Don't know much about history--Oliver Stone edition

Belmont Club:

Victor Davis Hanson reviews Alexander the Great and finds it bears no resemblance to history.

The film goes on for nearly three hours, but we hear nothing of what either supporters or detractors of Alexander, both ancient and modern, have agreed were the central issues of his life. Did he really believe in a unity of mankind, and were his mass mixed marriages, Persian dress, and kowtowing cynical, sincere, or delusions of megalomania? We see nothing of the siege of Tyre, Gaza, much less Thebes or even the burning of Persepolis. Other than the talking head Ptolemy, none of his generals have much of a character. There is nothing really in detail about the page purging other than a single reference; Stone, I would have thought, could have had a field day with Alexander’s introduction of both crucifixion and decimation. ...

So since Stone omitted the controversial and key issues of Alexander’s career, what do we get instead for at least over two thirds of the movie? Mostly sit-com drama, with gay and bi- subplots, in various bedrooms and banquet halls. Olympias was something out of a teen-aged vampire movie, not the sophisticated and conniving royal we read about in the sources. It is the old Dallas or Falcon Crest glossy pulp in Macedonian drag.

A sense of the wealth of information that is omitted -- and which VDH knows is omitted -- can be glimpsed from the incident of mass mixed marriages. Some management theorists, going a little deeper than Oliver Stone, have regarded the incident as the first recorded instance of a merger in history. Others have characterized it as the first stumbling steps towards modern multiculturalism.


Of course, not every shotgun wedding ends happily. Some historians have argued the experiment was a failure. "The result was mass desertion and mutiny, one of many that occurred during his campaign." The siege of Tyre, which the erudite VDH refers to in a single phrase, was an instance in which an army defeated a maritime power, always an interesting situation. It was based on the appreciation that the Persian navy was operationally constrained by the need to obtain chandlering supplies at Tyre. Therefore he reduced Tyre, thereby defeating the Persian navy via a land campaign. Of Gaugamela I will say nothing, other than remark Alexander's oblique advance to the Persian left created a dynamic battlefield which destroyed Darius' set-piece. The outnumbered Alexander may not have known precisely where a gap in Darius' line would open except that he knew it would -- and bet his life on it.


Hollywood may have calculated that none of this was important; that the sole point of interest of a population weaned on the tabloids was the earth-shaking question of whether or not Alexander was gay. Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman convincingly argues the poverty of the question. In her monograph, Reames-Zimmerman argues that the concept of gayness, as it is presently understood, did not exist in the ancient world. From her discussion it is possible to say that Alexander might have been gay in the sense that convicts in a penitentiary are gay -- an exercise in power by one man over another -- and if that analogy is inexact so is any other....

Actually Alexander's greatest contribution to warfare was his use of combined arms, i.e. heavy and light infantry combined with heavy and light calvary can overwhelm a numerically superior foe. It was a lesson learned by all the "great captains" as Napolean called them. Hannibal used combined arms attacks to defeat the Romans until a Roman General, Sciopio Afracanus, learned to apply the same principals. Starting with the American Civil War, the machinery of warfare made combined arms warfare impossible until new machinery was introduced toward the end of World War I. World War II saw the reintroduction of combined arms warfare where the tanks became the equivalent of heavy calvary and airplanes became the equivalent of light calvary. The two working together with infantry broke through static defenses that could not implement a combined arms response. It is doubtful that Oliver Stone would have a clue about the real importance of Alexander.


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