The readings are longer and deeper than many other Seminars have required, but I find myself referring back to Scullard when Plutarch has me scratching my head. Did Satullus really just tell the same story from another perspective, or had I forgotten who had bribed whom to achieve success on the battlefield? It started out as a mystery and ended up as a parable and I wish you had all been there with me, denizens. My head was spinning and my brain was stretched and 3/4 of the students were participants in a conversation that ranged from Eisenhower to Caesar to OWS.
Why are wars fought? If you have a standing army, is it standing around looking for someone to fight? Will a draftee fight harder or longer than a mercenary? Is our current army composed of mercenaries? Since we are paying them rather than compelling them perhaps they are.
And what about the veteran many of us heard on NPR this morning, speaking at the open mike at Zuccotti Square? He had fought and he had returned and he was unemployed and adrift. He'd done what had been asked of him, and he'd returned to a gaping void where his future had been promised.
In the ancient world, this was the beginning of uprising.
And so, when Professor Lippman asked for current examples of small events which might be magnified into larger issues, I went straight to January 8th. Although the shooter turns out to be a looney tune (I'm sorry if I am offending advocates of the mentally ill, but he put a bullet in the heart of my 9 year old friend and I often have a hard time sympathizing with his plight. Truly, I'm sorry, but this is as far as I've gotten right now. I'm a work in progress... stick with me.... I'll get there yet, I'm sure.)
Anyway.... back at the ranch...... on January 8th Christina-Taylor and I were engaged in the exercise of our civic responsibilities. We had been asked by our representative to meet her on the corner and to tell her how government could serve us better. At the time, I was struck by the civic nature of the event, of democracy in action, and I was quick to remind Christina-Taylor that we were not only doing something amazingly cool and exciting and fun but that we were also being Americans. We were participating in our country's governance.
And we were struck down while doing so.
Now, I know and you know that the murder of Archduke Ferdinand itself was only the lit match which set off WWI. If it's not one thing it's another and had the mad Serb not knocked off the heir apparent I'm sure there'd have been another outrage outrageous enough to start the fighting. But I'm struck by the similarities between the situations. Consider that Congresswoman Giffords was the heir apparent to the Senatorial seat vacated by John Kyl. Consider that a mad man and a gun were involved. Consider that the rich were getting richer both then and now, and that self-interest took precedence over civic good. Consider that what was bribery then is lobbying now. Consider that at the end of the melee Britain had lost a generation of young men and you begin to get a sense of the knot which was growing in the pit of my stomach this morning.
I'd written off Occupy Wall Street as a meaningless excuse to hang out in the sunshine. Purposeless, planless, unorganized (except for food and water... we brought them up well, we hippie moms and dads) and incessantly banging bongos..... it was aimless and useless. But then Nance got into it and that vet spoke this morning and I looked at the Plebs in ancient Rome and I wondered if this was just the sort of thing that irritated them to the point of trashing their Republic.
When my Cuters' age cohort are under- or un-employed, when their futures are not brighter than ours but frighteningly more limited, when government is at a standstill and there's no hope in sight, when even a young black man looks like an old white guy because he's in power and they are not, well, ArchDuke Ferdy, I'm beginning to feel just a little bit nervous.