‘It was a new kind of war we were fighting, or so we bucks of heavy infantry were enlightened by our elders of the Old Corps. In their day men fought battles. They armed and contended line against line, victory determined in honorable trial of arms. This was not how we did it. Our war was not just state against state, but faction against faction within states, the Few against the Many, those who had versus those who lacked.
As Athenians we sided with the democrats, or more accurately compelled all who sought our aid to become democrats, with the understanding that their democracy would be only so democratic as we permitted. Assaulting a city in this new kind of war, one contended not against heroes united in defense of their homeland, but that gang of partisans which chanced to possess the state at the moment while one’s allies were those of the exiled faction, aligned with us, the invaders, to effect their restoration.
At Mytilene I saw my first list … The list was a death warrant. It enrostered those … countrymen whom, the city taken … would be our company’s chore to arrest and execute.’
This passage comes from Steven Pressfield’s Tides of War. The book is a historical fiction, however it still chronicles the major events of the Peloponnesian War, fought between the democratic Athenians and the oligarchic Spartans. The book was published in 2000, before the Global War on Terrorism, so it is not a politically driven passage.
Compare the passage to what type of war we are fighting now, and our methods of fighting that war. The Ancient Greek war was started because of Athens’ aspirations of empire; some would argue that our perceived aspirations of empire are what prompted our enemies to attack us. Traditionally, our democracy has allied with other democracies, as did the Athenians. In our current conflict we are not attacking states, rather moving in for "regime changes," exactly as the Athenians did. And perhaps the most striking similarity is the fact that we ourselves have created lists such as the Iraqi Playing Cards.
The Peloponnesian War lasted for 27 years finally and ended with Athens’ surrender. Do the methods and strategies that we use today parallel those of the ancient democracy? What does the Athenian defeat mean to us in our conflict?
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