Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Spoils of War

I found this great comment by Mauro Cella while reading "The Stupid Wars" over at Taki's Magazine, and thought I'd republish it here:

"My great-grandfather enlisted for the Great War when he was just 17. He came home with injuries that plagued him till his death.

What did he get for his troubles? I am the "official keeper" of that prize: medals, and not many of them. 

Man has killed man from the beginning of time, but he has always expected something in return.

Roman legionaries of the Republican era were rewarded for a successful campaign with land, slaves or gold.

The Goths who run down Attila's Huns at Chalons served the Roman general, Aetius, in return for money and land.

The Norman knights who followed William to England were richly rewarded with silver and lands.

English archers during the Hundred Years War served in return for silver shillings and as much booty as they could carry away.

Charles V's armies served for one reason and one reason only: money. When his son run into financial difficulties those same armies mutinied and refused to fight until pay started arriving.

But the conscript who fought in modern wars, from Revolutionary France to democratic America, what did he serve for?

High values may be good for the recruitment process, but in the end is the material side of things that matters.

Even after conscription was abolished, things didn't improve: those veterans crippled in Iraq could surely use some gold or some shares in the local oilfields, yet they are left with nothing more than some dubious "benefits" that look more like throwing the dog a bone than a just reward.

That's how the nature of warfare has changed. In the days of yore the king (or duke, bishop or warlord) took to the field with his men and shared both the risks and the rewards. 

Sure, he was usually protected by the best armor money could buy, was usually a trained warrior from his youth up and was surrounded by highly trained sworn companions charged with his safety, but he risked injury and death as much as everybody else. 

Emperor Decius perished, together with his sons and most of his army, in a Romanian marsh fighting the Goths.

Alaric The Visigoth, "Ruler of All", was cut down by the Franks together with his sworn companions and most of his men.

Harold Godwineson was slayed on the fields of Hastings by a Norman "death squad". 

Richard the Lionhearted took a crossbow bolt in the belly during a siege and died of his wounds.

King John of Bohemia, the blind crusader, disappeared in the fight at Creçy. His body was recovered by his son the next day.

The list goes on and on.

In this situation we could reasonably speak that men, from the lowliest foot soldier to the richest knight, shared both the risks and rewards of warfare. Of course shares were anything but equal but, hey, it's life. 

But in modern warfare the commanders (be them military or civilian) sit comfortably at home while the troops die and then are cashiered out without reaping even the measliest reward for their troubles. Soldiers of old would have refused to fight for a commander who never showed his face on the battlefield and didn't reward them for their efforts.

But, hey, these are the joys of democracy."


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