A pretentious little article on a more philosophical aspect.


In a recent discussion group thread (which became dull through the application of bigotry and parochialism) the word invasion was bandied about quite a bit as was the question of language. Reading this it struck me that "invasion" is a very poorly defined term and the disputants were talking about very different things as though they were the same. I began thinking about invasions, and about refining the definitions, and, one thing leading to another, this essay was the result.

In any field involving human politics, precise definitions are too restrictive to be useful usually resulting in a myriad of classes of one. However too little precision renders discussion pointless. Analysis and understanding of the limits of an expression can be illuminating, and result in the development of useful broad overlapping classes. In the case of invasion there are, I believe, two distinct extremes which I will call the migration invasion and the administrative invasion.

The characteristics I define as part of a migration invasion are the presence of all layers of a society in the invading "force", not just the military and administrators, the slowness of the process and the almost total absorption and/or loss of the previous population and culture (including language). Examples of successful migration invasions are: the Anglo-saxon invasion of Britain as far as the Highland line, the European invasion of North America and the English invasion of Australia.

The Anglo-Saxon invasion took place over a period of 300 years +. It could be said to have still been underway when William the Conqueror invaded Wessex. The language of the invaded area contains very little of the original Celtic tongue, what there is being primarily recent borrowings. The core of the language (the basic everyday words such as the verbs "to be" and "to have", family people (mother, father child) and objects (knife, sword) are all Teutonic.

The characteristics of an administrative invasion are the limitation of the invading force to military and administrative personel (sometimes with their families); the speed of the event and the eventual absorption of the invaders into the local culture (including adoption of the local language). The classic example of this is the Norman invasion of England.

The Norman invasion of Wessex was completed in a year, the Norman invaders then spending time passifying the other kingdoms of Britain. There is little evidence of Norman French in the everyday words of modern English. It is however dominant in legal and legislative terms (parliament, jury etc).

These are admittedly extremes, but they are totally different and yet are historically described by the same word.

When we compare the two extremes of invasion there are significant differences in the cultures to which they are applied. Successful migration invasions occur when the culture of the invaded area is fragmented and anarchic. Such was the case in Britain after the Roman withdrawal; central government had broken down and local authorities failed to unite in the face of the Saxon threat. In North America, while some Native cultures were highly developed, there was no unity amongst them and once again the result was a failure to unite in the face of an external threat. By contrast the object of an administrative invasion has some form of centralised control, and the invasion is aimed at replacing the control. William of Normandy wished to assert his claim to succeed Edward the confessor. His invasion was aimed at replacing the saxon Harold and his administration as Kings of Wessex. His success at the battle of Hastings gave him administrative control of Wessex, but not necessarily of the semi-absorbed states of the North and East. Similarly the British invasion of the Indian subcontinent was strictly an administrative invasion, leaving the majority of the population speaking their original language, but using English for legal matters.

In contrast to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England, we should compare the similar invasion of what is now France by the Normans (Northmen or Vikings). Once again it was a migration invasion with whole families and villages taking boat and moving to the North coast of France. In this case, after initial success, the invaders ran against the organised and established Frankish kingdom and the movement stopped. Further, the pre-existing organised structures (trade, religion, law) came to dominate the life of the invaders, and they lost much of their own culture and were forced to adopt the language of the pre-existing culture. So the Norman invasion of France was a failed migration invasion.

By the late 18th century, migration invasions had become a thing of the past in Europe: almost every region had (or had had at one time) a strong central administration. As a result European wars had very much settled into a pattern of administrative invasion. In some areas (such as the modern Germany and Italy) administrative invasions were so much a part of life that the general populace almost seemed to ignore them, paying as little as possible to whichever set of taxcollectors happened to turn up. Napoleon took administrative invasion to its highest art, using the power of an administrative take-over to set up systems to supply his armies and minimising the drain on his native France. But this all fell down when he invaded Spain. The usual reason cited - the agricultural poverty of much of the peninsular - was undoubtedly a contributing factor but the state of the Spanish nation at the time is also significant.

The glory days of Philip II were long gone. The riches of the New World no longer flowed freely into the government coffers. The Spanish government was not only nearly bankrupt, but was inefficient to the point of chaos. Anarchy and local parochialism reigned. The provinces guarded their rights and priviledges greedily. When Napoleon imprisoned Charles V, and nominated his brother Joseph to the throne, Spain split apart. Provincial Juntas were rapidly set up and all the provinces raised armies to fight the invaders ... in their own province. The victory of the Andalusian army at Baylen, causing the withdrawal of Joseph's regime north of the Ebro, only seemed to exacerbate the tendency. If Andalusia could do it, so could Aragon, and Asturias, and Catalonia. Only after the defeat of the individual armies did Spain start to pull together and support a central Junta.

In the meantime Napoleon restored his brother to Madrid, and rode off satisfied that the problem was settled. After all, wasn't Joseph secure in the seat of power? He could send his officials out to arrange supplies for the army just like the Spanish government had done. He could send his tax collectors out to arrange income to support his government and to re-imburse France for the costs of the invasion just like the Spanish government had done. The provincial Juntas would fall into line now there was a central government again and do what they were told.

The trouble was that the provinces were more used to ignoring the central government than obeying it. The bulk of the Spanish army consisted of the provincial militias and there was no apparatus in place to support a large army. And tax collectors! They were lucky to get out of a town alive. Napoleon's administrative invasion was a hollow one - Spain was not an appropriate target and in fact would have been more susceptible to a migration invasion, losing province after province while the survivors applauded themselves on not being taken over - yet! It was like grabbing a fistful of air.

Thus the very strategy which made Napoleon successful in the rest of Europe, led to his downfall in Spain.

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