Friday, October 28, 2011

Rocks and Hot Places

The military course of events driven by the terrain is often a matter of being between a rock and a hard place.  In the case of the Crusades, it was between a lot of rocks (mountains) and hot places (deserts) with a few rivers in between.  

Sir Harry, KTJ  is Operations  Officer of the Maybe Crusade, studying the critical terrain, obstacles, cover and concealment, observation and fields of fire, and avenues of approach (COCOA) through the Holy Land with a sharp eye on Unholy lands of which there are many, mountains and deserts.

Large scale maneuvers in this part of the world cross the mountains and deserts with great care, if at all.  The places in between are where most invasions have gone.

One thing we find useful is that once we know the rocks, hot spots, rivers and places in between, following the wars in this fought over area gets easier.  What applied to the period of the crusaders applied to the ancient civilizations including the Assyrian, Hittite, Egyptian as well as Ottoman, Russian, and the British Raj. 

In between the Zagros and Elburz mountains in Persia (Iran) is a plateau on which many civilizations have existed, likewise is the Anatolian plateau between the Pontic and Taurus mountains in Turkey.  The movement of people through the mountains between the high ground and the low, gives rise to tight places where the people that live there guard jealously.   This is true in the Appalachians, Alps, Afghanistan, Tibet. Greece and Turkey.  This shows up in political maps in which the ground is divided into many small independent jurisdictions in fact if not legally. 
F4F, the Cultural Strategic Rules for survival, includes consideration of the ground on and in expressing social status. High ground is not just tactically essential, but high status goes often to high ground, or to a higher chair.

Such areas that crop up over the centuries include the western mountains of Turkey between the Bosporus and the highlands.  The Seljuk Turks that conquered this area after 1071, broke up into feuding small states which provided the Byzantine Empire and the Crusaders opportunities to take advantage of local feuds between Turks, Armenians, and Arabs.   

The turmoil in the Caucasus today is a continuation of feuding that goes back before there were records.  The area straddling the Caucasus is often credited with the beginning of Sanskrit, and many cultural and economic innovations.  Perhaps the competition drives innovation as well as combat. 

While most maps of the Crusades show just Europe and Asia Minor, the the 13th Century began with the explosion of the Mongols from their homelands on the other side of the Tien Shan Mountains, and struck through the Kwarizmian Muslim empire situated between the Aral Sea and Persia, and eventually through the Holy Land to Gaza. 
Hulagu Khan, son of Genghis Khan led the assault into the rear of both the Seljuk and surviving Arab (Abbasid) territories.  The Sack of Baghdad in 1258 was particularly savage.  The Mongol policy was to leave no one capable of interfering with rape, pillage, and plunder. Two long standing Mongol states ruled for centuries in territories between Europe and China: The Golden Horde, and the Ilkhanate.

The large empire headquartered in Cairo as shown here is part of one of the most interesting periods of Crusader history, that of King Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin, a story often retold in classic literature, and most certainly on film.

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