Sunday, 11 March 2012

Book 1, Chapter 14: That Men Are Justly Punished For Being Obstinate In The Defence Of A Fort That Is Not In Reason To Be Defended

This essay, competing in length with an astonishingly long title, is about the foolishness of defending a fort that will clearly fall

'a man might look contemptuously at two guns, but only a madman would ignore 30 cannons'

Bravery has its virtues, but it also has its limits, and when those limits are crossed, one steps into ‘the territories of vice’. Having too much bravery, unless the holder of the bravery maintains the ideal limits (when one is near the limits, they are hard to discern), may easily cause one to run into stubbornness, foolishness, and arrogance. For this reason we have the custom of punishing men (even with death) who are stubborn enough, during wartime, to defend a place that is clearly unable to be held on to. If  this custom did not exist, every chicken-coop would try to resist invading armies.

- The Constable de Montmorenci, after laying siege to Pavia (in Italy), was crossing the river Ticino to go back to his quarters when he was stopped by a tower at the end of the bridge, whose inhabitants, insistent on defending themselves, picked a fight. The constable hanged every man he found within. I have several other examples of similar occurrences.

As much as the strengths and the weaknesses of a fortress are measured by the size and power of the forces that attack it (a man might look contemptuously at two guns, but only a madman would ignore 30 cannons), the greatness of the invading prince and the respect accorded to him are also put into the balance. There is a danger, in fact, that too much emphasis will be laid upon this secondary factor, and a man may think himself so high and powerful that he cannot imagine any place shutting its gates to him. He attacks everyone who opposes him, while his luck lasts. We see this clearly in the fierce and haughty calls-to-war made by the Oriental princes and their successors. And in that part of the world where the Portuguese defeated the Indians, they found that some states had the inviolable and universal law that anyone defeated in the presence of the king or his lieutenant would not be saved, by either ransom (prisoner exchange etc) or mercy. Therefore it was important, above all, to avoid falling into the hands of an enemy who was also a judge, and who was victorious, and armed.  

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