Never mind the designs of the so-called “military-industrial complex.” The most sinister plot carried out by those in power was the removal of books by Herodotus and Thucydides from public-school history classrooms. That’s because anyone fortunate enough to cross The Histories and The History of the Peloponnesian War off their reading list is better equipped to ask crucial questions about war and peace than almost anyone who hasn’t.
The ancient Greeks were the first to analyze not just the difficult mechanics of history, but how history interacts with public opinion. Just ask John Saltas. As City Weekly’s alpha Greek-American, he has a question for damned near everything, especially if it concerns how something works. Clearly, those in power today don’t want anyone asking questions, especially when it comes to war and its grim mechanics.
Herodotus chronicled the Battle of Salamis, where in 480 B.C., an outnumbered Athenian fleet defeated the seemingly superior forces of Persia. Because of their nominally democratic ways, the ancient Greeks went into battle believing that their cause was right. Going to war was something they agreed upon. Imperial Persia, meanwhile, ordered its troops into battle. Free will usually trumps compulsion. Certainly it carries more virtue. That’s why we laud Pat Tillman, who left a $3.6 million sporting contract to fight in Afghanistan where he ultimately died.
Consciously or unconsciously, Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore pulled a lesson from Thucydides. In the best moments of his film, he asks U.S. Congressmen on the streets of Washington, D.C., if they’re willing to send their children to war in Iraq. Stone-cold silence was their answer. It’s just as Thucydides wrote long ago, “For a man’s counsel cannot have equal weight or worth, when he alone has no children to risk in the general danger.”
Lately, a few readers have phoned this office voicing concern over two congressional bills threatening to replace our nation’s beloved volunteer military with compulsory service. In other words, a return to “the draft.” Of course these bills never left committee since their introduction early last year. The nation’s rich and powerful hate to see blue blood flow, and it’s soldiers from poorer families and communities who will continue to pay the price in our “War on Terror.” So relax. Any e-mail about the return of compulsory service should be promptly deleted along with solicitations from Nigerian banks.
But just imagine if compulsory service made a return. In fact, don’t imagine it at all. With the imminent re-election of President Bush and neoconservatives champing at the bit to invade Iran and even Syria, the young among you might want to make plans. If our current troops can’t control Iraq’s 25 million people, we’re going to need far more troops to subdue 69 million people in Iran and 18 million in Syria.
With everyone’s children staring down the barrel of a Middle East tour, debate about our nation’s tactics on the “War on Terror” would be reignited. With nothing at stake, or nothing to risk, few of us ask questions to arrive at any meaningful consensus. Without consensus, we can never come together as did the ancient Greeks at Salamis.