Adonis Diaries

The most potent weapon in long-term wars: Bread!

Posted on: October 21, 2013

The most potent weapon in long-term wars: Bread!

Henri Fabre wrote:

History honors the battlefields where death strikes us, but fails to talk of the wheat fields that keep us alive. History relate the names of royal bastards, but is incapable of telling the story of wheat and cereals. This is mankind foolishness…”

I am discussing the importance of bread among the “Bread eating” civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, the Greek, Romans, and the western empires.

Mind you that there are civilizations who relied on rice for daily subsistence, fish, oat or dried meat.

For example, the Mogul managed to conquer quickly the vastest of lands in history because they ate dried meat, stashed under their saddles.

The Germans ate oat raw, the same way that their horses did. This is an excellent cause to resist the Romans preemptive wars for centuries. The Romans considered these Germanic tribes as barbarous for this main reason.

For the bread eating civilizations, the  empire that grew more wheat in the long-term to feed the soldiers and the people back home was set to win the war.

The term “burned land” refers to the strategic method of burning the cereal crops as the invading army advanced.

It is no surprise that the period selected by invading armies is when the cereal crops were ripe for harvest: The reasoning was that the invading army will have plenty of food to harvest for the journey.

Napoleon Bonaparte campaign against Russia ended in a tragic fashion because Russia Czar Alexander I ordered burning the cereal field ahead of the advancing French armies.  For 50 days, the retreating French Grand Army was decimated due to lack of bread. The horses died for lack of oat and the soldiers relied on horse meat and their blood to survive.

It was not the cold but lack of bread that defeated Napoleon. It is reported that the French soldier felt hungry for an entire year afterward, regardless of how many times he ate per day: Hunger lingers deep in the subconscious.

Actually, many more French soldiers died from eating too quickly and too much bread as they reached safe destination.

In the US civil war, Lincoln won the war because the Northern States grew wheat in abundance and the South persisted on growing cotton, a harvest they could no longer export or eat.  The southern army was defeated for lack of bread in the last year of the war.

The north welcomed more immigrants from Europe and distributed vast land to them to grow wheat. And the women were used to plant the field, while the women in the south were helpless in these important tasks.

The largest northern center for baking bread in Alexandra was run by experts who studied the French treatise on processing flour and baking bread. “Whatever this war reserves for us, our silos are filled with wheat grains

In contrast, the daily Savannah Republic of Georgia published: “It is the ultimate in absurdity that our planters persist in growing cotton. Without bread, the soldiers will desert the battlefield and the people will die of hunger. Grow corn!”  The bushel of wheat cost $120 in 1863 in the southern States.

Cotton export represented two third of the wealth in the USA before the civil war, and only 3% of the cotton were processed for lack of industry in the south.

When Alexander of Macedonia landed on the shores of Turkey with a 30,000 strong-army, a Greek general, at the sold of Persia and governor of the province, suggested the war tactic of burning the land as Alexander advanced.  Persia King was sure of defeating the Greek army and declined this idea.

It was the Phoenicia City-State Tyre that warned Alexander of the Persian trap in Isos, and the Greek army circumvented the trap by marching at night. Tyre meant to weaken Persia hold on its economy, and it never crossed its mind that Alexander will destroy Tyre after 7 months of siege.

The armies of Napoleon were fed the best bread in Europe, thanks to Parmentier who supervised the milling and baking processes of the wheat.

Napoleon focused on the industry (the generator of wealth) and neglected agriculture: He imported wheat and cereal from Russia and Ukraine at cheaper prices than at home. In 1805, the war resumed against England and the combined forces of Prussia and Russia. The sea was blocked for import and Russia denied wheat and cereals to the French. England even purchased wheat from Egypt Muhammad Ali at premium prices in order to prevent the French from importing any wheat.

In 1813, Napoleon ordered the distribution of 2 million dish of soup daily for 5 months, until the next harvest of cereals. The soup was constituted of leftover bread, bones and vegetable of the season. The English mocked Napoleon saying “The French are reduced to eat dirt and bones

Note 1: Part of the stories were extracted from “History of bread in the last 6,000 years” by Heinrich Eduard Jacob, published in 1954.

Note 2: Ants harvest many kinds of grains, but saw only one kind of seminiferous “Herbacee Aristida” or “ant’s rice”, performing mono-culture for survival. This grain germinates during the rainy seasons and gives two harvests.

Note 3: Before new techniques for milling wheat using metallic cylinders and powered by steam engines, the bread eating civilization suffered from bad teeth, particularly the molars: milling with stones left residue of abrasive particles of stones in the flour..

Note 4: In 1830, a certain Muller (miller) conceived of cylinders powered by steam engine of Watt and Evans to mill the grain. The manufacture consisted of 5 stories of cylinders.  Engineer Jacob Sulzberger improved on the technique. Stefan Szechenyi from Hungary hired engineers from Switzerland to install a modern mill, and Hungary became the bread basket of Austria and Vienna for many decades.

In 1873, the US got interested in this mill during the Universal Exposition in Vienna. By  1879, governor Washburn hired engineers from Hungary, and the US became the world bread basket, and going on till now.

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