“Congratulations on your promotion, Colonel!”
The newly minted Lieutenant Colonel looked up from a brief he was reading. With some degree of difficulty, he shifted his weight in the leather wing-backed chair and forced himself to rise. In his left hand he clutched the brief he was reviewing, while a smoldering cigar delicately was held in place by two of his fingers. Once erect, he grasped my hand and shook it with supreme authenticity.
“Thank you, Captain, thank you, brother. It is high time you get elevated beyond Third Lieutenant to Major.”
I chuckled. “What is the line, Colonel? Heaven won’t take me, and hell is too afraid I’ll take over.”
The Lieutenant Colonel grunted his agreement and waved towards the empty leather chair next to him.
“Join me for a cocktail and a smoke, Captain?”
“I would enjoy nothing more.”
I settled into the chair and stared reflectively at the fireplace in front of us. A small fire burned on the racks, not really providing warmth or light, more of just ambiance. I glanced around at the oil paintings on the wall. Stern figures of military men in outdated uniforms glared down at us. Some were recognizable; others were abandoned to historical obscurity, their value to posterity simply being decoration for a lounge.
“So tell me, Captain, you worked with some of our Green Berets who had been deployed down range last year helping to train the Ukrainian military. Are you pleased with their efforts?”
“I think the facts speak for themselves, Colonel. Our boys did, and continue to do, an exquisite job, though I think the valor of the Ukrainians themselves cannot be overlooked.”
The Lieutenant Colonel raised his cigar in a mock toast.
“Agreed, Captain, to the Ukrainians.”
“To the Ukrainians!” I repeated while lighting my own cigar.
“And to history!” The Lieutenant Colonel continued, “May the arrogance of the individual never waiver and give us the ability to predict the future.”
I raised an eyebrow and glanced at the Lieutenant Colonel as I sucked the flame into the end of my cigar.
“Can you expand on that Colonel?”
“Are you familiar with the battle of Isandlwana?”
“Where the Zulus devastated the British in 1879?”
“Yes, that one… why do you think the British were so thoroughly routed during that engagement?”
“Superior numbers of Zulu warriors?”
“Please, Captain! You are a student of history. You are well aware that numerical superiority is only a single factor in determining victory on the battlefield. Oftentimes, victory goes to the smaller force that is able to employ better tactics.”
“Valid, Colonel, do you think it was the fact that the Zulus were fighting for their homeland against an invading force? That they realized they had more to lose than the British?”
“Oh, I am sure that had something to do with it, but that never tells the entire story, does it? No, there was a singular reason the British lost at Isandlwana.”
“Do tell, Colonel.”
“The Commander-in-Chief of the British forces?”
“Yes. He was a thoroughly arrogant little man, dismissive of the Zulus, as he was all of the native peoples of Africa. I think it may be a little too much to say racist, as we would use the term today. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say he was a technologist. He believed in the superiority of the British Empire, because there was a British Empire. The advancements in weaponry were, in his mind, evidence of the natural superiority of Britain, or for that matter, any European nation. The Zulus were, well in his mind, the factional equivalent of savages.”
“Oh, I would agree, Colonel, but let’s not forget the political savviness of Cetshwayo kaMpande. He singlehandedly marshaled the entire Zulu nation, and maneuvered 20,000 warriors to within striking distance of the British during a night maneuver without ever giving away his position.”
“Agreed, Captain, and credit is due to Cetshwayo’s military and political prowess to be sure. But the British, more specifically, Chelmsford, should never have allowed that to happen. His dismissiveness allowed Cetshwayo to exploit the British vulnerability.”
“So you believe that Putin may be the reincarnation of Lord Chelmsford?”
“It would appear that at the very least he is channeling him, does it not? He began this campaign with an extreme level of dismissiveness regarding the Ukrainian defensive abilities, and has put a tremendous reliance on the military superiority of the Russian forces. That has not played out.”
“True, Colonel, the parallels are striking. But remember, the loss at Isandlwana caused a massive British response that ultimately led to a British victory.”
“Or at the very least a British occupation, my dear Captain, taken in the long view, I am not sure an actual victory was ever secured.”
“Much like what I suspect you are alluding to if the Russians are ultimately successful?”
“Indeed, mon Capitan.”