This is a Call to Arms

Published July 11, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

"Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I'm swamped."

Planning a war can be a logistical nightmare. It’s not as simple as declaring war, figuring out where your going to fight, then mustering an army and calling on your allies. Once the battle begins, there are thousands of mouths to feed, allies who will disagree with you for the sake of disagreeing, and pouty heroes with superiority complexes who will use any excuse they can get to avoid fighting. Some will even go so far as to disguise themselves as women.

In a battle involving many nations, you will need to establish a hierarchy. In the Trojan war, Agamemnon became the leader of the Greeks to whom all kings, princes, commanders, and heroes deferred to. Your army will more importantly need supplies–food, weapons, armor, medicine. If your army is fighting on foreign soil, where are your warmongering heroes going to get these things and how are they going to get them back to their camps? Are supplies going to be shipped in from their home countries and allies? Or are they going to pillage the land for food? In ancient times it was quite common for soldiers to troll the battlefield and take weapons, armor, clothing, and shoes from the dead.

After you’ve raised the funds (war isn’t cheap!), you’ll want to outfit your awesome new army. While you’ll want your kings and commanders to wear the fanciest new armor and to arm themselves with snazzy weapons, the foot soldiers invariably get the short end of the stick. Or should I say garden hoe. Because you spent all your war money on gold plated armor and diamond encrusted saddles (they were so shiny!) they will be forced to arm themselves with farm tools and wear the shabby clothing on their backs. They will have to rely on plundering the dead if they wanted a fighting chance. Also, shoes always seem to be in short supply (where is a Payless when you need one?), but at least you have shiny new leather boots with sapphire buckles!

How is this war going to affect the surrounding towns and villages? ARE there any towns and villages? Assuming your are fighting on your own soil, are the townspeople going to be required to house and supply your fantastically awesome army, or are they going to be terrorized by the enemy? How are the women from said villages treated? Women were typically abducted by the invading army as prizes, with the fairest going to the kings, then the heroes. The poor ugly ducklings that were leftover had to cater to the entire camp. Totally unappreciated.

How will your army plan for weather and terrain? A fight in a forest is going to be played out differently than a fight on a plain. In a forest, there are plenty of places you can hide to spring surprise attacks on the opposing forces. A plain, unless it has really high grass, not so much. Same goes with weather. The soldiers are going to have a much harder time fighting in the harsh extremes of winter and summer than spring and fall. In the winter, they will have to deal with snow (loads of it in some places), hypothermia (darn lack of shoes), inability to get fresh supplies, sickness, and food shortages. In the summer, they will have to deal with sweltering heat, heatstroke, sunburns, bugs, and a host of communicable diseases. That outrageously expensive armor you bought is going to act like a convection oven in the sun. Also, it will chaff. Should have gone with leather.

How does wildlife play a part in this? If they are fighting in the jungles of India for example, they will have to be wary of tigers, leopards, and depending on where and when the story takes place, lions. Not to mention the icky disease carrying bugs. Also, Spring can get really muddy in northern climates. In Northern New England, spring is referred to as mud season. And speaking of weird weather, are there any natural disasters (seasonal or random) that will impede fighting, and might possibly destroy your awesome army?

Once the battle has begun and you’ve planned for everything (including alien invasion, because you never KNOW), responsibilities will have to be doled out. Who will handle the reconnaissance? Who will plan battle strategies? Also, how have your heroes proved their merit? What prowess have they shown either in the past or on the battlefield?

And then there is that whole messy business of dividing of the spoils. Because if you don’t pamper your diva heroes, they will throw a fit and refuse to fight.

Why are you fighting anyways?

Books to increase your warrior skills:

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

The Illiad by Homer

The Trojan War by Barry Strauss

Commanders by R.G. Grant

Fascinating military commanders of the non-European persuasion:

Ramesses II

Qin Shi Huang

Cyrus the Great

Attilla the Hun

Kublai Khan

Darius III

Mithridates VI


Ashoka the Great


Minamoto Yoshiie

Suleiman the Magnificent

Oda Nobunaga

Do you have any advice for writing about war? Are there any military commanders that you find to be fascinating yet are relatively unknown?


6 comments on “This is a Call to Arms

  • I hate battles, so I try to avoid war. Unfortunately, I had one in another book I’m going to completely rewrite so it’s inevitable that I’ll need to do something with it. And it was all these details that always had me so stuck.

    What about those people? And these guys? And how do they get in the city? You know they used the sewer system before so they’ll have plenty of guards there this time, damn it.

    Why do I have to be king? [weep]

    And snaps for using Prince Humperdinck. I love that movie, and it’ll never go out of style. XD

    • I’m in the middle of re-writing my battle. Well, the scene of it. Where it takes place now, while cool and all, makes no sense. While I was plotting the re-write I came up against a brick wall where the Laws of the Land did not mesh with the plot. So I changed the plot.

      My battles tend to be very detailed for precisely that reason. I always take the big picture approach to my war.

    • It’s all about the book recs.

      The Trojan war gave an in-depth look at the war itself, from the psychological aspect to the logistics to the terrain. It also might have been where I learned about the shoes…

  • I’d add Shaka Zulu as an interesting study in commanding an army. His tactics were revolutionary not only to his region but to war in that time. It’s also interesting to watch how his actions kicked off the devastating Trail of Tears in Africa.

    And I completely agree about The Illiad (and not just because I want everyone to have to read it in six different translations like I had to). Much. 🙂

    • Shaka Zulu! As far as African Leaders go, Idi Amin fascinates me, although I wouldn’t call him a military commander. He is one interesting case study in psychology though.

      Six translations? o_0. The Iliad really influenced me. A lot. I think everyone should be required to read it. Although, maybe not in six different translations. Then again, maybe they should.

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