Forum

United States’ double envelopment threatens liberty

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During the summer of 216 BCE, a major battle in the Second Punic War took place. Under consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro, the Romans gathered near Cannae intending to retaliate for previous defeats and crush the Carthaginians. A sizable force by any era’s standards, the 90,000-strong Roman force was composed mainly of Rome’s finest legions and allied troops. The objective was simple: Win the war by crushing the Carthaginian invasion of Italy.

Opposing the Romans were the Carthaginian forces, led by Hannibal. In the two years preceding the battle of Cannae, an intrepid Hannibal led two successful attacks on the Romans at Trebbia and Trasimene. Dissatisfaction with current strategy and Roman defeats led to the ascension of Fabius Maximus as Roman dictator. Preferring indirect attacks on supply lines and strategic assets, Maximus led the engagement against the Carthaginians in the years following.

Eventually, a disheartened Roman public — one concerned with swift victory — applied ample pressure causing the displacement of Fabius Maximus. In the next set of elections following the Roman Senate’s replacement of Maximus, Lucius Paullus and Gaius Varro were elected to direct the Roman effort against the Carthaginians.

In the battle of Cannae, a numerically superior Roman army proceeded to drive forward, amassing a huge force. The strategic formation of the Roman army placed emphasis on a strong center through the collection of a large majority of their heavy infantry in the force’s core. The Roman cavalry, in many accounts comparably inferior to the Carthaginians’, was placed out on the flanks. Thus, the Romans were betting on their heavy infantry center and strength in numbers to carry the day.

Hannibal, regarded by many as one of history’s top military commanders, recognized the need for a strategic change to counter the numerically superior and heavily weighted center of strength of the Roman forces. To counter the Roman strength, Hannibal rearranged his forces into a strategy now widely known as the double envelopment troop arrangement.

In the double envelopment, also known as the pincer movement, the military commander arranges his troops in a near arc formation, in many cases putting his more formidable forces on the outer flanks. Opposing forces are amassed in a single line, or a formation that is heavy in the center. When the battle ensues, the double envelopment engages the opposing army in its center while the flanks extend around it, eventually encircling it. When successfully undertaken as a military strategy, the double envelopment may lead to complete annihilation through the death or surrender of the enemy forces.

Arguably, Hannibal was the earliest to employ this element of tactical warfare in a major conflict. At the battle of Cannae, Hannibal organized his strongest cavalry on the flanks and put a relatively weaker force at the center of his arc formation. As the Romans advanced on the center, they unwittingly allowed the Carthaginian forces to encircle them. As the Carthaginian flanks encircled and advanced, the Roman army became completely surrounded with no area for retreat. Roman losses at the battle of Cannae are estimated between 60,000 and 70,000, including many Roman senators as well as Roman consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus.

In the aftermath of the Roman defeat at Cannae, allegiance to the Roman republic wavered as their ability to lead and secure the republic was questioned. While eventually the Carthaginians failed in their siege of the fortified city of Rome, these widespread losses in morale and military strength led to much upheaval in the Roman republic.

Today the United States faces a double envelopment of its own. Many of the more progressive components of Western civilization are riding on decisive battles between the West and the irreconcilable wing of radical Islam. The United States and its historical and strategic allies find themselves at the pivotal point of enemy encirclement.

Today’s double envelopment includes, on the right flank, forces that desire the ascension of a worldwide theocracy and a deterioration of human rights and general welfare worldwide. The same anti-democratic enemies that oppress their own people seize assets under populist guises and use religious indoctrination to control their masses are aligning at a critical point in history.

Positioned on the adversarial left flank are internal enemies that oppose the republic’s own actions of self-preservation. This internal subversion comes in many forms, including those who seek to undermine the morale, effort, and public sentiment behind major struggles worldwide. It is internally through unbalanced media, political opportunism overtaking public service, and individual agendas overriding the public good that the West faces its toughest test. Unwittingly or otherwise, the contemporary elements opposing thoughtful action of republican self-preservation are allying themselves with those seeking the destruction of principles of freedom and choice through an American defeat.

On the basis of politics and a misunderstood concept of American imperialism — which is nothing more than an exportation of democracy and economic liberalism — the amicable and progressive cause of liberty as a basic human right is now questioned. And just as Italian city-states defected from the Roman republic, so too do portions of the electorate defect from the American cause as morale is shaken and the cause undermined from without and within.