Friday, March 18, 2011

What Does Fred Think?

I was reading Jay Luvaas' book, "Frederick The Great on the Art of War", and on pages 38 and 39 the following paragraphs caught my attention:

"Machiavelli speaks...of the principini, those diminutive sovereigns who, having only small dominions, cannot send an army into the field. He advises them chiefly to fortify their capitals in order to secure themselves and their troops in time of war. Those Italian princes discussed by Machiavelli are really a breed of mongrels, half sovereign and half subjects. They only appear as sovereigns by the number of their domestics. The best advice that one can give them would lessen a little the opinion they entertain of their own grandeur, the extreme veneration they have for their ancient and illustrious pedigree, and their inviolable zeal for the scutcheons. Men of sense claim that they had better assume no rank in the world other than what is due noblemen of easy fortunes; that they ought to climb down from the scaffold of their pride and maintain at most no more troops than would be necessary to guard their palaces against robbers, if indeed any robbers could be reduced to the starving condition of seeking a subsistence in those palaces; that they ought to raze and demolish their ramparts and walls and everything that gives their place of residence the appearance of strength. The reasons are these: most of these petty princes, especially in Germany, ruin themselves by spending excessive sums to maintain that grandeur with which they are intoxicated, and to support the honor of their family they reduce themselves to beggary and want. There is hardly a second son of a younger brother who does not believe himself to be something like Louis XIV. He builds his Versailles, keeps his mistresses, and maintains his armies....

The reason these little monarchs do not need to fortify their capitals is very plain: they can hardly be besieged at any time by their equals for their larger neighbors would presently intervene and offer to mediate, an offer they are not at liberty to refuse. Thus instead of bloodshed, two or three dashes of a pen are enough to terminate their quarrels.

What can be the use of their fortified towns? If they were strong enough to endure a siege as long as that of Troy against their equals, they would not be able to hold out as long as Jericho against a powerful prince. Besides, if they lie between two mighty neighbors who are at war, they have no choice but to observe neutrality unless they would be totally ruined. And if they join with either belligerent, their capitals become the frontier town of that Prince's dominions...

In short, to make war, give battle, and attack and defend fortified places is the business of powerful sovereigns, and those who effect to imitate them are no wiser than the man who counterfeited the noise of thunder and believed himself to be Jupiter."

Now Frederick's opinion must be weighed carefully. After all, he lived through and helped shape the course of his tumultuous times. But I can't help but wonder if his opinion was easier to reach because he was at the head of one of the most effective armies ever to march. His "business" of being a powerful Prince would have been much easier to carry out if the petty princes had voluntarily disarmed and demilitarized themselves.

Food for thought. The Markgraaf is now going to break out his soldiers and make some thunder!

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