Genghis 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.