Paul Fussell, literary critc and historian, has died at the age of 88. The New York Times referred to him as a curmudgeon.

My first experience with Fussell’s work was during my sophomore year of college. Fussell’s short work, The Boy’s Crusade, was required reading in my class on perspectives of the Second World War. Fussell served as an infantryman on the Western Front as a ‘replacement’ after the D Day landings.

Vonnegut used Slaughterhouse 5 to discuss the horror of war in the American mindset. Fussell didn’t need fiction. His real life experiences were far, far more horrific precisely because they were lived.

Fussell’s dislike and even antipathy towards American popular culture, jingoism and politics makes his work some of the best work of the latter 20th century.

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One of Shakespeare’s best plays is being brought to the big screen with Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave and Gerard Butler.

The trailer:

MSNBC is reporting that in Texas, the government is dissassembling some of the last of the scariest nuclear weapons we ever constructed.

From the article:

First put into service in 1962, when Cold War tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the B53 weighed 10,000 pounds and was the size of a minivan. According to the American Federation of Scientists, it was 600 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

The B53 was designed to destroy facilities deep underground, and it was carried by B-52 bombers.

It is small comfort to know these weapons will never be implemented, but there are still thousands around the world that have yet to meet such a comforting fate.

today marks the end of the unjust ban that barred members of the GLBT community from serving openly.

In today’s Times:

Soon after the Sept. 20 expiration of the ban, the group OutServe plans to release “Our Time: Breaking the Silence of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” a collection of first-person essays about gay life in the military. All the contributors will use their real names.

The editor of the collection, an active-duty Air Force officer and graduate of the Air Force Academy, is an outspoken advocate for open service who goes under the pseudonym “J.D. Smith.” Smith, a co-founder and co-director of OutServe, will be among a number of gay service members who plan to reveal their real names on Tuesday.

A survey of more than 500 currently serving gay and lesbian troops by OutServe indicates that Smith will be far from alone. The survey, to be released on Monday, found that nearly 40 percent of the respondents plan on coming out to some people in the military after the 20th*: nearly 17 percent said they will reveal their sexuality to a few close friends in their units; 9 percent said to most of the people in their units; and 13 percent said to everyone.

*emphasis is mine.

Thank goodness this arcane and idiotic measure is finally dead.

It was Tacitus, who a century after Carthage’s downfall  would famously quote British chieftain  Calgacus in his Histories when the British leader reflected upon what a “Roman peace” looks like. Calgacus, who had likely never been to that north African nation, declared that, “They [Romans] plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace ”

Indeed, “Pax Romana” was almost always at the razor sharp end of a gladius. In Carthage Must Be Destroyed, Miles uses new documentary evidence and scholarly research to reassess what brought down the western Mediterranean rival and earned it a place of fear and hatred in Rome’s history almost greater than the barbarians or eastern hordes that would occupy such a prolific place in the nightmares of the Roman elite.

Miles works  to dispel the age-old story since antiquity that the conflict was a to-the-death match between the bastion of civilization (Rome) and the miserable, terror inducing, villains of Africa (Carthage). Instead of relying on this tired and boring narrative, Miles seeks to understand what brought these two great nations to arms and why their fervor to destroy the other was as brutal as it was, even for the ancient world.

Miles studious review of the warring nations shows a keen historical perspective. The conflict was not simply just a fight for dominion of trade or command of precious mining facilities, (though of course those are benchmarks upon how conflicts are inherently judged). War between Rome and Carthage was also a cultural war. Many now living read the words “culture war” and imagines it to be two sides of a political spectrum arguing over a divergent path of political decision making. With Carthage and Rome, the culture war was a battle between two roads that had run on opposite and parallel sides for generations and had now met head-on. Both made grandiose claims of city-state lineage. For example,  Hannibal,  (the great general who would later terrorize the Italian countryside) listed as one of his greatest aims to restoring  the Herculean legend back to its ‘proper’ place—in Carthage. By contrast, the Roman model of manhood and citizenship demanded a defense of this ancient legacy. Therefore even on the interpersonal level the war reflected the depth of the conflict in the minds of soldiers and citizens.

Understanding local mythology and legend can often be an aid to understanding and explaining the baseline fears or goals of a civilization. However, placing too much importance on mythical narratives has the danger of subtracting from the economic element, which in many ways governs society and how we speak about it.

War between Rome and Carthage took many levels and inspired a burning hatred on both sides. It cannot be forgotten though that states often (with exception of course) take up arms against another state because it serves to benefit the economies of the aggressor. The theory goes that  by taking away resources from another you are making your own power greater. Assumptions can be dangerous, but it is likely safe to act that though the Romans and Carthaginians were living in antiquity, there were still rational state actors in play. Rome would go on to fight many enemies in all corners of the ancient Mediterranean, but none were as keenly rational about their economy as Carthage. Religious zealots were eventually put down, and barbarians could for a time be played off against one another before having to take up arms again and reduce their numbers. Carthage however, was different. They understood the political games and were almost as clever as Rome was.  Perhaps that it was that cunning  ability to match Rome’s counter that earned Carthage its place as Rome’s most celebrated enemy.

Miles’ narrative accurately constructs the ancient world in ways many writers try to and often fail at. His story gets bogged down near the middle with its overloaded  lineage of the Hercules myth, but recovers well when cultural themes are used as part of the explanation and not the thesis itself.

Recommended for those new to ancient history. 3/5

Recently  I have been reading the inaugural addresses of presidents. Lincoln’s were amazing, but my favorite President, FDR, at his First Inaugural is still the most prescient:

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men. Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.
Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.