Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fools, Cowards, and Thucydides

The Internet assures that misattributions will always remain a problem.  “A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.” Widely attributed to Thucydides, it was not his statement.  Even the venerable Doctrine Man erred.

The quote comes from General Gordon, a biography of Charles George Gordon by Colonel Sir F. Butler (London: MacMillan & Co., 1891).  And it is so attributed at Wikiquote.

 Doctrine Man is to be found on Facebook. It is humor about the military in particular and politics and current events in general. Who Doctrine Man really is has been the subject of some controversy. It is beyond me, but apparently no few of the snide comments have subtexts that could only have come from conversations in the Pentagon. Doctrine Man is wholly credible, but that only underscores how common this misattributed quotation is.
Charles George Gordon (January 28, 1833 to January 26, 1885) was a Highlander who served as an engineer in the British army. His first action was in the Crimean War. Later, after the defeat of China in the Opium War, he then organized imperial Chinese troops fighting the rebels of the Taiping Revolt, for which he was called "Chinese" Gordon by the press. Gordon later was ordered to Egypt.  He evacuated the British from Khartoum. He then returned (against orders) and was killed defending the city against the armies of Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, the proclaimed Mahdi (redeemer preceding Judgment Day).  

"The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."


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