Author Topic: At what price, Treason?: a history lesson  (Read 314 times)

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At what price, Treason?: a history lesson
« on: February 28, 2006, 09:16:02 PM »
At what price, Treason?: a history lesson

by John Bollingbrook
February 28, 2006

Anyone familiar with ancient Greece is likely to know about Alcibiades, the nephew of the great general Pericles who led Athens during its heyday in mid fifth century BC. Alcibiades not only was high born, he was also a natural leader with many talents. Few could resist his charm and persuasion. He was also a reckless spender who womanized and loved to party. During his formative years, Athens was experiencing growing friction with its neighbor Sparta, at the time Athens was enjoying its dominance in trade and cultural influence throughout the Greek world. Sparta was in some ways older and more rooted than Athens, but far more rigid and stuffy. They were not about to yield to Athenian hegemony.

One thing that that bothered Athens greatly was any suspicion that Sparta was gaining an advantage in the competition between the two states. At this time all the several hundred Greek city states had to ally with one or the other great powers, Sparta or Athens. Sicily in particular was troubling Athens because its main city, Syracuse, was allied with Sparta. A dispute broke out between two Sicilian city states, one of them asking Athens for aid. The Athenian assembly intensely debated whether to send troops and how many, etc. Leading the call for war was Alcibiades, who in the end managed to convince the people to vote on a war that many deemed unnecessary and dangerous.

Athens sends a massive fleet to attack Syracuse, known as the Sicilian Expedition. It began as a glamorous display of their finest ships and amour, meant to impress and intimidate. But things quickly begin to go badly. Before the fighting even begins, however, Alcibiades, one of three generals in charge, is called back to Athens to stand trial for other charges. On his prison ship he manages to escape and flees to Sparta, where he gives them detailed instructions on how to do the most damage to the Athenians. The Spartans inflict massive damage on Athens, who never quite recovers. Within another decade or so Athens is completely defeated by Sparta.

In hindsight, Alcibiades was the classic demagogue, full of seductive words, but in the end only capable of leaving a path of destruction in his wake.

Jacob Burkardt, the great German historian, often referred to the Sicilian Expedition as "the great disaster." It's become synonymous with any completely unnecessary and reckless pre-emptive war. The details are told very well by Thucydides in his famous work on the Peloponesian War.

There is much to be learned in the present age by "the great disaster." Leaders who drag their countries into needless and costly wars are just the prologue: part two is their ultimate betrayal of their countrymen, and the high price that must be paid for the damage they cause. In the case of Athens, the price was too high and couldn't be paid. Athenian democracy and its great cultural glory simply came to an end.

Many believe that GW Bush has also led his country into a needless and costly war. Now that he is staunchly defended his decision to transfer management of six major US ports to the United Arab Emirates government, it is a chilling reminder of the gullibility of the demos and the reckless tendencies of a demagogue.

Those who know history can only watch with horror, knowing that very little has changed in human nature over time, that mass-scale ignorance rules the day, and that little can be done to sway the course of events once set in motion. We can only clutch our armchairs with fingernails dug in tightly and watch as the madness of this human drama unfolds.