Steven Pressfield - the gates of fire
I saw a link to a 5x5minutes video series by author Steven Pressfield on the
well-worth-a-read “defense and the national interest” blog. That name
rang a bell. But which one. Didn’t I have a book written by him?
Well, first I watched the video series. You can find a summary of the main
points in an older article by him. The main points as I
remember them now:
- You’ve got “western” society and you’ve got tribes.
- Society is about individuals and individual advancement and personal
development and all sorts of other individual things - within the bigger
scope of society as a whole.
- Tribes are all about tribes. The group is the important entity. Persons
only have value within the context of the tribe. This has advantaged and
disadvantages. No personal advancement and freedom unless you’re near the
top of the hierarchy. Yes, there is a hierarchy and it is almost always a
male hierarchy. They’re burning woman schools as it is against the
(often conservative) tribes’ interests. One of the advantages is a strong
sense of belonging. You’re part of a tribe! You belong! No more feeling
lost and wondering about your identity.
- Tribes aren’t the best economic structure. They’re piss-poor in
Afghanistan, for instance. So they’re used to hardship. A couple of weeks
hiding in the mountains won’t hurt them. So you’ve got a problem if you
want to defeat tribes, being yourself a western army. Especially if tribes
often have a warrior culture with strong honour principles. And when the
tribe is important and the individual is expendable.
- Steven tells that the western superpower Alexander the Great at the height
of his (military) power got his ass royally kicked in Afghanistan. In
it says that it had taken Alexander only six months to conquer Iran, but it
took him nearly three years (from about 330 BCE-327 BCE) to subdue the area
that is now Afghanistan.
- The western effort in Afghanistan now: doomed. Bringing western-style
civilization to a tribal society means a complete upheaval of the entire
social structure. No way a couple of years of effort is going to get that
done. Probably the best you can do is to go after your first objective
(“deny Al Qaida their training bases”) by making deals with the local tribes
(including the taliban).
Anyway, I found out where I knew Steven Pressfield from: my brother gave me a book at my wedding in 2000. The
gates of fire. I finally read it. In just a few days as it was a great read.
Thanks, Maurits! :-) It is about the famous battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC between a
couple of thousand greeks (300 Spartans, their personal helpers and a number
of allies) and some 200 thousand in Xerxes’ Persian army.
Well worth a read. Highly recommended.