CHAPTER 8: BE STRONG BUT FLEXIBLE, BEND INSTEAD OF BREAKING
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists… it is real… it is possible… it’s yours.”
What does it mean to be a man? Specifically, to turn from a boy who lives with his mother, in the world of women, the world of the feminine of fun, of games, of play, and then transition into the masculine world with the men, responsibility, and work?
The Spartans—some of the strongest, most revered male warriors throughout history, popularized in hit movies like 300—were renowned as the best warriors throughout time even by modern-day special forces because of their unbelievable masculine training programs.
At the young age of 7, a boy was taken from his mother and forced into the agoge, a state-sponsored training regimen designed to mold boys into skilled warriors and moral citizens.
The men would beat him and leave him naked with nothing but a crimson cloak to cover his naked flesh. They would teach the boy about living behind enemy lines. He would have to sleep on the ground—a simulation for living behind enemy lines—survive in the wilderness, and steal food from his own people to survive. If he was caught stealing, the shopkeeper or his victim was encouraged to beat him mercilessly. Such was the brutal warrior culture of the Spartans. The Spartans were strong men and we still celebrate them today.
We romanticize this male strength in movies like 300 that depict the famous battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans, King Leonidas’ personal bodyguards, fought to their deaths in a narrow pass of terrain and supposedly killed an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Persians. Ancient sources claim there were up to one million Persians, but what we know for sure is that there were many more Persians than Spartans. All 300 Spartans were slain in battle, which immortalized them in history for having a “death before dishonor” ethos. The Persian emperor Xerxes was stalled enough at the battle of Thermopylae to delay his Greek invasion. As a result, Sparta was able to mobilize a real army to fight off the Persians to defend their homeland.
The Greeks had strong man stories of real strength. Marathons today are named after the battle of Marathon, where one man, Pheidippides, ran to Athens with the news of the great victory his people had over the Persians at Marathon.
The distance he ran was about 26 miles, and he died after the run.
This is depicted in the 2014 film entitled 300: Rise of an Empire.
These amazing stories and amazing strength show the duty and importance of a man’s brutal and violent work in history and reinforce the fact that men have historically lived short, brutal lives as expendable genetic fodder for the wars of history while women have lived long, brutal lives as slaves, captured women, and sexual conquests if their men were killed in battle. We humans have a long history of brutal violence, mutilation, and enslavement of others. In the last century, we have toned such violence down in the Western world, but the violence and slavery still exists around the world today.
Hard times create strong men, and in the violent pages of history are recorded stories that were hard for both men and women. The Spartan queen in the movie 300 mentions what it takes to be a “real man” several times in the movie. She is tough as nails, killing the men who betray her husband with nothing but a short dagger and her bare hands.
The Spartan women were much tougher than the snowflake men of today. But life was so much harder in the warrior culture of Sparta.
I will not romanticize the Spartan culture. They were excellent warriors but also rigid in their thinking, to the point of Sparta’s demise. They would fight to the death and never retreat. This led to a small city state of Sparta that could not really expand territory or influence but rather only hold ground and contract over time.
Sparta was hard to invade, but it could not become the mighty Roman Empire of the future because of the Spartans’ rigid thinking. Sometimes strength comes from the ability to bend without breaking, but being able to flex is much stronger than being brittle and snapping under pressure.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to .”
Attributed to various sources, derived from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
The hardness of the rigid warrior philosophy also led to the demise of Sparta because their “never surrender” and “fight to the death mentality” was too one-dimensional. and they started losing wars. The great warriors of Sparta eventually became irrelevant to modern warfare and history.
Is Sparta a military power today? No.
“A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.”—General George S. Patton
What is a better mentality than rigidly fighting to the death is to be more like the legendary Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, a professional German infantryman in WWI and later a field marshal in WWII who was admired by the Allies and the Axis soldiers alike.
He was one of the most brilliant military minds in history, and both his allies and enemies knew it during his time.
Rommel was a German but not a Nazi. He was also extremely flexible in his battle plans and tactics. Hitler would want his supermen, the Waffen-SS, and his other military divisions to relentlessly fight to the death like the suicidal Japanese soldiers. Rommel would ignore those orders in favor of saving the army so they could fight again another day. A master of surprise attacks and prompt retreats, Rommel pierced through his enemies’ lines by surprise, causing confusion, and then promptly retreated, drawing his enemies into kill zones of flak 88mm antiaircraft cannons that were meant to shoot down planes, but were just as good at piercing the armor of enemy tanks.
Rommel was resourceful and used whatever weapons he could find to use in unconventional ways that the enemy was never expecting. The flak 88 cannons were designed to shoot fighter planes out of the sky and thus had tinted lenses, perfect for aiming into the sun or at the hot reflective sand in the desert, and shells that pierced enemy tanks perfectly.
If an 88mm shell missed a tank, it would skip and bounce across the desert sand and mutilate forces that lay in the shell’s wake. These weapons were so effective after Rommel prototyped them in the North African theatre that flak 88 cannons became standard issue on the legendary German Panzer VI, the Tiger Tank, the most feared tank of the war by the Allies.
Not a single Tiger Tank had its 10cm of front armor pierced from the front in the entire war. The Germans lost most Tiger tanks to running out of fuel and abandoned more tiger tanks than they lost in battle. The tiger tank had a horrible fuel economy, approximately 2.75 gallons per mile.
Rommel would push into enemy lines with surprise and deception. He even would make fake tanks of wood when Hitler would fail to send him enough material to fight the war. At one point in North Africa, Rommel had almost no tanks, and a collection of Volkswagen cars instead.
To intimidate his enemies, Rommel fashioned fake tank chassis out of wood and paraded his fake tanks in the distance of British camps and strongholds.
The British would see an overwhelming number of tanks in the distance kicking up huge clouds of sand and dust, which would terrify them into surrendering without a shot.
In the Art of War, the perfect warrior wins the fight without violence. Rommel embodies the skill of the perfect warrior.
In battle and in life, it’s much better to be resourceful, and flexible in your thinking than to be rigid and one dimensional.
Be like Rommel instead of the Spartans. Both are manly, both do their jobs, but to be strong is also to have the ability to bend and change as the dynamics change.
Both Hitler’s forces and the Spartans were losers of history for being too rigid in their thinking and fighting to the death. Both groups of warriors were incredibly strong and were the best of their time. Both succumbed to rigid thinking with not enough resourcefulness and flexibility.
If Rommel were in charge of German forces in WWII instead of Adolf Hitler, who believed his own insane ideas and was borderline delusional, America and the rest of the world would be speaking German instead of English today.