- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

For 2,000 years it has been the same old story: The generals make the history books and the common soldiers get bunions.
Now most of the killing is done from a distance, as the National Park Service's celebration of the common soldier and his weaponry over the centuries demonstrated at Fort Washington Park.
But one thing has not changed without an occupying force of infantry grunts, an army can win a dozen battles but not a single war.
Park Ranger Roy Ashley said the javelins and swords used by Roman soldiers are no different from the high-powered machine guns used today. They are simply extensions of the soldier.
Yet technology, he said, has made battles more distant and killing less up close and personal.
"Technology is taking over the role of the soldier," Mr. Ashley said. "Soldiers, since the Roman times, are professional killers we have them and we expect them to win wars."
The weekend program in Prince George's County, Md., included replicas of encampments of Roman soldiers and troops from the Thirty Years' War in Europe, and uniforms and equipment of the U.S. Army from the Civil War through Vietnam.
George W. Metz, donning a full regalia of Roman-era body armor, said that around 100 B.C. the Roman government realized a standing army would allow it to defend its vast empire and be a force to be reckoned with.
The army, though, would suffer casualty rates unacceptably high by modern American standards. In those days, an army could lose 80 percent of its men in a single battle.
As he hoisted into the air a pilum a javelinlike weapon with a long wooden handle and a soft iron rod with a sharp tip Mr. Metz said such weapons had the same purpose as a shot from a tank does today.
"You try to take out as many in a certain radius before you get to hand-to-hand combat, which is the worst type of warfare," Mr. Metz said. "Warfare hasn't changed that much."
It has changed in the tools soldiers use, tools more sophisticated and deadly that lessen the chances of seeing the whites of an enemy's eyes.
Beginning with the mass use of muskets in the Thirty Years' War in the early 17th century, when the length of a gunshot was 75 yards on a good day, to the firearms and artillery used today where bullets and other ordnance can cover miles, warfare has become more remote, military re-enactors and historians said at the two-day event.
Surrounded by military equipment from World War I left to him by his father who fought in the war, Gene Sordillow said a defining moment in the way soldiers fought arose with the mass production of machine guns during the "war to end all wars."
"It was this reason they went to digging trenches. There was no way to survive without them," Mr. Sordillow said, adding the use of linear formations as seen in previous wars was discarded as a result of the rapid-firing gun that could kill hundreds in one blast. "This first world war had everybody get up and running."
Because of warfare's technological advances and a necessity to survive, soldiers especially Americans have become more individualistic.
Even as far back as the American Revolution, soldiers became schooled in guerilla-style warfare that was learned from American Indians.
"[George] Washington had to attack and retreat because he really didn't have well-trained armies," said Bill Gumas, a Civil War re-enactor dressed in the blue wool uniform of the Union Army.
Those hit-and-run operations meant the soldiers had to become more dependent upon themselves. As the U.S. Army as well as others around the world grew and matured, so did the emphasis on training soldiers to survive on their own.
"Before you had these mass formations," Mr. Ashley said. "In World War II, you saw the individual take action."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide