Mar

22

 First, what Thucydides actually wrote (courtesy of someone who actually reads Greek):

The "aitia" (real cause) of the war was the Spartans' fear of the Athenians' growing power."

If Thucydides had wanted to make Allison's point for him, he would have used the word "aphourme", the excuse. He would also have substituted the word "Pericles" for "the Athenians". The Spartans were not the only Greeks who came to fear the Great Man's ambitions. Thucydides neglects to mention this; but then, he had already learned the first lesson of a popular historian: never, ever blaspheme the public saint. Thucydides does hint at the obvious - that Athens' democracy was very much like the Soviet Union's and China's today and "the people" were only allowed to have one voice; but he is careful to offer only praise for the Supreme leader. That survival tactic for a writer of history remains as valid as always. In a People's Republic only praise is worthy of being spoken. To this day, no one has published a biography of Stalin in Russian or one of Mao in Chinese that comes anywhere close to judging the men for what they did. If Thucydides had chosen to describe Pericles' follies in anything close to the painstakingly accurate detail with which German historians have now examined Hitler's, we would not have his history. It - and the historian - would have been destroyed; and Will Durant would have no hero for his saga of progressive civilization.

In his superficial comparisons Professor Allison is right: if one is looking for comparisons with the distant Greek past, it is appropriate to offer China as the analog to Athens. China's "Golden Age" is indisputable; its gleaming skyscrapers, high-speed trains and brand new airports are the modern equivalent of gleaming white marble buildings and heroic sculpture. But, contrary to Thucydides' narrative, the Spartans did not see themselves as being like the Kaiser and his General Staff in 1914 - who had to go to war before they were overtaken by the Russians' growing military strength. Having defeated Xerxes, they disagreed with the Athenians' belief that the Greeks could continue to occupy the western shores of Asia Minor. It was the Athenians who were determined to continue with military adventuring and Empire building.

In that regard, Trump's decision to change NATO into a hemispheric alliance and leave the Europeans and Russians to work out their coexistence and the Chinese to build their belt and road has a direct comparison with the Spartans' choosing to end their struggles against Persia.

Partisan footnote: One hopes, for the Republic's sake, that Trump's legacy has a happier outcome.


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