The Iraq Expedition: Greek Drama About an American Tragedy

The Athenians had their very own Iraq War -- The Sicilian Expedition. My play is an examination of how a nation can suddenly, bizarrely, and with great dramatic effect, auto-destruct.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Athens. The most extraordinary, the most beautiful, the most terrifying civilization of all time. The template we all live out.

Effortlessly its drama, its art, its science and philosophy bestrode the world. But despite its superb democracy, all-powerful economy and a "shock-and-awe" military the envy of the world -- out of a clear blue sky came sudden, terrifying and total collapse.

The Athenians had their very own Iraq War -- The Sicilian Expedition.

My play is an examination of how a nation can suddenly, bizarrely, and with great dramatic effect, auto-destruct.

Sixty years before the Sicilian Expedition the Athenians too had their "heroic" generation. Who, against overwelming odds, using only the democratic tools of free speech and self-organization, managed to rouse the rest of Greece against a massive Persian invasion, and, at Thermopolyae and Salamis, drive it back. Who, altruistic and self-sacrificing themselves, decided their children should have all the things they had been denied themselves a superb education, wonderful public buildings, the freedom to question all things, and wealth.

Their children, Athens very own "baby boomer" generation, experimented wildly in everything -- sex, extreme booze, the arts, atheism, sophistry. No taboo was too taboo. It was a golden age of creativity and hangovers. But as wild-eyed youth slid into portly middle-age, lust for the material started to replace a lust for the unknown. The Athenian baby boomers became the greatest consumers in history pillaging the world for art, clothing, consumer durables, and those really rather exquisite little hams wines and cheeses which just seem to drop off the trees in Italy.

But they were still denied that one consumer trophy every totally cool society cannot be without -- their own "heroic" war. Their parents had had one -- why couldn¹t they?

There was a "Neo-con" faction who argued that, having the finest military in the world, the world being the way it is, its better to hit the world before the world hits us. Behind them lurked various shady businessmen and corporatists, keen for trade monopolies and new markets. But it was the ideologues and demagogues who really shone, eager to prove their excellence in sophistry and spin and uber-patriotism.

An obscure place was chosen. Nobody was really sure where it was. Far off, across the seas. Sicily, that¹s its name. (Rather handy for controlling the booming trade with Italy, but nobody mentioned that). Anyhow, these backward Sicilians peasants had, apparently, dared denounce Imperial Athens for arrogance and aggressiveness. The orators in the Athenian Assembly went code purple. A frenzy was constructed. In vain did the remnants of the real "heroic" generation plead that this insanity was irrational, unpragmatic, god-darnit, un-Athenian. They were contemptuously dismissed as cowards and curs.

The greatest, most technologically-advanced military expedition the world had ever seen assembled off Piraeus. Amid unparalleled pomp sailed off into oblivion. The seas were rough and treacherous. When they eventually arrived in this far off and little known region, after an initial invasion they were surrounded by ferocious and implacable insurgents, who drove them back into desperate encampments where they were overwelmed and slaughtered to the last man.

Until now the rest of the world (or Greece) had supinely sat back and watched this curious Athenian act of auto-da-fe. The Athenians were always so good at putting on plays. But then someone in Sparta Athens¹ ancient and implacable foe realized Athens was defenceless and invaded her and sold many of her citizens into slavery and put her to the torch.

That isn¹t the end of the story.

Camille Paglia has long argued that civilizations are at their greatest at their moment of supreme decadence. Like a plant¹s exotic flower, at its moment of decay it shoots out its seed into the world around.

The idea, the concept which has proved to be the foundation of Western Civilization, was born, hammered out in the very moment of Athens agony and self-destruction. The idea of universal human love.

A few months before the Expedition sailed, at a private symposium, Socrates, representative of older "heroic" Athens but fascinated by the "new", ran into its epitome, a drunken Alcibiades, his former pupil and lover and neo-con orator extraordinaire.

The clash which occurred that night, recorded 25 years later by Plato, invented modern concepts of love. Provided the bedrock for St Paul and Christianity, imbued Islam and the Jewish Kabbalah, re-surfaced to inspire the Renaissance, and was the intellectual backbone of the English puritan scientists of the C17th, culminating in Sir Isaac Newton.

Not bad for one drunken night in pre-apocalypse Athens. There¹s no breaking without making.

My play, "The Sicilian Expedition" can be heard on BBC Radio 3 this Sunday, the 4th of December, at 7.45 PM British time (2.45 PM EST, 11.45AM Californian Time). It can be accessed on:

then click on 'Listen to Radio 3' .

For a week afterwards it can then be accessed, at any time, by going to:

clicking on the Radio 3 logo,

scrolling down to 'Listen Again' on the right hand side,

clicking on the words 'Listen Again' and scrolling down to 'Drama on 3'. Click on this and "The Sicilian Expedition" will start playing.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot