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Thursday, Mar. 13, 2003 at 10:41 PM
Benjamin Franklin compared the pause in the Peloponnesian Wars, before their flight-forward plunge into the Sicilian invasion (by Alcibiades), with the situation in London at the end of the "French and Indian Wars" of 1756-1763: "Athens had her orators. They did her sometimes a great deal of good, at other times a great deal of harm; the latter particularly when they prevailed in advising the Sicilian war, under the burthen and losses of which war that flourishing state sunk, and never again recovered itself. ...”
In April, 1767, Benjamin Franklin's "Reply to
Coffee-House Orators" was published in London, being his response
to the chatter in England about using force to teach the colonies a lesson.
Franklin saw the efforts of the new William Pitt government
to tax-farm the colonies as an imperial move; and he
compared the pause in the Peloponnesian Wars, before their
flight-forward plunge into the Sicilian invasion (by Alcibiades),
with the situation in London at the end of the "French and Indian
Wars" of 1756-1763:
"Athens had her orators. They did her sometimes a great deal
of good, at other times a great deal of harm; the latter
particularly when they prevailed in advising the Sicilian war,
under the burthen and losses of which war that flourishing state
sunk, and never again recovered itself. To the haranguers of the
populace among the ancients, succeed among the moderns -- your
writers of political pamphlets and news-papers, and your
"It is remarkable that soldiers by profession, men truly and
unquestionably brave, seldom advise war but in cases of extream
necessity. While mere rhetoricians, tongue-pads and scribes,
timid by nature, or from their little bodily exercise deficient
in those spirits that give real courage, are ever bawling for war
on the most trifling occasions, and seem the most blood-thirsty
"Every step is now taking to enrage us against America.
Pamphlets and news-papers flie about, and coffee-houses ring with
lying reports of its being in rebellion. Force is call'd for.
Fleets and troops should be sent.... The principal people should
be brought here and hang'd, &c.... "[W]hen the wolf is determined
on a quarrel with the lamb, up stream or down stream 'tis all
one; pretences are easily found or made, reason and justice are
out of the question." [Found in Spring, 2003 Fidelio, p. 57.]
COLIN POWELL AND NICIAS. For some experts on Greek history,
Colin Powell's situation today is very reminiscent
of that of the Athenian military commander Nicias,
who attempted, unsuccessfully, to stop the folly of the Greek invasion of Sicily.
The effects of Athens' decision, late in the Peloponnesian
War, to attack Syracuse (in Sicily) was what finally ruined the
power of Athens forever. Syracuse was the largest, and arguably
the strongest and wealthiest Greek city. Although its culture
was Dorian, like the Spartans, it was not engaged militarily, and
had no intention of attacking the Athenian Empire. But the
Athenians were deluded into thinking that they could seize the
riches of Syracuse.
In the debate in Athens, as recorded by Thucydides, the
experienced commander Nicias argued against the project.
Alcibiades, the brilliant but unscrupulous former student of
Socrates, argued for it. The last part of Nicias' argment, after
his other reasons were rejected, was to cite the enormous size of
the fleet and army which Athens would need for such a campaign.
Instead of rejecting the whole idea, as he had hoped they would,
the Athenians voted to provide the forces which he said would be
required, however vast. Nicias and Alcibiades were sent as commanders.
At first, Athens achieved some successes. Alcibiades was
called back home to answer charges of sacrilegious conduct, but
fled to exile in Sparta, leaving Nicias the sole commander.
A Spartan army came to reinforce the Syracusans. When the tide
turned against Athens, Nicias wrote home that the expedition must
either be recalled at once, or else massively reinforced.
Athens sent Demosthenes to Sicily with more troops, but in the end,
the entire expedition was lost, and every man killed either in battle
or in captivity, or else sold into slavery.
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