The Spartans Were Morons

History

Editor’s Note: This article by Gabriel Russell originally appeared on Law Enforcement Today, a source of news and views on the profession run by and for law enforcement.


Let’s face it, the Spartans were morons.

If I never have look at another military or police morale patch, challenge coin, T-shirt, or logo with a Spartan helmet on it that would be just fine, thanks.

Propped up by bombastically entertaining fodder such as the movie 300 and the presence of Gates of Fire on professional reading lists, the exploits of the ancient Spartans loom large in the modern warrior's imagination.

The next time you see a middle-aged, bearded, chubby cop or military dude dressed up like Donny Delta Force in morale patches, Velcro and “operator gear” festooned with Spartan helmet insignia, ask yourself: What are they really laying claim to?

The heroic tale of elite warriors fighting to their deaths at Thermopylae to protect an early democracy and stop a massive slave army has four major flaws. People who imagine themselves inheritors of their traditions usually overlook these.

  1. They lost. It’s an incredibly romantic “going out in a blaze of glory” loss, I’ll admit, but they still lost, in part because their obsession with turning out perfect Soldiers impeded their ability to turn out sufficient numbers of fighters who were “good enough.”
  2. Alliances enabled their successes. Do you remember the romantic and heroic tale of the last stand of the 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans? Probably not. They get overlooked in distorted Hollywood version of the story but the battle would have been far different were it not for the contributions of other Greek City States who fought alongside them.
  3. Terrain overcame flaws in their training and tactics. The narrow pass at Thermopylae allowed the Spartans to fight in a Phalanx, standing in rows faced directly against their enemies. Spartans believed this to be, not only tactically, but morally superior. Their blind obedience to this doctrine was their undoing when the circumstances didn’t favor it.
  4. They had no culture other than war. Let’s face it, killing babies who don’t appear to have great potential as warriors is a dramatic statement of cultural values but it doesn’t lead to advances in science, agriculture, or the arts. All of which are also necessary for a culture to reach peak military potential. It also led to Sparta degenerating into tyranny at times.

The word spartan, taken separately from a military context has come to mean utilitarian, basic. In ancient times the word was more pejorative, carrying a connotation of stupidity and coarseness. The word Thespian, has come to mean artistic and sensitive. At Thermopylae the 700 Thespians fought as bravely as any other force. There was a city-state that balanced the need of self-defense and to develop culture.

"Off to war again, babe. Beat the children well for me"Wikimedia Commons

In the years that followed the Battle of Thermopylae, their former allies the Thebans ended Spartan supremacy at the Battle of Leuctra by using superior planning and tactics and exploiting their insistence on standing stupidly in Phalanxes. The Roman Legions, based on combined arms, flexibility and innovation, would also decimate the Spartan formations. Sparta declined to join the army of Alexander the Great because they would not have had a lead role, and did not participate in his historic victory against the Persians. They may have had some great battles but they never came close to mastering the range of skills necessary to establish an empire.

So the next time you see a middle-aged, bearded, chubby, cop or military dude dressed up like Donny Delta Force in morale patches, Velcro and “operator gear” festooned with Spartan helmet insignia, ask yourself this: What are they really laying claim to?

The Greek City States were the world’s earliest democracies. They flourished when they worked together to confront common enemies and fell when they turned against each other. They gave birth to spectacular advances in the sciences, arts, and culture.

Fighters that are tough but stupid have a place. They excel when asked to fight to the death in a situation where there is no possibility of maneuver, only simple weapons are in use, and no long-term strategy is needed.

But we live in an era of evolving, complex, and persistent threat, and we benefit from the design of advanced technology, innovative tactics and forming strategic partnerships.

It’s too bad nobody has come up with a tactical Thespian morale patch.

Gabriel Russell is a Regional Director with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service. He retired as a Command Sergeant Major from the Army National Guard, and is Founder and Managing Partner Emeritius at Takouba Security, and a volunteer at Code 4 Northwest. He has a Master of Science Degree from Central Washington University and a Bachelor of Arts from the Evergreen State College. The views here are entirely his own and do not represent the position of the Department of Homeland Security, the Army National Guard, or Takouba Security.

More from Law Enforcement Today:

WATCH NEXT:

Want to read more from Task & Purpose? Sign up for our daily newsletter »

National Endowment for the Humanities

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

Read More Show Less