Sunday, March 22, 2009

War's equal sides?

I originally wrote this entry on August 11, 2004 and published it on

Rarely (note, I'm not saying "never") does war have equal sides, whether measured in force or moral weight. Often the side with the smaller force (note, I'm not saying man-power) is fighting on its own territory and has basic moral arguments on its side.

Aphrodite of Melos. The statue was found on the Aegean island of Melos, in 1820. Its height is 2.4m, and is dated as early as 3rd century BC and as late as 150 BC.The sculptor is unknown. Louvre, Paris.<br /><br />

On the inequality of warring sides' force or moral weight, when it does happen, I have always recommendded a repeated reading of the History of the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides with particular attention paid to the Melian dialog. In fact, many believe the Melian dialog to be the best part of Thucydides' almost journalistic report of Athens' wars. (The dialog was extracted for inclusion in W.H. Auden's collection of the Greek classics. Auden's selected passages from Thucydides end with the defeat of Athens in Syracuse. If Auden selects something, it is definitely worth reading as I discovered on my way to live and work in China back in 1990-1991.)

Melians lived on the small island of Melos. They posed no real threats to Athens. Athens attacked the Melians because Melos' elders wanted to remain neutral in Athens' wars. When Athens won the battle, after a long resistance, it massacred the male population and took the rest to slavery.

. . . the Melians surrendered at discretion to the Athenians, who put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves, and subsequently sent out five hundred colonists and inhabited the place themselves.

Imperial wars are rarely equal, from either moral or force perspectives. However, if one lives in an empire, one needs to have a very superb moral imagination and a proper emotional education to be able to relate to the suffering of others.

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