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Who Was The Greatest Military Leader Of All Time?

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Who was the Greatest Military leader of all time?  

255 members have voted

  1. 1. Who was the Greatest Military leader of all time?

    • Alexander the Great
      69
    • Julius Caesar
      12
    • Napoleon Bonaparte
      18
    • Ghengis Khan
      24
    • Hannibal
      3
    • Douglas MacArthur
      10
    • Erwin Rommel
      6
    • George Patton
      37
    • Belisarius
      1
    • Attila the Hun
      5


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Has anybody mentioned Sparticus? Though I know --> 0 <-- zero, nothing at all about military strategy (besides what one picks up in childhood games of paintball)...

The dude took out how many Roman legions? With what kind of disadvantage? Seems the man ought to get some props for his improvisation, trickery, and resourcefulness--maybe even tactics as well, I don't know.

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For the "greatest" leader, I'd have to vote for Genghis Kahn; he conquered more land than Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler combined and founded an empire than endured for a long time.

Look at what and when Genghis Kahn conquered, the overwhelming majority of the people he conquered were nomads or uncivilized sedentary peoples, there was no Western Civilization to speak of, the Muslims pushed the quasi-western Byzantines out of the Middle East. Alexander on the other hand conquered the most powerful Empire in the history of the world, up to that time, with fewer then 50,000 infantry and horse. Then we have Scipio Africanus, who is the only general I know of who never lost a battle, and essentially established the beginnings of the Roman Empire (Read this as "Empire of the Romans" not as the Imperial system established by Augustus).

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Interesting topic. The dismissals of Sun Tzu were amusing.

I think Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general, is (one of) the "greatest" military leaders of modern times. Fighting off the vastly superior forces of the French and the Americans? Pretty impressive.

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Look at what and when Genghis Kahn conquered, the overwhelming majority of the people he conquered were nomads or uncivilized sedentary peoples, there was no Western Civilization to speak of, the Muslims pushed the quasi-western Byzantines out of the Middle East. Alexander on the other hand conquered the most powerful Empire in the history of the world, up to that time, with fewer then 50,000 infantry and horse. Then we have Scipio Africanus, who is the only general I know of who never lost a battle, and essentially established the beginnings of the Roman Empire (Read this as "Empire of the Romans" not as the Imperial system established by Augustus).

The mongols, previously nomads with almost no organization, were unified and ultimately able to conquer China and Russia, in addition to huge parts of the Middle East, and to maintain parts of their empire for a long time. All of this Kahn did VASTLY outnumbered.

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I think Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese general, is (one of) the "greatest" military leaders of modern times. Fighting off the vastly superior forces of the French and the Americans? Pretty impressive.

What crap, if we actually fought an all out war in Vietnam he and North Vietnam would have been crushed.

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What crap, if we actually fought an all out war in Vietnam he and North Vietnam would have been crushed.

What difference does this make? What if we fought an "all out war" in Vietnam and caused a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR? I wouldn't say Giap is the greatest military leader of all time, but whether he was or not doesn't seem to depend on what the other side might have done but was restrained from doing.

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Alexander was clearly the Greatest Military Leader in history. He stands out as the only great battle captain never to loose a battle (reference "Understanding Defeat" by COL T.N. Dupuy), and was cited by most other great generals as a primary influence. Aristotle was Alexander's tutor, and Alexander's philosophy of War was Aristotelean thought come to military fruition.

Just a sampling of the diverse operations that Alexander excelled at:

Maneuver Warfare, best exemplified at the Battle of Isus

Counterinsurgency, especially efficient in Bactria

Suppressing Rebellions, at Thebes

Siege, at Tyre

Logistics, keeping a massive Army supplied as it conquered the known world

Hunting Down Fugitive Despots, Darius and Bessus

River Crossing, of the Oxus (an impressive feat of engineering)

Establishment of Just Laws and Governments, everywhere

You'll have to forgive any errors since its been a while since I've read Arrian, but you get the idea.

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To me Ghenghis Kahn was clearly the most dominant military leader in history. Unlike Alexander who started with a well-prepared army handed to him, Ghenghis Kahn started with absolutely nothing, being born as an exile from his tribe and without a father.

Then he single handedly united a formerly nomadic people, then went on to conquer the largest land empire the world has EVER known, stretching across three continents, including the largest (and arguably the most powerful) and the second largest empires at that time - China and Russia. There really isn't any doubt in my mind that he could have also conquered Europe if not for the vast geographic distance from Europe to Mongolia, as well as Ghenghis Kahn's age and failing health.

The only reason I think most people chose Alexander over him was a cultural affinity toward Europeans as well as an overall better familiarity with western culture. One thing that has always annoyed me was the term "Alexander conquered the known world". Known to whom? Obviously the westerners. However the term in itself is not only ethnocentric, it's bordering on celebrating ignorance and being inaccurate. Alexander for instance failed to conquer India. But he knew India existed right? I mean he was there, he fought, and he failed. Alexander also knew that sub-Saharan Africa existed right? But that's somehow not considered "the known world"?

I vote for Julius Caesar.

Much of today's military theories and practices began with Caesar, especially in regards to intelligence, espionage, and strategic planning.

Actually Sun Zhu advocated all of that nearly 400 years prior to Caesar.

Oh and for those people that were ascribing Sun Zhu's strategy as "eastern" and "effeminate". First of all Sun Zhu's strategies did not represent the entire range of strategies throughout China's considerable history, although it is no doubt brilliant in both its content and its simplicity.

However I think to ascribe "masculinity" and "femininity" to strategy is irrational. Sun Zhu didn't necessarily prefer attrition or confrontation, one way or another. To him the only important thing was WINNING and the EFFICIENCY of the strategy. The reason that winning without actually fighting is considered by Sun Zhu to be the ultimate achievement in war is that you're essentially saving all your resources, from men, gold, as well as food. In other words, he prefers knocking the guy out in one punch the moment the fight starts, as opposed to slugging it out for twelve rounds. But better yet if you can use simply use threats, gifts, or espionage to make the other guy submit to you without expending any energy what so ever.

In other words, whatever way you can win while expending the least amount of resources, that's the path the Sun Zhu would recommend. It's not "manly" or "effeminate", it's merely logical and rational.

Edited by Moebius
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I assume that this vote here is about the greatest innovator, the general who inherited the least from those before him and left the most to those after him, in terms of military efficacy. And if that's the standard, Alexander becomes one of the primary choices. True, he inherited the Macedonian military machine from Philip, his father,

Philop got much of his military strategy when as a young man he saw Epimondas lead his armies to victories utilizing a wedge phalanx. I believe he studied under Epimondas for some time as well, learning good lessons he used to conquer Greece and later taught to his son Alexander.

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To me Ghenghis Kahn was clearly the most dominant military leader in history. Unlike Alexander who started with a well-prepared army handed to him, Ghenghis Kahn started with absolutely nothing, being born as an exile from his tribe and without a father.

I'll agree that the Kahn started with less, but not that much less. The tribes of the Steepe were no harder to unite for conquest than all of the Greek states. The reason that Kahn was an exile was because he had a claim to be the chief of his tribe (since his father had been) so this was not a case of him rising up from "absolutely nothing." I'm honestly in no position to be critical of either leader: their achievements were impressive.

The only reason I think most people chose Alexander over him was a cultural affinity toward Europeans as well as an overall better familiarity with western culture.

This might be true. Personally I've read books about both, so thats not where I'm coming from.

One thing that has always annoyed me was the term "Alexander conquered the known world". Known to whom? Obviously the westerners. However the term in itself is not only ethnocentric, it's bordering on celebrating ignorance and being inaccurate. Alexander for instance failed to conquer India. But he knew India existed right? I mean he was there, he fought, and he failed. Alexander also knew that sub-Saharan Africa existed right? But that's somehow not considered "the known world"?

Your information is somewhat lacking. Alexander ceased his campaign in India, at the urging of his officers (who were homesick), but never lost a battle there. I will qualify the statement "Alexander conquered the known world" by stating "Alexander conquered every geopolitical power in existence at the time that was worth conquering." Alexander had little interest in conquering the remainder of India because he did not see the Hindu philosophy as a serious threat to his empire or to even the freedom of those living under it, and he had absolutely no interest in "sub-Saharan Africa."

So I think your evidence that shows the Kahn as better than Alexander is wrong, but there are certainly other points to be made. If the criteria is "land area conquered" you might be right (I don't know those particular statistics).

I generally have a great amount of respect for the governments installed by Ghengis Kahn, which were secular and respected individual rights (as did those of Alexander). Unfortunately these institutions had no hope of lasting because of their poor philosophical basis. Since the Mongols were illiterate they were extremely susceptible to Islam, which even by the time of the Kahn's conquests had become a sophisticated urban religion. This marriage of the brilliance of the Kahn's military tactics to the expansionist version of Islam led to the creation of a leader of pure evil: Timur.

Edited by badkarma556
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I think it would be hard to make the claim that, even in Alexander's day, China was not "worth conquering".

No, Alexander had to stop because of mutiny in the ranks. Not because he'd conquered everything "worth conquering".

The fact is people wanted to go home.

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I think it would be hard to make the claim that, even in Alexander's day, China was not "worth conquering".

I don't really know much about China in Alexander's day, except that at the time it wasn't actually China yet. I doubt that Alexander knew much else. Attempting to conquer the various chinese states during the Waring States Period would be tantamount to insanity (like trying to rule a bee's nest) so yes I will take the position that it was not "worth conquering."

Obviously there were a great many developing cultures in the world that Alexander did not conquer. Not only would it have been highly irrational for him to try it, but it would have been impossible given the technological limitations of the time. Unless Alexander had invented cargo planes to transport his troops, he could not have conquered the Aztecs, Incas, Vikings, etc.

No, Alexander had to stop because of mutiny in the ranks. Not because he'd conquered everything "worth conquering".

The fact is people wanted to go home.

I believe Alexander could have ordered his troops to continue and they would have. Read Arrian pp.292-298 and decide for yourself. Alexander accepted Coenus's reasoned appeal to end the campaign and return home.

Edited by badkarma556
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I'll agree that the Kahn started with less, but not that much less. The tribes of the Steepe were no harder to unite for conquest than all of the Greek states. The reason that Kahn was an exile was because he had a claim to be the chief of his tribe (since his father had been) so this was not a case of him rising up from "absolutely nothing."

So being raised in the royal family and being handed an army, and being left for dead by his tribe and surviving as a nomad at age 12 (albeit with a deceased father that used to be head of a minor tribe), isn't considered a significant difference to you?

So I think your evidence that shows the Kahn as better than Alexander is wrong, but there are certainly other points to be made. If the criteria is "land area conquered" you might be right (I don't know those particular statistics).

My "evidence" (which is really just my subjective opinion) is that Genghis Kahn started with far less, and conquered far more. Therefore he was a greater military leader. Like I said, he conquered two of the largest empire at the time, and was on his way to run through the rest of Europe if it wasn't for the geographical distance and his age and health.

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My "evidence" (which is really just my subjective opinion) is that Genghis Kahn started with far less, and conquered far more. Therefore he was a greater military leader. Like I said, he conquered two of the largest empire at the time, and was on his way to run through the rest of Europe if it wasn't for the geographical distance and his age and health.

I voted for him as well. I'll repeat what I said earlier: he conquered more land than Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler combined.

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I believe Alexander could have ordered his troops to continue and they would have. Read Arrian pp.292-298 and decide for yourself. Alexander accepted Coenus's reasoned appeal to end the campaign and return home.

Personally I doubt that Alexander's army would have moved on, given how much of a bloody struggle their previous battle with Porus was. Even if Alexander had gotten the troops to move on, I think it probably would have been folly.

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I voted for him as well. I'll repeat what I said earlier: he conquered more land than Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler combined.

I wouldn't even have considered Hitler in the running, simply because of the results he was aiming for.

The fact that Alexander never lost a battle was an important influence on my vote, but rather than all these various metrics was the motivation for their fighting. Greatness is more than just people killed, area conquered, etc.

Alexander, the student of Aristotle, set up good governments and brought Greek civilization to the areas he conquered. I don't know of many negative consequences to come from his conquests.

Ghengis Kahn also brought good governments (he had a code of individual rights), but they were not well philosophically grounded. The Mongols were illiterate, so Islam was able to undermine the Mongols' beliefs almost immediately. Mix Mongol military power with Islam and you get Timur: the decedent of Ghengis Kahn who massacred Christians and built monuments of human heads. At one point he mortared a bunch of conquered Infidels together in a big wall (alive), so that for a time it would make miserable cries for help.

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Alexander, the student of Aristotle, set up good governments and brought Greek civilization to the areas he conquered. I don't know of many negative consequences to come from his conquests.

The question at stake is who was the greatest military leader, not who was the "greatest", whatever that may mean. So the evaluation here should be limited to the military aspects of their respective careers.

Ghengis Kahn also brought good governments (he had a code of individual rights), but they were not well philosophically grounded. The Mongols were illiterate, so Islam was able to undermine the Mongols' beliefs almost immediately. Mix Mongol military power with Islam and you get Timur: the decedent of Ghengis Kahn who massacred Christians and built monuments of human heads. At one point he mortared a bunch of conquered Infidels together in a big wall (alive), so that for a time it would make miserable cries for help.

Um. First of all you're arguing against Genghis based on what his decedents did, which makes no sense at all what so ever. That would be like arguing that atrocities committed by Hitler (or whoever) makes for an argument against Alexander's greatness.

Second of all, did you think that Alexander (or for that matter, the decedents of Alexander) did not commit atrocities during his course of conquest? According to Curtius, Alexander systematically massacred the entire population of Massaga, Ora, and Assagenois, and actually went through the trouble to reduce their buildings into rubbles. Then, after promising that no harm will come to those who surrender, he executed all the soldiers who did. The point is listing the atrocities (especially atrocities performed by their decedents) is completely irrelevant in this context.

And finally, it wasn't as if Alexander's "philosophically grounded" government did not include the Greek pantheon, or that Europe wasn't later converted to Christianity. And it wasn't as if some of the areas that Alexander conquered didn't end up converting to Islam (and other native religions) themselves. I really don't know what you're trying to argue at all with any of the points you made.

Edited by Moebius
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I wasn't considering Hitler either; I used him in the example to show the magnitude of what Genghis Khan conquered.

My point is that in order to define "greatness," even when considering general qua general, you must consider the motivations of the conquests and the ultimate results. Otherwise, Hitler would be in the running. Without considering the goals of the leaders you would have something like:

Ghengis Kahn is the best by the criteria of "land area conquered" (around 10% of the world)

Alexander is the best by the criteria of "percentage of battles won" (100%)

Hitler is the best by the criteria of "rate that area was conquered at" (blitzkrieg warfare)

etc.

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The point is listing the atrocities (especially atrocities performed by their decedents) is completely irrelevant in this context.

I think it is relevant, if not for the governments that were set up by those leaders at least by the leaders themselves. My reading of Kahn was that he would treat cities well that surrendered to him, but massacre those who refused. This was almost a tactical necessity considering that he did not have enough troops to lay sieges.

As for Alexander, he massacred towns that broke treaties and killed his men. Not to excuse the behavior, but the fact that he did it with some sense of justice (unlike Timur who killed for pleasure and religious intolerance), puts him on at least equal moral footing with Ghengis Kahn.

Then, after promising that no harm will come to those who surrender, he executed all the soldiers who did.

So long as their chief survived, the Indians fought with great courage; but when he was killed by a missile from a catapult, what with their own losses in the four days' continuous siege and the large numbers of men wounded or put out of action, they sent to Alexander to ask for a truce. For him it was a pleasure to save the lives of such brave men, and he agreed with the Indian mercenaries that they should serve under himself, as a part of his own army... Their intention was not what Alexander expected; for, having no desire to fight against other Indians, they meant to desert under cover of darkness and disperse to their homes. Their purpose, however, was reported to Alexander, and that same night he stationed his whole force in a ring around the hill, caught the Indians in a trap, and butchered them. He then seized the town, now undefended. Assacenus' mother and daughter were among the prisoners. During the operation as a whole Alexander's losses amounted to about twenty-five men.

Granted Arrian's account here is about the same as what you said, but the distinction between Alexander accepting a truce only to massacre all his enemies as opposed to Alexander being double-crossed and then massacring all his enemies is important.

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Ghengis Kahn is the best by the criteria of "land area conquered" (around 10% of the world)

Alexander is the best by the criteria of "percentage of battles won" (100%)

The problem with win percentage is that you could have fought and won one battle, and you'd be at 100%. In any case I think Alexander would have lost had he stayed in India and fought, although he wisely chose to give up before that happened.

In any case, I wasn't aware that Genghis likewise lost any battles.

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My point is that in order to define "greatness," even when considering general qua general, you must consider the motivations of the conquests and the ultimate results. Otherwise, Hitler would be in the running.

Hitler didn't necessarily personally designed the strategies himself, or even led the armed forces himself, any more than George W. Bush led the War on Iraq himself. Hitler was a great statesmen, but he had generals that fought the wars.

However, the motivation of the conquest really is irrelevant when talking about general qua general. I really don't care if Hitler was in the running if he was in fact a capable general. Your reasoning would be the same as saying "well, since I really don't like the motivations of Michael Jordan (or dislike him as a person, or dislike what he does off the court, or whatever irrelevant reason), I think he shouldn't be considered in a discussion about the greatest basketball players". It really doesn't make any sense in the context of the discussion.

By the way, when can you really ever justify conquest? And is there really that big of a difference between one conquerer and another in terms of motivation? They want power, they want to prove themselves, and they want glory. Don't tell me Alexander conquered because of some sort of benevalent reason.

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By the way, when can you really ever justify conquest? And is there really that big of a difference between one conquerer and another in terms of motivation? They want power, they want to prove themselves, and they want glory. Don't tell me Alexander conquered because of some sort of benevalent reason.

One could arugue both the wars of Napolean and Alexander were defensive in nature, the added glory for France and Greece was a factor yes but all wars have perks. Second, and this surprises me, you seem to draw a dichotomy between the interests of the conqueror and the conqueree which does not always exist historically. Rome fought brutal, brutal wars often wiping out civilian populations in a quest for absolute domination over everyone in range of its armies yet if it weren't for this blood thirst (emphasis added to prove a point) the countries of the Middle Sea (using the fancy name for want of the correct spelling of its real name) would have been fodder for asiatic and nothern powers totally beyond the unity to forge the golden age of that civilisation. Let's not forget that from time to time the conqueror can enhance and improve the lives of those conqueredbecause of possesing traits lacked by the conquered.

Edit - added last sentence.

Edited by Shol'Va
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