War History: Analysis of Primary Source Material

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Greek Phalanx vs. Roman Legion

The formations that armies adopt in the battlefield have historically played an important role in determining the outcome of wars. The different formations come with their respective strengths and weakness, but some formations have over the years emerged as being more effective than others (Ramsey, 2016). Polybius, in his histories, discusses the strengths and weaknesses of two ancient formations namely the Greek Phalanx and the Roman Legion. He concludes that the Roman Legion was way more effective compared to the Greek Phalanx. The current essays highlight the factors that made the Roman Legion more effective.

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The Greek Phalanx was a formation that was commonly utilized by the ancient Greek and Eastern armies during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. It was characterized by a heavy infantry that formed into a dense mass of soldiers who stood shoulder-to-shoulder and chest to back (Ramsey, 2016). The depth of the Phalanx usually consisted of between sixteen to thirty-two men and its length was about a hundred and above meters long. The soldiers in the first row to the fifth row used to hold pikes, referred to as Sarissas, straight in front. Those in the sixth to the ninth rows hold their pikes at an angle of 45 degrees. The main purpose of holding pikes at an angle of 45 degrees was to deflect missiles and ensure the spikes are readily lowered when a soldier in front is killed (Ramsey, 2016).

The Soldiers in the last rows usually had their spikes pointed straight up as a way of further deflecting missiles. The back rows also served to add weight and density to the formation. The Greek Phalanx was generally a tight formation with the total amount of space that average phalangites took being three feet. The Roman Legion, on the other hand, was quite a manipular formation (Hanson, 2009). Its layout was unique, consisting of multiple lines of soldiers one behind the other. Deployment took place in different maniples in such a way that each line had a gap the size of a maniple between units. The gaps were usually filled by the next line back (Hanson, 2009).

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In his comparison of the two formations, Polybius opines that the Roman Legion was more open compared to the Greek Phalanx. This openness, according to Polybius, gives the Legion more flexibility. He states that “for every Roman, once armed and on the field, is equally well equipped for every place, time, or appearance of the enemy.” As a result of the flexibility, the legion could quickly turn into any direction, and every other maniple was capable of operating independently without the rest of the army. The effectiveness of the legion over the Phalanx was also boosted by the thrusting swords and large shields that the soldiers wielded. This way, the Roman soldiers were often at a greater advantage as far as defending themselves at short range was concerned.

In conclusion, different armies around the world have over the years adopted different formations in the battlefield. The different formations come with their respective strengths and weakness, but some formations have over the years emerged as being more effective than others. In his comparison of the Greek Phalanx and the Roman Legion, Polybius concludes that Roman Legion was way more effective compared to the Greek Phalanx. The effectiveness of the Roman Legion was as a result of its more flexible nature, the thrusting swords and large shields that the soldiers wielded as well as the multiple lines of soldiers.

Memorandum of Conversation

Weapons of mass destruction have been in existence starting from the Second World War. However, the perspectives and positions of the strongly armed nations towards these weapons have changed in response to changes in global conditions as well as technologies. Kegley and Raymond (2013) point out that there are three periods from which the perspectives and positions of the strongly armed nations towards weapons of mass destruction can be looked at. These are the compellence, deterrence and the preemption periods. The Compellence period started right after the Second World War and was characterized by the nuclear superiority of the United States.

During this time, the US enjoyed nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union and utilized nuclear weapons as the main tools of political influence (Kegley and Raymond, 2013). To compel other nations that had less advanced technologies, the US utilized the strategic doctrine called “massive retaliation,” a policy that considered nuclear weapons as key means of preventing war and the first recourse in case of failure of deterrence (Bacevich, 2009). This paper takes a deeper look into this doctrine, highlighting why the then Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, started question the efficacy of the strategic doctrine of “massive retaliation.”

The strategic doctrine of “massive retaliation” was adopted shortly after President Dwight Eisenhower had taken over the leadership of the country. It was based on the premise that in case the Soviet Union decided to carry out attacks on Europe, the US would respond by using tactical nuclear weapons. Under the policy, Strategic Air Command was viewed as the main means of initiating the nuclear deterrence (Bacevich, 2009). In the Memorandum of Conversation dated April 7, 1958, we see that the then Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles played an important role in coming up with the doctrine of massive retaliation. It is written that that Secretary Dulles came up with the idea in 1950 after it was apparent that it would be difficult for the Free World to match the convention strength of the Soviet Union.”

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It is written that the new concept was the direct opposite of another strategic doctrine, “Fortress America” initiated by President Hoover. However, concerns about the strategic doctrine of “massive retaliation” started emerging as a result of the increased destructive power of nuclear weapons in years that came after 1950 as well as the Soviet Union’s move to develop their nuclear weapon capability (Memorandum of Conversation, 1958). Secretary Dulles is reported to have been largely concerned about the impact that massive utilization of nuclear weapons would have on the survival of the US given these new turn of events.

Secretary Dulles also started raising questions about the efficacy of the doctrine given the “ambiguous Soviet aggressive moves (Memorandum of Conversation, 1958).” According to Dulles, the responsibility that the president would have to bear in the decision to utilize tactical nuclear weapons to counter the ambiguous Soviet aggressive moves would be awful. The Secretary of State was also concerned about the actual working of the strategy in case the Soviet Union chose to attack Turkey, Iran or Germany. It is reported that in these countries.

According to Memorandum of Conversation (1958), “the first instance US forces were not involved” As such, a Soviet attack would leave the US in a dilemma on whether to directly intervene by sending in forces or to stay clear of the fight. Secretary Dulles was also concerned about the efficacy of the “massive retaliation” doctrine given the nature of the relationship between the US and its NATO allies. He opined that under the strategic doctrine of “massive retaliation,” the US could only hold on top its NATO allies for about a year or two, a fact that would, in the long run, cripple the entire strategic doctrine (Memorandum of Conversation, 1958).

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US Forces: The Challenges Ahead

Wars generally come at a very high cost in terms of finances as well as the causalities involved. As a result, successful involvement in any given war requires the establishment of clear objectives as well as meticulous planning (Fox, 2012). The outcomes of any given war should outweigh the costs involved the costs involved in the said war to be deemed justifiable. In his article titled US Forces: The Challenges Ahead Over, Powell (1992) highlights some questions that countries need to ask themselves before going into wars. These questions relate to the cost of the war, the political objectives, the efficacy of nonviolent policy as well as the analysis of the gains and risks. Over the years, the US has involved itself in wars, most of which have resulted in heated public debates as to whether the said wars are justifiable or not. One such war the 2002 invasion of Iraq led by the Bush’s administration. The current essay seeks to discuss whether the questions highlighted by Powell were raised before the decision to invade Iraq.

The grounds that the Bush administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq was that the Saddam Hussein’s regime had or was developing weapons of mass destruction. Brooks (2015) points out that the jury is still out on whether President Bush and his team of advisors and experts were really confident that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or was planning to develop the said weapons. Some commentators opine that there was no clear basis of invading Iraq since no weapons of mass destruction were found, and the entire invasion was just but a plot by the US to have firm control of Iraq’s oil (Brooks, 2015). More than 15 years after the invasion, the public is still divided on whether the invasion was worth it or not.

According to Powell (1992), one of the questions that a country should ask itself before going into war is “Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood?” In the US’s case as far as the invasion of Iraq was concerned, the political objectives were not clearly defined and important. Bush’s administration made it clear that its main concern was to stop Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction. However, the decision to attack Iraq was made even before confirming that Saddam Hussein actually had the weapons and intended to use them in ways that would directly harm the US or its allies. The reason to invade Iraq was quite vague and went to show that the Bush administration had other hidden agendas in its invasion of Iraq.

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Another question that a country should ask itself before going to war, According to Powell (1992), is “Have all other nonviolent policy means failed?” In deciding to invade Iraq, the Bush administration did not bother to ask itself this question. There were no attempts to pursue non-violent means, and Iraq’s leadership was not even given enough time to ascertain that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Non-violent means did not fail for they were not tried out.

Questions for US President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Japan’s foreign policy, up to the mid-1930s, was not that different from that of other world powers of that time such as the US and Britain. Just like these two states, Japan was an imperialist nation that conducted its operations within what was globally accepted as imperialist behavior (Yahuda, 2011). However, Japan started moving out of this framework starting as early as 1931, with its 1937 aggression in China being the hallmark of Japan leaving the globally accepted framework of imperialism. In his article title Some Questions for President Roosevelt, Nagai (1939) takes a deeper look into both Japanese and the US foreign policy towards Asia, criticizing the US policy and justifying the Japanese policy. This essay discusses Nagai’s characterization the Japanese policy towards Asia, pointing out whether the characterization is correct or mistaken.

Nagai (1939) begins the article by stating that Japan military presence in China is not aimed at indemnity or territorial acquisitions but seeks to establish China as an independent nation free from “those unequal treaties that encroach upon her sovereignty and make her virtually a European colony.” Nagai further points out that Japans military campaign in China also aims at establishing a self-sufficient economic structure bringing together China, Japan, and Manchukuo. Nagai views Japan’s foreign policy towards China as focusing more on regional prosperity as opposed to undermining the Chinese as was the case with other powers such as the British.

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According to Nagai, Japan’s foreign policy is a reflection of the country’s sympathy towards China and other people in Asia. He brings out Japan as being the main power in the Far East and which is capable of standing up against other powers such as the US that have always sought to exert some form of control over the region. He characterizes Japan’s foreign policy in Asia as being the only means that a new Asiatic order will be established. He states that “Japan is only too willing to develop the natural wealth of Asia, open up its markets and construct a new community without oppression or extortion (Nagai, 1939).”

Most of Nagai’s characterization of Japan’s foreign policy in Asia is incorrect. Japan was determined to grow into a world power during this time just like the US and Britain. The country’s imperial expansion into China was a clear indicator of Japan’s quest to grow into a regional power and eventual a world power (Joo, 2012). Japan’s colonial expansion into Asia involved military campaigns, meaning that their quest to gain influence in the region was largely opposed. As such, it is wrong for Nagai to characterize Japan’s foreign policy in Asia during the 1930s as one meant to ensure the region prospers and free from external influence.

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  1. Bacevich, A. J. (Ed.). (2009). The long war: A new history of US national security policy since World War II. Columbia University Press.
  2. Brooks, S. (2015). Anti-Americanism and the Limits of Public Diplomacy: Winning Hearts and Minds?. Routledge.
  3. Fox, J., & Welch, D. (2012). Justifying War: Propaganda, politics and the modern age. In Justifying War (pp. 1-20). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  4. Hanson, V. D. (2009). The western way of war: Infantry battle in classical Greece. Univ of California Press.
  5. Kegley, C. W., & Raymond, G. A. (2011). The global future: a brief introduction to world politics. Cengage Learning.
  6. Nagai R. (1939). Questions for US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  7. Polybius. Histories.
  8. Powell, C (1992). US Forces: The Challenges Ahead.
  9. Ramsey, S. (2016). Tools of War: History of Weapons in Ancient Times. Vij Books India Pvt Ltd.
  10. Yahuda, M. (2011). The International Politics of the Asia Pacific. Routledge.
  11. Yoo, H. J. (2012). The Trans-Pacific Imagination: Rethinking Boundary, Culture, and Society. World Scientific.
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