In the year 432 B.C., Athenian statesman Pericles advised his fellow Athenians to pursue a course of war with Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. War was inevitable, he assured them. Furthermore, their enemies did not have the capacity to seriously threaten them; such were the material advantages of Athens. Only 17 years later, with matters still remaining unsettled in the Peloponnesus, the Athenians confidently voted to launch a massive invasion of Sicily despite the fact that the general given command of the invasion had argued passionately against the wisdom of such an act.
In 411 B.C., Athenian democracy collapsed into the authoritarian rule of the oligarchic regime known to history as the Four Hundred. Athens had been impoverished by 20 years of martial expenses, isolated by acts of murderous violence that repelled its allies and weakened by the dreadful failure of the Sicilian Expedition, which had failed to secure the grain and other resources she had thought to gain by conquest. In 404, Athens surrendered to Sparta, her walls were torn down, her military power was broken and her imperial possessions were seized.
During the last three months, about 30 amateur armchair historians and I have been methodically working our way together through the eight books of "The Landmark Thucydides," a beautiful edition that quite credibly bills itself as the comprehensive guide to "The History of the Peloponnesian War" recounted by Thucydides. (If you're interested in testing your knowledge of the classic conflict, you can do so here.) Throughout the course of the study, two things became apparent:
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1. Politics and politicians have changed surprisingly little in the last 2,440 years. With a few minor adjustments, some of the speeches made by men such as Themistocles, Cleon and Alcibiades could be given by Gordon Brown, John McCain, and Barack Obama today and it would be unlikely that a single journalist would even notice anything unusual.
2. War leads to unpredictable changes taking place in the warring parties. These changes are seldom for the better.
The Athenians considered themselves more than equal to the numerous Peloponnesians because their allies in the Delian League were "contributing" 600 silver talents a year to Athens, which by today's prices was equal to around $9.2 million. This funded a 250-ship fleet which no other Greek city could think to match. The United States presently enjoys a similarly powerful military based on air and sea supremacy that is funded by a public debt of $9.6 trillion, a significant percentage of which is owed to China, Russia and unnamed "oil exporters." Given that it was financial dependence upon unreliable allies that proved to be the Athenian empire's greatest strategic weakness, it should come as no surprise if that eventually proved to be the case with the American empire as well.
Of course, all of the ominous parallels between latter-day Athens and America notwithstanding, it must be admitted that history seldom repeats itself with any great degree of precision. It is said to rhyme, however, and there can be no doubt that while America attempts to sponsor democracy in the autocratic Middle East, America's European allies are moving away from democracy and toward oligarchy in much the same way that formerly democratic Athenian allies in Samos, Mytilene, Corcyra and Chios did. As America attempt to forcibly install democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, it has all but vanished in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and 21 other member states of the European Union, in which only the citizens of Ireland are permitted a voice in their own governance.
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Most Americans would probably find the idea of a non-democratic America ruled by an unelected oligarchy to be unthinkable, but then, the disappearance of democracy was considered unthinkable by most Athenians a scant 21 years before it actually vanished.
The lessons of history suggest that America's ongoing Arabian Expedition will not only have the effect of degrading the American military, harming the U.S. economy and increasing fuel prices, but it could very well wind up causing significant changes in the system of American government. Of course, it's worth noting one major difference between the two invasions: Unlike the Athenians, Americans never voted to wage this war.
Nota bene: Maralyn Lois Polak recently announced the end of her long and successful run as a columnist at WorldNetDaily. Her iconoclastic views expressed in "Left-Handed" brought real breadth to the political spectrum of the WND commentary page, and I should like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for her contributions in that regard.