Letters from Readers – October 2008 Military History

8/26/2008 • MH Issues

Military Geniuses or Murderers?
The article on Subotai [“The Right Hand of Khan,” by Richard A. Gabriel] in the May/June issue was very interesting and informative. Subotai and the Mongols were obviously one of the great military machines of all time. However, I don’t believe there was enough emphasis in the article on the fact that the Mongols were, for the most part, nothing more than marauders and murderers in the lands they conquered.

The article compares Subotai to Caesar and Alexander. In purely military terms, this may be the case. However, the Mongols did little more than lay waste. Of all the areas they conquered, with the exception of Central Asia—which already shared their horse-centered way of life—nothing remains of their culture or society in the lands they conquered except tales of murder and destruction. This pales in comparison to the legacies of culture and technology left by Roman and Greek conquest.

The value of studying any history, even military history, is in the lessons learned and conclusions drawn from it. The best Gabriel could do regarding the legacy of the Mongols were changes to the Russian military and the Golden Horde? In the interest of completeness, he should have noted that the real legacy of the Mongols is largely nothing more than death and destruction. The Mongols seldom left anything behind except misery.

Greg Mallonee
Bountiful, Utah

Slim Prophet
In your July/August interview “Anthony Pagden: East Is East, West Is West,” Pagden states that Muhammad is supposed to have said, “One day Islam will conquer Constantinople and Rome.” My response: Muhammad enjoyed prophesying the imminent fall of the Christian faith in Europe and was prepared to play a part, any part, in its burial—except the one for which he is qualified, that of a mute.

Evan Dale Santos
Adelanto, Calif.

From the Hart
On P. 9 of the July/August issue is a quote, allegedly from B.H. Liddell-Hart: “If you wish for peace, understand war.” It suggests the phrase originates with Liddell-Hart, which it does not. It is from Vegetius’ De Rei Militaris (c. 390), Book III, specifically, Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum (“Therefore, whoever desires peace prepares for war”). In fact, the sentiment is probably not original with Vegetius, but is a commonplace thought among ancient Greek and Roman writers; it is very succinctly stated by Vegetius. Indeed, he is often misquoted in an even more succinct form: Si vis pacem, para bellum. I’m sure Liddell-Hart knew this and would be surprised to be given credit for the idea!

Jan Gabbert
Dayton, Ohio

Editor responds: You’re right about Vegetius and the legion other classical writers who shared the thought. But credit is due Liddell-Hart for paraphrasing the sentiment as, “If you wish for peace, understand war,” in his 1967 book Strategy.

Personal Caliber
The railway gun pictured on P. 54 of the May/June issue [“Wars That Won the World,” by Williamson Murray] is likely a liberated French 320mm railway gun. While it truly does not matter if the caliber is 274 or 320mm, the real neat part of this picture is the soldier standing third from the left: He is William Starrett, a World War II veteran I had the honor of treating when I worked for the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the early 1990s. As all World War II veterans, he was a true hero and an inspiration for others.

Maj. Michael Koznarsky, M.D.
U.S. Marine Corps
Lakewood, Wash

Capa’s Cache
[Re. “Capa’s Lost Cache of Spanish Civil War Photos Resurfaces,” News, May/June:] What wonderful news! To discover 3,500 new photographic images of the Spanish Civil War. What is surprising is that the nitrate negatives are in good condition and did not deteriorate. Most Hollywood films on nitrate from the 1930s and earlier have deteriorated. These negatives must have been preserved because someone out there knew they had historical importance. I hope these photos will be processed very soon and placed on the Internet for all to see.

Paul Dale Roberts
Elk Grove, Calif.

[Re. “Sniper,” by Geoffrey Norman, March/April:] Carlos Hathcock was certainly one of the best snipers of all time. However, there were many others worthy of mention. In Vietnam, Chuck Mawhinney had a higher total count than Gunny Hathcock. The all-time leading sniper, Finland’s Simo Häyhä, had nearly 550 confirmed kills against Russians who had invaded his country [during the 1939–1940 Winter War]. Several Russian snipers (male and female) gave the Nazis fits on the battlefields of Russia during World War II.

Regarding the full page dedicated to the weapons of U.S. snipers: I am a sniper currently assigned to Iraq. The modern sniper has many rifles from which to choose, and the last in line would be the M107. I have removed mine from its drag bag twice in my year in country. I carry an M24, and the Army is starting to field the new Knight’s M110 semiautomatic sniper system. Marines use the M40A3. The M107 is a great weapon, reliable and devastating. It is also 57 inches long and weighs nearly as much as three M24s. The Marines won’t even call it a sniper rifle, because it doesn’t meet their requirements. The Army considers it a sniper rifle, but it is used more in an anti-materiel role. The M24 is a scalpel; the M107 is a machete.

T.J. Robertson
Stonewall Snipers
29th Infantry
Virginia National Guard
Floyd, Va.

Robert M. Poole wrote the July/August Hallowed Ground profile of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. His byline was inadvertently omitted.

The de Havilland Mosquito FB.Mk VI (Power Tool, by Jon Guttman, July/August) was equipped with four .303-inch machine guns in the nose, as depicted in the article. Its four 20mm cannons were mounted on the lower front fuselage.

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