Small Pieces, Big Picture
I think of myself as basically educated in history, until you print such articles as “Tears of Chios” [by Anthony Brandt, May 2016] or “Enemy of My Enemy” [by Rafe McGregor, May 2016] or “The Man and the Legend” [by Laura H. Lacey, March 2016]. Great stories, always well written. Military history is not just Eisenhower or Grant or Napoléon but little-known characters with smaller pieces of the big picture. Thank you.
Palm Harbor, Fla.
Who’s Who at Nájera?
[Re: “Contesting Castile,” by Douglas Sterling, May 2016:] The caption on P. 41 incorrectly places Henry’s Franco-Castilian force on the left of the illustration [see above] and Edward, Prince of Wales’ Anglo-Gascon army on the right. A banner reading Engle[terre] is on the left, and one with Castile is on the right. And in the foreground of the illustration one sees longbowmen on the left and slingers on the right. So those are Edward and his Englishmen on the left, Henry and his Castilians on the right—a minor point in an otherwise excellent piece.
Please keep up the good work in producing your quality periodical. I remain a longtime supporter of studying history as part of general professional education, as well as for seeking lessons applicable to today’s conflicts.
Colonel Sean Salene
Marine Aircraft Group 29
MCAS New River
Editor responds: You’re correct, Colonel Salene. Our source scrambled its identification of the forces, and to our chagrin we repeated the error in the print issue. We’ve remedied our mistake at top. Thank you for catching it.
[Re: “Why Hannibal Lost,” by Richard A. Gabriel, May 2016:] Gabriel agrees Hannibal was a brilliant tactician but contends he didn’t understand strategy. I disagree.
Many writers have critiqued Hannibal’s unwillingness to besiege and capture Rome. But Rome was a huge city, and Hannibal never had even 50,000 men in his army. Hannibal knew that his real advantage was on tactical battlefields with space to maneuver, where he could defeat, even destroy, any Roman army, as he did three times in succession. Tying down his army in siege lines would forfeit that advantage and give Rome time to raise new armies and attack him in a fixed position.
Hannibal recognized Roman strength lay not just in the capital but in the alliances it had developed throughout Italy. The only chance of victory was if Carthage could break such alliances, and that was the strategy Hannibal attempted to achieve. That he failed doesn’t mean the strategy was wrong.
John C. Wilson
Richard Gabriel responds: At the Army War College we were taught that strategy consisted of three critical elements: ends, ways and means. In Hannibal’s strategy the ends were to force the Romans to negotiate a settlement that returned key areas (Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and Spain) to Carthage; the ways were an invasion of Italy; and the means were to defeat the Romans on the battlefield, forcing them to negotiate. The war was to end in a political settlement, not Rome’s destruction.
The first failure was Hannibal’s Hellenic conception of the Romans. The Romans were not Hellenes, and it never occurred to Hannibal that Rome would never capitulate. It was only after Cannae that Hannibal hit upon the alternate, and no less unrealistic, strategy to form a coalition of southern Italian states against Rome. This, too, failed. Behind it all was Hannibal’s failure to correctly gauge the culture of his adversary.
Had Hannibal possessed a larger strategic vision, one that saw his events in Italy as part of the larger Carthaginian strategic campaign, he might have known that even a half-hearted attack on Rome would have forced the Romans to withdraw some of their legions from Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, weakening their defenses and exposing these areas to invasion and attack. For Hannibal, however, his war in Italy was the only war.
Send letters to Editor, Military History, HistoryNet, 1919 Gallows Road, Ste 400, Vienna, VA 22182 or via e-mail. Please include name, address and phone number.