When to reinforce or retreat

During the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage there was one particularly notable battle that set the stage for the ultimate defeat of Carthage by Rome.  That battle and its prelude and subsequent peace have application to some of the events in our world today.  The Romans and Carthaginians had been bitter rivals and enemies for many years.  The Punic Wars stretched all the way from the Third century to the Second century BC.   They were at odds over who would ultimately be the lead dog in that region of the Meditterean Sea and thus most of the known world of that day.   Along came an outstanding leader, general and procounsol in the person of Hannibal.  Yes, the one famous for taking the elephants over the Alps to do battle with Rome.  But his greatest victory was far to the south, south of Rome at a place called Cannae.  He manourvered the Romans into bad field position.  His army was made up of his Carthiginians and several local Roman tribal groups  who had joined as allies against the hegemony of Rome.   There was a large gorge and a bridge and the Roman army was backed up to them with Hannibal in front.  

The battle was engaged and the Romans suffered their worst defeat at any time or at any place.   The carnage lasted all day with the clash of sword and spear against shiled and flesh and bone.  It is estimated that 55,000 Romans were killed in the battle that day.  It turned into a great slaughter because they couldn’t even retreat because of the confined quarters where the battle occurred.   After such a devastating loss Rome was on its heels and reeling.   There really wasn’t much of an army left at all to resist Hannibal when he moved on Rome itself.   Hannibal collected all the gold wedding rings he could find from the battle site and sent them to Carthage as proof of the victory and as an exclamation point to his plea for immediate reinforcements so he could march on Rome.   His army was damaged during the battle and needed replenishment.  The Carthaginian senate began to deliberate as only politicians can; especially those far removed from the scene of battle.  They were delighted with the victory of course but thought the Romans were probably done and that the cost of fielding more troops wasn’t necessary or worth it.    An uneaasy “peace” ensued with Hannibal’s army remaing outside Rome and the Romans franatically rebuilding and training their forces.   This was the “Carthiginian Peace”.   It was a false premise to think that all was done with Rome.  Rome did indeed astound the Carthiginians by forming new legions seemingly over night much like the US was able to do in 1942.   Hannibal never did conquer Rome and the Carthiginians as you recall were ultimately completely destroyed by Rome about 70 years later.  The Romans even salted the earth where Carthgage had been so nothing would even grow there for evermore. 

You have to know when to reinforce.   The politicians in Carthage did indeed snatch defeart from the jaws of victory by not timely following up.  Hannibal saw  the need for more men and speed and he was right.  Immediate action would have likely won the day.    Sounds remarkably like our arguments about the Surge of today.   Carthage compounded its mistake by underestimating its enemy.  They thought Rome was through as a great power after such a horrific defeat but they couldn’t have been more wrong.  The false peace of the Carthiginian senate allowed them time to recover and it was no real resolution of the issues between them as later events revealed to the dismay and ruin of Carthage.

Lets hope our politicians will stay clear of interferring with the advice of our commanders on the scene.   We don’t need any Carthiginian Peace in our time.  It wouldn’t work any better for us than it did for them.

“it is one thing to show a man he is in error and another to put him in possession of the truth” — John Locke

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Filed under government, history, Politics

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