Saturday, 3 March 2012

Book 1, Chapter 6: That The Hour Of Parley Dangerous

Montaigne continues to wonder about what happens when the enemy offers to negotiate, and whether one can use all means necessary to win a fight. 

Not far from where I live, people were driven out. They complained of treachery because during a ‘treaty of accommodation’ (a truce-signing) they were attacked by surprise. In another age, this would have been considered foul play, but these days, warfare is changing, and we cannot have any faith in the enemy’s proposal of a truce until the treaty is signed and sealed. And even then, one can’t be completely certain. How can we trust that a man will keep his promise when we surrender? That the soldiers ‘in the heat of blood’, when given permission to enter, will not take advantage?

- A Roman general attempted and failed to capture the city of Phocaea. He was impressed by the bravery of the defending army and declared then that he would visit them as friends. He gave assurance that there would be no hostility, and brought his army with him for the visit, in a ceremonial gesture. Once within, however, he was unable to restrain his army. Out of greed and revenge they ‘trampled both his authority and all military discipline’ and ruined a big part of the city.

- Cleomenes, another emperor, believed that men could behave however they liked during war. On the third night of a seven-day truce that he had signed with the city of Argos, he attacked while all were asleep. He alleged that there had been no mention of night-time in the agreement. But the gods punished him.

Such treachery occurs again and again in time of war, so it seems that Cicero’s advice just does not apply in such times: ‘No one should prey upon another’s folly’. No, instead, perhaps they follow Ariosto, who says, ‘Victory is ever worthy of praise, whether obtained by valour or wisdom’.

The philosopher Chrysippus held a different view, a view with which I agree. He said that those who run a race should employ all the force they have in what they do, so they should run as fast as they can, but ‘it is by no means fair in them to lay any hand upon their adversary to stop him, nor to set a leg before him to throw him down.’

Yet more generous is the response Alexander gave when he was being persuaded to take advantage of the night’s darkness to attack. He said, ‘it is not for such a man as I am to steal a victory.’

I end with this quote by Quint. Curt: ‘I had rather complain of ill fortune than be ashamed of victory’

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