There's a new film out, called 300, about the Battle of Thermopylae, in 480 B.C. In this battle King Leonidas of Sparta and his greatly outnumbered force of 10,000 or so (300 Spartans, plus 700 or so Thespians and from 5000-9000 other Greeks) -- held the pass there against King Xerxes I and his Persian army of almost 200,000.
Some estimates gave Xerxes almost a million, some two million, but this is ludicrous, even with fleets in close support, he couldn't have fed this many.
Now this stand by the Greeks was very brave, and the courage of King Leonidas and his army should not in any way be questioned, but the military sense of the Spartan King is another matter. Mountains or hills are no shield for an outnumbered force that cannot or will not maneuver. Anywhere shepherds or goats can go will have paths.
King Leonidas should have, and possibly did -- expect to be flanked on his left through the hills -- as the Gauls did to a Greek army here in 297 B.C., and the Romans under Manius Acilius Glabrio would do to a Seleucid army in this same position much later, in 191 B.C.; and, finally, as the German Army's 6th Mountain Division and 5th Panzer Division did to a British force here on the night of 24-25 April 1941. In any case, as is well known, King Xerxes's troops found paths around the Greek flank, and put paid to King Leonidas and at least a part of his army. The stand here did not slow up the Persian advance into Greece to any degree that mattered. King Xerxes and his army and navy went on to lose the Battle of Salamis, but it's debatable whether this had anything to do with the much ballyhooed stand at Thermopylae.
Truth in blogging -- I've always found the ancient Romans much more interesting than the ancient Greeks -- possibly I'm prejudiced. I wasn't planning to see 300.
However, my plans have changed -- I'm going to go watch 300, and I recommend that all of you do too. Wretchard over at Belmont Club called my attention to Dana Stevens's review in Slate, trashing 300.
If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war. . . .. . .The comic fanboys who make up 300's primary audience demographic aren't likely to get hung up on the movie's historical content, much less any parallels with present-day politics. But what's maddening about 300 (besides the paralyzing monotony of watching chiseled white guys make shish kebabs from swarthy Persians for 116 indistinguishable minutes) is that no one involved—not Miller, not Snyder, not one of the army of screenwriters, art directors, and tech wizards who mounted this empty, gorgeous spectacle—seems to have noticed that we're in the middle of an actual war. With actual Persians (or at least denizens of that vast swath of land once occupied by the Persian [E]mpire). . . .One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity.
Cool. Anything that gets the Politically Correct types all worried about shish-kebabing Persians (as if there were anything wrong with that), that makes "no nods to antiwar sentiment" and has "righteous bellicosity" absolutely has to be worth seeing. Since, as Ms. Stevens points out: ". . .we're in the middle [actually on the verge of] of an actual war. . .[w]ith actual Persians," a movie with some skish-kebabing of same sounds like just the ticket.
300 would no doubt be more acceptable to the Right Thinking crowd if Leonidas' army ran away singing "Give Peace a Chance," just let the Persians march on by and repaired to a sit-in demonstration trashing Eurocentric Western-Civ imperialism and militarism instead. Anyway, I'm planning to see 300.