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World Class novelist Steven Pressfield previews his latest masterpiece, Killing Rommel

Friday, May 2, 2008
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HH: A special couple of hours straight ahead here as I’m going to spend them with one of the authors that I’ve always wanted to meet, and whose books I have greatly enjoyed. It is Steven Pressfield. He has a brand new book out called Killing Rommel, and what a book. It’s a remarkable story, and we’ll be talking a lot about that. But of course, you probably know him from Gates of Fire, an epic of the Thermopylae battle between the Greeks and the Persians, which is now required reading, I believe, Steven Pressfield, at West Point. Welcome to the studio, it’s good to have you.

SP: It’s great to be here, Hugh. Thanks for having me.

HH: Is that right about Gates of Fire, it’s required reading at West Point?

SP: Yeah, in certain classes it is, yeah.

HH: And then of course, Tides of War, which is one of my favorite novels because of the general in the middle of it, Alcibiades. And that one, though, was followed by an Alexander book. Remind me of the name of that one?

SP: There were two of them, actually, Virtues of War and The Afghan Campaign.

HH: And so you have been an ancient historian through novels.

SP: I have.

HH: Okay, and now you’ve zoomed up to the present, Killing Rommel. And I want to talk a lot about that. Before we do that, let’s get a little Steven Pressfield bio out there. Where are you from?

SP: I’m from New York, from Westchester County in New York.

HH: Okay.

SP: And came out to L.A. in 1980. I’m a graduate of Duke University. And what else do you want to know about?

HH: Well, you started writing movies. You were a movie writer, correct?

SP: Yes, I was right there on the B list for about ten years before my career ended as I got grey hair.

HH: And then you decided…how did you decide to go into Ancient Greece to start a novel? Because that’s really…you’re a fabulously successful novelist, but at some point, a light must have gone on and said I will write a book about Thermopylae. And many people must have told you you’re out of your mind.

SP: They did, they did. And I also told myself I was out of my mind. I actually, the first book I wrote was the Legend of Bagger Vance, which is a golf story.

HH: Sure, yup.

SP: And when that came out, people said well, what’s the next book? And I had no idea. But I’ve always been kind of a Greek buff. I just read Thucydides for fun. That’s pretty crazy, as you know. So I just thought the battle of Thermopylae is just an incredible story that somebody should retail. It’s been told a million times, and I thought I’m really nuts to do this, because no Americans can even spell Thermopylae, let alone pronounce it, let alone care. But it turned out pretty good, and everybody seemed to, you know, it had a pretty good life.

HH: And then, obviously, you get to write what you want now, because you’ve sold so many books. And then the book about Alcibiades. Tides of War did not sell as well as Gates of Fire, did it?

SP: No, it didn’t.

HH: Why do you think that is?

SP: I think it was, you know, Gates of Fire was a pure hero story that appealed to people on so many levels. It was kind of the classic underdog-sacrifice-warrior-heroism, whereas the story of Alcibiades, that terrible 27 year civil war between Athens and Sparta, the characters were much more ambiguous, you didn’t have real heroes, there was no real black and white. In fact, Alcibiades was kind of an unlikable character in a lot of ways, even though a great object lesson for us in America, in a democracy that’s also an empire, which is what appealed to me about it. And it was a much more serious, you know, story.

HH: It really was. I still find myself thinking about him in the portrait of a genius of war, and a genius of demagoguery, but also a deeply flawed character.

SP: Yeah.

HH: And you brought that to life very, very well. And then Alexander drew you in. Now I’ve not read those books, because you’ll understand this because you have passions for literature, I’ve read your website, www.stevenpressfield.com, we’ll come back to that, and my passion for literature just does not extend to Alexander. I love Plutarch’s Lives like you do, I love the Greeks, but I do not care for Alexander. Why did you go there?

SP: I guess I do love Alexander. I thought that the story of a guy who had conquered the world by the time he was 25 years old is just an amazing story, dead by the time he was 33, who wept when he had no more worlds to conquer. I was just fascinated by it, not to mention by the military tactics of the whole thing, and how he took warfare to a whole other level that is still being, you know, his, the techniques that he evolved are still being used today.

HH: Now when you encounter military historians and military professionals, what do they think of your grasp of both the history and the technique of war?

SP: You know, it’s like fighting Marines and Special Forces guys that I’ve met, and I’ve met many of them, they are totally on my side, and feel like they’ve learned things from the sort of academic nature of what I’ve done. Other academics that I’ve met have been less friendly. I think that they don’t like someone coming out of the world of fiction, and kind of invading that territory of history, where everything has to be the, the T’s have to be crossed, the I’s have to be dotted. So it’s been good among the real fighting guys, and not so great among the academics.

HH: You know, an interview I did with Ken Burns, remarkable film producer of the Civil War and other great books and videos, told me once that the key for him was to put the story back into history, so that people would actually pay attention. It seems to me that that’s what you’ve done with all of your books, including, and very much so, in Killing Rommel, your brand new book. So let’s go to Killing Rommel. Did all these ancient novels, novels of the ancient world in war, and all of a sudden, we’re in 1942, or actually, we start in 1938, and even before that at Oxford, and I’ll come back to that. What led you to decide I’m going to write a novel about the Desert War?

SP: Okay, I’ll give you sort of the long answer here.

HH: We’ve got time.

SP: Is that okay? You got time?

HH: Yeah.

SP: I was actually researching Alexander the Great, and I needed to find out about, I’ll give you the technical answer here. I wanted to find out about his cavalry tactics, you know, how did he fight at the battle of Gaugamela?

HH: Sure.

SP: How did he fight at Issus? And of course, there’s nothing written about Alexander more recently than 400 years after his death. So there’s really nothing in the ancient past. So I began researching things like how did Frederick the Great use cavalry? How did Napoleon use cavalry? How did they use cavalry in the Civil War? And that led me to Rommel, and to Heinz Guderian, the other great Panzer general of the Blitzkrieg era, who were really using cavalry tactics, which makes sense in a highly mobile armored division and regiments. And so then I got hooked on Rommel, and I though this is, maybe I should do a story with him as a protagonist. But I couldn’t quite warm up to Rommel too much. But as I was researching it, I kind of stumbled onto this special forces, this British special forces outfit, really the first special forced outfit…

HH: The Long Range Desert Group.

SP: The Long Range Desert Group. And that name just grabbed me. The name grabbed me, the Long Range Desert Group. If I was there…wouldn’t you?

HH: Yes.

SP: I would have joined in a second.

HH: I’d never heard of it until I picked up your book.

SP: Neither had I. It almost sounds like a business, you know, or something like that. So that really appealed to me, these guys who were just in the desert in unarmored Chevrolet trucks, you know, with a couple of machine guns going five hundred miles behind enemy lines. And so that kind of hooked me, Hugh, and I just felt, I’ve got to tell the story of these guys.

HH: Right. Now I want to set up the context of this so that people understand. And we’re going to conduct a two-hour interview, and I’m not going to give away the end of this book. I’m not even going to give away a lot of the details of the book as we talk about characters, because it’s really quite moving, and it’s quite an extraordinary conclusion. But as we sat down, I told you I know these guys, to a certain extent, because I know…I’m a civilian’s civilian, but I’ve gotten to know a number of our Marines and Special Forces and Army guys who’ve been operating in the desert for a long time, some of them doing the light armored vehicles that we have out now, that are like these…how many ton trucks are these Chevy’s that they’re running around in?

SP: They were just ton and a half trucks, what they called 30 hundred weights, 3,000 pounds.

HH: And so they’re just way out there, and as you mentioned, very lightly armored. But their mission…

SP: They’re not armored at all, yeah.

HH: They’ve just got the browning…

SP: In fact, they got them from a dealership in Cairo. They weren’t even army issued. They just went into a civilian dealership and bought them.

HH: That is remarkable. And were you a motorhead, by the way, before you started this?

SP: No, I wasn’t. You know, I just had to sort of pick it up as I went along. No, I was not.

HH: Because there’s a lot of truck repair and tank repair, and other things. And how much did you know about tanks before you started this?

SP: I didn’t know a damn thing. It was all research.

HH: How long did this take you to write?

SP: It took a long time, Hugh. It was actually like two and a half years, and a lot of research went into this, because in writing about the ancient world, you can really fake it. You know, nobody knows exactly what the Spartan upbringing was, nobody’s going to catch me, you know?

HH: Yeah.

SP: But this, so far, nobody’s nailed me, but I’m sure that there are errors of fact in there. But I’ve gone to great pains to eliminate them as much as I possibly could.

HH: Let’s tell them about the protagonist, Lt. Chapman. Give us the brief portrait of people, of Chapman.

SP: I was just thinking, maybe you were just setting the stage a second before, Hugh.

HH: Yeah.

SP: Maybe I should do that a little bit here.

HH: Please.

SP: That…

HH: In fact, we’re going to go to break in a minute and a half, so I just want to give you time.

SP: Okay, just the setting of this story, Killing Rommel, is the North Africa campaign in World War II, 1940 to the beginning of ’43, which was really not an American campaign. It was really the Axis forces, mainly German, some Italian, against the British. And the situation was that the British were barely hanging on in Cairo, which was a sort of protectorate of theirs. But meanwhile, all of Europe was in Nazi hands, the Americans hadn’t entered the war yet, Russia was being attacked by 166 Nazi divisions, and things were pretty grim. And they had Rommel and the Afrika Korps, Rommel the greatest desert fighting general of all time, and the Africa corps, a really crack outfit. And they were just kind of kicking the British’s butt, pushing them back and back to Cairo. And it was, it became a case where the war might have been lost right there, because…

HH: Because Suez is…the Suez Canal…

SP: Middle East, Suez, the oil fields were there.

HH: Right.

SP: And there really were no other British armies other than in the Far East where the Japanese were wiping them out. And it was, there were really no other armies in play of the West. So that’s kind of the time period and the setting of what was happened, that this story takes place in.

– – – –

HH: When we went to break, Steven, we were setting the stage for this, and I want to spend a little bit more time on this, because most Americans, the only thing they know about the desert war is Patton.

SP: Right.

HH: They’ve seen Patton, and that’s Operation Torch, and Eisenhower sends it in, in 1942, and they think we won that. And of course, it had been going on for two and a half years by the time Operation Torch gets underway.

SP: Right.

HH: And Montgomery wasn’t there from the start, either. And what you had mentioned is the Brits attack, after the war broke out, the Brits attacked into Libya, against the sort of hapless Italians, and then Hitler dispatched Rommel after the fall of France to push the Brits back. And if he’d gotten to Cairo, and taken Alexandria and Cairo, it would have cut the lifeline of the Empire from India, and would have gotten the oil fields. The war probably would have been lost at that point. So the book opens earlier, and we’ll come back to that. But at one point, he gets as far as El Alamein, and they’ve heard that. But describe for Americans the significance of El Alamein.

SP: Okay, Hugh, you’re really on the ball on this thing. I’ll tell you, I’ve got to tip my hat to you. The thing about fighting in the desert was that there’s really no way to draw a line. There’s nothing…you can always be outflanked. The tanks just have to kind of go around you. So Rommel was pushing from west to east, towards Cairo, and there happens to be in the desert there between the sea, the Mediterranean Sea on the north, and the impassible Qattara depression, which is like 400 feet below sea level salt marshes, there’s about a thirty mile strip of the desert just narrows down to a kind of choke point there. So it was possible for the British to put in what they called boxes, which were like heavy mine fields covered by concentrations of artillery, with mobile reserves of tanks in the background, and anti-tank guns in positions, and all kinds of mine fields that were like miles and miles deep, ten miles deep, and so that they could construct a defensive line in that one particular spot called El Alamein. El Alamein was actually a little railway siding, that there’s nothing else there but that. So that was the battle where the British held Rommel, and they were able to build up men and material behind it. And then they struck back at Rommel in late ’42, Montgomery did. And eventually, after three battles over several periods of months, they were finally able to push, start to push Rommel back.

HH: And let’s talk about the line where Rommel…your book covers the flow of the whole campaign. And again, I don’t want to give away anything. But there’s a line that matters a great deal to Rommel as he faces the Brits, of course, with the Americans knocking on his back door. And the name of that line is?

SP: The Mereth Line.

HH: And was that…in Britain, if you bring it up, will people immediately know that?

SP: It’s a good question. I’m not sure how much people will remember of anything beyond Brittney Spears, but I would think they do, because so many people fought, their fathers fought, their grandfathers fought there.

HH: Yeah, it’s funny about the war, the North African campaign is, because of Patton. We know about Operation Torch, and we know about Rommel. “I read your book, you glorious bastard.” And we know about El Alamein, and we have a rather diminished understanding of Montgomery because of that.

SP: Yes.

HH: And my father was a World War II veteran, is gone now, really disliked Montgomery. The Americans have never liked Montgomery. But this is going to be very interesting to see what the Brits think about an American novelist writing about the pivot of the War.

SP: It will, it will.

HH: Have you had any reaction yet from your pals?

SP: I’ve gotten just a few e-mails, because the book is actually out, you know, it just came out in England. And I’ve gotten very good response so far from people who were really knowledgeable. So I don’t know if they’re really buffs, World War II buffs, or maybe if they represent the population. But the e-mails I’ve gotten so far have been very positive, like oh, you got it right, that kind of thing.

HH: And I’m jumping ahead a little bit here, but there are a tremendous number of real people in the book. Paddy Mayne, Wilder and Tinker, different, different people in here. Are their compadres still alive, whom you sat down and had a talk with about these gentlemen?

SP: I was not able…

HH: They’re all almost gone.

SP: There are very few left, you know. In fact, I don’t even know of any that are left. There may be a couple, but very, very few. It’s funny how many of them, Hugh, and I’ve really got to commend you. You are on the ball on this thing. You’ve got it down pat.

HH: I love this book. I can’t tell people enough, you’re going to love this book. And I know it’s going to, if you’ve got someone serving in the Armed Services right now, get them a copy of this book, especially if they’re a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. You know, I did, Steven, to digress, I was a guest of the 118th Cavalry, California National Guard on Saturday night, and talked to them a lot about cavalry tactics. And you know, they lead from the front. They’re way in front of people, like these guys are. So I think you’re going to be amazed at how many copies of this sell immediately into that. But back to these real people, no one, the contemporaries are all gone?

SP: Yeah, there are a few left, but very few. And what was sort of interesting to me is how many of these guys died not that long after the War. It’s not like of other causes, motorcycle accidents, you know, illness. It’s interesting.

HH: Yeah, I read that, the afterwards that you had printed in here, and the DSO’s and the various people. Guys were dying in ’55, the motorcycle accident I think is Paddy Mayne, isn’t it?

SP: Yeah, Paddy Mayne was in a car accident, and Paddy Mayne was a great Irish hero who would…I think he was the most decorated soldier of World War II…

HH: That was in the book.

SP: Four DSO’s, which are like…the only thing above that in British, it’s Distinguished Service Orders, the Victorian Cross, the equivalent of our Medal of Honor. And he should have won that, you know, twice over, and amazing saga of this guy, Paddy Mayne. And he died in a car crash in 1955, I think.

HH: Right, Special Air Service is also sort of a complement, or a part of the Long Range Desert Group.

SP: Yes, the Special Air…the SAS, is like the British Special Forces, probably the crack special forces unit in the world today. They were founded then for that fight by David Stirling in, for the war in North Africa. And they were the guys who really were sort of the muscle end of the raiding behind enemy lines. And I’ll tell you just one thing about Paddy Mayne that people don’t even believe this, that on one raid where they were blowing up parked aircraft at Axis airfields, he went in on foot. And there was like a sentry parked by every…and he killed seventeen of them, one at a time, just with his knife, just with his knife.

HH: You attribute to Paddy Mayne the line crazy is our business on Page 170. And at another point, you write about him, Mayne possesses an odd delicacy of speech. He will swear like a trooper, but without every employing the ubiquitous term for fornication which most soldiers use every tenth word, or any obscene term for a woman or a female anatomical part. Now are those, are those part of Steven Pressfield’s imagination? Or did you…

SP: No, that’s true. That’s really true.

HH: That’s why I love your books. You went and found these two, crazy is our business, and his manner of speech?

SP: Well, not crazy is our business. But his manner of speech is true. And he was really an interesting guy. He was a solicitor, in other words, a lawyer, a Cambridge man, comes from a really good family in Northern Ireland, and was just an amazing hero, in addition to like a real world-class athlete in rugby, like the Kobe Bryant of his era, kind of a guy.

HH: Has there even been a movie made about him?

SP: No, no. There’ve been a couple of books written about him, but I don’t think there’s been a movie, nothing I’ve heard of.

HH: Have you…has this book been optioned yet for film?

SP: No.

HH: This is going to be a movie, do you think? You’re a movie guy. This is going to be a movie.

SP: I’d like it to be, but we’ll see.

HH: There’s a heck of an arc of a story here. Okay, let’s retreat now, even though there are lots of retreats of both sides in the book, and go back to the opening of the book. And now we want to talk about Richard Lawrence Chapman, or Chappy. And we’ll do that, but that music tells me I’ve got to go to break.

– – – –

HH: Steven, let’s go back to England before the War. It’s interesting, you’ve written a lot about democracies that have to go to war, ancient and now modern. And we are a democracy that’s presently in a war. And I remember after 9/11, many Americans rushed to join the services. Tonight, I’ll be smoking a cigar, in fact, with a guy who was retired from the Army for a long time, just got back from Iraq, because he put his hand up, had to go on Lipitor in order to serve again.

SP: Wow.

HH: And you accurately convey in this sort of the rush to get into the War that happened after France was attacked, after Britain was attacked. How did you figure that out? Because you were trying to communicate, I think, what that feeling was.

SP: Well, it’s, I guess, I mean, that’s just the reality of it, right, Hugh? I mean, when Poland was attacked on September 1st, 1939, that was when the Brits really knew that it was over, that Neville Chamberlain’s peace in our time wasn’t going to happen. And I think that there was a definite rush just like with us after Pearl Harbor. And kind of what I’m really trying to get at in this book, I don’t know if I’m talking too much or not…

HH: Oh, no, not enough.

SP: But what really struck me about the North Africa campaign, and really the whole European theater, particularly among the British, was that these guys were not, the British who went to fight, were by no means professional warriors or professional soldiers. They were really like us. It was a classic democracy of guys that sort of reluctantly went. They were really civilians, and just had to sort of rise to the occasion, and they did.

HH: But you quote a German officer before his death, Ehrlich in the book, and he’s in a hospital tent with Chapman whose recovering. And he scoffs at the idea that the Brits are amateurs, because they’re such, I guess, ferocious. Well, they’ve killed him, they’ve killed him. And so they’re the Teutonic, professional Rommel versus the British amateur Chappy, is a very…but are they that different at the conclusion of your studies? Or are they the same sort of thing?

SP: I think they are different, to some extent, but it’s a very good question. I know that…I was just…what I was watching, I can’t remember what I was watching the other day, but it was something that was saying that man for man, the German army, the Wehrmacht, throughout World War II, was far and away the most superior army in terms of how many casualties they caused in the enemy, as opposed to their own casualties. But the British and the Americans, I mean, Victor Davis Hanson talks about this sometimes, too, about how democracies that are not hard-core warrior cultures, once you get them ticked off, they seem to rise to the occasion as Americans did, you know, in all the theaters, and as the Brits did. And of course, the British conquered the world. The Tommy’s, Tommy Atkins, they were invincible in their era. And I think that’s what happened with these civilians who were able to kind of muddle through in so many situations where that was the only way that things were going to work out, because as you know, the plan goes up in smoke as soon as the first blow is landed.

HH: Yeah.

SP: And I think the Brits and the Americans are also very good at that kind of muddling through.

HH: I want to talk a little bit about how they came to be that way. In February, I was at Oxford, to the Oxford Union. It was the day after the 75th anniversary of the famous resolution Resolved that we will not fight for king or country. And of course, four years later, that passed in ’33, and five years later, Chappy is graduating from Oxford, and rushing off to join, can’t wait to get in. Was that near universal? Did all of their Ox-Bridge people, Cambridge and Oxford, run off and join the war?

SP: You know, I’m not really sure about that, Hugh. I’m just sort of telling my own story here. But I do think that the nature of the emotion at the time, I think, was that this war had been coming for so long, and there had been so much resistance to it within the British nation, a lot of people were really on the side of Germany, and really could kind of relate to the other blonde-headed, blue-eyed race, that a tension kind of built up, like an unbearable suspense of which way are we going to jump, that finally when Hitler sort of, you know, threw down the gauntlet when he attacked Poland, that tension was just released all at once. And people were so relieved to know that one way or another, this thing was going to be resolved.

HH: And the randomness of that, he goes down to enlist with everybody else, to Piccadilly Square? Was it…

SP: Yeah, it was Kensington, actually in this case, but that’s fictional, you know.

HH: And so, and there are all the regiments, the tankers say why walk when you can ride, and he signed up with the tanker.

SP: You read this book well, Hugh.

HH: Oh, it’s really capturing a lot of things. But I want to spend for a moment about Rose, because it’s in the form of a memoir of someone who knows him. It’s his memoir, and it’s a memoir of someone who knows him very well. And when we come back, we’ll talk about Rose, so all you movie producers out there, there’s a wonderful female lead in this, too.

– – – –

HH: We were talking about Oxford, out of which the protagonist, Richard Lawrence Chapman, or Chappy, comes. He is, “I am a product of the English public school system, old, rich, freshly ruined.” Can you give a little bit, for people who don’t have any idea of what the English public school system, or what Ox-Bridge means, the background, because it’s central to understanding how he distinguishes himself in this book.

SP: Well, what they call public schools over there are really private schools in our lexicon. And it’s definitely the province of the privileged classes. And a person would have, would go to public school and university, and that sort of, that kind of combo, like it would be Ampleforth-Cambridge, or Eaton-Oxford, that kind of thing, which sort of cast him into a sort of a social sliver of hierarchy that there was no getting out of forever. And it was really, you know, it’s from the old British system of privilege, and the landed aristocracy and stuff. And when the War happened, the third level was added to that, which was the regimental, and that was whatever regiment that you happened to go. So you would be Ampleforth-Oxford-Scots Greys, or something like that. And that was, you would sort of drop that like a name, and that meant something within British society.

HH: Flash forward, another key character is a guy named Collie, Collier. He’s a sergeant, he’s a Kiwi. And I think we neglected to mention that the North African campaign contains great, many more people than Englishmen. They’ve got all these Australians and Kiwis running around.

SP: Right, South Africans, Empire troops, Indians, lots of, the whole Empire was there.

HH: The Kiwis are going to love this, and as you said at the end of this, the Long Range Desert Group veterans were esteemed and honored in New Zealand for as long as their days extended.

SP: Right, they were primarily New Zealanders, and there was a reason for that.

HH: Why?

SP: That the, like I said, the Long Range Desert Group operated in unarmored Chevrolet trucks. If you can imagine this, that they would just go into the worst desert in the world that the Germans wouldn’t go near, even the Arab tribesmen stayed away from these things, and they would be, you know, a thousand miles from nowhere, no water, no fuel, no anything. And it took a very special kind of person to do this. It was not sort of the butt-kicking special forces guys we might think of, Delta Force kind of guys. It really, what they wanted was the more mature sort, the kind of person that could motivate himself and sustain himself, that had a sense of humor, that could muddle through when the occasion demanded it, that was patient, that could work with other people, almost like the kind of guys you have in submarines. And so New Zealanders, who a lot of them were farmers and stockmen and thing like that, who were raised where they had to take care of the vehicles on the farm, take care of the sheep, take care of the cattle, were that kind of guy, that you could send them out on their own, or just a few of them, and they wouldn’t panic, you know, alone in this trackless waste for day after day after day. And so a lot of the Long Range Desert Group were New Zealanders, and they performed spectacularly.

HH: There’s also an element in here, I’ve got to find my note in this about Collie, Collier. What do I know of Collie? In real life, you have Chapman saying I would never have met such a man either socially or professionally, and yet here, we are closer than brothers. I consider it one of the single honors of my life to serve beside him. And he’s got that, it sounds a little dodgy-do to me, sir. In a way, Collier is who I want to be, a straight ahead chap, decent and true, with no humbug about him. And at one point, they’re reunited, the lieutenant and this sergeant. And to quote, “The intensity of emotion on his part and mine takes me back.” And it’s sort of an extraordinarily little picture of war, and how people from across the world, in different social classes, become best of friends.

SP: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the things that’s very, very true about serving in a combat zone, that in this case, what I’m really talking about is the officers and enlisted men, or as they call them, other ranks in England, that the social gulf in England is much greater than it is here, so that a man of the privileged classes, like Chap, or Lt. Chapman, really would rarely have anything to do with men of the trades, unless he was involved with buying something in a store, something like that. But of course in the service, they’re thrown together, shoulder to shoulder, and I think that that’s, in many ways, there’s something really poignant about that, and very moving, that these guys who would never be friends in any other lexicon become tighter than brothers under fire when they have to.

HH: Again, I refer back to this dinner I was at for the 118th Cavalry, California National Guard. And they’re all veterans of Iraq, and some of them Afghanistan. And the non-commissioned officers are, and the command major sergeant, are truly running this ball. But the generals and the colonels and the majors are all around, too, and it’s an extraordinary camaraderie, which I think you’ve captured here. Does it reflect, does it remind you of anything from your ancient studies? Or is this a democratic modern situation?

SP: Oh, that’s a very good question. I’m not sure. I don’t know if the…I suppose it was like that in the ancient days. You do have the wealthy families and the leaders and the kind of officers, and then you do have the kind of enlisted men. But I can’t think of like a direct parallel. I think it was more democratic in those days than it is today.

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