Spartan Morons Redux, ‘Strike, but listen’
Gentle reader, response to my last snarkasmic essay, in which I impugned the intelligence of the Spartans, has been heartwarming (available here: The Spartans Were Morons).
And by heartwarming, I mean it was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Silenced, as readers threw their 300 lunch boxes (Tonight we dine in hell!) at their computer screens and stomped off for another reading from the excellent, but fictionalized Gates of Fire. Their loins thus girded, they returned, to relitigate the Peloponnesian Wars in the comment sections on a half dozen military and police websites.
A legion of my Army and cop pals gleefully reported the debate, which I cheerfully ignored until I got a grumpy response from one of America’s most beloved police writers. “JD” Buck Savage, a writer I respect and whose work I enjoy, who complained that the Spartans won the war of the Second Persian Invasion of Greece. Which is a commonly held, but flawed view. So, in the interest of furthering a worthwhile debate on who makes good role models for coppers and soldiers, Hollywood interpretations of history, and stupid morale patches, I’m addressing his and others gripes and complaints here.
Gripe #1 (from “JD” Buck Savage and others)
The Spartans won the war of the Second Persian Invasion of Greece, and drove the Persian forces led by Xerxes forces out.
Read Plutarch, not Pressfield, pipehitters! After the loss at Thermopylae, the allied Greek navy saved the day at Salamis and won the pivotal battle of the war. In this engagement Spartan Admiral Eurybiades demanded to command despite having no real naval expertise and a smaller number of ships than Athenian Admiral Themistocles, an expert in naval warfare. During a heated argument about tactics the Spartan threatened to hit the Athenian over the head with a club. Themistocles calmly answered him “Strike, but listen.” His argument won out, he employed a brilliant deception operation, and he led the force that ultimately won the war.
The Spartan-led Greek battle at Thermopylae helped the war effort during the Second Persian Invasion.
That’s just, like, your opinion man! The stand at Thermopylae was intended to protect Athens. Xerxes used superior military intelligence (hired a spy) and bypassed the combined Greek blocking force after an insignificant two-day delay. Athens was abandoned and then sacked and burned. Romantic and brave last-stand, yes, but meaningless.
The Spartans saved democracy!!
Try Herotodus, not Hollywood, heroes! The pivotal battle for inspirational early Greek democracy was fought at Marathon in 490 BC during the First Persian Invasion of Greece, and won by Athens. Their Spartan allies managed one of the most spectacularly pointless displays of infantry badassery in history when they accomplished the superhuman feat of marching 140 miles in full kit in just three days. Unfortunately, they didn’t arrive until the battle was over because they started a day late due to their fanatic observation of a religious festival. Strong, but not always smart!
That Laconic Wit was a force multiplier (or something).
We do love a tough-guy one liner, don’t we? Whipping off pithy quips while facing certain doom takes a certain insouciance, aplomb, and steely resolve. It’s real-world heroes like the Spartans that inspire Hollywood dialogue like Dirty Harry, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” While the Spartan’s zingers, “We’ll fight in the shade.” and “Come and take them,” still sound inspiring, all these centuries later, they don’t change the fact that the Thermopylae was a failure.
The Spartans defeated Athens during the Peloponnesian War.
In the 50 years following the defeat of Xerxes, Athens rose to prominence because their democracy created a growing economy. Tyrannical Sparta disliked the growing influence of Athens and war broke out. Superior naval tactics and leadership led the Athenians to beat Sparta three times in naval battles. The Spartans were only able to keep rebuilding their defeated fleets because they allied themselves with those Persians people keep trying to tell me they defended democracy against and used Persian money to fund their military. The Peloponnesian War ended with Sparta imposing tyranny on Athens and both nations weakened. Tough, tyrannical, and winning when making the right alliances, they were hardly defenders of democracy.
The Spartans were tougher, more disciplined, and better trained than their contemporaries but they were not as innovative, creative, or cultured as other Greek city-states. They won some and lost some, and they had some clever quips. They were also brutal, tyrannical, and lacked culture outside of war.
Maybe if Athenian Admiral Themistocles quip “Strike, but listen” at Salamis prior to kicking Xerxes ass, were more along the lines of “Go ahead and make my day,” he’d be remembered as winning that war, instead of the Laconically witty but losing Spartans. Can whoever’s making those tactical Thespian morale patches for me fake newsify up some pithy Athenian tough guy quotes while they are at it? Thanks!
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 Emeritus 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.