3 thoughts on “Bottleneck at Thermopylae Pass

  1. This is a belated response to the comment http://www.summitlake.com?p=427&cpage=1#comment-732. It was posted by H.N. under the old, obsolete “write Us” page. H.N. takes us to task for a pro-West, anti-Persian spin on history. I replied privately to H.N. stating that a biased historical “spin” was certainly not my intention, as I took pains in the “Thermopylae” article to point out the positive contributions of the Persian culture of the era. I also lambasted Xerxes for an uncontrollable temper and his penchant for executing individuals or whole city-states for annoying him (according to Herodotus, who certainly might have harbored anti-Persian biases of his own). Persia was without a doubt a “slave state” for those who were brought before Xerxes as unrepentant non-compliants. However, Athens and Sparta were certainly NOT “free cities” (particularly Sparta) and both engaged in atrocities rivaling Xerxes’ in malevolence if not in scale. Though it fell far short of the modern concept of freedom in implementation and consistency, the Athenian idea of democracy lit a lamp that lasted throughout the ages. It is also worth reiterating that, were it not for cultivation of the science, writing and culture of the ancient Persia, the recovery of post-Roman, plague-ridden Dark Ages Europe might well have been delayed additional centuries.

  2. In all fairness: I should add there quite obviously ARE heavy pockets of western cultural bias against the modern “Middle East”. This hopelessly complicates negotiations with regimes like modern Iran, not to mention fanning flames of popular resentment against western interests and motivations. To many, the west is still seen as carrying on the medieval Crusades, to which the response may often be an equally irrational and self-destructive holy war against the western ‘infidels.’ This is not helpful to either culture, nor is it fair to the millions upon millions of ordinary citizens on both sides — whose primary day-to-day goal is probably just to earn a living, raise and educate families, and get along with one’s neighbors.

  3. This comment thread still stares at me in my WordPress dashboard, reminding me there’s some irritating unfinished business here.

    I don’t think H.N. read my article carefully, based on his remarks Nice Spin, but that’s not my point, and his over-reaction is almost understandable.

    First, let no one be confused about Sparta and Athens. We think of Athens as the cradle of western democracy, but this only worked in Athens or Sparta for members of minority ruling classes who controlled a military might which, it was thought, could conquer and enslave the rest of the world by divine right. Those city-states, and the Roman Empire that followed them, much more closely resembled Nazi Germany than any modern democracy.

    Getting the vote about which peoples to subjugate next does not make a democracy a better or more just form of government. In fact, that license to hide behind a plurality undermines the whole conceptual foundation of democracy: look at Rome.

    None of this makes Xerxes look any better. That is not a slur on Persia or Persians, but a condemnation of the whole mindset. European and American history, too, is full of the same wrong choices and psychopathic atrocities we condemn elsewhere in the world.

    Cyrus the Great was a wise, revered and benevolent king, but the ambitious son Xerxes he spawned was the ancient equivalent of what Enron might have become — had it been allowed the persuasive tactic of summary executions, and commanded vast armies and nuclear weapons.

    The other (more current) irritant is this insane national flap about the mosque proposed near Ground Zero. (There is already a mosque just as close). Even friends of mine who are much more “traditionally” conservative agree this one has been milked shamelessly by survivor groups and associations. KKK-style religious and ethnic prejudice may well be a minority viewpoint in the United States, but it refuses to die.

    When western democracies find themselves pressured to ban religious and ethnic institutions like a mosque, or customs like the burka for crying out loud, I think it’s fair to ask how the west possibly expects to have any credibility in brokering peace in the middle east.

    If you were waiting for the other shoe to drop (the problem with Israel), it is complicated, it is unquestionably two-sided, and continued blind, blank-check support of Israeli posturing has become legally and morally indefensible.

    It’s right to condemn prejudice and force wherever we encounter it, but futile to whitewash the need for cleaning our own house while name-calling and finger-pointing at other peoples and nations.

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