Part Two: On Niccolo Machiavelli. The Art of War. On History Films: A Companion Piece to The Prince. (or Appendix 2 of the New Pensees)

"What ruins a military general is friction. What brings a military general success in war is the ability to foresee and adapt to friction."

[Note: The following text is based on 20th and 21st century war movies and historical publications.]


If Aristotle, the philosopher, were to divide the study of war with his tripartite method, he might have divided it into three classifications of war that military philosophers have defined since the time of that great 19th century military philosopher Carl Von Clausewitz. The first classification of war would be the 'cataclysmic-version' of war. Like natural disasters, wars come unbidden and leave unbidden. Mankind does not start or stop any war. It is a complex and unknown act of nature: like a sudden plague. The second classification of war would be the 'political-version' of war. War is now a means of furthering political objectives. When political negotiations break down, war is the political substitute in its place. The third and final classification of war would be the 'eschatological-version' of war. Before war begins there are prophetic prophecies that dictate an end to all wars and the signs that will usher in a universal judgment or reign of peace. These three classifications and their several combinations include the causes for the beginning of any war. The following chapters will now explain how to deal with war before and once it begins to take place.

Chapter 1 Abstract Theory of War versus Practical Hands On Experience of War

That famous political sage Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about how a prince should prepare to handle war abstractly and also practically. The practical way to prepare for war is all about hunting and military training. Hunting game like deer and fowl (or even fish) makes one have a better coolness to death and suffering on the battlefield. However, I feel, as far as physical exercise goes, both horticulture and agriculture are even superior to hunting game and fishing for fish. Military training itself will make one’s troops craftier in tactics to be employed in actual warfare.

One must also consider the abstract aspects of warfare. The studying of books on great men and battles are to be read for the future planning of war. This is vital for the military leader both before they know the realities of war and even afterwards. Proof of the latter is found in experienced generals, such as Wellington and Napoleon: who both read Julius Caesar’s Civil War writings while they were actually fighting each other for the dominion of Europe.

As for the inexperienced, it is important for a young man to know about tactics and how soldiers think psychologically when they are outflanked or outgunned or have a lack of supplies: plus, how men get to positions of power and how they are able to succeed in war abroad and in politics back home. However, I will say this: theory without training means nothing, while training without theory is not so bad; although, training combined with theory is better than either. And people just bent on learning theory without practical hands on experience can delude themselves into thinking they are military geniuses when they are really useless on the battlefield.

A proof of the latter instance can be found in the movie Braveheart. Philip, the high counselor of King Edward the Longshanks’ son Prince Edward II, had no practical experience in war and only had rudimentary knowledge of the martial arts from the reading of books and the practice of simple archery. And although some may say that murder is murder, and that the King should not have killed Philip (by throwing him out of the castle window), I will say that the King had good reason (if not to kill) at least to get rid of Philip, because he was a bad influence on his son.

First off, Philip was supplanting the King’s ally, the monarch of France, by diverting the prince’s affections away from the French princess, whom the King of France gave to the King of England’s son in marriage, hopefully making the ties between the two royal houses stronger, which was not as strong as it would have been if the prince had no ulterior personal interest.

I also don’t want the reader to forget the fact that under Philip’s advice, England’s Prince Edward II lost the northern English city of York to William Wallace, and also many soldiers and towns and garrisons to that same man, plus the complete destruction of England’s northern army. In conclusion, whatever advice Philip was giving to the prince was not worth any mention and is probably not even worth its weight in dust. So although Philip should not have been killed in the way that he was, he should at least have been exiled to a far away land by Longshanks. Philip was a worthless high counselor, and he is one example of a person who knows about the theory of war but not its practical side. (Plus, Philip was a nefarious man according to the Bible.)

[The rules regarding how to make troops obey and lead are also vital for a soldier or commander to learn for any future conflict—which is why Machiavelli says that those nations and kingdoms with good laws have good troops. Of course, I translate this saying of his by explaining that many complex laws create many complex institutions (for one’s nation) and many complex institutions create many complex military institutions (for one’s army and navy), which bring about good troops. However, just because a nation has good laws and good troops, does not mean it has good council and therefore good policies for the world.]

Chapter 2 How a Commander must not rely on Mercenaries and Auxiliaries (which are fickle troops), especially in one’s Cavalry Units

In his writings, Machiavelli goes on in length on how a leader should not employ fickle troops (or mercenaries and auxiliaries) as they are both worthless and dangerous.

In the movie Braveheart, there are several instances in proving that fickle troops are dangerous if relied on or if used. However, using fickle troops is not as dangerous as relying on them.

At the Battle of Stirling, William Wallace, through sheer brilliant eloquence, quickly took control of the Scottish infantry and employed them to good effect against the English infantry and cavalry. However, the noble Scottish cavalry that he had little to no control over, he used but did not rely upon them to win the Battle of Stirling—all he used them to do was to flee the battlefield and to take out lightly armored archers once the infantry under Wallace finished most of the fighting.

However, during the Battle of Falkirk, Wallace relied on the Scottish noblemen cavalry to protect his flanks. That, however, ended in disaster because the King of England already bribed the Scottish nobles beforehand not to help Wallace in the fighting.

There is also another account at the Battle of Falkirk that proves that using fickle troops is not as dangerous as relying upon them. Longshanks used the Irish infantry in his battle strategy at Falkirk. However, Longshanks was not dependent (or relying) on the Irish infantry. So when the Irish infantry changed sides, Longshanks knew that he had still enough military force to fight both the Irish and the Scottish infantry together.

The only fault that Longshanks can be said to be guilty of was that he relied on the Scottish noblemen to abandon Wallace during the Battle of Falkirk. If those same Scottish noblemen were to change their minds and fight for Wallace and the Scottish infantry, Longshanks could have lost that battle.

It is with good reason that Julius Caesar, when low on cavalry troops of his own in Gaul, gave the horses, of his foreign auxiliary units, to his own native infantry units for use as cavalry. For it is better to directly command a contingent of novice cavalry than it is to rely on experienced cavalry that are not under your explicit control.

And it should not be forgotten that the major reason Mark Antony wasn't entirely successful in his campaign against the Parthians (in fact, it was a disaster) was that he relied on foreign cavalry units which defected to the enemy early on in that campaign.

Chapter 3 Shock and Order in one’s Troops

In his Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli states that there exist four kinds of basic infantry skills in warfare. First, there is shock and order: which is the best. Second, there is order but no shock: this being the second best. Thirdly, there is shock but no order: this being the third best. And fourthly, there is neither shock nor order: this being the worst type of army skill and discipline.

In the movie Braveheart, at the Battles of Stirling and Falkirk, both the English infantry and the Scottish infantry had shock but no order. One might object to this reasoning because the English army marched in formation to the battlefield. However, that objection would be in error since Machiavelli is not talking about an ordered formation while marching to the battlefield; he is talking about an ordered infantry attack against another field army.

As you can see in the Battle of Stirling, the Scottish infantry won against the English infantry because their better morale and leadership proved more effective (which is what Sun Tzu calls the Moral Law); however, if the Scottish or English army were to go up against a Roman or Greek army of ancient times, they would most likely have been defeated after a few minutes of fighting. The reason being both armies at the Battle of Stirling did not fight in ordered formation. They both had shock but no order, while classical Greek and Roman infantry units fought in formation with both shock and order.

To give credit to the movie Braveheart, though, armies do get mixed up in non-formation fighting, with one another, in a haphazardly way, when there is shock in their tactics but no real order. This makes the battle scenes in Braveheart actually realistic.

Now consider the movies Troy and Gladiator. In both narratives, the Greeks and Romans are in formation up to the point of actual fighting (albeit the Greeks had more shock than order), but once they closed ranks with the enemy army (the Trojans or the Germans), their formations broke apart and one on one melee fighting took place. That is not how ancient Greek and Roman armies fought most of the time. Both armies had strict discipline in how they attacked on the battlefield. This began with the ancient Greeks and their phalanx fighting system. The first three people in the front of each column (in the first three ranks) did the fighting (with their spears and shields) while the rest waited patiently for their turn while they cheered on their own troops from behind.

But I will give some credit to the movie Troy. After fighting the Greeks for a few minutes before the walls of Troy, some of the Trojans held shields together and pushed the Greeks backwards. This maneuver was similar to how the Greeks and Romans actually fought their enemies. In this instance, I would say that the Trojan infantry had more order than shock. For shock really only occurs when an army charges, runs, or marches at a quick pace into an enemy mass. To use an opposite example, a Greek phalanx that marches slowly into an enemy mass has order but no real shock.

The Romans also took over this system of formation infantry warfare from the Greeks. In the movie Gladiator, the legions marched steadily up hill to fight the last German holdouts (in Germania), and that is how an army should actually advance—i.e. the infantry advanced in separate waves and the archers and catapults let loose from the rear. Everything looked good until the Germans got into close quarters with the Romans. That is when the Romans all supposedly broke apart. In that scene, there was not one row of Romans pushing with locked shields while thrusting with their swords in tight formation; they didn’t even throw their spears into the enemy masses when the Germans were within javelin range. The only thing they did right, however, was form a shield wall when the German archers fired upon them.

Now an army, in another illustration, that has no shock, but does have order, can be found in the Union army in possession of the high ground, on Cemetery Ridge, in the movie Gettysburg, which supposedly took place on the third day of the fighting. The Union army's formation and slightly upwards elevation were both advantages, and so they prudently let the enemy army tire themselves out by advancing up hill to meet them. This tactic was disastrous for the Confederate army because the slightly elevated ground, that the Union army was occupying, took away both the shock and order away from the Confederate troops. First the shock was taken away, since it is easier to fire downwards (and stand still, or kneel down) on a downward incline (behind defenses) than to march upwards while shooting muskets. Then the Confederate’s order was taken away the moment the Confederate army’s casualties reached a certain climax. It is my belief that a soldier normally does not tend to stay fighting in formation if the men to his left and right have been killed and there is no one left to replace them.

An army that doesn’t have both shock and order is easily imagined after thinking about the above illustrations; the army that lacks shock and order runs away (or is easily defeated after the first few blows) whenever there is fighting to be done. The army with no shock and order has no skill, morale or discipline. Machiavelli categorized these soldiers as mercenaries (or complete selfish cowards) and said that they are untrustworthy in peace and undependable in times of war.

And just to be clear, cavalry units don't have order in their battle formations like infantry units do. A cavalry unit's true virtue is in its shock: especially, since that shock is capable of being quickly deployed throughout the battlefield. However, once a cavalry unit's shock has been taken away that cavalry unit becomes worthless. One example of this is at the Battle of Stirling where the Scottish infantry’s long spears took away the shock of the English cavalry charge.

There is, however, only one reliable ordered formation for a non-mechanized cavalry unit to use: the wedge formation. This is a very powerful formation. Now, the shock of a cavalry force, comes from both it's speed and a sort of cattle-like stampeding and heavy forceful impact. So, if order, no matter how deficient it is, is added to this greater-than-infantry shock attack, then the damage a cavalry unit can do is quite considerable against it's foes. Now the wedge formation of cavalry has the power of a fighting spear, but with two additional advantages in combat. Firstly, a cavalry unit charging in a wedge will cleft a portion of the enemy army into two: producing a divide-and-conquer effect for a military leader to use (and also exploit) on the battlefield. And, secondly, all of the soldiers separated on the right flank of the attacking cavalry charge are basically useless (or defenseless) because they cannot sufficiently protect themselves with their shields, since most infantry units carry their shields on their left side. The reason for this being that most men are right handed, and an army needs order in it's rank-and-file, no matter how many left handed soldiers there are. That is why a shield is carried in a soldier's left hand but the sword, axe, or spear is carried by their right hand.

[Now the greatest large unit cavalry charge shown on film is only found in the new rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King, which occurred during The Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Infantry, whether orc or human, not armed with long pikes, can easily be defeated by a large mass of heavy cavalry. This action is shown when the cavalry of Rohan (or the Rohirrim) successfully charge against many tens of thousands of orcs, who are besieging the grand, fantastical city of Minas Tirith. And, although, there exists other scenes of orcs bearing long pikes in the Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy, there were no orcs armed with long pikes defending against that famous Rohirrim cavalry charge that began northeast of the city of Minas Tirith. Some may use another battle like The Battle of the Hornburg as a counter argument for the success of cavalry against long pike bearing warriors. But the only reason why the orcs armed with long pikes were ineffective against the cavalry led by Gandalf, was that the sun made its appearance behind the human cavalry, blinding the orcs' eyesight, so that the orcs could not use their long pikes successfully against their horse mounted enemies.]

Machiavelli explains, in his Art of War and in The Prince, the rock-paper-scissors of ancient armies. A legion could defeat a phalanx; a phalanx could defeat cavalry; and, cavalry could defeat a legion. This is one important reason why Machiavelli wanted a mixed bag of: swordsmen, pikemen, and horsemen in his army. This is also the reason why Greek armies could fight Eastern armies easier than Roman armies; why Eastern armies could fight Roman armies easier than Greek armies; and, why Roman armies could fight Greek armies easier than Eastern armies.

Judas the Maccabean was a military genius because in order to fight against the Greek-style phalanx armies invading Israel, he adopted the Roman legion way of fighting the best he could.

Chapter 4 The Speed of Armies

In Marcus Cicero’s eloquent speech, On the Command of Pompey, he talks about how an army, and also a navy for that matter, can move swiftly over land and sea. An army or navy does this through no extraordinary human strength or skill or teamwork but rather through being explicit in not stopping for any unwarranted reason, whether this being for: money, treasures, paintings, or any other superfluous and external possessions.

Keeping thought for your supply train also involves a certain moderation of character. Soldiers need bread to eat and water to drink, but not lavish feasts, gold plate or silverware. Seamen need clothing to be kept warm and dry, but that doesn’t mean they should be decked out in furs and purple vestments. The more you keep your hands off of the women and money and artwork and other possessions of your allies and neighbors, the more glory you will truly attain as a leader and ruler.

Amendment 8 of the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights calls for no excessive bails, fines or punishments. This is done for the efficiency of the court system and the rest of the legal divisions of the U.S. federal, state, and local governments. It is, I believe, the same thing with armies and navies and generals and soldiers: they should never be too excessive in character.

In the movie Patton, General George S. Patton was held up in his career because he was too excessive in disciplining soldiers under his command. He didn’t take part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, or the invasion of Italy (except Sicily, which is southwest of Italy), because of his overbearing character. In fact, he was almost discharged after slapping a young man in Sicily, whom he hated for having the shell shock jitters.

Alexander the Great was too excessive in his hard drinking and it cost him his life; he died from a severe fever in Babylon brought on by too much drink. Being too excessive means you are dependent on the things that you are using to excess. And moderation is the true stuff that halts you from becoming dependent on anything. To get off of any kind of dependency, however, once it becomes a vice and addiction, is only done through a total restraint on mental and physical cravings. In fact, the less you desire anything, the more restraint you have and the greater you are. This is one reason why many religious leaders and philosophers inspire so many people around the world.

And although it is best for an army or navy to move swiftly from one place to another, on the battlefield or on the high seas, even this can be a botched undertaking if done incorrectly and too excessively.

Chapter 5 The Outflanking Maneuver

When two armies are engaged in battle, the battle can be more easily won when you threaten one of the flanks of the enemy army: whether it be the left or right flank or its rear. Patton was famous for the latter strategy in World War II. He always would say that he liked to grab the enemy by the nose and to kick him in the rear. Meaning, he would send a large force to confront the enemy head on, and would send faster units to circumnavigate the front line to cut off the enemy’s supply line in its rear and to attack them from the back side.

It is easy to use battlefield tactics such as these to out maneuver an average tactician. We can see this in the movie Braveheart (in the Battle of Stirling with the Scottish nobles) and in the movie Gladiator (in Germania): cavalry forces are used to circumnavigate the flanks of the enemy and to attack them in their rear.

No matter how much I find this tactic to be a good one, I don’t think left or right flank attacks to be less powerful (except in cases of mechanized warfare); besides, left or right flank attacks are quicker to employ since you don’t have to travel around the entire enemy army to get to its rear—especially if you are using a non-mechanized cavalry force.

[In the Battle of Falkirk, Longshanks had two units of reserve infantry, which attacked the Scottish forces from both the left and the right flanks—bringing about the defeat of the Scottish army.]

Also, it is my belief you really just need one reserve cavalry force to swiftly attack the enemy’s right or left flank (after the battle has already started) to have the intended effect. However, you must also be on your guard with experienced battlefield commanders when using this tactic—especially those who know what kind of general you are and what kind of tactics you like to employ.

Chapter 6 God’s Three Exterior Influences in Battle are: Alms, Chastity and Lady Luck

Although alms and chastity may help you in life that doesn’t mean you will be free from every misfortune just because you are philanthropic, chaste, and a godly man. Misfortunes will happen to you (even if you are righteous) not because you are necessarily a bad person, but because you are alive. On the Day of Judgment, however, you will see that all of your alms to the poor and destitute, and your strict chastity, have paid off.

On the other hand, one of God's creations, called Lady Luck, does have great sway over life in this home which we call the Universe. The best thing to do is to marry Lady Luck, and if you cannot do that, at least try to be as generous to the poor as is possible—and to be as chaste as possible. It is of my opinion that Lady Luck believes that the best virtue for women is chastity while the best thing for men is feeding the poor; however, that doesn’t mean you should only do one of those things instead of both of them no matter what sex you belong to.

And never underestimate almsgiving since it is the main key element in your salvation at the Final Judgment. Although it will not make you invincible in every single way, it will save you from many misfortunes; plus, the more alms you give the better off you are going to be anyhow. Remember that pious Job suffered but then afterwards he was blessed with twice as much as before.

[Carl Von Clausewitz stated that there are a countless number of little factors that can turn a perfect plan into a military disaster. The general name for this is what he calls 'friction'. The common soldier knows it more familiarly as Murphy's Law. Previous almsgiving to the poor is supposed to combat 'friction' on the battlefield or even in training or even in civilian day to day activities. Remember, previous charity to the poor can actually combat 'friction' on the battlefield, but it will most likely not make a person immortal or invincible in war or always lucky in war.]

Chapter 7 When to Attack Archers

Archers will always be light troops; any infantry or cavalry force can easily do away with them at close quarters. In fact, I believe that every archer’s greatest fear is the same fear of the lone sniper: that a group of enemy soldiers will come into close quarters with him, especially if it is an assault from more than one position.

However, archers are dangerous if you are within arrow range and you cannot reach them: for example, if they are on a wall or high battlement etc. There is one ridiculous scene in the movie Troy in which the Trojans have routed the Greeks back towards their triremes, and Hector orders his army to retreat back to Troy because they are within range of the Greek archers. The Greek archers are only standing on an easily accessible sand dune, not the inaccessible walls of Troy that the Trojan archers were firing from at the beginning of the battle.

[Agamemnon was right to fear the Trojan archers because they were out of reach on top of the high walls of Troy, but Hector was wrong to fear the Greek archers since his infantry forces could have swiftly climbed the sand dune and have easily routed them. One example that proves this is when the Greek forces first land on the beach of Troy. It was then that the Greek hoplites made short work of the Trojan archers.]

Chapter 8 The Commander's Responsibility

I also want to make a note on what Xenophon says about martial responsibility. He opines that what usually separates successful military commanders from military failures is the fact that victorious commanders know what they need to do and do it; while the failures of command know what they need to do but don't do it. The latter cause can either be found in a commander's laziness, lack of backbone, or negligence.

In the movie, The Eagle, Centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila ordered his men to tar the outer defenses of their fort and to prepare for action--though his men felt these actions pointless and a waste of time. Later that night, however, the Roman defenders set the tar on fire and successfully repelled an attack by enemy rebels. In another case, General Publius Marcus Glabrus, in the movie Spartacus, did not defend his army camp with a stockade and surrounding ditch, because he grossly underestimated the capabilities of Spartacus' slave army. This, of course, led to his defeat by Spartacus.

So it goes to show that the former commander did what needed to get done (despite his men's complaints) and was victorious, while the latter didn't do what should have been done and lost because he did not implement his martial responsibility like he was supposed to.


If my short piece of writing, On Niccolo Machiavelli. The Art of War, teaches just one person something new, it would be a great relief to me that someone has learned something. If no one has learned from it a single bit of new information, then that was the best I could achieve. Just as pasteurizing wine must be done at a temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit, and no more or no less (because of the various strengths of bacteria), a skillfully composed piece of writing should be able to aim at moderation, with as little excesses or deficiencies, as is possible in the narrative of the text itself.