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‘The Athenian Empire’
Red-Face-Island War #3
CHAPTER III: Congress of the Peloponnesian Confederacy at Lacedaemon
The translator, who was a Brit and certainly knew what an empire was, translates this phrase as “the Athenian empire.” However, most American historians, who tend to equate Athens with America as “democracies” have shied away from naming Athens an Empire. However, Athens bullied, murdered and even exterminated lesser states—mostly in islands or peninsulas that afforded easy naval access, to be her tribute-paying subjects. Already groaning under the weight of their one-sided “alliance” with Athens, the Aeginetans, occupying an island within site of Athens’ port, on the same small body of water, were eager to throw off the Athenian yoke and would pay the ultimate price. Just like every player in this savage war, Aegina would come out on the short end of Fortuna’s cruel ledger.
Despite their famously war-like temperament, the Spartans, as was usual, shied from war, for they fought total war and knew that each time they took up the torch of war that they risked extinguishment. The Corinthians essentially shamed the Spartans to action on behalf of those small communities oppressed by Athens. Athens here comes off as a very American-style power player, presenting its very form of organization as a justification for bully wars upon small polities.
The following is a brief excerpt, using a saying regarding barbarian misconduct leading to blunders:
“And yet you know that on the whole the rock on which the barbarian was wrecked was himself, and that if our present enemy Athens has not again and again annihilated us, we owe it more to her blunders than to your protection; Indeed, expectations from you have before now been the ruin of some, whose faith induced them to omit preparation.
"We hope that none of you will consider these words of remonstrance to be rather words of hostility; men remonstrate with friends who are in error, accusations they reserve for enemies who have wronged them.”
Below Thucydides constructs a Corinthian envoy’s point to the Spartans about the character of his own Athenian people, a character that seems very urban-elite American:
“The Athenians are addicted to innovation, and their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution; you have a genius for keeping what you have got, accompanied by a total want of invention, and when forced to act you never go far enough. Again, they are adventurous beyond their power, and daring beyond their judgment, and in danger they are sanguine; your wont is to attempt less than is justified by your power, to mistrust even what is sanctioned by your judgment, and to fancy that from danger there is no release. Further, there is promptitude on their side against procrastination on yours; they are never at home, you are never from it: for they hope by their absence to extend their acquisitions, you fear by your advance to endanger what you have left behind. They are swift to follow up a success, and slow to recoil from a reverse. Their bodies they spend ungrudgingly in their country's cause; their intellect they jealously husband to be employed in her service. [1] A scheme unexecuted is with them a positive loss, a successful enterprise a comparative failure. The deficiency created by the miscarriage of an undertaking is soon filled up by fresh hopes; for they alone are enabled to call a thing hoped for a thing got, by the speed with which they act upon their resolutions. Thus they toil on in trouble and danger all the days of their life, with little opportunity for enjoying, being ever engaged in getting: their only idea of a holiday is to do what the occasion demands, and to them laborious occupation is less of a misfortune than the peace of a quiet life. To describe their character in a word, one might truly say that they were born into the world to take no rest themselves and to give none to others.”
Hilariously, Athenians speaking at this meeting in Sparta did not even try and argue against the charges that Athens was a bully, crushing small states at will, but rather, in a very American fashion, to argue that one should not step in to defend the weak against the bully, for the very simple reason that the bully is strong:
“…if you are so ill advised as to enter into a struggle with Athens, what sort of an antagonist she is likely to prove.”
Every time I have heard an American discuss the prospect of some nation defying America, such as “Iran, Libya, Granada, Panama, Lebanon, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea about the only thing I hear Americans express is the disbelief that any weakling would stand up to a bully, which expresses an underlying moral weakness, that of the bully, and points to our ultimate hasty demise as soon as we are no longer young and strong enough to impose our will on the resolute weakling who is willing to die rather than submit, something that has never been a prominent aspect of the American character, and for that very reason the last stands of the Alamo and the Little Big Horn loom large in the American consciousness as anomalous behaviors used to elevate the savage exception in place of our sorry conception.
“Archidamus, [2] the Lacedaemonian king” did counsel against war against Athens.
The war arrow would eb launched by “Sthenelaidas, one of the ephors [3] for that year, and spoke to the Lacedaemonians as follows:
"The long speech of the Athenians I do not pretend to understand. They said a good deal in praise of themselves, but nowhere denied that they are injuring our allies and Peloponnese.”
Thucydides concludes the chapter perfectly:
“This decision of the assembly, judging that the treaty had been broken, was made in the fourteenth year of the thirty years' truce, which was entered into after the affair of Euboea.
“The Lacedaemonians voted that the treaty had been broken, and that the war must be declared, not so much because they were persuaded by the arguments of the allies, as because they feared the growth of the power of the Athenians, seeing most of Hellas already subject to them.”
To war they went, a war that few of them would see finished, a war that they would leave as the yoke upon the necks of the unborn, much as the Modern mind is generally content with placing burdens of taxation [a modern word for tribute] on the backs of the unborn.
Notes
-1. This characteristic, to this reader’s mind, is quintessentially American, in the way that the elite spend standard American lives at a great rate relative to the potential benefit for the ordinary American when wars of adventure are concerned, with Vietnam, a war that was only of abstract intellectual interest to America and had no possible status as a forward base for invading America or plundering Middle Eastern oil access, but had only ideological value to the elite, with most American not even able to find it on a map. Yet this war consumed over 50,000 American lives. Indeed, the current American war in Afghanistan, 20-years on is waged only for rare earths to fuel techarch companies and opium to poison the very men who wage it.
-2. High-subduer
-3. A counsel of five wise men selected annually, like volunteer senators
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