stable government is a very violent place(he doesn’t point to Somalia for some strange reason, though he does compare Tito’s Yugoslavia to the same region in the 1990′s).  Even the Bushmen of southern Africa often waged raids and ambushes against their fellows. Recent studies of chimpanzees raping and murdering each other suggests that the violent war gene goes way back in our ancestry.

Morris estimates that people who lived in areas without the benefit of a government suffered a murder rate of somewhere around one in ten, compared to modern, civilized, death rates of maybe one in a hundred at most, even when the world wars of the twentieth century are thrown in. Since all of the states and empires throughout history have formed after periods of war, from the ancient Egyptian, Persian, Roman, and Chinese ones to the later British and American ones, the types of war that allowed these empires to form, grow, and establish states with relatively lower murder rates and relatively higher prosperity for their citizens and subjects are actually relatively good things.

Non-productive wars, on the other hand, are like the “barbarian” invasions that destroyed the Western Roman Empire, or the Viking raids, or Genghis Khan’s swathe of destruction through a third of Eurasia in the 1200′s, all of which destroyed formerly stable societies.

I think Morris certainly has a point about the advantages of living in places where the government has a legal monopoly on violence and where one can travel, trade, and simply live without much fear of being bushwhacked, not to mention little civilized luxuries as reliable food, clothing, shelter, indoor plumbing and electricity, over those of Stone Age or modern Somalian living conditions. But even granting his conclusions about declining murder and rising prosperity rates in various nations and empires, he’s setting a rather low bar by concluding that war is sometimes a socially and maybe even morally a good thing.

In the later chapters he discusses the world wide benefits, as he sees them, of first the British and then the American Empires’ role as “globo-cops” who routinely intervened, militarily or economically, around the world to maintain the stability on which their own prosperity depended. He calls the American Empire “the last best hope of Earth,” and then speculates that future wars will be limited and robotized, eventually becoming obsolete when humanity has evolved into a new cybernetic species where everybody is linked in with everybody else and we’re all living in some sort of high-tech free market society.

As a historian, I’ve always felt that both individuals and governments can only be fairly judged by the standards of their own times, and not by our current values. For example, King Cyrus of Persia was an absolute monarch who  didn’t hesitate to raze Babylon and kill a good number of its inhabitants, but was also the first ruler to grant freedom of religion and did succeed in establishing a stable, relatively prosperous, and comparatively just empire which lasted for centuries. Far more recently, it cannot be argued that the inhabitants of Western Europe, the United States, and Canada were better off before World War II than in the  30 years after the war, and certainly better off than the former under Nazi occupation. By that rather narrow definition, the American Empire certainly had its beneficent moments.

Somehow, I doubt that many people in Central America feel the same way, or those of Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos.

What Morris barely touches on are economic factors. He just assumes that “open-market” societies are better, and that capitalism is simply the best system which we humans have ever contrived or are capable of contriving. He mentions the Crash of 1929 and resulting Great Depression, but claims that no one really knows what went wrong. He is equally vague about the bubble-burst of 2008. He completely lost me right there.

We know exactly what went wrong in October, 1929 and again in 2008. A stock bubble based on faith and wagers that the value of stock would just keep going up forever collapsed when enough people realized that the stock was fantastically overvalued and tried to sell it off so they might be able to save at least a portion of their investments. Word quickly got out that the stocks weren’t even worth the paper or silicon chips they were written on, and Poof! We also know why the crashes were allowed to happen by Morris’ celebrated governments–the capitalists who were making boatloads of money by moving money and stock around had way too much control over those same governments, so much so in 2008 that governments, American and European alike, just created more money out of ones and zeroes on computers and looted assets from their own citizens in order to save the super-rich from their own folly.

It was just another example of Ben Franklin’s axiom that absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Whenever too much power, political, economic, or even religious, is concentrated in too few hands Bad Things happen. If history teaches us anything, it is surely that. Shakespeare saw it clearly; that’s one reason we still watch his plays.

Ian Morris does not even bring that little point up, but why should he? He’s got a good gig at Stanford, and the capitalist system clearly continues to benefit him, so he’s not going to say anything negative about the goose so long as it keeps laying those golden eggs for him.

While I certainly learned some things which recent archaeology has discovered, and that was enough to make my reading of the book worthwhile to me, I do not believe that we humans cannot come up with a system better than capitalism any more than I believe that the destruction of capitalism can be entirely peaceful. And I certainly don’t believe that we have to become some new, cybernetic species to eliminate wars amongst ourselves. David Swanson, please accept a hat-tip from me on that one.

Call me a starry-eyed optimist who has taken Star Trek too much to heart if you like, but I believe that my species as it is can do better than capitalism and imperial wars. Morris doesn’t, and I think he doesn’t because he never bothered to  see capitalism for what it actually is–a system whose only goal is more profit sooner. I find that sad, but hardly surprising.

He isn’t the only academic who fails to do that, after all.

The Barbarian’s Book Review: John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” Trilogy

By: Ohio Barbarian Saturday July 19, 2014 1:48 pm

Contrary to other oldtimers’ popular belief, there are good new science fiction writers out there.  I like Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Anderson, LeGuin, Niven, and Philip K. Dick as much as the next old fart, but if you look and give some of them a chance, you will find them. I recommend your local public library for starters.

Nick John Scalzi, who grew up near Los Angeles, moved to Ohio in  2001. That’s obvious from his obsession with writing about food in his novels. I know. Ohioans are more obsessed with food than the people in any other state in the country, and it rubs off. His first novel, Old Man’s War, was published in 2006, and the Ohioan influence is palpable. I like it.

The protagonist is one John Perry, a small-town Ohioan. [Some spoilers ahead] Several hundred years in the future, there’s this thing called the Colonial Union(CU). All Perry knows about it is what he and everyone else on Earth is told: that there are human colonies out there in space that are defended from unspecified aggressive aliens by the Colonial Defense Force. Earth isn’t part of the CU, but it does supply both its soldiers and its colonists. The latter come from Third World countries with excess population that they want to get rid of. The former come from First World countries, and the incentive is quite a deal, to Perry and millions of others.

If you sign up, at age 75 you report to your local Colonial Defense Force(CDF) recruiting station. You know that you will be taken off of Earth never to return, but that your consciousness will be transferred into a new, youthful body of about 19 years of age and you get to live your life again, in exchange for ten years of service in the CDF. After that, you get to live out the rest of your new life on a colony world. Present day armed forces recruiters must be having wet dreams over that enticement.

So Perry and his wife Kathy sign the contract, which includes a proviso that your DNA belongs to the CU if you die before the age of 75. Unfortunately, Kathy dies of a stroke before she reaches 75. When John Perry does, he says his farewells and reports for duty.

He’s taken away on a starship, which has some sort of Skip Drive(or warp drive) that’s good for a few hundred light years. He, and lots of others, get their new bodies. They’re clones, you see. Enhanced clones, with all sorts of superhuman powers: faster, stronger, greater information-processing abilities thanks to a cybernetic implant called BrainPal, cat’s eyes to see a broader spectrum, better hearing, and green skin so they can convert natural light to energy. Oh, they can still eat with gusto(Scalzi is living in Ohio, after all), and they have the sex drive of a 19 year-old. They can’t breed, however, because their chromosomes have been altered too much, and for a few weeks they get to just enjoy their new bodies and have an orgiastic good time.

Then it’s time to pay the piper. Our little corner of the galaxy is full of other intelligent species with about the same level of technology who are competing for a limited number of earthlike planets. There’s constant warfare. These other species are often faster or stronger or more vicious than normal humans, hence the need for these genetically altered soldiers, who are told their purpose is to defend humanity’s right to exist among the stars. No one on Earth, including governments,  ever hears about any of this, because the CU absolutely controls all interstellar information flow, and they simply don’t share it, supposedly to spare Earths billions from panic. Besides, since the CU is doing a fine job of protecting Earth and providing new cool technologies every once in awhile, who really cares?

Perry goes through all sorts of adventures, starting with boot camp and ending with an encounter with the Consu, a race so much more technologically advanced than everyone else that they could wipe them all out if they wanted to, but don’t. Instead, they fight them at their own reduced technological levels for their own inscrutable reasons. There are hundreds of other competing intelligent species trying to expand, forming alliances and breaking them, trading and warring, like a 19th Century Europe or ancient Greek city-state colonial competition multiplied exponentially and gone mad.

The book dwells only minimally on fantastic technological details, and is a very fast read. One important subplot is Perry meeting a woman who was cloned in his dead wife’s image, but who has no memory of her, which leads us into the second book, The Ghost Brigades.

The woman in question, named Jane Sagan, is a brand new personality created by the activation of Perry’s wife’s clone, without the consciousness transfer. She’s only about four years old, but has an adult body. She, and others like her, or even more genetically enhanced than Perry’s people, and compose the CDF Special Forces. They do the dirty deeds even the regular CDF won’t do, and do them well. They are the perfect soldiers, though they resent the condescension they receive from the regular CDF soldiers because, well, they’re still just basically children. They get the same contract the regular Earthborn CDF soldiers get though, and can get a normal human body and become a colonist after ten years, though few of them take it. You really have to read the books to understand why; I’ve got to save some space here.

Jane is the protagonist in The Ghost Brigades,  her platoon sent to foil a nefarious plot by an unmodified human, one Charles Boutin, to betray and potentially destroy the rest of humanity by giving the gift of consciousness to another species, the Obin, who were given intelligence but no sense of self for God knows what reason my the mysterious Consu, who ally with two other species to wipe out the Colonial Union. It’s another great, very fast-moving yarn, filled with wry humor. Boutin is defeated, his daughter Zoe survives and is taken back to the CU by Jane, and at the end we learn about something called the Conclave, an alliance of races which, according to the CU, is determined to wipe out humanity.

In the final book, The Last Colony, John Perry and Jane Sagan are married, their consciousnesses transferred to cloned normal human bodies, and happily living with their adopted daughter on a colony world called Huckleberry, of all things, even though most of its inhabitants are descended from Indians, on of whom is a delightfully argumentative lesbian named Savitra. Perry and Sagan are tapped by the CU, and specifically by the commanding general of the Special Forces, to head a new colony called Roanoke. The name is not coincidental.

The Conclave, you see, has vowed to destroy any new colony established by any race other than a member of the conclave, according to the CU. But no one outside of the CU’s upper echelons, and Jane, has ever heard of the conclave due to their control of information. Roanoke, unbeknownst  to John and Jane, 2500 other colonists drawn from the colony worlds themselves for the first time instead of Earth’s Third World, and the crew of their transport ship, is to be hidden so that it can become a setup for the CU to destroy a Conclave fleet.

This happens, but Perry meets the leader of the Conclave fleet, and the founder of the Conclave, beforehand, and discovers that the Conclave is definitely NOT what the Colonial Union had described. Oh, no, this intelligent, compassionate alien wants to create a federation of different intelligent species in order to stop millennia of warfare and turn their focus to self-help and exploration. What follows is a brilliantly convoluted,  wheels-within-wheels, scheme to change the future of not only humanity, but everyone else.

The recurring theme of all three books is that absolute power corrupts absolutely, on several different levels. There’s lots of humor to lighten things up and, of course, detailed descriptions of various repasts that only someone in Ohio would write about. Personally, I hope Scalzi continues the series, even though he says The Last Colony is the last one.

I doubt it. Popular demand and all that. Anyway, check it out if you’re a sci-fi fan, or just like a good read.

Book Cover, fair use