Saturday, March 24, 2007

300 seas of thunder commit hari kari

I came out of the movie 300 feeling more than a little nauseated. It was not because of the blood and guts -- the movie was so stylized that it was bloodless in an odd way. No, it was the intense undertone of the need and desire for war. It was all about staying the course. "Freedom is never free." One can only suppose that the Persian freakish barbarian hordes were stand ins for Al Qaeda, and the red blooded oh-so heterosexual Spartans (not boy loving Athenians) stand-ins for America and the West.

Frank Miller's original book was not so crass. It was just a good story, with some undertones (reason not freedom against superstition and slavery)

The movie's blatently NEOCON tone did, however, occasion me to read a little more about Sparta and to poke around at this legend a little more. The biggest surprise was why Sparta had this amazing military prowess. It turns out they lived their Spartan existence so that they could keep control over their serfs (called Helots). At an earlier time, Spartans had lived a more cultured, luxurious existence, but an uprising of helots had led them to say, "never again!". Spartans were Spartans by birth, a helot could not aspire to joining their ranks. So the Spartans military prowess came from non-stop trainining. Guess who did the rest of their work for them?

Spartans it turns out were also the ridiculed as boy lovers by other Greeks. Oldier soldiers took younger soldiers under their wings so to speak, and it was supposed that those relationships were not strictly martial.

The story of 300 is derived from the works of the historian Heroditus. Who knows how true to facts that was, but Miller embellished the reasons why Leonidas went forth with such a small force, and the movie embellished further, brining in the role of his wife, and added an extra traitor Greek.

But why did they stay and fight to the bitter end? Some historians suggest that 300 was all the Greeks thought they needed to defend the Hot Gates and that Leonidas death was essentially an embarrassed suicide.

Having just read a books on Japanese Admirals in WWII and the author Mishima, it struck me that the Spartans wish to die in glorious battle was much more along the lines of Samurai than American warriors.

Some American commander fighting in the Pacific once said, "Americans fight to live, the Japanese fight to die". American forces, in fact have a grand tradition of retreating to fight another day -- General Washington, and General MacArthur probably being the best examples.

The book Seas of Thunder, is a profile of 4 commanders in the Pacific theater of WWII--2 Japanese, 2 American--leading up to a sea battle off the Phillipines. It is an interesting examination of the warrior ethos, and the how the two cultures differed. Not that it is all so black and white (one Japanese admiral quietly went against the grain and refused to throw his men away, whereas one American captain seemed fully intent and giving it his all).

Had any decent American commander been in charge of the Spartans he would have defended the hot gates while he could, but once betrayed, move back, harrass the enemy, find another spot to fight from.

One might say that the Persion force much more resembled the American style of combat -- bringing overwhelming force to fight the enemy. Ye Olde Shock and Awe. I could even see Al Qaeda recruiters turning this one on its head with a unjudicious translation... the Persians look much more like America with its overwhelming might, and freaks and sexualized nature. Al Aqaedans a small force holding off the hordes of culture.

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