Not Saussure

September 23, 2006

Whistling in the dark?

Filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq, Spin, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 2:31 pm

Andrew Roberts, who really ought to know better, attempts to derive some comfort from historical parallels between our current problems in Afghanistan and Iraq. He writes

By early September 1942 – only weeks before Stalingrad and El Alamein – Hitler seemed to be winning the war both in Russia and the Middle East, while, had it not been for the battle of Midway, the Japanese might well have rolled up the entire Pacific theatre.

Well, quite, and if I felt at all confident that, for example, there was any likelihood of launching an unexpected counter-attack, thus trapping the Iraqi insurgents well out of supply in an unbreakable blockade like Zhukov’s Operation Uranus, or destroying the Taleban’s tanks in a major battle, I might see the point.

As it is, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a passage in Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld novel, Jingo , where Lord Rust is discussing the military situation with one of his junior officers.

The hot wind flapped the banners. The sunlight sparkled off the spears. Lord Rust surveyed his army and found that it was good. But small.
He leaned towards his adjutant.
‘Let us not forget, though, that even General Tacticus was outnumbered ten to one when he tookd the Pass of Al-Ibi,’ he said.
‘Yes, sir, Although I believe his men were all mounted on elephants, sir,’ said Lieutenant Hornett. ‘And had been well provisioned,’ he added meaningfully.
‘Possibly, possibly. but then Lord Pinwoe’s cavalry once charged the full might of the Pseudopolitan army and are renowned in song and story.’
‘But they were all killed, sir!’
‘Yes, yes, but it was a famous charge, nevertheless. And every child knows, do they not, the story of the mere one hundred Ephebians who defeated the entire Tsortean army? A total victory, hey? Hey?’
‘Yes, sir,’ said the adjutant glumly.
‘Oh. You admit it?’
‘Yes, sir. Of course some commentators believe the earthquake helped.’
‘At least you will admit that the Seven Heroes of Hergen beat the Big-Footed People although outnumbered by a hundred to one?’
‘Yes, sir. That was a nursery story, sir. It never really happened.’
‘Are you calling my nurse a liar, boy?’


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