Machiavelli: The Art of War in 2008 by Steve Amoia and Andrew T. Durham
As the political debate turns to the issue of America at war in a foreign land, one concept needs to be addressed. Why does our President head the Armed Forces, and should military experience be a criterion for our highest elected office? The President is not the final voice on economic policy, and for this reason, we have a Federal Reserve Board Chairman. Why is the President, regardless of military experience, or lack thereof, given the added responsibility to manage our military forces?
Perhaps the answer lies in our history. The first American President, George Washington, was a General during the American Revolution. Perhaps the Founding Fathers assumed that military leadership was necessary to lead a new country. But let's turn to the present day. How many of our elected leaders have significant military experience, and why don't more of the electorate, along with the mainstream media, analyze this facet in more detail? If you never had broadcast journalism experience, would you be named a network news anchor?
)Let’s talk about the nature of the office of President of the United States itself. And take a look at a Renaissance thinker who thought long and hard about war, along with the qualities inherent of military leadership.
A Historical Voice from Renaissance Florence
Niccolò Machiavelli was born on 03 May 1469 in the city-state of Florence, in what is now present day Italy. If we examine the scope and detail of his future writings, he most likely studied Latin, military history, and classical literature during his scholastic years. He was a very educated and learned man.
Not much is known about his youth; however, he lived during a time of significant political and social upheaval. Until they were expelled in 1474, the Medici family ruled the city-state of Florence with an iron hand. He was not a prince or nobility. He analyzed strategies of gaining power, but did not have positions of great influence. He observed with a keen understanding of human nature, along with the unique period of time (Renaissance Florence) when he lived.
When Florence returned to a Republic in 1474, Signor Machiavelli was employed in his first government position as a clerk. His intellect was recognized early, and he was appointed to a special council for diplomatic and military affairs. Both would become keen interests for the rest of his life. Beginning in 1499, and for many years to follow, he was sent as a diplomat to Spain, France, and the Vatican. He would confer with King Ferdinand of Aragon, King Louis XII, and Pope Julius II (who in those days was also a military commander). During these travels, he held the official titles of Secretary of the Second Chancery, along with Secretary to the Ten of Liberty and Peace. For students of American politics, parallels with the name of “Secretary” may be seen in members of the President’s Cabinet.
From 1503 to 1506, Signor Machiavelli was the head of the Florentine militia whose task was to guard the city. He would later write about this period in his I Discorsi (The Discourses), along with his strong feelings against mercenaries. Due to his foreign travels, along with his exposure to the inner workings of the Florentine Republic, he was able to observe important people and events.
Machiavelli on the Art of War
In Chapter XIV of his seminal work, "The Prince, entitled, “That Which Concerns A Prince On The Subject Of The Art Of War,” Machiavelli describes a few key characteristics that a Prince (in this case our Commander-in-Chief) should understand about The Art of War. Which was also the title of the only military treatise published during his lifetime.
“Debbe dunque uno principe non avere altro obietto né altro pensiero né prendere cosa alcuna per sua arte, fuora della guerra e ordini e disciplina di essa: perché quella è sola arte che si aspetta a chi comanda, ed è di tanta virtù che non solamente mantiene quelli che sono nati principi, ma molte volte fa gli uomini di privata fortuna salire a quello grado.”
“A Prince should not have another objective or thought or take something else for his Art (profession), outside of war and its rules and discipline: Because that is the only art that awaits those who command, and it is of such virtue not only for those born Princes, but many times it brings fortune to private men to rise up to that level.”
“A quanto allo esercizio della mente, debbe el principe leggere le istorie e in quelle considerare le azioni delli uomini eccellenti, vedere come si sono governati nelle guerre, esaminare le cagioni delle vittorie e perdite loro, per potere queste fuggire e quelle imitare; e soprattutto fare come ha fatto per lo addreto qualche uomo eccellente che ha preso a imitare se alcuno, innanzi a lui, è stato laudato e gloriato, e di quello ha tenuto sempre e’ gesti e azioni appresso di sé.”
“So as to exercise the mind, the Prince ought to read the histories and in those, consider the actions of the excellent (notable) men, to see how they managed the wars, to examine the reasons for their victories and defeats, to be able to know what to avoid and what to copy. And above all to do as the notable man has done. To imitate someone, before his time, who was lauded and glorified, and whose actions and deeds were always held close to him.”
Source: "Il Principe" (The Prince), Biblioteca Italiana, Universita degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza." Translated by Steve Amoia.
One question has not been asked of our candidates for the Presidency is, "Have you ever read "The Prince," or "The Art of War," by Machiavelli? The latter is a lesser known but equally impressive book by Machiavelli.
“Il fine di chi vuole fare guerra è potere combattere con ogni nimico alla campagna e potere vincere una giornata. A volere far questo, conviene ordinare uno esercito. A ordinare lo esercito, bisogna trovare gli uomini, armargli, ordinargli, e ne’ piccoli e ne’ grossi ordini esercitargli, alloggiargli, e al nimico di poi, o stando o camminando, rappresentargli. In queste cose consiste tutta la industria della guerra campale, che è la più necessaria e la più onorata."
“The goal of who wants to wage war is to be able to defeat every enemy in the field, and the ability to win a battle. In order to do this, you have to be able to organize/raise an army. To raise an army, you need to find men, arm them, organize and drill them, teach them the small and large things, find lodging for them, and then with the enemy, how to fight either holding ground or marching. In these things consists of all the industry of a field campaign, which is the most necessary and honored."
Source: "L'Arte della Guerra" (The Art of War), Biblioteca Italiana, Universita degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza." Translated by Steve Amoia.
The Example of the House of Windsor
All of these principles seem to be lost in this milestone time in which we live. Strategic thinking, by its very nature, comes from experience derived from numerous failures and equally numerous victories. It appears that, on the world stage, the only potential national leaders that recognize any of these principles are England’s Princes William and Harry; two young men who crave the opportunity to serve their country in a time of war.
The Cry for Leadership
In the United States, we seem only to have lawyers who ascend to the Oval Office. The only exceptions in recent history: the first MBA President, George W. Bush; President Reagan also had no legal experience, and President Carter graduated from the Naval Academy.
What is clear is that a nation – indeed, an era – that is heading directly into a propeller cries out for leadership. Wisdom is born out of experience, not education. Having met many soldiers either going to or coming from Iraq, I have always been compelled to thank them profusely for their service. For the job of soldier is not an occupation I believe I could perform. It takes well-rounded training on many levels and rules of engagement that do not make said training useless. So should it be with the most powerful office on Earth.
Steve Amoia has published articles, book reviews, and interviews about alternative health, art history, career-related themes, historical figures, Italian and international soccer, martial arts, psychology, and sports medicine topics. His writing portfolio and contact information can be found at www.sanstefano.com
Andrew T.Durham is a graduate of State University at Albany, with a degree in Psychology/Philosophy. In the late 80's to mid 90's he was instrumental in creating ground-breaking outreach/prevention programs, as well as being a highly successful public speaker. A former acupuncturist and clinician (primarily to inner city adolescents), he has also been a consultant to the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health and several non-profit organizations. He is an accomplished musician - proficient in 7 instruments - ,actor and author of 10 plays, 5 of which have been produced. He is currently a consultant for small non-profit agencies and lives in Rochester, NY