Steven Pressfield - the gates of fire

Tags: books

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 wikipedia 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. logo

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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