Category Archives: History

JFK s Solon

John F. Kennedy’s Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961

‘Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.’

The politically fertile ground of Athens needed someone to sow the seeds of Democracy. That someone was Solon.

‘Society is well governed when its people obey the magistrates, and the magistrates obey the law’

Growing up in 6th c.BC Athens, he was fortunate enough to receive his education by the best teachers and he used to frequent among the most respected philosophers of the day. That superior education earned him the reputation of not only being the most learned Athenian of the day but also one of the wisest law-givers of the ancient world, admired both by Greeks and Romans.

SOLON
SOLON (640-558 BC, Athens)

Athenian society was on the brink of collapse and Solon was called in to save the day. He immediately introduced a number of measures:

  • He cancelled all debts
  • He forbade loans
  • He freed the enslaved

All this was possible after he persuaded all citizens of Athens that from now on, the Law and only the Law shall be above all.

We have to keep in mind that Solon lived during an age of tyrants. Athens was governed by rulers that were in possession of political power through violence and force. Solon’s behavior in this politically hostile and perilous environment was always dictated by his zest for freedom, equality and social justice.

‘Men keep their agreements when it is an advantage to both parties not to break them; and I shall so frame my laws that it will be evident to the Athenians that it will be for their interest to observe them’

Even when he was really old he never stopped reminding his fellow citizens that it was their duty to get rid of all tyrants as soon as possible -and he did this publicly, displaying unprecedented boldness.

He even ignored the continuous threats of the notorious Peisistratus -one of the most powerful and feared demagogues of the day. Even though Peisistratus’ rule was actually fair and temperate (Aristotle notes that his administration was ” more like constitutional government than a tyranny”) in the eyes of Solon, Peisistratus was still a tyrant, as he wasn’t chosen by ‘The People’. When the ruler’s attempts to shut the wise statesman ‘s mouth proved fruitless, Peisistratus asked him what makes him so determined to continuously oppose his government! Solon answered: “My old age” [Diod.Sic. Book 9,4]

jfk

Senate of Rome

I know that it may be just a detail but whenever I see depictions of the Roman Senate in session (in movies, paintings etc) senators are seated in a semicircular fashion around an open space where the speaker stands and addresses the Senate. Uhm… Sorry. That’s actually wrong.

The spot in the Forum of the building that housed the Senate of Rome
The spot in the Forum of the building that housed the Senate of Rome

Senators’ seats -at least since J.Caesar’s time- were arranged in straight and parallel lines on either side of the interior of the Curia Julia (i.e the Senate House).

roman-senate-2

Fatherhood

A few months ago the US President was photographed crawling on the floor of the Oval Office, playing with a baby. This was seen as inappropriate by many as the Head of State isn’t supposed to be seen on his knees, especially inside the White house.

Obama and baby
[Pete Souza / White House]
Let me remind you of a short story from Ancient Greece. It involves a great king of the 4th c.BC

Agesilaus, the feared and respected leader of mighty Sparta, was famous for being very loving and affectionate with his kids. When his children were very young he used to play with them, doing ‘stupid’ things, rolling on the floor and generally behaving in a non-serious, non-‘kingly’ fashion; even in public.

fath
A father helping his kid on a swing

One day, while playing with his children out on his front yard, he was pretending to be a horse that his kids would ride. One of his friends saw him. He was shocked to see a Spartan king on his knees!

Agesilaus told his friend: “Please don’t judge me before you become a father too.”

 

Spartan officer
Spartan king [art-girona]

General Patton: Decision-making and Leadership

‘A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later’

I consider him to be one of the top 5 field commanders in the history of the United States Army and definitely their most successful combat General.Patton3

You would always see him where fighting was fiercest, carrying his trademark ivory-handled revolver on his hips (yep, that was his side-arm).

This unorthodox but determined soldier was exactly what the Allies needed right after D-Day.

Patton’s armor and infantry rushed through German lines cutting through enemy territory winning amazing victories and capturing one town after the other -spreading panic and confusion to Wermacht soldiers.

‘Always do everything you ask of those you command’

Patton1
Patton honoring the commander of 101st Airborne Division (www.generalpatton.org)

While at a conference with his officers he declared: ‘Some goddamn fool once said that flanks have got to be secure. Since then sonofabitches all over the globe have been guarding their flanks. I don’t agree with that. My flanks are something for the enemy to worry about, not me. Before he finds out where my flanks are, I’ll be cutting the bastard’s throat.’

He attacked, attacked and then attacked again! His armored divisions roared through six different countries! France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria; his Shermans were rolling… Patton trained one of the most famous military units of the US Army, the 2nd Armored Division, nicknamed “Hell on Wheels”. On March the 2nd, 1945 a message from General Dwight Eisenhower instructed Patton to bypass the German city of Trier because it would take four divisions to capture it. Patton’s answer was: ‘Have taken Trier with two divisions. What do you want me to do? Give it back?’ Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, added: ‘The American generals showed themselves to be very advanced in the tactical handling of their forces, although we had to wait until the Patton Army in France to see the most astonishing achievements in mobile warfare.’

Ok, we all know that people have strengths and weaknesses. But there are times in our lives that our strengths must prevail. Patton is famous for:

  • His refusal to accept defeat as an option.
  • His determination to maintain the initiative.
  • His determination to be in total control.
  • His determination to win!

‘Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory’

Patton2

Britain vs. Japan

paper britain japan

Check out how Britain declared war on Japan. It’s the official text as dictated by W.Churchill himself. So classy! As Winston later stated:

“Some people did not like this ceremonial style. But after all when you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.”

I repeat, this is the original text and nothing was added or altered…

Sir,

On the evening of December 7th His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom learned that Japanese forces without previous warning either in the form of a declaration of war or of an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war had attempted a landing on the coast of Malaya and bombed Singapore and Hong Kong.

Poster issued by the Ministry of Information during WWII
Poster issued by the Ministry of Information during WWII

In view of these wanton acts of unprovoked aggression committed in flagrant violation of International Law and particularly of Article I of the Third Hague Convention relative to the opening of hostilities, to which both Japan and the United Kingdom are parties, His Majesty’s Ambassador at Tokyo has been instructed to inform the Imperial Japanese Government in the name of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom that a state of war exists between our two countries.

I have the honour to be, with high consideration,

Sir,

Your obedient servant,

Winston S. Churchill

boss

Spartan army in retreat because of women? [The Telesilla incident]

Detail of a Painting of Hestia  by Howard David Johnson
Hestia (detail) Howard David Johnson

Back in the summer of 495 B.C a victorious Spartan army marches against the defenseless city of Argos. A few hours earlier that army annihilated the army of Argos. Now, the Spartan king Kleomenes leads his hoplites against the city which is empty of troops. They think it’s all over. It was. The army of Argos was wiped out. The Spartans; they just have to walk into the city.

Spartan phalanx
Spartan phalanx

The women of Argos think differently. Led by the poetess Telesilla they gather all arms they could find in the city and take up battle positions on the walls!

Telesilla manages to raise the moral of the women of Argos and now the wives and daughters of the soldiers of Argos decide that the war is not over yet…

Telesilla was one of the most famous poetesses of the Peloponnesus. As a young girl she always looked thin and weak. Definitely not the hero type. This didn’t stop her from grabbing shield & sword, putting a helmet on and facing the war machine of the ancient times: the mighty Spartans!

When Kleomenes reached the walls of Argos he noticed that all battle stations were manned. By women…

The king -after hesitating for a bit- decided to walk away.

  • If the Spartans were victorious this wouldn’t exactly be a celebration of their military honor.
  • If they failed to take the city then the shame would be too much to bare.The only solution was to retreat.
View of Argos from the top of the theatre
View of Argos from the top of the theatre

And thus Argos was miraculously saved!

Gathering Almond Blossoms John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
Gathering Almond Blossoms
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

The point of no return

G.J.Caesar on the north side of the river Rubicon
G.J.Caesar on the north side of the river Rubicon

No general exercising imperium could cross the Rubicon without the concession of the Senate. Sometimes the Senate would ‘humiliate a general by letting him wait there infinitely. Imperium was power vested by the Senate. Period.

Everyone knew: the eagle of Rome seen on top of the standards of Legions is based upon four letters: S P Q R legion standard

That was the might of the Roman Republic: the Senate was governing. And the Senate was under the rule of the law.

Everyone was under the rule of the law!

  • Everybody knew that: dura lex, sed lex

January, 49 BC:

In my eyes the Republic’s death sentence was signed when J.Caesar crossed the Rubicon, courtesy of Legio XIII Gemina. (The Thirteenth Legion was fanatically loyal to Julius).

Caesar, after hesitating for a few hours, waited no more for the rest of his army. One legion was enough. He made his decision and shouted out to his officers two Greek words: “Ανερρίφθω κύβος” (Let the die be cast). He was marching to Rome and there was no turning back.

Gaius Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar

leg13

The famous Thirteen Legion, LEGIO TERTIA DECIMA GEMINA, (waiting at that time in Ravenna) was the only one available to Julius. 5000 foot-soldiers, 300 cavalry-men. They were all battle-hardened veterans that went through thick and thin together with their general during the campaigns in Gaul. They were now more than ready to follow Caesar to Rome herself!