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Archive for September, 2009

The Return of Colonel Cross of the Gurkhas

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The Call of Nepal: My Life In the Himalayan Homeland of Britain’s Gurkha Soldiers by Col. J.P. Cross

Nimble Books, a publisher I am proud to be associated with, is rolling out the American edition of the memoirs of the legendary COIN specialist, soldier and linguist, Colonel John Philip Cross, of the Gurkhas. Foreword by Robert D. Kaplan.  Disclosure – I had a part, albeit a small one, along with Lexington Green, in connecting Col. Cross with Nimble Books, and I could not be more pleased to see this memoir in print. Not many books these days start by announcing how modern academics will hate it.

Cross was the focus of a story by Kaplan in The Atlantic Monthly magazine in 2006.

Review soon to come….

Xenophon Roundtable Post: The Art of Leadership (VII)

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Below is my first contribution to The Xenophon Roundtable at Chicago Boyz:

Xenophon Roundtable: The Art of Leadership

Prior to the roundtable, Dave Schuler a friend an astute blogger, asked if it mattered to me if Xenophon’s Anabasis of Cyrus turned out to be a work of fiction? I thought for a moment and replied that if The Anabasis is a work of fiction, by Xenophon or attributed to him by some later writer, it is a very durable work of fiction because the lessons of the story have a timeless quality. One of the lessons of The Anabasis of Cyrus is on the art of leadership.

Throughout the text Xenophon gives contrasting examples of leadership in the narrative, and as with Cyrus and Clearchus, his explicit commentary. Xenophon’s conception of leadership goes beyond that of command and embraces political acumen, foresight and the moral example provided by Greek and Persian rulers ( used here in the same sense as Ambler’s translation, of anyone holding authority over others). In this conception of leadership, I think the teachings of Socrates lies heavily on Xenophon and the passages about Xenophon pressing forward to go East with Proxenus were included mainly to assert the independence of his judgment to his fellow Athenians.

How did Xenophon present the notable “rulers” in The Anabasis? A few examples:

Clearchus the Spartan
: Clearchus is presented by Xenophon as a competent and fearless commander but one lacking in wisdom, deeply flawed by a character that was given over to wrath. Xenophon, who was an admirer of Spartan military prowess, nevertheless portrays Clearchus as a martinet and something of a fool:

“Clearchus, was agreed by all those who had experience of him, to have seemed to be a man who was both war-like and war-loving to an extreme….When it is possible to be at peace without shame or harm, he chooses to make war; when it is possible for him to turn to an easygoing life, he wishes to do hard labor, so long as it be in making war….
….He was also said to be fit to rule, as far as this is possible with a character such as he had. For he was competent as any other in thinking out how his army might have provisions and in providing them; and he was competent also to impress it upon those who were with him that he, Clearchus, had to be obeyed. This he used to do by being severe. For he was stern to behold and harsh in his voice; and he always punished with severity, sometimes in anger, so that there were times when even he regretted it.
….Amid dangers, therefore, his soldiers were exceedingly willing to listen to him, and they would choose no other. For they said that his sternness….and severity seemed to be a strength against the enemy, so that it seemed to betoken safety and be severity no longer. But when they were out of danger and it was possible to go away and be ruled by others, many would leave him; for he had no charm but was always severe and fierce. The soldiers consequently were disposed toward him as boys toward a teacher.”

Xenophon’s assessment comes after Clearchus is beheaded by the Great King, having been betrayed by the treacherous Tissaphernes, to whom Clearchus stubbornly went under truce and unarmed, against all advice. Hotheaded and suspicious, he provokes a brawl with the soldiers of Menon, fear of whose intrigues causes Clearchus to trust his enemy, Tissaphernes, more than his fellow Greeks. Clearchus, despite his physical bravery and military skill lacks both the judgment and justice required of a true leader.

Cyrus: Xenophon lavishes extensive praise on Cyrus, more so than on any other figure in the book. To some extent this is an apologia for a deceased man in whose cause the Ten Thousand marched, justifying their expedition to posterity. What Xenophon stressed foremost, was not the generalship of Cyrus -perhaps understandably – but his propensity as a ruler for generosity, mercy and justice. Qualities necessary for a legitimate basileus and that contrast handsomely with those of his brother the Great King, whom Cyrus sought to depose:

“Thus did Cyrus end his life, a man who, of all the Persians born since Cyrus the Elder, was both most kingly and most worthy to rule, as agreed by all those reputed to have had direct experience of Cyrus.
….if he made a treaty with someone, if he made an agreement with someone, or if he promised something to someone – not to be false in any respect. And therefore the cities that turned to him, trusted him, and men trusted him. When Cyrus made a treaty, even if someone was an enemy, he trusted that he would not suffer anything contrary to the treaty. Accordingly, when he made war against Tissaphernes, all the cities voluntarily chose Cyrus instead of Tissaphernes, except the Milesians…
….Nor yet could anyone say that he allowed malefactors and the unjust to laugh, but punished them most unspariungly of all….Consequently, it became possible in Cyrus’ realm for both Greek and Barbarian, if he did no injustice, to travel without fear wherever he might wish, while having with him whatever suited him”

Cyrus looks particularly good next to his enemy Tissaphernes, an intriguing betrayer without honor, and the Great King, who appears both vindictive and rather cowardly in facing the Ten Thousand with vastly superior forces. What goes unremarked by Xenophon, was how colossal a failure of military-political judgment it was that led Cyrus to challenge his brother with greatly inferior forces and then, with battle engaged, to be unable to prevent his own Persians from breaking while the Ten Thousand advanced. Cyrus, who brought his Greek mercenaries to war initially under false pretenses, could not deliver as a warlord and paid the ultimate price. A ruler must be able at war before he can demonstrate his mastery in peace and Cyrus was not able, Xenophon’s praise notwithstanding.

The other rulers, Menon etc. look worse in their short descriptions than did Clearchus.

Xenophon, though he does not stoop often to openly praise himself, demonstrates the fusion of martial abilities, judgment, justice, foresight and moral example as The Anabasis unfolds. One could say that Xenophon’s leadership exemplifies a Socratic balance – and in case we missed that point, “Theopompus” (i.e. Xenophon) is compared to a philosopher in an exchange by a Greek herald of the enemy.

Of course, Xenophon is our reporter. He has the luxury of writing the history and neither Clearchus nor Tissaphernes, who ultimately came to a very bad end, are there to dispute his account. That said, fact or fiction or self-promoting “spin”, Xenophon is using the story of the Ten Thousand to present a political subtext on leadership that is at odds with that of the ruling democratic faction of his day in Athens.

Perhaps that was always his motive.

The Xenophon Roundtable V and VI

Monday, September 21st, 2009

 Excellent posts are up. Click the links in order to read the full piece.

From Historyguy99:

Tips for Reading The Anabasis

The opening phase of this discussion of Greek soldier, historian Xenophon’s account of the expedition to unseat Artaxerxes King of Persia by his brother Cyrus, has touched on several important elements. First, most important to any great undertaking was logistics, aptly covered in the first post by Fringe. Next, Steven Pressfield introduced the route and how it influenced Alexander the Great, who used the Anabasis of Cyrus as a guidebook in his conquest of Persia decades later. Lexington Green then offered up an overview of the each chapter, laying out the story line in concise detail. Most recently, Joseph Fouche took pen to point out important distinctions between Xenophon’s writing style and that of Herodotus.

The book that most of us have chosen to base our discussion is the translation by Wayne Ambler. In the introduction, Eric Buzzetti writes, “The Anabasis has the makings of a great Hollywood movie.” This statement along should stimulate the most benign reader to pursue the book further. Inside, they will not be disappointed; the story unfolds like a travel log detailing distance traveled, people encountered, battles fought and the unfolding loose republican democracy that formed after the death of their generals at the hand of Artaxerxes. Then becomes what could be described as the one of the great epics combining battles with political intrigue and lessons in leadership.

From Fringe:

Xenophon Roundtable: Clearchus Delenda Est!

Of all of the characters in the first section of the Anabasis, Clearchus is among the most important, and perhaps the most intriguing.

In Clearchus’s obituary, Xenophon describes a ruthless officer who is feared by all, respected by all, and liked by none(II,6).  Clearchus was also the only Greek general who knew from the outset what Cyrus intended to do with the army he was raising(III, 1 (10)). Two questions are very much worth contemplating:

For whom was Clearchus working? And: who is responsible for his death?

New Article up at SWJ: Theory, Policy, and Strategy

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I teamed up with Adam Elkus in an article running at SWJ/ SWJ Blog this morning. The focus is the intersection of policy and strategy at the level of senior military leader and civilian policymaker.

Theory, Policy, and Strategy: A Conceptual Muddle

It is impossible not to notice that elements of the current acrimonious debates over theory, operations, and practice are proxies for larger political differences over the use of force and its relationship to American national interests. So why are these fundamental policy disagreements being expressed through debate over technical points of military doctrine?

The answer lies in the uncertain, even negligent, muddle that has substituted for a clear paradigm to guide US grand strategy. Because policymakers have failed to define clear US interests, goals, and objectives, attempts have been made to derive grand strategic principles from theoretical debates or operational concerns. While these debates have been intellectually stimulating and often very useful to developing US national security and military doctrine, they cannot sustain US grand strategy. While strategic drift might be inevitable in country where much of strategy is determined by the cleavages of domestic politics, the cost of meandering can be measured in lost opportunities, treasure squandered, and lives lost. Policymakers must make a stand for a strong strategic paradigm to guide US operational methodologies.

Theory, Policy, and Strategy: A Conceptual Muddle (Full PDF Article)

Many thanks to Adam for pushing this project and to Dave Dilegge for publishing it.

The Xenophon Roundtable II, III and IV

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Excellent posts are up. Click the links in order to read the full piece. 

From Steven Pressfield:

Alexander and Cyrus: Two Different Routes to Babylon

….a comparison between Alexander the Great and Cyrus the Younger and their different strategic/logistical solutions to a similar problem: how to bring an invading army to bear against a defending army awaiting the assault in the vicinity of Babylon, in what was then Mesopotamia (today Syria and Iraq.)

Some of what follows is speculative, as no one knows for certain what Alexander was thinking at every juncture.  But it’s based on my research for The Virtues of War, a novel about Alexander.  Here’s my take on how the great Macedonian, invading Persia seventy years after Cyrus (and armed with Xenophon’s Anabasis, which he and his generals studied in great depth) chose a different route and strategy than that taken by his predecessor, bound for Cunaxa.

Both Cyrus’ army and Alexander’s crossed the Euphrates at Thapsacus, three or four hundred miles north of Babylon (see map in our Anabasis).  Cyrus was coming from the north, Alexander from the south, via Damascus-from Egypt, where he had been crowned Pharaoh and son of Ammon.  Alexander was marching to confront Darius III, (grandson of Artaxerxes II, against whom Cyrus and Xenophon campaigned) who was raising an army of a million men.  Contingents of horse and foot had been summoned from all over the empire, from as far away as Afghanistan.  Alexander’s force numbered about 50,000.  Alexander had previously defeated Persian forces twice-at the Granicus River, near Troy, with Darius absent; and at Issus with Darius present and commanding.  This coming fight would be for all the marbles.

From Lexington Green:

Xenophon’s Ascent

The title of the book under consideration is, in English translation, The Anabasis of Cyrus. The title has two key words, a noun “anabasis” and a proper name “Cyrus”.

The identity of Cyrus is unambiguous. We know Cyrus was the younger brother of the King of Persia (really an emperor of many kingdoms). Cyrus was the satrap of Lydia and Phrygia, but he aspired to seize the throne of his brother the King for himself. Cyrus raised an army, led it against the King, and died in battle at Cunaxa, in 401 BC.

The other key word in the title is “Anabasis”, which is transliterated, but not translated, from the Greek. The translator tells us this about the word:

“This noun has the root meaning of “a going up,” and it is used to indicate such ordinary ascents as the mounting of a horse or a way of going up a hill. In the sense of a march upcountry, it is used first by Xenophon, only in this work, and only in [certain passages] … It is used three times in Plato’s Republic to indicate the ascent from the cave. The related verb anabaino is used of an “ascent” from the coast to the interior by Herodotus … and by Plato … as well as by Xenophon. I generally translated the verb as “to ascend” and its opposite as “to descend”.

Book I contains the tale of the assembly of the army, and its “march upcountry”, from coastal Ionia, where the Greek mercenary portion of the host came ashore into Asia, and its march into the interior, upcountry from Sardis, Cyrus’s capital, until the two armies meet at the battle of Cunaxa. At the battle, the Persian King’s army in part was defeated, on the section of the battlefield where it faced the Greek mercenaries. The Greek mercenaries “won” their part of the battle of Cunaxa. But elsewhere on the battlefield, due in part to the rashness of Cyrus, and his resulting death, the King’s army defeated the rest of Cyrus’s army. At that point, the Greeks, despite tactical success, were marooned in the middle of a hostile country.

Thus we are faced with a bit of a puzzle from the outset.

From Joseph Fouche:

Xenophon Roundtable: The Shadow of Herodotus

Cunaxa is an interesting counter-point to the three traditional pillars of Herodotus’s Histories, Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. While those three confrontations took place in or near Attica, the cradle of democracy, Cunaxa happens in Mesopotamia, the cradle of despotism. Herodotus skillfully built a narrative of the clash of East and West, Freedom and Slavery, Democracy and Despotism out of the Persian attempts to conquer an obscure people on the fringes of the Known World. His account looms over those of his successors, even the works of the prickly Thucydides, who considered himself superior in every respect to the world traveling gossip from Halicarnassus.

Xenophon was no exception. The Anabasis almost reads like a strange mirror version of the Histories. Instead of the Ascent of Darius, Xerxes, or Mardonius into the heart of Hellas, it’s the descent of the Greeks into the heart of Achaemenid power. The squabbling Greeks, under the less than inspired figures of Clearchus, Proxenus, and Menon, appear rather shabby compared to the heroic generation of Miltiades, Themistocles, and Pausanias. Cyrus in his foolish death and disfigured body and Artaxerxes II in his pettiness and undignified scramble to keep his throne fall far short of the power and majesty of Darius and Xerxes, so exalted that Herodotus portrayed them as living embodiments of hubris, pride that not only rivaled but threatened that of the gods themselves.

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