Friday, June 24, 2016

The Temple's Dirty Dozens

Fighting over a shield wall rather than between the shields

There are too many holes in the history of the original Knights Templar aka “The Temple” to account for their combat effectiveness or of their operations planning and training.  We have detailed instruction in the Rule for the order, but those do not deal with combat operations, and given the theoretical time usage of the Rule, there would be not enough time to train for the operations they were so good at.

There are records of the details of the training of Byzantine troops which, to the modern eye, are consistent with training rigor required for combat excellence.  That must include individual and collective tasks, plus those of command and control.  Just the formation of shield walls, and the opening of them to allow cavalry to make passages of line out and in return, is the highest order of collective competence.  This done at Arsuf by Richard I, by the Knights that counter attacks Saladin’s encircling forces, and drove him from the field.

There is also a popular perception that the Templars were uptight and religious today emulated with pomp and circumstance of which I have enjoyed.  But as a combat veteran and long serving solder of 33 years, those don’t fit.  The Anal Retentive is the default standing army preferred personality type, but which in combat tend to freeze in indecision or stick to a stupid one regardless.  Likewise the default Anal Retentive is obsessed with neatness, while the original Templars were filthy in accordance with the notion that filthy is faithful piety.   Something that many monks followed.

It was a matter of pride and practice that the garb of the Templars were hand repaired and often tattered and torn.  Yet the complaints against them was often that they were arrogant and offensive to others.  Such is the manner of elite troops forever more.

Likewise there is a popular notion that the Temple was religiously fanatic in accordance with (Catholic) doctrine.  As a matter of fact, Cathars were welcome. The last we hear of the order after the burning is of Cathars in possession of important artifacts of the order.

The first real clue as to the nature of the knights real makeup is found in St Bernard’s presentation in which he condemns the disreputable nature of those who are about to turn their lives around. 

Praise of the New Knighthood
Liber ad milites Templi : De laude novae militae
Chapter 2

What then, O knights, is this monstrous error and what this unbearable urge which bids you fight with such pomp and labor, and all to no purpose except death and sin? You cover your horses with silk, and plume your armor with I know not what sort of rags; you paint your shields and your saddles; you adorn your bits and spurs with gold and silver and precious stones, and then in all this glory you rush to your ruin with fearful wrath and fearless folly. Are these the trappings of a warrior or are they not rather the trinkets of a woman? Do you think the swords of your foes will be turned back by your gold, spare your jewels or be unable to pierce your silks?

As you yourselves have often certainly experienced, a warrior especially needs these three things--he must guard his person with strength, shrewdness and care; he must be free in his movements, and he must be quick to draw his sword. Then why do you blind yourselves with effeminate locks and trip yourselves up with long and full tunics, burying your tender, delicate hands in big cumbersome sleeves? Above all, there is that terrible insecurity of conscience, in spite of all your armor, since you have dared to undertake such a dangerous business on such slight and frivolous grounds. What else is the cause of wars and the root of disputes among you, except unreasonable flashes of anger, the thirst for empty glory, or the hankering after some earthly possessions? It certainly is not safe to kill or to be killed for such causes as these.

The recruits here addressed are being dressed down for their lethal egotism and in view of the Popes desire for a Peace of God to cut down on rampant petty warfare.  St Bernard established the desired goals of the “New Knighthood’ in Chapters 3 and 4 of his treatise.

CHAPTER 3 - On the new knighthood

. But the knights of Christ may safely fight the battles of their Lord, fearing neither sin if they smite the enemy, nor danger at their own death; since to inflict death or to die for Christ is no sin, but rather, an abundant claim to glory. In the first case one gains for Christ, and in the second one gains Christ himself. The Lord freely accepts the death of the foe who has offended him, and yet more freely gives himself for the consolation of his fallen knight.

 The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with confidence and die yet more confidently, for he serves Christ when he strikes, and serves himself when he falls. Neither does he bear the sword in vain, for he is God's minister, for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of the good. If he kills an evildoer, he is not a mankiller, but, if I may so put it, a killer of evil. He is evidently the avenger of Christ towards evildoers and he is rightly considered a defender of Christians. Should he be killed himself, we know that he has not perished, but has come safely into port. When he inflicts death it is to Christ's profit, and when he suffers death, it is for his own gain. The Christian glories in the death of the pagan, because Christ is glorified; while the death of the Christian gives occasion for the King to show his liberality in the rewarding of his knight. In the one case the just shall rejoice when he sees justice done, and in the other man shall say, truly there is a reward for the just; truly it is God who judges the earth.

 I do not mean to say that the pagans are to be slaughtered when there is any other way to prevent them from harassing and persecuting the faithful, but only that it now seems better to destroy them than that the rod of sinners be lifted over the lot of the just, and the righteous perhaps put forth their hands unto iniquity.

In addition to the details in  Liber ad milites Templi : De laude novae militae, the Rule of the order addresses behaviors in detail to keep order in the close confines in collective life of the Brotherhood.

There is reference to meetings of the knights of the order in their commanderies in which only knights were to attend.  Given the amount of time necessary for training and planning for an active military force,  I suspect that these  had a military  and political orientation.  The training should have involved war gaming, staff coordination, and exercise in specific techniques.

Changing spear from spear point up to out for fighting over the shield wall

There remains the question of field exercises which are absolutely necessary for collective training, as well as drills for mounted and massed formations.  In addition to fighting mounted and dismounted as needed, the Temple was used as advisors like Special Forces to train and lead formations of otherwise less capable forces. 

Since the Temple fought in consistent fashion, a consistent doctrine should have been available for use in coordinating the effectiveness of the forces.  No documents have been surfaced to date that indicate what they said, but the content can be partly deduced here and there.  This doctrine would have been treated as classified. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Convert or Cut a Deal


Convert or Die is a Waste of a Good Axe.

Convert Or Die is a waste of a good axe.  Those who convert are unreliable, and the rest are worth more sold as slaves.  Those who must die are those whose death sets an example, one will do.  Better convert or Cut a Deal.  Machiavelli:

Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or

crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge. Machiavelli, The Prince


Machiavelli also warns that one must kill all of those in need, executed all at once by one of their own, whose body is displayed as an apology once done.  Chicago style.

The act of conversion (or surrender) must be credible and readily recognized by the capturing force.   In WW2, the Germans would surrender only with a duly signed certificate and delivered with specific places, times and manner of surrender. 

WW 2 Surrender Leaflets/ Safe Passes


In order to facilitate surrender or conversion of non-Muslim forces and places facing a Muslim force, only the Shahada need be pronounced:


These words are central to the faith that in various forms of calligraphy are found everywhere.   It is a commitment to the rules and regulations of Islam.    One sentence. 

This facilitated the imposition of what we call today “Stability Operations” which includes Civil Affairs and Military Governance.   Islam grew as either a religiously motivated army or a militarily motivated religion.  The two are inseparable.  As well as religion and the state. 


Conquests of the first Caliphates

This undoubtedly facilitated the rapid expansion of Islam under Mohammed, and his immediate successors from Arabia to Kabul to Spain.  In addition was the ability of the Commanders of Islamic forces to negotiate with those who might have resisted or remained as a hostile presence in the rear.  This allowed those “conquered” to maintain that part of their culture most commonly known in the West as family law, and the customs of the village. 

This is particularly noted by Khalid ibn-al Walid on his conquest of Damascus in 635 AD:

“In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful. This is what Khalid ibn al-Walid would Grant to the inhabitants of Damascus if he enters therein:


He promises to give them security for their lives, property, and churches. Their city shall not be demolished, neither shall any Muslim be quartered in their houses. Thereunto we give them the pact of Allah and the protection of his Prophet, the caliphs, and the believers.


So long as they pay the poll tax, nothing but good shall befall them.”11



This was particularly applied those whose religion is “of the book” of Abraham. Christians and Jews were able to rise to positions of wealth and power within the realm of Islam, particularly with reference to Arab Muslim polities (nations are a recent development).  When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1500, they either went to Protestant nations (Holland, England) or to Ottoman Turkey.  There they served as valuable intelligence assets. 

 The Napoleonic Wars marked the he reversal of these accommodations by extreme nationalism or by extreme religious oppression, a process that began to be expressed in the face of the growth of Western Imperialism in Africa and the Middle East.   That villages and communities of other faiths and customs that are now being destroyed lasted over a thousand years under a far more amendable rule.  If Islam was inherently intolerant, these would have disappeared centuries ago. 


Places where tolerance was officially observed in the Ottoman Empire

The Crusades and the Crusader states existed in a Muslim world under these rules of tolerance, give or take a massacre or two. 

Massacre, Pillage and Plunder.

The use of excessive violence as part of military or political execution comes under several reoccurring circumstances:

Richard I leading the counter attack at the Battle of Arsuf
A Rout of Retreating Forces.  The fled became the dead in most battles fought at close quarters. This included the not so ancient practice of bayonetting the wounded.  The key to success is to keep the enemy running unable to form a defense and urgently in need of getting away.  This is where the cavalry is let loose. 


The Turks break into Constantinople in 1451

The Sack of a City.  This occurs when the walls of the city or main defenses have been penetrated allowing the assault force full or rage and blood lust had their way in most messy a fashion.  The plunder taken was traditionally a part of the wage and benefits package in olden days.  Shown: The Fall of Constantinople 1451.



Execution of the Usual Suspects.  These are those on the other side for whom special enmity is bestowed plus those whose mere presence is a clear and present danger, less those who can be turned to advantage. 

After the Battle of Hattin, Saladin had all the Knights of the Hospital and the Temple executed, save for the Templar Grandmaster Girard de Rideford whose incompetence lead the Army into the valley of death.  Along with him was the King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan whose incompetence as King broke the Kingdom as a major player.  Saving the dud can do good works.


Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem surrenders to Saladin

Blackmail.  This is the threat of massacre, pillage and/or plunder to achieve a political or military objective.  Sometimes one has to make one’s point, give a head or two.


Massacre at Acre under Richard I's orders

Richard I executed the population of Acre in retaliation for what he thought was stalling on ransom by Saladin. 

Saladin established a reputation with the Crusaders as an upstanding and honorable man, right or wrong. This respect in terms of the rules of war, migrated back to Europe to found the basis of what later became Chivalry.

There was a specific punishment for Templar Knights who said the Sahada consisted of a year of the silent treatment and eating on the floor like the dogs.  Some other knights stayed on in Muslim forces to be heard of now and then.

The Crusader cities had commercial and political alliances with each other which alliances were often wrecked by outsiders full of piss and vinegar.  Tiberias and Ibelin of the Army of Jerusalem were on the verge on signing an alliance under the protection of Saladin.  This was wrecked by the Grandmaster, and the Templars up to the Horns of Hattin.

Since then, much has been made of the bloody passages in the Koran and other Muslim books as “proof” of inherent Islamic bloodiness. Likewise are found the same in the Old and New Testament, from which traditions the Koran was written.  Like the Ten Commandments, they are applied as much in the breach as the observation. 

Students and practitioners of the profession at arms must objectively assess the circumstances lest the subjective swallow them whole.  The Romans did at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 against Khalid and the die was cast.


Gordon S Fowkes, LTC USA RET, KCTJ