An Appreciation of Genghis Khan

Genghis KhanGenghis Khan has fallen into disrepute since John Kerry compared him to Vietnam Veterans, explaining to those who didn’t get the connection that both were axe-murdering, baby-raping, card-cheating nogoodniks prone to cutting in the lift lines at Gstaad, or words to that effect. Remarkably, that kind of insight did not bring the former C-student to his desired station in life, but nowadays as Secretary of State he has an unparalleled record. (Unparalleled… you have to give him that).

Not everyone shares Mr Kerry’s dim view of the great Asian conqueror, though. This interesting appreciation of Genghis was written by a man who had some distinction himself in the military field. Of course, we’ll explain at the end who it was, but see if you can guess:

Were the accounts of all battles, save only those of Genghis Khan, effaced from the pages of history, and were the facts of his campaigns preserved in descriptive detail, the soldier would still possess a mine of untold wealth from which to extract nuggets of knowledge useful in molding in army for future use. The successes of that amazing leader, beside which the triumphs of most other commanders in history, pale into insignificance, are proof sufficient of his unerring instinct for the fundamental qualifications of an army.

He devised an organization appropriate to conditions then existing; he raised the discipline and the morale of his troops to a level never known in any other army, unless possibly that of Cromwell; he spent every available period of peace to develop subordinate leaders and produce perfection of training throughout the army, and, finally, he insisted upon speed in action, a speed which by comparison with other forces of his day was almost unbelievable. Though he armed his men with the best equipment of offense and of defense that the skill of Asia could produce, he refused to encumber them with loads that would immobilize his army. Over great distances his legions moved so rapidly and secretly as to astound his enemies and practically to paralyze the powers of resistance. He crossed great rivers and mountain ranges, he reduced walled cities in his path and swept onward to destroy nations and pulverize whole civilizations. On the battlefield his troops maneuvered so swiftly and skillfully and struck with such devastating speed that times without number they defeated armies overwhelmingly superior to themselves in numbers.

Regardless of his destructiveness, his cruelty, his savagery, he clearly understood the unvarying necessities of war. It is these conceptions that the modern soldier seeks to separate from the details of the Khan’s technique, tactics, and organization, as well as from the ghastly practices of his butcheries, his barbarism, and is ruthlessness. So winnowed from the chaff of medieval custom and of all other inconsequentials, they stand revealed as kernels of eternal truth, as applicable today in our effort to produce an efficient army as they were when, seven centuries ago, the great Mongol applied them to the discomfiture and in amazement of these of a terrified world. We cannot violate these laws and still produce and sustain the kind of army that alone can ensure the integrity of our country and the permanency of our institutions if ever again we face the grim realities of war.

Read that aloud and tell us if your voice doesn’t gain depth and strength — that’s some powerful writing. Have you guessed the author yet? It was Douglas MacArthur. These thoughts of the eternality of Genghis Khan were part of his final major report as Chief of Staff of the Army in 1935. The subject of the report was Army Modernization, and it was quite wide-ranging for foresighted (even as it frequently demonstrated MacArthur’s command of history and the English language, as in the sample above).

After that report, Gen MacArthur, having completed a distinguished career and served for years at the pinnacle of his nation’s Army, retired. And we’ve scarcely heard from him since.

We leave it as an exercise to the reader, whether the lifelong C-student or the lifelong First  Captain has the better part of understanding the great Khan.

13 thoughts on “An Appreciation of Genghis Khan

  1. WyomingBound

    Jack Weatherford wrote a very thorough history of Ghengis Khan, titled “Ghengis Khan and the making of the modern world”.
    It is a good read.

  2. Bill K

    This is rather tangential, but I just finished watching a YouTube video on SAS selection voiced over by Andy McNabb, He emphasized the necessity of applicants to the the special forces of all nations to have uncommon dedication not to quit. Specifically, the Brit selectees were marched over hill & dale 20-50 km with 60lb minimum bergens, as that “was the necessary minimum combat load” and for example in Desert Storm, Bravo Two Zero were carrying “200+ lb” when first helo-dropped.

    By contrast then, the Brit higher-ups must hold to an entirely different philosophy than Gengis when it comes to combat loads. Andy so much as admitted that the South Africans had a different selection emphasis of mastering a lot of techniques, rather than humping the regimental trailer to prove one’s worth. Where do US SF place on this scale? Anyone not nicknamed Kronk need not apply?

    1. Aesop

      Any number of wee little buggers named Jock and Taffy yomped around the Falklands with 100+ pounds on their backs.

      Don’t overlook something from SAS selection not apparent on YouTube: they do it in the coldest, windiest, wettest, sh*ttiest most miserable godforsaken part of Wales, just to amp up the total unending misery.

      On topic, it’s a pity MacArthur’s retirement was interrupted; that summary would have made an excellent preface to his tome on Genghis.

      SecState Grenade-In-The-Face would have been only useful in such a group mainly to sweep up after Mongol ponies.

    2. "Greg"

      Bill K, you might find lots of great info about US SF in a book called “Chosen Soldier” by Dick Couch. (kind of a funny name but I would not make fun of this particular author – Wikipedia had some additional info I didn’t know about him) Speaking just from a theoretical basis, “humping the regimental trailer” makes for great “selection phase” testing and training, but in Genghis Khan’s time, his armies did not have the benefit of internal combustion to help with long range mobility tasks like we do today. SF needs to be able to have the mindset that “humping the regimental trailer” is an option in a worst case scenario, although as you would probably guess, they will do their best to “work smarter” every chance they can!

      1. Hognose Post author

        Dick’s book is a good one and describes an SF class at that time with clarity and accuracy. He has written similarly high-quality books about the SEALs and Rangers selection, assessment, and training processes and they all have a place on my shelves.

        As far as SF loadbearing is concerned, we deployed in Europe, for instance, with everything necessary to stay alive for a month without resupply or contact with friendlies, whether the mission was SR or UW. Of course, in Europe we didn’t have to pack in water, which becomes the limitation in an arid area. Most other units are not prepared to go that long remotely and without resup. (ISTR our record was 45 days). Units that can do it include the SAS and some Danish and Dutch elements that practiced for stay-behind missions. One of the European strategic recon elements actually planned to dig a pit and live in it for a month, depositing human waste in ziploc bags and surveilling the passing enemy.

        The whole stay-behind thing was very close-hold and very carefully constructed and nurtured. It was destroyed in about two years of publicity and media sniveling in the period 1990-92.

        1. Aesop

          Couch’s current tome covers MARSOC. It is as excellent as the three prior looks, and has joined them on my bookshelf.

          My only gripe is that the Marines decided 25 years too late to open recruitment selection up Corps-wide, not just to 0311s.

          1. Hognose Post author

            That was one aspect of it. Not everything has come out. (Not everything will come out. For one thing, not everything was written down).

      2. Bill K

        Thanks for the rec., Greg. I’ve seen the book, now I’ll have to read it…

        1. "Greg"

          Hope you enjoy it Bill! For me it was so good I *almost * felt like I actually attended the training! …emphasis on the *almost *part!

  3. Bill T

    Genghis Khan is high on my list of military men to learn from whether from written by them or observers/historians. Sun Tzu is the tip of the spear, others are Francis Marion, John S. Mosby, Douglas McArther, George Patton, Hannibal (elephants over the Alps),etc-etc. You don’t have to share their political beliefs or their goals just their use of tactics and techniques. In my understanding, small as it is, the cardinal rule is, “DON’T QUIT”, the second is, “IF IT DON’T WORK-TRY SOMETHING ELSE!”, doing something that doesn’t work over and over is self defeating. Anyway, Genghis Khan was a MASTER Warrior, worthy of study, to learn tactics.
    It was the same after WWII, the Americans and Russians scurried around to gather up as many rocket scientists as they could find. NAZIS or not we needed their knowledge and didn’t want them going somewhere else. Most of them were apolitical and only wanted to be left alone and supplied with what they needed to build rockets. Werner Von Brauhn and some of his associates have been in Huntsville, Alabama, at NASA since the late 1940s.

Comments are closed.