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A Pacifist History of Westeros: Gochenour Guest Post

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Zac Gochenour, who co-authors with both me and David, is also my go-to Game of Thrones savant.  Here's his reaction to my recent post on pacifism and GoT.


I think that your analysis is very much in line with Martin's intent. You might as well mention that Martin applied for, and received, conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War.
I think, though, that you give away a little more than you need to in the end. The world of GoT consists only of the main books and the "Dunk and Egg" stories taking place in the near-past, so there's not a lot of source material that "true fans" would know about. The wars we know about are:
1. The Andal invastion, occurring ~5000 years before Aegon's invasion. This war lasted hundreds of years and eventually displaced most of the First Men to the North and the Children of the Forest to Beyond the Wall. The North put up the most resistance to maintain autonomy from the Andals, and eventually the Andals relented (which is why the Northmen revere the Old Gods, etc). However, in the coming centuries dynastic marriages have removed most of the Northmen's distinction. The Rhoynar -- Essosi invaders of Dorne -- met with a similar result.
2. Aegon's War of Conquest. This works out pretty well for Aegon, but because of his immensely superior firepower, he was uniquely situated to make some long-run forecasts about his chances for success. For the smallfolk, there was virtually no long run change, but they were devastated by the war. The Kings of Westeros would have done well to simply lay down arms from the beginning. Dorne maintained their autonomy for some time, but some 150 years after the conquest they were forced to bend the knee as well.
3. Various civil wars during the 300 year Targaryen dynasty: the first and second Blackfyre rebellions, the Dance of the Dragons. The smallfolk certainly suffered, and usually the only thing at stake was who would sit the Iron Throne, Eventually these wars led to the extinction of the Targaryen dragons. The Reyne Rebellion against the Lannisters didn't end well for the rebels, as we know from the song. You can count the Faith Militant uprising among these conflicts.
4. Various wars against various "Kings Beyond the Wall," invading barbarians from Beyond the Wall. Its unclear what the real purpose of any of these wars was - ostensibly, to prevent the wildlings from raping and pillaging the North - but much of Jon's POV functions to show that there is a better way.
5. The War of Ninepenny Kings is a possible candidate for a war that ended well. Kings from Essos gathered under the banner of the last of the Blackfyre pretenders and were plotting an invasion of Westeros and won some early key victories. They were put down by Aegon V's forces.
6. Robert's Rebelllion. A good candidate on the surface, but doesn't hold up. As you've said, the reign of the Mad King probably wasn't so bad for the smallfolk, only a small group of elites. The catalyst for the actual rebellion was the "kidnapping" of Lyanna Stark, strongly indicated to not be a real kidnapping. Brandon Stark rode to King's Landing and demanded Rhaegar's head, and Aerys responded very harshly. Arryn started the war rather than hand over the heads of Eddard and Robert. That would have been unjust to be sure, but thousands upon thousands of people died during the course of the war. Eventually Robert, a poor ruler, is put on the throne. The power vacuum following his death is a major catalyst of the War of the Five Kings.
I think GoT is very much an anti-war story which plays on fantasy tropes about heroic, chivalric wars.


COMMENTS (11 to date)
John Thacker writes:
Various wars against various "Kings in the North," invading barbarians from Beyond the Wall

These are the "Kings Beyond the Wall." "Kings in the North" refer to the Starks, descendants of the First Men (who, incidentally, did bend the knee to Aegon without fighting after seeing what happened to the other kings.)

Zac Gochenour writes:

John: I can hardly believe I made such a grievous error. Good catch.

Daublin writes:

Great summary! How fun to have all of the wars listed in one place.

I agree about the overall theme. Martin has a clear bias--just look at the title "Game of Thrones". The public doesn't even *know* what is happening most of the time. Look at all the rumors that were said around the failed invasion of King's Landing. If they don't know what is happening, it's hard to see how any of their leaders are really going to deliver for them.

There are some exceptions. The Mad King was ready to burn down King's Landing, and the lesser Boltons are torturing people for fun. I believe an exception that Martin develops is that *really* bad leaders run the risk of an uprising.

To Bryan's larger point about war, the bankers are also interesting. Their calculating approach is much in the line of Bryan's ultimate argument for pacifism: they will only engage in it if they are pretty sure it will increase their bottom line. I dare say, of all the powers vying for influence, the bankers seem best poised to actually improve the lot of the little folk. Good business practices are good for everyone.

Vaniver writes:

Also about Robert's Rebellion: note that it killed Rhaegar, who was totally awesome and would have been a marvelous king. Everyone (but Robert) would have been better off if Aerys II had been assassinated or "voluntarily" abdicated.

MikeDC writes:

Could we define exactly what we mean by "war" and "ending well"?

Are we talking about a formal conflict, or series of conflicts? Talking about the Andal Invasion as a single event sounds preposterous.

Economically, we should be judging war for the participants not just based on their outcomes but their opportunity costs. I see very little of this.

From what I've read, Aegon's Conquest seems like it might have been "good war" for smallfolk in practice since:
1. Being united under a single king was good because prior the seven kingdoms were almost always at war with each other. After, they had like a hundred years of peace.
2. Aegon killed off Harren the Black, who basically enslaved a big chunk of the populace and used resources to building monuments to himself.
3. The North, the Vale, and the Stormlands?) actually submitted peacefully and largely avoided open warfare.
4. Dorne waged a successful guerilla warfare campaign to stay independent, then peacefully entered the kingdom via marriage of the royal houses.

I agree with the bottom line that in general, war is a bad thing in Westeros, but it's less than obvious on a case by case basis how any individual should answer the Fight/Flee/Defend question.

Hazel Meade writes:

Is anyone else a subscriber to the theory that Jon Snow is actually Lyanna's son by Rhaegar ?

I thought it was hinted at rather strongly.

Michael Laurenzano writes:

The Greyjoy rebellion is conspicuously absent from the list.

Zac Gochenour writes:

The Greyjoy rebellion can be counted among the various civil wars and uprisings that were put down, resulting in some great expense for the crown, lots of death, and no change in the status quo.

edd storyman writes:

What would GoT be without war/conflict ?

A too darn happy place.

MikeDC writes:

@ Zac Gochenour

The Greyjoy rebellion can be counted among the various civil wars and uprisings that were put down, resulting in some great expense for the crown, lots of death, and no change in the status quo.

So the Baratheon regime should have let them go rather than wage war to keep them in the kingdom?

But the Greyjoys shouldn't have waged a war of independence in the first place?

It's obvious that two yes answers is not an equilibrium outcome, and thus, it's obvious that this is not a world teaching a pacifistic lesson.

David Levenstam writes:
Hazel Meade writes: Is anyone else a subscriber to the theory that Jon Snow is actually Lyanna's son by Rhaegar ?

I thought it was hinted at rather strongly.

I think so too, Hazel. Maybe I should say, "I hope so." :-D

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