The Muggles Would Win

September 8, 2007

I once got into an argument with a friend of mine as to who would win an all out war between the wizarding community and a muggle population that was fully aware of its presence (if not its location) and in a genocidal mood. He seemed to think that magic would put the muggles at an extreme disadvantage.

This is of course, utter horseshit.

In a one-to-one showdown, it is really a matter of context when deciding if a muggle or a wizard would walk away the victor. It is repeatedly and heavily emphasized that much of a wizard’s defensive capability is reliant on his ability to divine (in some cases more literally than others) what his opponent intends to do before he does it. For instance, learning to cast spells and curses without speaking an incantation aloud is considered an essential skill for higher-level magic dueling. This would tend to support the notion that if a muggle manages to get the drop on a wizard with some kind of ingenious muggle killamajig that doesn’t require the user to speak his intention out loud to use—for instance, a gun—then the wizard is pretty much screwed. This goes double for wizards who don’t know how to read minds, as they cannot predict the intent to pull the trigger until the bullet is in the air and thus have no time to put up a shield, and triple for wizards who don’t know quite what a gun looks like. And if the wizard is being hunted by a sniper, well there’s no contest.

On the other hand, if the wizard or witch knows combat is imminent he or can put up a shield before the shooting begins, or if he survives the first instants of a fight and realizes he is loosing he can always retreat halfway across the world more or less instantly. There is also the fearsome array of firepower available to magic users that mean more or less all of them carry around a six-pack’s worth of whoop ass in a single convenient can. These abilities are not to be scoffed at, and used properly could be quite dangerous.

Assuming of course that the witch or wizard isn’t vastly outnumbered, is facing his or her opponent face to face, knows that there is going to be a fight before the first bullets fly, and is talented enough to erect and maintain a durable shield while simultaneously dealing out reasonably dangerous retaliation.

And that’s just the one-on-one scenario.

Harry Potter is one of 5 male Gryffindors in his class year at Hogwarts. There is nothing in the text that indicates this is abnormal. If we assume that the same or very similar is likely true of the female Gryffindors of Harry’s age, and that Harry’s class year is not particularly smaller or larger than normal, that gives us roughly 70 Gryffindors. All indications are that the students of Hogwarts are evenly distributed among the 4 Houses, which gives us approximately 280 students. Hogwarts is the only school of witchcraft and wizardry in the UK, and no mention is ever made of home schooling, so if it occurs among the wizarding community it must be a fringe practice. There is no mention of a recent baby boom or any major “empty” generations of very low population, so this is likely not an unusual number of students to be attending Hogwarts. Perhaps the first Voldemort war caused sufficient casualties to reduce the magical population to such an extent that school attendance for the subsequent decade and a half or so would be noticeably down, but if so nobody ever mentions this, which would be pretty odd when you consider everyone from a magical family would have had to have lost at least one family member to the war for this to be the case. In fact, Voldemort’s second campaign is marked by an aversion to mass casualties among the pure-blood segment of the population, with Voldemort preferring intimidation, coercion, and mind control to enforce his bigotry on others. So we can safely say that the student population of Hogwarts during Harry’s school career is more or less representative, numbers-wise at least. And we can further say that the portion of the magical community that is too young to attend Hogwarts (that is, between the ages of 0 and 10 or 11) is unlikely to be much more than half-again as many as are currently enrolled in any given year, or about 420 children. So the underage magical community in the UK is approximately 700 individuals, and that’s being generous and including all the muggle-borns as well. Using some very rough math based on calculating the percentage of the population of the city I used to live in that is comprised of students enrolled in its public school system, I arrived at a portion of about 17.5%, or about 5 and a half adults for every student. This of course fails to take into account any number of demographic peculiarities, so let’s be generous and give all the students at Hogwarts 7 adult counterparts, if for no other reason than 7 is a meaningful number in the series. That’s still less than 5,000 witches and wizards.

There are 60 million muggles in the UK. That means that it is likely that no more than 00.0083% of Britons have any magical ability whatsoever.

This completely lopsided demographic is not depicted as being the result of British witches and wizards being unusually scarce. Also it should be noted that we only ever hear of two other wizarding schools, one of which seems to serve all of Eastern Europe all by itself, and that Voldemort—who is only concerned with conquering the British magical government—is described as a threat to the entire wizarding world, it could be argued that the British either have an unusually large population of wizards and witches, or that their population is in some way particularly important (or equally likely, JK Rowling is simply Anglo-centric). So again for the sake of generosity, let us assume that the British demographics are—despite the circumstantial evidence to the contrary—not remarkable, and that .0083% of the world’s population are magic users. That gives us a bit more than half a million witches and wizards living in a world populated by 6.6 billion muggles.

Now is a convenient time to mention that muggles spend a great deal of time and energy on building and maintaining militaries, almost all of which commonly field enough soldiers that 200 heavily armed men is considered a small deployment, while witches and wizards don’t seem to go to war often enough to warrant anything more than a police force that has such a small presence that Harry doesn’t learn of it until he’s a 3-year veteran of the magic world and which needs to be augmented by upstanding citizens in times of crisis. Likewise, there doesn’t seem to be much thought in the wizarding community on how to protect against nerve gas, shrapnel, napalm, or any of the other methods of mass-scale death that muggles are so fond of.

And all of which goes to prove my initial point that started this argument so long ago that the Statute of Secrecy wasn’t about things being “easier” or more “convenient” for all involved if the witches and wizards hid from the muggles; it was about the magical community’s very justified fear of total annihilation at the hands of a muggle community that could become unified and enraged at any moment for any reason from justified outrage of at a “prank” (wizard and witches seem to find aggravated assault and attempted murder funny) or simple xenophobia and the fear of power.


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