Sunday, July 22, 2012

The More Things Change ...

Society became divided into two ideologically hostile camps, and each viewed the other with suspicion.  As for ending this state of affairs, no guarantee could be given that would be trusted, no oath sworn that people would fear to break; everyone had come to the conclusion that it was hopeless to expect a permanent settlement and so, instead of being able to feel confident in others, they devoted their energies to providing against being injured themselves.  As a rule, those who were least remarkable for intelligence showed greater powers of survival.  Such people recognized their own deficiencies and the superior intelligence of their opponents; fearing that they might lose a debate or find themselves out-manouevered in intrigue by their quick-witted enemies, they boldly launched straight into action; while their opponents, over confident in the belief that they would see what was happening in advance, and not thinking to seize by force what they could secure by policy, were all the more easily destroyed because they were off their guard.
Certainly it was in Corcyra that there occurred those first examples of the breakdown of law and order.  There was the revenge taken in the hour of triumph by those who had in the past been arrogantly oppressed instead of wisely governed; there were the wicked resolutions taken by those who, particularly under the pressure of misfortune, wished to escape their usual poverty and coveted the property of their neighbors; there were the savage and pitiless actions into which men were carried not so much for the sake of gain as because they were swept away into an internecine struggle by their ungovernable passions.  Then, with the ordinary conventions of civilized life thrown into confusion, human nature, always ready to offend even where laws exist, showed itself proudly in its true colors, as something incapable of controlling passion, insubordinate to the idea of justice, the enemy to anything superior to itself; for had it not been for the pernicious power of envy, men would not have exalted vengeance above innocence and profit above justice.  Indeed, it is true that in those acts of revenge on others men take it upon themselves to begin the process of repealing those general laws of humanity which are there to give a hope of salvation to all who are in distress, instead of leaving those laws in existence, remembering that there may come a time when they, too, will be in danger and need their protection.
--Thucydides c.460 - c.395 BC, History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner.

From the civil war in Yugoslavia  1991 - 2001