Saturday, April 02, 2011

Wars the Made the Western World

Wars that Made the Western World: The Persian Wars, The Peloponnesian War, and the Punic Wars
The Greeks got a lucky and beat the Persians once. This gave them the confidence to continue to beat the Persians in the remainder of the Persian wars. The end of the Persian threat, alas, got too much to the heads of the Athenians, leading them to set up their own empire. From this, they decided to take on the Spartans and nearly won. But democracy roiled its ugly head, leading them to attack their commander, who defected to Sparta. The Spartans ended up coming back before the Athenians got back the commander and almost won before doing something else stupid and losing the war.

The professor turns this in to a tale of democracy gone amok. It was probably good for the world that Athens lost, thus allowing for some great philosophizing. It is also interesting that this war was well covered by contemporary historians and political scientists. Perhaps other similar wars had happened in the past that we just don't know as much about.

The Punic wars shift to a different area of the globe. The Greeks have been relegated to bit players in the bitter battle between the Romans and Carthagenians. Initially Rome uses great innovation to duplicate the ships of Carthage and build its own naval power. (So the US cloning of British technology and the Chinese cloning of everyone else has plenty of historical antecedents.) Then they nearly beat Carthage before Hannibal completes his brave trek with the elephants across the mountains to nearly sack Rome. But he doesn't quite make it before the Romans go on the offensive and beat Carthage, extracting 50 years of tribute before they finally decide to wipe it out once and for all. In this war it is much harder to see the good guys vs. bad guys.

In the end, the Romans won and created a vast Mediterranean empire. They adopted many features of the Greek culture which they found beneficial. That in turn gave us the basis of the western civilization that we have today. The society is willing to question many of its basic tenants and structures, yet still have an underlying structure of law. How would it have been different if these wars had gone differently? Perhaps not much. After all, democracy lost the middle war. Without the loss, there may have been violent Ahtens/Rome wars with both cultures going by the wayside.

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