The Greeks

A few months ago we watched The Greeks, a PBS (American public television) series which I bought on DVD because Ross was studying ancient Greek history. From this account, it appears that the Athenians invented not only democracy, but also politics as we know it today.

The way PBS tells the tale, Themistocles, an Athenian who fought in the first war in which the Athenians trounced the numerically-superior Persians, expected that Persia would one day return to take revenge. All his fellow citizens were content to believe that, once beaten, the Persians would never be heard from again. When the Athenians stumbled upon a silver mine near their city, Themistocles wanted to use the unexpected windfall to build warships. But he knew that his fellow citizens didn’t take the Persian threat seriously, so he invented a different threat: he convinced them that they were in danger from a small neighboring state, and should build the world’s largest fleet of warships to use against those people.

The Athenians fell for it. They voted to built ships, and the fleet was completed just in time for the Persians’ return (and defeat at Salamis). So we have an early example of a politician tricking the voters into something that he believes is good for them. In this case, he was right. But, far more often, even politicians who start out with the finest intentions fall prey to the “anything to get re-elected” syndrome. And many (e.g. Italian prime minister Berlusconi) get into politics for motives having little to do with the civic good.

You might want to have a look at: The Buying of the President 2004: Who’s Really Bankrolling Bush and His Democratic Challengers–and What They Expect in Return by Charles Lewis

Where’s the Music?

I’m old enough to remember the late 60s/early 70s and the protests against the Vietnam war. I grew up singing protest songs, both rock and folk. So here we are, protesting again – but where’s the music? Michael Moore reportedly was upset because he couldn’t use The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” so instead he used a tune by Neil Young, another aging rocker. Don’t any young musicians have anything to say?

Here’s a reminder from the Vietnam era; I listened to this while writing last week’s War is Virtual Hell piece.

“I want to thank you, sergeant, for the help you’ve been to me.

You’ve taught me how to kill and how to hate the enemy.

And I know that I’ll be ready when they march me off to war,

And I know that it won’t matter that I’ve never killed before.”

Tom Paxton, The Willing Conscript The Willing Conscript

War is Virtual Hell

I’ve seen Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. Very disturbing in so many ways that I won’t go into – whether you agree with Moore or you don’t, this film is not likely to change your mind. But one thing in particular, peripheral to Moore’s arguments, jumped out at me.

The film shows an American TV ad recruiting people for the national guard. The ad uses computer-generated characters, both men and women, looking very heroic and Lara Croft-ish as they morph between uniforms and street clothes, handling high-tech equipment, flying planes, etc.. Elsewhere in the film, Moore interviews tank soldiers in Iraq, who describe with gusto how their tanks have music systems which allow them to pipe music right into their helmets. “We put this disc on” (showing a black CD with white print, couldn’t quite see the name), “it really gets the adrenaline pumping.”

These two scenes seem to show that the US military is training its people to treat war as a video game – complete with soundtrack! You can roll along a Baghdad street, guns blazing, and not even realize that those are real people you’re killing.

But real people do die, on both sides, and several of the soldiers Moore interviewed commented on how grim and grisly the reality was. Had no one told them, in all their training to kill, what dead bodies look like?

Italian Hostages in Iraq

The Italian hostages in Iraq don’t seem to be getting much media attention outside of Italy. This evening’s news here is that they have been shown on Al Arabiya television in an apparently-recent video, accompanied by a message from the kidnappers that: “We will show good faith and free them if you sympathize with our cause, show solidarity, and react publicly against the politics of your prime minister with a massive protest against the war in your capital city.”

Well, uh, actually, massive protests of this type happened over a year ago. Berlusconi was not moved then, nor is he likely to be now, nor should he be – now. No matter how ill-conceived this war was from the beginning, we are now stuck in Iraq, probably for many years to come. Pulling out, as far as I can tell, would only lead to civil war and far more Iraqi deaths. Bowing to the demands of hostage-takers will only increase the chances of more people being kidnapped. I’m sorry for these guys and their families (Rossella‘s English teacher is Stefio’s first cousin), but, no matter how fine a line you care to draw between “security consultant” and “mercenary,” they surely knew what they were getting into.