Posts Tagged ‘History’

A Battle of Short and Long

February 13, 2010

A Battle of Short and Long

I am now age 58. When I was about 6 or 8 years old, I remember my father telling me about an ancient battle, in which one side had very long spears, and the opposing side had very short spears. My father said that one brave soldier, among those with the short spears, intentionally impaled himself upon a number of the long spears. This opening allowed the short spear warriors to get very close. Being close, the long spears were too long to be effective, and the short spear forces won a victory.

My father is now age 90. I asked him, in recent years, if he remembers telling me that story, but he has no memory of it whatsoever.

I have searched in google on various occasions, but have found nothing.

I would love to know where the story came from. What was the century of the battle? Which nations or city-states were at war? Which historian wrote of the battle?

Thanks for any light you may shed on this question.


The only example I know of of such an act took place at the Battle of Sempach in 1386. The Swiss Confederation had rebelled against the Holy Roman Emperor, and Duke Leopold III was trying to crush the rebellion.

According to legend, the troops of the Swiss Confederation was unable to break an Austrian phalanx at Sempach. In desperation, one Arnold von Winkelried led a charge of Swiss infantry arranged in a wedge formation, with him at the apex. Throwing himself on the spikes, he brought down enough pikes with his own body for the infantrymen following him to smash a breach in the Austrian phalanx, thus routing them, and securing Swiss independence.

According to the same legend, von Winkelried shouted “Make way for liberty!” as he flung himself on the pikes. Stirring stuff!
I can imagine how intriguing this must be!

While I cannot answer the question from the top of my head, maybe this helps:

Long spears vs short spears seems to point to long pike (the 5.5 metres ‘sarissa’) wielding Macedonian phalanx vs traditional (‘short speared’) Greek phalanx, but as I said I cannot come up with a single recorded battle where this incident took place.

As Macedonian – Greek battles were mostly won by the the Macedonian ‘long spear forces’ perhaps we should not be looking in this period, but to a later one: where Roman legions faced the Macedonian ‘hedgehog’ and won, though through other tactics than the one you described.

Lastly: IIRC a similar incident was discussed in the Medieval Era forum: perhaps in ‘Swiss vs. Landsknechte’? where a contingent of pikemen was broken into through a similar sacrifice by swordfighting opponents.
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you!” – Leon Trotsky, June 1919

Here’s a fuller account:

ABOUT seventy years later the Austrians made another attempt to conquer the patriots. They collected a splendid army and marched into the mountains. The Swiss at once armed themselves and met the Austrians at a place called Sempach. In those times powder had not been invented, and men fought with spears, swords, and [232] battle-axes. The Austrian soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder, each grasping a long spear whose point projected far in front of him. The Swiss were armed with short swords and spears and it was impossible for them to get to the Austrians. For a while their cause looked hopeless, but among the ranks of the Swiss was a brave man from one of the Forest Cantons. His name was Arnold von Winkelried. As he looked upon the bristling points of the Austrian spears, he saw that his comrades had no chance to win unless an opening could be made in that line. He determined to make such an opening even at the cost of his life. Extending his arms as far as he could, he rushed toward the Austrian line and gathered within his arms as many spears as he could grasp.

“Make way for liberty!” he cried—

Then ran, with arms extended wide,

As if his dearest friend to clasp;

Ten spears he swept within his grasp.

“Make way for liberty!” he cried—

Their keen points met from side to side.

He bowed among them like a tree,

And thus made way for liberty.

Pierced through and through Winkelried fell dead, but he had made a gap in the Austrian line, and into this gap rushed the Swiss patriots. Victory was theirs and the Cantons were free.…dle&story=tell

Here’s another account:

The Swiss at Sempach – 1386
When Leopold III of Austria led his 5,000 knights and 1,500 infantry into Switzerland in 1386, it was the culmination of numerous attempts by the Hapsburgs to force feudal claims upon the cantons. In the past, the highly respected Swiss infantry had always successfully defended their freedom. The citizens were summoned to arms, and 1,500 men assembled to meet the Austrians at Sempach. As the immediate terrain was not conducive to a cavalry charge, Leopold ordered his men to dismount and form into bristling phalanx of spearmen. Although unplanned, this trapped the Swiss. For the Swiss to attack a force that was four times larger seemed suicidal, and to withdraw they would have to retreat over ground that favored a cavalry attack. Their cause appeared hopeless until one man, Arnold von Winkelreid devised a plan.

Arnold convinced his comrades to form a wedge, and he stood at the apex of the triangle. At the command to charge, the Swiss rushed forward with Arnold at the point. As he approached the Austrians, he stretched out his arms and legs and hurled himself into the enemy line, simultaneously impaling himself on ten spears. The Swiss rushed through the gap that Arnold created and broke the Austrian line. Those Austrians on the flanks and in the reserve panicked and began to flee the battlefield. This was fatal mistake for any army to make when fighting the Swiss. They pursued the Austrians relentlessly and killed them almost to a man, Leopold included. The Austrians never attempted to invade Switzerland again.

* As Arnold von Winkelreid lunged at the Austrian spears, he is alleged to have shouted “Make way for liberty!” Although this sounds like no more than a battlefield legend and a similar incident is also said to have occurred over a century later, a man named Winkelreid is, in fact , listed in records of the Swiss killed that day, and at least one contemporary ballad records the deed as happening at Sempach.…537/stands.htm

I remembered reading about this incident when I was reading up on the Battle of Thermopylae (quite some time ago, before all this excitement about 300 )

What is it about these last stands, battles of the-few-against-the-many, or fights for freedom? They had such good lines just begging to be made into a movie!

The Swing of the Pendulum

August 13, 2009

(on-line, helping a high school student with an assignment circa 2005)

Student: Do you know what an opposing viewpoint of the Korean war is?

Here is one excerpt from a site:

The communist North invaded the free (or, relatively free, and anti-communist) South in an attempt to ‘unify’ (read: take over) all of Korea. After WW2, the former Japanese territory of Korea was divided and occupied by the USSR in the north and the US in the south, with the resulting nations being allied with their former occupiers during the Cold War.

There was only one cause. North Korea, encouraged by the Soviet Union, falsely believing that the United States would not take action, attacked unarmed South Korea in order to unite the country under its own tyrannical communist regime.

Student: So, in simple terms, what does that mean?

William: As you can see from the page, it is not a simple question. Different people have different answers. But some answers seem better to me than others. Let me pick out what seems a better answer.

This one is pretty good:

Both sides (communist north and capitalist south) wanted to unify the country: the US actually thought that the south would invade the north (thus they only gave them limited equipment – unlike the north, who were armed by the Soviets and Chinese), as the south often boasted about such an ability.

Acheson (US secretary of state) announced just before the north’s invasion that the US would retaliate to any enemy advancement on a number of places: he didn’t include South Korea in this list.

This was seen by the north as a green light – so they invaded.

You can trace the origins even further back though – to WW2 for example, and Japanese imperialism.

It is not however, a simple case of the north started it “because it was communist”. No doubt the south would have done

Student: okay I got that, but with the wording of an opposing viewpoint, how would I word it?

William: Well the two opposing views, in Korea, were the north, who wanted to unite north and south under communism, and the south, who wanted to unite north and south under capitalism….. then you have the question of opposing views in America…. namely… to get involved in Korea, vs, to stay out… just like Vietnam in the 1960’s and Iraq today. Which opposing views depends on who you are talking about.

Here is a really good page too

Student: Would an effect be that North Korea an South Korea still didn’t come together?

William: The Korean war never ended officially. It is the longest running “cease fire” in the history of the world.

Student: Okay now to bug ya again if you don’t mind, what are two opposing view points of The bombing of Hiroshima an Nagasaki?

William: If you look at recent documentaries made about North Korea… you see that they feel America is the great devil. If their electric power dims, they say, “oh it is those darn Americans”….. and they are sort of weird in that they worship their dead leader like a god,…. and have officially made him “leader forever”….. So, North Korea is one of the “axis of evil” powers that Bush speaks of, along with Islamic fundamentalists, who seek America’s destruction. So, we live in fear today, and consider war, and I suppose even secretly consider nuclear strikes, as a defense.

Student: I totally agree

William: It sort of all boils down to who will develop environmentally safe , efficient weapons of mass destruction, and then decide to use them to totally annihilate the threatening, opposing nations. It boils down to a matter of “ideological enemies”…. in other words,….. Islamic ideology (belief) sees western ways as satanic, demonic…. and communists see capitalists as devils,… enemies,…. oppressors…. trying to conquer the world…

You see, if it were just a matter of hating some person, like Bush, or Castro, well, after 80 years or less that person would die and people would forget….. but ideologies, beliefs, principles, like Islam, capitalism, communism… will never go away unless entire peoples are annihilated as a genocide (ethnocide)

Yes… all sides (communist, capitalist, Muslim, Christian) live in fear of their enemy, and harbor secret plans to annihilate them with conventional warfare or possibly even genocide with weapons of mass destruction. If the wrong people get there hands on efficient environmentally safe weapons of mass destruction, then they will use it in a heart-beat, and feel that they are pleasing God in doing so

You see, we can wage all the conventional wars we please… but as long as some of the people survive…. then, in a few generations, they will raise up more fundamentalist terrorist guerrilla fighters,…. so the terrorism will go on for decade after decade, generation after generation, because their IDEOLOGY their belief, will never disappear…..

There are always opposing views in America, regarding any military action…. and there are opposing views in the country where there is to be war/conflict

Perhaps there are Iraqis who are glad the USA came because they hated/feared Saddam…. and suffered under him…. while other Iraqis hate Americans and wish Saddam had stayed in power…. in America… ever since Vietnam days…. we call them hawks and doves… hawks want to fight… doves want peace

supposedly… we are always fighting for the sake of achieving some future peace….. or preserving freedom and avoiding tyranny/dictatorship/slavery/oppression

of course… peace, so far, is an illusion, because there always seems to be a war going on somewhere

it is a “Catch-22” situation…. (you will read the book by that name one day by Joseph Keller, which is where the expression comes from)

Catch-22 means… no matter what you do… your in trouble… damned if you do and damned if you don’t…

because… there really IS always the threat of some evil enemy who wants to enslave… one decade, it is Hitler… another decade it is USSR and Khrushchev…. another decade it is Saddam and bin Laden (or Castro)

so… we cannot NOT fight… or disarm… because then we would be invaded and enslaved…

Student: right, that’s true

William: on the other hand….. there IS no hope of future peace and an end to war… UNLESS… one ideological side TOTALLY ANNIHILATES the other side (which is genocide/ethnocide)….

but that is considered a terrible crime…

yet all war and killing is an evil

Student: of course it is. That’s also true

William: who can say… perhaps it is the GREATER evil to fight conventional wars for centuries, and never have peace… rather than bite the bullet… commit genocide… and once and for all eliminate the opposition…. so that the surviving world would all be homogeneous in ideological beliefs

but then… even if America Canada Britain Australia, New Zealand… (etc. … whoever you see as alike, homogeneous)… if they were to annihilate North Korea, all Islamic nations…. (whoever you see as trouble spots)…. well.. there is no guarantee that the surviving peoples, after 100 years…. would not evolve factions of ideological difference… and be at it all over again

Student: you know whats weird? You know those ancient Egyptian people?

well i think it’s weird i was with my girl and she was talking about how she watched a T.V. show on how they had predicted all the earths rotations and all of that stuff, an they were said to be about .0003 off, that’s how close

William: yes… the ancients were amazingly accurate about astronomy measurements, though they had no computers or other sophisticated instruments

the Egyptian, Ptolemy, around 200 A.D., an astronomer…. looked at the tables of the sun rising and setting during the year…. at different latitudes… and he realized that there must be two spots on the earth (which we now call north pole and south pole), where twice a year the sun just rides around the horizon, neither rising nor setting… (which is what happens at the poles)

even Lucretius and Democritus in ancient times… believed that the world was composed of atoms…. but they had no way to prove it scientifically….

the theory of atoms was not really accepted as scientific fact until the late 1800’s…..

now,… if you were to walk around the streets of any slum… and walk up to dropouts… and ask them.. they would say “yo, man…. stuff is made of atoms”….. what I mean is… it has become common knowledge and belief…. even for people with very little education

and if you walked around any city ghetto full of dropouts… wearing a t-shirt which said E=MC2… they would all say “Yo, man, Einstein, Relativity….” …. that is… it has a lot of what is called “street level recognition”

Student: right

William: same thing with genetics, genes, viruses, infection… bacteria…..

so.. someone could try to make a chart of “street smarts” from ancient times to the present…. each century…. and try to predict, project…. where “street level” comprehension might be in another 100 or 1000 years

I mean… 500 years ago… not everyone could read and write….. or do arithmetic

that would be a good project for someone….

Student: right it would be

William: you see…. our problems today…. have to do with the “street level knowledge” world wide, of religion, history, economics….

lots of people were really sophisticated and worldly… then they might not want to be suicide bombers… and they might not believe that God was waiting to give them a bunch of dancing girls and rivers of wine if they blow themselves up…

which is what they do believe now, and why they are willing to blow themselves up

Student: right

William: I mean lots of street level understanding were to reach the average person… about things like race…. why then,…. people would not think twice about mixing races in dating/marriages…. and there would be less prejudice…. and gradually, racial and cultural differences would disappear…. because EVERYONE would be part White, part Asian, part Black, part Jewish, etc etc

a melting pot

but… you see… internet is a melting pot of ideas…. where everyone around the world uses Google search engines… and reads the same things, in the same language….

so… you can make friends with people in Singapore, Malaysia, Africa…. India… and they will talk and think just like you…. even the same slang words

I mean, just like you or me or anyone in the USA

the greatest weapon that we have against the fundamentalists is McDonald’s, Nike, Jack Daniels, Revlon… etc… namely they all want the cosmetics, fashion, fast foods, media…. cell phones…. i-pods….. it is all very seductive to the youth around the world

one interesting book, written by a women professor of literature in Tehran, Iran, is called “Reading Lolita in Tehran”…. she was there after the revolution, after the overthrow of western Shah

Student: right

William: she would secretly read books like Nabokov’s “Lolita” and Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” with young women….

and the young women want freedom, individuality, empowerment…. not veils and restrictions….

so… one of Nabokov’s big statements, in another novel not Lolita, is “Curiosity is the highest form of insubordination”

Student: yes, i see

William: but…. tyrants and dictators do not want a free people who read and think and question

Student: right

William: oh… the first American novel to sell over 1 million copies was written by a woman in 1850, and called “Wide, Wide World”, about a 13 year old girl who looses her parents, and must learn to survive and take care of herself

Student: right, i see

William: that whole book is available on line for free.. and even has nice original illustrations

The author was Susan Warner

she used the pen name ELIZABETH WETHERELL

the other really influential book in America was by a woman, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” about the evils of slavery….

I think it was Harriet Beecher Stowe… and when Lincoln met her… he said “here is the lady who started the Civil War”

her book had a lot to do with stirring up the nations opinion regarding slavery

I met this young woman from Egypt, working in the USA, married, and Muslim… so I said, “well, since your religion allows your husband up to 4 wives, then is that ok with you, if he takes several others…” and she said, “No way! I don’t want to share with anyone…. ”

So.. you see, women don’t really like the ideas of Islam… when they see a different culture and way of life….

plural marriages (one husband, several wives) are interesting to study… they take place even today among certain Mormons in Utah…. and in Islam…. and some other cultures, like in India or Africa…

but the women,… to accept such a thing… have to be brought up in a culture where it is acceptable…. and they must look upon each other as sisters, i guess.. and they look upon the husband as something very different from the western notion of romantic love….

I bought a novel by Sinclair Lewis called “Kingsblood Royal”, written in 1940, about a prosperous “white” banker in south who suddenly discovers that he has one black ancestor, and therefore his is 1/32 part negro…. so… he starts to re-examine all the racial prejudices of the times….

Sinclair Lewis was the first American novelist to win a Nobel prize (but not for Kingsblood Royal)

Student: that sounds good

William: in a way… the history of the whole world… is about empowerment of the oppressed….. slaves being liberated….. women geting the vote…. free education for all…. religious freedom of worship…. free speech…. everybody having a vote….. freedom of press…..

I have not yet finished Kingsblood Royal…. I guess in its time, it woke lots of people up to racial issues….. and for a white man to write it in 1940, he was way ahead of his time,… since all the civil rights movment was in 1950’s and 60’s

but you see, sinclair lewis would take each “icon” of society… and critique it….. in “Arrowsmith” he takes about medical ethics…. so he take on the icon of the medical profession

and in “Babbit” he takes on American business….

Student: right

William: so, i guess that was Sinclair Lewis’ “thing”….to challenge icons

Student: now im on the Bombing of Hiroshima an Nagasaki

gotta do the same stuff

William: ok… atomic bomb… I talked to one world war II veteran, in 1960’s and he said that the bombing of Hiroshima SAVED more Japanese lives that it took….. since japan was determined to fight to the bitter end, even though, strategically, they had lost the war strategically one year earlier…

now, the atomic bomb made them surrender… but if they had continued with their plan to fight… then many more Japanese would have died that actually died in bombing

Student: yea that’s amazing… hmm

for the opposing points

William: Sinclair Lewis attacked the icon of religion with his book “Elmer Gantry”

Student: oh yea

do you know two opposing view points of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

William: back to Hiroshima…. there were hawks and doves… just like today… there were those who thought it immoral to bomb a city with women and children….

Student: yea of course

William: there were those who perhaps thought one should go further and totally cripple or annihilate the enemy

I have thought that way in my life…. that we should have annihilated Germany and Japan and USSR….. I admit.. I have had those thoughts….

but then… perhaps even if we did…. then other enemies would arise from elsewhere in other fashions that we cannot imagine

but… you see.. it is the ruthless often who ultimately win….. bin laden is not squeamish about knocking down buildings or cities, killing women and children….

personally , I think the west will crumble from its excess of morality and ethics

Student: yea

William: definitely, it was a big moral debate with Truman, and the government, to drop the bomb or not

Student: oh yea

William: Einstein and Bohr and Heisenberg and the other physicists felt regret that they had unleashed this terrible power of nuclear destruction…

Student: oh yea

William: look at the scientist Nobel, who invented dynamite,… an explosive…. and one day, a newspaper mistakenly received the news that Nobel had died, so they printed his obituary, as the man who invented dynamite… well… when Nobel read this, he decided to leave his fortune to make the Nobel Peace Prize….

because he did not want to be remembered just for the destructive power of explosive dynamite

Student: oh yea,i heard about that

William: I just remembered Thoreau’s words, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”

I found the Spark Notes summary for Babbitt…

Student: do you know an opposing view point that I could use from the bombing of Hiroshima an Nagasaki

William: well… just like our Korean example… there were two points of view INSIDE the country, north versus south…. (capitalism vs communism)…. and then TWO points of view in USA (DOVES vs hawks)

so… similarly… there were in USA, doves who wanted to ban the bomb, and hawks who wanted to use it even MORE,….. while inside Japan… there were those who were glad the war was over…. and others who could not bear the loss of the Imperial glory of Japan and the fall of their emperor…. and who would have preferred to fight to the bitter death…

Student: thanks

William: Babbitt seeks to expose the hypocrisy and emptiness underlying middle-class life.

think about this thought I just had… namely… that all of history is like a constantly swinging pendulum, swinging back and forth between various opposites… between wealth and poverty, war and peace, conservative and liberal,…. debauchery and strict morality….. religious fervor and atheism….

Student: yes exactly, my point… like a grandfather clock

William: so…. the people made strong say by slavery, or poverty, or suffering, or the challenge of pioneering….. well… they effect some big change… but then… then next generation, which is has it easy, in affluence, or peace and safety… why… they loose that pioneering super-hero spirit…. they become flabby

therefore…. there is never any end, never any peace, never any balance or equilibrium where the pendulum stops swinging……

we are always struggling and fighting for peace, prosperity, freedom, morality…. but we never achieve peace, we are never free, we never eliminate poverty…. we are never collectively moral

we are ever driven by a pendulum and illusion

Babbitt acknowledges and embraces the possibility that future generations might find a way out of the hollow morass middle-class society had become.

if you watch those 1950 programs like Ozzie & Harriet and Leave it to Beaver… it is a false Babbitt-like representation of human life, of happiness and morality…. something which we would have liked to believe, to convince ourselves of… except it was false, phony, a lie, and not the way things really are in life or families

my pendulum example …. it is only under suffering and adversity and a people develop courage and character to seek revolution and reform…. but the peace and prosperity of that reform and freedom leads to a weak character, to decadence, and to decay and corruption…. so the cycle repeats all over again

The extreme reaction of the privileged to hollowness, Babbitt proclaims, is hollowness.

Babbitt is first and foremost a parody of post-World War I middle-class American culture. The name of the town, Zenith, implies that Babbitt’s community views itself as the highest point of American civilization

The Babbitts’ marriage, like their house, is mostly appearance with little substance. Their morning conversation has a feeling of monotony; while there might have been genuine feeling in it at one time, it is now an empty routine carried out for the sake of creating the appearance of married contentment.

Student: right i see

William: Despite all of Babbitt’s failings, it is important to remember that he is the product of a culture that exerts great pressure to conform. He is not evil, nor is he entirely insensitive

each of us is a product of our culture and our times

you know…. I was looking at the novel “Jude the Obscure” which was written by Hardy , i think in late 1800’s or early 1900’s…. and it was a big scandal when it came out… they said it was indecent in its talk of “sexuality”…. but I downloaded the text and searched on words like “kiss”

and the whole book is really very tame by today’s standards…

Student: right… sounds good

William: but… I lived in a tough neighborhood… and most of the girls their were having affairs/relations from as early as age 12 (some of them)… and one girl told me… (who was 14)… “Oh, at the end of a date… girls think it is nothing to have relations”….. so… how we are products of our times… and William Harding was a product of his times

Student: right.

William: The Novel, Babbitt, makes the point that middle-class values actually discourage real human relationships. Instead, it encourages people to become carbon copies of one another, much like the industrial economy produces standardized, mass-produced material objects. Babbitt and his friends live mechanical, dull, conventional lives as if they were robots instead of human beings.

Student: so, a viewpoint for the USA would be?

there were Doves in the USA who wanted to ban the bomb, and Hawks who wanted to use it even more.

William: viewpoint for USA…. to end the war at all costs… that the evil of nuclear destruction is outweighed by the good of ending the war (that it would even benefit the Japanese)

World War II had been going on for 5 years…. Germany had surrendered but Japan was still fighting… everyone was weary of fighting…

in fact… when the war was finally over… all the soldiers came home, and all they wanted was a little house in Levitt town,…. (g.i. bill) and a wife and kids, and a normal life…

the physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, who was at Los Alamos when they tested the very first atomic bomb (before they bombed japan)…. when he saw the mushroom cloud,… he quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-gita (a Hindu scripture)… where Krishna (God) says, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

Student: oh right

William: so… on the one hand, people were war weary, and willing to do anything to end it….

but… on the other hand, they saw that this was like “Pandora’s box” and that the demon of nuclear weapons had escaped and there was no putting it back in the box

by that time, even if we had shut down the project and not dropped the bomb… why the world knew enough that sooner or later, someone else would have the bomb…

Student: right

William: and.. you see… those two sides/opinions are at work today…..

Student: right, I believe so

William: on the one hand… we are afraid to disarm,…. because then we will be defenseless… and on the other hand , we fear mutually assured mass destruction….

Student: oh my god you have been such a help i can’t even explain, thanks

William: glad to help…. very few people look to me for help… so I might as well do it when someone comes along…

Student: aww, thanks

William: besides… sometimes… there are mystical, hidden reasons why things happen…. reasons that we cannot see…

I mean…. I am old, and you are young… so I will be gone in 30 years…. but you may life well into this century… and perhaps, something I say to you…. will live on with you…. will help others,…. in some way

you have heard of the Quakers and the Shakers…. (and the Shakers made great furniture)…. well… the Shakers in this country had COMMUNES , farms where everyone worked in common

but… all of Europe was amazed at the economic success of the Shaker communes…. including Marx and Engels who started the communist movement….

so.. you see how strangely things work… the shakers never thought about the unusual influence they had half way around the world…. and a century later…

well… just as an example of how….. what we do… what we say… can have unexpected long range results….

sometimes good results… sometimes bad results…..

Student: right

William: lets look at REALLY long range cause and effect….

I mean… Judaism had become corrupt in a way…. and Jesus was like a reformer…

well.. maybe Jesus didn’t know what the church would be like… and the middle ages…. and then the Roman Catholic corruption.. and the Protestant reform…

but… long story short… that leads to a little group called Shakers… who inspire Marx and Engels… which leads to communism… and North Korea