Continental Circumstance

Continental Circumstance

The Eurasian landmass is gargantuan. Stretching from the Cliffs of Moher in Western Ireland to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam to the port of Aden in Yemen, the ecological, biological and geographical variety available is astounding. This landmass is a combination of the continents of Europe and Asia, but if one were to look at a map of the tectonic plates that make up the surface of Earth, considering Europe a continent would seem nonsensical. It is part of the same tectonic plate as the majority of Asia; meanwhile India and Arabia both have their own tectonic plates but are still considered part of Asia.

This is because our definition of “continent” is based on a cultural divides rather than continental divides, and as Europe dominated the era previous to ours, they determined what constitutes a continent. Europeans set themselves apart from the other forms of man by holding themselves apart from the rest of Eurasia. But why was it Europe that dominated to the point where it could label continents? Why not China or India?

“Asia” originally corresponded to a section of modern-day Turkey. Eventually under dominion of the Persian Empire, this land was contrasted with the Greek city-states that would be the foundation for European identity. When Alexander the Great began his conquests to the east, the title of “Asia” came to encompass everything to the east.

Much, but not all, of what would come to be known as Europe was brought under control of the Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire fell in Western Europe many groups and individuals tried to take the mantle of Emperor of Rome. Charlemagne would eventually be crowned by the Pope, which was notable because he was descended from people who were decidedly un-Roman. The Franks were a Germanic tribe from the other side of the Rhine, and for most of their history were not part of Roman Europe. The Frank’s assimilation into the Roman system, followed by their Christianization and conquest of Germany, spread and entrenched the Roman traditions of Europe into places they had not been before.

But Charlemagne was not able to fully unite Europe. When he died, his empire was split between his grandchildren due to the secession idea known as gavelkind, which functioned exactly like a modern inheritance split among a family would work. Between Charlemagne and Napoleon, nobody would come close to uniting Europe - for a millennium Europe was fractured between competing Kings and Warlords grinding in constant warfare between each other, pouring their potential and capital into gains that would likely be lost in the next generation due to gavelkind secession.

This constant state of war required technological progress - falling behind in an arms race is an easy way to lose everything your people had, and as militias transitioned into men-at-arms transitioned into mercenary companies transitioned into regiments transitioned into corps, the military technological gap between Europe and the rest of the world widened. By 1500, Europe propelled its conquests across the oceans so that European powers could have more resources to fight each other. Europe didn’t conquer because it was united; it conquered because it was divided.

Contrast this with the imperial legacy of China. Ancient China only took up a fraction of what we know as China today, but the imperial control would expand in all directions with subsequent dynasties. And whenever a dynasty would expand, it would bring along administrators that would incorporate the new locale into the imperial system. Dynasties such as the Jin, the Yuan and the Manchu would be founded by invaders, but each time the invaders would utilize the same administrative system and eventually be assimilated into Chinese culture.

While civil wars would reach absurd levels of horror and butchery, the relatively unified nature of China meant that the frequency of war that was seen in Europe was not equaled here. China did have periods of being expansion-minded, but after extending control into the Tarim Basin and the dissolution of Zheng He’s fleet, China turned inward until the Opium Wars.

India is another part of Eurasia that deserves special attention. It was never unified in the way that China was, and didn’t have the sophisticated administrative state that China was able to develop and maintain. But India did have several dynasties and empires that held sovereignty over a substantial portion of the continent - the Maratha Confederacy, the Delhi Sultanate, the Gupta Empire, the British Raj, the Mughal Empire and that Maurya Empire all had at least 75% of India under their control at some point. In comparison, the Roman Empire never controlled 50% of Europe.

It is difficult, if possible at all, to make comparisons between a subcontinent’s total military spending through history. But it is a reasonable assumption that the subcontinent with more infighting will be filled with people trying to be the best at fighting. If this is the case, than the reason for European global supremacy can be exemplified with JK Simmons’ character in Whiplash - trauma is the forge of greatness.

But all greatness ends, and Europe’s control over world events is much weaker then it has been for the last few centuries. We may not be able to undo all the effects of imperialism, but it shouldn’t be hard to point out legacies of imperialism which are objectively nonsensical. Calling Europe a continent while lumping China, India, and Arabia together as “Asia” is absurd. Either consider the latter three continents, or drop the pretense of European uniqueness.

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