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Liveblogging World War II: February 11, 1943

The Opening of "The History of the Peloponnesian War" by Thoukydides the Athenian

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Worth noting for two reasons:

First, Thoukydides takes it for granted that the coming of "civilization"--large-scale social organization in the form of states, etc.--produces a general pacification that allows for a large degree of mutual social disarmament: one has to worry less about pirates, brigands, and the possibility that the stranger one meets on the road will rob or kill you.

Second, of course, Thoukydides is writing about another thing produced by the coming of "civilization": the greatest war he and his kin have ever seen, stretching across 800 miles and over 30 years.

Deadly violence by humans against humans becomes much less an endemic fact of everyday life and much more something concentrated: committed by skilled professionals in concentrated bursts. Are your chances of being a killer less? Certainly. Are your chances of dying violently less? Probably…


The History of the Peloponnesian War: Thoukydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it. This belief was not without its grounds. The preparations of both the combatants were in every department in the last state of perfection; and he could see the rest of the Hellenic race taking sides in the quarrel; those who delayed doing so at once having it in contemplation. Indeed this was the greatest movement yet known in history, not only of the Hellenes, but of a large part of the barbarian world- I had almost said of mankind. For though the events of remote antiquity, and even those that more immediately preceded the war, could not from lapse of time be clearly ascertained, yet the evidences which an inquiry carried as far back as was practicable leads me to trust, all point to the conclusion that there was nothing on as great scale, either in war or in other matters….

[T]he first person known to us by tradition as having established a navy is Minos… did his best to put down piracy in those waters, a necessary step to secure the revenues for his own use. For in early times the Hellenes and the barbarians of the coast and islands, as communication by sea became more common, were tempted to turn pirates, under the conduct of their most powerful men; the motives being to serve their own cupidity and to support the needy. They would fall upon a town unprotected by walls, and consisting of a mere collection of villages, and would plunder it; indeed, this came to be the main source of their livelihood, no disgrace being yet attached to such an achievement, but even some glory. An illustration of this is furnished by the honour with which some of the inhabitants of the continent still regard a successful marauder, and by the question we find the old poets everywhere representing the people as asking of voyagers- "Are they pirates?"- as if those who are asked the question would have no idea of disclaiming the imputation, or their interrogators of reproaching them for it. The same rapine prevailed also by land.

And even at the present day many of Hellas still follow the old fashion, the Ozolian Locrians for instance, the Aetolians, the Acarnanians, and that region of the continent; and the custom of carrying arms is still kept up among these continentals, from the old piratical habits. The whole of Hellas used once to carry arms, their habitations being unprotected and their communication with each other unsafe; indeed, to wear arms was as much a part of everyday life with them as with the barbarians. And the fact that the people in these parts of Hellas are still living in the old way points to a time when the same mode of life was once equally common to all…