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 The Spartan King, Leonidas, in the Battle of Artemesia, as depicted in the 2006 film, 300. Wouldn’t you love to give this guy a pass and find out if anybody was interested in a round of tennis instead? 

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“Only the dead have seen the end of a war.” – Plato (circa 425BC)

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From the lightning raids by the first nomadic hordes, on those tiny settlements around Europe and Central Asia, nine thousand years back and then through the 3000BCs in the Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent, right up until the dark ages, a mere one thousand years ago, we guys have fought 15000 major wars in which over 4 billion have perished. In those 11000 years, just 300 were lived in peace and tranquility. It says something about us, doesn’t it?

Wars those days were close-quarters combat, actually plain slaughter. You had literally thousands of massacres that would make Mai Lai (*) look like an act of charity. The victims those days did not bat an eyelid. You didn’t take prisoners, unless they were of some use to you. The sheer scale of the brutality was at a level we cannot begin to comprehend and yet neither the victors and nor the vanquished, no one, suffered from PTSD.

There were no painkillers, no anesthetics, and no morphine. You were screwed if you were injured. Even a simple fracture would most likely lead to excruciating gangrene and a slow and painful death, unless someone had the presence of mind to chop off your infected limb while you were fully conscious. Better still, you had your best buddy run you through with his sword and put an end to your misery.

If you were a soldier those days, you had to be fatalistic. Like, ‘Do me a favor, Mike, run me through. Nice and clean, Mikey. If you make it back home, you can have my woman and my dog. And my sea shells…well don’t stand there starin’ at me, you SOB, shove it in, arrrrghhh!’

The playbook for wars was a simple one. If there was a ‘War for dummies’ published then, it would be a universal one….

Step-1: Invade and kill.

Step-2: Burn down every dwelling, leave ’em homeless.

Ste-3: Erase every temple, destroy the idols they worship, make the schmucks think you are stronger than their Gods. Destroy their faith.

Step-4: For the inevitable reconstruction, use the men for slave labor.

Step-5: Rape their women and take them away to top up your harems.

Step-6: Kill their children, even they look cute and cuddly. There is simply no room in your life for wasting time, facing vengeance.

Step-6: Loot their granaries and the treasuries and carry them back to your town.

Step-Finale: Round it off with a nice drunken orgy or two, with a show (gladiators).

Amen.(Phew). Aren’t you glad to be born in the 20th century?

Humans those days were more pragmatic. There was no hankering for everlasting peace after the conquest. There was no such thing as a ‘peace and reconciliation commission’ anywhere in the world. No armistices or treaties. Those emerged as a modus only around the 13th century BC.

One of the earliest recorded peace treaties was between the Hittite and Egyptian empires around 1280 BC, during a brutal and expensive Battle outside a settlement called Kadesh in what is present-day Iraq. Four days into the fighting, the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramasses II (who also happened to be Moses’s step-bro and tormentor) began to get worried. This was turning into a slugfest stalemate, both sides well entrenched on either side of the river, Tigris, both armies hemorrhaging men and resources by the thousands every day.

Neither side could afford a long drawn out conflict, threatened as they both were, by other enemies circling like hyenas from the outside. So Ramy called up the Hittite King, Hatusilis, on his satellite phone for a sit-down and they thrashed out a peace treaty, the first recorded armistice ever. I’m lying about the satellite phone. But heck, if they could part seas, why couldn’t they have satellites, I say?

Generally though, it was a given that any conquest those days would be just as hard hanging on to, as it had been, to win. Other Huns and marauders were always eyeing your new acquisitions and it was a matter of time before you found yourself at the receiving end of their longbows and claymores. Raw aggression was understood and accepted as a fact of life to be dealt with like the way we see going to work every day.

Today you might groan irritably at something mundane, like…’look at that snarl-up ahead, must be some jackass who doesn’t know how ta drive. Shit, I’ll get late for work taday’. Those days it was just as mundane, only on the bloodier side, like, “look how that Hun just trampled over my wife with his horse and sent her brain spattering all over the floor. And she hadn’t even finished her breakfast, for Aethelred’s sakes. Shit, I’ll have ta get me ‘nuther woman. I’ll just have ta murder Shiglagoo tomorrow night and snatch his, no big deal.’

It was however not until the early 20th century that we began learning that we did not have to go on facing naked aggression, 24/7. That enlightenment was brief however. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, ending future wars and achieving lasting peace became an important aspect of foreign policy. After a while however, the direction of the discourse took a different turn, when the west saw violence and conflict and consequently the equity capital of those large munitions giants plummet.

A realization dawned that peace was not good for business.

(to be continued…..)

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(*) The Mai Lai massacre was the infamous slaughter of 500 innocent Vietnamese women and children in a rural hamlet named Mai Lai, by a company of deranged, exhausted American marines at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968. Had it not been for some intrepid reporting by the Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist, Seymour Hersh, the incident would have gone unnoticed, swept under the rug. Mai Lai and numerous similar incidents helped turn popular sentiment and bring the Vietnam War to a close. The man who commanded the company that carried out the Mai Lai massacre, never went to jail. He served three and a half years of house arrest in the comfort of his home and was a free man thereafter. I am so sorry he was deprived of the chance to be a baseball Dad or a hockey Dad for his kids during the time of his ‘incarceration’.

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