It’s Deadly At the Top — The Age Old Tradition of Executing Generals

Thirteen Hungarian generals were executed by the Austrians in 1849. These ‘martyrs’ are still revered in Hungary to this day.

North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, is cleaning house in the upper echelons of his army.

The 29-year-old dictator reportedly executed one of his senior generals this past week for drinking alcohol, according to an article on the Daily Telegraph.

The story reports that the Hermit Kingdom is still in a period of mourning following the death of the previous leader, Kim Jong Il. As such, the consumption of booze is prohibited. Astonishingly, the execution was carried out not by a firing squad but by a mortar crew. The disgraced army vice minister was ordered to be “obliterated” by a precision-fired mortar round. North Korea has a history of executing generals (and executing them in bizarre ways). In the late 1990s, a group of DPRK generals who were suspected of treason were doused with gasoline and burned alive before a capacity crowd at Pyongyang’s May Day stadium. Of course North Korea isn’t the only country with a history of putting generals to death. Here are some others.

Six Greek Generals Thrown to the Wolves
Ancient Athens famously executed six of its best generals following a decisive naval confrontation with Sparta in 406 BCE. Ironically, the battle was a victory. After the Spartans managed to blockade the more capable Athenian navy, eight stategoi from Athens slapped together an ad hoc fleet of brand new ships and raw recruits. The impromptu force shattered the Spartans off the Arginusae Island. Unfortunately, the ramshackle flotilla sailed through a freak storm on their homeward journey. Many ships and their crews were lost. The Athenians’ elation over their triumph turned to anger and recrimination following botched rescue attempts and politicos in the city-state shifted the blame onto the eight victorious commanders. The group was put on trial and found guilty of incompetence; six of them were condemned to death. One of those executed was the son of the legendary Athenian statesman and general, Pericles. When it was all over, the citizens of Athens grew to regret the verdict and sought revenge against the slick orators who prosecuted the city’s heroes. Two of them fled – a third remained but died of starvation after vengeful townsfolk refused to sell him food.[1]

Politics, Not the Barbarians, Killed Rome’s Last Great General
One of Rome’s greatest commanders, Flavius Stilicho, was put to death in 408 after a brilliant military career that saw him handily vanquish a number of barbarian chiefs and even rogue Roman generals. Stilicho, who went on to marry the niece of Emperor Theodosius, was eventually appointed to act as regent for the ruler’s underage son and heir to the throne, Honorius. In his role as the future emperor’s proxy, Stilicho negotiated a peace treaty with his old adversary, the barbarian leader Alaric. Unfortunately, a faction of Roman politicians considered the accord tantamount to treason. They had Stilicho arrested and ultimately beheaded. According to some accounts, the general might have challenged his accusers but instead stoically accepted his fate, perhaps in order to prevent further civil unrest for Rome. [2] Stilicho has been called the last of the great Roman generals. [3]

The Unluckiest 13
When popular uprisings swept Europe in the spring of 1848, a group of Hungarian generals inaugurated their own bid for national independence from the Austrian-controlled Habsburg Dual Monarchy. Led by the Hungarian prime minister Lajos Kossuth, the generals and their nationalist army waged a year-long campaign that eventually expelled the Austrians from Hungary. The independence movement might have succeeded too, were it not for the intervention of Russia on the side of Austria. [4] As fortunes turned against the Hungarians, Kossuth fled entrusting power to his top general, Artur Gorgey. The new leader surrendered to the Russians, who spared him, but turned the other 13 ringleaders over to the Habsburgs. The generals were sentenced to death by firing squad in late 1849. According to Hungarian legend, the Austrian high command attending the execution at the city of Arad in present day Romania reportedly toasted their success by clinking their beer steins together. Out of reverence for the ill-fated generals, dubbed the 13 Martyrs of Arad, Hungarians vowed to refrain from clinking glasses in any celebration for 150 years. [5] Even though the ban ended in 1999, the practice is still considered impolite in Hungary. A monument to the generals stands to this day in Arad.

The Enemy Within
Thirteen executed generals pales in comparison with Hitler’s record. During the course of the Second World War, the Fuhrer liquidated 84 of his military commanders, many of those in the aftermath of the failed attempt on his life on July 20, 1944. But the top Nazi couldn’t hold a candle to Joseph Stalin. Over a three-year period beginning in 1938, the Soviet despot, on the advice of his intelligence chief Lavrentiy Beria, killed the lion’s share of the senior officers in the Red Army. How’s this for a butcher’s bill? Three field marshals, 13 senior commanders of the army, eight admirals, 50 corps commanders and 154 division commanders — all were drummed out of the service, imprisoned or executed in the months leading up to the war with Germany — and all on the flimsiest suspicion of collaboration with the Nazis. [6] In June, 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the bloodbath only intensified. In fact, more than 300 generals were executed in a single day in October 1941. Another 20 were shot less than two weeks later. In fact, so many generals were being condemned to die in 1941, Beria convinced the dictator to streamline the procedure and allow field officials to summarily execute generals on their own authority. [7] Despite the fact that the officer class of the Red Army was being bled white at the precise moment they were needed most, the killings continued into 1942. Another 17 generals along with 29 other officers were shot in February. Military necessity eventually trumped Stalin’s paranoia and the executions were suspended. Sadly, the majority of those killed were posthumously exonerated in the 1950s. Fittingly, Beria himself was executed by firing squad in 1953 for his role in the purges. The post-Stalin regime considered his actions “terrorism”. [8]


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7 comments for “It’s Deadly At the Top — The Age Old Tradition of Executing Generals

  1. 31 October, 2012 at 2:39 am

    Reblogged this on Asatru / Heathen South Africa.

  2. 31 October, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Absolutely incredible doesn’t describe Stalin’s purging… MG.

    • MHN
      31 October, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Well, you remember what Joe said: You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. In his case though it was more like several million eggs, and he didn’t break them, he had them shot.

  3. 31 October, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Then there’s Admiral Byng, shot on the quarterdeck:

    “He was court-martialled and found guilty of failing to “do his utmost” to prevent Minorca falling to the French following the Battle of Minorca. He was sentenced to death and shot by firing squad on 14 March 1757.”

    As Voltaire commented, “in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others.”

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