We are horrified and dismayed as we learn of the slaughter of Afghan women and children by a deranged U.S. soldier, the desecration of enemy bodies, and the burning of the holy book of Islam. Here are some accounts of another war, however, that few may be aware of.
Before the general set off for the battlefield, he murdered his daughter. After a successful battle, he took a woman prisoner and kept her as a sex slave. This enraged one of his subordinates, who wanted the woman for himself. Once denied this prize, the soldier decided to stop fighting. When the best friend of this guy was killed in battle, he rejoined the fight and managed to do away with a senior enemy officer. Having done so, he stripped the body of his enemy, pierced his feet and dragged his body so all that was left was a bloody head.
Reports of this earlier war from the battlefield furthermore tell us of a soldier stabbing the temple of an enemy fighter. The knife bored through the wounded soldier's skull, causing his brains to spatter widely. In another battle, an enemy soldier was stabbed in the jawbone and flipped over a rocky ledge like a fish being landed as it is drawn from the sea.
We are further dismayed when we learn of the aftermath of today's war as it affects returning troops: suicide, mental illness, lives ruined by grave wounds.
Here are accounts of events dealing with the aftermath of war that we may not be aware of.
When the general returned home, he brought a mistress with him. Angered over this and the fact that he killed their daughter, his wife, who had taken on a lover of her own, killed the general. The general's son then revenged the murder of his father by killing his mother. A jury found the son "not guilty."
The horrors of war described here are nothing new. They are the product of the observations and the imagination of the poet Homer who lived in the 8th century B.C. and wrote, in his "Iliad," of the Trojan War, which took place in the 12th century B.C. Plays describing the aftermath of that war, the Oresteia trilogy, were written by Aeschylus about 458 B.C.
We do not know with certainty what the balance is between fact and fiction in these works of ancient Greeks. We do know, however, that the war between the Greeks and the Trojans did take place and we can tell from the poem and the plays that Homer and Aeschylus were well aware of the consequences of war.
The historic space between the Trojan War and our own Afghanistan War is filled with events that echo the tales told by Homer and Aeschylus -- to name just a few: the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II; the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War; the loss of an entire generation of British men in World War I; the loss of tens of millions of Soviets, also in World War II; and genocides of the Holocaust as well as in Armenia, Sudan, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
So we are newly horrified by the latest news. And we should be horrified, but not at all surprised. Appalled, yes, but surprised? No.
Why, then, do we unleash the dogs of war without considering the consequences?
Why do we fail to learn the tragic lessons taught by the art of the ancient Greeks and the facts of history?
The answer to these questions may well be found in the sad words that Bob Dylan put into the song sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary so long ago.
How many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Stephen B. Sloane, Ph.D., teaches politics at Saint Mary's College in Moraga.