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Greatest general ever?

Discussion in 'World History' started by Mouthwash, Feb 14, 2012.

?

Best general?

  1. Genghis

    16 vote(s)
    16.8%
  2. Napoleon

    16 vote(s)
    16.8%
  3. Alexander

    20 vote(s)
    21.1%
  4. Caesar

    7 vote(s)
    7.4%
  5. Frederick

    10 vote(s)
    10.5%
  6. Hannibal

    19 vote(s)
    20.0%
  7. Belisarius

    2 vote(s)
    2.1%
  8. Subutai

    5 vote(s)
    5.3%
  1. Domen

    Domen Misico dux Vandalorum

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    Napoleon was also outnumbered at Waterloo at ratio between 2:1 (generous estimate) and 1,6:1 (conservative estimate).

    However, that's surely not the only reason - as being outnumbered was not the problem in some of his earlier battles.

    But also Waterloo was not the only defeat Napoleon suffered in his career - as some seem to forget.

    =============================

    Regarding Zama - betrayal of Numidian cavalry was surely a factor which contributed to Hannibal's defeat.
     
  2. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    Don't defend Napoleon for anything regarding Waterloo. The whole campaign was probably the worst idea of his whole career. The armies that the French actually engaged in 1815 were the toenail standing forces the Coalition had as their placeholder before they could mobilize ten armies in Napoleon's direction.
     
  3. Pangur Bán

    Pangur Bán Good Guy / Deviant (depending on context)

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    LS, I see lots of your normal rudeness, but what happened to "addressing my vast amount of factual inaccuracies", or "my various non sequitors " and "invalid conclusions"? Was looking forward to this too. :D



    Alexander was prince and king. As such you get such titles and honours like that. That's different from someone's "expertise" or "genius" being central to success. You make a statement like:
    "he was responsible for major victories between when he was a cavalry commander at the age of 18 at Chaeronea"
    But you should think about how this could be known. Alexander is actually not well documented in reliable sources. Even if he was, they wouldn't prove that he "was responsible" only , at best, that 1) he was formally in charge or 2) that people said he was "responsible".
    It's actually pretty ridiculous to argue that some kid like Alexander could have had more expertise than an experienced career-general like Parmenion, but people--even historians--like to shut their brains off when it comes to topics like this.


    Most of the neighbours had "full time professional cavalry" as you said. but the Mongols like neighbouring Turkic tribes were nomadic horsemen. This means that not only did they "have" full time professional cavalry, virtually their whole society is full time professional cavalry. Imagine if all the peasants of 13th century England trained from birth to ride horses, shoot arrows accurately at huge distance while not looking at target and in motion, operate in how formations of other horses ... they'd be pretty formidable. The only difference in G Khan's time is that ... as happens periodically ... one successful politician created unity. It's there GK's genius probably could be found, but not sure we have enough reliable evidence.


    Bold thing to say from a couple of curt statements,.


    This isn't at all what was said, but France was indeed the greatest power in Europe. In 1800 France was Europe's colossus. With about 30 million people in 1800, compared to England with under 9, it's population was probably bigger than Russia's. France's problem was the everyone was allying against it, so the trick would have been to stop that.


    This is ideological nonsense. Napoleon had everything stacked in his favour. He was the beneficiary of administrative and military reform made possible by the Revolution. Available to him was unprecedented numbers of soldiers and offensive technology; in my book, putting these advantages down to Napoleon's "genius" is pretty close to saying some fairy sprite did it.

    He over extended, made too many enemies, led his people to slaughter in Russia through amateurish and irresponsible planning and adventurism, and then fought a battle he was almost certain to lose. Read your Sun Tzu my friend: guys like yourself respect that kind of thing too. The only battles a "good general" fights are ones he is guaranteed to win. Napoleon is the guy who bought some temporary glory for himself by condemning France to mediocrity for the rest of the 19th century.

    "Greatest general ever" is a pretty big prize. But saying it's Napoleon or even that he is up there is like Cambridge or Harvard "selecting the best student" from candidates who'd failed a significant number of their most important exams. You might overlook Waterloo, but not Russia. It's too much.
     
  4. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    You criticized me for "ideological nonsense" and then proceeded to tell me that Napoleon is a bad general because he didn't follow Sun Tzuian principles. Could your credibility have died any more in vain?

    You didn't actually address anything I wrote regarding Napoleon, you just continued to prance around the fact that he was defeated in the end -- which I acknowledged -- and completely brushed over everything else. "Napoleon had everything stacked in his favour?" Could you... say anything less accurate if you tried?
     
  5. Pangur Bán

    Pangur Bán Good Guy / Deviant (depending on context)

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    Nope. The idea is that actions vary in smartness.

    Results are a better guide to credibility than any of the stuff you're coming up with, I'm afraid. It's not like being defeated is the only thing wrong with Napoleon's leadership, or that it came down to Waterloo. Napoleon was an appalling strategist, and was defeated before Waterloo; indeed even a win there would not have made ultimate victory particularly likely.
     
  6. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    Examples of his defeats please?
     
  7. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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  8. west india man

    west india man Immortal

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  9. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    Napoleon was such an "appalling strategist" that literally every commander since him has worked off of principles that he invented.

    You really, really don't know what you're talking about. Sorry. Doesn't look like I'm going to get through to you, so here's to the end of this inane discussion.
     
  10. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    :huh:
     
  11. Flying Pig

    Flying Pig Utrinque Paratus Moderator

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    As a tactician and a leader, undoubtedly brilliant. As a strategist? Not exactly an impeccable record!
     
  12. LightSpectra

    LightSpectra me autem minui

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    Campaign strategy was probably his greatest talent, in actuality. As I said, the turning movement that began with the Ulm Campaign has been the golden apple of all theoretical warfare since then. I've already repeatedly acknowledged Napoleon's individual defeats, and even emphasized when they were really his fault because he had a bad idea from the get-go, I'm by no means saying he was flawless; what I am saying is that Napoleon completely changed everything about how European commanders looked at war because of how utterly dominant he was prior to Napoleon's enemies adopting the organization and strategic innovations that Napoleon himself invented.
     
  13. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    He was actually a stunningly brilliant strategist in his early career. He had a tendency to be too adventurous, but you could say the same of Patton, Marlborough, and others. Adventurism tends to be a trait of aggressive generals, a side-effect of the same confidence that leads them to thinking outside of the box. As Napoleon got older, however, he seemed to rely more and more upon sheer numbers and frontal attacks, rather than the skilful manoeuvres of his early career. Possibly because his enemies had learnt how to fight off his favourite strategy - that of simply bypassing any armies stronger than his own and only attacking smaller, weaker detachments who were unprepared for battle - by this point, but more likely simply because he had become very, very arrogant in his success.

    There really is no reason why Napoleon couldn't have pulled out a diplomatic solution in 1814, except that he genuinely believed himself to be so good that he could beat back all of his enemies, except maybe Russia, and buy time to prepare for yet another war with Russia. He said so himself. Funnily enough, once France's position was absolutely hopeless - after the Battle of Nations (Battle of Leipzig) - Napoleon, low on troops and with no remaining allies (Denmark doesn't count when she has no troops to send you), returned to the short, sharp manoeuvres of his early career, and successfully fought a rear-guard action far longer than most men could have, while attempting to negotiate for his son to take the throne.

    I'd also like to say that claiming Napoleon was a bad or even mediocre general because he didn't mind the words of Master Sun is just laughable. Sunzi was a military philosopher, and while his treatise is decent enough as an introduction to military philosophy for teenagers, it's terrible as a practical manual for warfare. I believe it was Euripides who said; "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." That concept, which even junior officers will agree with, was alien to Sunzi's writings.

    Sunzi's book is more of an attempt to apply early proto-Daoist thought to warfare. It seems decent enough in theory, but it breaks down the second you attempt it in practice. You can even recognise that upon reading the Chinese commentaries appended to the book itself, since many of China's greatest generals, while publically praising master Sun, seem to blatantly ignore his instructions on a regular basis (Cao Cao, Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai Shek immediately spring to mind as people that operated to a more, shall we say, Caesarian military philosophy than Sunzi's, and all three of them have written commentaries on The Art of War, with Cao Cao actually being the most prolific commentator on Master Sun to this day).
     
  14. Pangur Bán

    Pangur Bán Good Guy / Deviant (depending on context)

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    Dearie me, a lot of vacuous superaltives still coming out about Napoleon. Does the Russia disaster not bother you guys even a bit?

    But, for clarity, when I used the word strategist, I was meaning as a general-politician managing the strategic position of France. I should have clarified for you. In that sense he certainly was "stunning" ... stunningly crap.
     
  15. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    You know, even children's book writers bother to put a few sentences in between the pictures.
     
  16. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    Volkschlacht, Haitian Rebellion, and I don't know the last one, probably Waterloo.

    My understanding is that it merely turned a questionably possible Roman victory into an overwhelming one.
     
  17. Yeekim

    Yeekim Chieftain

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    Could we say that Napoleon was so incredibly good at fighting battles, he became overconfident in picking them?

    Who is the better general - the one who can beat odds 3:1 and knows that, or the one who can beat 4:1 but stupidly goes against even greater odds?

    I only know what Master Sun would say... :mischief:
     
  18. Mechanicalsalvation

    Mechanicalsalvation Universal aristocracy of the proletariat

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    I think is quite obvious that Napoleon was l´top but he is not there alone. Who are we to judge that? Perhaps even master Sun-tzu whould have to agree that there are some times when the rules can and must be broken...
     
  19. Flying Pig

    Flying Pig Utrinque Paratus Moderator

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    I stand corrected; excellent post. I'd like to support the maxim that 'no OPLAN survives initial contact' - personally I firmly believe that the mark of a good military leader is his ability to improvise effectively as much as his ability to make a good plan.
     
  20. Mechanicalsalvation

    Mechanicalsalvation Universal aristocracy of the proletariat

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    I wonder if what breaks down isn´t rather the competence to execute the plan due to some personal weaknesses- by the way Napoleon had many (like woman).
     

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