The voice of Wylie, Clausewitz down under, and a Roman stab in the back

Some fun miscellany:

RADM J.C. Wylie is of some significance to this blog. Though I am familiar with his writings and career history, his death 18 years ago precludes anyone from learning more about the man himself. Thus my keen interest when I recently stumbled across a video of Wylie speaking before a USS Fletcher reunion in late 1992, just a few months before his death, in which he shares some humorous anecdotes about his service aboard the destroyer during World War II. The quality of the video could be better, but it shows that Wylie was lucid, eloquent and sharp all the way to the end of his life, and adds some personality to the theory of Power Control.


LibriVox, which collects audio recordings of public domain works, has available the first four Books of On War, narrated in an Australian accent. Beware, however: the Howard-Paret translation is still owned by Princeton University Press, so the LibriVox audio is based on the nightmarish Graham translation.

Be sure to check out LibriVox’s catalog of other works. Plenty of stuff for the daily commute or jog.


I have been reading Alistair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954 – 1962, the definitive history of the French-Algerian War. He introduces Part 2 of the book with the following letter, attributed to Marcus Flavinius, a Roman centurion of the Augusta Legion:

We had been told, on leaving our native soil, that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens settled overseas, so many years of our presence, so many benefits brought by us to populations in need of our assistance and our civilization.

We were able to verify that all this was true, and, because it was true, we did not hesitate to shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes. We regretted nothing, but whereas we over here are inspired by this frame of mind, I am told that in Rome factions and conspiracies are rife, that treachery flourishes, and that many people in their uncertainty and confusion lend a ready ear to the dire temptations of relinquishment … Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and tell me that our fellow-citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the Empire.

If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached b0nes on these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the Legions!

I have a very difficult time believing this authentic; the sentiments seem completely alien for a 1st century AD Roman centurion. In fact, Horne cites the source as Jean Lartéguy famous novel, The Centurions. I am unable to find any earlier reference to the letter, and it seems completely apocryphal. However, I would be fascinated to be proven wrong, if someone has information to the contrary.


6 thoughts on “The voice of Wylie, Clausewitz down under, and a Roman stab in the back

  1. Pingback: Wylie Speaks! « The Committee of Public Safety

  2. I think that you are correct about the Marcus Flavinius quote. James Stockdale used the quote in his book, “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot,” and used Jean Larteguy for his source.

    Larteguy has had a very deep influence upon many. I’ve been reading Jerry Pournelle’s website for some time, and he uses the quote on a regular basis, but again attributes it to Larteguy.

    Various other sites have used it, from Small Wars Journal to the isolationist author Andrew Bacevich in the Washington Post.

    I think that many have forgotten that, despite being based upon fact, Larteguy’s works are fictional. It’s also used on a regular basis by folks who have no idea as to its origin and do not particularly care. It’s akin to people quoting Steven Pressfield without realizing that he writes fiction.

    I wish people would read more Larteguy and actually understood the context of the quote.

    • It’s rather discouraging that an unremarkable person like myself immediately detects it as a fraud, while people like Bacevich get away with using it in major newspapers. Where I went to school, using bogus quotes to support arguments would guarantee a failing grade. But apparently it’s okay to cut corners when a political agenda is at issue; the ends justify the means.

      I’m familiar with the synopsis and general themes of The Centurions, but I haven’t actually read the novel; it’s rare, and existing copies are quite expensive (something that you commented on before). Assuming you’ve read it, perhaps you could tell me something: in what context does Larteguy use the quote?

      Oh, and Merry Christmas, btw!

  3. Merry Christmas!

    The Centurions is best understood when read in conjunction with The Praetorians. The useful content of the book most cited by modern strategists is how the French legionnaires returning from Vietnam adopted what they learned there to the Arab insurgency in Algeria.

    The overall political context of the books, however, is about how these soldiers felt betrayed by their government and believed that it was weak and unwilling to take the measures necessary to protect its colonies, making their sacrifices meaningless. Eventually, these soldiers took actions that culminated with a military coup in Algeria and preparations were made for an invasion of France (who went so far as to seize Corsica with airborne forces and had a full blown plan for a military coup in France supported by forces from Algeria). This threat led to the rapid rise of Charles de Gaulle, who supposedly took power reluctantly and at the wish of politicians from all over the political spectrum (a huge myth that forms the basis of the Fifth Republic – they had no choice but to either support him or prepare for bloodshed).

    “The anger of the Legions” = soldiers who feel betrayed and who plan to bring the war home.

  4. As an oblique comment on your above comments on authenticity, I completely agree that, “the sentiments seem completely alien for a 1st century AD Roman centurion.” However, this raises the interesting question of whether there is preserved, in any form, the authentic voice of a 1st century AD Roman centurion. Flavius Arrianus was a military commander and prolific author, though I don’t think he began his career as a Centurion. Most of the literate individuals of the time would have been patricians of the Equestrian order, and therefore presumably officer class. There are of course the commentaries of Caesar, which probably bring us closest to the soldiers’ experience, but I would be interested to know if there are any surviving letters from, say, some unconnected, uninfluential Centurion who served his time in the ranks and then retired to some colony with a land grant.

    Best wishes,


  5. Pingback: Wylie Roundup « The Committee of Public Safety

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