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technical strategies: horses

Alexander the Great depicted in a mosaic depicting Battle of Issus. Photograph: De Agostini/Getty Images

In terms of strategy I'm beginning to wonder if contemporary news coverage isn't preoccupied more with battles than with larger strategies, which would perhaps necessitate a discussion of root causes.  Edward Luttwak, writing about Roger Knight's book on Napoleon in LRB, 18 December 2014,  likens levels of strategy to a building where each floor is dependent on the one below: operational strategies depend on technical levels of strategy, and tactical strategy depends on operational strategy – the ability to actually fight.  At the level of grand strategy where wars are fought between empires of alliances, there is an assumption that the supporting levels of strategy are all in place.  In fact it all has to be in place: Germany in WWI was powerful and skilful in battle (technical, operational and tactical levels) but was hitched to the declining Ottoman and Hapsburg empires pitted against the British, French, Japanese and Russian empires.  One might say these latter empires were declining as well, but were in an earlier and less debilitated stage of decline.  Or in Napoleon's case it wasn't the battle of Waterloo that ended his reign, rather (according to Luttwak) it was the ongoing presence of a vast array of opposing forces, from Sardinia to Sweden, Britain to Russia.

This, above, is allegedly Alexander at the battle of Issus in 333 BC against Darius of Persia.  The mosaic shows the base unit of a fighting force: the man, his armour, his sword and his horse: the elements of the technical strategy.  It was a decisive battle, fought near present day Mosul.  According to wikipedia Alexander had the smaller army but better tactics; his victory 'led to the fall of the Acaemenid Empire', or the First Persian Empire that had formed in the sixth century BC. One reason given is that the Persian empire by 333 was too large and too incoherent for efficient military support.  I'm sure there were other reasons, but the failure of a coalition of many nations is interesting in light of our present creation and de-creation of allies and axes.

Here is the full mosaic, below, Darius in a chariot anticipating the eventual conversion of cavalry to tanks. There is such a similarity between all these battle depictions, from Issus to Wounded Knee.  It is the horses, the horses.

The Battle of Issus, between Alexander the Great on horseback to the left, and Darius III in the chariot to the right, represented in a Pompeii mosaic dated 1st century BC – Naples National Archaeological Museum.

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