I love the study of History and I believe I have stated before my three areas of fascination, Ancient Greece, War of 1812, and World War 1. As you can see all of these areas include War but that does not necessarily make me a war lover for I am not. The reason for this is I have fought in a war and their is no glory just fear, filth, pain, mutilation, and death. What fascinates me is the men and women in this most brutal of mans’ endeavours. When one reads history it is usually about the great heroes and leaders both militarily and politically. That is all fine and well but without the so called common soldier or warrior there would be no one to fight the battles. All to often those of the rank and file are overlooked. It is they who bear the brunt, the ones who do the dying, are wounded or succumb to disease or worse.
The greatest epic of course is Homers’ Iliad about the Trojan War. It is a master piece, but Homer tells only of the heroes, Achilles, Hector, Ajax, Odysseus, Menelaus, and Agamemnon. I believe only twice he mention the names of common soldiers, Thersites and Sinon. Thersites because he is supposedly the ugliest Greek at Troy and Sinon because of his convincing the Trojans that he is a deserter and talking them into taking the Trojan Horse into the city. They should have listened to Helen when she said “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. To Homer and most Historians of the Ancient World how many names of the hoi polloi or common Legionnaire are recorded. Alexander the Great, perhaps the greatest military genius of all time but certainly in his day claimed to care for his men yet he pushed them to the point of mutiny when he reach India.
To Alexander it was all his Glory and Fame that he really cared about. Caesar in his “Gallic Wars” only mentions two of the lower ranks Varanius, and Pullo. It has been the lot of the foot slogger from the first recorded war in 2700 BCE up to the 19th Century to be forgotten and ignored. Yet these are the true heroes who fight and die on uncountable battlefields with little or no say as to their fate.
The recording of the individual soldiers’ name became more prevalent in the late 18th century then on through the 19th and 20th and especially now in the 21st. It took historians long enough but they finally recognized that these individuals were just as important if not more so than the Kings, Lords, and Generals. It was the Tommy, Doughboy, G.I.Joe, and the Grunt the infantry man who fought and died in the dirty and man made hell that won the battles. The Politicians might have started the war, the Generals planned it but it was the common soldier who won it. To-day after centuries of playing minor roles it is also the women of the armed forces who stand sholder to shoulder with the men in Harms Way.
There are many books out there of the Wars of the 19th and 20th centuries that are full of letters, notes, diaries, and journals of the common soldier brimming with information of how they lived or died on the Battle Field. Thankfully Historinas are looking more and more into these private documents to learn about these warriors that marched off in defense of their nations,homes, and loved ones. These young men and women from the farms the towns, the cities, and the universities who answered their counties call. It makes no difference whose side they were on the believed themselves to be in the right because their Nations’ Leaders said it was so.
Politics is the game of old men and it is Politicians who start the wars and call on the young to fight and die. Perhaps as the saying goes if these politicians had to fight the wars they start it would put a quick end to it.
I am neither Dove nor Hawk. War is an intregal part of our cultures and if that war is just and necessary then it must be fought. Perhaps in the last 100 years the only War that could be considered total necessary was World War Two. This war had to be fought because the evil fueling it had to be destroyed. Now in my seventh decade it is my ardent wish that neither my daughters or my grand children ever have to face the prospect of another Global War. In the meantime though I will go on reading and studying and being fascinated by the people who answer the “Call to Arms”.