Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: war

Talents Beyond the Mere Physical

September 26, 2022
Abbot:
I see your talents have gone beyond the mere physical level. Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight. I have several questions. What is the highest technique you hope to achieve?
Lee:
To have no technique.
Abbot:
Very good. What are your thoughts when facing an opponent?
Lee:
There is no opponent.
Abbot:
And why is that?
Lee:
Because the word “I” does not exist.
Abbot:
So. Continue.
Lee:
A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense but ready. Not thinking yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.
Abbot:
Now, you must remember: the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy. The “it” that you refer to is a powerful weapon easily misused by the martial artist who deserts his vows. For centuries now, the code of the Shaolin Temple has been preserved. Remember, the honor of our brotherhood has been held true. Tell me now the Shaolin Commandment Number Thirteen.
Lee:
A martial artist has to take responsibility for himself and accept the consequences of his own doing.

— “Enter the Dragon” (1973)

Japanese Sword Etiquette

August 31, 2022

To touch another’s weapon, or to come into collision with the sheath, was a dire offense, and to enter a friend’s house without leaving the sword outside was a breach of friendship. Those whose position justified the accompaniment of an attendant invariably left the sword in his charge at the entrance or, if alone, it was usually laid down at the entrance. If removed inside, it was invariably done by the host’s servants, and then not touched with the bare hand, but with a silk napkin kept for the purpose, and the sword was placed upon a sword-rack in the place of honor near the guest and treated with all the politeness due to an honored visitor who would resent a discourtesy. The long sword, if two were worn, was withdrawn, sheathed, from the girdle with the right hand—an indication of friendship, as it could not be drawn and used thus—never by the left hand, or placed on the left side, except when in immediate danger of attack. To exhibit a naked weapon was a gross insult, unless a gentleman wished to show his friends his collection. To express a wish to see a sword was not usual, unless a blade of great value was in question, when a request to be shown it would be a compliment the happy possessor appreciated….

The Overlook Martial Arts Reader, pp. 44-45

Why Muskets Supplanted Bows

July 4, 2022

…[The Native American] self bow and the seventeenth-century musket had comparable effective ranges (50 yards optimum, 100 to 150 yards at the outside)….

…For Amerindians, because the bow or the musket had to serve in both war and the hunt, something in the technology had to satisfy the needs of both pursuits…. A musket ball was less likely than an arrow to be deflected by vegetation, and it also had a greater kinetic impact on the target. A deer hit with an arrow receives a very deep wound…, which, though eventually lethal, might require the hunter to pursue the bleeding deer for some distance. In contrast, a musket penetrates flesh, shatters bone, and creates a larger wound cavity. It “smacks,” whereas an arrow “slices….” A military musketball at 50 yards hits a target with 706 foot pounds of kinetic energy. An arrow from a typical modern bow hits at 50 yards with 50 to 80 foot pounds of energy. This is more than enough to penetrate flesh and tissue and produce a killing wound, but it is much less likely to drop an animal in its tracks.

The musket has similar advantages against humans. Much of a human target is limbs, especially when walls or trees are used to cover the trunk of the body. An arrow wound to the leg or arm is rarely lethal, although it can be debilitating. But a musketball strike to the arm or leg may shatter the bone and is more likely to carry debris into the wound, lead to infection, sepsis, and death.… In the immediate term, a man with a shattered leg or arm, flung to the ground by the weight of a musket shot, also makes a better target for being taken prisoner…. Unable to flee, he becomes vulnerable and may hold up his fellows trying to carry him away from the field…. More obviously, bullets cannot be dodged, whereas arrows in flight over any distance (especially on an arcing trajectory) can be seen and dodged. Modern film footage of the Dani people’s arrow and javelin battles in New Guinea shows this process clearly, and numerous European witnesses commented on the Amerindians’ ability to dodge arrows.

Empires and Indigenes, pp. 56-58

Emphases mine.

Players of fantasy RPGs should note the quoted effective range for bows. Many games have much longer distances, but those are derived from battlefields where archers are loosing volleys at large enemy formations. Gamers should further note the easy of dodging an arrow at anything beyond short range.

The Terrain Is Not an Obstacle

July 2, 2022
Sergeant Hazard:
From here on in, you guys are Charlie. Glide through this shit; you don’t clomp through it. Feel the terrain. Feel it, don’t fight it. This jungle is not an obstacle. It’s your friend. Use it. Let it help you. Love it. Love it, and it’ll love you back.

— “Gardens of Stone” (1987)

Commercializing Armed Violence

June 2, 2022

Initially, the decay of primary group solidarity within the leading cities of Italy and of the town militias which were its military expression invited chaos. Armed adventurers, often originating from north of the Alps, coalesced under informally elected leaders and proceeded to live by blackmailing local authorities, or, when suitably large payments were not forthcoming, by plundering the countryside. Such “free companies” of soldiers became more formidable as the fourteenth century [C.E.] advanced. In 1354, the largest of these bands, numbering as many as 10,000 armed men, accompanied by about twice as many camp followers, wended its way across the most fertile parts of central Italy, making a living by sale and resale of whatever plunder the soldiers did not consume directly on the spot. Such a traveling company was, in effect, a migratory city, for cities, too, lived by extracting resources from the countryside through a combination of force or threat of force (rents and taxes) on the one hand and more or less free contractual exchanges (artisan goods for food and raw materials) on the other.

The spectacle of a wealthy countryside ravaged by wandering bands of plundering armed men was as old as organized warfare itself. What was new in this situation was the fact that enough money circulated in the richer Italian towns to make it possible for citizens to tax themselves and use the proceeds to buy the services of armed strangers. Then, simply by spending their pay, the hired soldiers put tax monies back in circulation. Thereby, they intensified the market exchanges that allowed such towns to commercialize armed violence in the first place. The emergent system thus tended to become self-sustaining. The only problem was to invent mutually acceptable contractual forms and practical means for enforcing contract terms.

From a taxpayer’s point of view, the desirability of substituting the certainty of taxes for the uncertainty of plunder depended on what one had to lose and how frequently plundering bands were likely to appear. In the course of the fourteenth century, enough citizens concluded that taxes were preferable to being plundered to make the commercialization of organized violence feasible in the richer and better-governed cities of northern Italy. Professionalized fighting men had precisely parallel motives for preferring a fixed rate of pay to the risks of living wholly on plunder. Moreover, as military contracts (Italian condotta, hence condottiere, contractor) developed, rules were introduced specifying the circumstances under which plundering was permissible. Thus, in becoming salaried, soldiering did not entirely lose its speculative economic dimension.

The Pursuit of Power, pp. 73-74

Emphasis mine.

The Greeks Were the Vikings of the Bronze Age

May 17, 2022

The Greeks were the Vikings of the Bronze Age. They built some of history’s first warships. Whether on large expeditions or smaller sorties, whether in the king’s call-up or on freebooting forays, whether as formal soldiers and sailors or as traders who turned into raiders at a moment’s notice, whether as mercenaries, ambassadors, or hereditary guest-friends, the Greeks fanned out across the Aegean and into the eastern and central Mediterranean, with one hand on the rudder and the other on the hilt of a sword. What the sight of a dragon’s head on the stem post of a Viking ship was to an Anglo-Saxon, the sight of a bird’s beak on the stem post of a Greek galley was to a Mediterranean islander or Anatolian mainlander. In the 1400s [B.C.E.], the Greeks conquered Crete, the southwestern Aegean islands, and the city of Miletus on the Aegean coast of Anatolia, before driving eastward into Lycia and across the sea to Cyprus. In the 1300s they stirred up rebels against the Hittite overlords of western Anatolia. In the 1200s they began muscling their way into the islands of the northeastern Aegean, which presented a big threat to Troy….

The Trojan War, pp. 2-3

Emphasis mine.

The Cost To Be a Knight

May 13, 2022

Fighting as a knight involved expense that became greater over time. In the twelfth century [C.E.] the knight’s basic equipment (horse, helmet, hauberk, and sword) required the annual revenue of 150 hectares. Three centuries later it cost the yearly income of 500 hectares. The horses alone of Gerard de Moor, Lord of Wessegem, amounted in 1297 to 1,200 livres tournois….

Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, p. 177

No Rules In Mortal Combat

April 29, 2022

They would fight not only without quarter but also without rules. In mortal combat, unlike a friendly tournament, nothing prevented a man from stabbing his opponent in the back or through the eye-slits of his helmet, or blinding him with sand, or tripping him, or kicking him, or jumping on him if he should slip and fall. In a duel fought in Flanders in 1127 the two exhausted combatants finally threw down their weapons and fell to wrestling on the ground and punching each other with their iron gauntlets, until one reached under the other’s armor and tore away his testicles, killing him on the spot. Chivalry might have been alive and well in jousts of sport, and even in the preliminary ceremonies of the judicial duel, but once the actual combat began, chivalry was dead.

The Last Duel, Chapter 9

Battle-Hardened But Still a Squire

April 25, 2022

Jean [de Carrouges]…held the rank of squire. Rather than the “gallant youth” this term often brings to mind, he was a battle-hardened veteran already in his forties, one of those “mature men of a rather heavy type—knights in all but name.

By 1380 [C.E.], Jean…commanded his own troop of squires, numbering from four to as many as nine, in the campaigns to rid Normandy of the English. In war he sought to burnish his name and enrich himself by seizing booty and capturing prisoners to hold for ransom, a lucrative business in the fourteenth century. He may also have sought a knighthood, which would have doubled his pay on campaign…. [A] knight’s daily pay on campaign was one livre, while a squire received half that.

The Last Duel, Chapter 1

Emphases mine.

A squire would not be knighted if he could not afford to maintain that higher station. Thus the drive for booty and ransom.

Double Winners of the Medal of Honor

April 19, 2022

The last scene of the 1985 motion picture “Rambo: First Blood Part II” has Colonel Troutman saying

“You’ll get a second Medal of Honor for this, John.”

Being an Army Brat, that statement made me curious as to whether that is possible. So I started researching. It turns out the answer was “not anymore.” In fact, there have been nineteen double winners of the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1862 during the U.S. Civil War. It was the only military decoration for valor until 1918 when the “Pyramid of Valor” was established by an Act of Congress. It created the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), Navy Cross, and other lesser awards. Henceforth the Medal of Honor could only be awarded once to an individual.

A recent Act of Congress has since removed this restriction. Regardless, it is highly unlikely anyone will ever again be awarded a second medal. There has been an unwritten rule since the end of World War II that no awardee is to die on active duty. Thus one will never again be allowed in a combat zone.

Of those nineteen men, two were considered for a third award.

For those wishing to learn more about these men, I recommend the book Double Winners of the Medal of Honor by Raymond J. Tassin. Dr. Tassin gives each man a chapter that starts with childhood and pre-service life, provides context to the conflicts participated in, fleshes out the cited actions (not all of which were combat!) via storytelling, and concludes with post-service life and death.

Daniel Daly, double winner of the Medal of Honor
Daniel Daly, USMC

Lastly, I give you the nineteen (in chronological order):

  1. Thomas Custer (Army)
  2. John Cooper (Navy)
  3. Patrick Mullen (Navy)
  4. Frank Baldwin (Army)
  5. Patrick Leonard (Army)
  6. William Wilson (Army)
  7. Albert Weisbogel (Navy)
  8. Henry Hogan (Army)
  9. Robert Sweeney (Navy)
  10. Louis Williams (Navy)
  11. Daniel Daly (Marine Corps)
  12. John McCloy (Navy)
  13. Smedley Butler (Marine Corps)
  14. John King (Navy)
  15. Ernst Janson (Marine Corps)
  16. Matej Kocak (Marine Corps)
  17. Louis Cukela (Marine Corps)
  18. John Pruitt (Marine Corps)
  19. John Kelly (Marine Corps)

An Army Open to Talents

March 12, 2022

[King Philip] had carried through a social revolution among the Macedonian military class…. The old nobility were laid under an obligation of regular military service; to it a new nobility of military adventurers was added, recruited and promoted on the basis of professional excellence. The result was an army ‘open to talents’, in which the king’s new and old followers competed for position in demonstrations of loyalty and self-disregard.

The Mask of Command, pp. 19-20

Stacking the Odds in Your Favor

February 6, 2022

Command in ancient armies was a collective as much as an individual endeavour, because the primitive communications made it hard for one man to exercise control even over the relatively short distances involved. Indeed, command limitations seem to have been a major reason why large armies formed up in greater depth, rather than trying to coordinate operations across an unpractically long front. Pre-planning and delegation of authority to local subordinates were the norm, and some forces did not even have a single overall general. It was because command was so problematic that most ancient armies achieved so much less than the troops themselves were theoretically capable of, as inertia and confusion reduced movement rates and inhibited decisive attacks. This meant that asymmetries in command, which allowed one army to suffer less than its opponents from the restrictions involved, could have a major impact on fighting performance.

Perhaps paradoxically, given the difficulties for any single individual of maintaining real-time control of anything more than a small segment of the battle line, this was the golden age of ‘great captains’ like Alexander, Hannibal, Scipio and Caesar whose generalship was a very significant determinant of victory. The explanation seems to be that there were many other ways in which such individuals contributed to success besides their personal influence during the battle itself. Training and motivating their troops and building up capable subordinates in the months and years beforehand could significantly improve the quality of the army as a whole. Winning the intelligence contest could allow novel pre-planned deployments and manoeuvres precisely tailored to counter the enemy battle line, and seizing the initiative could panic or provoke the enemy into hurried reactions that left their army vulnerable and unprepared. The actual fighting was thus only the culmination of an overall process that stacked the odds heavily in favour of the better-commanded side.

Philip Sabin, Lost Battles, p. 224

Emphasis mine.

Men-at-Arms Would Continue To Fight Despite Wounds

January 10, 2022

…Armored men were often able to keep fighting, at least for a while, after receiving several minor wounds. Indeed, this was expected: both that fighters would be wounded and that they would continue to fight despite their injuries. One knight, whose own face was “so badly cut that it was disfigured almost all over” was “astonished,” when he met Sir James Douglas, to find that the latter’s face was not scarred. For a man-at-arms to emerge unscathed from combat could be viewed as a sign of laxness or worse: “I know full well that you are a coward: your coat of mail is neither pierced nor torn, and neither your head nor arms are wounded.” It is not unusual to read of a victorious force in which few or no men died but in which many were wounded.

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, p. 216

Author’s emphasis.

Few Deaths While Combat Remained Undecided

January 10, 2022

…The close formations and the dominance of armored warriors in medieval fighting tended to result in relatively many wounds and few deaths for so long as the combat remained undecided. Once the balance tipped, the situation often changed rapidly and dramatically. Two quotations from the chronicler Jean Froissart nicely illustrate the point: “When once an army is broken, those that are defeated are so much frightened, that if one fall, three follow his example, and to these three ten, and to ten thirty; and also, should ten run away, they will be followed by a hundred”; “but in flight there is more danger than in the heat of the battle, for, when any one flies, a pursuit is made, and, if overtaken, he is slain.” When fighting face-to-face, a soldier strikes with some caution, needing to keep his guard up, but blows against a fugitive can be delivered with abandon, lose none of their force to an attempted parry, and are much more likely to be lethal even against an armored man. Even those who refuse to flee can be easily overwhelmed, with little danger to the lives of their opponents, once those around them have fled. The logical implication of this is that battlefield deaths were usually very lopsided, with the defeated suffering sometimes very severe losses and the victors losing only a few men killed. The testimony of eyewitness sources confirms that this was typically the result of medieval combats.

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, pp. 214-15

Emphasis mine.

Medieval Battlefield Medicine Was Not Primitive

January 10, 2022

By the end of a battle, both captives and captors were likely to be wounded. Those who had taken prisoners could not benefit from their acquisitions unless both parties survived, which was more likely if they received some medical care. Basic knowledge of practical wound treatment was widespread among medieval soldiers and indeed among aristocratic women. Arrows and javelins that had not gone in too deep were usually pulled out (or pushed through) as quickly as possible, often by the injured person. Wounds were washed with vinegar or wine—effective antiseptics—to remove any possible source of infection (dirt, cloth, etc.), then covered with moistened lint, plasters, egg, or lard-based ointments, then bandaged, often with strips cut from a shirt. Sometimes herbal poultices would also be used. Later, the wounds would be washed and re-bandaged frequently, with any corrupted flesh being cut away. This was quite effective; in one sample of over 300 skulls dating from the sixth through the eighth centuries, only twelve percent of the wounds showed any evidence of infection.

Armies in the field were usually accompanied by physicians, surgeons, and barbers (who provided basic medical care). Great lords typically brought such men as part of their retinues, and infantry contingents often did the same. Medical personnel doubtless gave first priority to their own employers, but it was normally expected that wounded soldiers would eventually be tended by a physician if necessary: to say someone had been struck with such force that he would have no need of a doctor was to say that he had been killed outright. Despite the common belief to the contrary, western European surgeons of the Middle Ages seem to have been roughly on a par with their Islamic, Byzantine, and Jewish contemporaries. They could stop the bleeding of a cut artery with pressure and cauterization; they were skilled at treating broken skulls using trepanning; they could draw out barbed arrows using metal tubes or goose quills to cover the barbs; they knew how to splint smashed arms or legs. They could even suture intestines or severed jugular veins. They had analgesics and anesthetics made with opium, cannabis, and other less powerful substances….

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, pp. 224-25

Military Incongruities in the Iliad

December 26, 2021

Because Homer’s subject is a siege five centuries old, his battlefield is full of military incongruities. He and his audience remembered, for instance, that the chieftains fought in chariots; but because men of the late eighth century [B.C.E.] had no idea how such warfare might have been conducted, Homer has his charioteers drop the heroes off on the battlefield where they dismount and then fight, often in close formation. The chariots, dimly recalled as essential equipage for aristocratic warfare, have little use in Homer beyond the aura of antiquity they lend to the proceedings. Once the heroes have dismounted, they appear to be much closer in technique and dress to the hoplite infantrymen of Homer’s own day, who wore heavy armor—helmet, shield, breastplate, greaves, sword, spear, and other bodily defenses that may have come to seventy pounds—fought in tight formation, and engaged the enemy at close quarters. They did not fling javelins from chariots as their ancestors had once done in a less populous world where warfare more closely resembled a game of chicken or a gang rumble than the massing of two trained armies on a field.

Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 42

The Iliad and Dungeons & Dragons

December 23, 2021

I thought about D&D a lot while I was reading it, because I think the case can quite easily be made that The Iliad is the most D&D thing ever written other than D&D itself (or, vice versa, that D&D is the most Iliad thing ever written other than The Iliad itself, except obviously Mazes & Minotaurs?). What is Achilleus, other than a 20th-level fighter in comparison to the 1st-4th level Trojans he dispatches with ruthless ease? What are the Achaean invaders, if not murderhobos in search of booty, glory and XP at the expense of all else? How else can the behaviour of the protagonists be explained, other than that they are being controlled by the kind of wild uber-machismo that often overtakes groups of teenage D&D nerds?

On High Level Warriors, Gods, Mortals and More – Monsters and Manuals

There Is No Block

December 19, 2021

There really is no such thing as a block in traditional martial arts, at least not in the commonly understood sense. You see, the Japanese word uke means “receive” rather than “block” as it often incorrectly translated, a very significant difference both mentally and physically. Your defensive technique receives the adversary’s attack and makes it your own. Without this vital context you’re merely fending off a blow knowing that another is on its way, staying behind the count, whereas a “proper” block can end the fight all by itself without the need to throw what is commonly thought of as an offensive blow…..

There Is No Block – Kris Wilder

Different Fortifications Against Raids Versus Sieges

December 16, 2021

The earliest fortifications were likely to have been primarily meant to defend against raids rather than sieges as very early (Mesolithic or Neolithic) warfare seems, in as best we can tell with the very limited evidence, to have been primarily focused on using raids to force enemies to vacate territory (by making it too dangerous for them to inhabit by inflicting losses). Raids are typically all about surprise (in part because the aim of the raid, either to steal goods or inflict casualties, can be done without any intention to stick around), so fortifications designed to resist them do not need to stop the enemy, merely slow them down long enough so that they can be detected and a response made ready….

In contrast, the emergence of states focused on territorial control create a different set of strategic objectives which lead towards the siege as the offensive method of choice over the raid. States, with their need to control and administer territory (and the desire to get control of that territory with its farming population intact so that they can be forced to farm that land and then have their agricultural surplus extracted as taxes), aim to gain control of areas of agricultural production, in order to extract resources from them (both to enrich the elite and core of the state, but also to fund further military activity).

Thus, the goal in besieging a fortified settlement (be that, as would be likely in this early period, a fortified town or as later a castle) is generally to get control of the administrative center. Most of the economic activity prior to the industrial revolution is not in the city; rather the city’s value is that it is an economic and administrative hub. Controlling the city allows a state to control and extract from the countryside around the city, which is the real prize. Control here thus means setting up a stable civilian administration within the city which can in turn extract resources from the countryside; this may or may not require a permanent garrison of some sort, but it almost always requires the complete collapse of organized resistance in the city. Needless to say, setting up a stable civilian administration is not something one generally does by surprise, and so the siege has to aim for more durable control over the settlement. It also requires fairly complete control; if you control most of the town but, say, a group of defenders are still holding out in a citadel somewhere, that is going to make it very difficult to set up a stable administration which can extract resources.

Fortification, Part I: The Besieger’s Playbook – A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry

Author’s emphases.

The Composite Bow Did Have Limitations

November 28, 2021

Though a highly effective weapon, especially as part of the mounted archer system, the composite bow did have limitations. The crossbow and the dismounted archer could outrange the horse archer. In addition, chain mail, shields, and even the padded undergarment, the gambesons, were effective protection from the horse-archer attack at some ranges. Thus, the composite bow was a weapon that a well-trained and well-led adversary could overcome. Still, its rate of fire, accuracy, power, and most important, the fact that it could be employed from a moving horse made the composite bow an important weapon until well after the arrival of gunpowder. Steppe archers from the Crimea employed the weapon with good effect well into the seventeenth century [C.E.].

Louis A. DiMarco, War Horse, p. 120