17. The Mongol Military Was Centuries Ahead of Its Time
About sixty percent of Genghis Khan’s Mongols were trained as light cavalry archers, and the rest were trained as armored heavy cavalry who wielded lances as their main weapon. One of Genghis’ favorite tactics, for which he incessantly trained his men, was to attrit the enemy from a distance with arrows. Once the enemy was judged sufficiently weakened, a signal would be given for a charge by the heavy cavalry, which skewered the enemy with their lances, then set about with sabers. Another favored tactic in which he drilled his men was a feigned retreat. His men would lure enemy forces into an incautious pursuit to a prepared ambush, or wait until they became disorganized in their overeager chase, then suddenly turn and countercharge or surround the pursuers.
Genghis’ military machine was centuries ahead of its time, with features that not seen again until the modern era. One Mongol military trait that seems remarkably modern was the wide flexibility and leeway afforded soldiers and officers to carry out their orders. The chain of command communicated the overall objectives and the commander’s vision and aim. Mongol subordinates were not micromanaged, and initiative was encouraged, so long as they carried out orders promptly and effectively served the overall plan. After the Mongols’ collapse, that trait would vanish for centuries, and not reemerge until Helmuth von Moltke reintroduced it in the nineteenth century, and made it a hallmark of the Prussian and German military.