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When people say that history happens in cycles, it’s not a new idea. Some cultures believe that the universe is constantly looping back on itself, in a quantum mobius strip. Others believe that patterns can be discerned and predicted. Karl Marx thought that history was a long cycle of peasant revolts, where the upper classes were replaced by those they had repressed, who in turn oppressed the new lower classes and were revolted against again. Others believe that specific events always repeat themselves - perhaps with new faces, and new weapons, but the general idea remains the same. Perhaps that's why Prophets are so easy to believe in - history is so generalised, virtually any prediction can come true given enough time.
Still, when you think of the events of the Halo universe in this context, there are some striking similarities and parallels which I find it hard to shake. And when I think about it more, taking into effect the context and history of the situations, I can see them happening in real life. Some of them are frighteningly real.
The biggest of these is the Human-Covenant War - and oh, so many parallels there, where to begin! The most obvious contender is the most famous conflict ever fought by humans, World War II. Here, we can find an almost exact parallel of the conflict, although not quite the one some people would like.
While it’s true that the American, British, and Commonwealth forces took their own toll on the armies of Nazi Germany, it was the Soviet Union that won the war for the Allies. There is little doubt that America and Britain could have won on their own - eventually. But without the Soviet Union, it would have been years longer, during which time Germany could have done any number of things - perfected the Atomic Bomb, for example, or fielded a vast fleet of jet fighters that could put the Allied craft to shame.
When you compare Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, there are striking differences. German soldiers were famed for their discipline, their high quality, and their effective tactics. The Soviet troops, on the other hand, relied of ideological zealotry and sheer numbers to overwhelm their foes, although they managed to field some equipment that revolutionised the nature of warfare. In their equipment, the differences are also noticeable - while the Germans were years ahead of the rest of the world, already having developed jet fighters, ballistic missiles, assault rifles and other weapons that would only see the light of day decades after the war in other armies, the Soviets still relied largely on tried-and-true designs that made use of what they had, but made very good use of it. There was nothing especially advanced about the "Katyusha," the rocket artillery that was so feared by German soldiers. But its use was devastating, both physically and psychologically. The T-34 Tank was the most successful tank to see deployment in World War Two, even though German tanks used superior technology, because its design was simple, effective, and cheap.
While strategically, we might be more prone to associate Nazi Germany with the Covenant; in this context it is the UNSC to which they share uncomfortable parallels. They are superior in almost way to their enemies – technological understanding, professionally, and tactically - and yet the sheer numbers and determination of the Soviet Union overwhelmed them until finally they were forced to surrender, hoping the Americans would be more merciful than the vengeful Soviets.
The progress of the battles between Germany and the Soviets has much in common with the UNSC-Covenant battles. While German-occupied territory had covered most of the continent, the Soviets conquered it mile by mile, leaving only destruction in their wake, executing prisoners and collaborators with a brutality matched only by the Covenant slaughter of human Marines and civilians as heretics and vermin. Little by little, regardless of whatever orders Germany's leaders gave to "fight to the last man," the Soviets pushed them back until they finally marched on Berlin - where they were only saved by the Allies distrust of their Soviet comrades.
There are even the "Wunderwaffe" Programs that Germany instituted, quite literally wonder-weapons meant to win the war for Germany, and upon which the Germans pinned much of their hopes. The attempts by Germany to develop an Atomic Bomb remind me of the UNSC's development of the NOVA, while its "Special Weapons Programs", such as the development of the SPARTAN-II and SPARTAN-III Programs, perhaps are the ultimate embodiment of what Nazi's, in their misguided thoughts, believed was the true potential of the "Aryan race". But "perfection" for the Spartans is not genetic or ideological - it is the result of years of harsh indoctrination and training, genetic and cybernetic augmentations and a fierce selection process that weeds out the weak from the strong. Perhaps the Germans would have appreciated the lengths to which the UNSC has pinned its hopes on Programs like the NOVA and SPARTAN projects.
The very nature of the Soviets also lends itself admirably towards the Covenant's makeup. Rather than being a single nation, the Soviet Union was composed of satellite and "puppet" states, sharing communist regimes and an interpretation of Karl Marx's ideology that would have made him roll in his grave. But that was about all they shared in common. Like the Covenant, it was composed of many smaller states, either willing members or bullied into acquiescence. Its fractious nature and the constant political rivalries between the individual Soviet states reminds me of the constant internal difficulties and conflicts between the different races of the Covenant - the long-held grudge the Sangheili hold against the Prophets, the burning hatred the Jiralhanae hold for the Sangheili, the detest the Kig-Yar and Unggoy hold for each other, and the latent desire among the Unggoy to break away from all the others and find a methane-rich paradise where they can just live in peace.
The Battle of Berlin has astonishing parallels to the Second Battle of Earth. By 2552, Earth is one of the last vestiges of human power, and is fiercely defended by what is left of the UNSCDF with a determination similar to that of the German defenders. True, the UNSC lacks a genocidal lunatic with only a basic grasp of strategy at the helm, but I'm sure the Covenant has plenty to share. The Covenant have marched across world after world, conquering all and leaving only molten balls of glass and ash in their wake, with a ferocity at least matched by the Soviets. And the eventual battle of Berlin ends in a similar way - the Elites arrive to save humanity. While nobody can say that the Cold War was as bloody as the Covenant Civil War, the way the powerful Allied faction suddenly split itself into two opposing factions’ mirrors the split of the Elites with the rest of the Covenant. Here, what's left of Germany represents the UNSC, with what eventually become the NATO member-states representing the Sangheili and the Warsaw Pact members standing in for the Covenant remnant. And while the Cold War was longer, it too ended in the implosion of the less successful faction - the Soviets/Covenant, leaving NATO/the Sangheili and UNSC as the dominant force in the galaxy.
Given the parallels, I wouldn't be surprised if the UNSC and Sangheili formed the future equivalent of NATO - not exactly joining forces totally, but working towards a common goal against the Covenant. If there is a Covenant remnant still out there, licking its wounds, then it will not be happy. And it will still be seeking to begin the Great Journey, something both the UNSC and Sangheili find unacceptable.
There are also other parallels. The Fall of Reach notes the most obvious one, that being the Battle of Reach and the Raid on Pearl Harbour. The battle of Installation 04, Installation 05, Installation 00, the Shield World, and half a dozen other conflicts share a common theme with the famous Battle of Thermopylae - a small number of elite soldiers standing against hordes of enemy troops, dealing devastating damage before succumbing.
The Insurrection in particular has strong parallels. The unpopularity of it among the UNSC civilian base mirrors the opinion of the world towards the Vietnam War, where people saw little point in shedding the blood of their brothers, husbands, uncles and fathers for a place they had never heard of, and which would likely have otherwise not affected them. Rather than facing a determined nation, like North Vietnam, defending an often corrupt "democratic" government, the UNSC is protecting its interests - its "empire", if you will, although the term requires the presence of an Emperor, which is thankfully lacking.
Instead, the actual situation is more closely linked to the occupation of North American colonies by the British Empire. Like the Outer Colonies, the American settlers initially just wanted fairer treatment and representation in the British government - they were, after all, a significant part of the empire, and should therefore be treated as such. And originally, the wars started as an attempt to get that representation through protest, and eventually armed conflict. But in the course of fighting, both the Insurrectionists and the American Revolutionaries decided that they wanted no part of the government that was so willing to overlook their desires and needs, and decided to secede.
And here, too, the Insurrection and the American Revolution share parallels. The colonists use decidedly non-military tactics, such as booby-traps and ambushes, rather than engaging the occupiers headlong. The Revolutionaries can be said to have pioneered the art of hit-and-run tactics in modern warfare, and without them warfare would be a bloodier and messier affair. The Insurrectionists too use asymmetric warfare, though in their case it seems more akin to what we find today in Iraq or Afghanistan - roadside bombs, localised insurgencies linked only tenuously, and "freedom fighters". In this regard, its unpopularity also mirrors the world’s opinion of the War on Terror as an unfortunate exercise in modern jingoism against a poorly-understood enemy where conventional tactics have to be rewritten. But even the efforts by the British to hold onto their colonial assets in North America were not well received on the home front, where it was generally believed that they should simply pull out and leave the colonists to their own affairs - an attitude adopted by the inhabitants of the Inner Colonies towards the secessionist advanced made by the Insurrectionists.
Even the colonisation programs that the UNSC put in place after the Interplanetary War are standard fare throughout history. Throughout the Industrial Revolution, it was common practice for Britain to transport shiploads of colonists to go forth and colonise the "new world" - not all of these colonists were willing, too. Irish land tenants unable to pay their rent during the Potato Famine were evicted and forced to colonise America. Convicts and criminals were shipped to Australia to unburden the overcrowded prisons of Imperial Britain. Overpopulation has resulted in colonisation throughout the centuries, and is perfectly plausible within the context of the Halo universe - where the stars are the sea upon which their ships sail. That colonies often become extensions of the original coloniser is not unusual - even the American colonists still regarded themselves as British until being so had gone out of fashion. And Australia and New Zealand are still a part of the British Commonwealth, with the Queen as their official heads of state. As such the establishment of an "Earth empire" is perfectly natural, and given humanity's historical reluctance to acknowledge the authority of anyone, the Insurrection or something like it was probably inevitable.
Even the Forerunners are not without precedent. Their initial attitude toward the Flood, a combination of arrogance and apathy, could be compared to that of the USA before their entrances into World War One and Two. Their staunch isolationist policies, where they didn't involve themselves in wars that they had no stake in, saw the British fighting their enemies almost alone, and it was only the sinking of the Lusitania in WW1 and the bombing of Pearl Harbour in WW2 that saw them finally enter the war. In both conflicts, it was painfully obvious the threats the enemy posed, yet both the Americans and the Forerunners hoped that if they ignored it, it would eventually settle down into a more manageable state of affairs. It didn't, and for the Forerunners, it proved a devastating underestimation.
Or, if you like, you could compare the Forerunners' unwillingness to combat the Flood with the attitude of nineteenth-century Britain, as Napoleon marched across the continent. While Napoleon built himself an empire, absorbing smaller states and declaring himself Emperor, Britain hoped that they could weather the war by not getting involved. They had their own empire - their own colonies off in Asia and the Pacific, which had allowed them access to vast riches, plundering it in much the way the Flood plundered its conquests for biomass. But as Napoleons ambitions grew far greater, and his attention turned to Russia, then still a formidable autocratic imperial force to be reckoned with, and the Prussian states, it finally involved itself in the war, believing the alternative was an invincible French empire that would eventually rival the British Empire in strength. The fact that it would be an empire was only a secondary consideration, when the ancient distrust and hatred of the French by the British, and vice versa with French regards of the British. In both cases, the Isolationist stances of the factions resulted in early gains made by the aggressor, as those who could stop- them chose not to, seeing which way the winds of war blew.
Of course, it proved far deadlier for the Forerunner than it did for the Allies against Germany or the British and Prussians against France. But then, so did Vietnam. For a long time, America provided only logistical support and training to the ARVN in its defence of South Vietnam. But as North Vietnam made more and more gains, America eventually became more involved, until declared war on the North. While it would be racist to compare the communist north to the Flood, as well as adhering to antiquated notions of a "Red Menace" and completely inaccurate in almost any respect, the US's attempt and failure to ensure the survival of South Vietnam can be compared to the Forerunners attempt to preserve the galaxy rather than actually defeat the Flood. The US could have utterly destroyed North Vietnam, either through bombing, concentrated assault, and such. But their goals were not to defeat the North, simply to preserve the South. In the US's case, it was political - nobody would have supported them if they became the aggressors, even less than they were already. For the Forerunners, it was theological - they didn't believe they had the right to wipe out a whole species, and they only changed their minds when it was too late. America's inability to take the battle to the enemy saw the North in a favourable position, where it could infiltrate using the Viet Cong, forming resistance movements, and then support them with heavy support - a similar tactic to that used by the Flood to infect Forerunner worlds.
The reasons they fought were also similar, at least in theory. The US fought to stem the perceived threat of the "Red Menace", believing the Domino Effect - that if Vietnam fell to communism, soon the rest of Asia would, in a manner similar to assimilation by the Flood. But the Flood and North Vietnam can in no way be compared - the North had no real intent to "spread the good word," instead aiming on reunifying a single nation split in two by communist-hating American politicians. The Flood, on the other hand, is precisely the type of menace the US saw in communism - pervasive, unstoppable, and unyielding. The fact most of the European communist states largely collapsed after the Soviet Union fell apart, and the majority of the remaining communist nations (China, for example) have since adopted an admittedly warped sense of capitalism, has no effect on the Flood. There is no conversion it can make other than that of foe into biomass.
And, of course, the famous Mantle that the Forerunners believed gave them the authority to oversee the galaxy has many parallels in Earth history. But Social Darwinism is the one that I find most similar - the belief that certain races of human were so superior to other "barbaric" races, they had an almost god-given duty to "educate" the heathens and bring the light of civilisation to the darkness of the unknown. The Mantle was much more benign than Social Darwinism was, merely allowing the Forerunners to act as an ancient equivalent of the United Nations - an arbitrator of disputes, and a protector of the weak. Eventually, however, the effect of the Mantle was not one the Forerunners had intended - growing too reliant on the Forerunners, their charges had no way to defend themselves from the Flood until it was far too late. Social Darwinism too had effects unintended - rather than "civilise" the "barbarians", as early missionaries had hoped, it simply crushed cultures and traditions that had held sway for millennia, turning tribes against each other, and giving rise to some of the most evil groups in history. The Nazi's and the KKK believe that the Aryan race is superior, and destined to rule the world, and that everyone else should acknowledge that superiority. The Tutsi's were encouraged by Belgian colonial overseers that since their features were more "European" than that of the Hutu's, it gave them the right to oppress the Hutu's until deposed, and eventually the Hutu's used this as an excuse for the Rwandan Genocide.
As I said at the beginning, history has a stunning tendency to repeat itself, whether intentionally or not. And the Halo universe is so interesting, so addictive and entrancing, precisely because it incorporates this tendency until we are left with scenarios that are plausible and often directly paralleled by history. The depth this adds to this fictional universe that Bungie has weaved is immense, helped largely by the believability of the series' events and history. The stunning wealth of history which the Halo universe has drawn elements from allows the suspension of disbelief to come swiftly and almost easily – it is so easy to see happening.