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Posts Tagged ‘Syracuse’

I’m a little disappointed that the Chilcot report – at least if its text search facility is as reliable as has been suggested – contains no mention of Thucydides. True, there’s no established tradition in the UK of drawing foreign policy lessons from the Peloponnesian War, unlike in the US where it’s a set text for high-powered military officers as well as being a favourite of various associates of the Project for a New American Century, above all the influential Donald Kagan. But given the involvement in the inquiry committee of Martin Gilbert, historian of 20th-century war, and Lawrence Freedman, a leading figure in war studies, one might have expected at least a passing gesture. Alas, word searches for terms like ‘Athens’, ‘Sparta’, ‘Nicias’, ‘Syracuse’ and ‘Sicily’ all return blanks (though I was pleased to see that “shambles” occurs about thirty times). (more…)

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I had been planning to write about the debate in Athens in 415 about the proposed attack on Syracuse. Though there is one remarkable contrast between the two situations – whereas Nicias’ sensible older men were faced with the aggression and ignorance of Alcibiades’ pumped-up youths, in our time the pragmatism of the young is confronted with the reckless, apr├Ęs moi le deluge nostalgia of the old – there are significant parallels in the rhetoric used to argue for and against driving the city off a cliff. Nicias urges caution and common sense, and constantly has to defend himself against insinuations of cowardice, self-interest and talking down Athens; it’s a manifestly weak argument in the face of Alcibiades’ boundless self-confidence, optimism, disparagement of foreigners – the Sicilians are weak and disunited, and “most likely they will be happy to make separate agreements with us when we make attractive proposals to them” – and appeals to the true nature of Athens. Indeed, given Dominic Cummings’ well-known predilection for Thucydides, one might wonder how far the Leave campaign is directly drawing upon motifs from his speeches. (more…)

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