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Works and Days

Still in Greece

June 4th, 2007 - 7:06 am

Questions Not Asked…

Lebanon is engaged in a deadly war against Palestinian al Qaeda-affiliates, and has resorted to massive and inherently indiscriminate shelling of Palestinian camp hideouts in Beirut—in a manner far more savage than the CNN-BBC monitored Israeli responses. The old dictum remains: Arabs killing Arabs is apparently a different category of reportage, where rules of Western censure don’t apply.

When we people shrug that we live in crazy times, they mean it. Note the recent proclamation of British journalists and academics about boycotting Israel at precisely the time Palestinians have kidnapped a British journalist. If it were true that academics or journalists believed in free speech—most sadly don’t—then they would have written expressions of solidarity with the Theo Van Gogh, the Danish cartoonists, the Pope, and all the others threatened and far worse by radical Islamists for their candor.

In Israel’s case, we get to the heart of real anti-Semitism, which is not ipso facto criticism of Israel, but criticism in comparison to what? Turks in Cyprus? Tibet? Russians in Chechnya? When one says that he is not anti-Semitic in slamming Israel, but only anti-Zionist, another can answer, ‘Fine, but why does your liberal angst not extend to purportedly similar examples?’ The truth is that since 9/11 we have seen a lot of Jew-hating gussied up with multicultural flourishes—and, in a reversal of the past, almost always from the Left.

In this larger nether world of the Left, Chinese annexation and absorption of Tibet is a misdemeanor compared to Israelis on the West Bank. Global warming does not seem to involve India and China. Sudan seems not connected to Darfur, at least in the sense the West wrongly sleeps while millions are killed, while China most surely does not sleep—but grabs all the oil it can. A cynic would offer not hypocrisy as the common denominator, but cowardice—no Israeli will cut off your oil or hijack your plane if you slur his religion or country, in the manner that George Bush won’t Putinize you if you speak up.

Dowdism

Maureen Dowd references classics, as well as Donald Kagan and, to a lesser extent, me in a recent column, apparently in reference to a gloomy, grim Hobbesian view of mankind that influenced Dick Cheney (apparently after she was googling and coming up with the old third-hand “war guru” label, originating from a single dinner with the VP).

Contrary to her suggestion about the nature of Hellenists as conservative stuck-ups, I’ve never worn a pair of “pinstripes,” couldn’t finish anything written by Leo Strauss (except his take on Xenophon’s Oikonomikos), and have learned that the most prominent Classicists are liberal Democrats. Her thoughts on the Peloponnesian War and history were adolescent—“ Compared to Iraq, the Peloponnesian War was a cakewalk.”

Hmmm. I guess a preindustrial city-state of less than 40,000 citizens (perhaps 250,000 residents in all in Athens and Attica) fighting a 27-year-long war, losing perhaps 80,000 to the plague and then 40,000 imperial soldiers in Sicily, and then at least that total again in cumulative yearly engagements, is far more destructive than a 300-million-plus nation fighting four years in Iraq and losing there about .00001% of its population. And Sicily, of course, in which Athens during a momentary breather with Sparta, attacked the Greek world’s largest democracy 800 miles away is comparable to what?—something like the United States pausing in Iraq and Afghanistan to redeploy all its remaining military strength to attack democratic India?

The Tragic View

We shall see what liberal therapeutics accomplishes in this war that started on September 11 when Hillary & Co. come to power—or rather relearn the lessons of everything from the Khobar Towers and East African embassy bombings to the USS Cole.

After all the lectures about not being safe after 9/11, and taking our eye off bin Laden, we await her revocation of the Patriot Act, wiretaps on terrorists, etc., and planned intrusions and hot pursuit into nuclear Pakistan—and, of course, calls for national unity during time of war, a renunciation of the politics of personal destruction, and a plea to tone down the strident rhetoric.

Imagine, if she were elected, that a Bush emeritus played Jimmy Carter to her presidency, or documentaries came out calling for scenarios about her demise, or Alfred Knopf published a book about shooting the president— or any of the other reprehensible things we have witnessed the past six years, all to the silence of the liberal opposition.

To get to the presidency, the Democrats must demonize the war effort and assume we will lose in Iraq; but to run the country, they would almost immediately have to reverse course, call for unity, and explain why we must continue anti-terrorism at home, and fighting al Qaeda abroad. And if they adopted a truly pacifist stature, a single 9/11 like attack would ruin their fides for a generation. Politics is to be accepted, but in wartime one expects a modicum of national interest first.

Greek Temples

Still in Greece finish leading a tour. In the past, a taboo among archaeologists has been reconstruction, or the fabrication of modern marble blocks, columns, etc. to fill out what is missing, or even to be used to raise again fallen buildings. This reluctance is understandable after Knossos, and Sir Arthur Evans’ slapdash Minoan reconstructions. But the rub is that, while we all like to see a few columns standing, very few classical buildings (exceptions, however, are stunning, like the Hephaiston in Athens or the temple of Apollo at Bassai) are found intact in situ.

Now, given the demands of tourism, the influx of EU money, and the idea that contemporary rigorous scholarship can restore as never before, we are starting to see ruins not so ruined: cf. the work at Epidauros on the tholos, or a column or two rising at Nemea, or the reconstituted Athena Nike temple on the acropolis.

I wonder when the shoe will drop, and some zillionaire will decide to resurrect an entire Greek temple, with careful scholarly direction. There are plenty of candidates whose bare foundations don’t offer much now, but might be instructive (and prove cash-cows from tourism) should they be rebuilt.

Classics Again

In another life, I once wrote a 12,000 word introductory chapter for The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, with a 46-page bibliography, called “The Modern Historiography of Ancient Warfare.” The essay was a review of scholarship on classical military history and served as an introduction to the massive encyclopedia on everything from naval warfare to siegecraft, some 6 years plus in the making. I mention this because out of the blue, the proofs came this week, and the reference work will come out this summer/autumn apparently. I confess that for years I had completely forgotten that it was in limbo press, but upon arrival of the proof, as in all Cambridge projects, impressed by the editing and layout.

RIP—W.K.P.

I posted an obituary recently in the NRO Corner about the great American classicist WK Pritchett. I had corresponded with him, and seen him occasionally for the last 20 something years, and learned a great deal—and made it a point when a visiting professor last year for a week at UCB to ride my bike up to his house above the campus. I can’t imagine that any graduate program could turn out a scholar of his caliber given the existing curriculum:

The great American classicist W.K. Pritchett passed away this Tuesday at 98 in Berkeley. WKP, as he was called, reshaped the study of ancient Greek topography, and spent much of his life finding ancient routes, battlefields, and harbors, establishing the nature of the Athenian calendar, defending the authority of the Greek historians from postmodern attacks, and writing a massive five-volume history of the Greek state at war—much of all this in his retirement after a long career of philological research and distinguished teaching.

For many years, he was among the giants in American classics in general, and among a postwar generation of scholars in particular at Berkeley, such as J.K. Anderson, William Anderson, Steven Miller, Ronald Stroud, Leslie Threatte, and several others, whose high standards, teaching, and research made UCB the top center of classics in the world—and sadly that generation was not replaced at Berkeley by a subsequent group of such a caliber.

Professor Pritchett is the sort of scholar we will not see again in our generation—if ever.

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