I have almost finished a long novel (should be done by July), No Man A Slave, about the great march of the Boiotians under the general Epaminondas, in winter and spring 369 B.C., to liberate the Messenian helots from Spartan rule. While I can’t give away the plot and ending, from time to time I will post a few hundred words in mediis rebus from the narrative. For the first installment, see below.
If one were to substitute “Muslim” for “Christian” in the rants of the Edwards bloggers, would there have been any hesitation about firing them?
If Austrian sniper rifles really were recently sold to Iran, brought into Iraq, and used to kill Americans., what would Europeans think if American sniper weaponry were sold, under our government's auspices, to those supplying the Basque separatists to kill Spaniards? Why no outcry from the Euro-left about the continent’s amoral propensity to sell the Iranian thugocracy about anything it wants?
Hamas and Fatah have different uniforms. They have two conflicting ideologies and clear antithetical agendas. And now they are killing one another. Why is this not a “civil war,” but the senseless sectarian violence in Iraq is?
Punditing the War
I didn’t think it was such a good idea in 1998 to go to war to remove Saddam Hussein, as the Congress, on Bill Clinton’s prompt, sort of authorized. At least that was the force of the 1998 resolution that "urges the president to take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs."
George Bush must have agreed as well, since he did not seem to be considering removing Saddam during his first eight months in office—but surely did after 9/11.
Do we remember the rhetoric in those unhappy Clinton years, when Democrats were outdoing each other to threaten war to remove Saddam? Sen. Tom Daschle bragged that his vote for the resolution would "send as clear a message as possible that we are going to force, one way or another, diplomatically or militarily, Iraq to comply with international law."
If there were any doubt what he meant, he added, "'Look, we have exhausted virtually our diplomatic effort to get the Iraqis to comply with their own agreements and with international law. Given that, what other option is there but to force them to do so?' That's what they're saying. This is the key question. And the answer is we don't have another option. We have got to force them to comply, and we are doing so militarily."
But after 9/11 I felt we were in a global war, both against Islamic fascists and the dictatorial regimes that sponsored them. That Saddam had harbored killers as diverse as Abu Abas, Abu Nidal, the architects of the first World Trade Center bombing, Zarqawi, the al-Qaedists in Kurdistan, and other liaisons with terrorists was, along with the other 22 “whereas” in the October 11, 2002 resolution, enough for me and most other Americans.
My own position on Saddam was perhaps closest to Sen. Harry Reid, who, in the post 9/11 climate of that October 2002, gave a speech to the effect that Saddam’s violations of the 1991 accords had de facto restarted the war: “That refusal constitutes a breach of the armistice which renders it void and justifies resumption of the armed conflict."
Since then, like many conservatives, I have had disagreements with the way the war has been waged—mostly the pull-back from the first siege of Fallujah, the reprieve given to Sadr, the restrictions on the use of American force, the ubiquity of American officials in Iraq on television, and the utopian effort to establish the perfect water, sewer, or electrical system rather than the ad hoc one that would do.
But all that said and done, I continue to believe that by any historical standard none of those mistakes needs doom the effort, nor were they exceptional by the benchmarks of past wars, nor can we lose this war on the battlefield. If Gen. Petraeus fails he will be unfairly forgotten, but if he succeeds, and I think he will, he will be fairly canonized.
A Sense of Humility?
Above all, there should be a sense of humility that we over here are not in harm’s way, are not responsible for the frequent choices between the bad and only worse, and usually do more damage by ankle-biting than by offering encouragement for the difficult tasks that faces our military.
The tragic loss of over 3,000 Americans, compared to the horrendous casualties of WWI, WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, is evidence of the skill and efficacy of our military in trying to guard our forces as best it can. Our goals remain noble, unlike those questionable ones in the past when we allowed Kurds and Shiites to be slaughtered, or played Iraq off against Iran.
I say all this because I am surprised not that most, by 2007, have come to challenge that assessment, but that so many earlier supporters have turned not just critics of the war, but vehement critics—with a self-righteousness that is, to be candid, appalling.
As one example, I confess to being embarrased by the kothornos Joe Klein’s serial Time essays not only damning the administration as incompetent and nefarious, but his own self-righteous exculpation of his own past— especially his amnesia over his infamous Russert interview of 2003 calling for the removal of Saddam:
"MR. KLEIN: ...This is a really tough decision. War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it--it's--it--it probably is.
RUSSERT: Now that's twice you've said that: 'It's the right war.' You believe it's the wrong time. Why do you think it's the right war?
Mr. KLEIN: Because sooner or later, this guy has to be taken out. Saddam has--Saddam Hussein has to be taken out.”
Mr. Klein has no tolerance for those he claims were not truthful on Iraq, but then most had no tolerance for the falsehoods promulgaged a decade ago about his authorship of Primary Colors. The point? Be careful about the casting of stones...
No Man A Slave—Trailer #1
The great victory over the Spartans at Leuktra is a year past. It’s now winter, and the Boiotians are still debating whether to take the war home to Sparta. After hearing the Athenian Kallistratos and his Boiotian ally Eteokles damn the notion of a katabasis southward, the general Epaminondas addresses and wins over the assembly to march out the next day. In the tumult following that voice vote, the old sophist Alkidamas steps up to offer one more thought to the unruly crowd before the Boiotians leave.
The excerpt is drawn from halfway in the narrative, after Leuktra, but before Sparta is overrun, in what would to us be the month November, 369 B.C., in the meeting hall of the Boiotians at Thebes.
In a few moments, the hoots quieted down. The crowd itself was stunned at the farmers' spontaneous roaring, their wild shouts of approval at the furious harangue of Epaminondas, especially his threats to the Athenians in his midst.
No one was quite sure what would next follow. No one in memory had voted to march so far for so long—and for so many others. An eerie silence followed. Would harsh Reason goad them back, back to blame others for the vote?
Then Melon for the first time noticed that the old sophist Alkidamas of all people, the wine-soaked has-been of the symposia, not the Boiotarchs or once again Pelopidas, was approaching the bema. He was already raising both arms to calm the crowd as if he owned it.
“I take this thunder as a voice vote that we are to march under your General Epaminondas in the morning. Pelopidas as his habit will be in charge of the muster. Look out in the plain below—the army is nearly ready and only awaits our nod. Let the Boiotarchs sort out the details. Though the five who had doubts have already ceded their command over to our two leaders. We have no need of the yes-and-no folk, and those who wear the double-pointed shoes. I have nothing to add to the promises of Epaminondas—other than this.”
And here windy Alkidamas himself also grew quiet—not quite sure what he would say next. But speak he did, possessed as he was by some other voice he would say later, out of the mouth of Pythagoras himself. He turned to the loud hoplites in the crowd. And now he shook his finger at them as his voice went into a near whisper and oddly calm.
“No man born knows who is by nature a slave, this curse that so often makes the strong and wise unfree and the weak and dull their master. Beware of those who say the Messenians know nothing of letters as if they were man-footed beasts of dim wits and animal grunts. They are unfree because they live next to the Spartans, as we the Boiotians, and Kallistratos and his fancy Athenians might well have been as well—had our borders butted such a race of granite as those who wear the red capes. Oh yes, the Messenians will be free. But their rebirth will be thanks only to the black spears of the Boiotians. In the year to come, they will have their free city of Messenê—for nature has made no man a slave.”
With that final reminder to the hoplites, the strong arms of the phalanx, Alkidamas stepped down and abandoned the politics of Boiotia for good, for this man of action now had business himself in the Peloponnese.
As the assembly of the Boiotians broke up, the white-haired Alkidamas lumbered over to Melon and slapped him lightly across the face, “I think I have the beginning of a real speech some day from these words that suddenly flew into my head. Such a wild daimon came into me—it was as if the one god of ours were wagging my tongue. Still is it seems.”
“Maybe, so, old man. I hope to be alive to hear it again, this defense of the Messenians, this 'no man a slave.' For good or evil, the course of this march, as it's turned out now, is no longer about Sparta alone. I feel something bigger in the hearts of all us. Though the ideal is still unspoken and we a tough breed are embarrassed over what it has done to us. Yes, it set us on fire—the grim farmers of Boiotia who, until today, brag to go nowhere and don't do anything for anyone. Still, we know now that Epaminondas will go beyond his tenure that expires at the new year. All of us will then be renegades under the command of an outlaw general. And we'll be far to the south of the Isthmos. And there will be a death sentence on our heads when—or if—we return. So be it?”
“So be it,” Alkidamas shouted back as he turned to leave, and then paused , “When the law is in service to servitude, and its violation means freedom, then the choice for a good man is not hard. But remember that men, all of them I’m afraid, are fickle sorts. If the helots are freed and we tramp back alive, then our faces will be chiseled in marble up on Parnassos. But if we trip, well, then you know the fate of Epaminondas—and of all who now ride this wild horse of helot freedom."
Then as he walked out, Alkidamas ended with a final laugh, "There won’t be any Apothetai of the Spartans big enough to hide all our corpses.”