Go tell the Cretins, you who read;
We took their orders, and are dead.
– Based on inscription at Thermopylae, with apologies
The Bush administration is hoping that the new film, 300, will give the troop surge a lift with the public. The film glorifies the sacrifice of 300 Spartan warriors who held back an invading army of over 100,000 Persians in 480 B.C.
Choosing their terrain well, the Spartans managed to neutralize much of the Persians advantage; while the Persians had many, many more troops, they could only get a few of them to the line of battle at a time. But the Greeks could see they were on the losing side of this fight. The Thespians, fighting alongside the Spartans, withdrew while the Spartans decided to stay and fight to the last man. They might have done so as a purely military necessity, holding off the enemy so as to give their allies time to retreat and regroup; or they might have fought on simply for the glory of it. We don’t know.
We do know that they managed to hold their ground for a couple more days, until a fellow Greek, Ephialties, betrayed them by showing Xerxes how to outflank his opponents. Then, the Persians got behind the Spartans and rained down arrows upon them until they were all dead.
Leonidas’s body was recovered, beheaded and crucified. But the rest of the surviving Greeks were then able to take up the fight; and, in a number of calamities and misadventures, the Easterners were finally driven back across the straits to Asia Minor. Western civilization was saved.
According to today’s neo-conservative apparatchiks, we are once again involved in an epic struggle – a clash of civilizations between the free West and the tyrannical East. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Philip Zelikow – this handful of men (probably no more than 300 of them), pushed a bright, shining war on a dim yahoo of a president. Together, they see themselves like Leonidas at the Pass of Thermopylae, guarding our western way of life, without even getting their suits dirty. The sacrifice of others is worthwhile, they believe.
But now, after four years with neither victory nor defeat in hand, it is too late for earnest criticism; instead, the time has come for gratuitous ridicule.
The targets are many. For instance, against whom the war in Iraq is being waged (or why) has yet to be fully clarified. Every question on the subject brings a response that only deepens the mystery.
But the costs are becoming clearer every day. So far, Britain’s Ministry of Defense admits to having spent 5 billion pounds on the war in direct costs. Indirect costs are sure to be many times that figure. America’s total is much larger – $505 billion of U.S. ‘taxpayers money’ has been spent or approved. The biggest of all liar’s loans?
Of course, we are already in the Land of Lies. Neither the British taxpayer nor his American counterpart has any spare money; their taxes were already earmarked for other boondoggles. Still, the U.S. President asked for another $100 billion of it on Monday, and is expected to request $140 billion more for 2008, bringing the total to over $700 billion. Looking ahead, to the cost of caring for wounded and incapacitated soldiers, the whole thing is expected to cost more than $1 trillion.
Since we’re tallying, we cannot fail to mention the cost in lives. 3,205 U.S. soldiers have died, and 134 British soldiers. More than 24,000 Americans have been seriously wounded. Iraqi casualties, if anyone is keeping score, may top half a million.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush asked Congress for the latest $100 billion draw, without strings and without delay – or else the war might have to be called off, he seemed to warn. The politicians bent over and checked under the cushions, but the spare change they recovered came nowhere close to $100 billion. They are already facing budget deficits of a half a trillion over the next two years. Where would the extra money come from? What would the extra strain do to the finances of the nation…or to the value of the dollar? How was the investment expected to pay off? No one knew. No one even asked.
But as for the strings, everyone knew exactly what the chief executive was talking about -even the chief executive himself. Lawmakers have come to see the war, not as a real war, but merely as just another spending opportunity, with live ammunition. To the latest demand for cash, the polls have attached a number of pork-barrel provisions, including $25 million for spinach growers, $100 million for citrus growers, $74 million for peanut storage, $4 billion for ’emergency payments’ to farmers, and $283 million for milk subsidies. Who says there isn’t progress in human affairs? The U.S. congress has managed to improve upon the old Roman formula – they’ve combined bread, circuses and war in a single spending bill.
Every war has its profiteers. Neither in love, nor in war do you stop to count the costs. But a phony war is a bigger opportunity than most, because there is no patriotic necessity to win. Unlike the Spartans, the Cretins know Iraq poses no real danger to the homeland. So everyone gets into the spirit of the war as it really is.
Halliburton, Lockheed, and Bechtel inflate prices, take money for nothing, and gouge taxpayers for useless weapons and unnecessary supplies. In one report, truckers reported that they were asked to drive empty trucks back and forth across the desert, carrying sailboat fuel so that contractors could bill the government for delivery. A total of $9 billion has been officially lost or unaccounted for.
War critics will complain about the waste of money involved. They will point to this week’s polls, showing the war to be so ineffective that the average Iraqi now regards democracy with suspicion, and finds it acceptable to kill U.S. and British troops. The more the U.S. government tries to improve the lives of the Iraqis, the more Iraqis seem to want to get even. Given the deadly drift of things, wasted spending may turn out to be the best spending the Bush team did.
“There will be good days and there will be bad days,” said the American president, stoically. And he’s right…but they won’t be shared out equally. The spinach growers, milk producers, and weapons contractors will get the good days. The poor grunts, the Iraqis and the taxpayers will get the bad ones.
But what about the Cretins? In the film, as in the battle, the Spartans were wiped out. “Spartans. Tonight we dine in hell,” Leonidas was said to remark. Later, a shower of arrows so thick they blotted out the sun, according to Herodotus, came down on them. The Spartans fell; but Greece was saved.
We don’t know how far the parallels go. The U.S. military presence in Iraq hardly seems like 300 Spartans defending the homeland. Instead, it seems more like the Persian Empire invading someone else’s homeland.
And the 300 Cretins? Are they really protecting western civilization? Was it worth the billions spent and the thousands of corpses? We don’t know, but we have a feeling that there is already a table reserved for them in Hell.
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