Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Please order your army to stop shooting with firearms

Doing some early morning reading for my International Security Policy class (seeing a pattern? I'm actually playing a bit of catch up in that class...anyway) and came across a quote I'm going to use again and again. The book is A History of Warfare by John Keegan. It turns Clausewitz on his head from the first sentence: "War is not a continuation of politics by other means." In fact, Keegan argues that this viewpoint leads to societies for which politics is the continuation of war by other means and societies in which a fixation on war results in their being overtaken militarily or consumed by war.

In any case, as part of this argument, Keegan includes four case studies of societies that have taken this viewpoint to their severe disadvantage and eventual extinction. One of these is the Muslim Mameluke society. In 1515-1516 their horseback based military were utterly defeated by the gunpowder focused armies of the Ottoman Turks. A Mameluke historian had some interesting words to say about the battles...
Hear my words and listen to them, so that you and others will know that amongst us are the horsemen of destiny and red death. A single one of us can defeat your whole army. If you do not believe it, you may try, only please order your army to stop shooting with firearms. You have here with you 200,000 soldiers of all races. Remain in your place and array your army in battle order. Only three of us will come out against you...You have patched up an army from all parts of the world: Christians, Greeks and others, and you have brought with you this contrivance artfully devised by the Christians of Europe when they were incapable of meeting the Muslim armies on the battlefield. The contrivance is that musket which, even if a woman were to fire it, would hold up such and such a number of men...And woe to thee! How darest thou shoot with firearms at Muslims!"
(emphasis mine)

"How darest thou shoot with firearms at Muslims!" That one's never gonna get old.