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Topic: Victor Hanson's and G. Parker's "Wstern Way of War" thesis  (Read 8134 times)
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« on: December 09, 2006, 08:03:58 PM »

"Western military practice has always exalted discipline - rather than kinship, religion or patriotism - as the primary instrument that turns bands of men fighting as individuals into soldiers as part of organized units."

This statement by Parker alone demonstrates serious absurdity that is extremely detrimental to any history-proper understanding of key concepts like "West", "kinship", "War” (an expression of a will-to-live inherent in every living unit, human or otherwise), "patriotism" and "religion."

It is an intellectual can of worms that can be attacked on many fronts, I am dismayed that statements of the above kind pass for scholarship nowadays.

At every stage of Western history these fundamental forces of life exerted themselves in a myriad of subtle (as well as those that are far from so) ways – for anywhere one turns - one finds any number of these (above-listed) ingredients mixed-into actions and intentions.

Discipline has been a part of any band of men who use weapons to achieve their aims, as one can find this easily by monitoring the prison inmates' discussions and their life-courses. To exalt a trait of training such as discipline is into something culturally-specific is sheer naivety.

It is doubtless that one can make a claim that what distinguishes a man of any historic Culture or Civilization different from the jungle primitive is, among other things, a distinguished measure of self-discipline, but to make a culture-specific claim to such a thing betrays a profound confusion about History's fundamentals.

It is obvious that Parker feels that he can just pick and choose from any period in history at random, helter-skelter wise, to fit any notion he seeks to make self-evident - this is quite an amateurish approach, such as his reference to the "invention" of drill shows!?
He makes a blatantly false claim that only "Europe" (as a European-American I can say that whatever he means by that is certainly quite arbitrary) and China invented the drill as a feature of military development. What about Assyria (especially that Assyria! which could put to instant shame any half-naked Greek sandal-wearing hoplite force to shame) and what of Babylon? What of the Azteks?

“Europe” was not defended from an invasion at Plataea in 479 BC. Europe is a cultural notion and a concept formed when men became aware of each other’s aims and only gradually in the late so-called "Middle Age" but certainly by 1648 (Peace of Westphalia) - and never before – much like the quarrelsome ancient Greeks became more aware of each other, more businesslike, resulting in the age of “Hellenism” following the Wars of the Diadochi that concluded Alexander’s imperial legacy. At best, Hellenism and Europe are quite analogous as phenomena.

For in fact, the ancient Greek world formed quite a natural geographic and cultural unity in the entire Eastern Mediterranean from Sicily and south Italy across the southern Balkans (which includes Greece "proper") across the innumerable islands through the Bosphorus, onto the Black Sea coasts in the north-east, and east into Ionia-Anatolia and Lebanon. What is meant by "Europe" today has zero meaning for the period in question and Ancient Greece has nothing to do with Europe except as a much-vaunted affinity by historically-savvy philologists who love to romanticize.

The fallacy of the Hanson-Parker approach is manifest in the very fact that over a 1000 years of Greek History is entirely omitted from this “Westernism” ideology because the  supposed Greek origins of the West skip the entire Byzantine Greek part of Greek history because the timeline somehow stops in the Roman Imperial times only to resurface in the non-Greek speaking, non-Orthodox Christian Western World of English speakers – who are entirely disdainful or ignorant of the Byzantine Greek history which is somehow NOT a part of the West even though its pagan Greek predecessor is !?

Anyway, Alexander defeated the entity known as “Achaemenid Persia” simply because there was no historical parity between the two (and also because he traveled through the blazed pathways of the pre-existing peaceful Greek settlement in the Persian Empire whose trail his forces merely followed East as far as it got) – and they were at different stages of historic evolution – and thus the expansive, blatant imperialistic urges of the one side (Macedonian) could not find an appropriate match or motivating force in the stagnant opposing side (“Persian”).
The Persian side was into maintenance of its control over a pacified and generally war-weary, exhausted population worn down by the long Babylonian-Assyrian-Sumerian-Egyptian history, among whom however the historic seeds of the rising new world-epoch were just beginning to sprout (the Jewish sects, the Chaldeans and the Arameans).

So a nearly finished historic destiny in its final stages of evolution attacks the weary old world dotted with weak new spiritual seeds (for, after Alexander, the distance is not great to Augustus and Trajan – the final shape of the Classical world) while the distance from the Zoroastrian Emperor Darius the Achaemenid, Judas Maccabeus, and King Mithridates to Jesus, Rabbi Akiva, Mani, the Sassanids, Diocletian, Justinian, Muhammed and the Abassids is quite great and wrought with variety.

As to why certain battles were technically lost – like Gaugamela – it could be accidental – after all – a few English cannon landed just in time at Acre to prevent Napoleon from continuing with his Middle Eastern expeditions and not for a wont of French leadership or skill.

Moreover, the Classical Culture glorified chance and accident – even had a goddess for chance (Tyche) – so it is undoubtedly true that Alexander’s conquest is as much owed to chance as it is to skill, if not more.

No army in history could deserve to be called “an army” if it had no discipline, so Parker’s argument is entirely fictional and arbitrary.

Furthermore, using Vegetius to demonstrate a continuation with ancient military practices just keeps the misguided analysis flowing, even if merely riding on fumes of wishful thinking grasping for accidental straws of meaningless occasion such as when Lothar I heard about Vegetius and ordered its analysis/reading.

The Germanic West introduced its own entirely special ways of fighting – which the Order of Teutonic knights quite clearly demonstrated in its numerous exploits in the East (e.g. the typical boar’s head heavy cavalry wedge-attack) without having to worry about conformity with some long-outdated pagan military manual.

After all, the Visigoths under their tribal “Koenig” Fritigern and his illustrious no-holds-barred wild cavalrymen Alatheus and Saphrax brutally annihilated a late Roman (in fact early Byzantine) military’s infantry force under the Arian heresy-supporting “caesar/basileus” Valens at Hadrianopolis in 378 AD (these Germanic horsemen in 378 were quite in line with the fierce tradition of Caesar’s Gallic campaign lifesavers – the 400 Germanic Suebi horsemen personal retinue that saved Caesar, such as when he was ambushed by the Nervii).

It was obvious that the tactics inspired by personal heroism and courage (evident in the choice deities worshipped by the frontier troops which were Mars and Hercules [read: Wodan and Thor]) which were the hallmarks of the entire northern Roman frontier wars (exhibited by both sides because most of the “Roman” troops were Germanic by blood just like their barbarian opponents) were superior to the outdated battle tactics of the Roman legion which was disbanded in the upheavals of the 3rd century.

Diocletian’s military reforms in fact reflect the need to adopt Germanic battle tactics of exalted cavalry steadfastness and personal courage (of the kind that the very unRoman character of “Maximus” in the movie Gladiator exhibited), evident in the new titles such as “Magister Equituum et Peditum Praesentalis” (the General of the Horse and Infantry Representative) in fact everywhere the late “Roman” military is promulgating cavalry over infantry. This “horsification” (so to speak) of Roman military started with Emperor Gallienus in the 3rd century (his mounted corps).

Whatever remnant of antiquated ancient Roman military tactics was employed by the “Romans” outside Hadrianopolis in 378 – it was thoroughly defeated by the ferocious and war-loving, rapacious barbarians – but this apparently did not prevent Vegetius from setting down his “Res Militaris” soon thereafter.

However, the Western 19th and especially 20th century – where mobility and annihilation-wars were the new aim of warfare could indeed learn from a comparative period in the Classical antiquity – and thus Caesar’s or Hannibal’s approaches could bear relevance, but so could also the approach of the Assyrians who were at this imperialistic period in their epoch too, and yet nothing was told or analyzed from their far more brilliant military experience.

It has to be remembered that the 19th century was a century of Romanticism, Nationalism and general materialistic misreading of History resulting in a poisonous concoction of misguided ideologies which would ensure that the following 20th century becomes the bloodiest one in all higher history.

Another laughable statement by Parker is the following one: “Yet the overall aim of western strategy, whether by battle, siege or attrition, almost always remained the total defeat and destruction of the enemy, and this contrasted starkly with the military practice of many other societies.”

What about the entire Western Gothic “springtime” from 950 until 1450 AD (and well into the Baroque) in which the style of war was invariably dictated by codes of Chivalry, honorable methods of true sportsmanship in conflicts and “Septem Artes Probitates” which outshone the comparably queer ancient Greek chivalric code described by Homer?

Parker had something of pertinent relevance to say about the later war-periods such as when he commented upon the need for money, credit and economic mobilization to sustain the wars of the later periods, which should all have a single generic name “Wars of the Contending States” (a corresponding period in which we live today).
He uses the example of 245 million pounds sterling as the British debt from the American independence war – but a better example would have been the cost of Napoleon for Britain that spent 1 billion pounds sterling out of which 835 million the UK government owed the public in 1815 when Napoleon threw-in the towel – and yet the survived Empire would soon pay it all back through an unprecedented expansion exactly as the bond-holders expected.

His continuing interjections of Greek examples are quite jejune and they make his text agonizing to read.

Hanson coldly dreams about “freedom”, “individualism”, “civic militarism” as being the forces that drive men to fight in a superior way (what else can one deduce from his thesis pivoting on these 3 factors?) and buttresses this with a certain acute feeling of the Western tendency to moralize its military affairs the world over, but forgets that this “right to wage war” evolved into an exclusive privilege of the Anglo-Saxon powers ever since Puritanism established the moral eminence of the Protestant world-aims.
The English established their moral imperative in wars even before the famous mythologizer of British-English past, Mountstuart Elphinstone (an able India administrator of Scottish origin) imagined that the British were the descendants of the lost 10 tribes of Israel (a Puritan myth). Puritanism was the moral backbone that carried the Americans to victory against the British crown and today both America and Britain claim this right without rivalry. Islam too claims a moral right to war.

Hanson calls it his “legal freedom” concept, which is overseen by those “outside religion or military” (as if their minds could not be driven by unseen or unexpected forces – such as the force of secular ideology which could be far more deadly than the force of religion) in the preface to his “seminal” work “Carnage and Culture.”

He apparently woefully misunderstands the extirpated but evident Classical mentality too since he uses it to buttress his “secular oversight of military” standpoint ignoring entirely the typical Classical deification of prominent men, such as when Brasidas was deified by Amphipolians (thank you Thucydides!), or when Alexander was being deified even while still alive, or when Augustus was made a living “divus” (the centerpiece of the cult of Divus Iulius) or when Commodus convinced the Roman arena-goers that he was Hercules etc. etc. etc.
He is apparently confused by the apparent lack of visible Classical priestly religious separation in the life of Poleis to the extent that the religious component seems almost non-existent in the Polis – although this was indeed apparently so only because early-on the Classical city-cult-religion merged with the Polis and its priests became city officials (everywhere in the Classical world of points). The Classical religion (a book about which has truly never been written) was a religion expressed through the ceremonial public worship and extended in fixed locations so that one had to worship different gods in different places.

What astounds me is that after all his linear postulates that distort the historic happening to the utmost – Hanson can still proceed to nonchalantly claim to adhere to that which he violated on every page of his preface:
 
“We must be careful not to judge the Western military record in absolute terms, but always in a relative context vis-a-vis the conditions of the times:” But then he also runs to the opposite pole and defends linear generalizations (causal generalizations which are foreign to a historical understanding).

But, generalizations in the sense of formological pattern-formations are indeed indispensable not only to the writing of History but also to its understanding – and in this latter part Hanson especially fails flat but can get away with it because there are no accepted rules of History-writing or History-understanding – it’s pretty much an academic Wild West still.

Today California must truly be too far away from Europe and times and places Hanson delves into. He should have lived closer to the vicinity of ruins of some of the places his fleeting historical glance picks out from the totality of being-streams to feel better that which he is talking about.

I truly do not see any significant way in which Hanson and Parker differ in the way in which they misread history for they both presume and find that there is a “Western Way of War” as they imagine it.
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« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2006, 08:05:07 PM »

Plus the idea of freedom makes no sense in the whole story except in the mind of a late 20th century person who lives in a city and derives his understanding of freedom purely from a set of relations common to his own life-experience.

The farmer-hoplite, earth-bound and suspicious of the city life like every healthy peasant - would have had ZERO respect for the intellectual value of the term "freedom".

Besides, how little respect the Greeks of one city had for the freedom of the fellow Greeks of another clearly came to limelight in the Peloponnesian Wars (and later) not soon after the Persian Wars: either put to the sword, sell into slavery or scatter around and leave the fallen city a stripped-down ghost town.


Freedom is only something that moves an intellectual who metes out these terms as favors to those whom he likes and denies it to those whom he opposes - but in every instance it is an intellectual quantity far removed from the duty-bound and essentially unfree lifestyle of the healthy peasant farmer. In fact - the money of the city - a true organ of expropriation of earth-bound immovable values (like anything rooted in tradition is - like the family farm passed on from generation to generation that is essentially priceless - or like those aristocratic plantations pf the Old South which ipso facto resisted the power of money of the North). Examples are many of this age-old opposition which invariably ends in the vicotry of the big city and its ruthless freedom from every tradition-bound responsibility.

If the hoplite fought for anything - it was to preserve his lack of freedom by having to struggle to survive on his nature-dependent hard farm life for which his Polis had nothing helpful to offer - evidenced by the typical Classical disdain for and lack of recognition of the importance of land management and any kind of system of irrigation.

I think that when Hanson talks about the ancient Greek hoplite farmer he is talking historical apples and oranges perhaps without realizing it because his books are aimed at today's urbanized audiences for whom such ideas are meant to have value and therein also hides his real intention - to teach the bored and generally freedom-unappreciative modern youths a lesson in civics.
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