JS-Kit/Echo comments for article at http://smallestminority.blogspot.com/2004/08/those-without-swords-can-still-die.html (18 comments)

  Tentative mapping of comments to original article, corrections solicited.

jsid-1093244168-228421  Dave J at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 06:56:08 +0000

That was good. I'm going to show it to my anti-gun friends and not-friends(for which there is yet no word), hopefully the buggers will read it.

jsid-1093249640-228427  Jason Miller at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 08:27:20 +0000

I agree with the general thrust of what you're saying, but I'm not sure why you place so much emphasis on the development of the English longbow as a seminal event in the emergence of the concept of individual liberty. The fact is that trained and discliplined yeomen farmers already had the technology and doctrine to defeat mounted aristocrats fully two thousand years before the longbow. The Greek concept of eleutheria ('liberty', or, to live as one pleases) and hoplite warfare share many of the characteristics that you identify with the English longbow and the concurrent development of common law. Both the longbow and the hoplite spear or pike were capable of defeating noble cavalry - as long as the infantry force maintained discipline and formation or (in the case of the longbow) massed fire. Both had far-reaching impacts on culture and governance, as they tended to exercise a mitigating effect on autocratic power.

jsid-1093249691-228428  Jason Miller at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 08:28:11 +0000

You say that "the knowledge of how to be a pikeman in a pike square isn't very useful to a farmer." Tell that to a Boeotian yeoman! When the pike square or hoplite phalanx is the most effective way of defending your lands, then that knowledge damn well *is* useful. Generations of free, landholding spearmen from Greece to Switzerland didn't seem to have any trouble 'retaining' or 'spreading' their knowledge of warfare.

jsid-1093249729-228429  Jason Miller at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 08:28:49 +0000

Firearms, as you have correctly identified, changed the balance of power by reducing the amount of training required to become proficient at killing professional soldiers. But between the longbow and the pike, is there really that much of a practical difference? Both the shift the balance of power in basically similar ways, leading to increased demands for 'rights' and political representation of the part of those who contribute the most to victory on the battlefield. What about the English billman, who was the longbowman's oft-forgotten companion on the battlefield... the bill is also an excellent weapon for spearing or dragging down and killing the mounted, aristocratic, professional warrior.

Ok, I'm rambling here... sorry about the voluminous comments. Must sleep now.

jsid-1093264260-228459  markm at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 12:31:00 +0000

Pikes, or bills, halberds, pole-axes, pila (is that the plural of the Roman pilum?), etc. are effective only in large blocks. When they dominated warfare, there were republics, but individual rights were poorly protected. E.g., Athenians (males of Athenian descent only) could vote on whether to put Socrates to death for speaking too freely. (Let's not talk about the majority of the Athenians who were slaves or resident foreigners without the right to vote. ) Nor did republics survive without continuous efforts by the citizenry against a drift to dictatorship. Athenian democracy was protected by voting to send their most important men into 10 year exile, simply to keep them from becoming too important.

A gun makes a single man or woman dangerous, although a large group of men with guns is far more dangerous.

jsid-1093269080-228477  D K Davis at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 13:51:20 +0000

Still believe the word to use should be "responsibility" not rights. Unless one is responsible "he,She, it.we.you, they," have no rights.

jsid-1093270820-228486  Kevin Baker at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 14:20:20 +0000

Good comments. Thank you. I concur (as you could guess) with markm. The pike and other long-shafted weapons are contact weapons, and require close-combat and numbers and extensive training. The firearm and the bow are distance weapons, with the firearm requiring far less training. I ignored the Greek hoplites, because the Greeks lost eventually,and because of the way they waged war (which wasn't all that different from the way war was waged in medieval times from the perspective of the poor commoner.)

The Greeks and their concept of eleutheria were important, particularly during the Renaissance, but their experiment was too early, and failed.

jsid-1093279606-228525  bradley laing at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 16:46:46 +0000

I believe in 2nd amendment rights.

And I like Thompson automatics. Some people like M-16s and collect them.

All people need guns to defedn their 2nd amendment rights from thos ehwo would take them away, and that includes the Iranians. The republicans don't say this: watch Fox News Sunday, and they *never* say that the Iranians need guns to defend themselves from the Iranian dictatorship.

The Republicans think Gun Rights are gimmick to win votes.

(More of my argument back on August 17 post.)

jsid-1093289618-228573  LucianSamosata at Mon, 23 Aug 2004 19:33:38 +0000

All nitpicking about longbows vs. pikes aside, that's a damn fine essay if I ever saw one. That should be published.

jsid-1093379799-228923  LabRat at Tue, 24 Aug 2004 20:36:39 +0000

I would imagine the reason Republicans do not stump for the second amendment rights of Iranians is because they do not, in fact, have second amendment rights, whereas Americans do, hence the focus of their concern.

In all seriousness the reason I expect Republicans do not campaign for armed rebellion by the subjects of dictatorships is mainly that it would be a hideously bad diplomatic move. Countries tend to reach new peaks of hostility when you openly advocate armed rebellion against their government, which is why it's generally not a good idea unless you already intend to go in there and help said citizens out, in what we call a "war".

jsid-1093379876-228925  damaged justice at Tue, 24 Aug 2004 20:37:56 +0000

Nice piece. The quotes on the longbow echo similar themes in Chuck Hammill's From Crossbows to Cryptography: Thwarting the Nation-State via Technology:

...since just about the only mounted knights likely to visit your average peasant would be government soldiers and tax collectors, the utility of the device was plain: With it, the common rabble could defend themselves not only against one another, but against their governmental masters. It was the medieval equivalent of the armor-piercing bullet, and, consequently, kings and priests (the medieval equivalent of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Crossbows) threatened death and excommunication, respectively, for its unlawful possession.

jsid-1111088555-283768  staghounds at Thu, 17 Mar 2005 19:42:35 +0000

In medieval England, "the government was the local lord. He was the transmission of taxes from below and commands from above. And as you said, a man in armour is a man in armour. It doesn't take any teamwork or organisation to hide in the woods with a bow on hunting days yntil the earl passes by- ask William Rufus.

But the most important effect was psychological, on the ruled and on the rulers- I'll bet there were lots of interestng conversations in a lot of manor houses and wattle huts when everyone returned after St. Crispin's day.

And don't forget the similar result on the Swiss, who were the medieval and renaissance wholesalers of aristocrat destruction. Their technologies, the pike and crossbow, required organisation and discipline. But the experience of using them - at their own will, as enterpreneurs- habituated the Swiss to their power as individuals.

And both the English and the Swiss developed cultural ideals of independent actors- Robin Hood, William Tell...

jsid-1159806613-531089  knirirr at Mon, 02 Oct 2006 16:30:13 +0000

This is a good site, and I often drop in to have a read. If you don't mind, I'd like to nit-pick on this particular matter:

Give a strong novice a sword and face him against a physically weaker but experienced swordsman, and the novice will shortly be looking at his internal organs spilling from his abdomen. Peasants with pitchforks and scythes are no match against trained soldiers with swords, as history has illustrated repeatedly.

Actually, a strong novice can often beat a weaker but more experienced sword-man. Skill is very useful, but greater physical prowess is still a very useful thing to have. The problem with strong and aggressive but unskilled opponents is that they tend to "come in swinging" with no attempt to defend themselves, delivering blows and thrusts at random, making it very hard to predict what they might do. An unskilled opponent who tries only to defend is much easier to deal with.
Sir William Hope, whose books on the technique and morality of self-defence with swords are available on the site I've linked to, had quite a bit to say on encounters between unskilled sword-users (he called them "ignorants") and trained opponents.

Also, a sword is not really a very good weapon when it is opposed to such things as bills or long (6-8') staffs. Anyone doing any serious melee combat on would want to arm themselves with a pole weapon; a lance, spear or halberd, for example. The sword is really a personal weapon carried as a badge of rank and as a last line of defence. What matters in encounters between soldiers and peasantry is that the former will have better training and morale, and higher quality equipment.

An interesting book on this topic is Terry Brown's, which also suggests that an armed populace is a prerequisite to the development of democracy:


jsid-1159809447-531096  Kevin Baker at Mon, 02 Oct 2006 17:17:27 +0000

"Actually, a strong novice can often beat a weaker but more experienced sword-man."


We're speaking about medieval times here. How many "weak" swordsmen were there?

I understand your point, but I think it applies to a period later than the one I was discussing.

Thanks for the comment!

jsid-1159812433-531105  knirirr at Mon, 02 Oct 2006 18:07:13 +0000

Thanks for your reply.
To answer your question, this must have happened often enough for SWH to spend considerable effort writing about it. He was very worried that some people assumed the art was rubbish because they'd seen unskilled people defeat skilled ones. It still happens in sport fencing contests.
Unfortunately, those who have no skill are at a greatly increased risk of getting hit themselves even as they hit their adversary.
Concerning weak sword-men in the mediaeval period I don't really know. However, if we include such things as height or agility as well then there must be some discrepancy. Being tall is very helpful in sword-fighting, for example.
Anyway, apologies for going on about swords &c. when firearms are your main interest. I would have more to do with firearms myself, if they were not so proscribed here.

jsid-1202374171-587521  Elydo at Thu, 07 Feb 2008 08:49:31 +0000

I agree with Rand,but I still maintain that it's not a fundamental right TO life that anyone has, but the fundamental right to TRY and live. You don't have a right to life, only the right to try and survive, alongside every other organism with the exact same right trying the exact same thing.

Slightly more in passing, one of Murphy's Rule of Combat states "Professionals are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs." This was likely true even back in medieval times.

jsid-1218133784-595171  John Pate at Thu, 07 Aug 2008 18:29:44 +0000

Sad to say, it's looking increasingly the case that the Statists are doing an end run around the armed part by doing away with the informed and reasoning legs.

jsid-1218135399-595172  Kevin Baker at Thu, 07 Aug 2008 18:56:39 +0000

Yup. See The George Orwell Daycare Center.

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