"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Battles Change, Wars Don't

Hanson, retired professor from the University of California, reflects on the similarity between wars, ancient and modern, and thinness of the veneer of civilization, then and now. Human nature is what it is. The reactions of humans in their capacity to use the most violent and bloodthirsty ways of humilitating, punishing, and eliminating enemies hasn't changed.

War is like water — its fundamental character remains unchanging precisely because the nature of the humans who fight it is constant over the centuries. True, the pump — the delivery system of flint, arrows, firearms, nuclear bombs, guided missiles and satellite weapons — radically changes the face of battle with each generation. But the essence of war nevertheless stays the same, as we are reminded when we study the distant past.

Limb-lopping, terrorism, biological attack, roadside executions, kidnapping of diplomats, murders of school children, all these and more occurred 2,400 years ago in the Peloponnesian War 2,400 years ago between factions of the Spartans and the Athenians. Barbarism exists when "fear, honor, and self-interest drive hostilities."

And then a warning (hopefully not a premonition):

Study of the Peloponnesian War should also remind us that it is not assured that the wealthiest, most sophisticated and democratic state always triumphs over less impressive enemies. After all, Athens, for all its advantages, finally lost its war. And as Thucydides reminds us about the democratic empire's lapses, arrogance and major blunders, more often the chief culprit was its own infighting and internal discord than the prowess of its many enemies.

Read it all.


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