Tag Archives: military

Three Empires On The Nile: The Victorian Jihad, 1869-99

In keeping with a piece of advice from Ray Bradbury that has been making the rounds, in which he suggests that writers must have a slightly creepy love affair with books, I say emphatically that this week I am creepily in love with books about Sudan.

Today, I am particularly in love with Three Empires On the Nile, a brilliant, dry, inspiring and horrifying account of the colonial hijinx that led to the grotesque mismanagement of both Egypt and Sudan in the last part of the 19th century.

The book touches on the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire and the ascendency of British imperialism, with a cast of characters that includes a parade of colonial notables including Gladstone, Gordon, Kitchener and the corrupt pseudo-monarchs of the disintegrating Egyptian vassal state.

Its second half is concerned almost entirely with the rise and fall of the Mahdist State in what is today South Sudan; the bookends of the movement’s rise and fall were the massacres at Khartoum (1885), which saw the death of Charles Gordon, and Omdurman (1898), presided over by Lord Kitchener.

Expanding its scope to include the Egyptian, Ottoman, French, Belgian, and British politics of the time, Three Empires on the Nile is brutally sarcastic toward both Colonialism and Islamism in the way that only 100 years of hindsight can provide.

Filled with colonial pratfalls and oodles of Stupid Prime Minister Tricks, it’s a riveting study in Victorian politics as well as a solid piece of historical adventure horror…oh, and it’s also a history book, not a thriller. Then again, can’t it kind of be both? Hellz yeah, if you’re a Colonialism geek like me.

The 21st-century end of the Mahdist story, incidentally, is the Muslim Brotherhood, which descended directly from the Islamism that created that group and therefore ultimately Al Qaeda, and the coup that led to Sudan becoming the very first Sunni state governed by Sharia law.

But wait, there’s more; the British expeditions into southern Sudan were originally prompted by the slave trade, which was an atrocity perpetrated primarily by northern, lighter-skinned Arabic-speaking Muslim Sudanese against the southern tribal peoples, primarily Christian and animist.

Sound familiar? Why, yes, yes in fact, the racial, ethnic and religious factors that drove the slave trade in Gordon’s time are precisely what drive it today, along with the mass slaughter of Sudanese blacks by government-supported forces, including both Sudanese government troups and Arabic-speaking Janjaweed militias in Darfur and what is now South Sudan. (South Sudan seceded last year — successfully, apparently, with international help).

But what makes this book so enjoyable is the evident disgust it heaps on the political animals of Victorian England and the arrogant and criminal disregard they showed both for their own heroes (Gordon) and their subject peoples. Concerned with resources and markets, not people, Colonialists of this era often wrapped themselves in the mantle of humanitarianism in order to royally fuck shit up. I have no doubt that at times, they believed they had the best of intentions. Of course, the other side of the coin is the frank corruption and ineffectiveness of the Egyptian and Ottoman states — or, even more so, King Leopold, who never had any good intentions for his private corporate rule over the Congo.

The title is, I believe — like all the best history book titles — a double-entendre; “Three Empires on the Nile” could be the British, Ottoman and French Empires…or it could be the British Empire, the Mahdi State and the Egyptian Empire, which may rightly be called that insofar as its conquest of Sudan was, in the minds of its leaders, explicit imperial expansion. Corruption and Egypt’s dependence on Britain meant that it could never become a real empire — but one doesn’t need to read very deeply to see the similarities between atrocities of every flavor, and the irrelevance of all good intentions in doing anything more than justifying self-interest.

The book’s very last line says it all: “Today, the price of a child slave in Khartoum is $35.”

Three cheers for Gordon and Kitchener and Gladstone. Three cheers for Muhammad Ahmad, self-proclaimed messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith, and Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt. Now somebody stick a fork in our ass and turn us over, we’re done.


More Fun With Counter-Insurgency Aircraft

From the Flickr stream of the President of Ecuador. SRSLY!!!!!

Note — See corrections at the end.

In their ongoing quest to secure a US government relationship for their Super Tucano turboprop aircraft, Brazillian firm Embraer is partnering with American firm Sierra Nevada to compete for a contract to build 20 trainers and counter-insurgency planes for Afghan pilots at the behest of the American military, as well as 15 craft for the US Air Force to use in the same capacity.

First, El Salvador: The Brazilian Super Tucano is a turboprop plane designed for low-level, low-speed anti-insurgency and ground support missions. The El Salvadoran government was due to buy 8-10 of the planes, which were intended to assist El Salvador’s mounting commitments to fight drug trafficking on the borders, target illegal drug crops, and maintain security around prisons, as well as (to translate roughly), “help with security on the streets.” Creepy, much? (READ MORE)

Russian Space Plane Prompts Talk of a New Space Race

U.S. Air Force image of the U.S. X-37B before launch.

Flight Global reported yesterday on Russia’s announcement of a new space plane to rival the United States X-37B, an unmanned orbital craft designed to deliver payloads but not ferry people.

The Russian program was announced by Oleg Ostapenko, “the head of the armed forces unit dedicated to military space operations.”

David Axe of Wired’s Danger Room…(READ MORE)

Mexican Surveillance Drone Crashes in El Paso

Orbiter Mini-UAV on launch. Photo (c) 2005 Tal Tikotzki, from the Aeronautics Systems Ltd website.

Despite the hard border between the US and Mexico, El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, are so intimately intertwined as to almost be one city. They’re across the Rio Grande from one another, but they still feel bizarrely contiguous. Driving along the highway skirting El Paso, the delineation is shocking; at numerous points you can see the ramshackle turquoise houses of Juarez on one side and the strip-malls of El Paso on the other. In fact, the original name of Juarez was El Paso del Norte (which means “The North Pass,” to El Paso’s “The Pass”).

So it’s not that surprising that a Mexican surveillance drone has crashed in El Paso, Texas. It’s strangely telling that the model was an Orbiter UAV manufactured by the Israeli Aeronautics Defense Systems Ltd.

It’s as if the thing rolled off its assembly line wanting to be a poster-child of border-patrol militarization and globalization. Plus, the Mexican government originally denied the drone’s Mexican origin (READ THE REST OF THIS POST ON TECHYUM)

The FN Five-seveN

Creative Commons photo of the FN Five-seveN with a Sure-Fire tactical light by Malis.

There’s something fascinating about the trend in full-sized handguns in smaller calibers with extremely high-capacity magazines. Take, for instance, the Fabrique Nationale Herstal Five-seveN semi-automatic pistol, which uses a 5.7-millimeter-by-28-millimeter round, which is about a .224 for us Yanks. In addition to its reputed accuracy, corrosion resistance, and very low recoil (claimed to be 30% less than a comparably-sized 9, the big plus about the Five-seveN is, of course, that it’s the highest-capacity production handgun around. The eensy bullet means you can cram 20 rounds into a flush fit magazine, or 30 rounds into an extended magazine, assuming you work for NATO (or the local SWAT team).


Your Ride for the Zombocalypse

When the dead rise to eat your liver, tanks are one thing, but they’re of limited utility if what you’re shooting at is about four-foot-two, has pigtails, oozes green goo crawling with contagion, and despite a tendency to lumber with script-stretching slowness can still evade a turret-fired weapon. Who needs a 120-millimeter canon against the dead?

On the other hand, when the pustulating contagion pours out of the shadow government’s underground research facilities, or when the Omega Radiation pours down from the Death Meteor and cooks all you lackluster mopes with zombiwaves, or when the secret chemical ingredient that makes your breakfast cereal taste so delicious turns out to have wide-ranging side effects like sudden death and post-mortality mobility (and extreme hunger), you wanna know what me and my friends will be driving around in?

Assuming I win the lottery, it’ll be the US Army’s M1135 variant of the M93 Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Reconnaissance System, manufactured by General Dynamics and reportedly about $2.0 million a pop, which puts it within the extreme-contingency funds of even a modest lottery winner, right? (READ THE REST OF THIS POST ON TECHYUM.)