This is a reposting that was originally written in June of 06. Not much on the ground in Bagdhad has changed. Not really since Thucydides was writing either. I thought that this would be a nice revisiting.
dateline 431 BCE, Book III, the revolution in Corycea, describing the city and the people leading up to the rising of the city...
In peace and prosperity both states and individuals are actuated by higher motives, because they do not fall under the dominion of imperious necessities; but war, which takes away the comfortable provision of daily life, is a hard master and tends to assimilate men's characters to their conditions.
When troubles had once begun in the cities, those who followed carried the revolutionary spirit further and further, and determined to outdo the report of all who had preceded them by the ingenuity of their enterprises and the atrocity of their revenges. The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man. A conspirator who wanted to be safe was a recreant in disguise. The lover of violence was always trusted, and his opponent suspected. He who succeeded in a plot was deemed knowing, but a still greater master in craft was he who detected one. On the other hand, he who plotted from the first to have nothing to do with plots was a breaker up of parties and a poltroon who was afraid of the enemy. In a word, he who could outstrip another in a bad action was applauded, and so was he who encouraged to evil one who had no idea of it. The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood, because a partisan was more ready to dare without asking why. (For party associations are not based upon any established law, nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest.) The seal of good faith was not divine law, but fellowship in crime. If an enemy when he was in the ascendant offered fair words, the opposite party received them not in a generous spirit, but by a jealous watchfulness of his actions.72 Revenge was dearer than self-preservation. Any agreements sworn to by either party, when they could do nothing else, were binding as long as both were powerless. But he who on a favourable opportunity first took courage, and struck at his enemy when he saw him off his guard, had greater pleasure in a perfidious than he would have had in an open act of revenge; he congratulated himself that he had taken the safer course, and also that he had overreached his enemy and gained the prize of superior ability. In general the dishonest more easily gain credit for cleverness than the simple for goodness; men take a pride in the one, but are ashamed of the other.
Thucydides could be writing today. The places on the map may change, but as long as things are done by humans, with human natures, the results will be the same. When Athens (where they proclaimed loud and long about their love of peace while belligerently carving an empire) and Sparta (where the main focus of their military machine, considered the best in the world, was to keep the helots, greek slaves who dreadfully outnumbered the Spartans, from rising again to wipe out their brutal masters)went to war it was entirely avoidable. The Spartans, like Saddam were kept in a box of their own construction. They were loathe to deploy their vaunted army, because as soon as their backs were turned the helots would rise, fight, and maybe this time win. The Athenians, like the Americans, were vain, boastful, hypocrital, frivolous, and their own worst enemies. Thucydides was an Athenian general who was exiled after a victory. Over the next 28 years of warfare Athens would prove far more effective at beating itself by exiling, executing, or otherwise alienating its best and brightest military minds. Over and over they would return to demagogues like Alcibiades who would lead cavalry charges straight to ruination and defeat. The Scicilian campaign was disasterous for Athens but Sparta was in a poor position to capitalize. In the end, it was the Persians, financially backing one side, then the other, who were the real victors. Athens and Sparta never regained their pre-emininence in the world. They muddled through, both bruised and bleeding until first Alexander, then the Romans came in and took over.
The text quoted here came from www.classicpersuaion.org
I would not recommend tackling this history like a novel, but there are certain very critical parts to read.
Book 2, the funeral oration of Pericles. A classic example of an "us and them" deliniation. He also warns the Athenians that if they cease to follow the ideals that made them who they are, the Spartans win, regardless of any outcomes on the battlefield. I was reading this passage again and again during the NeoCon bullshitstorm trumping up our disasterous and idiotic Iraqi adventure.
The last gasp of the Athenians in Sicily Book 7, para 75 is heartbreaking. I read this and imagine a last stand in the Green Zone, or even worse, a disaster as they try to fight their way out of it.
Thucydides was the founder of modern historiography. He wrote in a personal style that focused on the nature of the events, and the results politically, spiritually, and economically. He was recording the death of the places and world he loved. Go, read him. Then read the papers today and tell me we have progressed much past the Bronze Age.UPDATE
With the Iranian President visiting Bagdhad and being praised by Al-Maliki
, look again to Thucydides and remember that the real victor in the war between Sparta and Athens was Persia. Gold and diplomacy accomplished for them what force of arms had failed to bring about.3B's