Episode 1 tell us how the egos of Maj. Gen. Charles V.F. Townshend, Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery and Gen. Douglas MacArthur led to disaster for their troops.
We have long saluted military genius and bravery. But the other side of the coin is military incompetence – a largely preventable, tragically expensive, yet totally absorbing aspect of human behaviour.
From the Crusades to Vietnam, history is littered with examples of stupidity, obduracy, brutality and sheer breath-taking incompetence. Lack of communication, technological failure and a misplaced sense of superiority have led to the deaths of thousands of ordinary soldiers, let down by their masters and betrayed by arrogance. Using a combination of history, human interest and archive footage underpinned by powerful story-telling, Great Military Blunders charts man’s folly and cruelty in a series of stunning debacles, spanning almost a thousand years of conflict.
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Produced by Darlow Smithson Productions.
Evagrius Ponticus (Greek: Εὐάγριος ὁ Ποντικός, “Evagrius of Pontus”), also called Evagrius the Solitary (345–399 AD), was a Christian monk and ascetic. One of the most influential theologians in the late fourth-century church, he was well known as a thinker, polished speaker, and gifted writer. He left a promising ecclesiastical career in Constantinople and traveled to Jerusalem, where in 383 he became a monk at the monastery of Rufinus and Melania the Elder. He then went to Egypt and spent the remaining years of his life in Nitria and Kellia, marked by years of asceticism and writing. He was a disciple of several influential contemporary church leaders, including Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Macarius of Egypt. He was a teacher of others, including John Cassian and Palladius.
There are five main sources of information on Evagrius’s life. Firstly, there exists a biographical account in chapter 38 of The Lausiac History of bishop Palladius of Helenopolis (c.420); Palladius was a friend and disciple of Evagrius, and spent about nine years sharing Evagrius’s life in the desert. Secondly, there is a chapter on Evagrius in the anonymous Enquiry about the monks of Egypt, which predates Palladius, and is a first-hand account of a voyage taken by seven monks from Palestine in the winter of 394-5 to the principal monastic sites in Egypt. The final three sources are briefer and with more distinct biases: Evagrius features in some of the Apophthegmata literature, as well as in the church histories of Socrates and Sozomen.:11f
Evagrius was born into a Christian family in the small town of Ibora, modern-day İverönü, Erbaa in the late Roman province of Helenopontus. He was educated in Neocaesarea, where he was ordained as a lector under Basil the Great. Around 380 he joined Gregory of Nazianzus in Constantinople, where Gregory had been installed as bishop, and was promoted to deacon. He stayed on in Constantinople after Gregory left in July 381, and eventually became an archdeacon. When Emperor Theodosius I convened the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, Evagrius was present, despite Gregory’s premature departure.
According to the biography written by Palladius, Constantinople offered many worldly attractions, and Evagrius’s vanity was aroused by the high praise of his peers. Eventually, he became infatuated with a married woman. Amid this temptation, he is said to have had a vision in which he was imprisoned by the soldiers of the governor at the request of the woman’s husband. This vision, and the warning of an attendant angel, made him flee from the capital and head for Jerusalem.
For a short time, he stayed with Melania the Elder and Rufinus of Aquileia in a monastery near Jerusalem, but even there he could not forsake his vainglory and pride. He apparently took special care of his dress, and spent much of his time sauntering through the streets of the cosmopolitan Holy City.:264 He fell gravely ill and only after he confessed his troubles to Melania, and accepted her instruction to become a monk was he restored to health.:264 After being made a monk at Jerusalem in 383, he joined a cenobitic community of monks in Nitria in Lower Egypt in around 385,:264 but after some years moved to Kellia. There he spent the last fourteen years of his life pursuing studies under Macarius of Alexandria and Macarius the Great (who had been a disciple of Anthony the Great, and lived at the monastic colony of Scetis, about 25 miles away).:264
Most Egyptian monks of that time were illiterate. Evagrius, a highly educated classical scholar, is believed to be one of the first people to begin recording and systematizing the erstwhile oral teachings of the monastic authorities known as the Desert Fathers. Eventually, he also became regarded as a Desert Father, and several of his apothegms appear in the ‘Vitae Patrum’ (a collection of sayings from early Christian monks).
Evagrius rigorously tried to avoid teaching beyond the spiritual maturity of his audiences. When addressing novices, he carefully stuck to concrete, practical issues (which he called praktike). For example, in Peri Logismon 16, he includes this disclaimer:
I cannot write about all the villainies of the demons; and I feel ashamed to speak about them at length and in detail, for fear of harming the more simple-minded among my readers.
His more advanced students enjoyed more theoretical, contemplative material (gnostike).
The most prominent feature of his research was a system of categorizing various forms of temptation. He developed a comprehensive list in AD 375 of eight evil thoughts (λογισμοὶ), or eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs. This list was intended to serve a diagnostic purpose: to help readers identify the process of temptation, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the remedies available for overcoming temptation.
Evagrius stated, “The first thought of all is that of love of self; after this, the eight”
The eight patterns of evil thought are gluttony, lust, greed, sorrow (despair and despondancy), wrath, pride, vainglory (boasting), and sloth. While he did not create the list from scratch, he did refine it. Some two centuries later in 590 AD, Pope Gregory I, “Pope Gregory The Great” would revise this list to form the more commonly known Seven Deadly Sins, where Pope Gregory the Great combined acedia (discouragement) with tristitia (sorrow), calling the combination the sin of sloth; vainglory with pride; and added envy to the list of “Seven Deadly Sins”.
In Evagrius’ time, the Greek word apatheia was used to refer to a state of being without passion. Evagrius wrote: “A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”:516
Evagrius taught that tears were the utmost sign of true repentance and that weeping, even for days at a time, opened one up to God.
Later reputation and influence
Accusations of heresy
Even in his own day, Evagrius’ views had been criticised. A controversy over how to conceptualise God that broke out in the Nitrian desert in 400 saw dispute in which one side was influenced by Origenist views. Although Evagrius was not mentioned in this dispute, in 415 Jerome’s Letter 133 accuses Evagrius of being a prominent Origenist, and critiques his teaching on apatheia.:19
The accusations with the most long-lasting influence, however, emerged in the mid-sixth century. Like the other Cappadocian fathers Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, Evagrius was an avid student of Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-250 AD), and he further developed certain esoteric speculations regarding the pre-existence of human souls, the Origenist account of apocatastasis, and certain teachings about the natures of God and Christ. Origen’s speculations on these matters were declared heretical by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 AD. Although Evagrius is not mentioned by name in the Council’s 15 anathematisms, in the eyes of most contemporaries, the 553 Council did indeed condemn the teachings of Evagrius, together with Origen and Didymus the Blind.:20
The accusations of heresy meant that many of his more speculative writings were lost in the original Greek. Since, however, by the sixth century, many of his writings had been translated into Syriac and Armenian – the traditions unaffected by the decisions of the 553 Council – these works survived in these translations (and some of these sixth-century Syriac manuscripts survive today). In addition, substantial fragments of a Sogdian version of Evagrius’ Antirrhetikos have been rediscovered as well.
Many of Evagrius’ more ascetic works survive in Greek, often in manuscripts of the tenth century and after from Mount Athos and other monastic centres, although often attributed to Nilus of Ancyra, or occasionally to Basil or Gregory of Nazianzus.:22 His exegetical scholia were incorporated into anthologies, sometimes with correct attribution, sometimes not (those on the Psalms were typically attributed to Origen).:271 Only in the twentieth century was this set of ascetic works properly attributed to Evagrius.
In the Latin world, Evagrius’ friend Rufinus is known to have translated several of the works into Latin in the early fifth century, and others were translated decades later by Gennadius of Marseilles. Although these were the very first translations of Evagrius’ works, they have been entirely lost; only later Latin versions of two collections of proverbs (the Sentences for Monks and Sentences for a Virgin) and the treatise On the Eight Spirits survive. The Sentences were popular in Benedictine circles, ironically often attributed to “Evagrius the bishop.” The latter text was always attributed to Nilus.:271f
Evagrius’s influence was arguably greater in its indirect forms. Within the Greek literature of Byzantine monasticism, Evagrius’ presence is obvious in both the content and the format of works by Diadochus of Photike, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, Symeon the New Theologian, and Gregory Palamas. The fullest flowering of Evagrius’ influence in the Syriac world was in the spiritual writings of Isaac of Nineveh, who relies heavily on Evagrius’ teaching on both the passions and prayer.:272 In the Latin world, Evagrius’ influence came in the way that John Cassian, one of his most faithful disciples, preserved and propagated the basic elements of Evagrius’ teaching on the stages of the monastic life, tripartite anthropology, and the eight thoughts (although Cassian never mentions Evagrius by name, since his reputation was already tainted). Through Cassian, Evagrius’ thought passed to Gregory the Great, and the Evagrian schema of eight generic thoughts afflicting the monks of Egypt was transformed into a list now famous as the Seven Deadly Sins.:272
Is there anyone who wants to hang with Donald Trump?
He’s not wanted.
Not at funerals, though the Bush family, to show class and respect for tradition, held their noses and made an exception.
Not in England, where they turned him into a big, hideous blimp.
Not by moderate Republicans, or at least the shrinking club with a tenuous claim to that label, who pushed him away during the midterms as they fought for their survival and clung to their last shreds of self-respect.
And not by a 36-year-old Republican operative who is by most accounts the apotheosis of vanity and ambition — and who just turned down one of the most powerful roles in any administration, a job that welds you to the president’s side and gives you nearly unrivaled access to his thoughts.
Nick Ayers didn’t see enough upside to the welding. He could do without those thoughts. He said no to becoming Trump’s next chief of staff, and this wasn’t just the latest twist in “As The White House Turns.”
It was, really, the whole story — of a president who burns quickly through whatever good will he has, a president who represents infinitely more peril than promise, a president toward whom a shockingly small and diminishing number of people in Washington feel any real affection, a president more tolerated than respected, though even the tolerance wanes.
.. He’s forever fixated on how wanted he is (“My crowds!” “My ratings!”), but what’s more striking is how unwanted he is. And that’s not merely a function of the crests and dips that every president encounters. It’s not really about popularity at all.
.. It’s about how he behaves — and the predictable harvest of all that nastiness. While other presidents sought to hone the art of persuasion, he revels in his talent for repulsion: how many people he attacks (he styles this as boldness); how many people he offends (he pretties this up as authenticity); how many people he sends into exile.
.. Careerists who would normally pine for top jobs with a president assess his temper, behold his tweets, recall the mortifications of Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, and run for the hills. Trump sits at the most coveted desk in the world, but almost no one wants to pull up a chair.
.. What happened with Ayers, who is finishing a stint as Mike Pence’s chief of staff, speaks pointedly to the president’s diminished state. Bear in mind that Trump had already started telling people that Ayers would succeed John Kelly as chief of staff, so Ayers’s decision was doubly humiliating. Bear in mind who Ayers is: not just any political climber but someone whose every breath is focused on his enhanced glory, a trait frequently mentioned by Republicans who have watched his rise (and who sense in him more than a bit of Trump).
They still groan and titter about the blast email that he sent out, unsolicited, after he signed on to manage Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. It crowed about all the riches in the private sector that he was passing over. It hinted that his services had been sought by Pawlenty’s competitors: Sorry, guys. It assumed a broad, edge-of-seat audience for the minutiae of his mulling and maneuvering. In fact there were news stories that mockedthe self-aggrandizement of his announcement.
.. At most other times, under most other presidents, someone like Ayers would jump at chief of staff, no matter the job’s infamous rigors. It catapulted such political heavyweights as Dick Cheney, James Baker, Leon Panetta and Rahm Emanuel to greater recognition and relevance.
.. So Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump counted on Ayers’s interest and connived to shove Kelly out — he’ll leave by year’s end — so that they could shimmy Ayers in. They counted wrong. Ever clueless and oh so useless, they didn’t adequately factor in Trump’s toxicity, and the president now looks every bit as isolated as he is.
.. “Trump was left at the altar,”
.. Administration officials like Steven Mnuchin and Mick Mulvaney practically put out news releases to make clear that Trump shouldn’t ask them to be chief of staff. He has no Plan B, just B-list options like Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general.
.. As leaders go, he has never been much of a magnet. He unequivocally romped in the Republican primaries, but since then? He got nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did, a gap so remarkable that he had to claim a conspiracy of illegal voting to console himself. When he first filled his cabinet, he hardly had his pick of the litter.
Many top Republicans wanted no part of him. Some who did enter the administration agonized beforehand: Were they helping the country or indulging someone who didn’t deserve it?
When Barbara Bush died in April, it was clear to Trump that he shouldn’t travel to Texas to pay his respects. When John McCain died in August, Trump was told to skip the funeral.
The heads of countries that share America’s purported values (pre-Trump, at least) reproach and recoil from him. Prominent corporate leaders rebuke him, despite his administration’s business-friendly policies.
.. By one analysis of the midterms, the overall vote count for Democratic candidates for the House was 8.6 percentage points higher than for Republican candidates.
His wife takes public shots at him. Old friends tattle to prosecutors; new friends don’t exist. Talk about a twist: He sought the presidency, as so many others surely did, because it’s the ultimate validation. But it has given him his bitterest taste yet of rejection.
Why had she stayed mute for so many days about the torment her father was inflicting on thousands of immigrant children? What will happen to her if Michael Cohen flips?
.. doomed never to return to her privileged perch as a Manhattan society darling?
.. “It’s really easy for someone whose sole job in the White House is women and children to issue a statement — even Melania did it,”
.. “It just shows how fake Ivanka is,” Fox continued. “She’s crafted this whole image of herself that’s not actually her. And the real her is cooler, slightly more interesting, funnier. She curses like a sailor. She partied a lot when she was younger. She flashed a hot dog vendor when she was in eighth grade. She chain-smoked. Which is so opposite of the image she put out there.
.. “What you’re seeing now is the unmasking. She can’t control the narrative anymore because she’s so inauthentic. It has really come back to bite her.”
.. as the echoes of sobbing children snatched from parents fleeing violence collided with images of a whining, pampered child-president bragging about his crowd size and his bank account, all while he callously used helpless kids as hostages to get his wall.
.. Which means the first lady is like her husband in one unfortunate respect: In times of national turmoil, she makes it about herself.
.. “She was infatuated with the Kennedys,” Fox said.
.. She tried to present her brand as luminous, caring and classy — a champion of women and children with a carefully curated image over the years on Instagram, in a blog and in books.
Amid the dark hailstorm of her father, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, she sold herself as the sunny morning — the one who would temper her father’s retrogressive and sometimes wretched moves.
.. Introducing him at the 2016 Republican convention, Ivanka assured the crowd that he had “empathy and generosity,” as well as “kindness and compassion.”
.. it seemed like fan fiction.
.. a former top Trump administration official recently told me, “Donald Trump is the meanest man I’ve ever met.”
.. After her panic when he left her mother for Marla Maples — Ivanka worried she wouldn’t be able to keep the Trump name, and called him constantly — she spent her life fashioning herself, “Vertigo”-style, into his ideal.
.. no matter how hard Ivanka tried, Donald Trump thought she could be even more ideal. When she was a model, Fox writes, her father “suggested to friends that breast implants might help her along.
.. Maryanne Trump, Donald’s sister, urging him to talk Donald out of letting her get plastic surgery that young.
.. When his friend confronted him about it, he denied that she was getting implants. At the end of the call, he asked, ‘Why not, though?’”
.. Ivanka succeeded in being a Mini-Me. By 16, she trademarked her name with the intention of using it for everything from bras to brow liner to scrub masks. “There is a distinct genetic quality to Ivanka’s preternatural ability to self-promote,”
.. Ivanka ran into split-screen trouble with her gauzy and glam mommy-of-the-year Instagram posts during the refugee ban, the migrant crisis and the Palestinians dying at the Israeli border during her visit to the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
.. Her father is the all-consuming maw, what Fox calls “an infinite pit of need — a time-sucking vampire who fed off those around him to sustain his own vanity.”
.. Ivanka backed up the president’s fake narrative that it was Congress’s fault. When Daddy finally ended the pitiless policy that he imposed, she congratulated him on Twitter for white knighting it
.. The Trump family, of course, was seeing the problem as optics, not as a barbaric flouting of American values.
.. Donald and Ivanka are consumed with protecting their own brands. America’s? Not so much.
I didn’t get his endorsement when I ran for governor — but the severely troubled man I met has only gotten worse
In 1994, I visited the home of Donald Trump. He was a Democrat then, of sorts, and I was the party’s nominee for governor of Connecticut. He’d taken an interest in our state owing to his keen desire to lodge a casino in Bridgeport, an idea I found economically and morally dubious. I had scant hope of enlisting him, but made the trip anyway, thinking that if I convinced him I might win, he’d be less apt to bankroll my opponent.
.. Trump soon appeared and we began to converse, but not really. In campaigns, we candidates do most of the talking; because we like to, and because people ask us lots of questions. Not this time. Not by a long shot.
Trump talked very rapidly and virtually nonstop for nearly an hour; not of my campaign or even of politics, but only of himself, and almost always in the third person. He’d given himself a nickname: “the Trumpster,” as in “everybody wants to know what the Trumpster’s gonna do,” a claim he made more than once.
He mostly told stories. Some were about his business deals; others about trips he’d taken or things he owned. All were unrelated to the alleged point of our meeting, and to one another. That he seldom even attempted segues made each tale seem more disconnected from reality than the last. It was funny at first, then pathetic, and finally deeply unsettling.
On the drive home, we all burst out laughing, then grew quiet. What the hell just happened? My first theory, that Trump was high on cocaine, didn’t feel quite right, but he was clearly emotionally impaired: in constant need of approbation; lacking impulse control, self-awareness or awareness of others. We’d heard tales of his monumental vanity, but were still shocked by the sad spectacle of him.
.. Over time, his mental health seemed to decline. He threw more and bigger public tantrums; lied more often and less artfully. The media, also in decline and knowing a ratings magnet when it saw one, turned a blind eye. Sensing impunity, Trump revived the racist ‘birther’ lie. In 2011, he told the “Today” show’s Meredith Vieira he had unearthed some dark secrets:
Vieira: You have people now down there searching, I mean in Hawaii?
Trump: Absolutely. And they cannot believe what they’re finding
As Trump recycled old lies, Vieira had a queasy look but no apparent knowledge of the facts. Of course, there weren’t any. Trump had no proof of Obama being born in Kenya. (Since there is none.) It’s highly doubtful he had any researchers in Hawaii. (It was only after Vieira asked him that he claimed he did.) Later, when Trump’s story crumbled, he followed a rule taught by his mentor, Roy Cohn, infamous architect of McCarthyism: Admit nothing. To Trump, a lie is worth a thousand pictures
In his total absence of dignity and decorum, his violence and his vulgarity, he was the emblem par excellence of the Trump White House. That reports of his wife filing for divorce surfaced during his brief apotheosis completed the picture. Fast-talking and fatuous, self-important and servile, he embodied the “commedia dell’arte” of Trump’s dysfunctional crew.
.. Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Trump, who recently told the BBC that, “The military is not a microcosm of civilian society. They are not there to reflect America. They are there to kill people and blow stuff up.”
.. The Scaramouch was just a stand-in for the president he professed to love. The real “braggart and poltroon” sits in the Oval Office.
.. What but some profound sense of inadequacy could explain the neediness and the nastiness, the pout and the pettiness, the vanity and the vulgarity, the anger and the aggression? This president gets off on the humiliation of others. He is inhabited by some deep violence to which self-control is a stranger. It is almost painful to watch the degree to which he pursues self-aggrandizement. He confounds masculinity with machismo. As J.K. Rowling put it in a tweet: “You tiny, tiny, tiny little man.”
.. The transgender decision .. was, in the words of Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, “an engine of malice.” It illustrated how, “In the realm of moral leadership, President Trump is leading a race to the bottom.”
.. The police department in Suffolk County also pushed back; it would not tolerate brutality.
.. But this is the president we have: turbulent, chaotic, boastful, cowardly and violent.