Posts tagged Seneca

The Battered Helmet

I will tell you who wrote this at the end of the article.  You might find this surprising.

–Rob Cain  

The Battered Helmet

The general trudged wearily into his tent and threw his helmet on the bunk.  Another large dent was noticeable in the already battered headpiece.   He made a mental note that he must see about getting a new one.  Obviously, as chief of all the ground forces in the area, he shouldn’t be seen wandering around the battlefield in a battered helmet. 

He sank into a chair and pulled of his mud-spattered boots.  It had been an exhausting day.  From the pre-dawn preparations, through the attack and smashing victory, to the relentless pursuit, the general had been on the move.  Now, he had won a major battle which would probably spell the end of the campaign and might even bring about the end of the war.  He felt a deep sense of accomplishment, but was too tired to be jubilant.  Besides, there was still a great deal to be done.  He had called for a meeting this evening of his commanders and staff.

Two weeks ago, he had held a similar meeting.  At that time, some of his leaders had shown panic; others were in a state of shock.  His staff was talking of retreat.  The morning before, the enemy had moved to new positions concealed by darkness and had assaulted him at dawn, gaining complete tactical surprise.  His forces suffered a serious defeat and were forced to withdraw about forty kilometers.

The general had to take stringent measures against a few of his commanders, and through strong personal leadership he had overcome the despair of defeat.  Now, a couple of weeks later, the war was almost over.  A single battle had crushed the resistance of the enemy.

What lessons had he learned today?  What thoughts could he pass on to his commanders and staff at this meeting tonight?  What could he tell them what would help them in future battle on other battlefields when they might bear the responsibility of supreme command?

The enemy had greatly outnumbered him.    They had twice as much infantry and seven times as many mobile forces.  In spite of this numerical superiority, the enemy did not attack him.   They preferred to wait for his attack.  He was allowed to pick the time and the place.  This he considered a great advantage.  He wanted to be constantly on the offensive and to assume the defensive only when forced into it by circumstances; even then it was a temporary measure to be used only until he could regain the necessary combat power to attack.  This thought he would pass on at the meeting tonight.

Since the enemy had so greatly outnumbered him, he had been concerned about his flanks.  Such a large force could have held off his main attack and at the same time counterattacked in force to envelop either flank.  In his terrain analysis he had noted that the banks of the Enipena River were extremely steep and the river itself unfordable [sic] to both foot and more mobile forces.  His intelligence had assured him that the enemy bridging capability was nonexistent.  Therefore, he anchored his left along the river securing that flank. 

His right flank presented more of a problem.  By economizing his forces all along the front, he had been able to create a mobile reserve with the specific mission of repelling any threat to his right flank.

As was his custom, he had kept almost one-third of his forces in the center, uncommitted.  These were his reserve, to be committed only upon his order.

When all of these preparations were completed, he had given the order to attack.  The two forces had engaged and a deadly struggle had taken place without either side being able to gain an advantage.  Then, as he had expected, the enemy launched a counterattack against his right forces.  These fought gallantly, but were gradually forced back.  At the decisive moment, the general had committed his specially formed mobile reserve to support the right flank.  Their mass coupled with their determined attack could not be stopped.  They had forced back the enemy counter-attack and, in turn, enveloped the enemy flank.

When this turn of events was reported to  him, the general had immediately committed his main reserve to the attack in the center.  This attack, coupled with the envelopment, had broken enemy resistance.   The enemy had tried to retreat to his secondary defenses, but the general had insisted that his commanders carry out a relentless pursuit.  Since he never allowed his opponents to reorganize, he had no difficulty in annihilating them.

Why had he won?  He had applied a few basic rules of war-fare.  What were these basic rules?  They could be stated simply enough.  He had assured his security by protecting himself from surprise and hostile interference in order to gain and maintain the power of free action.  He had economized his forces by employing minimum essential means at points other than those of decision.  He had maneuvered his forces to favor accomplishment of his mission by positioning his combat element to place the enemy at a relative disadvantage.   He had concentrated superior combat power at the decisive time and place.  And overall, he had seized, retained, and exploited the initiative.

He knew what he would tell his commanders and staff tonight.  There exist certain fundamental truths that govern the prosecution of war.  He would inform them of those he had discovered in his reflections that evening, and would encourage them to seek out others.  He would impress upon them the fact that the proper application of these fundamental truths is essential to the exercise of command and to the successful conduct of military operations.

 The general put back on the muddy boots, rose and donned his battered helmet.  He moved out of his tent and into the darkness that led to the war tent.  He recognized ahead of him, one of his finest commanders rushing to meet himWith a smile, he thought of the way that the enthusiastic  young man was bound to great him.

Mark Anthony would say, “Hail Caesar!  Your victory on the plains of Pharaslus against the rebel Pompey will win you a place in history.  All Rome shouts praise to your name.”

The general thought, “I must get a new helmet.”


Norman Schwarzkoph

Written by Captain H. Norman Schwarzkopf in Infantry Magazine, July – August Issue of 1962. 

In my opinion a superior article to prove the Seneca quote: “What is then is now.”   While serving as Commander of United States Central Command, he was commander of all coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War. 

My only criticism would be comparing Pompey to a “rebel” considering he represented the Senate in the Civil War.  Wasn’t Caesar the true rebel? Anyone care to comment?   

This article was provided by the Greta Andrusyszyn a research librarian at the U.S. Army War College Library, Carlisle, PA.    

Thank you Greta for taking the time.