Thursday, March 31, 2011

Alexander's Lost Dream

After the battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, the back of the Persian Empire had been broken. Shortly thereafter King Darius, the leader or Persia was killed by a satrapy and relative, Bessus. A satrap was a local kingdom whose loyalty lay with a greater power. In this case it was Persia, later loyalty would be to Macedonia. With only remnants of the Persian army remaining and a few indignant satrapies remaining the gates to the east were essentially wide open. Although Bessus claimed himself king, he was merely a thorn in Alexander’s side. What lay beyond Bessus was a vast new world. It was the true prize for the conquering Alexander. It could have been Alexander’s dream. Yet it would also be the site of his greatest disappointment. This was where his invincible army came up against an immovable force that finally led Alexander to turn around.

The death of Darius did not bring an end to the Persian-Macedonian Wars. With Darius out of the picture, Bessus proclaimed himself king. Alexander was never content with coming to any peaceful conclusion of the war with Persia. In his mind, the Greek world had suffered mightily at the hands of the Persians in the two previous Greco-Persian Wars. It was Alexander’s duty to exact revenge. In Alexander’s mind, this could not be achieved until the entirety of the Persian Empire was conquered with him at the reins. Previously in the war, peace had been offered by the King Darius. The entire Persian Empire west of the Euphrates was guaranteed for Alexander. This was not enough. The Hellenes had suffered too much at the hands of the Persians in their long, heated rivalry. Plus in Alexander’s mind, land west of the Euphrates had been spoken for as a result of a series of Persian defeats in that region. Alexander wanted it all and there was no Persian force that could stop him.

One of the renegade provinces that shared in Bessus’s desire to stand up to Alexander the Great was the satrapy of the Persian province Persis. The leader of Alexander’s opposition was named Ariobarzanes. The battle was fought in a valley known as the Persian Gates. Valleys are great defensive locations. This was especially true when facing Alexander. Alexander relied heavily on using his infantry to approach from one angle to keep enemy forces at bay, while his highly mobile cavalry could come around and entrap or smash through enemy forces. This tactic became known as the hammer and anvil strategy. The hammer and anvil strategy was used with repeated success for Alexander as in the battle of Issus. The narrowness of a valley prevented the type of mobility open plains of Issus had allowed. The Persians effectively held the valley for roughly a month. It took a local to show Alexander a way around the valley for the Macedonians to deal the final crushing blow to the entrapped Persians.

The last of the major Persian resistance was defeated and only little of the remaining known world was left to be conquered. The known world according to the Hellenes ended at the farthest extent of the Persian Empire, eastern India. It is believed that little or nothing was known by the Greeks about anything east of the Persian border. With Persian resistance out of the way, nothing was stopping Alexander from approaching the edge of the world.

Upon entering what is today Pakistan, Alexander was able to achieve the surrender of many local chieftains. Alexander had proven himself a great conqueror and was thus able to secure their submission. Many of the local chieftains who met with Alexander in the satrapy of Gandhara agreed to Alexander’s terms, but a few refused. The hill tribes of the Aspasioi, the Kambojas, and Assakenoi remained independent. These tribes put up a fierce resistence against Alexander. According to one source the Assakenoi were able to field 38,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 30 elephants against Alexander in one battle.

The tribes also chose not surrender right away but rather take defensive positions in cities all along Alexander’s path of conquest. So fierce was the resistance that the enraged Alexander burned down the defensive cities of Massaga and Ora. Alexander was eventually able to move past these tribes with the help of local leaders who supported Alexander. Alexander enticed supportive local leaders with land as in the aftermath of the Siege Aornos, a well fortified city.

Victory allowed Alexander to move further east into the region of Punjab. With the support of a local Kingdom known as the Taxiles, Alexander advanced past the Indus River towards the Hydaspes River. At the battle of the Hydaspes River, the local King Porus fielded a large army to meet Alexander’s advance. Porus’s army included a mix of infantry cavalry, chariots, and war elephants.

The forces of Porus took up a strong position along the Hydaspes River bank. Alexander’s forces sat on the other side of the side of the river. Alexander was required to come up with innovative maneuvering schemes to cross the Hydaspes to meet the challenge of King Pours. Essentially what Alexander had to do to win the battle was leave a portion of his army on the river banks as a diversionary force. King Porus’s forces, waiting on the other side of the river bank could see Alexander’s forces remaining stationary. At night Alexander would create sounds of movement to make King Pours think Alexander was readying for attack. The attack never came. King Porus began to disregard the sounds of battle preparation . Because nothing had ever amounted from Alexander’s diversionary sounds, King Porus disregarded the diversion the day of the attack. King Porus waited for a direct crossing.

Secretly Alexander personally took troops further down the river, to a spot where there was an island in the middle of the river. There Alexander could land his forces to springboard an attack on the other side of the river. The island landing allowed for a shorter and safer transportation required to cross the river. Alexander with his small diversionary force hoped to draw King Porus away from the river banks allowing for the bulk of the Macedonian army waiting on their side of the river, to cross. The diversion worked and King Porus was trapped. Despite falling victim to Alexander’s trap, King Porus and his men fought on bravely. So well did King Porus’s units fight that it actually impressed Alexander. In the aftermath of the battle Alexander befriended the imposing, some say 7 foot tall King Porus and allowed him to rule his former territory and more provided by Alexander, so long as acknowledged he ruled under Alexander.

It is important here to note why Alexander found his dream in the Indian subcontinent. Alexander was first and foremost a conqueror. This why he did not settle for peace deals against Persia. Alexander’s conquering nature is why he decided to cross over India into the first place. Alexander wanted to be ruler of the known world. Alexander loved conflict, and loved using his military genius to overcome great odds to defeat his opponents. Over the years Alexander had won so many hard fought victories despite often being outnumbered, taken many “impregnable” cities and fortresses, and allowed no natural obstacles stand in his way. In his mind, he and his army were invincible. India, with its huge population and its largely unknown nature provided a place where Alexander could outwit, outfight, and conquer indefinitely. For all that Alexander was, one thing he was not was restive. Until the day he died Alexander had designs on conquest. Yet it is these designs for unending conquest in the face truly insurmountable odds that made Alexander’s troops do the one thing no commander could in the field could do: put an end to his conquests.

What was it about India that made the Macedonian army who’s spearheading advance had never been dulled finally decide enough was enough? For one thing Alexander’s troops had been on a non-stop campaign from the years 335 BC until the battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC. Alexander’s army had proven too successful. Home was far away and the inspiration of Alexander could only do so much the deeper into foreign lands the army got. Secondly, tribes on the Indian subcontinent had proven themselves worthy fighters. Resistance was always fierce and they were able to field diverse armies that included elephants. Elephants were crucial because the hammer and anvil strategy required the crushing power of cavalry to act as the anvil. Elephants with their grandiose size and loud cries scared horses. Thus Alexander when fighting forces that included elephants had to factor how to draw away the elephants from his own cavalry.

The greatest threat to Macedonian advance was the people who lay ahead in India, the one’s Alexander had not even warred with yet. The empires of the Nanda and the Gangaridai were truly the immovable objects that Alexander’s army could not defeat. It would have been nearly impossible for the depleted forces of Alexander’s armies match the rested and waiting armies of these two empires. This is saying a lot for an army that repeatedly pushed the boundaries of what impossible meant. According to the ancient historian Plutarch Alexander’s forces were, “violently opposed to Alexander’s,” furthering campaigns against the Nanda and Gangaridai. After years of campaigning Alexander’s army had roughly 20,000 men left to fight. The Nanda-Gangaridai Alliance could field a total of an estimated 294,000 troops. Nanda-Gangaridai forces were comprised of 200,000 infantry, 80,000 cavalry, 8,000 chariots, and 6,000 war elephants. If estimates regarding the size of the Indian armies and Roman armies are true, the Indians could field a substantially larger army than Rome could during the reign of Augustus. It is difficult to verify these numbers. What can be said for certain is whether or not these numbers are accurate it was believed by the soldiers that the Nanda-Gangaridai forces were on the order of this size. Furthermore both empires were known for having huge populations and since much was not known about their lands it was hard for Alexander’s army to know how great resistance could have been. In addition Alexander’s troops had just completed a war with the Persian Empire who fielded colossal armies as well and all they had to show for it was continued conquests. The men were tired and their opponents were too strong, too fierce, and too well equipped.

Ultimately Alexander’s dreams lived and died in India. India was the place where he could try to conquer endlessly. Alexander loved the competition and the thrill of beating the odds. His army though could not stand by his dream. They had to put an end to the conquests. Alexander believed his army was invincible, yet his army knew they met their match. Alexander was so angered by the end of his conquests that upon turning around from India some believe Alexander made his forces take the more difficult path back to Babylon as punishment. Many soldiers died along the way. Alexander never lost his dream of unending conquest. If he could not do so far from home in India, he would conduct his conquests a little closer to home. Had Alexander been able to fulfill his dream, he would have undoubtedly altered the course of history. Alexander had his eyes set on the three places that would come to dominate the period from after his death until the Middle Ages. Alexander had his eyes set on Rome, Carthage, and the Arabian peninsula. Alexander passed away before he could conduct those campaigns. It was Alexander’s insatiable appetite for conquest that made him great, but it also caused the mutiny exposing a dissatisfied army as Alexander’s Achilles heal. The realities of maintaining a military limited Alexander’s unsatisfiable dream.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Eagle

Having recently watched the movie The Eagle, I wanted to write an article on Roman Legionary Standards. The premise of The Eagle is that the ninth legion, stationed in Britain, ventured north of Hadrian’s Wall, was ambushed and defeated. In the process of the legion being mostly wiped out, the Roman Standard was taken from the legion. The son of the centurion who lost the standard seeks to redeem his family’s honor by recovering the standard his father lost. The main character, Marcus Aquila, ventures beyond the Wall and searches throughout northern Britannia for the lost Eagle Standard. Marcus goes to great lengths, putting his life on the line throughout the movie, but eventually recovers the standard. Although this story is fanciful, it is not entirely outside the realm of truth. The purpose of the movie is to show no matter how great the lengths, a true Roman would do almost anything to recover a lost standard.

It is important to understand what exactly the standard was and why it was so important. A Roman Standard was a staff with an animal that had great mythological importance attached atop it. After the military reforms of Gaius Marius, the standard would exclusively have an eagle sitting atop the staff. The Eagle standard was removable from the staff. This can be seen in The Eagle as Marcus Aquila only recovers the Eagle. Standards had multiple functions in battle. One function was to serve as a rallying point for Roman soldiers. Another was to serve as the symbol of the power of Rome. The standard symbolized many Roman virtues such as honor, ambition, and strength. Since the standard was the symbol of Roman honor, its loss meant not only the loss of the battle, but the loss out Roman dignity by way of the legions who fought the battle.

The loss of a standard would be considered catastrophic for Romans. It could be as devastating if not more devastating than the casualties sustained in battle. The late Republican army, early Imperial army believed in the notion of Imperium sine fine. This meant the empire without end. Roman armies from the Second Punic War on marched throughout the Mediterranean and into mainland Europe relatively unfettered. Although the were some strong enemies, eventually all were crushed. Therefore the standard embodied the unending advance of Rome wherever it was carried. Such conquests bred an air of invincibility among the people and armies of Rome. Thus the loss of a standard went completely against the notion of Imperium sine fine, and meant that people could call into question Roman invincibility. This could not be tolerated. Being superior was central for what it meant to be Roman. The superiority of Rome made citizens happy to be Romans, and outsiders envious of Romans. Therefore if the standard was lost, Roman superiority was lost, and faith in the Roman system was lost.

The battle of Carrhae and its aftermath embodies the Roman obsession with Legionary Standards. During the battle of Carrhae, the wealthy member of the Triumvirate Crassus was defeated by a Parthian army. Seven Roman Legions were sent into disarray. As a result the Parthians captured seven Roman Standards. This humiliated Rome. The name of Crassus became synonymous with Roman shame. It became the goal of Julius Caesar and later Marc Antony to recover the lost standards. Marc Antony in 37 BC marched with an estimated 100,000 Roman and allied troops into Parthia for the sole purpose of recovering the lost standards of Carrhae. Antony found himself entrenched in a prolonged quagmire against the Parthians and had to turn back. Although Antony’s foray against Parthia did not end until 30 BC, the official end of the war was in 20 BC. In 20 BC the sole ruler of Rome, Augustus, was able to negotiate, not recapture through battle, the return of the seven lost Standards from the Parthians. The honor associated with returning the standards was so great that it was treated as if the Romans had won a war to regain them.

Standards proved to be very symbolic for the Roman people. The standard was the symbol of an unending empire. Standard symbolized the Roman notion of being the self-designated leaders of the world. The ambition to be great was a common thread throughout the long history of Rome. This ambition was rooted in the strong sense of honor Romans had about being Roman. Thus although it may seem frivolous today to worship such an object, to Romans, honor was everything. Thus there was no sacrifice that was too high pay to protect the symbolic honor of Rome, the standards.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Paratroopers Over Crete

The German invasion of Crete was very famous because it the first primarily airborne invasion of a territory. Crete is an island in the Mediterranean. The British Navy ruled the Mediterranean. The Germans needed a new way to attack Crete. Ultimately this new method was looked on largely as a failure, but the lessons learned from the invasion would later be used against the Germans throughout the war.

Paratroopers were the spearhead of the German invasion of Crete. Crete is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. It was a crucial base for British naval and supply operations in the Mediterranean, especially for the North African theater. British naval superiority in the Mediterranean made a large scale invasion of Crete quite risky. To bypass the British naval advantage, the Germans used paratroopers to attack Crete. Although the island was successfully taken by the Germans, it was a faulty strategy to attack Crete with exclusively paratroopers because it was too costly and inefficient expense of men and materiel.

Paratroopers are not meant to provide the core of large scale military operations. Their purpose is to act as quick strike units ahead of a larger force. Often time paratroopers are tasked with blowing up rail lines, communication lines, or bridges. The most famous paratroop operation of the war was the German invasion of the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael. A small unit of German Fallschirmjäger (elite paratroopers) landed gliders on top of the fort and around the fort to knock out the defensive guns and bridges that threatened the German blitz through Belgium. Since airborne invasions were so new, the Allies were caught by surprise. A force of roughly 500 Germans was able to defeat a force nearly twice that size, while also conquering a fort that was thought to be impenetrable.

Success bred hubris for the Nazis. Rather than taking the lesson that paratroopers are best used in small scale, quick operations, the senior Luftwaffe commanders believed the success of the Eben-Emael could be replicated on larger scale attacks. Crete was not a fort with only 1000 defenders. Rather it was an entire island with tens of thousand of troops. Nazi opposition comprised of the Commonwealth, Greek, and Cretan partisan troops. Past success of German paratroopers combined with German air superiority made Nazis confident they could bypass British Naval Superiority and overcome Crete’s defenses.

The flaw in the Nazis invasion of Crete was the failure to understand that paratroopers were not common infantry. They were superior. Paratroopers required more training than infantry because they conducted special tasks. The Fallschirmjäger used in the invasion were elite units that worked best in small operations. Infantry are meant for large scale operations because they require less training and there are more of them. Therefore infantry are more expendable. Units with large amounts of training are not expendable. Training costs and time associated with training are too valuable. Thus infantry have a comparative advantage in conducting such large scale operations versus elite paratroopers. Losses in infantry units can be easily absorbed because those units are replaceable. Losses in the Fallschirmjäger were not easily replaced. Therefore expending Fallschirmjäger was a costly endeavor for the Nazis.

Airborne units are subject to the elements more so than most units. Air currents can blown airborne units off target. Such occurrences were prevalent throughout WWII. Amphibious landings on the other hand are relatively more direct and reliable for getting units to their targets. An exclusively airborne invasion was a risky endeavor because if enough units were to become scattered it left those units highly susceptible to Crete’s defenses. Furthermore communication among scattered units is extremely difficult to maintain. The only way the island could have been taken was with a concerted effort that required effective communication and coordination.

Unfortunately for the British Commonwealth forces, and Greek units, communication was even worse on their side. Counterattacks were not effectively coordinated. Superior force numbers could not overwhelm the specialized German units. Fallschirmjäger were able to regroup and capture airbases required for resupply. Part of the confusion on the British side resulted from believing a sea borne invasion was still on its way and needed to be accounted for. Thus maximum counterattacks could not be mounted against the airborne German units.

The attack was not easy for the German paratroopers though. Since Crete was a small island it was hard for paratroop units to land behind enemy lines and outflank the enemy. Paratroopers in Crete became more like frontline units. Yet the airborne units were not properly supplied to act as frontline units. The German paratroopers were supplied with lighter artillery pieces because this was all airborne operations could accommodate. Furthermore the means of supply for the paratroopers was flawed. Rather than letting the troops jump with their rifles and MP 40 submachine guns, the paratroopers were to jump with only handguns, knives, and grenades while the rest of the weapons would simultaneously be parachuted in. The idea behind this was to prevent the paratroopers from losing their weapons in the jump. This plan failed and battles sprung up over paratroopers trying to recover their gear. The light artillery pieces used by the paratroopers were insufficient for taking the island. Thus the Nazis had to devise complex parachuting schemes to land heavy artillery pieces, while the German Navy drew up risky plans to land heavy artillery on the island.

The German air superiority held the battle together for the Nazis. Allied defenses could be bombed. This helped balance the lack of proper weapons for the paratroopers. Air superiority also meant a constant stream of resupply for the paratroopers. Eventually poor coordination and the prospect of a unending supply of German paratroopers proved too much for the British. The key defensive city of Heraklion was captured by the Germans and this sealed Crete’s fate.

In assessing the flaws in the German paratroop invasion of Crete it is important to see how the invasion fits into the Grand Strategy of the Nazis for WWII. The Invasion of Crete occurred in late May early June of 1941. Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, took place in late June. The German attacks on Greece and subsequently Crete were a distraction for the Germans. The distraction of capturing these two would have grave implications for Operation Barbarossa. The invasions delayed invasion of Russia forcing it to begin ever closer to the for middle Russian winter. Nazi high command should have recognized not only was this the main theater, but the only theater the Nazis should have diverted complete attention towards.

Furthermore to determine the success of the German invasion, the implications of the victory must be analyzed in the cold, calculated manner Eisenhower used in assessing whether the Philippines should be immediately invaded after it was captured by Japan. His analysis was one, does taking that objective win the Allies the war, and two does not taking the given objective lose the Allies the war. If both answers are no, such an invasion should be avoided. Therefore did taking Crete tip the balance of the Mediterranean in the Germans favor. No. Would have not taking Crete lost them the war in the Mediterranean. The answer is no as well. Other factors were at play. The British still held Malta and Gibraltar as key naval, air, and supply bases for the Sea. Also neither the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) or Luftwaffe were able to assert control over the Mediterranean after the airbases in Crete were captured.

In addition the motif for Britain’s struggle and success in the war was living to fight another day. The British were able to use their navy to evacuate their troops from Crete as they had at Dunkirk and in Greece. Eventually Britain’s naval superiority ensured that they could continue to supply their campaign in places like North Africa while the German units would often have to rely on scrounging together materiel or hope to capture Allied supply bases. Crete was a costly endeavor and became magnified by the fact that losses were exclusively among airborne units. Hitler decided never to use airborne units in such attacks for the rest of the war, while the Allies learned from the mistakes of the Germans. When the final invasion of Europe did come paratroopers were a key part of the Allied invasion. The Allies figured out how to beat the Nazis at their own game, sealing their fate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How The Machine Gun Changed Warfare

Desire for rapid fire has dated back millennia. Ancient commanders wanted an increased rate of fire from bows, and modern generals wanted a higher rate of fire from rifles. Due to slow, manual loading times of rifles from the 18th and 19th centuries only a few rounds could be expected to be fired a minute. Despite the best generals plans, war is chaotic. Rapid fire was needed on the battlefield in order to better control it. The machinegun changed the nature of war from a focus of offensive maneuvering to managed, defensive positioning.

In warfare prior to the advent of the machine gun, war was about maneuvering. The purpose of war was to shift troops to a spot where the enemy was most vulnerable. War was fought in formations that often were positioned with a distinct front, rear, and sides. Often times attacks directed at the sides, the flanks, would be the goal. This is because a forward facing military unit would have to shift around to best deal with attacks on its sides. This could often cause chaos and routes as made famous by Hannibal’s double envelopment at Cannae.

As late as the Civil War flanking was a primary means of achieving battlefield success. The tactics of this era dictated lining up in a line of hundreds to thousands of men, and shooting across a field from a distance of roughly a football field. Because of the linear formations, opposing units would often try to maneuver towards the opponents flank where the line of fire would be greatly thinned out. The only way to engage such flanking was to turn entire units around to meet the threat. As a result many battles of the Civil War resulted in opposing sides simply trying maneuver towards the opponents’ sides.

The one thing that was constant in warfare from Ancient Times up through the Civil War was the act of engagement. To best engage and overwhelm one’s flanks to achieve a total victory, a commander needed to smash through their enemy’s lines. This could result from a frontal or flanking assault. Bows and arrows were not enough to achieve such a hammering blow and neither were guns during the Civil War Guns could only shoot so far and so fast. To outflank an opponent infantry needed to engage the opposing flanks in hand to hand combat. Cavalry would be used to outmaneuver the opponent at faster speeds. Often at the climax of battle there would be an ordered charge to try and smash through the ranks of the enemy.

Technology from the Civil War onward until World War I shifted. Rather than being meant to aid in maneuver, it was meant to slow down maneuvers. Trenches were used towards the end of the Civil War in the battle for Petersburg. Barbed wire emerged as a threat to charges because of its ability to maim its victims. Mines were used to make swaths of land deadly to cross.

The machine gun reversed the equation of maneuver guaranteeing success. The machine gun with its high capacity to carry rounds prevented maneuvers from occurring. Because it could cut down so many men so quickly, units did not have the time to reform to outmaneuver their opponents. Stagnation on a battlefield with a machine gun means death. Adding to this, large groups of men charging at a fixed machine gun could be mowed down by one gun alone. In ten seconds a German Maxim machinegun could accomplish what 33 well trained soldiers in the Civil War could fire off in one minute. Charges became obsolete because in the 15 seconds it took to charge 100 yards over torn up Earth, 150 men could be killed by one gun. Add that the men would have to avoid mines, potholes from artillery tearing up the Earth, and cutting barbed wire along with overcoming any other defensive earthworks to prevent such a charge and the effect of the charge was negated.

Trying to use the tactics of a bygone era could not work in the new defensive oriented world of World War I battlefields. Part of the reason the war was such a stagnant war was because a revolution had happened under the noses of the generals of Europe, and they missed it. The generals failed to adjust. Trying to use old maneuvering tactics like charges to take trenches failed. Men were mowed down. Then new technology was invented to deal with defeating the superiority of defense but it was in its infancy. Such new technology could not stand up to the defensive technology that had been gradually produced over the 70 years prior to the war.

Mass movements with infantry largely became obsolete because there was no good way to protect or bypass the defensive schemes where machine guns were the prominent component of defense. As a result taking land became nearly impossible because defenses were impregnable. Soldiers had not protection from the hail of bullets.

War only shifted back to having an offensive conscience when technology was developed that was impervious to bullets and could bypass it. This came in the form of the tank and the plane. Armored tanks could withstand the bullets of machine guns and speed past them. Planes, such as dive bombers, once an enemy position was located could target the position and drop a bomb on it. It took the revolution of the Blitzkrieg to shift war back from defensive to offensive minded. Yet the technology was never truly present in necessary quantity to alter the battlefield of World War I. If it was used, the intrinsic implications of such technology was lost on most generals during World War I. World War I is remembered for its stagnation and there is not greater culprit for this then the machine gun.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The First Cold War

Britain and Russia have long been key players on the European stage. Their joint victory in the Napoleonic Wars propelled both to become preeminent powers. Russia’s role in Europe was to be the great Bear of the East whose sheer man power and size made them one of the most formidable Empires on the continent. On the other hand, Britain exerted its power on the continent through domination of the seas and industrialization to exercise its naval superiority in conflicts all over the globe. Both Empires had aspirations that extended beyond their boundaries. Both were fundamentally different. As a result a Cold War of conflicting interests permeated the 19th Century. Only once a power could compete with Russia’s manpower and Britain’s industrial might would the two rivals be pressured to unite and curb the influence of the new European behemoth: a unified German Reich.

The Napoleonic Wars were a shock to the power structure of Europe. The Revolutionary drive for Republican governments all over Europe was the great fear of the conservative powers of Eastern Europe and the more comparatively liberal Britain. The conservative powers of the East included Prussia, the Austrian Empire, and the Russian Empire. Their governments were conservative because the will of the monarch was absolute. The ideas of the French Revolution were completely counter to this form of rule. Although Napoleon ended up making himself monarch, the spirit of the revolution, that the lower classes would overthrow the upper classes scared nobility all over Europe. The primary purpose of the absolute monarch was to maintain order. Monarchs were believed to have been given the divine right to rule and thus were the only ones fit to rule. On the other hand rule by the people was the embodiment of disorder and chaos. The leaders of Europe were terrified.

Although Britain was a parliamentary government, Britain had its own reasons to oppose the Revolution. Britain believed that the French revolution was not legitimate because it was not the place of the people to overthrow a legitimate government. Both being ideologically opposed to the revolution, Britain and Russia were galvanized to ally against Napoleon because his conquests upended their own designs to control Europe.

After years of hardship and thousands of casualties the French beast was subdued. The future of Europe was determined by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The Congress hoped to ensure a lasting peace on the continent through a balance of power. Britain in the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo showed their versatility as both the strongest naval power in Europe and powerful army. Despite initial French success, Russia’s defense in depth strategy eventually repulsed the Grande Armée resulting in the turning point of the Grande Armée’s dominance. Britain and Russia being key players in battles and campaigns that turned around the war made them the top two powers to survive the Napoleonic Wars. The Napoleonic Wars expanded the powers of Russia and Britain. Europe was left up for grabs. Uncertainty created much controversy.

The uncertainty of Europe’s future in the aftermath of the war created the first crisis of the Russian-British Cold War. Although Britain was in the midst of forming the largest overseas land empire in history, Britain did not want to commit troops to the European continent. Rather they sought to control Europe through diplomacy and a balance of powers. Britain feared any one power becoming too strong in Europe. Britain did not want its power to be rivaled. Britain used diplomacy and other nations as surrogate nations for achieving Britain’s goal of balance of power on the continent. On the other hand Tsar Alexander of Russia saw himself as the guarantor of security on the continent. Thus he felt he could exert his powers to further those means.

One of the first flashpoints of the British-Russian Cold War was to determine the post-war fate of Poland. Poland had once been a great kingdom, but at the end of the 18th Century it had been partitioned among the Russian Empire, the Prussian Empire, and the Austrian Empire. After the Napoleonic Wars Russia set its sights on acquiring all of Poland. One thing to note about the Congress of Vienna is there were a lot of backroom, informal deals made between participating powers. Prussia and Russia made a private deal with regards to the Polish Question.

Russia wanted to acquire all Polish lands. Russia wanted to set up a Polish Kingdom within its lands that would nominally be its own state, but in reality would be loyal to the Russian Tsar. Poland would be given a certain level of autonomy, but would essentially be a puppet state. In return for guaranteeing all Polish lands, Prussia wanted to acquire all of the German State of Saxony.

Although Prussia and Russia were happy to approve of these concessions, the other parties of the Congress were not. Britain, France, and Austria all felt threatened by Prussia and Russia’s power plays for land. They had to stop it. As a result France, Britain, and Austria all agreed they would go to war if the Russian/Prussian plan went into effect. Russia and Prussia got word of the designs of their opposition. Prussia and Russia blinked. A new deal was structured to maintain the hard won peace in Europe. Russia received most of Polish lands and establish Congress Poland, and autonomous state that accepted Tsar Alexander I of Russia as its ruler. Prussia received 40% of Saxony. It is important to notice Britain’s role in the negotiations. Britain had emerged as the strongest power on the continent after the war, but had been drained of many resources from fighting. In fact none of the countries on Europe were ready to go to war over Poland and Saxony. Britain had to ensure the balance of power in Europe to ensure its own safety. Britain bluffed the Russians and Prussians into believing war was an option.

A recurring problem in the burgeoning Cold War was the Eastern Question. The Eastern Question related to the decline of the once great Ottoman Empire. In the 16th and 17th the Ottoman Empire was one the most powerful Empires in the world. The empire had expanded deep into Europe. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic Empire that seemed to threaten all of Christendom with its rapid advances from the 1300’s to 1500’s. Eventually the juggernaut was slowed and stopped. Because the Empire failed to modernize, it began to decay, and then began losing ground to the rapidly advancing European powers. Everyone knew the Sick Man Of Europe was destined to fall. The question was a matter of when, how quickly, and who would pick up the pieces when it did finally fall.

Britain and Russia both appointed themselves as guarantors of different aspects of Europe. This sewed the seeds for a lasting Cold War. Russia saw itself as the guarantor of Europe and the primary protector of Christian people’s within the Ottoman lands. Russia was a Slavic Nation. It also practiced Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In the aftermath of the Ottoman overthrow of the Byzantine Empire, Russia saw itself as the Third Rome, and thus the protector of Eastern Orthodox interests. Since many of Ottoman Domains were once Byzantine domains, Russia felt it was be the patriarch to Eastern Orthodox peoples. Furthermore, many of the Christians under Ottoman reign were ethnically Slavic, resulting in Russia believing it had dual faceted connection with the Christian peoples under Ottoman control.

Britain claimed itself the guarantor of the Mediterranean. During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain took control of islands like Malta as staging bases for operations in the Mediterranean. Britain used its powerful navy to patrol and exert control over the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean was crucial for British commerce. The importance of securing the Mediterranean increased with the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt. The canal linked Britain to its most prized possession, India. Britain gained so many resources from India that protection of trade routes to India was a top priority. Finally Britain also had interests in managing the decay of the Ottoman Empire.

As a result, British and Russian interests were often in conflict in South Eastern Europe. Greece was a crisis point for the two powers. Greece had been under Ottoman control for hundreds of years. In 1821 a revolt broke out against the Ottoman Empire. The revolt was led be people in Greek lands. At first Europe was unhappy with the idea of Greek Revolution. Balance of power was always on the minds of European leaders. They did not want to the decay of the Ottoman Empire to result in chaos. In August of 1822 Britain changed its stance. Britain began supporting the Revolution. One reason for this is although Russia had also denounced the revolution, Britain feared Russia might unilaterally become involved in a war in favor of the revolt. Such a move would either increase Russian territory or allow for the establishment of a pro Russian puppet state. For Britain, this was unacceptable.

The British threw their support to the Greeks. This first came in the form of openly supporting the Greek Revolution. Next the British offered loans to the Greeks to fund the revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Britain formed such strong ties with the participants of Revolution, a pro-British political party was formed among the revolutionaries. This group pushed for a more active British role in the Revolution.

As the war went on, Britain and Russia desired to see an end to the conflict. The two powers always tried to push for balance on the continent. The two along with other members of the Concert of Europe began talks with the Ottoman Sultan. A series of naval engagements ensued between the Ottoman Empire and Egypt against the French, British, and Russians. Negotiations with the Ottoman Empire were on and off based on the fortunes of the naval battles. Eventually Britain and Russia agreed to allow a third party, France to commit an army to the Greek Revolution. With the support of the major European powers, the Greeks were able to liberate themselves of the Ottomans.

In the course of settling the Greek issue, Russia became so frustrated with the Ottomans, they declared war. This began the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829. Russia pushed hard from the east on the Ottoman territories in Southeastern Europe. The war furthered the notion that the Ottoman Empire was the Sick Man of Europe. Russia laid siege to many cities in present day Bulgaria and Serbia that were in Ottoman control. The Russians won many of their battles. At no point did the Ottomans seem like a serious threat to Russian advances. Russia began making its way down to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. The war was over. The Ottomans had to sue for peace.

The Russo-Turkish War profited the Russian Empire immensely. Russia secured autonomy for Serbia under Ottoman control. Serbia was a fellow Slavic, largely Christian nation under Ottoman control. Thus as guarantor of these types of peoples, Russia had seen it as its duty to free the Serbians. Intervention was not entirely altruistic. Such intervention ensured a lasting alliance between the two nations. Russia also expanded its possessions to increase its coastal lands along the Black Sea. Turkey also accepted Russian control of what is now Georgia and some parts of Armenia. Russia also gained the right act as an Eastern Orthodox guardian of the peoples of Wallachia and Moldavia. The provinces remained under Ottoman sovereignty. To counter Russia’s gains, Britain and France pushed for an independent Greek state. This was distinct from earlier proposal of making Greece an autonomous state within Ottoman control. Since Russia had just displayed it could exert its dominance over Southeastern Europe, making Greece an independent nation prevented the need for Russia to further intervene on the Greeks’ behalf. This acted as a counter to Russian gains.

Around the time of the Greek Revolution, British and Russian society were fundamentally different. Britain was the world leader in industrialization. A strong middling class began to arise out of the industrial revolution. Britain’s focus on its naval hegemony was an extension of its commercial interests. Britain had an empire to be commercially strong, and had a navy to protect its trade. Britain needed the best military technology because industrialization was rooted in efficiency.

Russia on the other hand relied on manpower. Thus the Russian military was a reflection of Russian society. Russia was highly agricultural where Britain was more industrial and commercial. Wheat production was a key export to Russia’s economy. Russia relied on serfs to produce and harvest the empire’s wheat. In the same vein, Russia’s military strength relied on its large surplus of people it could employ to fight. Russia was always slow to industrialize and modernize its army. It believed its strength in numbers could overwhelm any opponent on land. Thus with the Russian focus on infantry based superiority, and the British focus on naval based superiority, the two had fundamentally different approaches in dealing with military conflicts.

It is important to note the changing of dynamics in European diplomacy at this time from when the Napoleonic War ended. During the Congress of Vienna, Russia, in partnership with Austria and Prussia established the Holy Alliance. This was meant to protect the conservative principles of an absolute monarch exerting absolute control over the state. Britain and France, having more liberal views of government were being pushed closer and closer to each other.

All powers in Europe but especially Britain and Russia tried to play off each other when it came to the Ottomans. At different times, the powers would see it beneficial to prop the Ottoman Empire. Other times it would be more beneficial to let the Empire decay and either pick up or manage the pieces.

Russia began to see that it could profit from propping up the Ottomans. Russia exported large amounts of grain to the Ottomans. The two were economically linked. The Ottomans realized they were subject to the will of the Russian Empire. An agreement had to be made. The Ottomans gave the Russians free passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean in 1833. This agreement left the door open for Russia to have a naval presence in the Mediterranean. Britain could not accept another major power in the Mediterranean. Adding to these fears, the agreement for free passage was supposed to be a secret agreement between the Russian and Ottomans, but was leaked. Before the completion of the Suez Canal the route of exchange to India began in Lebanon. Thus securing the eastern Mediterranean was crucial for Britain.

Maintaining the Ottoman Empire also benefited Russia because if Russia allowed for the Empire to decay a series of problematic situations could arise. One possibility, highlighted by the Greek Revolution, was that all the nationalities under Ottoman control would rise up and try to form their own nations. A series of chaotic revolts occurred in 1848. Many were nationalistic in nature. This left an indelible impression in the minds of Europe’s leaders. Such revolts were to be avoided at all costs.

Russia wanted to prop up the Ottomans to prevent Britain and France from picking up the pieces of the decay. The two had shown their power to intervene in Greece. Britain’s navy allowed for Britain to strike anywhere in the Mediterranean at any time. For the less technologically advanced Russia, transport of troops to fronts was a long, slow task. Thus Russia could not allow the faster moving Britain to take advantage of on any potential decay of the Ottoman Empire.

An agreement known as the Straits Agreement of 1841 helped act as a catalyst for war. In this agreement the major European powers agreed to close free passage through the Turkish Straits connecting the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Because this benefited Britain by essentially keeping the Russian naval threat out of the Mediterranean an exchange was secured. Russia secured a promise from the European powers that no one of nation would hold exclusive sway over the Ottoman Empire. Although this curbed Russian expansion it sewed the seeds for their discontent.

The Cold War between Britain and Russia became a hot war with the onset of the Crimean War.
The Crimean War rose out of disputes as to who was the protector Christian interests in the Holy Land. This issue at hand was who regulated which Christians could visit different Holy Sites. France claimed it was the protector of Christians in the Holy Land. Since an agreement in1774 Russia had secured claims to Christians in the Holy Land. The conflict over who had claims over the Holy Land’s Christians was rooted in a centuries old struggle between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Russia was unhappy with France’s claims to Christian sites in the Holy Land. As a result it sent emissaries to the Ottoman Sultan to dispute France’s claims. To leverage their demands, Russia moved troops to Danubian border provinces within the Ottoman Empire. France and Britain saw this as Russia trying to exert control over the Ottomans. Seeing this as a violation of the Straits Convention, the powers moved to block such control. Russia was not able to achieve its desired diplomatic goals.

To counter the Russian threat the Ottomans moved its own troops to the Danubian border. It also amassed troops in the Caucus region. The Sultan declared war on Russia on October 23, 1853. Nicholas I’s response was to send a Russian fleet to destroy the Ottoman fleet at Sinop. The more advanced Russian fleet demolished the Turkish fleet. Britain and France feared Russia would move to exert control over the Eastern Mediterranean. War was declared. The dream of the Congress of Vienna was shattered.

The Crimean War resulted in a quagmire. No real gains had been made on either side. Although the British, French, Ottoman alliance was successful using its more modern technology to move troops to the battlefield, it was difficult to deal with the size of both the Russia army and territory. The Allies came out slightly ahead in the war. The allies captured the key city of Sebastopol which brought Russia to the table. The experience left a sour taste in the mouths of each belligerent nation’s people and a peace had to be agreed upon.

Russia, having lost the war, was adversely affected by the Treaty of Paris in 1856. Russia lost its claim to special protection of Christians within the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand the Ottomans had to improve how they treated their Christian subjects. Looking to ensure continued Mediterranean hegemony, Britain and France forced Russia to destroy their Black Sea fleet. All prewar boundaries were restored. Finally with the Eastern Question still left unresolved by conflict, the powers again agreed not to intervene in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire. The war made Russia turn inward for a time, but the Cold War did not end.

Within 22 years of the end of the Crimean War, Russia was on the move again. In 1877 a second Russo-Turkish war broke out. Nationalism in the European lands of the Ottomans was threatening to boil over. The provinces of Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania all proclaimed their independence from the Ottoman Empire. Russia, seeing potential allies in the formation of independent Slavic states, helped to foment revolutionary fervor in the Ottoman’s European possessions. Russia also fought the war to make up for the damage of prestige resulting from the loss of the Crimean War. The revolutions with the support of the Russian Empire was too much for the Ottomans to handle. Initially the great powers allowed Russia to prosecute the war. The Ottomans had committed such heinous atrocities against the Christian population of Bulgaria as punishment for the uprisings that Europe largely backed Russia’s intervention.

Eventually European powers stepped in to resolve the Russo-Turkish War. Britain convinced the Russian’s to accept a truce from the Ottomans. Despite their acceptance, Russia continued to move as if it was going to sack the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. Britain again fearing a Russian power grab sent their fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia understood the lightly veiled threat. A Congress of Berlin was convened in 1878 to settle the war.

Again a balance of power needed to be struck in Europe. The power of the Ottoman Empire was reduced as most of its former Slavic territories either formed independent nations or joined either the Austro-Hungarian or Russian Empire. Russia increased its territorial holdings as a result of its victory. Russia felt though it did not get all it deserved. Russia wanted the creation of an independent Principality of Bulgaria. Russia liked the idea of having a Slavic buffer state in the old Ottoman lands. The Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottomans at the end of the war established the Principality, but the Congress reversed the Treaty. Bulgaria was to remain under Ottoman influence. Britain feared this new state could one day threaten their access to the Turkish Straits due to their proximity. At the end of the Congress, Russia felt short changed. Russian hatred began to brew against the newly formed Germany because of their instrumental role in mediating the results of the Congress. Britain, to balance Russia’s increased influence in the Balkans was given control of Cyprus, an Eastern Mediterranean island.

The Russian-British Cold War of the 19th Century had many theaters world wide. Across Asia there were many theaters where the rivalry played out. Prior to the Crimean War intrigue was in the Asian air. In the early 19th Century Britain had begun expanding it trading interests in China. Russia due to China’s proximity sent spies to understand Britain’s intentions in the region. The British aware of the Russian presence sent their own spies. The two spied on each other to figure out each other’s intentions. This battle for information was known as the Great Game. There was even some speculation that Russia wanted warm water ports in India. This would mean Russia crossing over Afghanistan and threatening Britain’s crown jewel of India. Rudyard Kipling wrote novel based on all the Russian-British intrigue in Asia. Although there is some controversy as to whether Russian intentions were to move into Afghanistan and India, and whether the British believed it, it is undeniable that at the very least the myth of mutual suspicion was in the air at the time of Kipling’s 1901 novel.

One of the final episodes of the Russian-British Cold War was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Russia again was seeking a warm water port in the east. Russia wanted to expand into Manchuria gain such a port. The Korea Peninsula was a possession of Japan and feared Russia would continue down to the peninsula. War broke out. The war between Russia and Japan foreshadowed the slow war of attrition World War I would turn out to be.

Japan had developed its military and navy proving a difficult enemy for the larger Russian military to defeat. When Russia’s eastern forces could not defeat the Japanese outright, the Russians sent their Baltic Fleet around the globe to aid their eastern counterparts. The Baltic Fleet could have tipped the balance of the war. Britain had entered into an alliance with Japan. To aid their allies, some British ships were dispatched to follow the Baltic Fleet. The whole way to the east the British were informing the Japanese of the Russian fleet movements. When the fleet did arrive to the theater of war Japan knew the Russians were coming. The Japanese were prepared. The Japanese destroyed the Russian fleet. This turned this tide of the war against Russia. The poor performance, troubled economy, and low civilian morale for the war caused revolts in 1905 that would be similar to the revolts that toppled the Russian Empire in 1917.

The Revolution of 1905 almost brought Russia to its knees. Russia could not afford to be in a race for global supremacy anymore. It needed to focus all its efforts on holding its empire together. Russia realized that towards the end of the century Britain was no longer its greatest threat, especially if Russia could not afford to compete over expansion could.

The new emerging rival on the continent was Germany. While Russia and Britain had competed with each other for global expansion, Prussia through a series of wars unified all the German states. Germany was able to combine the industrial might of Britain with the manpower of Russia. France had been steamrolled by the ascendant Prussia in 1871, and realized it needed to better protect itself. The greatest form of protection France could achieve was sandwiching Germany between two competing powers. Thus France sought to form a military alliance with Russia in 1892. This provided the precedent for Britain’s agreement with Russia. The Anglo-Russian Entente was signed in 1907.

Britain also feared that Germany’s navy was beginning to openly rival Britain’s. Germany made it clear its sights were set on empire. Germany’s rapid industrialization allowed for it to outpace Britain’s older industrial complex. With all the German states under its belt, Germany had become one of the most populous European nations. Germany seemed to meld all the best aspects of Russian and British military advantages into their own military. The army was considered the best in Europe. Their commanders were considered the best in Europe. The Prussians/Germans had one a series of wars against European powers like France and Austro-Hungary. By the dawn of the 20th Century, Germany was on a roll. Finally with the formation of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, Germany seemed to have no limits. Britain and Russia began to set aside their differences because the power of an unchecked Germany could overturn the century’s hard fought balance of power. Ultimately, it did.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Best Roman Emperors You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

When ranking the Top 10 Best Roman Emperors there are many names that stand out. The more famous Emperors stand out such as Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius. But these were not the only Emperors who did great things for their empire, or ruled in a way that could only be classified as a success. There are lesser known names who still made very important contributions to Roman Society and it is important to explore their contributions to understand why Rome was such a successful Empire.

The subject of this round of Best Roman Emperors You’ve Probably Never Heard Of will be Antoninus Pious. Antoninus Pius ruled from 138 CE to 161 CE. Antoninus Pius’s reign is saddled between the reigns of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. Both Emperors are more well known than Antoninus Pius, but such historical obscurity is part of what made Antoninus Pius so great. The reason Antoninus Pius was able to be saddled between two great emperors is because he was able to act as bridge between the two famous emperors. Antoninus Pius’s disposition allowed for a smooth transition of power from Hadrian to Antoninus, and then Antoninus to Marcus Aurelius.

Transition of power was never an easy endeavor for Rome. In fact often times the transition of power created great turmoil within the empire. In fact one of the key reasons Rome eventually fell was because of so much in fighting during transitional power struggles. Rome was at its greatest when power could easily and clearly be passed from one ruler to another. It was this characteristic that defined the peak of Roman power, an era that bears Antoninus Pius’s name, the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty.

Antoninus Pius’s name provides a perfect a example of how he ensured a smooth transition of power in the wake of Hadrian’s death. Antoninus received his cognomen Pius, which means loyalty or the dutiful, because he pushed an unwilling Senate to deify his predecessor. Traditionally the Roman Senate would deify a successful and well liked Emperor after his death. Hadrian though had greatly displeased the Senate early in his reign by ordering the execution of four prominent Romans because of an alleged failed conspiracy plot against Hadrian. Rather than cut his ties with his adopted father, Antoninus dutifully ordered for Hadrian to be buried in his unfinished Mausoleum upon its completion. Visitors to Rome will know the Mausoleum of Hadrian as Castel Sant’Angelo. Antoninus Pius also threw a lavish ceremony in honor of Hadrian that was fashioned after the ceremony honoring the death of Augustus.

There are important implications resulting from Antoninus Pius’s decision to celebrate the will of his adopted father, Hadrian. Hadrian ordered that Antoninus could only ensure his spot as imperial successor by following certain conditions laid out by Hadrian. Hadrian had foreseen the prowess of a young Marcus Aurelius and preferred him to be his successor. Yet a common thread among failed emperors was when too much power was given to people who were too young. Caligula and Nero are often cited as model examples. At the time of Antoninu’s adoption, Marcus Auerlius was only 17 years old. Antoninus Pius, a 52 year old man at the time of his adoption, was old for Roman standards. Antoninus was meant to occupy the seat of Emperor until the young Marcus Aurelius grew into a mature adult who could handle the responsibilities of being Emperor. It was assumed that Antoninus Pius would not live for much longer and that Marcus Aurelius was on the cusp of becoming emperor.

A second condition Hadrian set for Antoninus was that he also had to adopt Lucius Verus as a successor. Hadrian’s plan was for Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus to rule the empire together. The reason for this is prior to the adoption of Antoninus Pius, Hadrian had adopted another man to be his successor. Hadrian adopted his lover Lucius Ceionius Commodus to be his heir and renamed him to Lucius Aelius Caesar. Lucius Verus was the son of Lucius Aelius Caesar. Since Hadrian loved Lucius Aelius Caesar, he wanted to maintain his legacy by having his son ascend to the throne since his father could not. It is important to note that for Emperors in Ancient Rome adoption did not hold the same meaning it holds today. Adoption was a way for the Emperor to choose his successor while also giving him a legitimate claim to the throne through the paternal connection of the adopting father and adopted son. Lucius Aelius Caesar died in 138 CE and thus Hadrian needed to find a new successor until Lucius Verus came of age to co-rule.

The well respected and aged Antoninus served two purposes for Hadrian. Antoninus helped Hadrian’s image with the Senate by selecting someone they were in favor of, but also allowed for him to select someone who could manage the Empire until the ascension of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Hadrian also favored Antoninus because he was not a military man and did not show the drive towards conquests like previous Roman Emperors had. This was important because Hadrian was the first emperor to delineate the limits of the Roman Empire. Hadrian did not want to see his life’s work of maintaining the borders to go to waste upon his death. Hadrian’s decision to end Roman Expansion is what makes Hadrian’s reign stand out as so unique and successful. Long wars of conquest were becoming too expensive and too far reaching for Rome to handle. In Ancient Times travel took much longer so it was very difficult and costly to maintain and supply far reaching outposts that were outside of the immediate Mediterranean Coastal area. A series of uprisings and population unrest led Hadrian to pull back from most of the lands conquered by his predecessor Trajan in order to have a more manageable empire. Hadrian did not want to see his anti-expansionist legacy die with him, so Antoninus’s non-military background ensured it would not.

One common theme when discussing Antoninus Pius is that often times historians speak of Antoninus Pius in terms of the emperors who immediately preceded and succeeded him. Part of this is that there is not much literature on Antoninus Pius. Adding to this dearth of information is that he did not build grand structures like Trajan had with his Forum or Hadrian had with his Mausoleum. Although Antoninus did have to deal with some military incursions for the most part he maintained Hadrian’s goal of ending imperial expansion. Antoninus mostly kept things the way they were. The maintenance of the status quo was the whole point of his reign. He was not supposed to be the Emperor who rode into Rome with an Imperial triumph or to be a great builder, he was meant to be a keeper of the peace.

If there’s one thing that defines Antoninus Pius’s reign, it is the peace that existed under his rule. In fact so peaceful was his rule that the time period from the beginning of his reign to the end of his successor Marcus Aurelius’s reign was known as the Golden Age Of The Antonines. This era is considered the pinnacle of the most successful period in Roman history and it was all made possible because Antoninus kept things the way they were. His reign did not overturn the Roman order like those of Augustus or Diocletian. Instead he kept going with things that were going well. Being a respected Senator, his reign marks the last time the Emperor and the Senate worked hand in hand to rule the Empire.

The only truly notable act of Antonius’s reign was that he passed laws guaranteeing certain rights to slaves. But even this was an example of how steadfast Antoninus was to keeping things status quo. This was not some great emancipation to be revered like the emancipation of the Civil War is revered. Instead rights were guaranteed to slaves because Antoninus understood that slaves drove the Roman economy and needed to have some protection from their masters in order to optimize their productivity and ensure a stable economy.

Such peace allowed for Roman culture and the economy to flourish. A great quote that embodies what Antoninus’s reign was about comes from the podcast of The History Of Rome. “Antoninus is a man who wants tomorrow to be like today, and today to be like yesterday.” Rome could only taste the fruits of its greatness when there was peace. Turmoil drained the Empire of resources and directed the population away from cultivating their culture, and to focus on war. Antoninus Pius’s reign was so great because he created the climate for peace that allowed Rome to reach its fullest potential. By following Hadrian’s wishes rather than breaking from them, he allowed for seamless transitions from the reigns of Hadrian through Marcus Aurelius.

Antoninus ended up being one of the longest serving Emperors, surviving much longer than anyone had anticipated. His reign lasted an almost Augustan amount, 22 years and 239 days. Most emperors’ reign came no where near this long of a reign. Antoninus’s peaceful relationship with the Senate, the power brokers of the Empire, meant that they felt involved enough in the affairs of the Empire that killing off Antoninus would not be to their advantage. Furthermore the climate of peace that Antoninus created was so well respected and successful that it made no sense for the Emperors in waiting to kill Antoninus in order to ascend to the throne more quickly. The peace and consistency Antoninus Pius provided for the Empire was almost universally regarded as bringing out the best in Rome and that is why he is One Of The Best Roman Emperors You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The False Lure and Lessons of Technology And How It Shaped US Strategy In Vietnam

In all of the wars the United States participated in, technology especially cutting edge technology has been part of the common thread that ensured American victory. Whether it was the rifle of Revolutionary Marksmen, howitzers in the Civil War, or a nuclear bomb to end World War II, technology was crucial to American success. A tradition was established, and reached an apex in the arms race of the Cold War. American technology would be a key determinant in America’s Cold War strategy. Strategy and technology became inextricably linked. What was not grasped by American officials in charge of the Vietnam war was technology plays its most prominent role in the realm of tactics, and is not a driving force behind strategy. Thus America was doomed to failure in Vietnam due to a flawed overall strategy that fundamentally did not understand the role of technology in war nor the implications of its use.

The lesson America took from World War II and applied to Vietnam was that mass production won wars. Under President Eisenhower the US policy to send military advisers and aid to South Vietnam began. Since the French-Indochina war, America had been propping up the French with financial aid and military materiel. America was able to do so because in World War II America had established itself as the industrial superpower. America developed new and more efficient techniques to speed up production. Through Taylorism, America was able to out produce it’s enemies in World War II. Such mass production overwhelmed the enemy. Thus America believed in war it could grind down its opponents with overwhelming quantities of war materiel.

After the French defeat, the American military failed to reform it’s technology driven strategy. French failures were overlooked. The Eisenhower administration ignored French local failures and instead viewed the war through the geopolitical lens of the domino theory.# Eisenhower’s administration believed they could arm ARVN with vast quantities of weaponry to ensure victory. This course was chosen because American strategy operated under the assumption that conventional warfare tactics could win the war. Although the Americans provided huge sums of armaments to the South Vietnamese military, these weapons were meant for a conventional war. What the Vietminh had proved though in the French-Indochina War was that victory was secured through a strategy of unconventional warfare. Since America failed to adjust their strategy based on French defeat, America’s strategy for arming ARVN was fundamentally flawed.

The American military’s belief in the absolute power of technology prevented it from understanding how to defeat the fomenting insurgency in South Vietnam. America’s strategy was to make ARVN a NATO style military organization. The Military Assistance and Advisory Group, later MACV, believed NATO styled firepower was superior to the weaponry of locals. As a result military advisers felt they could win every battle against insurgents. This assumption was wrong. America could not see there was more to warfare than overwhelming brute force. The nature of the South Vietnamese insurgency was that the insurgents were highly motivated. This was in contradistinction to the ARVN who had many reasons to be disillusioned with the Diem government they were supposed to be protecting. Corruption, failure to land reform,# and removal of tribal power, isolated ARVN and the Diem government. MAAG was blinded to the fact that in order to succeed in Vietnam, they needed South Vietnam to succeed. To do this people needed to believe and support the South Vietnamese government. America did not realize that ARVN could not win by annihilating every enemy, but could only win by securing the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people.

Kennedy’s approach was to have a limited partnership with the Diem regime. He did not want to commit US ground troops to a conflict he viewed as an insurgency. Kennedy increased the number of advisers in Vietnam. He also sent a large amount of helicopters and other cutting edge technology. Kennedy brought the United States into a secret war that could only be facilitated by the new technology at America’s disposal. American pilots flew transport planes and helicopters for ARVN units. The administration believed the loss of the conflict could be prevented through such technology and support roles of US troops.

The Kennedy Administration changed the strategy of the Vietnam War. The new strategy shifted to counterinsurgency. Kennedy did not want to over commit and draw the Chinese or Soviets into the Vietnam War by pounding away at the North Vietnamese. The Untied States advised ARVN to take the war to the guerillas with new technology. Kennedy allowed the use of and M-113 armored personnel carriers for ARVN. The Kennedy administration believed such technology would intimidate the guerillas. Unfortunately for ARVN and MACV, the technology did not give an absolute advantage to ARVN. Guerillas sometimes captured the feared M-113. Guerillas became emboldened when they learned some of the new weapons of war could be easily destroyed . Guerillas realized helicopters could be shot down with their personal weapons. Technology was not creating a gap between ARVN and guerillas. Instead the guerillas adapted to the technology while ARVN and MACV continued to put false hopes in success through technology.

Johnson’s administration took the doctrine of using overwhelming firepower to end the Vietnam War to a new level. Escalation of the war was gradual under Johnson. Each step up the path of escalation pointed to America fighting a war of attrition. Johnson believed the US military’s superior firepower could overwhelm the insurgency and the North Vietnamese army. MACV promoted the strategy of crossover. Crossover occurred when enough opposing Vietnamese forces were killed that combat troops could not be re-supplied or reinforced. Crossover was a crucial failure in the US’s approach to the war. It fundamentally linked technology and tactics while blurring the line of achieving tactical goals and strategic goals.

Operation Rolling Thunder was a key example of trying to achieve strategic goals through
technology and tactics. Rolling Thunder was a reaction to the Gulf Of Tonkin incident. Many in Johnson’s cabinet, like Robert McNamara pushed for a heavy bombing campaign of North Vietnam to pound the country into submission. Opponents like George Ball understood that strategic bombing would not have the desired effect. North Vietnam had nothing of value to bomb. It was being supplied by China and since China was not a belligerent, it could not be attacked. Thus as Ball learned from WWII, the heavy bombing on homes and backyards of many North Vietnamese brought the war home for them. The bombing increased North Vietnamese determination while achieving almost no success for preventing the re-supply of guerrillas in the South. The bombing also did not shore up support of the Saigon government among locals. Thus South Vietnam was still very weak, while its enemies were furious and emboldened.

When the Johnson Administration approved the use of ground forces in Vietnam they were still hamstrung by an over reliance on technology instead of having a solid strategy. MACV believed the maneuverability helicopters provided for infantryman would ensure success in the battlefield. The MACV failed to understand the pitfalls of such technology. Helicopters did improve maneuverability but often increased vulnerability. Helicopters could be shot down before landing. After dropping terrain clearing daisy bombs, helicopter landing zones became easy targets for guerrillas. Landing zones often became ambush sites for guerrillas. Yet Johnson’s administration over looked these pitfalls. In their eyes the war was going to be won by such support vehicles destroying a drawn out enemy. The infantry were supposed to be the tools to draw out the enemy. This was the crux of the crossover strategy. Infantry would draw out the enemy, and support vehicles like helicopters and planes would bomb where the enemy was spotted. Because the Johnson administration was so tied to the idea of technology and tactics winning the war, it could not see how they were failing the war effort and endangering American soldiers.

The United States’ strategy in Vietnam was a non-strategy. Rather it relied on superior technology and tactics to win the war. The war could not be won on the hope technology and tactics would bleed the enemy into surrendering. As North Vietnam proved, an active and concerted strategy was the way to success. From 1956-1967 technology proved time and again it alone could not win the war in Vietnam.

Navarre, Give Us Back Our Legionairres

For many years after the Battle of The Teutoburg Forest, Roman Princeps Augustus could be heard passionately bellowing “Varus! Give me back my Legions!” So devastating was the Roman defeat in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D. that the great “Anointed One” could never put the memory of such a humiliation behind him. Indeed it was the blackest mark on a career studded with success. Much like Augustus, the specter of undefeated Germanic tribes would come to haunt Rome for the rest of its existence. And yet the lessons from this World Changing event were ignored. The narrative of a great imperial power setting out to crush the challenge of perceived inferiors yet failing due to massive hubris seemed to escape the French in the events leading up to the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The French failed to learn the lessons that hit the Romans like so many German axes against routed Roman troops. The French failed to see how the Vietminh power was based on strong, loyal local coalitions, something France could not claim to have.

Arminius, leader of the Germanic coalition against Rome, proved and the Vietminh later executed on this fact, that to assert control over a region, one must rally local strong support to succeed. Arminius, was able to succeed in overcoming elite trained Roman Legions by drawing together many of the disparate Germanic tribes by weaving a patchwork of anti-Romanism. Conversely the Romans failed in Germania because they did not follow their strategy of incorporation that had made Roman Hegemony over the Mediterranean so efficient and long lasting. Instead Varus, Governor the Roman province Germania, was known to be harsh towards conquered Germanic tribes and often imposed unbearable taxes. Rather than rally local support, Rome went into the battle alone, on foreign soil, against an enemy united solely to defeat Rome.

The French, in their colonial war to maintain Indochina, sought to divide not just their opposition, but all Vietnamese. The French wanted to assert hegemony by making cynical friendships and discrediting long established Vietnamese traditions. France would often prop the Catholic minority above the Buddhist majority, and merged old kingdoms to form superficial bonds in provinces, as in the case of Laos. Much like the Romans failed to do with the tribes of Germania, the French failed to make the Vietnamese feel invested in the future of a Vietnamese-French relationship. Because the French had made it clear that their presence in Indochina was for resource extraction purposes only, an adversarial relationship emerged between the colonizers and colonized. Thus, when the French were ambushed and devastated, most in Vietnam were not weeping; they were elated.

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was an ambush that resulted from France’s failed strategic planning and understanding of local Vietnamese politics. France having entrenched themselves too deeply in the lessons of World War I were rendered inflexible, like so many of their fortifications, to deal with a Vietnamese insurgency. From World War I, the French took the lesson that attrition won wars, and defensive fortifications were the prime tool of such success. The French often failed to capitalize on the mobility of their modern military, in favor of immobile, rigid defensive structures all over northern Vietnam. The French hoped the Vietminh would waste so many lives trying to take French fortifications, that eventually they would run out of troops to fight with. On the other hand the Vietnamese used mobility to their advantage to outmaneuver French fortifications.

From this emerges another lesson that should have been learned from the Teutoburg debacle. Picking the location of battle is crucial. Similarly important is the ability to be flexible in one’s chosen location of battle. Mobility provides this flexibility. The Romans in the Teutoburg Forest were ambushed because the densely packed legions were led into a forest and confined to a narrow road that provided little maneuverability. Maneuverability is crucial because it gives troops the power to react to sudden changes in the battle. Thus when the legions were stormed in lighting attacks by Germanic raiders, Roman inflexibility made slaughter easy.

The French defensive network at Dien Bien Phu made them highly inflexible. In order to achieve success the French had to lure the Vietminh into designated killing zones that allowed for crossing fire. When the Vietminh reacted to this by building a series of trench works that zig-zagged towards French defenses, the immobile French could not react in time to change their course of strategy. The French either had to hope the Vietnamese could be bled out before reaching their fortifications, or would somehow be relieved in the ever growing encirclement. Despite the fact that they were led to Dien Bien Phu through the feints and diversions of Vietminh General Vo Nguyen Giap, the French believed that Dien Bien Phu would be secure because of how remote it was.

Dien Bien Phu was a fortification located in a valley. As a result it became very difficult to supply and depended on air lifts for materiel. Furthermore, typically high ground is preferred in war. This did not concern the French. They believed it would be impossible for the Viet Minh to supply such a remote location. What the French did not factor in was the level of organization and determination of the Viet Minh courier system. The courier system was a system where manual laborers one by one transported war materiel up to Dien Bien Phu. Artillery was provided by the Chinese and Soviets, Cold War nemeses of the French.

The Vietnamese had advantages in manpower and initiative. Combined with foreign artillery, the Vietminh had a recipe for success. Despite many losses, through grit and determination, the Vietminh worked their way up to the different French fortifications of Gabrielle, Anne-Marie, and Beatrice, and overran them. Once these fortifications were gone, the crossing fire they could provide became eliminated along with French hopes of bleeding the enemy to defeat.

The aftermath for both imperial powers was devastating. The Roman losses from the three legions and auxiliary forces in the Teutoburg Forest are estimated at around 20,000 casualties. For the French 10,000 soldiers were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. For Rome, gone was the Roman air of invincibility. So embarrassing was the loss, never again would any Roman Legion bear the numbers XVII, XVIII, XIX. This was a macabre homage to Rome’s greatest fiasco since Cannae. For France, Dien Bien Phu marked the beginning of the unraveling of its great empire dating back to the 19th century. Within 20 years France’s overseas empire was all but disintegrated. The implications of this battle reversed the trend of European domination over third world powers. Dien Bien Phu was the first time a major European power was defeated by a subjugated people. For the rest of the 20th century the narrative of imperialism would be its rapid post World War II decline, not continuing European domination.

In both cases, France and Rome were great imperial powers fighting wars to oppress, rather than lift their subjects. As a result neither could secure local support when combating opposing factions. Furthermore, both powers believed they were superior and their opposition was inferior. This arrogance led to poor assumptions and unwise tactical decisions when facing the enemy. France, having ignored the lessons from Roman history became destined to fail in Indochina. In the end, with such high losses and international humiliation for naught, France could only cry Navarre, “Give us back our Legionnaires!”