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BEN FRANKLIN ON THE CHICKEN HAWKS AND THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR.

by Rosalinda 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

coffee-house talkers.

"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

of mankind....

"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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