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A History of International Relations:

Power & Hypocrisy

There is an old Indian adage that could be used as the formula for international relations. It states that the elephant has two types of teeth. The tusks are for show and intimidation and the rest are functional for grinding nutrients for survival. The earliest use of hypocritical propaganda are the monuments and records of the battle at Qadesh between Rameses, the Second and the Hittites in the latter part of the second millennium BCE. The battle was really a draw and peace was signed with the wedding of a Hittite princess to the Egyptian pharaoh. Yet Rameses inscribed an exaggerated and inaccurate account of triumph, all over Egypt. Incidentally the British poet Shelley wrote a beautiful and sarcastic poem titled Ozymandias, mocking the penchant to build glorious monuments, without nary a criticism of the much cruder British Stonehenge or contemporary British architectural monuments. The key ancient document from fifth century BCE to substantiate my thesis is Thucydides Melian dialogue between the envoys of Athens and the island of Melos at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, that led to the destruction and defeat of Athens at the hands of Sparta and its allies. Athens gave an ultimatum to Melos, an ally of Sparta to submit, change sides and pay tribute or be destroyed. The Melians promised neutrality and peaceful co-existence by appealing to reason, conscience, justice and long-term benefits. Dialogue excerpts follow with my comments in parentheses.

Athenian - We both know that into the discussion of human affairs, the question of justice only enters when there is equal power to enforce it, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must.

(The golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you is for weaklings)

Melianï - Since you set aside justice and invite us to speak of expediency, in our judgment it is certainly expedient that you should respect a principle which is for the common good. To every man when in peril, a reasonable claim should be accounted, a claim of right, and that any plea which he is disposed to urge, even if failing of point a little, should help his cause. Your interest in this principle is quite as great as ours, inasmuch you, if you fall, will incur the heaviest vengeance, and will be the most terrible example to mankind.

Athenian - The fall of our empire, if it should fall, is not an event to which we look forward with dismay. This is a (unlikely) danger which you may leave to us. We will now endeavor to show that we have come in the interests of our empire, and that in what we are about to say we are only seeking the preservation of your city. For we want to make you ours with the least trouble to ourselves, and it is the interests of both of us that you should not be destroyed.

(This is imperial hubris. The Mongols followed a policy of demanding surrender in return for amnesty and threatened death to all, if the city resisted)

Melian - It may be your interest to be our masters, but how can it be ours to be your slaves?

Athenian - To you the gain will be that by submission you will avoid the worst and we shall all be richer for your preservation.

(In America, the native Indians resisted and were decimated and the Africans put up with slavery and survived in greater proportion. Of course the natives had a sense of belonging and a sense of right of ownership, while the Africans were more disoriented and in a strange land)

Melian - But must we be your enemies? Will you not receive us as friends if we are neutral and remain at peace with you?

Athenian - No. Your enmity is not half as mischievous as your friendship; for the one is in the eyes of our subjects an argument of our power, the other of our weakness.

(Either you are with us or against us and any concession to you will be perceived as weakness by those whom we currently intimidate or those whom in the future we may wish to intimidate; for perception is reality. Thus non-aligned India was shafted)

Melian' Are your subjects really unable to distinguish between states in which you have no concern and those which are chiefly your colonies and in some cases have revolted and been subdued?

Athenian - They think that states like yours are left free because they are able to defend themselves and we do not attack them because we dare not. Your subjection will give us an increase of security as well as an extension of empire. We are masters of the sea (and air in a current case) and you are islanders, and insignificant islanders too, and must not be allowed to escape us.

(This is why India became a declared nuclear power and Iran and North Korea are developing missiles and nuclear weapons)

Melian - Do you not recognize another danger? Since you drive us from the plea of justice and press upon us your doctrine of expediency, we must show you what is for our interest and if it be for yours also, may hope to convince you. Will you not be making enemies of all who are now neutrals? When they see how you are treating us, they expect you to someday turn against them. Are you not strengthening the enemies you already have and bringing upon you others who would never dream of being your enemies at all?

Athenian - We do not consider our really dangerous enemies to be any of the peoples secure in their freedom who may defer indefinitely any measures of precaution which they take against us (Europe and Japan) but islanders like you under no control and all who may be already irritated by the necessity of submission to our empire. (Axis of evil). These are our real enemies, for they are reckless and most likely to bring themselves as well as us into a danger which they cannot but foresee.

(We know that illegitimate non-democratic governments like Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are an abomination, but they have accepted vassal status and pay tribute and homage. It is Iraq, Iran and North Korea that need democracy. It is wrong for Syria to occupy Lebanon especially during elections, but it is alright for America to chastise it while occupying Iraq and holding elections during occupation. This is an example of hypocrisy)

Melian - If you and your subjects will brave all this risk, you to preserve your empire and they to be quit of it, how base and cowardly would it be in us who retain our freedom, not to do and suffer anything rather than be your slaves?

Athenian - Not so, if you reflect calmly. You are not fighting against equals to whom you cannot yield without disgrace, but you are taking counsel whether or not you shall resist overwhelming force. The question is not one of honor but of prudence.

(This is the rationale for the Neocon Project for the New American Century, Bush's new pre-emptive doctrine, Ballistic Missile Defence, weaponization of space and huge military spending with open avowal of not letting any other country obtain military parity with America to avoid the prior situation of a standoff with the Soviet Union on the basis of Mutually Assured Destruction)

Melian - If we yield now all is over; but if we fight there is hope that we may stand upright.

Athenian - Hope is a good comforter in the hour of danger, and when men have something else to depend upon, although hurtful, she is not ruinous. But when her spendthrift nature has induced men to stake their all, they see her as she is in the moment of their fall, and not till then. While the knowledge of her might enable them to be ware of her, she never fails. You are weak and a single turn of the scale might be your ruin. Do not you be thus deluded. Avoid the error of which so many are guilty, who might still be saved by natural means but when visible grounds of confidence forsake them have recourse to the invisible, to prophecies and oracles and the like, which ruin men by the hopes they inspire in them.

(A warning to India to avoid astrology and Pakistan to avoid adventurism)

Melian - We do not despair of fortune. We hope to stand high in the favor of heaven, because we are righteous and you against whom we contend are unrighteous. (American misconception of good and evil and god is on our side. A trait widely prevalent in India on the basis of the Mahabharata, Koran or Bible)

Athenian - As for gods, we expect to have quite as much their favor as you. We are not doing or claiming anything which goes beyond common opinion about divine or men's desires about human things. For of the gods we believe and of men we know, that by a law of their nature wherever they can rule, they will. This law was not made by us and we are not the first who acted on it. We did but inherit it and shall bequeath it to all time. We know that you and all mankind, if you were as strong as we are, would do as we do.

(Jews who suffered the Holocaust now do the same to Palestinians. Lord Keynes said, "In the long run we are all dead", Hobbes emphasized the need for a controlling Leviathan- king and god- to counter the individual attitude of, "It is better that the whole world be destroyed rather than I lose my little finger". It is fear and a desire for justice from an inequitable life that led human beings to invent god and an afterlife with heaven and hell. Darwin's evolution and his loss of faith in a supreme deity was based on a wasp of the family Ichneumonidae, that deposits a single egg in the tail end of a living caterpillar paralyzed by its sting. The egg matures into an embryo that eats its way forward into the living paralyzed caterpillar consuming its brain last, to keep it alive just prior to emerging from the remains of the caterpillar's carcass, as an adult wasp)

The Melians resisted and lost. They were killed or enslaved. Athens got its comeuppance later and was defeated and destroyed by Sparta. As Mao said, "Power grows out of the barrel of a gun", but also out of wealth both personal or national. The Romans used their military strength to build an empire as did the Persians under Cyrus and Arabs under Islam. The European empires ofSpain, Portugal, France and Britain shamelessly and unjustly exploited native Americans, Africans and Asians under the guise of spreading Christianity and the white man's civilizing burden. Asia had earlier civilization and more decent religion predating colonization for millennia. It was the inability to accept the origin of the European language and civilization roots from Asia that has propagated the myth of Greek origins for Western Civilization. Plato (documenting ideas of Socrates), Aristotle and Thucydides were three great thinkers of Greece and all date after 500 BCE. It is true that Euclid, Archimedes and Eristothanes works are in Greek but so are the writings of Raman and Ramanujan in English. That doesn't make them Englishmen. The sculpture of Greece while superb was learnt from Cyprus which got it from Egypt. Readers may wish to read the two volume work "Black Athena". In the process of empire building genocide was committed by the British in America and Australia, by the Germans in Southwest Africa and Europe, by the Spanish in Central and South America, by the Portuguese and Belgians in Africa. Slave trade was carried out by most of these European countries and hypocrisy brazenly practiced by the founding fathers of America by allowing slavery while proclaiming the Declaration of Independence. I realize that retrospective moral analysis can be unfair but American slavery is undefendable by any rational or moral means, in view of the Declaration of Independence. The same patterns of might is right led to the betrayal of the Arabs and Iran with unnatural boundaries and persistent strife in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa due to British, French, Belgian and Portuguese colonial strategies. The current hegemon follows the same aggressive militaristic policy. The important new development is that the Athenians were not hypocritical.

Hypocrisy, the newer strategy worked up to the 1960s, but with greater political and historical consciousness has led to disbelief, irritation and aggressive hostility and become self-defeating. It also has an unintended consequence that many leaders especially of limited intelligence and knowledge believe their own lies and even have delusions of grandeur with paranoid ideation, leading to a state of mind comparable to that of general paralysis of the insane. Fortunately for mankind empires self-destruct. Rome fell because of the greed of the power elite that destroyed the middle class artisans by taking away their livelihood by cheap and exotic imports of goods from the peripheral less developed parts of the empire. The disenchantment of the legion recruits and the relentless assaults of the so-called barbarians from Germany were added causes. Spain fell because of similar impoverishment of the artisans and the inflation caused by gold and silver from South and Central America. The British Empire collapsed due to debt from fighting the Germans to keep them from becoming a great power. Thus "sic transit gloria mundi" and history repeats itself, which perspicacious Thucydides predicted first. 


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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