Donald and Frederick Kagan: Cited by Maureen Dowd in NYT column

Historians in the News

... Donald Kagan, a respected Yale historian who has written authoritatively on the Peloponnesian War, is the father of Robert Kagan, a neocon who pushed for the Iraq invasion, and Frederick Kagan, a military historian who urged the surge.

I called Professor Kagan to ask him if Thucydides, the master at chronicling hubris and imperial overreaching, might provide the new war czar with any wisdom that can help America sort through the morass of Iraq.

Very much his sons’ father, the classicist said he was disgusted that the White House, after a fiasco of an occupation designed by Rummy, “is still doing one dumb thing after another” by appointing General Lute, a chief skeptic of the surge.

Professor Kagan said that one reason the Athenians ended up losing the war was because in the Battle of Mantinea in 418 B.C. against the Spartans, they sent “a very inferior force” and had a general in command who was associated with the faction that was against the aggressive policy against the Spartans.

“Kind of like President Bush appointing this guy to run the war whose strategy is opposed to the surge,” he said dryly.

With cold realism, Thucydides captured the Athenian philosophy in the 27-year war that led to its downfall as a golden democracy: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

What message can we take away from Thucydides for modern times?

“To me,” Professor Kagan said, “the deepest message, the most tragic, is his picture of civilization as a very thin veneer. When you punch a hole in it, what you find underneath is hollow, the precivilized characteristics of the human race — animalistic in the worst possible way.”...
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