I consider myself an amateur historian. Amateur because I don’t have a degree in history nor do I teach history as my vocation. The reason I love history is because almost every problem, situation, or issue that we deal with today has been encountered in the past. A favorite Bible verse of mine that is germane to this is found in the book of Ecclesiastes (1:9) and reads, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” By examining what was done or said in the past we can develop a plan of action or framework on how to deal with today’s problems.
As I watch the current political discourse I’m reminded of the Melian Dialogue. During the Peloponnesian war, as recounted by the Greek historian Thucydides, the small island of Melos opposed the Athenians and asserted their right to be neutral. The Athenians, fearing the possibility that Sparta would use Melos as a naval base to harass shipping in the Adriatic, demanded that the Melians ally themselves with Athens. To this point in the war, Melos had been neutral in the conflict and wanted to know why they had to choose. The Athenians simply told them because they were weak compared to the Athenians and stated, “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Melians warned the Athenians that if they went down this path, eventually they too would be in the same position and their words would come back to haunt them. The Athenians scoffed at this idea. The Melians refused to surrender their freedom, and unfortunately for them, the Athenians killed all the military-age men, and sold the rest of the population into slavery. Later, as the Melians had prophesied, the Spartan’s and their allies defeated Athenians, which never again rose to its previous glory.
There are many lessons here. One – that way too many people have taken the Athenian proclamation about power and use that to dominate those they perceive weaker than themselves without regard to the fact they too might find themselves in that position. Two – that sometimes standing up for what you believe means that you will suffer for it, but it doesn’t mean you should give in to bullies. Three – karma can be a b*****.
Last, looking at the last 9 years of politics I see other parallels. It wasn’t long ago an American president said, “we won, you lost, deal with it”. I hear echoes of the Athenian’s proclamation in those words. Now that the sides have changed, the other party is using those same words. Sad. There is one last lesson from the Peloponnesian war. Even though Sparta won the war – their resources and national will depleted by the long conflict – that it wasn’t long after that they too were conquered by another Greek city state. Karma.