Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ivy Scholars Reading: Update 3

My apologies for not posting another blog sooner. I have been so busy these past two weeks from four vigorous days of drum major camp (where they teach drum majors--the leaders/conductors of marching bands--how to conduct, spin maces and military batons, and be effective leaders) in UC Santa Cruz to my piano recital (I played Fantasie Impromptu by Chopin) and everything else in between. During this time, I have completed Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford and The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan. I am also in the middle of reading On War and The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World begins with an introduction which explains how Genghis Khan's people, the Mongols, are constantly associated with barbarism and defects in society ("Mongoloid"). I'll admit that before reading this book I shared this same flawed perception. However, this book has completely changed my view of Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Not only do I not see him as a bloodthirsty tyrant, but I also am inspired by his story. As a boy, he was part of an ostracized nomad family that struggled to survive, but he went on to become the founder and leader of the largest and most powerful and influential empire of pre-modern times. I was also amazed by how the Mongol empire was far beyond its time. With the leadership of Genghis Khan, it organized its military into manageable units, established a universal currency, and observed freedom of religion. America is considered a melting pot today, but it was really the Mongols whom began the whole concept. Although their empire eventually fell from power, their concotion of culture is truly what led to the modern world we know today. They had Chinese, Siberians, Middle Easterners, Europeans of a myriad of professions whom learned from each other. This resulted in art, architecture, mathematics, calendars, clothes, weaponry, etc. that were influenced from cultures all over the world. Really, it was the first step towards globalization. In addition to all of this, I can see how Genghis Khan factors into grand strategy. Genghis Khan never studied The Art of War, but as I read about his military tactics as he united the Mongols and a majority of the world I couldn't help but think that his tactics were nearly real-life applications of Sun Tzu's wise strategies. I am really looking forward to analyzing Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire during the Ivy Scholars program.

The Pelopennesian War is a modern retelling of the 27 year long war in the 5th century B.C. between the Athenians and the Spartans and their respective allies. It was a war full of vulgarities, coup d'etats, traitors, unsuccessful peace treaties, naval warfare, Persian influence, and misery. Some leaders and generals were highly skilled, such as Pericles, Phormio, and Thrasybulus. Their tactics definitely taught me valuable lessons of how to succeed in war. However, there were many more incompetent figures in the Pelopennesian War. Their failures and shortcomings taught me just as valuable lessons of what not to do in war. The Pelopennesian War made me remember how Sun Tzu is completely against lenghty wars, because they just lead to unnecessary death and destruction rather than victory. This war (along with Vietnam) is the perfect example of how devastating a prolonged war is. I think the war was so long and far from true victory because its leaders lacked a grand strategy. Pericles had one, but after he died it soon died along with him. I am eager to see how professors at Yale will expound on the Pelopennesian war in light of grand strategy.

I also want to add that the dinner at Uncle Chung's restaurant today was wonderful! Mr. Gosney's idea of having all four of us Yalies present at a dinner before our departure was truly a good one. Additionally, we were graced by the presence of Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Ms. Kim, Ms. Larson, and Mr. Gosney himself. Thank you ILC for making it possible!

1 comment:

  1. Yohanna,

    Your comments have made me curious. You state that you’ve abandoned your previous perceptions that the Mongols were barbaric or bloodthirsty. Even though the rationale for encircling a village and killing every living soul had strategic value to their efforts to control an area, most people would still see this as overkill and barbaric. They at least could have spared the dogs and horses.

    As history has repeatedly shown us, Yohanna, sometimes people come up with the same ideas independent of each other. The ideas and concepts make so much sense that like minds think alike.

    In your analysis of the Peloponnesian War you mentioned the incompetence of some of the leaders and generals. When you study different societies and their militaries you’ll see that leadership positions were “earned” based on family and political connections. Even in our own history this can be verified by examining military appointments during the Civil War. Many tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides lost their lives because of the incompetence of military officers whose expertise in waging war was limited to their hubris.
    With just about anything we do in life, Yohanna, we have to have an objective, a plan, a strategy for implementing the plan and even a cost analysis to determine how much our objective is worth to us. This may be the actual cost or the less obvious indirect cost. In a war, the direct cost is in how much of your assets will be necessary. For instance, when you fire off 32 cruise Missiles you know that you just spent $50 million. The indirect cost might include the loss of life on both sides or the destruction of a country’s infrastructure.

    Sooner or later every leader—and the populace who keep him in power—has to weigh the costs versus the benefits to determine whether the objective is worth what it costs to achieve that objective. Fighting on for decades or losing a large part of your populace might give some leaders reason to reevaluate the war. Others, though, allow pride and ideology to get in the way.

    Then again, if you can’t even remember why it is that you’re fighting that war, then maybe it’s time to rethink why you’re still at war.