Chapter 8 of The Economist

The Management of the Military Icon

September 24, 2015
Socrates Was your wife was stirred at all to greater carefulness?
Ischomachus

Ischomachus= Yes. I remember how piqued she was at one time and how deeply she blushed, when I chanced to ask her for something which had been brought into the house, and she could not give it me.

So I, when I saw her annoyance, fell to consoling her. “Do not be at all disheartened, my wife, that you cannot give me what I ask for. It is plain poverty, (1) no doubt, to need a thing and not to have the use of it. But as wants go, to look for something which I cannot lay my hands upon is a less painful form of indigence than never to dream of looking because I know full well that the thing exists not. Anyhow, you are not to blame for this,” I added; “mine the fault was who handed over to your care the things without assigning them their places. Had I done so, you would have known not only where to put but where to find them. (2) After all, my wife, there is nothing in human life so serviceable, nought so beautiful as order.

“For instance, what is a chorus?—a band composed of human beings, who dance and sing; but suppose the company proceed to act as each may chance—confusion follows; the spectacle has lost its charm. How different when each and all together act and recite (4) with orderly precision, the limbs and voices keeping time and tune.

Then, indeed, these same performers are worth seeing and worth hearing.

“So, too, an army,” I said, “my wife, an army destitute of order is confusion worse confounded= to enemies an easy prey, courting attack; to friends a bitter spectacle of wasted power; (5) a mingled mob of asses, heavy infantry, and baggage-bearers, light infantry, cavalry, and waggons.

Now, suppose they are on the march; how are they to get along? In this condition everybody will be a hindrance to everybody= ‘slow march’ side by side with ‘double quick,’ ‘quick march’ at cross purposes with ‘stand at ease’; waggons blocking cavalry and asses fouling waggons; baggage-bearers and hoplites jostling together= the whole a hopeless jumble. And when it comes to fighting, such an army is not precisely in condition to deliver battle. The troops who are compelled to retreat before the enemy’s advance (6) are fully capable of trampling down the heavy infantry detachments in reserve.

How different is an army well organised in battle order= a splendid sight for friendly eyes to gaze at, albeit an eyesore to the enemy. For who, being of their party, but will feel a thrill of satisfaction as he watches the serried masses of heavy infantry moving onwards in unbroken order? who but will gaze with wonderment as the squadrons of the cavalry dash past him at the gallop? And what of the foeman? will not his heart sink within him to see the orderly arrangements of the different arms= (8) here heavy infantry and cavalry, and there again light infantry, there archers and there slingers, following each their leaders, with orderly precision. As they tramp onwards thus in order, though they number many myriads, yet even so they move on and on in quiet progress, stepping like one man, and the place just vacated in front is filled up on the instant from the rear.

(8) “Different styles of troops drawn up in separate divisions= hoplites, cavalry, and peltasts, archers, and slingers.” “Or picture a trireme, crammed choke-full of mariners; for what reason is she so terror-striking an object to her enemies, and a sight so gladsome to the eyes of friends? is it not that the gallant ship sails so swiftly? And why is it that, for all their crowding, the ship’s company (9) cause each other no distress? Simply that there, as you may see them, they sit in order; in order bend to the oar; in order recover the stroke; in order step on board; in order disembark. But disorder is, it seems to me, precisely as though a man who is a husbandman should stow away (10) together in one place wheat and barley and pulse, and by and by when he has need of barley meal, or wheaten flour, or some condiment of pulse, (11) then he must pick and choose instead of laying his hand on each thing separately sorted for use. “And so with you too, my wife, if you would avoid this confusion, if you would fain know how to administer our goods, so as to lay your finger readily on this or that as you may need, or if I ask you for anything, graciously to give it me= let us, I say, select and assign (12) the appropriate place for each set of things. This shall be the place where we will put the things; and we will instruct the housekeeper that she is to take them out thence, and mind to put them back again there; and in this way we shall know whether they are safe or not. If anything is gone, the gaping space will cry out as if it asked for something back.

The mere look and aspect of things will argue what wants mending; (14) and the fact of knowing where each thing is will be like having it put into one’s hand at once to use without further trouble or debate.” (12) {dokimasometha}, “we will write over each in turn, as it were, ’examined and approved.’”

“Detect what needs attention.” I must tell you, Socrates, what strikes me as the finest and most accurate arrangement of goods and furniture it was ever my fortune to set eyes on; when I went as a sightseer on board the great Phoenician merchantman, (15) and beheld an endless quantity of goods and gear of all sorts, all separately packed and stowed away within the smallest compass. (16) I need scarce remind you (he said, continuing his narrative) what a vast amount of wooden spars and cables (17) a ship depends on in order to get to moorings; or again, in putting out to sea; (18) you know the host of sails and cordage, rigging (19) as they call it, she requires for sailing; the quantity of engines and machinery of all sorts she is armed with in case she should encounter any hostile craft; the infinitude of arms she carries, with her crew of fighting men aboard. Then all the vessels and utensils, such as people use at home on land, required for the different messes, form a portion of the freight; and besides all this, the hold is heavy laden with a mass of merchandise, the cargo proper, which the master carries with him for the sake of traffic.

Well, all these different things that I have named lay packed there in a space but little larger than a fair-sized dining-room. (20) The several sorts, moreover, as I noticed, lay so well arranged, there could be no entanglement of one with other, nor were searchers needed; (21) and if all were snugly stowed, all were alike get-at-able, (22) much to the avoidance of delay if anything were wanted on the instant.

Then the pilot’s mate (23)—“the look-out man at the prow,” to give him his proper title—was, I found, so well acquainted with the place for everything that, even off the ship, (24) he could tell you where each set of things was laid and how many there were of each, just as well as any one who knows his alphabet (25) could tell you how many letters there are in Socrates and the order in which they stand.

I saw this same man (continued Ischomachus) examining at leisure (26) everything which could possibly (27) be needful for the service of the ship. His inspection caused me such surprise, I asked him what he was doing, whereupon he answered, “I am inspecting, stranger,” (28) “just considering,” says he, “the way the things are lying aboard the ship; in case of accidents, you know, to see if anything is missing, or not lying snug and shipshape. (29) There is no time left, you know,” he added, “when God makes a tempest in the great deep, to set about searching for what you want, or to be giving out anything which is not snug and shipshape in its place. God threatens and chastises sluggards. (30) If only He destroy not innocent with guilty, a man may be content; (31) or if He turn and save all hands aboard that render right good service, (32) thanks be to Heaven.” (33) (26) “Apparently when he had nothing better to do”; “by way of amusement.”

So spoke the pilot’s mate; and I, with this carefulness of stowage still before my eyes, proceeded to enforce my thesis= “Stupid in all conscience would it be on our parts, my wife, if those who sail the sea in ships, that are but small things, can discover space and place for everything; can, moreover, in spite of violent tossings up and down, keep order, and, even while their hearts are failing them for fear, find everything they need to hand; whilst we, with all our ample storerooms (34) diversely disposed for divers objects in our mansion, an edifice firmly based (35) on solid ground, fail to discover fair and fitting places, easy of access for our several goods!

Would not that argue great lack of understanding in our two selves? Well then! how good a thing it is to have a fixed and orderly arrangement of all furniture and gear; how easy also in a dwelling-house to find a place for every sort of goods, in which to stow them as shall suit each best—needs no further comment. Rather let me harp upon the string of beauty—image a fair scene= the boots and shoes and sandals, and so forth, all laid in order row upon row; the cloaks, the mantles, and the rest of the apparel stowed in their own places; the coverlets and bedding; the copper cauldrons; and all the articles for table use! Nay, though it well may raise a smile of ridicule (not on the lips of a grave man perhaps, but of some facetious witling) to hear me say it, a beauty like the cadence of sweet music (36) dwells even in pots and pans set out in neat array= and so, in general, fair things ever show more fair when orderly bestowed.

The separate atoms shape themselves to form a choir, and all the space between gains beauty by their banishment. Even so some sacred chorus, (37) dancing a roundelay in honour of Dionysus, not only is a thing of beauty in itself, but the whole interspace swept clean of dancers owns a separate charm.

“A remarkable word, as significant of the complete rhythm ({ruthmos}) whether of sound or motion, that was so great a characteristic of the Greek ideal (cf. xi. 16, {metarruthmizo}),” and much more equally to the point. (37) “Just as a chorus, the while its dancers weave a circling dance.” (38) Or, “contrasting with the movement and the mazes of the dance, a void appears serene and beautiful.” “The truth of what I say, we easily can test, my wife,” I added, “by direct experiment, and that too without cost at all or even serious trouble.

(39) Nor need you now distress yourself, my wife, to think how hard it will be to discover some one who has wit enough to learn the places for the several things and memory to take and place them there. We know, I fancy, that the goods of various sorts contained in the whole city far outnumber ours many thousand times; and yet you have only to bid any one of your domestics go buy this, or that, and bring it you from market, and not one of them will hesitate. The whole world knows both where to go and where to find each thing.

(39) Lit. “now whether these things I say are true (i.e. are facts), we can make experiment of the things themselves (i.e. of actual facts to prove to us).”

Socrates “And why is this?”

Merely because they lie in an appointed place. But now, if you are seeking for a human being, and that too at times when he is seeking you on his side also, often and often shall you give up the search in sheer despair= and of this again the reason?

Nothing else save that no appointed place was fixed where one was to await the other.” Such, so far as I can now recall it, was the conversation which we held together touching the arrangement of our various chattels and their uses.

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