Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mongol Military

Military history isn't really my thing, but I did just read The Mongol Art of War by my friend and reader Timothy May, and found it really interesting. Good military history has a certain "daily life" feel to it, particularly in a situation like that of the Mongols in the days of Genghis Khan and his immediate successors. After all, as May notes, while not every Mongol fought in his campaigns, Genghis Khan did organize all Mongol society in support of them. The issue of recruitment was one which affected all Mongols, their subjects, and allies, and for the multitudes who were recruited, training, equipment, and supply were important aspects of their lives. Tim's writing style (I feel strange continually calling him by his surname) is very lucid, and he most of the book is purely descriptive or narrative, with only occasional forays into an issue of historiography.

After his chapters on assembling and equipping armies, tactics and strategy, important generals and campaigns, battles, and sieges which show how it all fits together, May includes a chapter called "The Legacy of the Mongols" about their impact on the history of warfare, illuminating an important connection with the Nazi blitzkrieg. Russia formed an important connecting link, as the Russian principalities, especially Muscovy, adapted Mongol tactics when under Mongol domination and kept using them until Peter the Great's reorientation toward the West, after which they continued to be part of the standard curriculum in Russia's military academies. Eventually we reach the 20th century, when some thinkers in different European countries felt fast-moving tanks and mobile infantry could play the same role as Mongol mounted archers. The Blitzkrieg drew upon both a Mongol-influenced Russian strategy called "deep battle" and a German tank commander named Hans Guderain who had studied the works of earlier theorists J.F.C. Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart, both of whom drew upon Mongol strategies. These same doctrines influenced the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, so that it may be as I think some have said, and the U.S. went back into Iraq with "the warfare of Genghis Khan."

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