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Clash of the Classicists

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Which of these scenarios makes more sense to you? Two classicists, two very different perspectives:

    If you want a preview of what might occur if the United States were to invade Iraq, Elaine Fantham suggests looking at what happened in 53 B.C. when the Romans marched into the territory that is now Iraq. Ms. Fantham, 69, is National Public Radio’s mischievous, fruity-voiced classics commentator on “Weekend Edition,” and her specialty is drawing parallels between the ancient world and us.

    As she explained to listeners of her occasional broadcasts, the territory was ruled by the Parthians, who are related to modern-day Iranians. The power-hungry Roman general Crassus set out for the Parthian territory with seven legions. He marched his army into the middle of the desert where, parched, hungry and unused to the terrain, he was roundly defeated by the entrenched Parthians. Crassus’ and his son’s heads were cut off and used as props by a Greek acting troupe to entertain the Parthian and Armenian kings at a dinner party.

    ….”You, George Bush!” said Ms. Fantham in her English accent with a slight speech impediment that turns all her “r’s” into “w’s.” “You, Donald Rumsfeld and your advisers, you don’t know what you are letting yourself in for!”

    Just as there was no act of aggression against Rome to prompt an attack against the Parthians, Ms. Fantham argued, there has been no act of aggression by Iraq against the United States. [NY Times]

Or this:

    So what does the past tell us? First, we should not listen to hysteria. Noam Chomsky spent an autumn warning of “millions” of dead to come in Afghanistan. Wrong. More respected and often reasonable commentators such as William Pfaff (“The utility of the bombing is hard to defend. It was believed able to bring down the Taliban government, but that is not happening.”) and R. W. Apple (“Afghanistan as Vietnam” / “Signs of progress are sparse”) assured us that after a few days of fighting in Afghanistan we were in a quagmire. Wrong again.

    ….If we ponder the recent past, I would think that all of Iraq outside Baghdad will be overrun in a matter of days – to the cheers of most of his citizenry. The capitol will fall later, but the timing of its liberation will be calibrated on mostly humanitarian rather than military considerations – American caution over walking into a possibly booby-trapped city and the need to avoid killing captives of Saddam Hussein. So if it comes to war, we will win and most likely win quickly. We will be safer – and Iraq immediately a better place – for our efforts. And we can at least say that we did not leave a madman with frightening weapons in an age of mass murder for our children to deal with.

    ….Yet no one would believe these lessons of the past if they watched the current television commercials or listened to Nelson Mandela or the doomsday warnings of our actors, novelists, professors, and political activists — all of whom assure us that we are immoral or promise that we will fail miserably should we invade Iraq.

    Yet remember, this is also an age of untruth and boutique piety. “Internationalism” and “multilateralism” can mean that Libya, which butchered the people of Chad, adjudicates human rights; that Syria, which practiced genocide, sits on the “Security” Council, and that the two gassers, Iran and Iraq, discuss protocols of illegal weaponry — even as the Nobel Peace prize goes to the terrorist Yasser Arafat, to a Korean statesman who bribed a mass murderer for the chance at a summit, and to an ex-president who was praised by his benefactors precisely for criticizing his own government at a time of crisis and war.

    Strange and depressing times.

    So let us trust in reason and history, rather in hysteria and self-righteous bluster. [National Review]

Rather stark differences – why does Fantham believe as she does? The answer is quite easy, really:

    Later, at Oxford, she focused on the period of the Roman Republic from 264 B.C., the First Punic War, to 44 B.C., the death of Julius Caesar. Rome was under attack and part of the time fighting the Punic wars against Carthage. “Hannibal brought his army right up to the gates of Rome,” she said. “Rome was a war city. We used to compare it with Hitler crossing the British Channel. Rome almost didn’t survive. When I was a little kid, the whole of Europe was occupied by Germany. Britain stood alone. I remember it all. I’ve always been sympathetic with the underdogs.”

This goes a long way to explaining the views of many on the left: it’s just not fair that we are so much stronger than our enemies, they are the underdog and many people favor the underdog no matter how vile or dangerous they may be. Perhpas many in Europe were so traumatized by WWll that they instinctively mistrust the “overdog,” no matter how morally superior it may be.

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