The British historian JFC Fuller brought a metal outlook to both his military career and his career as an historian. As clear-sighted observer of reality he was able to understand the physical and moral implications of the forms of human conflict. He was one of the leading minds in the early development of the theory of mechanized warfare. As a military officer he saw active service in both primitive and modern conditions – this gave his writings as an historian and military theoretician a solid grounding in real-world experience. His experiences with strange foreign cultures and his knowledge of the occult gave him a keen moral insight that shines through in his books. Fuller looks at history with a clear eye for effective outcomes; however, the men who had the courage and genius to effect these outcomes he romanticizes and lionizes as the heroes they are.
While his overview of WW2 strategy, his review of the generalship of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and his analysis of armaments in history are probably his most controversial and ground-breaking books, it is his study of Alexander the Great in which we find Fuller in top form. In “The Generalship of Alexander the Great” Mr. Fuller presents Alexander as more than a simple warlord. Rather, we see Alexander the hero: a military, religious, diplomatic, and political genius.
The military genius of Alexander is most clearly illustrated by Fuller’s description of the battle of Issus. The Persian King Darius had interposed his army between Alexander and his communications with Greece. Alexander was faced with the either victory or death. The Persian army was posted behind the Pinarus River with its flanks refused by the sea on their right and the mountains on their left. Darius expected to use his overwhelming cavalry numbers on the flat terrain along the beach to break Alexander’s lines and then crush the Macedonian phalanx as it became disordered by the river and the rough terrain at the base of the mountains. Seeing Darius’ plans, Alexander acted instantly and formed his Royal Companion Cavalry bodyguard with units of light infantry to attack the Persian left along the foothills. The light infantry; slingers, bowmen, and javelin throwers, had long been despised by the Greeks. Alexander understood their usefulness in rough terrain where the phalanx could not go, and at Issus the Macedonian light infantry proved their worth as the combined assault by the Companion cavalry and the light infantry, using the phalanx to their left as a ‘base’ and with Alexander in the lead, immediately routed the Persian light infantry and Alexander headed straight the moral center of the Persian line: Darius. Darius fled the battle. Rather than give chase and allow his army to lose the battle, with perfect discipline Alexander then wheeled his Companions into the rear of the Persian army and between the fury of the Companion cavalry and the steadfast phalanx the Persian hordes were slaughtered. With lightning quick decisions, innate understanding of combined-arms tactics, and immense personal courage, Alexander was able to win a rapid victory with his qualitatively superior army before they succumbed to Persian numbers.
A devout religious genius, Alexander took the time to worship and sacrifice at every temple on his route of campaign. Not only did Alexander thirst for knowledge of the divine, he actively engaged the gods in a battle of wits to bring them onside with his cause. Before he began his campaign to conquer Asia, Alexander visited the oracle at Delphi. The priestess refused to prophesy for Alexander on that day. Nonetheless, Alexander boldly strode into the chamber at which point the priestess said, “you are unstoppable, my son.” Alexander had Zeus on his side.
As a diplomat, Alexander was without rival. The commercial cities of Asia flocked to his banner because unlike the Persian kings, he did not extract a crushing tribute and did not impose rulers upon them: the cities were allowed to return to their democratic or oligarchic rule as was their wont.
Only allegiance was asked in return. The few cities that resisted, like Tyre, were made into brutal examples as their populations were slaughtered and sold into slavery.
The final and most difficult aspect of Alexander was his political genius. Only though personal genius was the Hellenic league, Macedonia, and Persia held together: immediately after Alexander’s death the whole was reduced to various constituent pieces. The most troubling aspect of Alexander was the birth of the idea of the Universal Empire. Heretofore cities and localities had governed themselves and empires, such as they were, had been heterogeneous, patchwork affairs. At Siwa Alexander received the divine oracle of the brotherhood of man and he sought to rule his empire with that idea at the core. The Romans followed in Alexander’s footsteps and created an empire through the sword which was later made universal through cultural-commercial exchange within the empire. The Roman Church followed in Alexander’s footsteps and created a universal empire through the idea of the brotherhood of mankind before Jesus which was later made corporeal through the conquests of Charlemagne. Islam has since pursued the universal empire through the idea and the sword for over 1200 years. The Soviet Union attempted a universal empire that was motivated by the idea but only precariously maintained through the sword. While the Universal Empire has been a seductive dream for 2500 years, the pursuit of such through the course of history has met with diminishing returns with each new embodiment. Perhaps that is the ultimate end to all heroic geniuses: to achieve mastery of the possible and to achieve tragedy attempting the impossible.
Tags: Alexander the Great, conquest, domination, History, honor, JFC Fuller, military, order, war
16 thoughts on “Heavy Metal Heroes: JFC Fuller and Alexander the Great”
Alexander was an early proponent of race-mixing.
Early proponent? Damn, you are stupid. Mixing has always been happening. Neanderthals mixed with homo sapiens, hunter-gatherers mixed with Anatolian farmers, Steppe herders mixed with the children of the aforementioned etc. Humans just didn’t care. And you know what? It’s not race mixing that’s going to bring you down, it’s the stupidity that comes before it.
Nietzsche countered Gibbon’s thesis that Christianity brought down the western Roman empire by pointing out it was merely a symptom of the sickness.
I think someone’s lacing Brett’s water supply with soy.
Don’t mock the elderly.
Reminds me a bit of old Behemoth. The BBC did a fantastic documentary called “Footsteps of Alexander” where a dude followed as closely as possible the path of Alexander’s army. Lots of footage of old folk bands from Macedon, Iran, and India playing ancient folk songs about Alexander. This song sounds like they have cribbed more than a little of the music and feel of those songs.
Alexander and Hephaestion were butt-buddies.
The idea of Moscow as “the third Rome” and the holy mission of the tsar to build and empire on behalf of God is quite a bit older than the October revolution. The Bolsheviks just inherited that and kept it together for another seventysomething years with a cordon of central and east European vassal states in front of them during their heighday (on the other side, the FRG remained military occupied and had only limited souverainity until the 1990s, too).
One should also mention China here which is the by far longest lasting empire in human history.
Of course neither of those empires had a real universal aspect to them. The Muscovite empire was at most an empire of slavs with all other races within the empire being subordinate. Really, even the non-Russian slavs were considered more ‘little brothers’ than equals. And the fact that the Romanov dynasty traces back to the Viking conquerors one must properly see it as the Aryans ruling the slavs who acted the lieutenants through the empire for the Viking overlords.
China… those people are not universalists. They consider themselves the center of the world and the master race. The Manchus that rules the Chinese empire were under no illusion that they were the greatest race on earth, and the Han that currently dominate the Chinese communist party are under the same impression of themselves. I’ve got a few friends who are Han/Manchu and they may hate the Japanese and Koreans, they do respect them, but every other asiatic race they call ‘little fucking goooks.’
Both of those empires were long lasting because they were not universalist and did not crush their subjects into the same Procrustian bed.
One should not conflate the strategic outlook and imperative of the USSR and the Russian Empire with the outlook of their leadership. George Kennan was careful to point this out in his “Long Telegram.” The USSR would have the same general strategic imperatives as the Russian Empire because both held the same position geographically and had roughly the same strategic competitors still extant around them. However, the leadership of the USSR was composed of communist fanatics who believed that warfare with the west was inevitable and would result in the conquest of the world the they USSR. The inability to understand this bisection of old Russian and new USSR caused that idiot Franklin D. Roosevelt (Rosenfeld) to be easily fooled and constantly outmaneuvered in the diplomatic/strategic field by Iosef Stalin. After WW2, too much emphasis put on solely the communist part of the USSR’s strategic inheretence caused more than one US president to make grave mistakes… it wasn’t until President Nixon that a full understanding of USSR foreign policy took place in American policy as he drove a massive wedge in the communist world by opening China.
I was using ’empire’ in the sense it was used in the text: A (large) state populated by ethnically diverse groups created and maintained through military force.
One of my pet theories is that China is much less a ‘military superpower’ as people tend to imagine because the Chinese already control as much terroritory as their troops can manage: China is powerful in China, much less so outside of it (otherwise, it wouldn’t be ‘outside’).
NB: That’s just an entirely unfounded idea.
I think you are correct in your analysis of Chinese military power. They are unable to project much power beyond their borders because so much of their military force is needed to keep their polyglot empire in line. The Turkic mohommedans in the west, the ‘little gooks’ in the south, and the Manchus in the north – all chafe at the Han dominated communist imposition. But we cannot overlook the fact that they successfully invaded Tibet, invaded a parcel of India and beat the shit out of the Hindis, and supplied 9 full divisions to communist North Vietnam during the Vietnam war – without this Chinese force keeping the cabal in Hanoi in power, North Vietnam could never have invaded and occupied Laos, Cambodia, and ultimately the Republic of South Vietnam. Those three operation indicate at least some skill in the projection of force outside of China.
Another reason the Chinese military is probably much weaker than it appears: it is hopelessly corrupt. The military in China controls a vast business/industrial empire and more than a few of their generals likely have very little loyalty to the government in power. I personally have seen the Virgin Island/Panama/Bahamas off-shore bank accounts and shell companies that many Chinese generals have – they believe in the government only insofar as they can profit off of it. History has shown that military leaders of this mindset only very rarely prove loyal and capable.
I would also point out regarding the Muscovite empire – from the excellent book “Ivan the Terrible” by Isabel de Madariaga, the idea of the “Third Rome” came out of a need for diplomatic advantage vis a vis the Holy Roman Empire, as well as the aggrandizement of the Rurik ego, rather than any universalist designs by the Rurik dynasty. Also, IIRC, from the book the title “Tsar” comes from a Mongol title and was originally adopted by the Rurik to consolidate their own political control over internal opposition; the Mongols were seen as the legitimate rulers of Russia by many and thus adopting their titles conferred legitimacy upon the Viking usurpers. Only later, again for diplomatic advantage, was the title “Tsar” equated with “Caesar.”
These old mosaic makers were way better at making horses than people.
There is another look at Alexander which is probably not so popular but nonetheless makes some sense: the spoiled child that managed to conquer a rather weak empire at the time, cared only about the conquests and means to do them and, when his armies wouldn’t go further, left them stray and drank himself to death, leaving a feeble legacy of an empire that quickly followed his own fate.
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