17 January 2009

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Dr C marks the end of a third week in the ravaging of Gaza by Israe'el with an depressingly telling reading from Thucydides. It's a grim reminder of how little things change.

Before anything else, let me honour Dr C for the consistency and doggedness of his commitment to commentary on Gaza. Almost every day since the obscenity began, he has refused to let us forget or ignore it.

When Thucydides first found me, the Cold War was in full freeze and the parallels were glaringly obvious. Two power blocks faced each other. Both had emerged from a period of alliance in which their leaders jointly led successful opposition to a dire threat (Persia for Athens and Sparta; Germany for the US and USSR). One (US/Athens) was a relatively open society, the other (USSR/Sparta) closed, but the more open protagonist didn't let its ideals inconvenience actions outside its borders.

Gaza is not Melos; but it does share with Melos (and more recent "beneficiaries" of US power) the misfortune to be selected as a target by the more open of two combatants. Because let us never forget that this assault is an action in the proxy war between Isra'el and Iran – an opposition in which Isra'el is indisputably the more open society but, also indisputably, no more inclined to let that constrain its actions than were Athens or the US.

If, as a result of Dr C's post, you want to read the full Melian Dialogue but do not feel up to tackling the whole History of the Peloponnesian war, you can jump straight to it in chapter 27. You may also like to look at The Athens-Melos role play from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and/or Ursula K le Guin's devastating short story on oppression by liberal democratic states The ones who walk away from Omelas.

  • Ursula K Le Guin, "The ones who walk away from Omelas", available in the collection The compass rose : short stories. 1988, New York: Harper Collins.
  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian war. Numerous editions and several translations, including (in English):
    • Best known: Rex Warner, 1974, Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.
    • Free electronic download: Richard Crawley, 2004 from the Gutenberg Project http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/7142