by Jim Harris
Generals are the celebrities
of war, with their trusty trademarks, pithy quotes and colorful
anecdotes, and as such, they deserve to be chronicled by serious
historians like me. I begin in ancient Rome, a city that loved
war so much, it made war blush.
The Romans loved to have a good
time. Orgies, carnivals and executions dotted their busy social
calendar. Since they were always at war with some ragtag enemy
or another, war was a popular topic for cocktail party chat. "Did
we spank the Celts or what?" "Hey, they'll be setting
a bunch of them on fire at the Colosseum tonight. Bacchus is emceeing.
Want to go?"
Their culture was all about being
strong and merciless. Their art was cold and unoriginal - mostly
busts of men with no eyeballs. They weren't very intellectual,
either. Their number system was limited, and used mainly to distinguish
one gory Colosseum show from another (e.g., "BLOOD BOWL XII
- We've got Celts!"). The Roman generals kept the Coliseum
supplied with a steady flow of hapless captured schmucks and terrified
animals brought back from conquered lands.
The most famous of these generals
was "Plarnuvius the Befuddler," so named because of
his imposing appearance and deviously deceptive battle strategies.
He stood fully four feet tall (in those days, the average height
was only three feet,) and wore live badgers as epaulets. In battle,
he wore his helmet backwards, which he found confused his opponents,
many of whom became so disoriented that they mistakenly attacked
themselves. As the victories began to accumulate, he took to wearing
a glove on his groin, and his shoes on the wrong feet. This caused
whole regiments of enemies to run off of cliffs in utter disarray
In the midst of battle, he would
shout, "Whoa! Hold on, I lost my wallet," and when his
stunned adversaries would stop for just a second, he would lop
off their heads as quick as you please. Plarnuvius was idolized
by the people of Rome because his win-at-any-cost philosophy typified
the Roman spirit.
In spite of his popularity with
the public, however, he was hated by his troops, who believed
that he worked them too hard. He would often send them on marches
of hundreds of miles to pick up his laundry, and during the long
layovers between battles, he refused to let them learn any of
the popular line dances of the day, stating that dancing was only
for women and "The followers of Sisyphus."
On his thirty-seventh birthday,
his men rolled out a huge cake for him, but when he cut it open,
a cadre of soldiers with spears jumped out, prompting him to utter
the now famous phrase, "Come on feet, don't fail me now,"
but before he could even work up to a good trot, he was full
of more holes than a wool suit at a moth convention.
Just to make sure he was dead,
the entire army then line-danced back and forth over him until
there was nothing left but a tuft of hair. In accordance with
Roman tradition, the tuft was buried with full military honors
on the site of the rest stop that would later bear his name on
the Apian Way.
Decadence, jealousy, and corruption
finally destroyed the Roman juggernaut from within. That, and
of course, the Vandals, who were, ironically, too dumb to fall
for the wallet trick. They swept through Rome like a bad case
of Montezuma's revenge, without leaving so much as a thank-you
card in their wake.
Since then, a number of empires
have come and gone, making America, I believe, Super Power XVII.
We like to believe that we are smarter than all of those who went
before us, and of course, we are. So are the Vandals.
The TV set is the new Colosseum,
war is still a commonplace occurrence, and young people who wish
to appear tough still wear their hats backwards in an unwitting
tribute to the greatest general of the golden age of Rome. Hail
Plarnuvius! Which way did he go?