November 25, 2005

Gary Brecher's back and The American Conservative's got him!

In the new December 19th issue of The American Conservative (subscribe here, and don't forget giving subscriptions as Christmas presents), the War Nerd reviews Victor Davis Hanson's new book on the Peloponnesian War, A War Like No Other. (Perhaps the War Nerd had time to write the review while The eXile suspended him without pay after Hanson implied Brecher torched his Fresno-area vineyard.) It's not online, but here's a brief excerpt from the 1800 word essay:

[Hanson] keeps dropping hints that Athens equals America and the Peloponnesian War equals us in Iraq, but here again there are huge logical problems mainstream reviewers don't even notice. For starters, how does this fit into the Hanson project of using ancient Greece to make Iraq look good? If Athens equals America, as Hanson keeps saying, then we've got a problem: Athens lost. So if Hanson's neocon readers buy the parallel, they should be wetting their pants and preparing to convert to Islam.

There's just no way Thucydides' story can be spun as a happy tale. It was bad war for nearly everybody -- except the Persians, who sat on the sidelines giggling and feeding money to keep the carnage going. (Sound familiar. Anyone for Basra?)...

The key fact about the ancient Athenians is that they weren't like us -- at all. I admit, Hanson has a quote from Thucydides himself claiming that "human nature is unchanging across time and space and thus predictable." Well, Thucydides was wrong. We worship those Athenians -- and they deserve it -- but face it, they said and did a lot of stuff that was just plain wrong.

One thing historians have learned in the two-and-half-thousand years since Thucydides wrote is that people change deeply from one time and place to another. That's why no modern military historian with a conscience would peddle the old notion that there's a standard issue "human nature" that applies to Genghis Khan and Woody Allen. And the differences are central to our problems in Iraq. Take the question of killing civilians in towns that resist attack. No ancient army had a problem wiping out the whole male population of sacked cities and divvying up the females for use or sale.

For better or for worse, modern armies just can't do that any ore. We kill lots of civilians, but if possible we do it from 30,000 feet, and we have to make it seem like we didn't mean to do it...

That's why you don't hear too much about urban guerrillas before the 20th century: before then urban guerilla warfare as a strategy was civic suicide...

The grimmest joke in the book is that there really is one parallel that holds up when you compare the Peloponnesian War to America's military history. You bet there is. But here's the kicker: it's the one connection would never, ever allow into print. I'm talking about the creepy way that our Iraq disaster resembles the Athenian invasion of Sicily.

I've never understood the how the neocons can be both so infatuated with Thucydides and so clueless about what his book reports. During the middle of their war with Sparta, the Athenians suddenly decided, out of the blue, to attack Syracuse, a city-state in Sicily unaligned with Sparta. The Spartans sent advice to Syracuse, which narrowly defeated the Athenian expedition. This began the downfall of Athens.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

No comments: