Why Don’t World Leaders Fight Their Own Battles (Again)?
History is full of chivalry and, unfortunately, weenies.
Something never quite caught on in our history. There was a time when kings challenged other kings to duels before a great battle. Henry V challenged Charles VI, only Charles was too bonkers to hold a sword. The same offer was put to the dauphin (Guienne), only he was too young and tubby. “Boy,” Henry said, “you can’t get French monarchs to fight a simple duel anymore.” (Shakespeare described it much better, but you get the idea).
The practice of kings dueling wasn’t all that uncommon in the age of chivalry. Instead of racking up millions in debt, losing thousands of trained men, and essentially tearing up the place, they offered to do the battle themselves. It was a brave thing to do, since some kings were battle veterans by the age of sixteen (Henry V), so you couldn’t count on getting a weenie (Guienne).
The English troops got dysentery so bad, they were cutting the seats out of their pants.
Now, Henry was a pretty smart king. It was no secret Charles VI thought he was a horse, and the dauphin didn’t know one end of a lance from the other. So challenging either — or both — wasn’t that much of a gamble. And it sure didn’t look good for France backing out. In fact, it looked pretty weenie, which was exactly what Henry V was going for.
You see, by the time Henry got all his troops, horses, cannons, guns, physicians, shoemakers and flyswatters over to Harfleur (south of the Somme), things were pretty dicey. Like most conquests of the day, it wasn’t arrows and cannons that brought down armies, it was dysentery. The English troops got dysentery so bad, they were cutting the seats out of their pants.
So essentially Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt by staying out of the mud.
Meanwhile, the French were amassing huge numbers of men. It was a very impressive army, except for everyone stepping on each other’s toes or squabbling over who was leading the vanguard. With all the squabbling and toe-squashing going on, some divisions simply threw up their hands, saying “Merde!” and went home. Others didn’t even bother showing up (like John the Fearless who, it turns out, wasn’t so fearless).
To make matters worse, the battlefield had just been ploughed and it rained all week. Whoever came across the field first (the French), was going to sink up to their knees (which they did). Letting the cavalry go in first made it even worse (all those silly horses). So essentially Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt by staying out of the mud.
This proved to be an excellent strategy, since it allowed his archers to cut down thousands of men, nobles and knights. The English practically wiped out the Armagnacs, arguably the most powerful party in France, leaving them with little option but to go back to making brandy.
Hindsight being what it is, though, Charles VI would have been better off fighting the duel — or letting Guienne ride him. Either way, it could have saved thousands of lives and millions of dollars — not to mention avoiding the embarrassment of losing to a bunch of English with severe dysentery.
But, like I said, fighting duels in lieu of actual battles was already fading. After The Hundred Years War, the only duels fought were personal, and most duelists never did more than shoot off a few tree limbs.
Churchill made great speeches, saying, “We’ll never surrender,” but he wasn’t exactly swinging a sabre.
You might say losing chivalry changed the whole concept of war. With no chance of ever holding a weapon themselves, world leaders became pretty cavalier about military engagement. Monarchs don’t even get involved anymore, preferring to launch ships and have high tea. Starting wars is now left to presidents, prime ministers and senators, all of whom, like Guienne, wouldn’t know one end of a weapon from the other.
Admittedly, Teddy Roosevelt did ride up San Juan Hill, which was more of a photo opportunity than a real war. But at least he made the effort. Leaders today wouldn’t even consider fighting themselves. Churchill made great speeches, saying, “We’ll never surrender,” but he wasn’t exactly swinging a sabre.
No, take chivalry out of the equation, and what you have are “armchair warriors,” ready to commit billions to wars without suffering more than a paper cut. Sure, they surround themselves with military experts, many with firsthand experience, but that’s not the same as leading your troops into battle like Henry V and Richard III did (Richard’s body was found with a spear up the backside, which wasn’t exactly covered in Shakespeare’s version).
Trump received four educational deferments and one 1-Y medical deferment during the Vietnam War.
Of the last six American presidents only George F. W. Bush saw military action (shot down as a navy pilot). Ronald Regan was in the reserves (actually making captain by 1953), but then he did Bedtime for Bonzo, which involved a monkey. George W. Bush served stateside during the Vietnam War, but received an early discharge in 1973. Presidents Barak Obama and Donald Trump never saw military service (Trump received four educational deferments and one 1-Y medical deferment during the Vietnam War).
Here’s another interesting fact: Of all the despots, dictators, and certifiable crazies the US has removed in the last twenty years, including Muammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega and Osama Bin Laden, most had military experience (and I’m sure all would have preferred duels with the president over death or imprisonment).
No, wars aren’t the same anymore. It’s more about financial strength than personal strength these days. Henry V led his troops into battle at Agincourt. Napoleon led his troops at Waterloo. President Trump is happy kicking in a few extra billion to support the military (sort of like sending flowers to a funeral instead of attending).
Today, you couldn’t imagine world leaders dueling — or even being within a thousand miles of a battlefield. Instead, they debate NATO obligations, something Trump’s been doing since he started campaigning.
I know Kim Jong-un, for one, would probably cut a hole in the seat of his pants. Assad’s been seatless for years.
Meanwhile, supervillain Vladimir Putin has cut Russia’s defence spending by 25.5 percent for 2017, falling from 3.8 trillion rubles to 2.8 trillion rubles. Seems Russia isn’t so worried about destroying the West anymore. I’m sure Putin figures Trump is going to die under the weight of hate mail, so why go to the trouble of matching missile for missile?
In any case, we’ve lost the hands-on, chivalric ways of old. Imagine how many millions (money and people) could be saved if our leaders simply challenged North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to a good old-fashioned duel. I know Kim Jong-un, for one, would probably cut a hole in the seat of his pants. Assad’s been seatless for years.
Putin wouldn’t mind a little hand-to-hand, but he’d rather watch other world leaders duke it out over NATO commitments. Most countries are below the necessary 2 percent of GDP to remain “defending countries.” It’s a bit like John the Fearless letting the Armagnacs fight The Battle of Agincourt. Better to let the others squawk and then see who has feathers left.
No point letting a girl humiliate you when you can throw $54 billion at the military war chest instead.
President Trump has taken an even less chivalric route, refusing to shake Angela Merkel’s hand. He’s put a lot of faith in acting snippy. Merkel could probably take him, anyway. Probably a good thing chivalry is dead. No point letting a girl humiliate you when you can throw $54 billion at the military war chest instead.
Put in historical context, though, it’s still pretty weenie.
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.