Gnomicon 123

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  123
Sunday 9 September 2012

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I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.
George McGovern (19 Jul 1922 – )

Although McGovern, a B-24 pilot in WWII, lost to Nixon in the 1972 presidential election, he did represent a very different point of view from the one still prevailing in that period of great malaise when the country couldn’t seem to be done in Viet Nam and couldn’t seem to figure out how to extricate itself from that quagmire. McGovern came out unambiguously against it – and in due time did prove to be right about that.

Personally, just from what I read then and have since read about him, he was probably too nice a guy to bring about the change that he advocated and that, later, after the Cambodian business in the early seventies and many more thousands of war-dead on both sides, did eventually come to win out.

The citation above calls to mind, perhaps inappropriately (?), a haunting scene from Book 3 or Homer’s Iliad, the so called τειχοσκοπíα teikhoskopia, or ‘view, observation from the wall’.  The old men of Troy are sitting there observing the battle up and down the dusty plain, and they comment to one another about the various fighters whom they recognize plying the bloody battlefield.  At one point they observe Helen, who, prompted by the goddess Iris, has come to watch her Greek countrymen (remember that she was the Greek ‘whore’ who left her Greek husband Menelaus and ran off with Paris to Troy – and was thus in effect the casus belli) battling the Trojans.

The old men, “now retired from war by old age but still fine speakers, like cicadas” (3.150-1: γήραϊ δὴ πολέμοιο πεπαυμένοι, ἀλλ’ ἀγορηταὶ / ἐσθλοί, τεττίγεσσιν ἐοικότες), are awestruck by her divine-like beauty (3.158) and, chirping away, allow that, yes, one cannot blame (3.156: οὐ νέμεσις) the Greeks or the Trojans for going to war over such a woman – at the same time that, weary and deploring all the misery and wretchedness that has come about because of her, they fervently wish she’d just go back to where she came from (159-60).

Now, I wouldn’t say that the old men’s appreciation — however reluctant in the final analysis — of why the young men are fighting is exactly equivalent to the complaint to which McGovern (himself a winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his WWII wartime duty, and at the time of this utterance “retired from war by old age but still [a] fine speaker”) himself gave voice, but there is surely a generic resemblance, separated though the observations are by some three-thousand years.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

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