Tuesday, January 31, 2017

One-Sided Wars

An interesting passage from Mary Beard's SPQR:

There were two particularly significant conflicts in Italy in this period. First was the so-called Latin War, fought against Rome's Latin neighbours between 341 and 338 BCE. Shortly after followed the 'Samnite Wars'....Both of these 'wars' are rather artificial constructions, isolating two enemies and giving their names to the much more widespread, endemic fighting of the period, from a decidedly Romano-centric point of view (no Samnite ever fought a 'Samnite War').
[Mary Beard, SPQR, Liveright (NY: 2015) p. 158]

We tend to think of wars as having a sort of symmetry of sides, but it's certainly not always the case. I suppose the best example from our time is the 'War on Terror', which is certainly a form of warring, and from the American side as a fairly unified thing. Yet from the other side it is pretty clearly a lot of small distinct wars against enemies who do not always regard each other as being on the same side of any conflict at all and whose notion of 'the war' is inevitably going to be more narrow than to Americans, to whom the near-constant warring over the past decades starts to blur all together. We had some recent casualties in Yemen; I am quite sure most Americans could give no coherent answer as to why we are conducting military raids in Yemen. Nobody really wants it, but it's like the whole affair just runs on autopilot and who knows whom we'll be bombing next, or for what reason, or if we will even know about it until afterward. It comes across as mostly all the same from this end; but it wouldn't always seem even related from the other side.

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