Thursday, 3 February 2011

Ill-considered cavalry charge of the week

Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why

That was Alfred Lord Tennyson on that famously unsuccessful 1854 cavalry charge. Here's Gary Brecher on a similarly misconceived cavalry charge, 2011 style:

Instead, the best Mubarak’s remaining goons can do is organize a cavalry charge. I kid you not. About ten seconds into the video you’ll see a real live cavalry charge by a dozen riders, some on horses, some on camels. This is Mubarak’s response: amateurs on livestock. Sad...

But even camels and horses are intimidating at first, if you’re on foot at street level.  So when the Mubarak Loyalist Petting-Zoo Squadron comes clopping down the cobblestones, the mob/infantry falls back and this tiny cavalry force charges down the pavement. But these guys are untrained in cavalry charges. They do what every incompetent cavalry force in history does: they lose cohesion and get overwhelmed by infantry. The camels and horses charge at different speeds, so they get separated. And they have no commander, no clear objective. They’re armed only with whips, a very short-range non-lethal weapon. And these horses are not battle-conditioned, so when they see a wall of humans ahead of them, screaming and throwing shit at them, they stop. That’s what happens when you use a nag that’s been dragging tourists to the smoggy sights of Cairo for years gets call on to do a charger’s job.

With the horses stopped dead, the cavalry is doomed. And what happens next is beautiful to watch. It restored my faith in humanity: even after centuries, these brave Cairo guys know exactly what to do against cavalry. We still got it! They let the riders pass through, then, when one of the horses rears and pivots around, disorienting his rider, the rioters converge on the horse from behind, from the sides. They pull the rider down and start kicking him to death. Play this video a few times and you’ll see that one man in the crowd, a big guy it looks like, is a natural warrior. He just seems to know instinctively how to deal with a mounted enemy: he bounces like a guard on defense, waiting for the horse to make its move, then grabs for the bridle from the side. That kills all movement and gives his friends the guts to attack, pulling the rider down to the pavement. That’s a great, also kind of a horrible moment, when the rider gets pulled down. Reminded me of that great scene in Dawn of the Dead when those arrogant bikers try to ride through the mob of zombies and get their intestines eaten tartare style. You can’t overestimate the power of cavalry, especially if it’s not ruthless enough to ride through, not at, not towards, the crowd.  It’s a scene that’s happened so many times over the centuries: the peasants take their revenge on the cavaliers, the horse riders. Cavalry that’s stopped is dead cavalry. That’s what happened to the Bradleys in the slums of Baghdad, and it happens much, much faster when all you’re riding is a little horse. (Notice, by the way, how the camel, much higher and harder to reach, survives much better than these little cart horses.)
Ce n'est pas la guerre, et ce n'est pas magnifique.