"the very immortals can be moved; their virtue and honor and strength are greater than ours are, / and yet with sacrifices and offerings for endearment, / with libations and with savor men turn back even the immortals / in supplication, when any man does wrong and transgresses” (Iliad, IX 497-501)
You have to admit it stands to reason that the gods would indeed be moved in this version of Homeric destiny-- so guided by the human prayers and curses that forever bound together Troy, Rome and Carthage.
And knowing that their prayers had wings, the ancients also knew that to be truly great one must be able to defeat a great enemy-- so the Greeks praised Troy's strengths to high heaven-- as did Polybius, the Carthiginians'. This is not to argue that war itself was somehow more noble in ancient times, but rather that there is a possibility that how you understand your enemies in the end matters. That is to say that there are more or less noble ways of both going to war but also more or less noble ways of creating and "spinning" battle narratives-- and that these differences could be significant.
As my dear Caesar says, those who seek to promote war often ignore history.
And how much easier to do so in a world where you can go about life forgetting your country is even at war in the first place. To me, this is connected to having a very dfferent kind of concept over destiny; a concept which does not seem to include the Homeric notion of ordinary human influence. We still go to war but that idea of going up against a respected opponent is missing completely as the other side is dehumanized. Perhaps the ultimate symbol of this kind of modern prayerless destiny are the unmanned, robotic bombings which are remotely carried out by staff in an office building somewhere outside of Las Vegas and Langley. This is a policy which not only does Obama embrace but something with which he "virtually" kicked off his reign. (For the moral aspect of the policy, see the transcripts of this philosopher's zone program on political violence; and for a quick overview on the historical back ground, see the comment by the always brilliant, Patrick S O'Donnell here; also highly recommended is the Jane Mayer article from the New Yorker linked below).
It is a far cry from the days of Troy, when the Kings and elite oftentimes at least actually went into battle.
Along these lines classicist Mary Beard remarked recently as well that,
The bigger problem here is how we understand Virtue and Evil. It suits the cheaper side of political debate and media hype to imagine that somehow all the virtues (or vices) come together, as a package: a good person will be good across the board, a bad one similarly bad. It's a view with a long pedigree (and Aristotle has got a lot to answer for), but it crudifies political culture, is almost always a gross oversimplification and it undermines our capacity to deal with racism, terrorism, discrimination or whatever.
So if historical memory and the promotion of war are on one side of the coin, don't you think that communication and diplomacy are on the other?
I am a great fan of the writing of William Dalrymple. Not all that long ago he had another great article in the Guardian about the future of travel writing. One paragraph in particular caught my attention:
"It's no accident that the mess inflicted on the world by the last US administration was done by a group of men who had hardly travelled, and relied for information on policy documents and the reports of journalists sitting interviewing middle-class contacts in capital cities. A good travel writer can give you the warp and weft of everyday life, the generalities of people's existence that are rarely reflected in journalism, and hardly touched on by any other discipline. Despite the internet and the revolution in communications, there is still no substitute."
Indeed, reading this I thought that with the further and further cutting back ("outsourcing") of the old diplomatic corps really US policy is probably being decided mainly by a cabal of monoglots and cultural provincials. Whereas in contrast, the more I read about silk road history, the more I have been amazed by the way kings and leaders seemed to surround themselves with polyglot and multicultural advisors, spouses and elite. From al-Andalus to Chang'an, there were stunningly cosmopolitan and polyglot rulers.
The thing is, people quite simply do not always universally behave the same way and you cannot know this unless you go and see it! Or at the very least, you need people with such first-hand experience and language skills to advise you.... To wit: Vietnam.
This is why I appreciate Parag Khanna's work so much (though I don't agree with all his conclusions). A polylingual, the man has traveled pretty much everywhere on the planet. Hence, when he speaks, real experience talking to people informs his opinions. I am greatly looking forward to his upcoming book, the Future of Diplomacy.
Yes, two-way communication in the relevant languages really does matter.
Here is the other side from a war (Israel-Palestine Conflict) that very much has been played out-- for better or worse-- according to the old rules of the Game (though it seems drones are much used in that conflict as well; indeed, my friend Tina tells me that they were probably used in the incident named by the Slate.com author thereby confusing his argument?).
Some may say, there will always be warfare and it is in our benefit to make what is a necessary evil as efficient as possible. Others will counter that one needs to take the long view when it comes to political violence (and that includes the ethical implications).
Afterall, "historical provincialism" applies forward in time as well-- right into a short-sightedness.
Here is a link to the Jane Mayer article on predator drones and Pakistan.
And this on the historical background of Asymetric Warfare and China.