Monday, December 14, 2015

The Speed of Travel and Civilization

Over the past few months I have been reading histories of travels:  Alexander's March across the Persian Empire, the back and forth wars of his Successors, the Siege of Vienna in 1683 by the Turks, the events leading up to the First Afghan War in 1841.

What comes across in all of this history is the amount of time it took to get from one place to another.

Alexander's troops marched everywhere they went -in some cases they were gone from their homes 11 years, almost always marching east until they turned back.  The Turks had to move their armies from Constantinople and the heartland to Eastern Europe and thence to Austria-Hungary; the amount of time it took to move them played into the available time they had to invade - and from the European Allies point of view, the amount of time it took King Jan Sobieski to march his army from Poland to Vienna.  And in the years leading up to the First Afghan War the travel the information gatherers of the East India Company made to gather information and then to return the information to the headquarters in Calcutta, where it was then transmitted by ship back to England and thence to the Board and the Government.

Distance and time.  Always distance and time.

We take this for granted of course.  It is a small thing for me to climb on a plane and in four hours fly the 1900 miles back to Old Home - or even to drive it in 27 hours if needed.  In 8 hours I can be in Europe, in 16 hours I can be in Asia.  Distances that took months and possibly even years to travel are now done in the relative blink of a day.

We take this for granted - and so we assume that it will always be this way, that it will take little to no time to go distances.  Governments and economies assume this as well, that goods and services and even weapons and enforcement can be transferred easily and quickly.

But what if this were to go away?  What if the nature of the movement of people and things were to reduced to what it was a little over a hundred years ago (not all that long in the scope of civilization).

4 miles an hours was considered a good pace for a healthy man; the Roman Army considered a day of 40 miles a hard one (based on the weight of not only the men but of the equipment they carried).

It is good to ponder the fact that much of what all believe they can do today is based on the speed of transport. It is also good to consider that, like most pieces of civilization that we have today, it is a fragile thing that if interrupted would quickly turn things awry.

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