September 25, 2007

The Field of Battle

One of my English teachers in high school called 1066: The Year of the Conquest "the longest short book I ever read." I disagree.

The setting of scene for the Battle of Hastings--the decisive battle of the Norman Invasion--I especially like:

Given that a defensive battle had to be fought, this was a very good position which Harold or some other expert must have noticed long before. The cross-ridge is eight hundred yards long; its ends are protected by the steep valleys, and it cuts right across the only road out of Hastings. It rises sixty feet above the lowest point on the road, and about a hundred and fifty above the bottom of the marshy valley. The slope of it varies: it is not very steep anywhere on the south side, not more than one in fifteen, but steep enough to give defenders the upper hand. Part of the slope may have been cultivated then, but the top of the ridge was open heath and the edge of the forest was at Caldbec Hill.
In politics, the field of battle is important, too. Typically, incumbency is the best defensive position. But the thing is, the field keeps shifting in Florida.

Imagine if Harold's army scouted the field, then returned only to find that the ridge had flattened to a marshy plain, his army had lost every one of it professional warriors aka House-Carls, and suddenly William of Normandy no longer carried the Papal banner.

That would have changed the entire course of the battle. It gives you a sense of the continuing revolution affecting Florida from World War II to the end of the 20th century. From 1940 to 2000, an average of 2.5 million new residents settled in the Sunshine State.

That's at least a million new voters each decade; enough to keep a politician up at night wondering what exactly his or her state is gonna look like the next day, month, and year. Sure, incumbency matters. But if the field of battle changes every day, no palisade or buttress can be trusted for long. You can either constantly change strategy to each new set of surroundings, or you can muster something so dramatic, innovative, and soulful that the field of battle doesn't matter.

That's why we called him William the Conqueror. He made Harold's tactical advantage irrelevant by carrying the Papal banner. And that happens on the political battlefield, too. Again and again. Funny, one newspaper headline after the final Chiles-Bush debate of the 1994 Florida governor's race read: "Lawton the Conqueror."

No comments: