Here’s my very first Asylum article, followed by some bonus material.
Happy birthday, President Washington!
What made Ol’ Wooden Chompers the Father of Our Country (besides spending all of mom’s money on drink), was his sheer will to make the army function. When the Pennsylvania Line mutinied, Washington did the unexpected: He took their grievances to Congress. (Less lucky: the executed leaders of the New Jersey Line uprising thereafter.)
When the going gets tough, the tough get creative, and quite possibly brutal. Confronted by a challenge, these leaders proved unpredictable enough to win, or at least blow the enemy’s mind.
When Hannibal wanted to move his army somewhere that hadn’t been used as a toilet by 50,000 mercenaries, Roman general Fabius was outside the valley blocking more access points than a Promise Keepers purity ball.
Common sense says press the enemy’s weakest point, move in darkness, and divert attention to spread out your foes. But only maniacal genius says to do all of those with stampeding cattle on fire.
With burning torches tied to their horns, the army guided the panicked cows to the pass. By the time they reached the Romans guarding it, half the forest was on fire and the other half smelled like delicious steak.
Hannibal’s army waltzed through, presumably in the formation of a middle finger.
Hannibal was most famous for bringing elephants over the Alps and only getting most of their handlers killed.
But elephants are smart enough to panic when things go wrong. Like, for instance, another batch of burning livestock.
Facing 120 armored war elephants with poisoned tusks, Genghis Khan’s descendant Timur sanely responded, "Hell no, I’m not fighting that." He then not-so-sanely set camels on fire. The elephants turned and trampled the Indian army in their rush to be someplace with fewer screaming pack-animals.
What, in turn, intimidated the Turks? Only Dracula.
In his time, Prince Vlad impaled more people than Ron Jeremy. He racked up a six-figure body count back when the world population practically was six figures.
That didn’t deter Sultan Mehmed II from invading Wallachia, so Vlad undertook the most ambitious PsyOp in history. As the Sultan’s army marched into Targoviste, they passed through a forest of 20,000 impaled Turks.
"The Crouching Dragon" of the Shu Kingdom caught one rebel leader seven times, setting him free until he surrendered of his own broken will. He was feared in a way most men brandishing feathery fans are not. Basically, he was Ancient Chinese Batman.
The best story about Zhuge Liang that doesn’t involve magic is when Zhou Yu, the Wu commander told Zhuge Liang that he had to supply 100,000 arrows in 10 days or be executed.
The resourceful Liang filled boats with scarecrows and drifted toward the opponents’ encampment. His war drums attracted more than 100,000 arrows, all sunk in the boat hull and his straw sailors.
SIMEON & LEVI
For the last word in tricks that succeeded despite being insane, consider Israel versus the Hivites. Simeon & Levi’s sister was raped by Prince Shechem of the Hivites, who then had the gumption to ask for her hand in marriage.
So the brothers offered to merge tribes, with one catch. As per Jewish law, Hivite men would need to be circumcised. (Although one would hope there was also a "no more rape" clause.)
The Hivites soon found themselves … well, let the Bible tell it: "On the third day, when the men of the city were in pain, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi each took his sword, came upon the city with stealth, and killed all the men, including Hamor and Shechem."
That’s right. Two avengers slaughtered every man in the city, none of whom could stand up. Remember that if anyone offers to trade you cattle for your foreskin.
In Hannibal’s opinion, the greatest general of all time was Pyrrhus of Epirus. We tend to think of Pyrrhus as a loser thanks to the prevalent phrase “Pyrrhic Victory,” but remember the second half of that is VICTORY. The Commander was of the opinion that for sheer audacity joined to brains, you couldn’t beat Ol’ Pyrrhy, a man who was determined to get the job done no matter what.
WHAT HE SET OUT TO DO
Nothing less than destroy the Roman empire. Alexander the Great’s second cousin couldn’t hold onto a throne, so he decided to carve one for himself. The Greeks had colonized the coast of southern Italy, and Rome’s expansion put a bunch of Latin knights sharpening their swords in plain view of Magna Graecia. The city of Tarentum asked him to command their war, so Pyrrhus did the reasonable thing and sought the advice of a hallucinating virgin. Whereas today that would get you some ghastly Twilight fan fiction, the Oracle at Delphi gave a wordy amphiboly that guaranteed she’d be right no matter what happened, a tactic familiar to any man who’s ever argued with his wife.
Thus assured in the wisdom of his endeavor, Pyrrhus set forth to literally strangle the Roman empire in its crib. His 25,000 troops, plus some non-Latin Italian allies, met Rome at the Battle of Heraclea for a mixed martial arts clash so thunderous Pyrrhus’ humongous brass balls are still vibrating in his grave. Neither phalanx nor legion could thwart the other until Pyrrhus decided to do things the easy way and unleashed his war elephants.
Pyrrhus, like any cop out for justice, stood over his foes’ bodies as the backup arrived just late enough to say, “Damn…I’ll call it in.” The unified Greek forces then wandered around the bootheel, taking or plundering any town they wanted. Rome, the European terrorist in this action flick, upped the ante by slaughtering a bunch of Greeks so they couldn’t join Pyrrhus. It’s important to remember in this article that Romans are dicks (Latin: [i]mentulae[/i]).
WHAT WENT WRONG
The Battle of Asculum. The evenly sized armies fought, with Pyrrhus finally cracking the solid steel shields of the legion, but taking some good licks of his own. Eventually, the elephants were able to stomp Rome again, and the Latin army retreated, losing 6,000 men to Pyrrhus’ 3,500 men. All good, right?
Wrong. Now Pyrrhus is running short on men, including many of his best officers. He hasn’t picked up the Italic allies he thought he would. In his own words, “We can’t survive another victory like this one.” He may have added, “Now give me that crown.” Making matters worse, the pasta wouldn’t have tomato sauce for another 1700 years, so there wasn’t a lot of incentive to stick around. But, hey, Rome’s been thoroughly spanked and run home holding its bottom twice now, maybe they’d be sensible and agree to respect Tarentine independence.
Yeah, that would have been swell, except: the Romans were dicks. They wouldn’t talk treaty until Pyrrhus went home, at which point Rome would have had as much as incentive to negotiate as a bank robber given a private jet and the secret map to Nude Carnival Island.
Bear in mind, Pyrrhus wasn’t overrunning Rome, he was simply asking them to leave his people alone, which is kind of like those same police letting the robber take home whatever he can carry if he promises not to do it again. On top of all that, by leaving the continent, he’d have to abdicate the throne he was angling for in the first place. That would have been tough explaining to several thousand widows back in Greece.
Rome allied with Carthage, the other almighty empire at the time, who pounced on Syracuse like it was Ass-Kicking Tuesday and Sicily wore size 44 jeans. Pyrrhus tried to help, but the legendary Punic navy was so eager to cut him open you’d have thought he had a caramel center. His attentions now divided and his resources dwindling, he lost to the Romans at the aptly-named town of “Bad Event” which those garlic-munching imperialists promptly renamed Beneventum (“Good Event”). Because again: Romans = dicks.
Pyrrhus left us with the phrase “Pyrrhic Victory,” a triumph so costly it wasn’t worth the prize. He also left enough troops to defend Tarentum, which waited about five minutes for him to leave before promptly surrendering to the Romans. In a surprising display of non-dickery Rome didn’t punish the rebellion, even letting them govern themselves, which was exactly what all the bloodshed was over. All the war did was encourage the development of new, passive-aggressive dick techology.
Pyrrhus got his crown by attacking the Macedonian homeland, but got greedy enough to make the mistake of attacking Sparta, despite being aware that it was full of Spartans.
Refusing to learn, he proceeded to Argos. Alas, if talent ran in family, all the Baldwins would be worth watching. Similarly, Alexander’s cousin was killed by an old woman bonking him with a roof tile, serving up the assist for an Argive stabbing fatality. But you have to admit, that’s still a more dignified end than Stephen Baldwin.
Bonus Hannibal today: I’ve got an article on incredibly audacious generals over at Asylum. Lots of burning livestock and impalations there, if that’s your thing. No Pyrrhus, but there are robot oxen. Because those were all Washington wanted for his birthday.