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TV Tropes Monday: Frontline General


Tweet of the Day: The Confidant

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This trope applies to General or their equivalents (such as an Admiral or Grand Marshall) that spends more time among the troops in the front lines rather than back at HQ. The page accurately describes why this was so common back in the day and why this trope is not as common today. However there are examples of both situations which break the mold.

Take one Darius the III, King of Kings and ruler of the mighty Achaemenid (Persian) Empire. He was not a man to lead from the front, he left that task to his generals, although he was on the battlefield close enough to see the battles. But Alexander of Macedonia would earn the monicker of The Great by doing just that, first as a cavalry officer under his father’s command, then as a king of Macedonia, a united Greece and later conqueror of all the lands west to the Hindus river. Darius defeats were so frequent that he fled the field and ended up murdered by his followers. Part of the reason he died in such a way is that in ancient times the idea of “The Land is the King and the King is the Land” was very much in effect. All power flowed from the monarch, thus successes in battle were his, as were his failures. A king or emperor who failed to lead from the front lost the confidence of his followers. If the king could not defend his kingdom, he was not worthy of it.

Then you have the scenario presented by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where it is the generals that win the battles, not the king. Again, a king that would not fight his own battles was not worthy of the crown, or so whispered the Lady to the new Thane. Of course, in the end, the traitor dies at the hands of his former fellow general and not the avenging princes. He miscalculation was to think that glory on the battlefield translated to power at court.

The Iraq War presents another take on this trope. The generals had at their disposal the latest information management technology, which presented a picture of the battlefield in near real time in part due to a new piece of technology called Blue Force Tracker. This technology was originally designed to give land based vehicles an IFF system (Identification Friendly or Foe) similar to systems on combat aircraft. It also allowed for HQ to track friendly units down right to the a single tank or jeep. The problem was that scale of the maps on the screens was in hundreds if not thousands of kilometers, while most engagements occurred at a dozen kilometers or more. So every time a battalion slowed down to brush of an insurgent attack or redeploy, it looked like they were rooted in place on the big screen. This would lead to generals screaming through telephones or sending scores of angry emails down the chain in order to get the forces moving to their objectives. Meanwhile, exasperated junior officers on the ground, seeing there units cover dozens of kilometers a day had to shrug and bare the increasing frustration from their higher ups.

Of course, in fiction, characters need to be in the thick of the action, otherwise why give them any screen time. Therefore, don’t expect this trope to become a dead horse trope anytime soon.

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