Ordeal by War
In the centralized perspective, there is never any doubt concerning the outcome of a war. The winner is known before the battle takes place: the enemy's army is so inferior in quality that it is impossible for him to make up for this by numbers or deception. What takes place is not a clash of two contraposed forces, but the submission of an inferior to a superior world. The two adversaries cannot even meet or fight; we have no real battles, only flights and massacres.
By contrast, in the symmetrical view of war the two adversaries are on the same level: which prevails is a matter of degree, not quality. 1 And the balance of forces is tested from time to time in order to establish where the boundary between the two spheres is located, or who is the overlord of a disputed territory:
When Muwatalli, uncle of my Sun, became king, the men of Amurru broke the loyalty and told him: ‘We were your servant by our own will, now we are no longer your servants’, and they went into servitude to Egypt. Then Muwatalli and the king of Egypt fought each other for the men of Amurru. 2
Here, the issue of war is uncertain: battles take place precisely to determine the winner, and thereafter to arrange matters accordingly. It is frankly admitted that ‘our’ political or military formation may win or lose with equal probability. The Hittites’ vassals are presumed to think: ‘(True,) I am bound to the oath and treaty; but I do not know whether they (= the Hittites) will defeat the enemies, or the enemies will defeat them.’ 3 Even in contexts requiring a display of maximum self-confidence, victory is seen as just one possibility: ‘If perhaps in the future the Great King overcomes these kings, then the Great King will give you a sealed treaty