Sunday, February 17, 2013

Carrying baggage in war

You know how much weight an infantryman packs? A lot. There are three basic conditions for load classifications: Fighting load, for when imminent combat is expected; the Approach March load, used when they have to get somewhere and take some food along; and the Emergency Approach March load, when they have to carry everything because re-supply may be a problem. Fighting load weight: 62 pounds. Approach March  load weight: 95 pounds. Emergency Approach March load weight: 128 pounds. (For more details, read my source, The Modern Warrior's Combat Load,

Now, back in the old days (like pre 1900 for modern armies), the troops frequently supported themselves off the land, both in terms of what they ate and in terms of their pay. Rudyard Kipling wrote about it in "Loot": 'That's the thing that makes the boys get up and shoot.' Now, by the time he wrote it, it wasn't policy of the British Army to do that, but evidently the tradition lived on.
And some of the old armies had these massive trains of hangers-on, who made their living off the army, providing various (ahem) services, and some of them just functioned as a way to turn the loot into cash or jewels or something else easy to carry. That's because loot was often pots and pans and chairs and tables and bed frames and laundry and geese and cows. Pretty difficult to lug around. But if the troops DIDN'T lug it around, then somebody else was going to steal it while they were out fighting. So, getting the loot was the first task, getting it turned into something portable was the second task. Why did pirates wear ear rings? It was a handy way of carrying their loot.
And in more than one engagement, an initial victory was turned into defeat because of loot. In the Civil War, Confederate general Jubal Early's men stomped Union commander Phil Sheridan's troops into the ground at Cedar Creek (October 1864), sending the Union troops running. HOWEVER!!!! they did not pursue, they stopped to loot the camp (they were, in fairness, on starvation rations) and Sheridan rallied the Union troops, counter-attacked, and handed Early a huge defeat. Had Early's men pursued, they could have just about had their way with the fleeing Union troops; people who know warfare a lot better than i do say you always suffer more casualties in an undisciplined retreat than you do in a battle.
Which brings me to Jericho and Ai. 
Jericho was a walled city. That doesn't mean so much to us, in the time of bombers and artillery, but if you've ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you'll remember the scene where the knights run up against the castle and hit the walls with their swords. That's kind of what it would be like to assault a walled city. Run up on it, and get nasty things dumped on your head, or worse. 
So, leave it alone. Right? Well, not so much. Ya see, if ya leave a stronghold behind you, your enemy can ALWAYS launch an attack from there. You either have to completely cut off the city, and starve it out, which takes a long long time, or you force the walls or find a secret way in (like David did through the water tunnels) or get somebody to betray the city from you, or if you are at Troy, you build a wooden horse. Or if you are in a Monty Python movie, a wooden rabbit. Or badger. But you CAN'T, you CAN'T leave a strong point in your rear. The enemy will use it to collect their troops, who get to sleep inside and eat home cooked meals and have the blacksmith sharpen their weapons, and then when they have gathered enough guys, they come in and smack you down and dance. 
Now, Joshua had the city, because God gave it to him - and the walls came a tumblin' down - and he took care of business. Almost perfectly. See, God had said: don't take any of their stuff. Kill it, burn it, leave it. Lots of other guys have taught lessons on not being tainted with the goods of the city, and I won't go into that. I'm just thinking about...the impact of looting on a mobile army. Sure, it makes sense to us (if we are in the second grade) that we shouldn't take the idols of the city of Jericho...but why not take the sheep and goats and cows and chickens (no pigs, please, we're Jews)? fast can your mobile army move? If you are carrying the Fighting Load (remember that?), you can move pretty fast. But what if you are carrying, or even herding, the sheep and the goats and the cows and the chickens? Well, bud, you are moving at the speed of a chicken. Ever tried to herd a flock of chickens? Remember all those movies where the car chase gets interrupted because the sheep are in the road? Take the livestock, and you just transformed from a mobile army into non-mobile herders. And that's a great way to become extinct.
BUT, I'll talk more about that next time, when I talk about what happened at Ai.

Feeding on locusts and wild honey,

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