This book was recommended to me in the comments of a previous post and at just over half way done, I can already heartily second the recommendation. It's a thrilling, insightful story of a true hero and military genius, and Liddell Hart draws on a near contemporary of Scipio, the Greek historian Polybius, who was able to interview Scipio's close confidant and direct subordinate, Gaius Laelius, as well as gain access to the Scipio family archives. That events over 2,200 years ago could have such a detailed, objective account is simply amazing (in addition to the work of the Roman, Livy, who Hart references and appreciates but doesn't trust as much, out of concern that Livy was propagandizing the glory of Rome).
Now, on to a few unrelated musings on Liddell Hart's work.
Musing 1: You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. (Inconceivable!)
It wasn't until just last night, half way through the book, that I solved a puzzle that had bothered me until that point, having to do with Hart's use of the word moral. Hart, in describing Scipio, mentions repeatedly that not only was he a military genius, but in the modern terms, he could read people. In other words, he could very effectively rally his troops, and lead them, not with cruelty or overly authoritarian means, but by understanding their motivations and guiding them, and he called this a moral quality. He also describes Scipio as wanting to "strike not at their flesh, but at the moral Achilles heel" of the enemy, and that a delay after the capture of one city "allowed the moral effect" of the city's capture "to sink into the minds" of the enemy.
What the heck does he mean by "moral"? Finally, the particular construction of a sentence gave me the clue I needed. I unfortunately can't find it, but it was essentially like this: "Scipio was able to raise up the moral of the troops to fight even harder." So Hart often, but not always, means morale! Sometimes he means "taking moral actions," sometimes he means esprit de corps, and sometimes a strange mix of the two. This will help as I finish the book.
Musing 2: A Good Historian Is Not Immune From Mistakes Or Sour Grapes
Just because Liddell Hart has written an excellent history of Scipio Africanus does not mean that he, himself, is immune from some significant mistakes in other areas of history. The biggest one that jumped out at me occurred on page 72. Here, Hart describes what happened in Spain after Scipio initially expelled the Carthaginians. Scipio then fell ill and there were rumors of his death. Some of his troops took this as a cue to revolt, and two of the Romans' major Spanish allies, the tribes led by Mandonius and Andobales, also revolted. Here is what Hart wrote about this episode.
Mandonius and Andobales, dissatisfied because after the expulsion of the Carthaginians the Romans had not obligingly walked out and left them in possession, raised the standard of revolt, and began harassing the territory of the tribes faithful to the Roman alliance. As so often in history, the disappearance of the oppressor was the signal for dependencies to find the presence of their protector irksome. Mandonius and Andobales were but the forerunners of the American colonists and the modern Egyptians. There is no bond so irksome as that of gratitude. [bold added]The context for this sentiment is that B. H. Liddell Hart was British. I can only assume that in comparing the revolt of barbaric tribes of Spanish warriors and the American Revolution, he seems to think that the colonists should have shut up and paid their taxes as "war debt" for the French and Indian War. In other words, the principled American fight for unabridged liberty was unjustified, and they should have been grateful to the crown, showed due deference, and kept quiet.
This, Mr. Liddell Hart, is clearly a case of sour grapes. It's also horribly, drastically wrong, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the conflict. This seemingly offhand comment, added to a few others, makes me think that Hart's evaluation of Scipio, though generally good, may be skewed to be overly negative. I think I'll have to look up the original writings of Polybius and Livy.
Hart also wrote a book on William Tecumseh Sherman, and his view of America as expressed above makes me wonder how he would treat a polarizing hero like Sherman. Has anyone read it? John Lewis made a reference to it in his excellent TOS article, William Tecumseh Sherman and the Moral Impetus for Victory, so I'm curious how Hart viewed the man.
OK, that's it for my random musings on Scipio and his historian. If you've made it this far, hopefully you've learned something, or at least been prompted to look into some of these historical works. After finishing this book, I intend to dig back into "Miracle at Philadelphia," and hope to post more interesting quotations from it.