British History, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

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Appendix 9: Modern Parallels for the Defeat of Cadwallon

Fabio P. Barbieri


If the war of Cadwallon against Northumbria was in fact, as I argue, a campaign of national liberation on the part of a conquered British Christian majority against an English conquering minority, the question must be asked: how come that the stronger army, supported by the bulk of the population, suffered a complete and final defeat, followed by the fall of the Gododdin and by fifty years of Northumbrian domination from Chester to Caithness?

There is something familiar about the sequence of events: we have seen something very similar happen in Rwanda recently.  The larger Hutu group, encouraged by a leadership ideologically committed to extermination - and even by a considerable amount of supposedly Christian priests and nuns! - started the deliberate genocide of the smaller but socially dominant Tutsi group.  But within a few months, and in spite of the death of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, a motivated and disciplined Tutsi force swept back into the country and drove the Hutu leadership permanently out.  The parallels are almost eerie; especially in the unusual reversal of the common historical fact that, in a campaign (as opposed to a single battle) a good big army tends to beat a good little army.  In both Rwanda and Northumbria, the genocidal forces of the majority were decisively routed, over a large territory, by the forces of the minority, apparently without chance of reversal.

It may be that the activity of genocide sapped the discipline of the troops.  It certainly did so with the German troops in Russia, in spite of a tradition of efficient service and sound organization.  A.&J.TUSA, Nuremberg, London 1995, 164, Colonel Lahousen's testimony: "these matters [the orders for extermination, and their application] had a most undesirable effect on the troops"; an effect detailed in RICHARD OVERY, Why the Allies won, London 1995, 304.  The effects of systematized brutality on the German troops performing it “were [almost] entirely negative.  The criminalization of warfare produced a growing indiscipline and demoralization among the German forces themselves.  The German army shot 15,000 of their own number, the equivalent of a whole division.  A further 23,000 were sentenced to long prison terms, and another 404,000 to shorter prison terms or penal battalions. [This was, in proportion], higher than... for the Red Army, 3.3 per cent against an estimated 1.25 per cent. Desertion or refusal to obey orders increased as the war went on, and the law of the jungle seeped into the military structure itself", setting soldier against soldier. As for Rwanda, I do not know enough to be sure; but TV pictures of the naked, drunken, exhibitionistic soldiers of the defeated government, taunting the disciplined uniformed troops of the current government across barbed wire, made for some striking images.

In all these cases, we see that the genocidal views pertain not only to what might be called the mob, but radiate from the intellectual leadership of society. A dominant literary culture - such as that of the voelkisch and immoralistic nationalists of pre-WWII Germany from which Hitler himself sprung (the best guide remains AUREL KOLNAI, The war against the West, London 1938 – a masterpiece in desperate need of reprinting); or that of the radio stations and other media in Rwanda which encouraged the massacre of Tutsis; or the exterminating attitudes of N in seventh-century Britain - wallows in fantasies of mass murder and organized brutality as the path to supremacy for one's people. But in fact people do not react well to performing - as much as to suffering - the kind of atrocities that their literary persons and those they influence love to imagine, and armies asked to act as criminal hordes tend to degenerate. It is a curious fact that the most potent force for generating a corrupting and counter-productive immoralism in a society often tends to be, not the political or military or business elites that might be expected to profit most from it, but its learned classes.

History of Britain, 407-597 is copyright 2002, Fabio P. Barbieri. Used with permission.

Comments to: Fabio P. Barbieri


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