22 August 2006

This Democrat "same ol', same ol' " business goes further back than I though!

I’ve been re-reading some Plutarch over the last several days.  Last night while reading his Life of Fabius Maximus I was struck by a few things from one of the passages.  But first I need to describe the scene.  It is during the Second Punic War (218 -202 B. C.).  Hannibal, the gifted Carthaginian general, has invaded Italy from Spain via the Alps.  Condensing the story a bit, Fabius Maximus is commissioned to deal with Hannibal.  Fabuis’ strategy is to avoid direct engagement with Hannibal’s forces in an effort to tire him out and limit his movements.  The Roman citizenry have mixed feelings about this strategy.  To some, Fabius is simply a coward, to others a brillian tactician.  After all, crossing the Alps—depending upon which historian you wish to cite—has cost Hannibal several thousands of troops; and having to forage for food and other supplies was not going to do him any favors.  (Of course, conquering various Italian cities did.)  So Fabius’ approach made some sense to his supporters.  Typically, to give his critics their due, Romans preferred to meet the enemy on the field and have it out.  The ‘Fabian strategy’ was tiresome to the masses, who wanted a quick end to the war.  (Sound familiar?)  It is to Fabius’s credit that Hannibal did eventually confide to his closest confidants that he would be unable to take Italy as he had hoped.  At this point, onto the stage steps Cornelius Scipio, recently returned from defeating the Carthaginians in Spain, as Plutarch reports.  What I found interesting about this passag as I read it last night are certain parallels with our own times.  Now, I am not one of those who believes that history repeats itself.  But I do believe in something called human nature.  I believe that humans in various circumstances have a finite, albeit large, set of possible responses to those circumstances.  Some of the stakes involved in the Punic Wars are, I believe, relatively—and relevantly—similar to our own.  In the passage which follows, I have italicized certain phrases and commented upon them in bold face type enclosed in square brackets in order to highlight amusing similarities.

25 But now Cornelius Scipio was sent into Spain, where he not only conquered the Carthaginians in many battles, and drove them out of the country, but also won over a multitude of nations, and took great cities with splendid spoils, so that, on his return to Rome, he enjoyed an incomparable favour and fame, and was made consul. Perceiving that the people demanded and expected a great achievement from him, he regarded the hand to hand struggle with Hannibal there in Italy as very antiquated and senile policy, and purposed to fill Libya at once, and the territory of Carthage itself, with Roman arms and soldiery, and ravage them, and thus to transfer the war from Italy thither [i.e., take the battle to them so we don’t have to fight it here at home]. To this policy he urged the people with all his soul. But just at this point Fabius tried to fill the city with all sorts of fear. They were hurrying, he said, under the guidance of a foolhardy young man [rushing to judgment, rushing to war], into the remotest and greatest peril, and he spared neither word nor deed which he thought might deter the citizens from this course. He brought the senate over to his views; but the people thought that he attacked Scipio through jealousy of his success, and that he was afraid lest, if Scipio performed some great and glorious exploit and either put an end to the war entirely or removed it out of Italy, his own failure to end the war after all these years would be attributed to sloth and cowardice [Well, at least in wouldn’t be attributed to his being busy playing with an intern during his free time.].

Now it is likely that Fabius began this opposition out of his great caution and prudence, in fear of the danger, which was great; but that he grew more violent and went to greater lengths in his opposition out of ambition and rivalry, in an attempt to check the rising influence of Scipio. For he even tried to persuade Crassus, Scipio's colleague in the consulship, not to surrender the command of the army and not to yield the time of Scipio, but to proceed in person against Carthage, if that policy were adopted. He also prevented the granting of moneys for the war. As for moneys, since he was obliged to provide them for himself, Scipio collected them on his private account from the cities of Etruria, which were devotedly attached to him; and as for Crassus, it was partly his nature, which was not contentious, but gentle, that kept him at home, and partly also a religious custom, for he was pontifex maximus, or High Priest.

26 Accordingly, Fabius took another way to oppose Scipio, and tried to hinder and restrain the young men who were eager to serve under him, crying out in sessions of the senate and the assembly that it was not Scipio himself only who was running away from Hannibal, but that he was sailing off from Italy with her reserve forces [i.e., using a back door draft and stretching the reserves thin], playing upon the hopes of her young men, and persuading them to abandon their parents, their wives, and their city [i.e., lying them into a risky, ill-advised war—or, wrong war, wrong time, wrong place], although the enemy still sat at her gates, masterful and undefeated  [i.e., Scipio wants us to take our eye off the ball.   Where’s Hannibal?]. And verily he frightened the Romans with these speeches,  and they decreed that Scipio should employ only the forces which were then in Sicily, and take with him only three hundred of the men who had been with him in Spain,— men who had served him faithfully. In this course, at any rate, Fabius seems to have been influenced by his own cautious temper.

But as soon as Scipio had crossed into Africa, tidings were brought to Rome of wonderful achievements and of exploits transcendent in magnitude and splendour [Too bad, for Hannibal, that the Romans didn’t have our media elites bringing “tidings.”]. These reports were confirmed by abundant spoils which followed them [and today would be written off as stolen oil in a war for oil]; the king of Numidia was taken captive [Fine.  But where’s Hannibal?]; two of the enemy's camps were at once destroyed by fire, and in them a great number of men, arms, and horses; embassies were sent from Carthage to Hannibal urgently calling upon him to give up his fruitless hopes in Italy and come to the aid of his native city; and when every tongue in Rome was dwelling on the theme of Scipio's successes [due, of course, to the fact that the Romans lacked an ‘objective’ media to report on Scipio’s failures], then Fabius demanded that a successor should be sent out to replace him [And Democrats today want Rumsfeld to resign and to impeach the President.]. He gave no other reason, but urged the well remembered maxim that it was dangerous to entrust such vast interests to the fortune of a single man, since it was difficult for the same man to have good fortune always. [Today we want to remember that you don’t go to war without your ‘traditional’ allies.] By this course he gave offence now to many, who thought him a captious and malicious man, or one whose old age had robbed him utterly of courage and confidence, so that he was immoderately in awe of Hannibal. For not even after Hannibal and his army had sailed away from Italy would he suffer the rejoicing and fresh courage of the citizens to be undisturbed and assured, but then even more than ever he insisted that the city was running into the extremest peril and that her affairs were in a dangerous plight [“We’re no safer today than on 9/11!!!”]. For Hannibal, he said, would fall upon them with all the greater effect in Africa at the gates of Carthage, and Scipio would be confronted with an army yet warm with the blood of many imperators, dictators, and consuls. Consequently, the city was once more confounded by these speeches, and although the war had been removed to Africa, they thought its terrors were nearer Rome.

It’s not earth shattering by any stretch of the imagination.  For me, it makes Democrats even more amusing, though no less dangerous.  Perhaps intitially Democrat opposition to the President’s policies—especially the invasion of Iraq—was legitimate, due to what Plutarch calls, referring to Fabius,  “great caution and prudence.”  Perhaps.  One, and only, one of the reasons I see them as being little better than the self-seeking Fabius is how they insist (limiting myself only to the Iraq issue) that the President lied about WMD.  To do this they have had, though they fail to mention it, to redefine what it is to lie.  To lie is not merely to assert a proposition that is, or later turns out to be false.  Sometimes a person is just wrong.  To lie is to assert a falsehood knowing that it is a falsehood.  It’s one thing to say that Saddam Hussein probably has WND and has failed to supply confirmation of the fact that he has not, and to be wrong about it.  It’s another thing to make the claim that Saddam Hussein has WMD, knowing that he has not.  On the definition that the Democrats, for purposes of self-seeking, have now given to the word lie you and I will never want to be wrong about anything.

Heck, come to think of it, the Democrats are also redefining the term Fabian strategy.  It used to mean employing delaying tactics (which is a favorite terrorist stategy, but you can’t expect Democrats to know anything about that).  By the time Democrats have redefined it, employing a “Fabian” statagy will mean doing unto your political rival what Fabius attempted to pull on Scipio. Oh! I've got it! Let's call it 'Fabiating.'


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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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