Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Citizen Soldiers

From what I’ve heard, originally the whole idea of democracy and the citizen soldier pretty much meant one in the same. At least, that’s the way it was in Athens, Greece, way, way back before there was a Untied States of America, or Thomas Jefferson, or the Bill of Rights.

Even before there were Christians and Muslims.

The idea, way back then, was that a citizen was a soldier, and a soldier was a citizen. Same same.

Any man willing to lift a shield, sword, and spear in the defense of Athens earned the right to vote on what the policies of Athens would be. Conversely, any man who wanted to vote on the policies of Athens would have to be willing, when the time came, to lift up his shield, sword, and spear in defense of Athens.

You might summarize this early form of democracy as: “You can talk the talk only if you can walk the walk.”

And, way back then, just as today, wives and children cried as the soldiers left. And Moms, Dads, sisters and brothers wept when some the soldiers didn’t return.

Didn’t mean, by the way, that a guy could pick and choose which wars he was going to fight in. If the democratic majority voted in favor of mobilizing the army, and a guy didn’t show armored-up, then he was quickly stripped of his citizenship and sent into exile, the punishment being worse than death for most of those citizens back then.

Yes, they loved their Athens that much. Not so much the buildings and the streets as the people who lived there, I’d guess.

Funny, eh?

Turned out to be an unexpectedly effective fighting unit.

We all have heard how the brave Spartans fought and died at Thermopolis, where the very undemocratic warriors of Sparta, home to a very strong professional warrior culture, were run over by the Persian army, some say a large as a million troops, in three quick days.

Whereas, the citizen soldiers of Athens totally routed the Persian army at Marathon. Kicked their sorry Persian asses, sent them packing back to Asia, never to return to Greece again. The same Marathon we honor today in foot races, retracing the steps of the one Athenian runner who brought back news to the cradle of democracy of the incredible victory.

Changed the whole of history on those plains of Marathon, they did. Tough as nails.

Not bad for a bunch of part-time, weekend warriors. The only reason Greek democracy survived was because of its citizen soldiers, and their willingness to back up their words with deeds, and, if need be, with their own blood.

You can see how the idea of the Athenian citizen-soldier influenced the original writers of the US Constitution. They didn’t want a large standing army, but instead envisioned a nation in which its citizens would, if the democratic majority voted to mobilize, pick up their muskets and show up at the town Commons as the local militia.

Which of course is why the 8-229th Aviation Flying Tigers are here in the middle of the Sunni Triangle. Here in the heat and the dust, with the cobra snakes, the camel spiders, Al Qa’ida, the Saddam Fedeyeen, Iranian and Syrian intelligence operatives, thousands of miles from our own country.

We got a long, long tradition to uphold, you see. Not so many shields, spears, swords or muskets. More automatic rifles, Hellfire missiles and Apache helicopters.

Doctors, lawyers, farmers, engineers, airline pilots, school teachers, animal veterinarians, truck drivers, college students, police officers, housewives, Mr. Moms, you name it.

We’re all here.

A bunch of part-time, weekend warriors, trying to change history.

Yes, we love our country that much.

Funny, eh?