A little matter of slaughter

Among the books I have read recently have been things that studied some interesting eras; the Greek world circa the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries BC. The Greek and Roman worlds from the 4th century BC on up to the 5th century AD. The history of the Americas from the `5th century through the late 19th century. Looks at the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam.

And there is a surprising theme that runs through all of them.


Massive, massive slaughter.

In the Peloponnesian War (fought between Athens and Greece, with a multitude of shifting alliances on each side) there were times when 30 or even 40% of the population of major Greek cities would die, whether from plague or sea-borne warfare.

Other times 95% or more of small or medium size citeis would be completely wiped out.

The Athenians killed the people of a city they had invested. The Spartans responded in kind. Then the Spartans asked for Helot volunteers who had fought for them previously...and promptly killed the 2000 who came forward.

Sea battles saw losses estimated as high as 40,000 people on a side. It has been suggested by some that the slaughter was greater than even the single-day butchers bill at Antietam, the battle toll from Gettysburg, etc.

Nor was that the only slaughter in the ancient world. Far from it. The Romans had their share, both by and against. Their losses at Teutoberg and Cannae spring readily to mind...as do the complete annihilation of Carthage.

Do we even need to look at the Middle Ages? The dark stains on Euro-history from the Crusades are awful.

The US history in warring against the Native Americans is hardly free from massacre. For that matter, our record in peacetime ain't none too good...and it is not just the Trail of Tears to which i refer.

Anyway, the point is that throughout history, there have been instance after instance after instance of indiscriminate slaughter. Massive numbers of slain, often for no particular reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And for all the killing, for all the carnage, devastation, cruelty and mindless destruction, one fact becomes clear.

It never really seems to accomplish anything.

The Peloponnesian War lasted for generations, killing the best and brightest and rendering Greece impotent when the Romans began expanding.

The Romans killed by the thousands in Germany, Britain, and elsewhere. They were killed by the thousands in Italy, Germany, Britain, Persia...and they just kept going...for a while. Eventually the Germanic tribes overcame Rome.

I guess one could argue the horrific war crimes on the Washita and so forth accomplished something, though the murder there was not on quite so grand a scale.

The Russian murder of Poles, the German murder of Jews and "the other", these things accomplished nothing towards helping either win the war.

For that matter, the racial hatred shown in the pacific where the kill rates exceeded those of perhaps any war since the aforementioned Roman wars of annihilation did not win the war, either for the Japanese or for the Allies. It was not until nuclear bombs wiped out even more people and more indiscriminately that the war ended.

So if few wars have ever been won by the mass extermination of huge numbers of the foe (or their non-combatant dependents) has generally led not to peace but rather to more vociferous and effective opposition...why do people keep doing it?

1 comment:

Riot Kitty said...

I don't understand, either. I just finished a book that culminated with WWI and it was just such a compelling reminder that it's all madness.