Monday, May 19, 2008

Thucydides on the brain

Still not sure why Neo Cons claim to be such fans of Thucydides.

Nicias rightly sees that invading distant Sicily under flimsy pretexts will prove the ruin of the Athenian empire. Why? Because Sicily is a big, distant, complicated place that the Athenians do not understand. Invading Sicily will ruin Athens' domestic economy, squander its reputation as a military power and make it vulnerable to attacks from her other enemies.

We should also remember that we are only now enjoying some respite from a great pestilence and from war, to the no small benefit of our estates and persons, and that it is right to employ these at home on our own behalf, instead of using them on behalf of these exiles in whose interest it is to lie as well as they can, who do nothing but talk themselves and leave the danger to others, and who if they succeed will show no proper gratitude, and if they fail will drag down their friends with them. 6.12.1

The Hellenes in Sicily would fear us most if we never went there at all, and next to this, if after displaying our power we went away again as soon as possible. We all know that which is farthest off and the reputation of which can least be tested, is the object of admiration; at the least reverse to us they would at once begin to look down upon us, and would join our enemies here against us. 6.11.4

We must not disguise from ourselves that we go to found a city among strangers and enemies, and that he who undertakes such an enterprise should be prepared to become master of the country the first day he lands, or failing in this to find everything hostile to him. 6.23.2

Such is the list of the peoples, Hellenic and barbarian, inhabiting Sicily, and such the magnitude of the island which the Athenians were now bent upon invading. 6.6.1

Alcibiades argues (after being accused by Nicias of starting the war to bring benefit to himself and his friends) that Athens should invade because Athens is strong enough to conquer Sicily and hold off its other enemies. The Sicilians are also an easy mark. They're a disorganized, weak, lot lacking in any strong identity, ripe for having an alien political system forced upon them from the outside.

Nor should you rescind your resolution to sail to Sicily, on the ground that you would be going to attack a great power. The cities in Sicily are peopled by motley rabbles, and easily change their institutions and adopt new ones in their stead; and consequently the inhabitants, being without any feeling of patriotism, are not provided with arms for their persons, and have not regularly established themselves on the land. . . From a mob like this you need not look for either unanimity in counsel or unity in action; but they will probably one by one come in as they get a fair offer, especially if they are torn by civil strife as we are told. 6.17.2-4

Of course, Athens shouldn't wait around for the Sicilians to cause trouble, but should engage in a preemptive strike.

Men do not rest content with parrying the attacks of a superior, but often strike the first blow to prevent the attack being made. Moreover, we cannot fix the exact point at which our empire shall stop; we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining what we have but must scheme to extend it for, if we cease to rule others, we shall be in danger of being ruled ourselves. Nor can you look at inaction from the same point of veiw as others, unless you are prepared to change your habits and make them resemble theirs. 6.18.2-3

Finally, Athens should invade Sicily because to not do so would be to "go soft." If you've got it, flaunt it.

. . . by sinking into inaction, the city, like everything else, will wear itself out, and its skill in everything decay; while each fresh struggle will give it fresh experience, and make it more used to defend itself not in word but in deed. 6.18.6

No comments: