What do you mean by that? Musings on Modern Minds . . .

I was looking up Prinz Eugen von Savoy’s birth date, so I could be sure I remembered something else correctly. (He was 20 years old at Vienna in 1683. I was right.) That led to a bit of a rabbit hole, and some head scratching. A writer for a history web site wondered how Eugen could still be considered a hero of Austrian history when he had “blood on his hands.” Puzzled, I kept reading, and discovered that the author disapproved of what happened after the first siege of Belgrade. As usually happened after sieges, the attackers sacked the city, and a number of Muslims and Jews were killed. I sort of nodded and thought, “Unfortunate, but normal. What’s the problem?”

That’s when I realized that the web-site author and I have very, very different views of history, and of this historical figure. The author is looking back from a 21st century, nice person’s mindset, where a commander’s duty is to win with an absolute minimum of bloodshed and good soldiers never, ever do things like that. Eugen should have followed the Geneva Conventions and Hague Conventions and US or UN Rules of Engagement. Because he didn’t do that in 1683-1704, he was a bad person and not worthy of being honored as a national hero.

I look at Eugen as a brilliant leader and tactician, as well as someone who performed the miracle of fighting successful wars on a Habsburg budget.* So Muslims and Jews were massacred (or at least killed in large numbers) during the fighting in Belgrade. That’s how wars worked back then, especially sieges. Double especially a war that was Islam vs. Christianity and where both sides had been fighting “dirty” for, oh, [thinks back] since the Hungarians first collided with the Ottomans in 1366. Given some of the other things that happened over the 400 years of fighting, just killing people in the streets was somewhat tame. Not right, perhaps, but not the worst. And anyone who didn’t know what incoming troops would do if they broke into a city rather than it surrendering, well . . .

Is my mind warped, or have I spent too much time in the pre-modern era, or have I just accepted that the past really is a different country and so I don’t get bent out of shape when people don’t fit modern expectations? I know that the first is somewhat true. I”m not certain about the second option, so let’s go with the third option. You can’t read lots and lots of history, and walk battlefields or medieval cities without some of the time soaking in.

I guess I was a bit more surprised that the web-site author thought Prinz Eugen should have acted like, oh, Erwin Rommel, or General Michael Rose (during 1990s Balkan War). I shouldn’t be surprised, not anymore.

*The Habsburgs were firm believers in underpaying their military while expecting miracles, then acting surprised when Bad Things Happened. See the sack of Rome, when Charles V was shocked, shocked that his German mercenaries decided to pay themselves.


16 thoughts on “What do you mean by that? Musings on Modern Minds . . .

  1. Two very low bars to hurdle:

    Erwin Rommel had a sparsely populated sandbox for his most visible campaign. Both sides could play a positive chivalric role. I need to find my copy of “Infantry Attacks” and take another look at his Italian campaigns from WW I.

    General Rose simply had to ensure that his people only shot in local self-defense, and that they’d counseled the locals to not kill every outsider on sight.

    As for the third option:

    Adm. Karl Doenitz confounded the Nuremberg trials with an awkward official document – Adm. Nimitz’s order as CINCPAC to engage in unrestricted air and submarine warfare on the Japanese Empire. Doenitz’s implicit and unwritten (treasonous) order for U-boat commanders to report “no survivors” from sunken ships thus sidestepped the published Fuhrer directive to machine-gun survivors at sea, a literal war crime.

  2. No, you are correct.
    It is unrealistic to hold past people to current views.
    This reminds me of how some people today attack Washington and Lincoln because, in that person’s mind, they didn’t do enough to help a currently popular cause.
    To me, that mindset shows a lack of intelligence, common sense, and perspective.

    • You believe in understanding people in their times. Your critic doesn’t understand that if you lose a war of extinction, the consequences are much worse than fighting dirty. Nor does he understand that the enemy sets the terms of the fight. (Grant gets libeled as a butcher, but Lee set the conditions of the campaign.)
      I will say what you must not: he is a historical ignoramus, and possibly a moral idiot. The first is proven. The second is conjecture.

      • Grant was CIC field forces then, but his HQ traveled with Meade’s Army of the Potomac. Meade did good work on maneuvering, but the terrain constricted as he approached Richmond. You take casualties. Unable to break secure flanks, it meant a siege over a large area. That left Sheridan to devastate the Valley, and Sherman storming through the Southeast and up the seaboard, maneuver warfare into NC.

        Less lives and initiative squandered than all the bunglers before Meade. The incompetent butcher matched his old associate in operational flair.

  3. Practicable breach. That was a valid principle then.

    Frankly, that sort of thing is still valid now. It seems to me, that the truckers made a practicable breach in the defenses of the mainstream establishment.

    The Canadian regime had an option of surrendering, of removing the government and holding elections. It declined.

    At this point, when things settle down, it could be argued that if those 180 MPs are /not/ executed, then a bad precedent will be set.

    Maybe I am mistaken about that.

    • It’s only a bad precedent if you want the side of light to win.
      The laws of war are enforced by the combatants. You make us suffer more than necessary, and we’ll return the favor in spades.

    • It does open up some business opportunities for those willing to arm the opponents of the Trudeau Regime. From overseas, from America, from elements within the Canadian military and police with the right sets of keys and the desire to support their patriots or for a chunk of cash.

  4. You only have to go back to 1945 to see what happens to a city (Berlin) that doesn’t surrender immediately. Or Saigon in 1975.
    The Western public (and generals, now, too) have a completely unrealistic expectation of war.

      • See also Victor Davis Hanson: =The Savior Generals=. (Let us take joy in, and gratitude for, this teacher from the Old Breed while he is still with us.)

    • When you start hearing the other side discussing holding a “Magdeburg wedding,” then you know things are Not Going to End Well for someone. (After being besieged, then sacked and burned, the population of Magdeburg Germany went from 25,000 to 500.)

  5. Revisionist history strikes again… Sigh… These idjits don’t bother to even ‘consider’ that their views are not the same as those in charge back in the day. To me the ‘perfect’ example was the Smithsonian vs. Col Tibbets over the original plan to display the cockpit of the Enola Gay in the downtown Air/Space Museum with a ‘suitable’ explanation of the damage done. Colonel Tibbets had NOT SPOKEN about it since WWII, despite many offers/enticements to do so. When the ‘suitable’ explanation got leaked, he wrote the papers and his letter circulated through the military community and the Pentagon in less than 24 hours. The Smithsonian backed down in the face of that onslaught, and I ‘believe’ the employee found other employment.

    • I was part of that mess. I wrote letters, had an editorial in the college paper, and let both my congress-critter and the Smithsonian know what I thought about it. I think I’ve also still got some of the replicas of the “banned” postage stamp that was pulled from the commemorative set because “they might offend the Japanese.”

      • Thank you for speaking for the truth. So long as you don’t use one truth to deny another (as Merton puts it), speaking truth and speaking for the truth is a great good act.

Comments are closed.