Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Alexander's Broken Army

July, 326 B.C.E

This was an army that had never been defeated in battle. For twelve years, since the death of Phillip, when Alexander began to bring all of Greece under his control, they had marched from victory to victory.

There had been setbacks. A baggage train here, a scouting squad there, but whenever Alexander, aided by Ptolemy, Hephaestion, Parmenio (until he was executed), Black Cletus (until Alexander killed him in a drunken rage), and other commanders who would have been exceptional military minds in any age, but, together, under Alexander had formed a force that had never been defeated over twelve years of continuous warfare.

They had seen it all. They had seen the sythed warchariots of the Persians. They had seen a walled island city. They had seen war elephants, cataphracts, every manner of archer, slinger, swordsman, spearman and warrior the known world had to offer.

They had done all of this. Now, it was time to go home. Alexander's plan was to march further into India, to the Ganges, follow that to the sea and then sail to Babylon. The army wanted to stop.

(from ALEXANDER, by Theodore Ayrault Dodge)

The Macedonian soldiers had determined to proceed no farther. The had, through their officers, certain rights of protest. These they concluded to enforce. For three months, rain had incessantly fallen, and with it the moral tone of the troops. They were ragged: Their arms were worn out; of armor, there was scarcely any. They were not only unwilling, they were unfit.

Alexander addressed his troops. He reminded them that he had been there with them every step of the way. He stripped himself naked and showed them where he bore scars from every single weapon known to man. It was all to no avail. Unable to sway his troops he called for priests and sacrifices. The omens were taken and the interpretation was unfavorable. Alexander agreed to turn back at last.

Dateline right the fuck now:

George W. Bush cannot call upon any of Alexander's gifts. He has no scars from battle to show. He has no stories to share with soldiers over who saved whose life more times in battle. He has no moral authority or marshal imperitives to claim. He is a shrinking, shirking blame deflection machine. Soon, very soon, an army acknowledged to be without equal anywhere in the world will reach the same level as Alexander's. They will simply stop. Not because they are cowards, but because they can go no farther.

As technologically superior as they are, as well armed as they are, they are still men, with human limits. The soldiers on their third tours have already spent far more time on the front lines of conflict than any other soldiers in our history. We did have wars that lasted longer, but, during the Revolution for example, there was a distinct "campaigning season," and with the exception of only a few battles that were significant because they occured so wildly out of season, there were only four or five months of combat a year. In some cases there would be a year or more between battles. In Iraq, our young men and women are out there, in the middle of it, in the gunsights and bombsights of the enemy every minute of every day for stretches of fifteen months. Then they get a breather, of sorts, maybe break up the tedium of having to be in Iraq with a six to eight month trip to Afghanistan. This is quite simply, beyond the limits of human endurance.

I remember one horrible period of a little over thirty six hours where my unit, along with a battalion of marines were subjected to continuous shellings and assaults by combined NVA and VC forces right at the beginnings of the Tet offensives. We fought because we had no where to retreat. We fought because we had no alternative. At one point we were dodging mortar and rockets, running around our lines passing out ammunition and water containers that had been looted from the dead and those wounded so seriously they were unable to hold a place on the line anymore. I ran across a young buck sergeant who was losing it. This young man was incoherently sobbing and shouting gibberish curses. I tried to reach him. I grabbed him and called him by his rank, I was about to strike him when I was stopped by his Gunnery Sergeant. The Gunny was a man I trusted and respected, and he was directly in this man's chain of command. He put his arms around the young man protectively and admonished me saying "This boy is a good goddamned Marine. He's just had too much, that's all. We don't get to choose our breaking points. He found his. You leave him alone, he'll either snap out of it or not. A couple more assaults like the last one and it won't fucking matter even a little tiny bit. So you keep passing out gear, I'll try and form up some kind of fucking order. But leave this boy alone. He's a good Marine. He's just had too much. That's all."

I said "Ooorah Gunny." To the young sergeant I said "Sorry troop."

Pretty soon the military forces themselves will stop this fucking war. They will still be good soldiers, among the best in history. They will just have had too much.

Because he has never had any at all Bush will never see it coming. He'll find somebody else to blame. He always does.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because it must be very painful for you to know these things and explain them for people without your experience, I thank you. But I also wish you didn't have to know.

6:22 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

there was a lot of that fight which is painfull. before we were finally resupplied by helocopter we had gotten down to a magazine and a half of ammunition per man. that and the AK's and other stuff we had gathered up from the fallen vietnamese. i took an entrenching tool and put an edge on it with a rock. it was 20th century warfare through the stone age lens of Mog and Og the cavemen.

but that gunnery sgt. (i think his name was macullugh) was a ringtailed motherfucker. one of the kindest, and bravest men i've ever known. he not only was the main reason those of us who survived, survived, he taught me many truths about life, combat, leadership and how to conduct myself in extreme circumstances.

he was a great man.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Compelling. Your personal remembrance brings me to tears. What an amazing experience.

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because he has never had any at all Bush will never see it coming. He'll find somebody else to blame. He always does.

Yes, he does. The worst thing about it all is that all of the m-fuckers surrounding him (supposedly "advising" him, telling him what to do is probably closer to it) are as free of first-hand experience as he himself is!

- oddjob (who prays that someday the country will find the cojones to put them all up on the war crimes charges they so richly deserve)

9:02 PM  
Blogger trog69 said...

There is one other difference in the two commanders...Bush can ensure that His priests and sacrifices call for evermore war.

9:29 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

the greek priests were, for the most part, incorruptable on that account. either the omens were right, or they weren't. some were especially skilled in choosing and slaughtering the goats and rams in a way that would tilt the probabilities in favor of the desired outcome, but they wouldn't take and out and out bribe to bring a different outcome.

the romans changed all of that. but they had a completely different take on bribery. it was an expected practice, the tendering of a bribe showed respect for the office and the sincerety of the position. the dishonor was not in taking a bribe, but in not delivering the services bribed. that was considered to be one of the worst deceptions.

not like lbj's "i will drink their liquor, fuck their women, take their money and vote how i goddamn please." that would have been decidedly unroman.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Sherry Pasquarello said...

thank you. yes, everyone has their own breaking point in life.

you are honest with yourself and with us and that makes you far braver than most. honesty with onesself can be a harder bravery than battle with the adrenaline rush.

like i said, thank you.

oh, and i am glad that you write of the war and your part. many still can't and people NEED to hear these things. people such as yourself reach far more hearts and minds with a blog than if it was written in a book.

5:31 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

it is sometimes very hard to trust the memories of actual battle. even things that feel like they have been seared into your consciousness have a way of turning murky when the viewpoint of an outside observer is brought to bear. but, that gunny, that marine, was a moment and a huge lesson for me. i was ready to go all patton on the young man which wouldn't have accomplished anything beyond being one more stupid and senseless act of violence in a stupid and senseless place. the gunny taught me different. especially the part about how the most likely outcome was that it wouldn't end up mattering at all. there were many things that needed doing at that moment, and that confrontation that i was brewing up wasn't one of them. gunny saw that. he also saw that there was a good marine who needed care and gentle handling to have a chance of coming back to effectiveness.

that gunny was a real leader.

6:39 AM  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

"there were many things that needed doing at that moment, and that confrontation that i was brewing up wasn't one of them."

That is a tremendous lesson, and I thank you for sharing the context. I look forward to more of your recollections, as you care to share them. They are important not only in themselves, but for the lessons they bear.

These lyrics from Project October seem pertinent--"Something More Than This":

"Whatever you fear, whatever you hide, whatever you carry deep inside

There's something more than this

Whatever you love, whatever you give, whatever you think you need to live

There's something more than this"


9:41 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

another thing about gunnies that i've always loved is how they always manage to sound exactly like r. lee ermey in "full metal jacket" when they are on the job. they get that parris island accent going and it just makes you want to do what they tell you to do.

i could go to war with nothing but gunnery sergeants, first sergeants, and chief petty officers.

and i would kick fucking ass.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

You most certainly would kick ass. I'm happy to hear that we had such leaders back then. I can't say I ever served with one like that--I just never got to know my nco's that well nor did I ever get into the same hellish situation. What occasional glimpses I saw of the competent nco's makes me think you could kick ass with the right ones at your side.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MB, not that this comes as any surprise to you, but this was in yesterday's Boston Globe. I was wondering when this would become part of the MSM's reporting.

- oddjob

4:38 PM  

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