Saturday, October 17, 2020

Not Zen 200: Introduction to "Sum of Evils"

Introduction: A Sum of Histories

The next entry is a NotZen story but it may seem a bit different from most of the others. Its events are set within a span of history that covers the human occupation of guano islands. Countries around the globe have been fighting over these islands for more than a century at this point despite the fact that they're small and usually unpopulated. The problem is that they are easy to monetize. It's a bit like finding islands made up of old coins. All you need to do is grab a shovel and start hauling away cash. 

The island soils are equivalent to money because the islands are made of fertilizer. In the 1840s, as the world began to enter another cycle of starvation (populations in particular areas routinely topped the harvest potentials of those areas), the discovery of fertilizer that restored farmed-out lands to health seemed like a miracle. The island soils not only made larger populations possible but, in time, made larger wars possible. The World Wars could not have happened without the mining of guano.

After the first guano islands were discovered and monopolized by aggressive, exploring nations, a land rush started. Most countries put out fleets to sea and authorized the seizing of islands in their name. The heyday of this period lasted roughly from 1860 to 1910 although the seizing of guano islands continues to the present day.

In the early days of the rush, islands were mined with slave labor. The island owners lured men onto ships or captured them at sea and conscripted them into drudgery that, very often, ended in death. Over time, the high death rates on the islands led to the adoption of more legitimate labor practices. Independent enterprises, however, which meant those without a significant government's protection, had to work quickly to avoid discovery. Even late into the era, the death of workers was not an unattractive option for some of the fertilizer harvesting operations. 

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