: New: Book Report: The Anarchy

It's a history of how the East India Company took over the Indian subcontinent. It's such a grim book; maybe it's a book to keep handy in case you meet someone nostalgic for the good ol' days.

How I thought the story would go: Everyone in the region was getting along just fine; then a bunch of jerk English merchants showed up with mercenaries and took over. A corporate dystopia hundreds of of years before cyberpunk; a steampunk corporate dystopia, as it were.

I had it wrong, though.

There were a few empires warring to take over India. The Mughal, the Maratha, the… uhm, the one in Afghanistan, just let me google it, uh, the Darrani empire, I guess? And there was at least one other empire. Sorry, I lost track. Whenever things seemed like they might calm down, some neighbor or other would take advantage of the calm to muster an army and attack the Indian subcontinent. That's an oversimplification, but it's not a huge oversimplfication. I thought this was going to be a story of evil European colonizers making trouble; but along with them were plenty of closer-to-India colonizers.

In the Caribbean, there were pirates and privateers; and there were clever people who used to be pirates/privateers with a high risk tolerance looking for something with a better risk:reward ratio. Surviving privateers and pirates had figured out something about moving trade goods in combat-dangerous situations; they'd created combat-dangerous situations. So they went to England, found some investors, and set up trading outposts in India, never mind that there were empires roaming around. I.e., they formed the East India Company.

Not all of the East India Company founders were pirates; there were politicians, too. And for the politicians that weren't company founders, well… The politicians (and, presumably, the ex-privateers) knew it was good to have a government on your side. So they handed out free stock shares to members of the English government. Later, when war broke out between England and France, those government members said it was vital that the nation send government troops to defend… trading outposts a couple of continents away.

The English troops showed up, fought some French troops (as you might expect) and then stuck around. There weren't necessarily French troops around to beat up on, but they could still defend these trading outposts from these imperial armies going around. So… the East India Company did deals, supporting an empire that would let them trade and give them a break on taxes.

And the Company kept doing deals. They hired mercenaries. And they got involved in these imperial wars. At first, they were always doing so in service to some local imperial ruler. But at some point, they stopped bother with this; and when Company troops beat up some empire's forces, the Company started governing the conquered region.

This period of warring empires was about 100 years. This was a terrible time to live on the Indian subcontinent. Soldiers fought. When the battle was over, the winners proceeded with atrocities: murder, rape, robbery. Even if you were on the winning side and survived, you weren't safe; in any battle, there probably wasn't enough medical supplies for all the wounded. Depending on how things were going for some empire, there weren't necessarily enough supplies, period. Instead of setting up supply lines, maybe soldiers were expected to raid for food as they went.

This was a tough book to read. Every so many pages, someone would win a battle and then I'd realize I was at the start of another catalog of atrocities. So I'd flip ahead a bit. I'm sure I missed some important details; I'm just as glad to miss those details, though.

The imperial armies weren't the only ones causing problems. Any band of bandits could claim to be forces of some army and stop paying taxes, steal supplies, or what have you. Who was going to stop them? The people you might normally hope would stop bandits were probably in some army, marching around somewhere else. Or they'd been killed; so many were killed.

Back in England, citizens were scandalized: A company was waging war; waging war was only for nations. I'm no fan of privatization, but looking back, I feel like focusing on the word "corporate" in the phrase "corporate dystopia" misses the point. Those atrocities were bad when carried out by corporate mercenaries or imperial troops. Anyhow, England, scandalized, eventually took over India from the East India Company; everything that happened afterwards was outside the scope of the book. Thus I got to skip reading about further disasters.

Tags: book brutal truth