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Posts Tagged ‘SPARTA’

“THE AFGHAN CAMPAIGN”–THEN AND NOW

In History, Military, Social commentary on August 24, 2021 at 12:14 am

In the 1981 epic medieval fantasy “Excalibur,” director John Boorman warns us through King Arthur’s court magician, Merlin: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

But that isn’t true for fiction and nonfiction writer Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present. 

In his 1998 novel, Gates of Fire, he depicted the heroic last stand of “The Three Hundred Spartans” at Thermopylae.

In Tides of War (2000), he recreated the later conflict between ancient Athens and Sparta through the life of Alcibiades, the infamous Athenian statesman and general.

And in The Virtues of War (2004), he showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose soaring rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But it is his 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign, that today holds special relevance for Americans obsessed with the end of their 20-year war in Afghanistan.The Afghan Campaign | Steven Pressfield

The novel opens with Matthias, a young Greek seeking glory and opportunity, signing up with the army of Alexander the Great. But Alexander has conquered the Persian Empire, and with it have passed those conventional, set-piece battles where everyone can instantly tell friend from foe.

Alexander next plans to conquer India. But first he must pacify its gateway—Afghanistan. It is here, for the first time, that the Macedonians meet an enemy unlike any other.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion. He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Matthias learns this early. In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner. When he refuses, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword—and then botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities—committed by himself and his comrades, as well as the enemy—he finds himself transformed.

It is not a transformation he expected—or relishes. He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he meant to embrace when he became a soldier—and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how noncombatants see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how those who must fight it actually experience it.

Steven Pressfield (@SPressfield) | Twitter

Steven Pressfield

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify the indescribable.

The phrase Lucas hates most: “Put to death.”

“Language matters, Costas. Look at my feet. That black isn’t dirt. I can scour my flesh with lye and caustic. That man-blood never comes out.

“I hate the Afghan. He is a beast and a coward. But what I hate most is that he has dragged us down to his level.”

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For there are brutalities inflicted by our troops on the enemy—and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon our soldiers—that never make the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We know, though we don’t wish to admit, that, decades from now, thousands of these men will carry horrific memories to their graves. These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of the price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves “Macks”), our own soldiers found themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instinctively, they turned to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. Pressfield is never more eloquent than when he puts into the words of his war-weary veteran, Lucas, the following:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you. Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself. They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves in a pack. It’s not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir. These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our young soldiers of today are old and retired.

The Afghan Campaign thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood horrors created by political rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen and always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

HEROES: NOT WHAT THEY USED TO BE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2017 at 12:20 am

Steven Pressfield is the bestselling author of several novels on ancient Greece.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

In Gates of Fire (1998) he celebrated the immortal battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held at bay a vastly superior Persian army for three days.

In Tides of War (2000) he re-fought the ancient world’s 25-year version of the Cold War between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

n The Virtues of War (2004) he chronicled the military career of Alexander the Great–through the eyes of the conqueror himself.

And in The Afghan Campaign (2006) he accompanied Alexander’s army as it waged a vicious, three-year counterinsurgency war against native Afghans.

Besides being an amateur historian of armed conflict, Pressfield is a former Marine. His novel, Gates of Fire, has been adopted by the Marine Corps as required reading.

So Pressfield knows something about the art–and horrors–of war. And about the decline of heroism in the modern age.

Consider the events of November 9, 2012.

On that date, General David Petraeus suddenly resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He had held this just slightly more than a year.

The reason: The revelation of–and his admission to–an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who had written an admiring biography of him called All In.

Ironically, this happened to be the same day that “Skyfall”–the latest James Bond film–opened nationwide.

Since Bond made his first onscreen appearance in 1962’s “Dr. No,” England’s most famous spy has bedded countless women.  And has become internationally famous as the ultimate ladykiller.

But real-life doesn’t quite work the same way.

What is permitted–and even celebrated–in a fictional spy is not treated the same way in the real world of espionage.

Prior to this, Petraeus had been the golden boy of the American Army–the best-known and most revered general since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

David  Petraeus

The man who

  • had given 37 years of his life to protecting the nation;
  • had rewritten the book on how to fight counterinsurgency wars;
  • had turned around the stagnated war in Iraq;
  • had presided over the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

As President Barack Obama put it:

“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career.  He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

“I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service.  We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done.

“And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

It’s why Pressfield candidly admits he prefers the ancient world to the present:

“If I’m pressed to really think about the question, I would answer that what appeals to me about the ancient world as opposed to the modern is that the ancient world was pre-Christian, pre-Freudian, pre-Marxist, pre-consumerist, pre-reductivist.

“It was grander, it was nobler, it was simpler. You didn’t have the notion of turn-the-other-cheek. You had Oedipus but you didn’t have the Oedipus complex. It was political but it was not politically correct.”

To illustrate what he meant, Pressfield cited this passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, on how ancient-world politics took on its own tone of McCarthyism:  

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member.  

To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward. Any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character. Ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

As if speaking on the scandal involving David Petraeus, Pressfield states:

“Our age has been denatured. The heroic has been bled out of it.

“The callings of the past––he profession of arms, the priesthood, the medical and legal professions, politics, the arts, journalism, education, even motherhood and fatherhood–every one has been sullied and degraded by scandal after scandal.

“We’re hard up for heroes these days, and even harder up for conceiving ourselves in that light. That’s why I’m drawn to the ancient world. It’s truer, in my view, to how we really are.

“The ancient world has not been reductified and deconstructed as ours has; it has not been robbed of all dignity. They had heroes then. There was such a thing, truly, as the Heroic Age. Men like Achilles and Leonidas really did exist.

“There was such a thing, truly, as heroic leadership. Alexander the Great did not command via satellite or remote control.  He rode into battle at the head of his Companion cavalry; he was the first to strike the foe.”

Today, generals command armies while stationed thousands of miles from the front. And they face more danger from heart attacks than enemy bullets.  

And commanding American generals is Donald Trump, a five-times draft-dodger who equates avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases with surviving the Vietnam war: “It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

A NIGHTMARISH VISION OF “THE AMERICAN DREAM”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 19, 2016 at 12:05 am

On August 17, 2015, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump outlined his strategy for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He would order American forces to take over the oil fields that ISIS has seized in Iraq.

Trump outlined his plans for future military operations against ISIS on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd.

“Now we’re there, and you have ISIS….And ISIS is taking over a lot of the oil in certain areas of Iraq.

“And I said, you take away their wealth. You go and knock the hell out of the oil. Take back the oil. We take over the oil, which we should have done in the first place” during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

After taking over the Iraqi oil fields, said Trump, “we’re going to have so much money.

“And what I would do with the money that we make, which would be tremendous, I would take care of the soldiers that were killed, the families of the soldiers that were killed, the soldiers, the wounded warriors that are–see, I love them.”

Actually, Trump’s idea forms the plot of The Profession, a 2011 novel by bestselling author Steven Pressfield.

The Profession

Pressfield made his literary reputation with a series of classic novels about ancient Greece.

In Gates of Fire (1998) he explored the rigors and heroism of Spartan society–and the famous last stand of its 300 picked warriors at Thermopylae.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he entered the mind of Alexander the Great, whose armies swept across the known world, destroying all who dared oppose them.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

But in The Profession, Pressfield created a plausible world set into the future of 2032. The book’s own dust jacket offers the best summary of its plot-line:

“The third Iran-Iraq war is over. The 11/11 dirty bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory. Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup. Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin….

“Everywhere military force is for hire. Oil companies, multi-national corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.

“Even nation states enlist mercenary forces to suppress internal insurrections, hunt terrorists, and do the black bag jobs necessary to maintain the new New World Order.

“Force Insertion is the world’s merc monopoly. Its leader is the disgraced former United States Marine General James Salter, stripped of his command by the president for nuclear saber-rattling with the Chinese and banished to the Far East.’

Salter appears as a hybrid of World War II General Douglas MacArthur and Iraqi War General Stanley McCrystal. 

Douglas MacArthur (left), Stanley McCrystal (right)

Like MacArthur, Salter has butted heads with his President–and paid dearly for it. Now his ambition is no less than to become President himself–by popular acclaim. And like McCrystal, he is a pure warrior who leads from the front and is revered by his men.

Salter seizes Saudi Arabian oil fields, then offers them as a gift to America. By doing so, he makes himself the most popular man in the country–and a guaranteed occupant of the White House.

And in 2032 the United States is a far different nation from the one its Founding Fathers created in 1776.

“The United States is an empire…but the American people lack the imperial temperament. We’re not legionaries, we’re mechanics. In the end the American Dream boils down to what? ‘I’m getting mine and the hell with you.’”

Americans, asserts Salter, have come to like mercenaries: “They’ve had enough of sacrificing their sons and daughters in the name of some illusory world order. They want someone else’s sons and daughters to bear the burden….

“They want their problems to go away. They want me to to make them go away.”

And so Salter will “accept whatever crown, of paper or gold, that my country wants to press upon me.”

Returning to the United States, he is acclaimed as a hero–and the next President.

He is under no delusion that his country is on a downward spiral toward oblivion: “Any time that you have the rise of mercenaries…society has entered a twilight era, a time past the zenith of its arc.”

Nor does he believe that his Presidency will arrest that decline: “But maybe in the short run, it’s better that my hand be on the wheel…rather than some other self-aggrandizing sonofabitch whose motives might not be as well intentioned….” 

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.

 Niccolo Machiavelli

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli issued a warning against relying on men whose first love is their own enrichment.

Steven Pressfield, in a work of fiction, has given us a nightmarish vision of a not-so-distant America where “Name your price” has become the byward for an age.

Both warnings are well worth heeding.

FICTION AS REALITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 8, 2015 at 12:15 am

On August 17, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump outlined his strategy for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He would order American forces to take over the oil fields that ISIS has seized in Iraq.

Trump outlined his plans for future military operations against ISIS on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd.

Trump said he never advocated a U.S. war with Iraq, but it happened, and “it was a big mistake” because it “destabilized” the Middle East.

“Now we’re there, and you have ISIS….And ISIS is taking over a lot of the oil in certain areas of Iraq.

“And I said, you take away their wealth. You go and knock the hell out of the oil. Take back the oil. We take over the oil, which we should have done in the first place.”

After taking over the Iraqi oil fields, said Trump, “we’re going to have so much money.

“And what I would do with the money that we make, which would be tremendous, I would take care of the soldiers that were killed, the families of the soldiers that were killed, the soldiers, the wounded warriors that are–see, I love them.”

Actually, Trump’s idea forms the plot of The Profession, a 2011 novel by bestselling author Steven Pressfield.

The Profession

Pressfield made his literary reputation with a series of classic novels about ancient Greece.

In Gates of Fire (1998) he explored the rigors and heroism of Spartan society–and the famous last stand of its 300 picked warriors at Thermopylae.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he entered the mind of Alexander the Great, whose armies swept across the known world, destroying all who dared oppose them.

Finally, in The Afghan Campaign (2006) Pressfield–this time from the viewpoint of a lowly Greek soldier–refought Alexander’s brutal, three-year anti-guerrilla campaign in Afghanistan.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

But in The Profession, Pressfield created a plausible world set into the future of 2032.  The book’s own dust jacket offers the best summary of its plot-line:

“The third Iran-Iraq war is over. The 11/11 dirty bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory. Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup. Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin….

“Everywhere military force is for hire.  Oil companies, multi-national corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.

“Even nation states enlist mercenary forces to suppress internal insurrections, hunt terrorists, and do the black bag jobs necessary to maintain the new New World Order.

“Force Insertion is the world’s merc monopoly. Its leader is the disgraced former United States Marine General James Salter, stripped of his command by the president for nuclear saber-rattling with the Chinese and banished to the Far East.’

Salter appears as a hybrid of World War II General Douglas MacArthur and Iraqi War General Stanley McCrystal.

Like MacArthur, Salter has butted heads with his President–and paid dearly for it.  Now his ambition is no less than to become President himself–by popular acclaim.  And like McCrystal, he is a pure warrior who leads from the front and is revered by his men.

Salter seizes Saudi oil fields, then offers them as a gift to America. By doing so, he makes himself the most popular man in the country–and a guaranteed occupant of the White House.

And in 2032 the United States is a far different nation from the one its Founding Fathers created  in 1776.

“Any time that you have the rise of mercenaries…society has entered a twilight era, a time past the zenith of its arc,” says Salter.

“The United States is an empire…but the American people lack the imperial temperament. We’re not legionaries, we’re mechanics.  In the end the American Dream boils down to what? ‘I’m getting mine and the hell with you.’”

Americans, asserts Salter, have come to like mercenaries: “They’ve had enough of sacrificing their sons and daughters in the name of some illusory world order.  They want someone else’s sons and daughters to bear the burden….

“They want their problems to go away.  They want me to to make them go away.”

And so Salter will “accept whatever crown, of paper or gold, that my country wants to press upon me.”

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.

 Niccolo Machiavelli

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli issued a warning against relying on men whose first love is their own enrichment.

Steven Pressfield, in a work of fiction, has given us a nightmarish vision of a not-so-distant America where “Name your price” has become the byward for an age.

Both warnings are well worth heeding.

WHEN PATRIOTS BECOME PREDATORS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 21, 2014 at 12:03 am

Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel program The O’Reilly Factor, has offered his own solution to fighting terrorism: A multinational mercenary army, based on a NATO coalition and trained by the United States.

Bill O’Reilly

“We would select them, special forces would train them–25,000-man force to be deployed to fight on the ground against worldwide terrorism. Not just ISIS,” O’Reilly said on “CBS This Morning” on September 24.

Actually, O’Reilly’s idea is the subject of The Profession, a 2011 novel by bestselling author Steven Pressfield.

The Profession

Pressfield made his literary reputation with four classic novels about classical Greece.

In Gates of Fire (1998) he explored the rigors and heroism of Spartan society–and the famous last stand of its 300 picked warriors at Thermopylae.

In Tides of War (2000) Pressfield depicted the rise and fall of Alcibiades, Athens’ greatest general, as he shifted his loyalties from that city to its arch-enemy, Sparta, and then to Persia, the enemy of both.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he took on the identity of Alexander the Great, explaining to his readers what it was like to command armies that swept across the known world, destroying all who dared oppose them.

Finally, in The Afghan Campaign (2006) Pressfield–this time from the viewpoint of a lowly Greek soldier–refought Alexander’s brutal, three-year anti-guerrilla campaign in Afghanistan.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

But in The Profession, Pressfield created a seemingly plausible world set into the future of 2032.  The book’s own dust jacket offers the best summary of its plot-line:

“The year is 2032. The third Iran-Iraq war is over.  The 11/11 dirty bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory.  Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup. Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin.

“Iranian armored units, supported by the satellite and drone power of their Chinese allies, have emerged from their enclaves in Tehran and are sweeping south attempting to recapture the resource rich territory that had been stolen from them, in their view, by Lukoil, BP, and ExxonMobil and their privately-funded armies.

“Everywhere military force is for hire.  Oil companies, multi-national corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.

“Even nation states enlist mercenary forces to suppress internal insurrections, hunt terrorists, and do the black bag jobs necessary to maintain the new New World Order.

“Force Insertion is the world’s merc monopoly. Its leader is the disgraced former United States Marine General James Salter, stripped of his command by the president for nuclear saber-rattling with the Chinese and banished to the Far East.’

Salter appears as a hybrid of World War II General Douglas MacArthur and Iraqi War General Stanley McCrystal.

Like MacArthur, Salter has butted heads with his President–and paid dearly for it.  Now his ambition is no less than to become President himself–by popular acclaim.  And like McCrystal, he is a pure warrior who leads from the front and is revered by his men.

Salter seizes Saudi oil fields, then offers them as a gift to America.  By doing so, he makes himself the most popular man in the country–and a guaranteed occupant of the White House.

And in 2032 the United States is a far different nation from the one its Founding Fathers created  in 1776.

“Any time that you have the rise of mercenaries…society has entered a twilight era, a time past the zenith of its arc,” says Salter.

“The United States is an empire…but the American people lack the imperial temperament.  We’re not legionaries, we’re mechanics.  In the end the American Dream boils down to what? ‘I’m getting mine and the hell with you.'”

Americans, asserts Salter, have come to like mercenaries: “They’ve had enough of sacrificing their sons and daughters in the name of some illusory world order.  They want someone else’s sons and daughters to bear the burden….

“They want their problems to go away.  They want me to to make them go away.”

And so Salter will “accept whatever crown, of paper or gold, that my country wants to press upon me.”

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.

 Niccolo Machiavelli

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli issued a warning against relying on men whose first love is their own enrichment.  Steven Pressfield, in a work of fiction, has given us a nightmarish vision of a not-so-distant America where “Name your price” has become the byward for an age.

Both warnings are well worth heeding.

 

 

HEROES: REAL AND FICTIONAL

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Steven Pressfield is the bestselling author of several novels on ancient Greece.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

In Gates of Fire (1998) he celebrated the immortal battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held at bay a vastly superior Persian army for three days.

In Tides of War (2000) he re-fought the ancient world’s 25-year version of the Cold War between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he chronicled the military career of Alexander the Great–through the eyes of the conqueror himself.

And in The Afghan Campaign (2006) he accompanied Alexander’s army as it waged a vicious, three-year counterinsurgency war against native Afghans.

Besides being an amateur historian of armed conflict, Pressfield is a former Marine.  His novel, Gates of Fire, has been adopted by the Marine Corps as required reading.

So Pressfield knows something about the art–and horrors–of war.  And about the decline of heroism in the modern age.

Consider the events of November 9, 2012.

On that date, General David Petraeus suddenly resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  He had held this just slightly more than a year.

The reason: The revelation of–and his admission to–an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who had written an admiring biography of him called All In.

Ironically, this happened to be the same day that “Skyfall”–the latest James Bond film–opened nationwide.

Since Bond made his first onscreen appearance in 1962’s “Dr. No,” England’s most famous spy has bedded countless women.  And has become internationally famous as the ultimate ladykiller.

It seems that real-life doesn’t quite work the same way.

What is permitted–and even celebrated–in a fictional spy is not treated the same way in the real world of espionage.

Prior to this, Petraeus had been the golde            n boy of the American Army–the best-known and most revered general since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

David  Petraeus

The man who

  • had given 37 years of his life to protecting the nation;
  • had rewritten the book on how to fight counterinsurgency wars;
  • had turned around the stagnated war in Iraq;
  • had presided over the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

As President Barack Obama put it:

“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career.  He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

“I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service.  We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done.

“And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

It’s why Pressfield candidly admits he prefers the ancient world to the present:

“If I’m pressed to really think about the question, I would answer that what appeals to me about the ancient world as opposed to the modern is that the ancient world was pre-Christian, pre-Freudian, pre-Marxist, pre-consumerist, pre-reductivist.

“It was grander, it was nobler, it was simpler. You didn’t have the notion of turn-the-other-cheek. You had Oedipus but you didn’t have the Oedipus complex. It was political but it was not politically correct.”

To illustrate what he meant, Pressfield cited this passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, on how ancient-world politics took on its own tone of McCarthyism:

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member.

To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward. Any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character.

Ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

As if speaking on the ongoing scandal involving David Petraeus, Pressfield states:

“Our age has been denatured. The heroic has been bled out of it.

“The callings of the past–the profession of arms, the priesthood, the medical and legal professions, politics, the arts, journalism, education, even motherhood and fatherhood–every one has been sullied and degraded by scandal after scandal.

“We’re hard up for heroes these days, and even harder up for conceiving ourselves in that light. That’s why I’m drawn to the ancient world. It’s truer, in my view, to how we really are.

“The ancient world has not been reductified and deconstructed as ours has; it has not been robbed of all dignity. They had heroes then. There was such a thing, truly, as the Heroic Age. Men like Achilles and Leonidas really did exist.

“There was such a thing, truly, as heroic leadership. Alexander the Great did not command via satellite or remote control; he rode into battle at the head of his Companion cavalry; he was the first to strike the foe.”

Today, generals stationed thousands of miles from the front command armies.  Andthey face more danger from heart attacks than from dying in the heat of battle.

THE DEATH OF HEROES

In History, Politics, Social commentary on November 20, 2012 at 12:10 am

Steven Pressfield is the bestselling author of several novels on ancient Greece.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

In Gates of Fire (1998) he celebrated the immortal battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held at bay a vastly superior Persian army for three days.

In Tides of War (2000) he re-fought the ancient world’s 25-year version of the Cold War between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he chronicled the military career of Alexander the Great–through the eyes of the conqueror himself.

And in The Afghan Campaign (2006) he accompanied Alexander’s army as it waged a vicious, three-year counterinsurgency war against native Afghans.

Besides being an amateur historian of armed conflict, Pressfield is a former Marine.  His novel, Gates of Fire, has been adopted by the Marine Corps as required reading.

So Pressfield knows something about the art–and horrors–of war.  And about the decline of heroism in the modern age.

Consider the events of November 9.

On that date, General David Petraeus suddenly resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  He had held this just slightly more than a year.

The reason: The revelation of–and his admission to–an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, the woman who had written an admiring biography of him called All In.

Ironically, this happened to be the same day that “Skyfall”–the latest James Bond film–opened nationwide.

Since Bond made his first onscreen appearance in 1962’s “Dr. No,” England’s most famous spy has bedded countless women.  And has become internationally famous as the ultimate ladykiller.

It seems that real-life doesn’t quite work the same way.

What is permitted–and even celebrated–in a fictional spy is not treated the same way in the real world of espionage.

Prior to this, Petraeus had been the golden boy of the American Army–the best-known and most revered general since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The man who

  • had given 37 years of his life to protecting the nation;
  • had rewritten the book on how to fight counterinsurgency wars;
  • had turned around the stagnated war in Iraq;
  • had presided over the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

As President Barack Obama put it:

“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career.  He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA.

“I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service.  We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done.

“And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

It’s why Pressfield candidly admits he prefers the ancient world to the present:

“If I’m pressed to really think about the question, I would answer that what appeals to me about the ancient world as opposed to the modern is that the ancient world was pre-Christian, pre-Freudian, pre-Marxist, pre-consumerist, pre-reductivist.

“It was grander, it was nobler, it was simpler. You didn’t have the notion of turn-the-other-cheek. You had Oedipus but you didn’t have the Oedipus complex. It was political but it was not politically correct.”

To illustrate what he meant, Pressfield cited this passage from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, on how ancient-world politics took on its own tone of McCarthyism:

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member.

To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward. Any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character.

Ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

As if speaking on the ongoing scandal involving David Petraeus, Pressfield states:

“Our age has been denatured. The heroic has been bled out of it.

“The callings of the past–the profession of arms, the priesthood, the medical and legal professions, politics, the arts, journalism, education, even motherhood and fatherhood–every one has been sullied and degraded by scandal after scandal.

“We’re hard up for heroes these days, and even harder up for conceiving ourselves in that light. That’s why I’m drawn to the ancient world. It’s truer, in my view, to how we really are.

“The ancient world has not been reductified and deconstructed as ours has; it has not been robbed of all dignity. They had heroes then. There was such a thing, truly, as the Heroic Age. Men like Achilles and Leonidas really did exist.

“There was such a thing, truly, as heroic leadership. Alexander the Great did not command via satellite or remote control; he rode into battle at the head of his Companion cavalry; he was the first to strike the foe.”

FICTION THREATENS TO BECOME REALITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on July 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

Steven Pressfield knows history.  He knows it well enough to have written four great historical novels about ancient Greece.

  • In Gates of Fire, he re-imagined the immortal last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. 
  • In Tides of War, he re-fought the Greeks’ 25-year version of the Cold War between Athens and Sparta.
  • In The Virtues of War, he resurrected Alexander the Great as a luminous but murderous military genius.
  • And in The Afghan Campaign, he depicted the first great conflict between the West and Afghanistan, as Alexander sought to brutally “pacify” the country so he could press on to conquer India.

And now, with The Profession, Pressfield has abandoned history altogether for the future.  Or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it a warning about the history that Americans may well face in the near-future.

Pressfield creates his futuristic world out of events now shaping our lives.  In doing so, he reveals more truths about our military and civilian bureaucracies than many Americans might want to learn.

American military and Intelligence agencies are increasingly relying on private–and highly-paid–contractors to meet their needs. The 2003 invasion of Iraq saw more private “soldiers-for-hire” operating there than soldiers from the regular American military.

It was in Iraq that Blackwater became a household word–as much for its wholesale brutality as its effectiveness.

Pressfield slams us forwad into the ultra-violent world of 2032, where   apocalypse hovers around every corner.  The third Iraq-Iran war is over, and Americans are still reeling from the November, 2011 “dirty bomb” attack on Long Beach, California.

America has attained the power of an empire–but has lost the will to put its own sons at risk to defend it.

Instead, it turns to the privately-funded armies of such multi-national corporations as BP and ExxonMobil. And the largest of these mercenary armies is Force Insertion–whose leader is a cashiered United States Marine general named James Salter.

Salter is a combination of two great Pressfield characters. He has the far-seeing strategic genius of the Athenian general, Alcibiades (Tides of War). And he has the charismatic authority of Alexander the Great, who’s worshipped by the soldiers he commands (The Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign).

He is thus a highly attractive character.  It’s easy to see why so many people–soldiers and civilians–want to see him victorious.

But there is a dark purpose behind his every maneuver. Again like Alcibiades, who deserted Athens for Sparta, he’s driven by rage and pride to avenge himself on those he blames for his disgrace and exile.

And he has an audacious plan to make this a reality:  Seize the oilfields of Saudi Arabia–fifty years’ worth of crude–and offer these as a gift to his fellow Americans.  In exchange, he will return home—as an American Caesar/President.

Standing firmly behind him for most of the novel is its narrator, Gilbert “Gent” Gentilhomme. A former Marine-turned-mercenary himself, Gentilhomme seeks a place of honor and purpose in a world he sees as generally lacking both. He sees Salter as a second father and warrior ideal–a courageous, brilliant, true patriot wronged by those in power who despise such qualities.

It is only when Gent comes to realize the terrible danger Salter poses to the Republic that he moves from devoted follower to would-be assassin. At the climax of the novel, he faces off with his longtime hero, in an exchange containing more blunt truths about America today than many readers may want to accept.

“The United States is an empire,” says Salter. “But the American people lack the imperial temperament. We’re not legionnaires, we’re mechanics. In the end the American Dream boils down to what? `I’m getting mine and the hell with you.'”

Salter realizes he is ultimately fighting a losing war to preserve the country he loves.  The ambitious part of him hungers to accept the gift of absolute power his fellow Americans want to gratefully confer on him.

The reflective part of him knows he is, in effect, betraying the very Republic he longs to save–and hopes an assassin’s bullet will spare him this disgrace.

 “The very ascension of someone like me–a mercenary general plucked from the provinces–is history’s sign that the nation has lost its way and is struggling desperately, merely to hang on.”

Most reviews of The Profession have focused on its depiction of futuristic techno-war: Holographic, hand-held phones. Cloaking technology to conceal high-end weaponry from satellite eyes-in-the-sky. Tactical nuclear weapons that are commonly possessed and plausibly used.

Like a Tom Clancy novel, The Profession can be read by those who simply want an exciting page-turner. But, unlike Clancy’s thrillers, this is a book with an urgent warning for its audience: A warning that what we are today threatens to lead us to the edge of an abyss–in which there is no freedom, and from which there is no return.

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