On the placement of elephants

I’m always more than a little amused when people comment that I am wasting my time by posting about Game, or atheism, or [fill in subject of little interest to you]. The fact is that I probably spend more time on pressing things like playing Guitar Hero and wondering why a superlative general like Hannibal would have elected to place his elephants in the center at Zama when he had to know that his cavalry on the wings was outnumbered by the Italian and Numidian cavalries opposing them.

The Romans drew up their forces in three lines, creating an effective reserve in the rear. The maniples however stood in separate formations, not creating a continuous line. The gaps were loosely filled by the velites (skirmishers). The Roman left wing was made up of Italian allied cavalry, while the right wing consisted of the Numidian calvary of Massinissa.

Hannibal meanwhile also aligned his troops in three lines. His mercenaries took the front, the second line was formed by the Carthaginian forces and those of the Carthaginian territories (Liby-Phoenicians). Finally at the rear stood Hannibal’s most reliable troops, the veterans from the campaign in Italy. At the very front of the army Hannibal placed his elephant corps. On his left wing he had his Numidian cavalry and to the right stood the Carthaginian cavalry.

After some initial skirmishes between the cavalry units, the battle began with a charge of the Carthaginian war elephants. They were meant to cause confusion and terrify the enemy. But it was here that Scipio’s preparation in lining up his troops in separate maniples bore fruit. The velites in the gaps now engaged the elephants, drawing them up through the alleys between the main Roman units. Also Scipio had ordered for every trumpeter of the army to blow, creating a startling noise which terrified the nervous beasts. This Roman tactic was largely successful. Most of the elephants simply charged up the alleys between the units, others even turned and collided with their own cavalry. However some did indeed drive into the Roman ranks and caused considerable damage before escaping up the alleys.

Since horses tend to be more skittish than infantry, it seems to me that it would have been significantly more effective to divide the elephant corps in two and attempt to drive off at least one cavalry wing, following the elephant charge up with an immediate cavalry attack while the Roman wings were still in disarray. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but the fact that Africanus had his troops drawn up in columns rather than lines should have been an obvious clue that he planned to permit the elephants to pass through the Roman center.

Anyhow, Ender and I have been playing Hannibal lately and it’s not just an excellent historical wargame, it’s an educational game that tends to inspire this sort of thinking. Now I’m going to have to break out a Zama game and see if I can game out what might have happened if Hannibal had used his elephants as a means of actively defending his wings instead of simply trying to smash the Roman center with them.

Hiding the hatred

Fred Reed points out that thanks to technological advancement, the media is not going to be able to hide the persistent racial hatred of the black underclass much longer:

In a previous life as a police reporter I encountered or knew of many instances, always of a gang of blacks beating hell out of a white, and in a manner to do serious damage. The maidens in the video wanted to hurt the girl, wanted to hur her badly, and continued kicking her dangerously when they had her helpless. It is one thing to punch someone’s lights out, another to kick him repeatedly in the head.

Always the media respond by describing the attackers as “teenagers” and “youths,” and by burying the story as quickly as possible. When I was writing my Police Beat column for the Washington Times, any mention of racial hatred disappeared during editing.

Ignoring the hatred is not going to serve anyone well, black or white. In the Cook County Jail in Chicago, I once interviewed a Three Star Perfect Elite, if my memory of the title serves, a high-ranking man in the BGD, Black Gangster Disciples. These were and probably are a serious gang. Why, I asked him, do black gang-bangers spend so much time killing other blacks? “We’d rather kill whites, but we know we’d lose,” he said, stone cold. This disappeared in editing….

[I]f you point out that black schools in the cities are terrible, an assertion with which every black columnist in the US would agree, many journalists will furiously argue that it isn’t true—not quite calling you a racist, but very nearly. And so nothing changes. Stray thought: What would you think of an oncologist who insisted that your tumor didn’t exist?

One of the interesting ideas about American exceptionalism is the way in which its racial heterogeneous nature has tended to prevent socialism from sinking roots into the populace. The idea is that that Americans aren’t particularly enamored with freedom or capitalism, but that they lack the strong ethnic identity that the various European nations have historically harbored. The massive Hispanic immigration that has rendered blacks a second-tier minority is also a complicating factor with regards to future race relations. The shrinking of the middle class due to the economy is likely to further poison race relations, and finally contra the expectations of the multiculturalists, more exposure to other races tends to be positively correlated to racism.

In short, neither the media nor liberal guilt nor political correctness among whites is likely to keep the lid on what they apparently believe is a potential powder keg for much longer. While it’s true that America is an idea, it is often forgotten that it was an English colonial idea and one that has not been truly adopted in either its whole or its essence by various other groups who wish to enjoy its benefits without accepting its costs.

The great potential downside of the Browning of America is that it changes the calculation on the part of the likes of Fred’s Three Star Perfect Elite. Once the underclass no longer feels so outnumbered, once is it no longer so certain it will lose, it is going to be considerably less reticent about attacking those who, thinking themselves non-racist, still presently believe themselves to be off-limits by virtue of their race.

And the anomalies begin

May 2, 2011: “Bin Laden — given the code name “Geronimo” by US officials — was found in the compound with one of his young wives, who identified him by name. According to White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, the woman died as she shielded bin Laden. Brennan said it was unclear whether she was attempting to protect the terrorist leader of her own free will, or whether he deliberately placed her in the line of fire. However, defense officials have confirmed that women were deliberately used as human shields to protect the compound’s male inhabitants.”

May 3, 2011: “A woman killed during the raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was not his wife and was not used as a human shield by the al Qaeda leader before his death, a U.S. official said on Monday, correcting an earlier description. John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counter- terrorism adviser, told reporters earlier that the slain woman had been one of bin Laden’s wives and had been used — perhaps voluntarily — as a shield during the firefight. However, a different White House official said that account had turned out not to be the case. Bin Laden’s wife was injured but not killed in the assault.”

There would appear to be one piece of the ID evidence gone, along with the body. If she wasn’t his wife and she wasn’t killed while shielding him, we have to assume that she also did not identify him. This leaves DNA and photos, although the DNA evidence may be less conclusive than would be desirable.

I think the best evidence that those of us on the outside have is that the USA was willing to violate Pakistani sovereignty in order to take out the target. I have no doubt that the White House genuinely believed it was Osama in the compound or that they killed someone there, the question is whether they were correct or not. And so far, the evidence they have offered is far from convincing, especially since we know they have the entire thing on video. If the post-mortem pictures are too gruesome to be released, then why not release several stills from the video before he was shot along with a statement from his surviving wife?

UPDATE: The Official Story continues to evolve: “The White House backed away Monday evening from key details in its narrative about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, including claims by senior U.S. officials that the Al Qaeda leader had a weapon and may have fired it during a gun battle with U.S. forces. Officials also retreated from claims that one of bin Laden’s wives was killed in the raid and that bin Laden was using her as a human shield before she was shot by U.S. forces.”

So no body, no photos, no witnesses, and the story is changing despite the report that the White House officials watched the entire raid on video. Conclusion: the tale of bin Laden’s demise is possibly – though not necessarily – a fiction. That someone was killed at the compound by the Navy Seals is not in doubt, only the question of whom. And if it was someone other than bin Laden, one can only hope that the graphic artists at the White House now busily engaged in photoshopping the corpse images are more competent than those who produced the forged birth certificate.

UPDATE II: Good news! The first White House photoshopper appears to be finished with his image of Obama’s demise. Warning, it is very disturbing.