Anonymous and Master Roger – a review


Anonymous and Master Roger, Anonymous, Notary of King Béla The Deeds of the Hungarians, Master Roger’s Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tartars

Back in June Zenpundit posted a couple of mini book reviews, and David Schuler posted this comment:

 “For moderns inclined to romanticize war in antiquity may I recommend The Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tartars?  It became available in English translation fairly recently and constitutes a first-hand account of the Mongol invasion of Hungary.  The violence, not only against persons and property, but against the land itself is notable and eye-opening.”

The title was enough to pique my interest, and since I knew very little of this period I went to Amazon UK and purchased a copy (US versions are prohibitively expensive) . That said, I didn’t expect to get around to reading for some time, but if I don’t “buy” a book while it is still on my mind, I’ll likely forget as the pile continues, “without ceasing” (to wax Biblical) to grow. For an obscure text, the introduction drew me in and I was hooked enough to read a few pages a day.

The book has ample and informative introductions to each work. The stories are presented in Latin on one page and English on the facing page.

The narratives are very different, Anonymous was a Notary to King Béla (circa 1196), and he recounts the deeds of Hungarian royalty, and the behind the scenes machinations of the royal court. Anonymous’ account was laced with both biblical and classic texts and was quite tedious, predictably obsequious but while at the same time offering up little snippets here and there—and often in the notes. A note in the section titled 40. The Victory of Prince Árpád, Anonymous wrote: “…for thirty four days and in that place the prince and his noblemen ordered all the customary laws of the realm and all its rights.” The editors included the following footnote with respect to “rights.”

 “The translation of ius (in contrast to lex, “law”) is a problem that is not only linguistic. Translators of Roman legal texts often retain ius, as it implies law, justice, rights along with all their connotations. Modern English does not distinguish lex from iusGesetz from Recht, or loi from droit, which may explain the generally supine Anglo-Saxon attitude towards the law and authority in general…”

Schuler was right in his description of Master Roger’s first hand account of the Tartar invasion (1241/42); horrific comes to mind. There is no romance. The brutality and ruthlessness of the Tartars is awe-inspiring and fearful 900 years removed. The tactics of the Tartars are textbook examples of psychological warfare before the term was coined—and their ability to “get inside” their adversaries decision-making loop (OODA, anyone?) was remarkable.

The ancient Sorrowful Lament story was reassuring of the power and resilience of the human spirit. The deprivations experienced by the Hungarians were not unique in human history, but serve to illustrate how resilient a people can be when things truly go to hell in a hand basket. When their leaders failed, the Hungarians found way to live in spite of their feckless unprepared leaders, and in spite of a ruthless, blood and booty thirsty enemy.

Anonymous and Master Roger is recommended to anyone wanting to understand the human condition, whether royalty, peasant, bureaucrat, or barbarian. This is an important book…for a “sorrowful lament” has much to teach us about the humanity and how little man changes through the years. This highly eclectic little title comes highly recommended and many thanks to Dave for sharing.

Postscript: One remarkable thing about this book, printed in Hungary, is the high quality construction using good paper and string.

There are no references to share for this volume, however if this volume is indicative of their work, Central European Medieval Texts are to be commended and followed.

This is cross-posted from

The Really Alternative U.S. Army Reading List

Everyone, even CNASistas, is making fun of new U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey’s 26 volume attempt at a “professional reading list“. This Committee, ever eager to jump on the newest, hippest trend out of the Pentagon, is as willing to dogpile on Gen. Dempsey’s list as anyone else.

Any list that includes one, let alone two, books by the Mustache of Understanding, is instantly marked “self-parody” in the Committee’s collective INBOX and deleted. After touching any field of human inquiry, the Mustache of Understanding leaves PowerPoint in his wake and calls it wisdom. The Mustache of Understanding’s works may be of interest to future historians looking back on our age. But that sort of interest will be the same sort of forensic interest that epidemiologists summon when examining smallpox under a microscope in a cleanroom.

In the spirit of fairness to the good general, the Committee here offers up its own twenty-six books for the aspiring strategic professional:

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The upending of sovereignty

Anne-Marie Slaughter has a provocative piece which argues that Libya was not really an intervention. I’ve already used my Magritte and Duchamp jabs before, but rather than simply dismissing this as a case as writing ‘fountain’ on a urinal, it’s worth taking the time to understand what the implications of her argument are, and how radical of a rupture they are with previous ideas of sovereignty. It is then worth understanding why this rupture in the conventions of sovereignty is a potentially seriously destabilizing threat to international order as we understand it.

If we are to speak of dictatorship, let us define sovereignty in the most dicatorial sense: sovereignty is the power to decide, specifically on the state of exception. Yet all democracies which seek to preserve themselves as democracies must internalize some degree of this dictatorial content. The ability to rupture or suspend the constitutional order without the dissolution of the polity is the power of a sovereign. In the classic Hobbesian sense, the maxim of sovereignty, in order to prevent the dissolution of the polity and the return to mere nature, was protego ergo obligo. The sovereign protects, therefore subjects or citizens obey. The ability of the state to except itself from the norms of pacific civil order to quash threats from within and without is what keeps those periods of violence exceptional rather than juridically normal.

This notion of sovereignty went hand in hand with the stabilization of the international system. The delineation of zones of sovereignty, and the grant of power to enforce the political integrity which maintained those delineations, were an attempted salve on the aspirations of universal empires and endemic civil war in early modern Europe. Though it would be much longer after Hobbes’s time that such issues receded, it was through, as Schmitt has pointed out, a sense of regularity in warfare that such stability endured. This is an important distinction. Continue reading

Pathological Resistance

Gaddafi Diehards Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome

“Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious”  Oscar Wilde

The cheering throngs in Tripoli have dispersed, their celebrations marred by uncertainty, sniper-fire and occasional mortar-rounds. Though Gaddafi remains at large, militarily his cause is obviously lost. He has few weapons, no supplies and his few remaining soldiers lack any sort of central command structure to coordinate their actions.

Historically, when a country is clearly losing a war its people tend to topple the existing regime and broker a peace. Napoleon’s generals mutinied when France was invaded. Kaizer Wilhem and Tzar Nicholas II lost their thrones with the enemy still far from their gates. Argentina’s military junta got pushed out after their defeat in the Falklands war. Why then in Gaddafi’s case do some of his loyalists seem bent on fighting to the bitter end?

If we look at the three rational reasons for resistance, greed, tribal loyalty and fear, they seem increasingly insufficient. Rather, like Hitler before him, after holding his country hostage for over 40 years Gaddafi is benefiting from the mother of all Stockholm syndromes.

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This article is published in the current addition of the California Association of Tactical Officers official publication CATO NEWS.  I look forward to your feedback.


“In tactics, the most important thing is not whether you go left or right, but why you go left or right.” ~A. M. Gray

Tactics is the art and science of winning engagements and conflicts. Tactics refers to the concepts and methods we use to accomplish a particular objective. The essence of conflict has been defined as a struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other, or a “clash” between two complex adaptive systems! This “complex adaptive system” is a, walking, talking, submitting or confronting, interacting and isolating, persuading and forcing, running and gunning, thinking and acting, disrupting adversary(s). Continue reading

FHI on London Riots

Over the coming week, we’ll be discussing the strategic, operational, and tactical implications of the London riots. Given that for many of our readers in the Western world, these events may be “coming to a theater near you” as economic and political divides intensify, the importance of a sober and analytical recounting of the riots (from a wide range of expertise) is certainly high. Stay tuned.

Naval nationalism and East Eurasia

Continuing on my thoughts yesterday about Robert Kaplan’s latest piece on the South China Sea and the broad contours of future geopolitics, I’d like to address the particularly important issue of naval nationalism and its role in great power interactions. One of the more problematic assertions of Kaplan’s article is the assumption of a sort of hyper-rational treatment of naval affairs, one which leaves nationalism running relatively cold-blooded and renders great power politics “austere.”

When the Deutscher Flottenverein, or German Navy League, formed in 1898, it was hardly to become the symbol of austere nationalism or a stabilizing force in international relations. There was, to oversimplify, a significant division in German conceptions of geopolitics in the late 19th century. On the one hand, there were the Bismarckian realists who above all, sought to maintain the stability of Europe for German interests. They saw no need to risk Germany’s only recently-won unity by antagonizing the United Kingdom over frivolous colonies nor had they any interest in sacrificing stability with Russia to fight for Austrian interests in Bulgaria or some other obscure Balkan region.  On the other, there were more staunch German nationalists, Kaiser Wilhelm II foremost among them, who saw a fleet as a necessary element of German national pride and prestige, and the culmination of German sea power, in the essential combination of ports (in this case, colonies), fleets, and commerce as the key to fulfilling German national aims. So, even among the two camps ofmachtpolitik, there was a significant division between the advocates of local, status quo realpolitik, whose prime goals were French isolation and eastern stability, and the advocates of global, revisionist weltpolitik, who sought to match or supersede at sea a declining Britain, and preemptively undermine or subjugate a rising Russia on land. Continue reading

From “The Farm” to FarmVille

"We believe Bin Laden has been hiding in the central mansion"

In an experiment on crowdsourcing intelligence, Applied Research Associates, Inc hopes to see if it can build better intelligence collectors and analysts than the CIA allegedly produces on “The Farm”, its  rumored field academy for clandestine officers, with a tool that bears more resemblance to Facebook’s popular social networking game FarmVille.  ARA recently launched the Aggregative Contingent Estimation System (ACES), a website funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) where users can vote on future social, political, scientific, economic, and military developments similar to an online poll, with the results then aggregated into predictions and probabilities. IARPA hopes to use ACES to test the value of crowdsourcing for national intelligence.

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Maritime realism and the geopolitics of the “Middle Sea”

Robert Kaplan has a new piece out in Foreign Policy today about the South China Sea, the West Pacific generally, and the return of naval power and realist thought to the center stage of international politics. It’s a worth a read if only because Kaplan is unfortunately one of the few public intellectual types who has attempted to engage the question of maritime power. The crux of the argument is that the 21st century’s geopolitical stage will be much more maritime than continental, as was the case in the past, and one in which the US must increasingly submit to the exigencies of a realist few of great power politics. I broadly agree with these two sentiments. The devil, and the critical takeaways, however, are in the details.

East Asia, or more precisely the Western Pacific, which is quickly becoming the world’s new center of naval activity, presages a fundamentally different dynamic. It will likely produce relatively few moral dilemmas of the kind we have been used to in the 20th and early 21st centuries, with the remote possibility of land warfare on the Korean Peninsula as the striking exception. The Western Pacific will return military affairs to the narrow realm of defense experts. This is not merely because we are dealing with a naval realm, in which civilians are not present. It is also because of the nature of the states themselves in East Asia, which, like China, may be strongly authoritarian but in most cases are not tyrannical or deeply inhumane.

There is an important relationship here between geography, military technology and capability, and international morality, that I have attempted to address in previous posts. To summarize simply, the arbiter of the moral and normative activity within a state rests with its governing political power. The arbiter of power control is, in Wylie’s phrase, the “man on the scene with the gun.” The ability of an offshore state to put men on the scene with guns is power projection. The ability to project power is dependent on maritime-aerial superiority, which for an offshore power is fundamentally naval superiority.

However, Kaplan has perhaps an unduly sanitized and rationalized vision of naval warfare means for the broader political context. While the naval realm is more purely military, since humans are creature of the land, not the sea. Yet naval power has always been a combination of civilian – especially commercial – and military power. Mahan acknowledged as much in his triad of sea power as the combination of not just fleets, but friendly ports and maritime commerce.  This inter-linking is obvious today. The growth of the Chinese shipbuilding industry has played a vital role in advocating for the expansion of the PLAN, and Chinese attempts to extend influence beyond the South China Sea into the Indian are coming as civilian ports such as Gwadar and Hambantoa, whose militarization is a possibility but not an inevitability. I’ll speak more of this unheeded connection between the domestic and naval sphere later. Continue reading

To the Brink

Two observations, centuries and disciplines apart. The first observation comes from Carl von Clausewitz as channelled by Michael Howard and Peter Paret:

Essentially war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter.

The second observation comes from investor Benjamin Graham:

In the short-term, the stock market behaves like a voting machine –but in the long-term, it acts like a weighing machine.

Some common threads between these two observations:

  1. Moral forces, a product of willpower, are more a matter of voting machines than weighing machines.
  2. In the short-term, as voting machines, moral forces are the decisive force in war.
  3. In the long-term, as weighing machines, physical forces are the decisive force in war.
  4. Strategy is attrition, the exhaustion of the enemy through moral and physical blows that cast enough votes against him to cumulatively weigh against him.
  5. Moral force can cast a decisive vote if a war can be kept short.
  6. If a war is prolonged, the weight of physical force will be decisive.

One reason why war remains intrinsic to the human condition is the lack of a clear-cut way to tell how far each side in a political dispute can go and will go to resolve the dispute in their favor. This quandary arises from two further problems, one fairly obvious and one less so. The first problem the obvious possibility that one side will fail to gauge how far the other side can go and will go. The second problem is the less obvious possibility that the other side will fail to gauge how far it can and will go.

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