Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘soldiers’ lot’


A Wildly Unstable Environment

…[The] soldier’s view [on a battlefield] will also be much more complicated than the commander’s. The latter fights his battle in a comparatively stable environment—that of his headquarters, peopled by staff officers who will, because for efficiency’s sake they must, retain a rational calm; and he visualizes the events of and parties to the battle, again because for efficiency’s sake he must, in fairly abstract terms…. The soldier is vouchsafed no such well-ordered and clear-cut vision. Battle, for him, takes place in a wildly unstable physical and emotional environment; he may spend much of his time in combat as a mildly apprehensive spectator, granted, by some freak of events, a comparatively danger-free grandstand view of others fighting; then he may suddenly be able to see nothing but the clods on which he has flung himself for safety, there to crouch—he cannot anticipate—for minutes or for hours; he may feel in turn boredom, exultation, panic, anger, sorrow, bewilderment, even that sublime emotion we call courage….

John Keegan, The Face of Battle, p. 47

Emphasis mine.

The Despised Foot Soldier

Protected by plate armor and the pride of chivalry, the noble felt himself invulnerable and invincible and became increasingly contemptuous of the foot soldier. He believed that commoners, being excluded from chivalry, could never be relied upon in war. As grooms, baggage attendants, foragers, and road-builders—the equivalent of engineer corps—they were necessary, but as soldiers in leather jerkins armed with pikes and billhooks, they were considered an encumbrance who in a sharp fight would “melt away like snow in sunshine.” This was not simple snobbism but a reflection of experience in the absence of training. The Middle Ages had no equivalent of the Roman legion. Towns maintained trained bands of municipal police, but they tended to fill up their contingents for national defense with riff-raff good for nothing else. Abbeys had better use for their peasants than to employ their time in military drill. In any epoch the difference between a rabble and an army is training, which was not bestowed on foot soldiers called up by the arrière-ban. Despised as ineffective, they were ineffective because they were despised.

Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror, p. 89

Emphasis mine.

In Every Army There is a Mob Waiting to Escape

It is common to assume that battles involving masses of men engaged in close combat were horrifically bloody; in fact, they were rarely so, at least as long as the units remained engaged. When the infantry was arrayed in close phalanx formation, only the first two ranks could actively engage in any fighting, and then not for very long. It has been estimated that the lines of the phalanx could remain engaged in actual combat for less than thirty minutes before exhaustion began to take its toll. Men in the front ranks would be quite fortunate to remain in contact for half that time before being overcome by exhaustion. Moreover, until the introduction of the Marian reforms in the Roman army (100 [B.C.E.]), no army had learned the technique of having its front ranks break contact, withdraw in good order through the other ranks, and be replaced with a fresh line of infantry. For the most part, stamina governed the tempo of the battle….

As long as the men within the phalanx held their ground and remained together, it was difficult for any significant killing to occur. Even the cavalry could not be decisive against infantry formations that held their ground. Cavalry charges were inherently unstable to begin with due to the absence of the stirrup, and horses would not throw themselves against a packed wall of humanity, especially if the spears of the formation were raised against them. Yet, in every army there is a mob waiting to escape, and its motivation is fear. The real killer on the ancient battlefield was fear. Men in combat have their instinctive flight or fight responses held in delicate balance by the thin string of intellect. Continued stress increases the probability that someone within the ranks will lose his nerve and run. Sometimes the actions of a single soldier are sufficient to forge the onset of panic in an entire unit. Once the integrity of the formation began to erode, the ancient soldier was at very great risk of death or injury.

Richard A. Gabriel and Karen S. Metz, From Sumer To Rome, pp. 83-84

Emphasis mine.

Disease, the Wild Card of History

Disease has to be counted as one of the wild cards of history, an unforeseen factor that can, in a matter of days or weeks, undo the deterministic sure thing or humble the conquering momentum. History is full of examples. There was the plague that ravaged Athens for more than a year and led to its capture and the dismantling of its empire in 404 [B.C.E.]. An outbreak of dysentery weakened the Prussian force invading France in 1792 [C.E.] and helped to convince their leaders to turn back after losing the battle of Valmy, thus saving the French Revolution. The ravages of typhus and dysentery are the hidden story of Napoleon’s calamity in Russia. The war-vectored influenza epidemic of 1918 [C.E.] may not have changed immediate outcomes, but how many potential reputations did we lose to it—people who might have made a difference to their generation? Bacteria and viruses may thus redirect vast impersonal forces in human societies, and they can also become forces in their own right.

Robert Cowley (editor), What If?, p. 2