A New Perspective on the Sword of Damocles

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

"No power but Congress can declare war, but what is the value of this constitutional provision, if the President of his own authority may make such military movements as must bring on war?"

~ Daniel Webster (1782—1852)

When President Bush rebuked the press with the incredibly pretentious words, “No president wants war,” during his March 21st news conference my wife thought I had just had a massive stroke. Certainly, my blood pressure shot to heights hitherto unknown in the annals of medicine and which, I am sure, brought on more than one contorted facial expression.

At that very moment I had such an ineffable disdain for the vacuity of a mind that could verbalize such nonsense I could only query; "What did he say? Doesn’t he know he lied and that this is his doing? Doesn’t he know HE is the commander and chief? If the President doesn’t send the troops into harms way…" My voice trailed off at that moment words completely failing me.

I thought of Major General Smedley Butler’s statement that the price of war is "(n)ewly placed grave stones, mangled bodies, shattered minds, broken hearts and homes, economic instability, depression and all its attendant miseries…"

I remembered Benjamin Rush’s writing that the U.S. War department was, "An office for butchering the human species" and that the now Department of Defense should properly be called, "A widow and orphan making office."

I recalled the words that issued from the President’s demented mind on July 3, 2003 when he said: "Bring ‘em on" and how Aesop had mused, "It is easy to be brave from a safe distance."

Three years ago as the US military prepared to invade Iraq the internet was ripe with warnings. Everyone with two or more active brain cells was aware that the war in Iraq — along with the invasion of Afghanistan — was going to turn into a military, political and economic quagmire. Now, here we are three years later, listening to a lame duck President trying to save his dubious legacy and falling poll numbers both of which are directly tied to the continuing military failures in Iraq, coupled with the growing resistance in Afghanistan.

Does this President use words of contrition? No, he now pretends — with a straight face no less — to be telling the truth and gives us a glimpse into his maniacal fantasies with the words, "No president wants war."

Really, just who was it that dragged us into this continuing slaughterhouse called Iraq? The devil, or are we now to believe the President again lied when he denied receiving a special message from God? Certainly, someone is to blame because we all know the President isn’t going to take the moral high ground or suffer any penitence for the hoards of unnecessary deaths; either American, Afghanistan, or Iraqi. Not in this lifetime anyway.

I was particularly interested in Dr. Justin Frank’s assessment of the President’s performance on March 21st. Dr. Frank says: “Taking responsibility has always been hard for George W. Bush. Taking responsibility for inflicting harm on others, a major step in the development of maturity, is a step President Bush has yet to make. Instead, he persists in lying to himself.”

So there is the problem. We have a president that has matured physically but is making decisions with the mind of a self-indulgent child.

As if to prove the good Doctor correct, our President then affirmed that not only was he not going to end the present butchery but that any withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would fall to future presidents and Iraqi leaders, suggesting that U.S. involvement will continue at least through 2008; words which are reminiscent of Nero’s obtuse, dull-witted and conceited dying declaration, "Such an artist dies in me." Like GW Bush, Nero left a social and economic mess for future emperors to try and clean up.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution does not allow us the luxury of instituting the Roman solution, of taking the life of the emperor, when confronted with a ruler who is mentally erratic, thinks he is the paterfamilias of the known world, has a god complex, delights in forcing others to accept the gospel of democracy at gunpoint and bathes the pagan alter of federalism with the blood of innocent people.

Nor do we have a Senate with enough backbone to put an end to Caesar even in an attempt to save the empire.

No, we don’t have the luxury but we are rife with cowardly moral degenerates in both houses who don’t blink at the brutal murder of the Iraqi people, or any people for that matter. Nevertheless, the events of the last three years certainly should persuade the doubting Thomases among us that the state and this administration in particular hold and perpetuate a debased morality.

What is missing in the entire system of American federalism is the Sword of Damocles.

This legend tells us how Damocles, as courtier to Dionysius the Elder (AKA the Tyrant of Syracuse), was always declaring his admiration at the power, wealth, and contentment of the king. However after a time, Dionysius became weary of the constant flattery and decided to hold a lavish banquet for Damocles.

When Damocles arrived at the feast he was given the seat of honor over which a sword was suspended from the ceiling by a single hair — signifying the precariousness of a king’s fortunes.

Certainly, any ruler’s reign is tenuous since the reign of presidents, kings and emperors is entirely dependant on the consent of the masses; a fact every tyrant is aware of. It is the ruler whose system is predicated on leading by example that is most often remembered by history, not the leader who mouths lies and manufactures his own realities.

Two monarchs spring to mind, who saw their duty and accepted it for what it was. The first is Alexander the Great who stood side by side with his men during their conquests and bore the results of his decision as scars on his body. Then second is the Spartan king Leonidis who lead, fought and died with his men against the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

If the head of a state is going to proceed to war but isn’t willing to stand in the blood and gore of battle then there should be instituted another aspect of the Sword of Damocles; one that will bring home the horrific realities of war to those so willing to prosecute war.

Happily there are two events in history that could work perfectly as an extended lesson of the Sword of Damocles.

The first comes from American history and those who were signatories of the Declaration of Independence.

By all accounts July 4, 1776 was a cool, clear, bright day as a loose confederacy of men having been delegated by each of the 13 colonies, assembled in Philadelphia for the drafting and signing of a document that was to be called the "Declaration of Independence."

The delegates to the Continental Congress were not in total agreement with each other, their divisions and disagreements laid along cultural, religious and traditional lines, as did the disagreements among their respective colonies. Each representative’s signature on the Declaration of Independence did not bind a colony to support it; rather the signatures proved only the Declaration of Independence’s authenticity.

Yet, in the end fifty-four (two delegates signed at a later date) men moved forward and in turn, signed their name to a document, which declared their independence from and contained a litany of grievances against their government and king.

This simple act of signing their names labeled each in turn as "terrorist," "traitor," "subversive," "rabble-rouser," "criminal," and "malefactor." The consequences of this act would include hanging, the deaths of many of their wives and children, imprisonment, and loss of personal wealth and properties. Few of the original signers of this "Declaration of Independence" would ever reap the rewards of their actions.

What would cause men to sign a document of such magnitude even with the trepidation they must have felt? Especially when they were faced with such overwhelming force, the probability of death, and if they should live, the probable loss of everything they had worked for.

Obscured by the eloquence of the Declaration of Independence’s text, the first sentence contains a word that most learned in grade school. That word is "necessary." A simple word that conveys that it cannot be otherwise, it must be this way, it is indispensable, it is morally imperative.

Now, that moral imperative was not that others should be sent to die so that the delegates would have the freedom to continue their pursuit of wealth and property.

The essential morality was that if there was to be war then for them to reap the rewards they must be willing to risk their lives, the lives of their families and their accumulated wealth. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence they accepted and affirmed the moral consequences that are intrinsic and congruent with their actions as leaders — they accepted the Sword of Damocles as morally justified and indispensable to their cause.

This first example is highly unlikely to ever be accepted among the members of the US Congress or the executive branch since it requires a great degree of morality from courageous people: not cowards who can’t remember how they voted from one election to the next, what they said from one press conference to another or put the blame on "faulty intelligence." We are left subject to an absurd and incongruous meaning of the word "necessary;" shrouded in a plethora of seductive lies and stuffed with objectionable, insulting and silly nationalistic slogans calling for unity in the time of dire need.

No, we can’t expect high moral standards from barbarians whose hedonistic amorality laughingly passes as leadership. Therefore we are left searching for another means to subvert their lewd delusions of greatness which leaves nations awash in blood.

If then we are going to live under the ethos of paganism and allow our leadership to decimate generation after generation on the battle field, then let’s at least have the honesty to admit that, like the god Cronus who ate each of his children as they were born, that it is to only due to morbid lust for power.

Another illustration of the Sword of Damocles lays in the legends surrounding the Trojan War.

Now, if there was ever a spurious reason for a war, the Trojan War tops them all; at least until our President claimed Iraq was ripe with WMD’s and best friends with Al Quida.

It seems that the Spartan King Menelaus was married to a beautiful woman by the name of Helen. Around 1200 BC, while visiting Sparta the Trojan prince, Paris, falls in love with Helen. What happened next is murky but it is suggested that there was a mutual agreement between Helen and Paris so they flee to Troy, along with a substantial amount of Menelaus’ wealth, where Paris and Helen marry.

Anyone who has studied the Spartan social order knows for certain that the Spartan’s warriors didn’t marry because of love. Rather their marriages were arranged and were almost solely for the convenience of procreation and supplying the Spartan state with more healthy boys; thereby keeping a constant supply of young men available to fill the military ranks.

One would also be aware that a Spartan warrior was not allowed to see the face of his wife in the daylight for the first 10 years of their marriage. Thus it is highly unlikely that King Menelaus was very familiar with how Helen looked, let alone whether she was beautiful or not.

The reason that the Spartan’s forbid the men seeing their wives was simple in its design. You see they promoted homosexuality among the warriors of Sparta believing that the "love" two men had for each other would create such a great bond between men that it would produce a more cohesive military unit in battle. Thus, the love a man and a woman should have had for each other was discouraged in favor of a more unified fighting unit among the warrior class.

Another problem was Menelaus’ supposed stolen wealth. Spartan’s were notorious for their lack of wealth, even kings. Their social standing came from war and how well they preformed on the battlefield, not from accumulated wealth in the form of material possessions.

Thus, the idea that Menelaus’ was robbed blind and needed to have his honor satisfied suggests a flight of fancy on his part rather than something that had actually occurred.

Nevertheless, Menelaus demanded the return of Helen and the Trojans refused. Menelaus then approaches his older brother Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, and together Menelaus and Agamemnon raise an army to fight Troy.

However, as Agamemnon’s army prepares to leave a port in Boeotia called Aulis they encounter a couple of misfortunes. First, a plague sweeps through the army, then the winds become calm preventing the army from sailing.

When the prophet Calchas finally tells Agamemnon what the problem is, Agamemnon learns that he has angered the goddess Artemis.

Now here is the fact pertinent to our discussion. Agamemnon (whose name mean “very resolute”) is informed that if he truly wants to go to war with Troy he must appease the goddess’ wrath and that the only means by which this can be done is with the blood sacrifice of his oldest daughter, Iphigeneia.

Can you imagine the dilemma this put Agamemnon in? Suddenly, he has to decide what he loves most: his first-born daughter or his brother and war.

Agamemnon’s decision is in favor of war and so the first weeping over a death in the Trojan War doesn’t come from the combatant’s families; it comes from the lips of the family who has the power and means to start the war.

I am under no delusion, nor do I wish the reader to be deluded, into thinking this is likely to be a reality in the "modern" world, especially among those in the halls of power within the US Federal government. This would require that the membership in both houses, along with the executive branch, have a skeletal structure with a greater consistency then phlegm.

With the continuing drone from the drums of war, now calling for an invasion of Iran, shouldn’t there be some forfeiture, from our leadership, of greater value than the loss of percentage points in the polls?

So before another mother sees her son for the last time, another wife kisses her husband for the last time, or another child has only the memories of their father’s last good-bye, shouldn’t we at least be assured that those who send others to die will be tested to the same degree as those who suffer the loss of their loved ones in war will be tested?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew that before the delicate cord of peace, which holds the sword of war at bay, was again cut, that those clamoring for war were so resolute and so sure that war is urgently required that they are willing to sacrifice what they love most? It is something to think about.

Tim Case [send him mail] is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: u201COnly the educated are free.u201D

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts