Real-life Spartans

| March 19, 2007

Jules Crittenden — himself no stranger to wartalks with Vietnam vet John Eade about Thermopylae:

John Eade hasn’t seen a war movie in more than 40 years, but he’s thinking about seeing “300.” I kind of get that. There is something about the Spartans’ simple illogical willingness to die at Thermopylae that I suspect speaks across the centuries to a lot of combat veterans. It is possible to understand how glad they felt about the opportunity that presented itself. But it’s the kind of thing that, if you try to discuss it with people who haven’t experienced it, places you at risk of being considered seriously disturbed.

I still watch war movies, looking for the ones that do it well as a technical matter, though real war ruined war movies for me. Even in the best, a written, acted script is vaguely offensive, that people who have never done this should attempt to dramatize it. There are maybe a handful that come close to capturing the strange normality of extraordinary events, when death and valor are common, unsurprising occurrences.

Images and dialogue will never convey things like the feeling of lying awake before dawn, when fear shoves its way up and down your esophagus like a fat, filthy rat; or the subdued euphoric feeling as the assault gets underway and you are ready to die; or the laughter in the midst of combat; or the inexplicable sadness over the death of someone who would have killed you. The emotions and shock movies try to portray are so often the stock ones, and the wrong ones.

Some movies come close, but struggle to deliver even a small piece of what someone like Eade can convey in a few spoken words. It isn’t the words, it is that thing his words carry, something almost imperceptible that comes across between the words, if you are able to recognize it. Within its embrace, it becomes completely logical that one should desire, in the company of 299 comrades, to face 250,000 Persians and die….

“We held our ground,”  Eade said.  Spread out along 550 meters, 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry had lost 124 of its 400 men in a few hours, with a similar number wounded. Thirty-four of the dead were from Eade’s Alpha Company.

Eade, now in his 60s, with broken body, is still a soldier. As Eade and I talked about Thermopylae the other night, we talked about the fact that for combat veterans, it is not ancient history. Eade knows what the Spartans knew.

Eade’s interest in this battle goes back to high school, and the way it captured his imagination then, when he was innocent of war. He says Vietnam bled the romance out of war for him, though I’m not sure that’s entirely true.

“I don’t think anyone who studies war doesn’t get stuck on Thermopylae. It’s that thing of standing your ground to the last man,” Eade said the other day. ”Three days of fighting set up the Persians for their ultimate defeat. It changed history. It has taken on mythic proportions. You want to be one of the 300 … If you had your chance to cut out or stay, you’d have stayed.”

Read the whole thing.  ..bruce..

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Category: Main, Military

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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