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  • Writer's pictureK.W. Lee

Savior Generals - Blog Post 4.6.2024

My how time flies by and another month is upon us.  This month we have a book review.


As I’ve spent some time travelling by air these last thirty days, I was able to get a little bit of reading done on the backlog of books that are sitting on my nightstand.  While I generally read for pleasure, and on occasion for work, it isn’t so uncommon to find myself applying whatever subject that I find interesting through the course of my reading to my stories whether it be some general principles of business or psychology – like psychologist’s Kurt Lewin’s idea of managing change through Unfreezing, Moving, and Refreezing – or the ebb and flow of a particular individual’s life in a biography.


My latest reading is by one of my favorite authors on Western Culture, Victor Davis Hanson: The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost – From Ancient Greece to Iraq.  If you haven’t heard of him before, I urge you to check out his various essays and interviews as he explores history and culture from a classicist perspective.  Now, what is interesting about this book is that the five commanders Dr. Hanson has selected are those that aren’t generally among those highlighted in history.  Although tangentially related, he doesn’t write about spotlight grabbing individuals such as Alexander the Great, General Lee or Patton, but instead about more obscure names who are not as well-recognized or are downright forgotten in the modern-era such as Themostiocles, Sherman, and Ridgeway.


What commonalty unites the selected individuals are not necessarily their prowess – for they were all great commanders in their own right – but their contributions to a greater effort that was teetering on collapse.  Themostiocles, through his political savvy and rhetoric, saved the woefully unprepared ancient Athens from an invading Persian army by building a navy and convincing the Athenian population to flee their city by sea.  Sherman, with a more modern understanding of mobile warfare, was able to save Lincoln’s presidency by capturing Atlanta.  Ridgeway stabilized the see-saw fight for the Korean peninsula, resulting in the current geo-political climate around that area of Asia we see today. 


As characters, though, what makes Dr. Hanson’s selection interesting is that for the most part none of the individuals described were ‘white-knights’.  All of them were eccentrics, and had “The outward qualities in a military leader necessary to galvanize dispirited troops and resurrect national will” but with character that “sometimes incite suspicion and engender spite”.  Each had the right blend of skill and personal experience to turn around the disaster they were presented with.  Yet, in the case of the posthumous leaders discussed, none of the individuals themselves led the latter part of their lives in acclaim, often forgotten or persecuted by the very nations that they saved, to be chased out to live amongst their one-time enemies or torn down to live as paupers on the streets.


The very notion of a charismatic, competent, or dare I say gifted individual, forgotten or abandoned by their society is quite intriguing.  A savior who has been tossed aside, yet still has it within them to arise again when needed is a common and popular trope.  What kind of individuals might these be?  What kind of characteristics might they possess?  And how might society treat them, if not as heroes, then as tools?  If you are looking for some actual historical examples of these Savior Generals, then I highly recommend this book.


Thanks all!  See you next month!

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