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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

we pick war!



440 bc



"then lycidas, one of the councillors, gave it for his opinion that it seemed to him best to receive the offer [of terms]... and lay it before the people....but the athenians in the council were very wroth, and so too when they heard of it were they that were outside; and they made a ring round lycidas and stoned him to death....there was much noise at salamis over the business of lycidas; and when the athenian women learnt what was afoot, one calling to another and bidding her follow, they went of their own motion to the house of lycidas, and stoned to death his wife and his children." - herodotus

professor elizabeth vandiver (of great courses) focused on this incident. athens, generally know for quality of discussion, was not going to consider surrender. war fever, and hey, women are in on the action, too. dan carlin pointed out that graded on the curve of ancient culture, offering a peace deal from a position of strength (pretty much the rest of greece had fallen), after the other side has killed some of your men is pretty humanitarian. but for athens and sparta, it's "give me liberty or give me death!" (well, liberty for the upper classes, not the slaves in these cites, of course. again, ancient cultures.) and for athens and sparta's stubbornness they got their war. by some weird luck, they cities didn't get stomped, but that should have been the expected result.

makes you step back and think for a moment: why is war necessary? but i suppose war -- or violence -- is the default conflict-resolution strategy. you don't have to know someone's language or understand what they value economically, or be familiar with their gods for bashing them on the head until they stop moving to resolve social conflict.

civilization, then, is the slow development of alternate options for conflict resolution. talking it out. business. on the other hand, civilization enables larger wars. maybe fewer tribes are bashing each other on the heads with rocks, but with civilization you can produce 20-century carnage. so, i don't know.