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Posts Tagged ‘military strategy’

Increasingly, the most interesting aspect of investigating fake or dubious Thucydides quotes on the internet is not establishing their fakeness (Morley’s Law: the majority of quotations attributed to Thucydides on the internet fall into one of three categories: not quite what he said, not really what he meant, or not actually Thucydides at all) but exploring the processes by which anyone came to believe in them in the first place, and what this tells us about the cultural image of Thucydides. (more…)

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There’s a strong case to be made that the most active field of engagement with the classical past and its legacy outside the creative arts, and certainly the area where this engagement has the greatest potential for real world impact, is military education, especially in the United States. Several ancient authors have long been included within the canon of military and strategic studies: Thucydides above all, but also Homer, Xenophon and Caesar (and the candidate for Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, is a devotee of Marcus Aurelius). Works on ancient warfare, largely based on these texts, regularly feature in lists of recommended reading: Donald Kagan on the Peloponnesian War, Victor Davis Hanson on the Western Way of War. This clearly derives from the importance of historical studies in the curricula of various military education establishments, most famously the US Naval War College with its use of Thucydides as a foundational text, and the way that this reading then regularly features in the public remarks of senior military officers.*

Recently – this is an impression rather than a scientific survey – this tendency seems to have increased; (more…)

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I’ve just finished writing my lecture for this evening on Thucydides and modern political theory; as ever, it was only at about halfway through that I worked out what I wanted to say, so the text switches from nicely polished and word-processed sentences to scribbled notes that may or may not turn into coherent sentences on the night. One of my starting-points builds on the work of Eddie Keene at Oxford (in his chapter for the forthcoming Handbook to the Reception of Thucydides), noting that the conventional genealogy of ‘realism’  in International Relations theory, looking back to Hans Morgenthau and E.H.Carr, really doesn’t account for the importance of Thucydides in this tradition, as neither of them really discuss him (Carr, I think, ignores him completely; Morgenthau has at the most a couple of passing comments). Of course it is, as copious empirical evidence demonstrates, all too easy to interpret Thucydides’ account as a forerunner of neorealism, if you squint at it the right way and assume that e.g. the Mytilene Debate and Melian Dialogue are simply expressions of the historian’s analytical conclusions, but that doesn’t explain why it should be felt to be necessary to bring in Thucydides at all. (more…)

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(This is a guest post from Andreas Stradis, one of the doctoral students on the Bristol Thucydides project)

In his bestselling, semi-autobiographical account of the Vietnam War, Karl Marlantes devotes much attention to the plain-speaking, hard-drinking Lieutenant Colonel Simpson, torn between the needs of his battalion and his promotion prospects. A Korean War veteran and true ‘field’ Marine, he is also an outsider. Despite his combat experience, he is phased by his much younger equal in rank, a suave, educated Annapolis graduate. He sits a world apart from the Ivy League elite, to which Marlantes himself belonged as a Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar. At Georgia State University, taking the less prestigious route to a commission, Simpson ‘never had time to learn how to socialize’, or to ‘put pithy quotes into his reports the way he knew he ought to.’ After all he had done, ‘Why should he have to remember pithy f****** quotes?’ Quotes were incommensurate with the plain-speaking man, and otiose in the jungle.

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Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword. Those who persuade funding bodies to give them money on the basis that their research project is really with-it and relevant to contemporary issues shall spend their time worrying that everyone may suddenly lose interest. Thucydides was the classical text of choice for the two Iraq conflicts, whether deployed to justify an overwhelming ‘shock and awe’ approach (and I really must get round to finishing the article in which I reveal the real source of Colin Powell’s misquotation to support his strategy…) or to argue in favour of toppling Saddam; what about now..?

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