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Dead Or Alive

Rolf Lampa

First published in August 15, 2012 at 23:59


In reply to a statement by @ Janolof who wrote: "A horse with a severed achilles tendon will starve to death or become an easy prey. It would be less painful to kill them instantly. "

The context decides what made sense and did not make sense.

Joshua lead a small team of elite foot soldiers which made their way on foot to the place, the waters of Merom, which was located on a hill with spurs in all directions which the Canaanites patrolled with horses and chariots. The chariot’s striking power came mainly from its shock-effect with mounted scythes and rotating "javelins" which made them virtually impossible for infantry to stop, especially if the chariots came downhill with high speed along the valleys and rifts where you could not escape to the sides. In this way the Canaanites controlled the entire area.

The location was a central hub where allies to the Canaanites could gather and control the area of Galilee by shock attacks in all directions. They had 360 degree total control, and the relatively meager armed Israelis had no chance to even get into the area, let alone get past it.

However, there was no way the Israelis could avoid disarming the extremely superior enemy. But because of the light armament, and with only foot soldiers, that could be done only on the Israelis' own terms.

Joshua's civilian planning and military strategic and tactical planning is, by the way, still studied in the Israeli military academies, and some of the details here are taken from a reconstruction in a field study conducted by the former Israeli president Chaim Herzog, a military historian and a combat experienced Israeli military (including military governor of East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria), and the military historian Mordechai Gichon.

These two men went by foot the extremely demanding distances that Joshua's elite soldiers were forced to march to surprise the Canaanites. And they did this in order to decide for themselves which military strategic choices that Joshua had done with respect to the terrain, season, climate (ground conditions and water depths in rivers to cross), the time of day (light intensity and angle), angle of attack (downhill) etc, etc.

And in the case at hand the Canaanites camped in a valley beside a stream where they were well protected, but where the horses at the camp site had very limited space for mobility. And therefore Joshua realized that here he had his chance. At this very location he would strike when the chariots had been disconnected from the horses. He could also count on attacking downhill towards the creek, which would give his foot soldiers an extreme advantage in the decisive moment.

With the chariots disconnected so that the horses could access the water, the location became even more cramped because of the parked chariots. This was the most ideal set up for a shock attack on the camp, because even though almost no margins at all existed for the maneuvering of the horses with the chariots attached, the cramped site would be have been life threatening to attend with all the horses panicking and pulling chariots and scythes and javelins in a chaos that could have maimed the entire command unit.

With the people secured far beyond the reach of the chariots, which required certain ground conditions for accessibility, Joshua's elite soldiers undertook a "death march" to the mountain where the waters of Merom was located. They were to enter by foot straight into a "stronghold" which was basically impregnable, and the last distance they would have to advance in upland terrain under cover of the darkness of the night. Once they would arrive, it was the speed, i.e. the shock-effect that was almost their only weapon.

Their chance was to quickly incapacitate the horses by cutting the Achilles tendon and put the cars on fire (never to reappear) while defending themselves against the Canaanites who would try to ward off the disaster, a disaster which, however, was complete almost immediately.

The Canaanites, who were NOT foot soldiers, simply had to escape, but it could end but badly. The horses thus were not what they wasted their time on or even bothered about.

After the lightning-fast initial attack, for tactical reasons the shock No. 2.0 attack would have to be done immediately, by chasing the wildly fleeing enemies to finally slay them all (Joshua 11:8).

In short, it was a question of life or death for the two forces, and thus definitely not a case of animal protection round. Instead the Israelites had with a shock attack opened the previously completely blocked passage into Galilee.

Neither Herzog or Mordechai Gichon are Christians, nor even Jewish believers, but according to their analysis Joshua's military strategy and tactics was of one of the masterpieces in history, especially given the Israelis militarily quite inferior position.

For the soldier Herzog, which had seen death in the eye, it never struck his mind to comment on the suffering if the horses'. Among other things, such petty details differ living soldiers from dead soldiers.

/ / Rolf Lampa