Saturday, May 23, 2015

What I learned tonight (or is it this morning?) at LGM

(1) I learned that among the sites my old computer can't really handle (too much ad volume, I guess) is a site called The Toast. (I'm still using the old computer because I've been too lazy to do certain essential preliminary things on the new one. Soon [sigh].)

(2) I learned that my friends Ronan and TBA are still regular readers of LGM, which I more or less knew -- I just hadn't been over there for a while. (Btw, thanks for defending me vs. 'troll' charges in that thread, Ronan.)

Have a great weekend, all!

(P.s. For those who may be new to the blogosphere, LGM = Lawyers Guns & Money.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Machiavelli on mercenaries: a note

[Quotations from The Prince in this post are from the H. Mansfield translation, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2nd ed. 1998.]

Machiavelli didn't like mercenaries, something that is evident both from The Prince and (I see from a quick glance) The Discourses, where he writes that good soldiers are the sinews of war, not gold, and that it "is as impossible for good soldiers to fail to find gold as it is for gold to find good soldiers" (Penguin ed., 1970, p.303).  

In chapter 13 of The Prince, Machiavelli continues a lecture against the use of mercenaries begun in the immediately preceding chapters.  Among other things he criticizes King Louis XI of France (reigned 1461-1483) for his reliance on Swiss pikemen:
...when he [Louis XI] gave reputation to the Swiss, he debased all his own arms.... For after they [the French] had become accustomed to fighting with Swiss, they did not think they could win without them.  From this it follows that French are not enough against Swiss and without Swiss do not try against anyone else.  Thus, the armies of France have been mixed, part mercenary and part their own.  These arms all together are much better than simple auxiliary or simple mercenary arms, but much inferior to one's own. (pp.56-7)
In referring to French weakness, Machiavelli was thinking of a then-recent event: the French "having been forced out of Italy in 1512" (according to an editor's note in the Skinner & Price edition of The Prince, Cambridge U.P., p.50).  However, Machiavelli does not mention that Louis XI largely owed the Swiss his victory over Charles the Bold of Burgundy at the battle of Nancy in 1477, a  battle that altered the geopolitical landscape of western Europe. [Correction/clarification: It was not really "his" (i.e., Louis XI's) victory; see the discussion in the comment thread.]  Machiavelli says that "a wise prince...has preferred to lose with his own [arms] than to win with others, since he judges it no true victory that is acquired with alien arms" (Mansfield trans., p.55).  Louis XI presumably would have begged to differ.

Postscript: The problem for the Swiss mercenaries, according to Michael Howard (in War in European History, p.28), was their slowness to adapt to changing conditions of war: "...as shot became increasingly important and formations increasingly flexible the Swiss pike phalanxes became left behind like dinosaurs unable to adapt to a new environment, as much of a curiosity in the history of infantry as the English bowman of the later Middle Ages."

Btw, what would Machiavelli have said about how to combat ISIS, or about any other current issues?  Is this question even worth asking?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Paris or San Salvador?

There is an establishment in one of the little malls near where I live called La Baguette de Paris. The stenciled slogan in the window reads: Pan fresco todos los diosJust noticed it last night while walking past it, but I plan to go inside the store soon. I doubt many people's attention is caught by the juxtaposition of languages, but mine was.  As I've had occasion to remark previously, a knowledge of French is useless in my neighborhood, whereas being able to speak Spanish is very useful.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Recalling the USSR's role in WW2

A column/post at WaPo's 'Worldviews' site recalls the Soviet role in WW2; it's a summary of points that are probably already known to most readers here. The piece has generated a great many comments, none of which I have the time (or particularly the inclination) to read.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Noted: 'Burma at the Crossroads'

This hour-long radio program, which I heard yesterday, examines the situation in Burma as it readies for elections this fall. (One can find different aspects of the program split into separate written pieces near the top of the page here.)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Reading and other notes

I don't read many novels, nor do I much try to keep up with what's being published. (I get the NY Times Bk Review in my in-box on Fridays but it, more often than not, sits there mostly unread.)

However, I've lately been reading (and am close to finishing) Ian McEwan's The Children Act (2014), which is competently done, a fairly quick read, and fairly absorbing, if not deep with a capital D.  And last night I happened to hear a radio interview with the author of the recently published The Sympathizer (link), which seems to have gotten very good reviews.

I'm also pretty much finished with a non-novel, J.T. Johnson's Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives (2014), and will be posting a review of it fairly soon.

I also finally bought (this aft.) a very-much-needed computer to replace my current one, although, true to form, I have yet to remove it from the box. All in good time.