Montgomery, AL - It is often stated in academia that the winners write the history. Perhaps that is true. The history of the world is something we see from the standpoint not of the Egyptians in Exodus, but of the Jews. Not of the barbarians from the north, but from the Romans. Not from the Trojans, but from the ones who built the great horse, the Spartans.
But while all that is true, and while it is true that after you lose a war you suddenly become the most evil people in history while those who beat you are the righteous ones; and who were wrongly attacked, it is also true that we all love a good loser, especially if that good loser is a general.
A look at the great pantheon of generals throughout history shows that many of the greatly loved were, in the end, losers. For instance Hannibal, leader of the Carthaginians against the Romans in the Punic wars, (I like him so much I named my dog after him), but for all the adoration he has received from historians throughout the years, he committed suicide, his nation gone, before the Romans could capture him.
Rommel, the German tank commander, so lauded by the likes of strategist Basil Liddell Hart, but who also committed suicide as the “Thousand Year Reich” of Adolf Hitler crashed around him.
We could come to our own generals. In the Civil War there is little argument about who the greatest generals were. Most would without question give that title to Robert E. Lee, or at least let him share that title with Jackson. Yet of the two, one died in a losing cause, and the other would surrender his army, essentially ending the war.
In the siege of Constantinople, when the city finally fell, the now almost completely forgotten general Giovanni Giustiniani was without question one of the best in history, despite the fact that few have ever heard of him. His daring and cunning allowed him to hold off the massive armies of the invaders for a shocking 55 days, until finally a door being left unlocked allowed the Muslim invaders into the city. But again, the man, Giovanni Giustiniani, who was by far the better general, was on the losing side.
I don’t know why it is so, that almost all of the great generals are on losing sides. Of course there were some winners who were great, like Julius Caesar, yet he is most known for the tragic elements surrounding his assassination. So he’s loved, but a bit of a loser, since he did die that day in the senate.
Perhaps the reason that great leaders are given by God to the losers is that they are men born out of desperation, who find themselves up against impossible odds, and know they have to be near perfect to win. Or perhaps they are not the best, but we just ignore the great generals on a winning side because once you win, your victory takes on an aura of inevitability that it never had while the fight was actually taking place. And so your talents are lost on us.
Whatever the reason, it still seems that the losers have all the great generals. Just ask Napoleon.
Andrew C. Abbott