December 7th, 2004

Thucydides Today

Thucydides prefaced his history of the Peloponnesian war with several explanations: why he chose to write it, why he chose this war to write about, and why this war is the greatest war ever fought until his time. While arguing that last point, he mentions "the known disposition of the actors in a struggle to overrate its importance [...]" (Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, tr. Richard Crawley, Book I, ch. 21).

From Fred Reed's latest column:
The years will go by. Iraq will fade into the mist. Wars always do. A generation will rise for whom it will be just history. The dismembered veterans will find first that almost nobody appreciates what they did, then that few even remember it. If -- when, many would say -- the United States is driven out of Iraq, the soldiers will look back and realize that the whole affair was a fraud. Wars are just wars. They seem important at the time. At any rate, we are told that they are important.
--Wars And Their Aftermaths, Fred Reed, Dec 4th 2004
In that same prefatory book, just a few paragraphs later, Thucydides famously states:
I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time. (ibid., ch. 22)
Truly, his work is less a recording of contemporary events than it is a study of human society in extremis. The more I study it, the more parallels I find to our own day, certainly unimaginable to Thucydides and his generation, but quite full of manifestations of the same human frailties and vices.
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