More on Thucydides:

I received the following email from a reader that triggers a random thought.

First the email:

VC post on separation between elites and warriors.

I often had the same thought on reflecting on the lists of names of those Northwestern Law graduates who died in the World Wars, etched in stone on the walls of Levy Mayer Hall. I wondered if my classmates and I could make such a sacrifice for our country on the field of battle. I don't think so. We're a softer nation now.

Incidentally, you can see those plaques here: They are to the right of the two doorways.

More on the central proposition in a moment, but first, I recall being told that there is an old rule of the Georgia Bar that admittance into the Bar also automatically grants you the title of "Colonel" in the Georgia militia and the privilege/obligation to muster a regiment in the event of war. It is sort of funny to think that bar admission today would imply something about one's fitness to serve as military leader in time of war. In fact, I vividly recall this one old partner at my firm who quite plainly could never remember my name, so he simply referred to me as "Colonel" every time he saw me. Although it would have been nice to have him remember my name, I always thought it was kind of cool to be called "Colonel" so I didn't really mind (much better than something like "dude").

Anyway, I've never been able to confirm whether it is true that becoming a member of the Georgia automatically awarded the title of Colonel in the state militia, or was true at one time. So if anyone knows for sure and could point me to a confirming source, I would appreciate it.

As for the central proposition of the email--that we are a softer nation now--is an interesting one, that I don't have any strong opinion on. I recently read Michael Barone's book "Hard America, Soft America," which I mentioned previously in a different context. Barone argues that we are in some sense two Americas, hard and soft. Barone argues, interestingly enough, that the military itself has become much harder than previously, at least as compared to the 1960s and 1970s. But, in general, I think he might agree with the suggestion that overall we are softer, at least in terms of the physcial and other characteristics that would be necessary to fight something like a World War. But I don't know, although it is an interesting thing to think about.


In a Comment to my earlier post, a reader raises questions as to whether the quote is really to Thucydides and links to this Google Groups search result. A number of Commenters observed that they do not recall having read that particular quote in Thucydides.

Well, this might answer your Colonel question although maybe not. I definitely can't vouch for its validity although it might at least point you in the right direction.
10.1.2005 6:58pm
Take a look at this article, it might point you in the direction of a source.

10.1.2005 7:20pm
Sorry, the (link) either doesn't work for me as a guest or I don't know how to work it. So, here's the URL in broken form - just put it together - so that it will post in this box...

10.1.2005 7:22pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
It wasn't automatic, but her membership in the kentucky bar led to my exwife becoming a kentucky colonel (e.g. colonel sanders.) It's more of a social thing than a formal militia position. Also auctioneering school grads are sometimes called colonel; I have forgotten the history of that one.
10.1.2005 7:43pm
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
I don't think we are necessarily "softer" than previous generations. We think we are softer because we don't culturally recall the great divisiveness that has accompanied virtually all our wars.

A lot of people forget how divided the nation was in the period from leading up to Pearl Harbor in WWII. The isolationist movement in America at the time was far broader and stronger than the "anti-war" movement is today. Had the Japanese followed a more subtle approach in expanding into the pacific, it is likely that America would have entered WWII heavily divided if at all.

We lack national will because we lack consensus. If an enemy were to appear that was so threatening and so overt that the vast majority of the population thought had to be fought, America would appear very hard indeed.
10.1.2005 8:36pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
I agree with Sharon, but I would also dispute that being "soft" is something that Americans should be ashamed of. If "softness" means empathy with people outside our borders, a reluctance to kill our fellow man, and a desire to concentrate our energy upon more productive pursuits, then being soft seems to be a feature of a prosperous and morally advanced civilization. Of course, softness might be a disadvantage where national survival is at stake, but that's rarely been the case in the past century (certainly not WWI) and, as per Sharon's comment, I expect softness to quickly disappear in such a situation.
10.1.2005 9:48pm
I think that America is much softer in a physical sense. At the turn of the century, upper-class young men often boxed; a fair degree of physical violence among men was common and acceptable in society. Men my grandfather's age can remember carrying pocketknives to school and using them in fights occasionally. Shooting and carrying guns was normal, even in large cities. Only a few cultures still routinely teach young men to fight (not to play-fight, but to take blows); not coincidentally, those few cultures provide a disproportionate share of the US military.
10.1.2005 9:51pm
DWPittelli (mail) (www):
Of course we are softer now than 50 years ago. If necessary -- and we should all hope it never will be -- we can again lose this softness. Remember the famous 1933 position of the Oxford Union debating society: "This House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country." Didn't look too relevant in 1940.
10.1.2005 10:08pm
I agree with the common sentiment above: we're probably almost exactly as soft as we've always been whenever we didn't need to be harder.

And I remember plenty of people in the "elites" who seriously contemplated joining the military after 9/11. If it were that kind of war, I bet the names of many collegians would get put into marble once again.
10.1.2005 10:17pm
SomeJarhead (mail):
Softer, dumber, and more adrift. Yeah, I see that every day.

But I'm in Boston. Red states are more, shall we say, sophisticated.
10.1.2005 11:11pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Yeah those soldiers in the 50's were all supermen,lets see we had Pvts Ted Kennedy, Hunter Thompson, and Jimmie Hendrix(discharged for masturbating on duty), at least that Lee Harvey Oswald could shoot.
10.1.2005 11:20pm
Eddie Thomas (mail) (www):
I have a friend who used to practice law in Middle Georgia 25 years ago or so and he told me that older folks used to call him Colonel. I don't remember him explaining why, but your account would make sense of it.
10.2.2005 12:04am
S. Obert (mail):

"Only a few cultures still routinely teach young men to fight (not to play-fight, but to take blows); not coincidentally, those few cultures provide a disproportionate share of the US military."

Cite? Reference? This makes no sense. Please tell me about some of these "few cultures".
10.2.2005 12:18am
Lorenzo (mail):
I don't think the military is harder than it was in the 60's-70's, at least physically. I was in the military 1970-74, and the main difference is that today's military is better led by junior officers and better supported politically by those in power. In terms of the public's will, I think that reserve is still there, and showed itself after 9/11. It takes political skill to keep it at the forefront in a country so big and varied - and distant from actual fighting - that everyday life keeps intruding.
10.2.2005 12:23am
S. Obert: Are you really that ignorant (simple definition, at this moment, not pejorative) and naive or are you just looking to stir the pot?

Lorenzo is correct. The quality of junior officers and senior NCO's insofar as education today is far superior to what it was 30-something years ago. Of course, given the higher degree of technological sophistication in today's military, it has to be.

We also have a more experienced military in terms of senior NCO's. The military is now accepted as a relevant and honorable career. Unfortunately, many of our senior officers do retain the mindset possessed by many senior officers from time immemorial - experts on the LAST war, slow to adapt to the NEXT war, with training and experience more closely associated to that of a politician than to that of a warrior.

What we see is a more divided society. Thus, it is more difficult to get the population to "rally 'round the Flag." As Lorenzo points out, 9/11 brought us together briefly. There is a part of the American culture which does not take kindly to being pushed or sucker punched - let's just say it opens a whole can of whoop 'backside' by way of squaring accounts.

But, unlike in times past when "war" meant the personal involvement of every citizen - rationing, the draft of yourself or family members, sacrifice, bond rallys, public patriotism, jingoistic Hollywood productions, et al. - we are now subjected to the constant barrage of nightly news lionizing the liberal, touchy-feely, "we should examine ourselves and try to understand why they don't like us" mentality; kids are sent home asking their parents what their whining teachers meant when they said in class that America was an imperialist nation and George Bush was a fascist; and politicians who are more concerned with creating usable sound bites for the next campaign than they are in actually doing the job they're in now.

SomeJarhead said it right, we are more adrift. But, as they alluded to, the reason is that the intelligentsia never ventures outside the safe confines of their urban penthouses, social gatherings, and country clubs. You see, the normal citizen - the people who actually pay the taxes because they don't make enough to hire CPA's and attorneys to "hide" their income, keep the taxis running, keep the power on, and cruise the city streets so that illustrious anti-war celebrities can get to the platform where the spotlight can shine on them as they embrace their candidate of choice in a rally paid for by tax monies referred to as 'matching funds' - are too busy actually working hard for their money to spend time sitting outside the White House or the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue shouting into a television news camera or smiling at that same camera as they get arrested for 'protesting' by obstructing the traffic, thereby keeping the normal citizens from getting to work.

Soft. Maybe a little in the physical sense. Past wars saw armies made up from a population which was significantly composed of manual laborers; many of whom had been working those jobs since they were 12 or 13. With today's service oriented economy, today's teenagers (who would rather sit around the mall griping about not having any money since they won't work for $5 or $6 an hour and are accustomed to telling their teachers how the classroom is going to be run), and with entertainment now being focused on dvd's, pay-per-view, or Nintendo rather than outdoor pursuits, it might take an extra week or two in boot camp to get people whipped into some semblence of shape.

In the sense of mental, spiritual, or patriotic softness... Perhaps it is time we paid more attention to the roles schools used to play - creating better informed and contributing citizens instead of narsassists who have been taught that the world revolves around their sweet behinds and that parroting the 'correct' text is all that is required to get ahead. Perhaps it is time to stop worrying about political, ethnic, and gender sensitivity, not to mention tolerance, and actually reward those who spend their lives more focused on getting the job done than on perceiving themselves as victims.

Shannon Love is correct, we need something that unites this country against a common enemy or in a common goal so that we stop eating our own young. As Lorenzo indicates, it takes a certain level of political skill (dare we say "leadership?") to make this happen. It also takes a population willing to see past their own belly button so that they understand that it's not just what happens to your next door neighbor that might concern you, but it's also what happens to the guy down the block or across town that can come around to bite you.
10.2.2005 1:54am
I agree with S. Obert:

I don't see the relevance of bringing a pocket knife or gun to school. What exactly does that prove? And as far as the "few cultures that still teach young men how to fight," can you be more specific?
10.2.2005 5:13am
Norman Yarvin (mail) (www):
I like that quote about scholars and warriors, and used it myself once. And later got email from a nice gentleman from the Norwegian military who wanted to know where I got it, and whether it was really Thucydides who was the origin of the quote. I didn't recall, and on reflection it seemed a bit too abstract for Thucydides to have uttered. Later I found an online searchable edition of Thucydides' major (perhaps only) work, The Peloponnesian War, and searched it for each of "scholars", "warriors", "cowards", and "thinking", without finding anything like that quote.

My Norwegian correspondant said that he'd also seen a very similar quote attributed to Sir William Butler. Googling, I see that he later asked publicly, but got little response:

(link to Google Groups search result)

When I use the quote nowadays, I attribute it to "anon".
10.2.2005 6:59am
I think the Melian Dialogue is relevant. To paraphrase:

The strong do what they will, the weak accept what they must.
10.2.2005 8:50am

I was with you through the point that you were discussing shared sacrifices. I lost you when you blamed the lack of a sense of shared sacrifice on the liberal media, liberal teachers, and liberal boogeymen in general.

Isn't the truth that we have no sense of shared sacrifice in Iraq precisely because we have never been asked to share that sacrifice, but rather have repeatedly been told that we do not need to sacrifice in any way? That we've been told that we can keep increasing federal spending in every conceivable area and not raise taxes and not even consider the cost of the war as we make our domestic plans? That the only things, in fact, that we have been asked to sacrifice is our right to criticize the government and our standards for honorable conduct during war with respect to things like the detainment and torture and even murder of non-Americans, but otherwise have been told that if we just shut up and leave them alone that everything will turn out fine?

But I guess this new notion of sacrifice-free war--a notion that implies if doing the right thing (paying for the war in this generation, or not torturing people, and so on) is too unpleasant, we shouldn't have to do the right thing--is all the liberals' fault, right?
10.2.2005 9:03am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
That thing about Georgia Bar Membership and Militia Rank sounds like an old wives/urban legend to me. I had a friend who said that being a Military officer made you an automatic Notary public. Whenever he had a document that required notarization he would just print his rank next to his signature. They usually sent his stuff back though.
10.2.2005 10:44am
Vince (mail) (www):
I wondered if my classmates and I could make such a sacrifice for our country on the field of battle. I don't think so. We're a softer nation now.

Softer? I don't think so, you're just less patriotic, and believe me, that is a GOOD thing.

Sorry if my english is wrong.
10.2.2005 10:56am
SomeJarhead (mail):
Being an officer doesn't make you a notary, but it's a step in the right direction:

10 U.S.C. 1044a
10.2.2005 11:12am
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
The idea that the current generation is "softer" than the previous has a long long history. You can trace it back to the second generation in New England. And Jeremiads go back much farther, maybe even to the Old Testament.
Teddy Roosevelt was much concerned that he was soft, and his nation was soft., which sometimes led him and others (i.e. Brooks Adams) from sense into bluster: the Anglo-Saxon was losing to the lesser races.

As for physical fitness. The current generation may be fat, but the generations that fought WWI and WWII were scrawny and undernourished, often stupid, and with horrible teeth.
10.2.2005 1:22pm
So we may be fat, but we have beautiful teeth?
10.2.2005 2:58pm
Medis: So, $3+ a gallon is not a sacrifice? Bear in mind that gas prices were going up to the $3 point BEFORE Katrina and Rita; the hurricanes just accelerated the process. What do we hear in the media? Blame it on the nasty, evil, profiteering capitalist pigs in the oil industry. But, you're right, the right wing then turns around and blames it on China rather than admit to the connections with the Iraq invasion.

Either way, where's the sense of sacrifice if you're told by both sides and analyzed ad nauseum by the media that it has nothing to do with the war; when, in fact, the temporal correlation between the war and rising prices is more than compelling?

So, who has dropped the ball? Is it the White House who, whether liberal or conservative, would not want to admit to the obvious to create sound bites for their opponents and are doing what politicians do by definition - spin facts to their own advantage? Bearing in mind that Bush has said, repeatedly, that this is going to require sacrifice, vigilence, and the involvement of ALL Americans to win the war. Or, is it the liberal media, who are more concerned with SHAPING public opinion (premised in an absolute loathing of Bush) than in objectively reporting and analyzing facts to allow the public to form their own opinion? Or, could it be liberal teachers (who absolutely loath Bush) who are more interested in pontificating paradigmatic agenda than in providing students with the tools they need to research and form their own opinions?

Vince: Being less patriotic is a good thing? I don't think you have to be less patriotic to be more analytical or cynical regarding what happens. In fact, it is perhaps MORE patriotic to be critical while simultaneously supporting and defending your country. Remember, the words are DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY - note their order.

Bill Harshaw: I know and have known many, many people from the WWI and WWII generation who appear to have a higher intelligence quotient than many on this board. "Stupidity" is defined, in one sense, as "willful ignorance." Perhaps, if you are willing, you might look beyond the historical stereotypes and actually get to know people. You could start by looking at some of the kids who worked for the WPA during the 30's. Hard, outdoor labor put them in such shape they could have given Steve Reeves a run for his money.
10.2.2005 7:00pm
Ed Johnston (mail):
Regarding the warrior-scholar quote, Google finds a web posting that sources the quote to Lt. Gen. Sir William Francis Butler (1838-1910) and finds an actual page number.

The writer of the posting, Alfred Kriman, checked an actual copy of Butler's book, "Charles George Gordon", first published in 1889. More info on the life of Butler can be found on the web.
10.3.2005 11:43am