The widely popularized cliché, “History repeats itself” is only an overstatement to those that don’t pay attention to historical details. I can remember in my history 301 class during my Junior year at CSUN; my history professor prohibited any debate on the notion that history always repeats itself. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, however, as I have matured, I’ve concluded that history not only repeats itself, but for those that ignore lessons easily learned from history’s failures, they too, the record shows, suffer similar consequences of their early predecessors, in spite of the fact that they didn’t have to. For instance, consider Afghanistan, it has incessantly been shaken by external invasions or internal strife since the 8th Century B.C.E., nevertheless, Darius I, Alexander, Kanishka, Genghis Khan, Timur, Babur and Nadir Shah were never able to completely conquer or colonize the territory, although they all fought their way through it. The land has arguably been the most invaded, yet the least conquered territory on the planet; and is a sterling example of recurring failures on the stage of history. Today’s struggle with the nation of Iran equally exhibits the rest of the world’s alarming inability to avoid repeating the past. And that’s why in reality, “History repeats itself” not only means that a preemptive strike on Iran won’t happen, it’s also democracy’s fatal flaw.
To generalize with a broad brush our historic steps, it could be said that the world has taken the advice of my former prof., deciding to ignore the similarities we have with ancient civilizations and prohibiting ourselves from a serious discussion of their subsequent failures. Even at this very moment, the close observer of historical parallels recognizes ancient failures that are rarely mentioned out loud. One worth discussing is the recorded account and conclusions of the Peloponnesian War. Seldom does anyone remember, and for that matter even mention that democracy lost a protracted conflict with an oppressive society. More specifically, Athens, the shining beacon of freedom and liberty, and a most superb example of the open society was undisputedly defeated by the closed society, namely Sparta and their allies. Surprising as it might sound, we haven’t learned much from democracy’s first defeat, as nation after nation appears to have blindly stepped into the same repetitive morass. This is not a polemic against scholars who quite certainly have warned us about some of the frightening parallels that have led to many of the recurring consequences our nation has suffered. However, our reluctance to give their voices an informative role in the policies we adopt portends our blind march into history’s fortuitous trap. This reality is strikingly evident in an article published in the Daily Beast last April. It’s titled, “Iran Arms Race in Ancient Times Echoes Today” and it reveals our sheep-like habit, which ignores calamity’s causes and effects. Thus, as intelligent as our leaders claim to be, in practice we’re quite insane; that’s of course if we’re defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Today’s debate over allowing or not allowing a nuclear Iran to exist has, in some ways, a striking equivalent in the ancient world.
The article points to Athens’s rise to power in the early 5th Century BCE, which was marked by technological superiority over their enemies. Athenians had engineered a fleet of triremes, which were characterized as oar-powered warships that conferred control of the sea. These sea weapons of war were designed to be light, sleek, markedly more maneuverable than any ship prior to its construction. It was built using a system of pegs and dowels, rather than nails and screws, to hold planks tightly together. To construct a fleet of them required time, expertise, and plenty of cash, so as with nuclear weapons today only a major power with major ambitions would attempt it.
Themistocles, the statesman who pioneered the Athenian fleet, understood what such advanced weapons meant for Athens’s strategic position. He devised a scheme that would look familiar to modern Israeli military planners: to preserve Athens’s military supremacy by knocking out all potential rivals. In a secret conclave he called for naval sorties that would set fire to the dockyards of other port cities around the Aegean. Athens could have not only supremacy in advanced naval weapons but a long-term monopoly. But of course, that is, had Themistocles’ plan been adopted.
Looking back on just this one isolated peculiar space in time, it is a forgone conclusion that the implementation of Themistocles’ strategy could have significantly altered the course of history. But allies and contemporaries had no stomach to launch what they deemed as unprovoked attacks; sound familiar?
Aristides, a rival leader known for high moral standards declared that he had never heard of any scheme more advantageous to Athens while being at the same time more unjust. Athenians trusted Aristides and therefore jettisoned Themistocles’ plan.
In Themistocles’ day the city had a mortal enemy determined to crush it: the Persians, ancestral predecessors of today’s Iranians, and their aggressive king, Xerxes, a leader quite reminiscent of the kind of leader characteristic of the current President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The showdown in 480 BCE between Xerxes’ forces and a coalition of Greeks proved to be more superior to Persia’s weapons of war. Athenian Naval superiority appears to be the primary reason Athens was able to stave off Persia’s plan to eliminate their age old enemy.
But the Persians were not quite done in their efforts to ultimately become victorious. In 410 BCE they begin to wage an indirect war with their Athenian enemies. They waged war by proxy by funding Sparta during the later years of the protracted Peloponnesian War.
Most Athenians living at that time had never seen their sea power challenged. Their sense of security was badly shocked when Spartan ships, fueled by Persian cash, first attacked their military convoys. Many must have wished that Themistocles’ long-ago plan for preemptive raids on Greek harbors had been put into effect. But it was too late. Lysander finally succeeded, in a well-timed raid on the Athenians’ naval base at the Dardanelles, in capturing nearly all Athens’s ships, crewmen, and naval gear. Athens surrendered and disbanded its empire.
Thursday reports claiming Iran has nearly finished installing centrifuges at its underground nuclear plant offer quite a disturbing picture to say the least. No one should be so misguided by the word centrifuge that you’re inclined to put such news in a file located in the back of your brain. The kinds of centrifuges discussed in the report are isotope separation, the kind used in nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs. It takes many thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium enough for use in a nuclear reactor and many thousands more to enrich it to weapons-grade for use in nuclear weapons.
Iran appears to have nearly finished installing centrifuges at its underground nuclear plant, Western diplomats say, potentially boosting its capacity to make weapons-grade uranium if it chose to do so.
Iran only disclosed the existence of the Fordow plant, built inside a mountain to shield it from air strikes, in 2009 after learning that Western spy services had detected it. The United States and its allies are particularly worried about Fordow because Iran is refining uranium there to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which Iran says it needs for a medical reactor.
The diplomats said they had heard of indications that Iran had put in place the last 640 or so uranium centrifuges of a planned total of some 2,800 at the site, but had not started running them yet. “I understand that they have installed all the centrifuges there,” one envoy said. Another diplomat said he also believed that the centrifuges had been placed in position, but that piping and other preparations needed to operate them may not yet be completed.
Twenty percent purity is only a short technical step from weapons grade, and the work goes to the heart of Western fears that a program that Iran says is purely peaceful is in fact a cover for the development of nuclear weapons capability. Any move by Iran to increase output at Fordow would further alarm the United States and Israel, which have reserved the option to use military force to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and complicate on-off diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute.
As of October 12, 2012, Iran may be able to accumulate up to four ‘significant quantities’ of weapons-grade uranium – each sufficient for one bomb – in as little as nine months from now, nuclear experts Olli Heinonen of Harvard University’s Belfer Center and Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute said in a paper.
“This timetable will shrink as more 20 percent enriched uranium is produced, at which point potential breakout time will be measured in weeks rather than months,” they said.
Nuclear experts say any country seeking to become a nuclear-armed power would probably only break out once it could produce at least several bombs.
A simple reading of history suggests that a preemptive raid on Iran’s nuclear plants should have been ordered and executed long before now. While it is possible a small window of opportunity still may exist, a careful reading of history has consistently shown that open societies possess an inability to learn from man’s recorded history. In the case of Iran, as was the case with Hitler’s Germany, their own rhetoric precedes the actions these leaders will take once they possess the potential to carry out their murderous plans. The West didn’t believe Hitler then, and once again, with the exception of Israel, don’t seem to believe Ahmadinejad’s steadfast commitment to the task of annihilating Israel now. The world has once again missed its chance to learn from its failed history as we head into a delusional fog of self-destructive amnesia. We’ve been there before; we just don’t remember when.
Nevertheless, I’ll keep yelling and shouting as others have done throughout the ages; but at the moment it appears our actions have taken on a kind of perfunctory unresponsive dreamlike characteristic, and like sheep we gullibly march to the slaughter like a dog revisiting his vomit. Conspicuous consumption has spoiled our appetite for truth and the desire to chase and embrace life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has dissipated long before we ever realized it was gone.
Preemptive strike, yea right; thank George W. Bush for our weary complacent spiritual woes. For when he declared the sky was falling, we went into Iraq only to learn Chicken Little was alive and well. So when anyone else says the sky is falling he’d better have actual proof, otherwise, leave us alone with our dwindling freedoms and liberties, because if we can’t be certain of anything else in our troubled times one thing for sure will be true; History will repeat itself, “that’s” the law, and it’s democracy’s fatal flaw.
Contributor D. Chandler