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Think of a post-apocalyptic world: 2% of the population survived, the world is in utter disarray - the works.

The entire populace is controlled by a special group of advanced people, who control all the resources. They live on a special island which houses them and all their special machinery (did I say they were special?). The most important part is a distinct machine which allows them to generate energy. Now, this machine is the sole reason that I have to make them advanced. (I could not have them discover it or handed down from generations).

In this setting, enters an ancient civilization (think elves) who have been put in animated suspension. They are a primitive race of people but they are highly skilled. Their method of warfare is ancient, they fight on horses using bows, swords, spears, etc.

Now in this scenario, I cannot have my advanced race use guns and other modern weapons of mass destruction. So how do I justify the absence of those weapons and when war breaks out between the two, as it eventually will, can I establish a common way of warfare?

Note: After seeing the various answers below, I would like to clarify one point. While it is true that all the violence that has happened up to that current point in the story, would make the populace pacifist but there is a sense of mutual distrust among humans at work too. For example, the advanced people which control energy would distrust the general populace. They would be under the fear that they would be overpowered, their position usurped and their technology stolen. So they have quite strong reasons to support weapons. This is the single strongest reason why I cannot justify it.

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  • $\begingroup$ If the apocalypse has been some time ago, most of the guns will have rusted to dysfunction. But certainly some will have been carefully preserved by gun crazy survivalists from the US or nifty hunters from Russia. After all, guns from 500 years ago still work today, if they were oiled well. $\endgroup$ – what Mar 23 '15 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ Is the war going to be fought on the island? One simple reason why there would be no advanced weapons on the island is simply because the advanced people didn't bring any, because they had no use for them. $\endgroup$ – Erik Mar 23 '15 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @erik: no the war is not gonna be fought on the island but rather away from it... On the mainland... $\endgroup$ – user96551 Mar 23 '15 at 19:14

16 Answers 16

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The apocalypse was caused by (or has caused) the release of advanced "nonlethal" weapons. Call them nanomachines, call them biotech, whatever.

These weapons attacked (a) black powder and more advanced propellants/explosives and (b) gasoline and similar refined fuels/lubricants. They are difficult to get rid of and can wait dormant for a very long time.

The special guys have maintained a non-oil-based technology. Existing WMD stocks are decayed and they don't have enough of an industrial base to build new ones.

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  • $\begingroup$ but I don't see the reason why the advanced race would destroy the weapons... If I am the one controlling the energy then I would definitely like some measures to make sure no one tried to usurp me and take over my position...I am taking about a sense of distrust among the humans itself which is quite common $\endgroup$ – user96551 Mar 23 '15 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ @user96551, the destruction of the modern weapons was not intentional. Some pre-apocalypse industrial civilization created a "petrol-eating bug" and a "propellant-eating bug" and the containment failed. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 24 '15 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ That is a real fear with the plastic eating recycling microbes under development. $\endgroup$ – RoboKaren Mar 24 '15 at 21:58
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Limit the advanced technology to the island.

The special machine creates a field which all the advanced devices draw energy from. There is no need for batteries that run down or explode when all the energy you need is available from a simple lightweight antenna. Sure, the devices stop working when you leave the field, but that was never a problem back when this infrastructure covered the entire planet.

Until now there has been no need to fight on the mainland. If anyone is foolish enough to attack, they can use their grid powered laser cannons, or simply turn up the local field power and vaporize the intruder.

They know exactly how to build a tank that will wipe out the enemy, but the island doesn't have an oil well or an iron mine. Before they can build anything, they will need to take and defend some territory on the mainland.

Upgrading the army will be a very slow process, and the elves will have the opportunity to see what is happening and improve their own army at a similar rate. Eventually both sides will have modern weapons, but there can certainly be a fairly long period where most of the fighting is with ancient weapons.

A key question is why they haven't tried to industrialize the mainland people before. Are they part of an interstellar civilization that has to follow certain non-interference rules? Are they religiously against spreading technology, but forced into it by the arrival of the elves? Are they in a sort of Cold War with the mainlanders, both sides unable to attack the other?

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  • $\begingroup$ Having posted my own answer... I think this is the easiest solution. The only problem is that the advanced race will constantly be trying to build high tech weaponry. You can counter that, however, by making the weaponry that they know how to manufacture so high tech that it cannot just be built from raw material (aka, they need assembly lines to do it for them and the like). $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Mar 23 '15 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ @TommyMyron Extreme high tech isn't necessary - equipping an army requires mass production, and a single tank may contain as much steel as all of the primitive weapons in the world combined. The tank can defeat any force that tries to attack it, but it can only be in one place at a time. $\endgroup$ – Quentin Clarkson Mar 24 '15 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ I can answer the last question, due to the nuclear fallout, all the populace lives closer to the island... Due to radio active environment, people have abandoned most of the other areas and hence there was never any need..... How about that ?? $\endgroup$ – user96551 Mar 25 '15 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ @user96551 A small area can't support much of a population without using modern technology, and would be much easier to upgrade because you only have to build things in one place. It also makes it likely that they will never even meet the elves, who could be anywhere on the abandoned part of the planet. $\endgroup$ – Quentin Clarkson Mar 25 '15 at 4:19
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What if the island itself was the weapon that caused the apocalypse? Like a doomsday device that went off and only the people housed within the machine were not affected. So it would explain a race of people that live within the confines of the machine, not warriors but just those who hid from the war.

Then you bring in a clan of "elves" that are a more primitive race, that has evolved outside the machine, still lacking in technology that would have been destroyed by the doomsday weapon. So the advanced race is actually more fearful of the elves because the elves have been raised in a harsher environment (post-war), and therefore the advanced race may simply choose to stay within the machine rather than engage in combat with the elves because in a sense the machine itself is their defense.

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  • $\begingroup$ that is an interesting idea... I'll definitely consider it and see whether it would fit my timeline... Thanks $\endgroup$ – user96551 Mar 25 '15 at 3:40
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The best way to remove weapons from a civilization is to simply remove any use for them.

Defining a "weapon" is trickier than you might think. Consider that there are several martial arts which were built around the idea that commoners were not allowed weapons, so they found ways to use common items as weapons.

You will not be able to get rid of all weapons without dramatically changing the nature of human society (your book will suddenly turn into a utopia). However, if you're looking to get rid of the advanced weapons, you could be in luck. Over the course of hundreds of years, the knowledge of how to build advanced weapons would go away unless there was an active need to keep it around (Levar Burton taught us that libraries are powerful, but many important weapon making skills are learned through practice, not reading). All you need is a reason to make those advanced weapons less useful.

One solution is to have a less competitive arms race. If there is less of a need to fight for things like territory than there is a need for "upgrading" your own land, guns become less useful and a few generations will wipe out critical knowledge needed to make them. After the war breaks out, it will take time for us to reinvent our arsenal. Many weapons would never be re-invented, and other new weapons would come forth to take advantage of whatever was handy at the time.

This pattern could come from the machine itself. If the machine is programmed to try to bring back human society from the brink as fast as possible, it would encourage activities which advance cooperation rather than competition. Depending on how you want to set the book this could either be intentional (as a way to level the playing field when the Elves come), or accidental (the creators of the machine never thought there would be any interference, so didn't program anything to help survive a war).

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You certainly have a conundrum on your hands.

Ultimately, you have a ruling class (those that control power) and various factions of a lower class. Like the current reality we live in, the lower class will be more numerous than the ruling class.

When you consider what a weapon is, you come up with a simple answer... equality. A weapon is a tool that allows its user (or group of users) to kill the intended target while taking the importance off of the individual's (or group's) physical strength (to varying degrees).

A weapon is needed when there is either a, an initiation of force against a stronger, more numerous, or otherwise dangerous target; or b, a defense against force initiated by a stronger, more numerous, or otherwise dangerous aggressor. This covers hunting, war, defense... basically any situation which could call for a weapon.

Our current method of manufacturing our currently use weapons is both time and resource intensive. Our current stockpile WILL NOT LAST FOREVER. Without contemporary manufacturing of such weapons, there wouldn't be any reliably usable versions of modern weaponry.

This ruling class you have obviously controls the means of production (they control the power) so they could feasibly control knowledge as well. If you include a way of passively defending themselves (using said power source as a shield around their island) which needs a unique device to bypass (identification pendants or some kind of genetic reader), and you have a reason why they wouldn't need weapons, and therefore would want to restrict their usage.

All the lower class characters would need food, so it's safe to assume bows and arrows, spears, and other primitive weapons have resurged.

Basically, you don't have weapons because the upper class is more secure without them than with them.

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After the apocalypse, the ancestors of the advanced race adopted an anti-weapon philosophy, destroyed all weapons, and suppressed the knowledge of how to recreate them. Their descendents are not as pacifist, but they still have an antipathy to advanced weaponry.

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If guns have no use, they will not be kept:

  • Ammo and materials to create ammo are lost and forgotten, guns themselves follow shortly after.

  • Guns were banned, making it easier for the advanced people to control the populace. Since resources are created easily by the machine, guns aren't needed for hunting and [insert reason the advanced people don't need guns for their own safety]. Now technology is lost.

  • A new, cheap technology has been discovered (or is known by the elves) which makes guns completely useless in warfare. Or...

  • The elves are super-human and impervious to guns. New weaponry very similar to the weaponry of old has been created to combat them: melee weapons with [super-technology] (a material, or something like plasma) edges.

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  • $\begingroup$ Of all the points, number 4 send promising.... I'll have to see if it fits... Thanks for the suggestions... $\endgroup$ – user96551 Mar 25 '15 at 3:42
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Tell me if I am wrong, but from how I understand the question, you're asking how you can justify the advanced race using the same weapons of the elves. A lot depends on the question 'why.' Is it because you simply don't want guns in there? Or is it because the guns would wipe the elves out? The answer would be very different depending on which of those it is.

Now, I'm assuming it's because the guns would wipe the elves out. If that is the case, look to Marvel's Thor. The Asgardians use spears, swords, hammers, horses, all manner of primitive weaponry. Why? Because science has evolved (much like PipperChip said) into that form. So the advanced culture could easily still fight with swords and shields and arrows, they would just be technologically advanced forms of those weapons.

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    $\begingroup$ Ok... I will definitely look into it... BTW had there been any issue where the asgardian army has mobilized against earth... Not thor alone but rather the entire army... That would be something close.... Although the elf-like race would not be that advanced... $\endgroup$ – user96551 Mar 25 '15 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ Also your assumption that it would wipe out the elves is correct... $\endgroup$ – user96551 Mar 25 '15 at 4:08
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Go ahead and give your Advanced Islanders a full arsenal of high-tech weaponry and the will to use them. You stated that the war will be fought on the mainland, correct? It follows that your Islanders will have to transport the weapons to the war front, by using a ship/carrier for example.

Now, how to justify the absence of weapons? Have something catastrophic happen to that ship. Maybe an accident occurs, or even a deliberate act by a pacifist Islander to undermine the war effort. Perhaps someone from the general populace and sympathetic to the Elves colludes with them. They might be helped to launch a pre-emptive strike to in order to sabotage the carrier/boat used to get the advanced weapons to the battlefield.

With the warship and its advanced weapons lost to the depths, your two armies are now on a more level playing field.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this, in fact the daring sabotage mission could be an epic moment in of itself. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 28 '15 at 11:19
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Maybe your "Ancients" aren't as advanced as they appear. You say you're in a dilemma because they in all logic SHOULD have weapons. Distrusting the survivors before the elves ever appeared. Well maybe it's the same reason they DON'T have any.

Develop any back-story you want for the "Ancients" based around a culture of distrust, explaining why there are so few, they collectively have banished all weapons from fear of one another more than any other race (until the elves show up)

Then again that might not work with your story, but it's an idea :)

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Simplest explanation for not using advanced weapons is not being able to build them. This is a post-apocalyptic world losing some things is perfectly natural.

First, we can assume that pre-existing weapons stockpiles were destroyed or simply expended during the apocalypse. It is reasonable to assume nobody has access to large amounts of weapons initially.

Second, with that amount of population loss the economy would have collapsed. That would imply a near total loss of previous industrial base. Modern weapons require extensive industrial base due to the mass production of explosives and metallurgy with fairly stringent tolerances. Weapons industry without solid quality control is more dangerous to the civilian workers than to the enemy. Explosives tend to explode, after all.

Third, with heavy demands to simply survive, the first few generations would not have had a particular reason to expend resources to build even a small scale weapon industry. If nothing else the old stockpiles probably lasted longer than the actual need for weapons, so building new weapons would have been waste.

Fourth, there would have been a long period without external threats, simply due to that ridiculously high mortality rate. Certainly no organized attacks. Any wanderers would have been too awed by the technology to even think about attacking. So nobody would even think about making weapons. They'd still remember ancestors had advanced weapons, and maybe even how they worked, but nobody would spend time thinking about making some.

Fifth, the islanders have a static economy, no expansion to the mainland, no industrialization, they have what they need to maintain the lifestyle and technology they have. They do not have any idea how to rebuild an industrial base capable of building advanced weapons or even reinvent older versions such as black powder weapons. They are simply too conservative for that kind of thinking to occur. Or more accurately, powers that be realize that progressive thinking leads to expansion, which eventually leads to loss of unity as new settlements gain unique identities and become independent, which leads to conflicts, which leads to wars... Which is how 98 percent of humanity died...

So they'd have no pre-existing weapon stockpiles or weapons industry, would have no idea how to build any, and would be too conservative to look for new ideas. They'd probably just copy the weapons their enemies use against them with their own (small scale) manufacturing techniques and materials. Which was what was wanted?

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They don't have the supply-chains

The weaponry that a high-end technological society is likely to use is of an incredibly sophisticated nature. This requires the efforts of vast segments of society to produce and maintain, from the coffee the tank-driver drinks to the roads it drives on, to the spare-parts it needs, the ammunition, the refineries that produce the fuel, the oil-rigs that generate the oil for the refineries, the mines that mine the ores for the armor, etc. It takes literally millions of people to produce and maintain in operation a single tank. When the supply chains collapse, so does the technology that depended on them.

Simply having some two-bit solar generator or whatever special technology the super-special people have won't be enough of an industrial infrastructure base. Simply having the tank blueprints is about as much help for war in your circumstances as an equal quantity of paper in light-romance novels.

Rusty

Even if they inherited a vast amount of pre-built weaponry from the pre-apocalyptic world, without the infrastructure to maintain it, the tank treads might have rusted, the fuel might have leaked, the bullets corroded and rusted over the decades in the moist environment, etc.

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Having only 2% of the previous population, it's easy to justify the loss of knowledge to (re)build guns let alone massproduction to equip an army.

With the coming of the ancients, the advanced people will have to build weapons they know how to build themselves. You could imagine yourself or your parents or family having to make the best of the available materials.

Don't forget that ancient warfare is also developed warfare and isn't much easier for the advanced to build.

Defining order in the current advanced society and by what force that is kept will help you shape the weapons they already have.

Furthermore I would read the Dark Tower of Stephen King for lost/surviving tech and some books on history like Batavia from Peter Fitzsimons for social island dynamics.

Hope this helps and good luck! Frank Voors

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We Never Needed Them

It could just be the survivors simply though "why make weapons, when there is no one to defend ourselves against?" Now, this runs counter to a lot of peoples' assumptions about the apocalypse. Most settings assume that an absence of government structure will result in more violence. In the case of this setting, though, you can take a more optimistic view, shared by some anarchists. The view is simply that violence is something contrary to fundamental ideals of anarchism.

If your survivors decide that cooperation is better than conflict, as would be easy to do with only 2% of the world left, why would you go the conflict route? Maybe the survivors think the use of violence caused the devastation. Perhaps the survivors think that human lives are too valuable (right now) to eliminate any one person, no matter how terrible they are.

Warfare is About Adapting

There has been a literal arms race throughout history. Simple weapons and strategy were countered by simple defenses and strategy, which were then countered by stronger weapons or better strategy, which were countered by better defenses and/or strategy, which... I suppose you get the idea. You can see this throughout human history. Name a conquest or war, and you will see individuals and groups adapting or dying.

Obviously, some people may remember that they had weapons in the past, and may go searching for them. Some people may decide that they can use the weapons and tactics elves use. When it becomes clear that diplomacy is not going to work, humans will attempt to find another way or die trying.

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You are labouring under the assumption that advanced technology = advanced weaponry. This is simply not true.

Look at Earth's history, and how long it took us to get to the point where we could feasibly use gunpowder as a reliable weapon.

Our ballistic weaponry evolved something like this:

Flint-tipped spear -> Arrows -> Standard Bow -> Long Bow -> Crossbow

Though the Chinese and Koreans did use gunpowder, it didn't confer so much of an advantage that they could wipe out any force.

In fact this analogy is perfect. Read up on the wars between the Mongolians and the Chinese. The gunpowder tech of those days had one major weakness - speed. It was slow to transport and slow to reload. The Korean boats that used gunpowder weapons had to be protected by other faster boats.

LIkewise, making modern weapons, much less missiles and their ilk, requires many dedicated fields of knowledge - the metal must be strong, there must be a way to manufacture gunpowder, there have to be enough people to harvest raw material, sort it and process it. In fact I daresay there are few men even today who have knowledge of all these fields.

I also read of an Indian Mughal emperor, Akbar I think, who fought a war in the west of his kingdom against a certain people who used gunpowder. He won, decisively.

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The advanced race can't use weapons or they will be destroyed.

The inhabitants of the island know full well why they survived the apocalypse: the island was one of the few places in the world where there were absolutely no advanced weapons.

They also know full well what caused the apocalypse. Just prior to the near extinction of humanity, people had finally developed three new technological wonders: fusion technology, a quantum-computer based highly advanced AI, and a network of satellite sensors that could detect any weapons system anywhere on the planet. These satellites also contained a finally completed variant of the Star Wars anti-missile system. With fusion power, they could at last have enough technology to destroy any missile system anywhere on the planet, as well as to destroy, with pinpoint accuracy, any building or vehicle on the planet.

By this point in time, of course, drones and automated weapons systems had spread across the globe as the ultimate security force. Everywhere there were people, there were armed eyes watching them. Crime rates had plummeted and the world was entering a Utopian age. There were still a few small, heavily armed states with missiles, though, and those states threatened the security of the planet.

The new AI was to fix this last problem, and allow humanity to truly enter a golden age. It would man the missile defense systems to ensure that never again would man be able to wage war against man.

Something went wrong, of course. It always does. The space based lasers picked out not just the hostile armies and potential threats, but labeled every advanced weapons system on Earth as a threat and went about destroying them. The AI was good at its job, but there was a bit of collateral damage. The ensuing fires, disease, and famine destroyed the vast majority of the population. Small groups of survivors armed themselves, were identified as threats, and eliminated.

Those who survived knew they had one rule they must always follow: never wield a weapon. Anyone who so much as picks one up will be vaporized, probably with everyone around them, as well. The infrastructure of the world and all of its security drones were destroyed, save a scientific facility on one island where there was nothing that could be mistaken for a tool of war.

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