“An army marches on its stomach.” So goes the well-known Napoleonic dictum. But until very recently, the forward progression of an army was far more dependent on the stomachs of horses, whose daily feed allowance by weight was 8-10 times what a soldier needed. In fact, some 980,000 pounds of food per day was required to feed both the cavalry and their horses during Louis XIV’s wars – of which only 120,000 pounds was for the men.
Such detailed calculations provide insight into why wars unfold as they do, and therefore why history unfolds as it does. For example, though Napoleon has often been criticized for using heavy carts in his Russian campaign – they sank in the mud, making them difficult to move, then the mud froze, making them impossible to move – light carts would have required far more horses and, therefore, more feed than the countryside on the path to his eastern advance would probably have been able to supply.
This is an example of the many calculated decisions made in war that Martin van Creveld covers in depth in his book. One reoccurring theme is the need for balance between requisition (an innocuous word for armies stealing from the inhabitants of the land through which they march) and dependence on established supply lines (which extend from some sort of forward base or magazine). As it turns out, using supply lines that stretch far back to a home operating base is a very modern concept. Even though Napoleon further developed the rudimentary magazine system established by Louvois (one of Louis XIV’s generals), it didn’t come close to supplying all the food required by his Grande Armee. In 1805, for example, Napoleon had to change the course of his offensive because his generals weren’t able to secure enough hard biscuits in the town at which his army was set to rendezvous. Logistics, therefore, dictated strategy.
Even during World War I, armies still needed to feed off the land. In Germany’s march on France in 1914, the updated version of the Schlieffen Plan required that the western wing of the advance move quickly, given that it had more ground to cover relative to the easternmost wing. In addition, there was a limited number of roads that could be used to supply the army – which forced supply units to traverse the same roads used for the offensive and led to traffic jams and delays. These factors led the 1st Army, especially its 3rd and 4th Reserve Corps, to move forward quickly and prevented the supply line from reaching the army. Indeed, the delays were so substantial that the heavy columns would not reach the remainder of the fighting force until after their retreat from the Battle of the Marne. The Germans were, even in the days of modern industrial war, forced to live off the land.
“Supplying War” is a fascinating read. It examines battles and campaigns that most history buffs will know, but from angles that are not often considered. To understand war, you must understand logistics, and van Creveld’s work is a compelling look into how military logistics has developed since the early 17th century, including in some of the most important theaters of World War II.
Xander Snyder, analyst
“Translations” is a play set in 1833 in the small Irish community of Baile Beag. The plot revolves around a hedge school, an underground educational institution where Catholics and nonconformist Protestants could get a basic education at a time when all schools in Ireland were forced to teach in English and promote Anglicanism. In the 1830s, the English were mapping out Ireland and anglicizing the names of places from their original Irish.
The play highlights the locals’ varied reactions to the change in language and the expectation that they adopt a new identity. Maire, for example, a young woman from the village, attends a hedge school but wants to learn English, since she hopes to one day move to America. But Manus, the schoolmaster’s older son, is more resistant to the attempts at assimilation: He insists on speaking Irish in front of the English soldiers, even though he speaks English well. He represents the rebellious youth who don’t want to give in to the English by giving up their cultural and linguistic roots. By the end of the play, he takes a teaching job in another hedge school.
Divisions in identity, like the ones depicted in the play, are not easily reconciled and can resurface decades or even generations later. This is what happened during the Troubles in Ireland: The same divisions between people who saw their future with the English and those who resented the identity imposed on them by London came back to haunt the Isles. Understanding this deep-seated divide among the Irish people is the key to understanding why paramilitaries are still active in Northern Ireland and why the idea of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit is such a controversial issue.
The play examines how language shapes identity and why assimilation is such a contentious policy. On one hand, assimilation is necessary to keep a state together. Governments need their citizens to remain loyal to them and to the state – which requires integration and a common identity. On the other hand, assimilation breeds resentment and can ultimately lead to resistance and revolt. But it’s a risk governments must take.
Nora T. Kalinskij, analyst