The Greatest American Soldier?
As I was reading the article on Peter Francisco in the July/August 2006 issue, I was struck by the picture of Francisco in his later years on P. 31, which offers a strong clue as to his prodigious size. He was, in all likelihood, suffering from acromegaly, a disease related to overproduction of growth hormone. When it begins in infancy and childhood the result is often someone who is disproportionate in size and stature for the norms of their times. In addition to the stimulus to the growth of bones and muscle, as one ages it often results in a characteristically prominent jaw, large nose and ears, coarse skin and facial features. In current times, if recognized early, modern drugs and surgery can reverse or eliminate the overproduction of the growth hormone.
While his physical prowess may have been due to a genetic quirk, Francisco’s martial skills, dedication and courage were self-derived and are what turned the giant man into a giant warrior.
Major R.D. Calroney, M.D., USAR
Archers Still Secondary
I always enjoy your articles on ancient warfare, and Andrew Hind’s excellent discussion on the Spartan experience at Sphacteria (July/August 2006) was no exception. I would like to note, however, that the impact of archers both in that battle and on subsequent Spartan warfare doesn’t appear to have been all that great. While the Athenians likely had 400-600 bowmen on the island, they had at least 10 times that many men armed with javelins. These included 1,000-1,200 Thracian mercenaries and 6,000-9,000 oarsmen from the upper two rows of 50-75 triremes. Thus, the derogatory Spartan comment on the value of a “spindle” is much more likely to have referred to a short and slender javelin than an arrow. The Spartans appear to have viewed Sphacteria as an isolated and aberrant incident rather than an endorsement for archery. Their official levies didn’t include bowmen of any sort in the three pitched battles that they fought over the next quarter-century—Mantinea (418 bc), Porus (404 bc) and Halae Marsh (403 bc). Sparta’s only use of archers during this period was on small teams that also included horsemen. These squads targeted equally lightly armed sea raiders and they failed miserably. Actually, the Cretan bowmen with Cyrus didn’t fare much better, proving too short-range against Persian slingers in the retreat after Cunaxa (401 bc). The Greeks only got relief after they formed a superior unit of their own slingers from Rhodian volunteers.
Popularity Is the Best Revenge
I just finished reading the October 2006 issue of Military History and I have to tell you how much I enjoyed “Rome’s Vengeance on the Gauls.” One of my main reasons for subscribing to this publication is the ancient history articles. Please keep them coming. Thank You.
Delray Beach, Fla.
I read the September 2006 “Perspectives” piece by James Levy and found it unmitigated nonsense. Adolf Hitler himself admitted, “If the French Army had then marched into the Rhineland, we would have to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance.” Only three German battalions entered the Rhineland in 1936, with orders to retreat if attacked. See Basil Collier, The Second World War: A Military History, P. 39. A single French brigade could have reversed the tide of history. Unfortunately, there was no political will in France and no expeditionary force in the 44-division French army.
The author responds : Neville Chamberlain was not prime minister when Adolf Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland. Britain was not France and couldn’t order French troops around, and Britain had two not-quite-operational infantry divisions at home in 1936, so its intervention in the crisis was impossible.
The French army was designed around a defensive strategy as that was the optimal way to do things, given that neither the United States nor the United Kingdom was willing to guarantee a pledge to come to France’s defense. Hitler had been forced to back down in 1934 when he sent troops to the Austrian border in preparation for an annexation that didn’t come off—it didn’t stop him from trying again later in 1938, so the idea that a moderate policy could have been forced on Hitler if the French challenged him over the Rhineland is kooky. Hitler could not be appeased, but he couldn’t be deterred, either. He wanted war!
Nobody argued that the Rhineland wasn’t German territory—the question (as Paris and London saw it) was whether to start another world war over resisting the reestablishment of German sovereignty over German territory: After the bloodbath of 1914-18 the threshold for military action had gone way up, and that was not perceived as a casus belli.
As you know, space requirements made a summary of my thoughts inevitable, and many details got left out. I hope this goes a little way toward clarifying my thesis.
Museum for the 82nd and Alvin York
I enjoyed the September 2006 article on Alvin York. It was refreshing to see the 82nd Division (predecessor to the famous 82nd Airborne Division) well documented. For your readers’ information, the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Ardennes and Gela streets, Fort Bragg, N.C., has an excellent exhibit on York. I would urge all serious military history buffs to visit this excellent museum that portrays 89 years of sacrifice by many young men (and now women) like their historical great-grandfather, Sergeant York.
Richard F. O’Hare
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