Architecture, and art, sculpture, literature and theatre are traced through seventh grade history lessons, with names of great contributors like Sophocles and Socrates, Plato and Archimedes. We learned of inspired minds of Athens – lineage we relish.
With our own cultural achievements and high minded ideals, we are proud to be considered modern Athenians, gifted and talented, educated, enjoying a similarly blessed perch in civilization. America’s golden age mirrors that of Athens. For both, stability gained from victory in war provided environment for advanced thought. America has been secure since World War II, and Greek speakers had faced their own world conflict. Herodotus documents the mid east terror from a million-man Persian army inching from the sunrise, bent on the destruction of the west.
But Greek communities banded to repel the attack. The motion picture, Three Hundred, glorifies their defense at Thermopylae, still inspiring us two thousand years later, demonstrating the power of beliefs spawned by social values, validating American identify as confident, free men.
Like NATO after WWII, The Delian League was born out of fear of another potential attack. The voluntary alliance was housed on the island of Delos, a central point in the Athenian sphere. Over member objections, Pericles moved the treasury to Athens, using the funds for beautification projects, the results of which we enjoy on the Acropolis. Puffed with success, Athens crested in its post war years, the model of human evolution.
But things went wrong.
Athenian “might” became “right; voluntary” became compulsory. When the Island of Milos refused to join, Athens coaxed, negotiated, embargoed and finally invaded. For resisting membership, Athens dispatched their own “awe” with soldiers executing all men of military age. As for collateral damage, women and children were sold as slaves. Five hundred settlers were transported from Greece, like contractors, to complete reconstruction.
Athenian appetite for empire grew spawning an invasion of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. But eager generals underestimated the will of “insurgents” protecting their homeland, and the occupation became a two year quagmire. To bolster failed politics, nervous homeland politicians authorized additional troops, but the result was a complete annihilation of the forty thousand man occupation force.
Athens was never the same.
But their ideas lived on. Roman minds expanded the democratic concept which sprung to full blossom in the European Renaissance, Enlightenment and subsequent American experience. Western minds think Greek, solid in the conviction our ideas, government and god provide the advanced model for mankind. The once Soviet Union would say it’s so.
Today, modern mid east threats justify Delian League paranoia, and America has behaved like Athens. The Australian journalist John Pilger reminds us since our World War II success, governments in no less than forty five countries have been marginalized by US policies – usurped, subverted, invaded, because we can, comfortable with the conviction we provide lesser people ourselves for their own good.
“Embargos, nation building” and “shock and awe,” remind us of Melos and Syracuse. The World Health Organization estimates over one-half million civilians have died in Iraq, with estimates of “collateral damage” in America’s long Afghan war in the thousands.
Freedom planting gets dirty.
Saber rattling continues with “red line” rhetoric. Under the label of journalism, controlled media broadcasts spin, demonizing “boogie men,” manipulating patriotism.
But the world community chastises our behavior. Instant global communication provides clarity, exposing truth, requiring we evaluate our actions less as empire than as a member of the community of man.
Spontaneous global demonstrations challenged America’s conscience during the Iraq invasion, and the latest eminent “surgical strike” planned for Syria was remarkably thwarted at the eleventh hour by world opinion and an engaged American public whose internet mail barrage caused its “go along congress” to finally get it.
Our blustering political leaders hid embarrassment when another world leader stepped in from his “axis of evil” to broker a peace deal.
People of the planet are evolving, experiencing an explosion of consciousness, on the doorstep of a human golden age. Millennial souls are demanding a new way.
America needs to do better. The culture we glorify was incomplete, primitive, merely the foundation for advanced thought. We can embrace inherited Athenian ideals, but we are not Athenian.