Authored By Robin Lane Fox
Basic Books, 2006
As you know, for the most part during the past year I have been writing monthly reviews for C-133 crew-members about American military leaders who turned their skill into major civilian leadership positions. Discussions of these larger than life figures always leads to the question of “How did they transition from a warrior’s life of fierce defense for the country into that of a political leader?” Commanding men in battle bestows a certain humility that seems to transfer successfully into civilian leadership. We do surmise that each truly believed that the uniting of democratic values with the American people gave mankind its best hope.
These transformational leaders generally rose from ordinary beginnings to extraordinary accomplishments with a strong belief in the foundational values of Classical Western Culture. Honor and integrity were particular qualities imbued during their childhood upbringing; and, when under immense challenges, that became their strength. There is a reason that the American Armed Forces are the most respected of all U.S. Government institutions. But, what exactly was this culture and how did it develop? What were its military and civilian manifestations?
These questions are largely answered by Robin Lane Fox in The Classical World that is an introductory history about the ancient and classical civilizations of Greece and Rome where this culture began. Fox chronicles the period from Homer to Hadrian, from early Greece to Imperial Rome, some 900 years of political intrigue, of constant wars for fame and power, and of the ordinary life of the citizens. The relationship between the Greeks and the Romans has virtually no parallel in world history. It became a love-hate relationship, a fusion that created an extraordinary culture.
These nations dominated the western world for centuries; and, their art, architecture, drama, philosophy, politics, and military leadership determined the distinctive character and fundamental pillars of modern Western Civilization. The growth of the Arts that formed among the slaughter of the people during the constant turmoil of war seems impossible and is unprecedented. However, Classical culture, these many centuries later with its enduring strength is still typically expressed in our attitudes, habits, and beliefs. It is our ethos.
Fox has created an epic poem that tells the tales of those times in a continuous narrative that outlines the formative struggles within these ancient classical cultures that were largely influenced by man’s will to be free. Individual freedom; it is still and will always be the main struggle that we engage. It was in Athens that a radical or participatory democracy first evolved with origins as far back as 510B.C. Even though far removed from our present system of representative democracy, we tend to regard it as the spiritual ancestor of Western governance.
The author begins The Classical World with Homer, as his poems are the first written Greek literature to survive and ends with Hadrian as ‘classical literature’ ends with that reign. Hadrian toured his Roman Empire that extended from Britain to the Red Sea and was the one emperor who acquired a first-hand view of the classical world during his excursions in the 120’s and 130’s. Since Hadrian’s day, no other empire has ruled such a large expanse of territory. I refer you to this site about Hadrian’s Wall in Britain as an example of the Roman Empire’s reach.
Click on: "Hadrian's Wall" on Wikipedia
Hannibal and Rome is a most interesting chapter as it relates the famous battle at Cannae where Hannibal won a supreme victory over the Romans that is still studied in Western military academies. During the battle 48,000 enemy troops were killed at an estimated 500 lives per minute. Elephants and cavalry were a large part of the fierce engagements that ensued during the Hannibalic War. That War made Hannibal into history’s first global warrior. For more than 30 years he had been out of Carthage fighting in Spain, the Alps, and Italy. Hannibal’s memory continued to haunt Rome and years later in the 90’s AD, a Roman emperor had a Roman senator executed as he had a slave named Hannibal.
While reading The Classical World I was constantly reminded of Michael Howard’s The invention of Peace that I reviewed last January. Howard ‘s thesis still speaks to the truth that revolves about the notion that peace is a far more complex affair than war; so complex that it seems to remain beyond humanity’s reach; merely an invention of the international bourgeois community. Peace was and continues to be an elusive dream, simply the interlude between wars. Are we surprised! Thucydides the Greek first noted that in the 400’s B.C.
Scholars opine that these ancient battles, for all of their madness, are worthy of study if for no other reason than they are crucibles of history. A few hours of vicious fighting could determine the fate of an empire and alter the course of history. Marathon, Gaugamela, Masada, Teutoburg Forest, and Adrianople are examples that usually heralded the rise of one and the fall of the other. Students can easily study this long and unrelenting chronology about the chaotic complexity that underlies Howard’s thesis, as war was constant, integral, and vicious during the ancient classical world. Is it different in today’s world?
All in all, The Classical World is a fascinating depiction of how classical culture came into existence. It was a global world then and now; sometimes welcomed and encouraged, and sometimes resisted. It is well worth your study as the outcome from this distant and ancient past set the stage for the future development of modern Western civilization. Fox has created a compelling overview of the ancient human experience that began a long, arduous journey toward securing mankind’s insatiable desire for individual freedom. Freedom is a never-ending quest with the end result always in danger from the greater evils of power seekers. And, that is exactly what these great military/civilian leaders of America, well-educated in classical culture, knew even better. Enjoy!
39th ATS, DAFB, 1962-1965