Thursday, July 21, 2011

Obama at Alesia

First, A Little WIKI History

In 52 BC Julius Caesar was the governor of around a third of Gaul, generally the region north of Italy which is currently part of France, Switzerland and Germany.  The Gauls revolted, killing most of the Romans living in Gallic towns and cities.  Caesar's legions made a surprise advance over the mountains in the winter to begin the process of successfully subduing the revolt.

Excerpts from the WIKI article:
Read the whole article here.

Caesar was then camped for the winter in Cisalpine Gaul, unaware of the alliance made against him. The first sign of trouble came from the Carnutes who killed all Roman settlers in the city of Cenabum (modern Orléans). This outbreak of violence was followed by the slaughtering of all Roman citizens, merchants and settlers in the major Gallic cities. On hearing these news, Caesar rallied his army in haste and crossed the Alps, still buried in snow, into central Gaul. This was accomplished in record time and Caesar was able to surprise the Gallic tribes. He split his forces, sending four legions with Titus Labienus to fight the Senones and the Parisii in the North while Caesar himself set out in pursuit of Vercingetorix with five legions and his allied Germanic cavalry. The two armies met at the hill fort of Gergovia, where Vercingetorix held a strong defensive position. Caesar was forced to retreat to avoid utter defeat, after suffering heavy losses. In the summer of 52 BC, several engagements were fought between cavalries, with Caesar succeeding in scattering the Gallic army. Vercingetorix decided that the timing was not right to engage in a major pitched battle and regrouped in the Mandubii fort of Alesia.

Alesia was a hill-top fort surrounded by river valleys, with strong defensive features. As a frontal assault would have been hopeless, Caesar decided upon a siege, hoping to force surrender by starvation. Considering that about 80,000 men were garrisoned in Alesia, together with the local civilian population, this would not have taken long. To guarantee a perfect blockade, Caesar ordered the construction of an encircling set of fortifications, called a circumvallation, around Alesia. The details of this engineering work are known from Caesar's Commentaries. About 18 kilometres of 4 metre high fortifications were constructed in about three weeks. This line was followed inwards by two four-and-a-half metre wide ditches, also four-and-a-half metres deep. The one nearest to the fortification was filled with water from the surrounding rivers.These fortifications were supplemented with mantraps and deep holes in front of the ditches, and regularly spaced watch towers equipped with Roman artillery.

Vercingetorix's cavalry often raided the construction works attempting to prevent full enclosure. The Roman auxiliary cavalry proved its value and kept the raiders at bay. After about two weeks of work, a detachment of Gallic cavalry managed to escape through an unfinished section. Anticipating that a relief force would now be sent, Caesar ordered the construction of a second line of fortifications, the contravallation, facing outward and encircling his army between it and the first set of walls. The second line was identical to the first in design and extended for 21 kilometres, including four cavalry camps. This set of fortifications would protect the Roman army when the relief Gallic forces arrived: they were now besiegers and preparing to be besieged.

The Fortifications built by Caesar in Alesia according to the hypothesis of the location in Alise-sainte-Reine
Inset: cross shows location of Alesia in Gaul (modern France). The circle shows the weakness in the north-western section of the contravallation line

At the end of September the Gauls, commanded by Commius, attacked Caesar's contravallation wall. Vercingetorix ordered a simultaneous attack from the inside. None of the attempts were successful and by sunset the fighting had ended. On the next day, the Gallic attack was under the cover of night. This time they met more success and Caesar was forced to abandon some sections of his fortification lines. Only the swift response of the cavalry commanded by Antony and Gaius Trebonius saved the situation. The inner wall was also attacked, but the presence of trenches, which Vercingetorix's men had to fill, delayed them enough to prevent surprise. By this time, the condition of the Roman army was also poor. Themselves besieged, food had started to be rationed and the men were near physical exhaustion.

On the next day, October 2, Vercassivellaunus, a cousin of Vercingetorix, launched a massive attack with 60,000 men, focusing on a weakness in the Roman fortifications (the circle in the figure) which Caesar had tried to hide, but had been discovered by the Gauls. The area in question was a zone with natural obstructions where a continuous wall could not be constructed. The attack was made in combination with Vercingetorix's forces who pressed from every angle of the inner fortification. Caesar trusted the discipline and courage of his men and sent out orders to simply hold the lines. He personally rode throughout the perimeter cheering his legionaries. Labienus' cavalry was sent to support the defense of the area where the fortification breach was located. With pressure increasing, Caesar was forced to counter-attack the inner offensive and managed to push back Vercingetorix's men. By this time the section held by Labienus was on the verge of collapse. Caesar decided on a desperate measure and took 13 cavalry cohorts (about 6,000 men) to attack the relief army of 60,000 from the rear. This action surprised both attackers and defenders. Seeing their leader undergoing such risk, Labienus' men redoubled their efforts and the Gauls soon panicked and tried to retreat. As in other examples of ancient warfare, the disarrayed retreating army was easy prey for the disciplined Roman pursuit. The retreating Gauls were slaughtered, and Caesar in his Commentaries remarks that only the pure exhaustion of his men saved the Gauls from complete annihilation.

In Alesia, Vercingetorix witnessed the defeat of his relief force. Facing both starvation and low morale, he was forced to surrender without a final fight. On the next day, the Gallic leader presented his arms to Julius Caesar, putting an end to the siege of Alesia.

The Similarities to the 2011 Washington Siege

The fall of Alesia became the mark of Caesar's confidence, competence and character.  After this military victory, there was much more to the story of Julius Caesar, but Alesia galvanized his image in the hearts and minds of contemporary Romans.

The idea that a Roman army, outnumbered by a ratio of four to one and "trapped" between the army of Vercingetorix inside the walls of Alesia and the Gallic relief army encircling the Roman position, could carry the day and achieve a significant victory has a very definite correlation to modern events in this Republic's history.  Gaul was a Roman Province for centuries after Alesia.

Let's consider a more modern version of the Wiki battle map presented above.

The 2nd Battle of Alesia, 2011 AD
As we review the map of the 2nd Battle of Alesia, we see Senate Republicans led by Mitch McChinless under siege in the US Senate.  Democrats in the Senate have, probably as much as can be expected, isolated the reactionary core under a tenuous majority, although the Senate GOPCons remain remarkably powerful thanks to their constant threat of filibuster.

However, a poorly planned "relief column" has surrounded the Democrats with what is left of the lagging tea baggers, "trapping" them -- just as Vercingetorix's Gauls "trapped" Caesar at Alesia -- hoping to "starve" them into submission with the threat of the approaching debt ceiling deadline. 

The similarities continue.

Although Senator McChinless, our modern Vercingetorix, has proposed a sort of gaseous surrender from within his besieged Senate, the hordes of the oligarch/FOX army surrounding the Democrats on the "outside" remain quite anxious for a further assault.  Inside our modern Alesia, that is, inside the Senate, the siege of the Senate GOPCons has left them hungry enough to become a bit more "negotiable," but the tea bag army now scattered along Obama's outside flank still hopes to penetrate the siege lines and "liberate" the beleaguered Senate GOPCons in their hour of need.

At the last minute, just as Caesar led his cavalry to attack the rear of the Gallic army assaulting his defensive line, democratic forces have staged a stunning rear guard attack directly on the oligarchs who have financed the tea bag relief column from a distance.  The fascist FOX Empire, one of the primary sponsors of the relief army's modern counter attack, has been mortally wounded, that is, "hoisted on his own petard."

In both Alesia and in Caesar's siege line, the "ticking clock" was a growing starvation.  In the modern version, the "ticking clock" is the approaching debt ceiling.  A central element in the tactical plans of both Vercingetorix and Caesar dealt with how long the stand off could continue before their respective armies could no longer function.

In the end, of course, Caesar pulled this potential disaster out of the mud thanks to his superior leadership and the courage and discipline of his troops.  We can woefully lament that this may, unhappily, mark a departure from the similarities between Caesar at Alesia and Obama in his more modern dilemma, but not too much of one.

However, our comparison of the remarkable military events in 52 BC to what is unfolding in Washington, at FOX News, in the British Parliament and in the vast, well polled hearts and minds of the American electorate -- excluding the mangled thoughts and feelings of the hill billies and bigots, of course -- paints at least the outline of a picture which should set a quiver in the intestines of the GOPCons.

The Gauls thought they had this thing "in the bag" when they began their headlong rush at Caesar's defensive lines.  They took chances and made mortal mistakes.  In the end they paid dearly for their over exuberance and under planned over reach.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President.

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