Rage-Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.
So begins the first stanza of Homer’s Illiad as translated rather definitively by Robert Fagles over thirty years ago. The Illiad, or Song of Ilium covers the final year of the Trojan War between the various armies of Greece and the Trojans and the final collapse of King Priam’s empire after the siege of Troy, which has been going on for ten years. The war was initiated by King Menelaus of Sparta after the son of Priam, Paris, eloped with Menelaus’ wife Helen. The armies of Greece are led by Menelaus’ elder brother Agamemnon who is the King of Mycenae. The fulcrum of the epic centres on the employment of a wooden horse to gain access to the city of Troy.
The horse is presented as a gift to the Trojans by the Greeks as a representation of the respect the Greeks hold for the Trojans as hard and cunning warriors. A select band of Greeks, guided by Odysseus, hide within the hollow walls of the horse whilst others feign defeat by sailing away from the shores of Troy. The Trojans wheel the horse in as a victory trophy, the Greeks emerge and Troy is eventually defeated. This is not mentioned in The Illiad and is only referenced briefly in The Odyssey but is picked up by the Roman poet Virgil in The Aeneid (written for the Emperor Augustus), his telling of the role of Aeneas, son of Priam (Priam himself was supposedly descended from the Greek Gods) in the founding of Rome, thereby suggesting Rome had an imperial destiny descended from the Gods of Olympus. But what can we take from this story that allegedly occurred thousands of years ago? My contention would be that Odysseus, although he wouldn’t have understood in this way at the time, was an early adopter of what we would now call Hybrid Warfare.
Hybrid Warfare are actions undertaken by a state or actor with political and systematic powers to bring about desired outcomes that fall outside of the threshold of conventional warfare. For example, cyberattacks, misinformation and propaganda campaigns, mercenary groups, energy terrorism. All of these actions carry with them plausibly deniability for the actor employing them but still have the potential and intent of harm. Clausewitz argued that the purpose of war was to ‘compel our enemy to do our will’ and that war was a ‘continuation of politics by other means’. So in this sense Hybrid Warfare could be understood in Clausewitzian terms as being a continuation of state policy by other means in an attempt to compel an enemy to do the will of another. To give a recent example, it could be argued that Russian energy rationing of European gas supplies, whilst not an act of conventional warfare or state policy was undertaken in an attempt to weaken Western European morale and resolve in terms of support for Ukraine.
The idea being that European citizens have become acquainted with a certain standard of living that if it were to deteriorate then they would place pressure on Western governments to withdraw or reduce the amount of military, logistical and humanitarian aid being provided to Ukraine since February 2022. Thus far, at time of writing (October 2023) this has not been successful. Western aid to Ukraine has remained steadfast, although this may change if there is a new incumbent in the White House in November 2024.
However, Hybrid Warfare is often a concept that is bandied around by academics and policy makers as if it were a new concept/threat that democratic societies have to deal with, but as the example given in The Illiad/Odyssey shows, deceiving or defeating one’s enemy by employing unconventional tactics on and off the battlefield is not new at all. Merely, Hybrid Warfare has evolved along with the technological advancements that make it possible for it to be employed in new sectors. Change a wooden horse for a computer, the concept remains the same. Hybrid Warfare isn’t anything new, just ask the Greeks.