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Man, or Metal? What Makes an Army Efficient

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Ben Riddle

Dr. MacMullan

Hons 101


Man, or Metal? What Makes an Army Efficient

The surge of adrenaline in your veins drives you forward. You hear only the pounding of your feet and your ragged breath. Suddenly, a wounded scream. Another explosion. The body count rises. You see blood on your hands, but do you know if it’s yours…or another’s? You are a trained fighting machine designed to kill with or without a weapon, but what truly makes you dangerous? Do you carry a rifle or a spear? Does it matter?

 One might argue that technological advances builds a lethal army and there is truth in that argument. For example, a man stationed in Las Vegas can destroy a terrorist compound a drone from thousands of miles away? But how much of a war can be won in this way? One could argue that the Romans were not so victorious because of their soldiers but because of the amount of wealth they achieved and the advantages they had in building roads and field medicine which allowed the Romans to move fast and stay healthy in battle. But how much of a war can be won with these things? Another example that one could give would be the Battle of Agincourt (Source I) in which the English, which were outnumbered, would defeat the French because the French knights had to trod through recently plowed fields that had been rained on creating mud along with the British who dug holes to break French horses’ ankles. The French were defeated because of terrain advantages would be the argument. But once again, how much of a war can be won in this way? A single battle can be won in these manners with these things but a war, a war cannot. And I, against all odds, would argue that although armies may be thousands of years, thousands of miles or even thousands of advancements apart, the root of a truly effective army does not lie in its fleeting physical advantages but, in the intrinsic values within each and every soldier fighting for something greater than himself. A truly effective army is driven by honor, discipline, a love for their nation, and sacrifice. These are the qualities that keep a soldier fighting even in the darkest of nights.

Logistically a paper can become cluttered if too many comparisons are being used at one time therefore, I will be using three different armies from modern and ancient eras. These armies, that will serve the “compare and contrast” role to help better shed light on the argument, will be The Roman Army (Legion/Legionnaires), The Spartans (Sparta), and finally The US Army Infantry. Each of these armies were/are very effective not only in direct combat with enemies but strategically. Another fair point is that each of these armies had/have similar ideologies in the teaching and training of their recruits on how to carry themselves in war and in life. This point helps add further to my argument that truly effective armies share much more than superior firepower, but a true commitment to the cause then in the end makes the army a force of nature to be reckoned with.

Most have some sort of background on each of these armies (whether that schema is true or false to fact though can be debated) however, I will be detailing some of the many strategies, training practices and general ideologies of each of the armies in an effort to later prove my original thesis. As far as strategies goes in any way the Roman army and legions had some of the best to date. To begin let us talk about the intricacies of training recruits in the Roman Army and who could participate and what points in history. At the height of Rome’s power (c. 117 CE) Rome’s army was consisted of men who wanted to serve, previously in an earlier Rome it had been required that men serve within certain years of their lives. (Source IV) (Somewhat like the military in the United States) As the army started to grow into a volunteer army at the same time the attitudes of the men who joined would start to change from obligatory to desirous. This was because in this period most men who would join were looking for money and land from the fruits of battle unlike the honor and glory that would be sought after by earlier armies such as the Spartans. This leads us into my next point. As stated by Dr. MacMullan, “The Romans made war boring!” and as outlined in Source III by the description of strategies and formations. They were able to achieve this through exact strategies that left no room for bloodlust or glory.

These men were trained to be disciplined, obedient soldiers who fought when they were called and who rested when they were called back. For example, Romans (again like the US Army) were taught to march first when they became recruits (Source II). The practicality of being able to march in unison is self-evident for an army however, the true genius behind this teaching strategy is forcing each Cohort to work as one system and stay perfectly in line with each other at all time. Not only did this marching develop them physically (they were sometimes required to march twenty Roman miles in 5 hours, ~ 368 miles in our measurements according to (Source II), but it also developed their discipline to an extreme level, this training combined with the rigorous physical training and weapons training turned each of the men into soldiers or failures and as a prideful Roman man with gravitas, failure was not an option. As these men progressed and became soldiers they would finally get into real combat which they were undoubtedly used to being boring and methodical. According to historical sources, the general formation of each Legion was more or less the same throughout all battles with the few formations such as the “Sixth Formation” which focused on boosting the right wing to attack the opposing army’s left wing. The idea was that the first row would fight and kill the opposing army for a period of time then the second row would advance, and the first row would shrink back to the end of the line and so forth. This strategy again left little room for bloodlust and would be fairly dull to watch as a spectator however, this strategy used the huge amount of discipline and love for victory that each of the legionnaires had been trained to exemplify. This strategy was obviously effective giving the amount of area and time Rome ruled but, the army would have won nothing had there not been a level of discipline almost deemed extreme in each soldier within the Legions, this level of discipline is what made the Roman army an effective and terrifying force.

The next army I will be focusing on are the Spartans. The Spartan army was similar to the Roman army in the way they were both ancient and used swords, shields and head to head fighting on a battlefield however, unlike the Romans, Spartans still lived in an age dominated by the pursuit of honor and glory not simply victory and external rewards. The Spartans, similar to the Trojans and the coalition of Greek states in the Iliad, followed the Heroic Code, one based on the Greek ideas of the kleos (glory) even in the face of thanatos (death). (Source VIII) These motivations came from the focus on the Spartan military and on a warrior nature within all Spartans. Sparta’s main resource for achieving a terrifying and dominating army was through the use teaching from an early age on till full adulthood and even after adulthood only focusing the Spartan men on continuing training and a warrior focus. Training from 6 years old till adulthood was called Agoge and this training was the teaching that turned young boys into full-fledged soldiers. This training similar to the Romans taught utter discipline and obedience however, the Agoge was much more brutal and was a life path not just a career. The Spartan warriors were bred for combat and therefore only cared about being better warriors with little motivation for non-essentials besides their families (after the age of 30) and certain politics if they were able to achieve a seat on the Gerousia. (Source VII) This brutal life style was compounded even more with the focused logistics such as marching, weapons handling, literacy as much as it was focused on winning glory for oneself and one’s country. For example, young boys would go through whipping competitions regularly to prove which boy could last the longest under extreme pain. Obviously, there is little practical use in doing this to your young warriors however, this demonstration showed the length that the Spartan’s training would go to, to make disciplined, tough, and enduring soldiers. Another fine example of the extreme length a Spartan would go to prove honor was again the reflection of the Heroic Code in the supposed prewar parting words Spartan mothers would say to their sons, “Η ΤΑΝ Η ΕΠΙ ΤΑΣ,” which generally translate to “Come back with your shield or upon it.” (Source VI) These parting words really shows in succinct way how honor driven these Spartans were. Granted the fact that they were raised to be warriors from youth till adulthood was obviously a huge factor in the Spartan’s military success however, this was not the focal point for their total dominance in power over most other city states especially after the Peloponnesian War, (but before the takeover by the hands of Macedonia). Spartans were inherently more disciplined, self-controlled, and driven than any other warriors because of their training. Any Greek could have had one or even two of those traits and could have fought for his own glory, but there were only one group of Greeks who harnessed both their “mortal horse” and “immortal horse” (in a reference to Plato’s allegory of the charioteer), these Greeks were able to use their sense of duty and discipline in a fashion somewhat unfamiliar to other armies of the period while at the same time fighting for glory and honor that made them almost as ferocious as the Greek gods themselves. And quite similarly to the Romans they were not an effective superior army because of technology or geography but their fight for honor and glory and extreme self-control at the same time.



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