The 10 Greatest Uses of Trash Talk in the History of War
Nothing about Hollywood is more unrealistic than the droll one-liners delivered in the heat of battle. Nobody's brain operates like that in real life -- when facing imminent destruction, most of us just manage a few mumbled words followed by the sound of retching.
Yet history records some badass trash talk that would put Schwarzenegger to shame, some spoken in dire circumstances. Of course, it takes a certain type of badass. Like ...
King Leonidas I, the Battle of Thermopylae
We've devoted a fair amount of analysis to the events of the movie 300, not because so much of it is bullshit, but because a lot of the more awesome elements of the story are regarded by historians to be true. The Spartans' ability to trash talk is among them.
Prior to the battle, it was demanded that Sparta submit to the overwhelmingly powerful Persia by its ambassador. When he demanded that the Spartans surrender their arms, Leonidas had an answer.
"Come and take them."
(Or in the original Greek, "Molon labe.")
The Spartans are kind of famous for being able to not give a fuck in very few words, and this was their masterpiece. This simple Greek phrase somehow managed to roll every top badass one-liner into two words -- alternate interpretations include "Over my dead body" and "Bring it."
We're saying they smelled what he was cookin'.
This was, of course, the official foreplay to the Battle of Thermopylae, where a lot of the most badass, overacted lines from 300 would actually be spoken. Yes, that stuff about how Spartans would fight in the shade of the enemy's arrows and dine in hell (well, Hades) is actual, historically documented fact.
It turns out you can condense Badass into bricks.
General Robert Nivelle, the Battle of Verdun
On June 23, 1916, about halfway into one of the bloodiest battles in World War I (and human history), French General Robert Nivelle issued an order to his tired and tattered troops, forced to stand against the impeding German forces. The order was simple.
"They shall not pass!"
General Robert Nivelle the Gray.
Or rather, "Vous ne les laisserez pas passer, mes camarades" (it's not a very badass language, French). But the shorter, punchier form is the one that everyone heard and remembered. And we mean everyone.
Well, everyone except Chad. That guy's a douche.
This simple phrase electrified the troops to the point that it was made immortal. "They shall not pass!" became the definitive slogan for the soldiers defending the Maginot Line and achieved cultural immortality soon afterward. The phrase has appeared on books, posters and medals, and continued to be used as the defiant slogan for numerous movements throughout the 20th century and beyond. And Gandalf.
This medal is awarded to the survivors of Verdun and anyone who kills a Balrog.
Genghis Khan, the Siege of Bukhara
If there's one thing history has taught us, it's that anyone who picked a fight with Genghis Khan was likely to experience a ton of rapidly approaching ass-kickery.
Even though you just can't help but want to pinch those adorable cheeks!
Shah Muhammad II of the Khwarazmian Empire found this out the hard way when he insulted Genghis by killing his messenger. This not only resulted in one of the most brutal acts of revenge in history, but one of the most systematic dismantlings of a civilization in history. Some Khwarazmians called the destruction of an entire nation over one messenger slight overkill. The Khan had an answer for them:
"I am the Flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."
Yes, Genghis Khan was something of a supervillain.
Genghis Khan went on to become a legendary leader, fighter and lover, whereas you don't see a whole lot of Khwarazmians around. Shah Muhammad II spent the rest of the days in forgotten exile on an island in the middle of nowhere, no doubt fully aware of the fate his empire suffered due to his terminal lack of good manners.
"I told you no creamer! Where did you say you were from, again -- Atlantis?"
John Paul Jones, the Battle of Flamborough Head
John Paul Jones, the father of the American Navy and the one-time temporary conqueror of England, found himself in dire straits on September 23, 1779, during the Battle of Flamborough Head. While dueling the HMS Serapis, Jones' boat was outgunned, undermanned and, ultimately, sinking.
Also, just about everything was on fire.
Having clearly won, Captain Pearson of the Serapis asked Jones if he was ready to surrender. Any sensible sailor would realize "certain death" was the only other option, but John Paul Jones was not a sensible sailor. According to the English, in fact, he was a flat-out pirate.
We can't see why.
From a sinking ship whose decks were awash with blood, Jones shouted ...
"I have not yet begun to fight!"
After this ballsy proclamation, which likely had the opponent in stitches, Jones began to fight. He rammed his ship into the Serapis, cleared its deck with sharpshooters and had his men storm its deck with swords and grenade-bombs like the pirates they totally weren't, honestly.
This picture was brought to you by the letter "Arrr!"
Jones' ship was lost, but Jones and his men had no problem commandeering the Serapis. He sailed it to the Dutch Republic, where Jones was hailed by the drug lords in Amsterdam as "The Terror of the English."
Upon hearing that Captain Pearson, who had also survived the encounter, had been knighted for valor at Flamborough Head, Jones added to his list of awesome quotes with:
"Should I have the good fortune to fall in with him again, I'll make a lord of him."
Lord of the zings! BAM!
Oliver Hazard Perry, Battle of Lake Erie
Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry was the type of man that Cracked lists were invented for, starting with his impossibly ballsy name.
His real first name was "Fist," but people kept fainting.
When he engaged the Royal Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, the 27-year-old Perry famously boasted, "If a victory is to be gained, I will gain it." He meant it.
Perry experienced slight setbacks, like his flagship getting sunk while he was on it, but the battle was nevertheless one of the most spectacular naval victories in U.S. history, so much so that it marked the first time a British naval squadron had surrendered, ever.
Perry takes a few minutes during battle to get a little fishing time in.
As the ships were now the property of the U.S. Navy, Perry sent a message to General William Henry Harrison to let him know about their recent acquisitions. The message described all Perry felt there was to describe about such a historical victory:
"We have met the enemy and they are ours."
Perry became one of the most beloved heroes of the war, alongside the ranks of future presidents Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. Had he not perished just a few years later, it could very well have been him sitting in the presidential chair instead of Harrison.
Believe it or not, this man was once famous for a lot more than dying.
Now, the best we have to offer him is a stamp.
With mutton chops like that, you bet your ass this stamp was worth a dollar.
Pierre Jacques Etienne Cambronne, the Battle of Waterloo
When the Battle of Waterloo turned into a giant clusterfuck for Napoleon and France on June 18, 1815, England called upon the surrender of Pierre Cambronne of France and the remnants of Napoleon's Imperial Guard.
In return, they guaranteed the safety of his wicked sideburns.
Cambronne knew that no matter what his reply would be, it was guaranteed to be repeated far and wide in the annals of military history. So he made his answer count.
(Or in the original French, "Merde!")
In 1815, "merde" was a bit of a super-swearword so defiant and ungentlemanly that in today's jaded terms it would be like the French having their answer delivered with a 10-minute rant by a coked-up Dave Chappelle and a 1980's Eddie Murphy, then projecting a giant dong in the sky. Hell, even Ernest Hemingway was impressed.
Well-educated in the art of cursing.
Sure enough, Cambronne was forced to surrender the Old Guard at Waterloo, but his immortal insult to the English went down in history as "the word of Cambronne." "Merde!" would go on to appear in popular culture, the most famous example being Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and the word even got etched onto Cambronne's statue in Nantes. That's the kind of legacy most of us can only hope for.
And a neck we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.
Sparta, the Third Sacred War
Sometimes the best trash talk is uttered in reply to someone else's trash talk.
Which brings us to Philip II of Macedon, the Sith-lord-like father of Alexander the Great, who possessed such an insatiable appetite for war and conquest that the Fates cursed his legacy by having Val Kilmer play him in Alexander.
Look, it's Batman!
After maxing out his army's tech tree and throwing his enormous weight around in the Third Sacred War, Philip turned his eye toward the oiled abs of Sparta. So, in 346 B.C., he decided he would do a little smack-talking of his own to the Spartans:
"You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army on your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people and raze your city."
"And I shall make little coins with my head on them and place them in the thongs of your strippers."
The Spartans answered ...
As in, "That's the only relevant word in all your tough talk."
Sure enough, it never happened. Both Philip II and his son Alexander ended up spending the remainder of their military careers fighting as far away from Sparta as humanly possible.
Joan of Arc, the Siege of Orleans
Prior to her arrival at the Siege of Orleans during the Hundred Years' War, the Maid of Orleans Joan of Arc dictated a message for the English to let them know what they were in for. The letter from Joan to the Duke of Bedford, leader of the opposing forces, reads like a curious mix of flowery ranting and religious zeal. That is, right up until the end -- where Joan suddenly gets down to business:
Creepy face and all.
"The Maid and her soldiers will have the victory. Therefore the Maid is willing that you, Duke of Bedford, should not destroy yourself."
Note how smoothly she enters Captain America mode, using her code name for effect while delivering her enemy matter-of-fact statements about certain defeat.
"The Maid is about to pop your siege cherry."
Alas, the duke, he did not listen. And whether or not Joan was schooled in warfare by the same archangel who uppercutted Lucifer to the Pit, she and her troops were the battlefield equivalent of the Konami Code, tearing the English new ones in more places than syphilis in one of the most decisive battles of all time.
Mostly because they were all ridiculously huge.
William T. Sherman, the Battle of Atlanta
In May 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman was given the task of invading Georgia with three federal armies with the objective to take Atlanta. With Grant stuck in the mud outside of Richmond and Lincoln's presidency on the line, the outcome of the Civil War and thus the fate of the United States hinged on how effectively Sherman could wreak havoc.
Luckily, Georgia ranked very high on Sherman's personal "things I want to punch in the face" list. He proceeded to take the state apart in the exact manner that could be expected from a man that even in official portraits manages to look like this:
He's either reaching for a giant handgun or tweaking his nipples.
When Sherman finally had Atlanta within reach, Mayor James M. Calhoun sent Sherman a letter begging that his city be spared from the Union attack. Sherman's response was a letter of orders that said the shit about to go down on Atlanta is inevitable, with the definitive line:
"You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm."
Wait, you can't appeal to a thund- oooooohhh.
Or, to quote it in full, "You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war." He did also mention that he's only doing this out of duty, and "... when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing" -- but shockingly, they weren't too keen on this offer from the guy standing on their doorstep with an angry army.
Sherman managed to work Atlanta into such a pants-shitting evacuation frenzy that a chunk of the city had actually blown itself up by the time he got there. Out of principle, he wrecked the rest up nevertheless.
There's no reason you shouldn't enjoy your job.
Philip Sheridan's Drinking Is Best Left Uninterrupted
The Battle of Missionary Ridge is one of those odd pages in Civil War history that should be required reading in every classroom, but tends to end up a minor footnote because it's just too awesome.
It all got started when Union General Philip Sheridan was instilling confidence in his men while keeping a flask of some liquid confidence of his own close by. Suddenly, he spotted some Confederates peeking down on him from their higher ground at Missionary Ridge. So, being an officer and a gentleman, he raised his flask to them and calmly toasted: "Here's at you!"
Sweet, sweet liberty.
The Confederates, pissed off at this display, responded with a volley of gunfire that splattered the Irishman and his Union officers with dirt. Sheridan, his toast so rudely interrupted, turned at his assailants and roared ...
"That was ungenerous! I'll take your guns for that!"
His army promptly mistook this outburst as an order and stormed up the slopes toward the Confederates on Missionary Ridge, along with the seething Sheridan himself -- while Sheridan's bewildered superior, General Ulysses S. Grant, was left wondering what the hell was going on.
"I've won entire campaigns drunker than you'll ever be."
The Confederates fled in panic, with angry Sheridan in hot pursuit. He didn't stop until he realized that they had won ages ago and he was in fact the only Union general who was still fighting.
And because he'd most likely run out of booze and sobered up by that point.
The Battle of Missionary Ridge was a spectacular victory that cost the South the war in the West and elevated Grant to command of all Union armies (which in turn didn't hurt his future election as the President at all). As Grant would later remark: "To Sheridan's prompt movement the Army of the Cumberland, and the nation, are indebted .... Except for his prompt pursuit, so much in this way would not have been accomplished."
So, yeah. Sheridan and his hip flask helped shape the nation.
If you would like to read more about famous instances of trash talk, see Jacopo's book "Go @#$% Yourself!" -- An Ungentlemanly Disagreement, by Filippo Argenti and check out its topic page.
And stop by LinkSTORM to for more unmitigated awesomeness.
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