In 494 B.C., just as Biden was graduating from college, the region of Ionia was threatened by the Persians. They could not stand the fact that Ionia was populated by Greeks, and they hated the fact that they had a different religion and culture. Moreover, Ionia was located in a place they wanted. There is a shuddering parallel between this episode of history and Putin’s obsession with restarting the Soviet Union in 2022.
Faced with the imminent Persian invasion, Ionia asked the other Greek cities for cooperation, hoping that they would help to dissuade the Persian king or at least defend themselves once the war began. The response was as lukewarm as the soul of a Brussels bureaucrat: a good part of the Greek cities did not want to face such a dangerous power as Persia, a large group of intellectuals even publicly admired the despotic Persian form of government, and the rest of the Greek decision-makers chose to remain silent and look the other way. Of course, there were flowery statements from the Greeks in support of Ionia, very heartfelt and poetic, but nothing more. In the end, the Persians savagely annihilated the Ionians and destroyed and set fire to their cities while the Greeks devoted themselves, I suppose, to smashing their own monuments with their heads, thinking of the tourism the ruins would bring during the 20th century.
But, perceiving the weakness and division of Greece, the Persians were not satisfied with Ionia, but soon after, under King Darius’ command, Persia also attacked Greece, starting a bloody and endless succession of wars. Naturally, the Persian pretext was the predictable one: that Athens had supported Ionia in the conflict.
This Wednesday, Zelensky, who at times reminds me of the Hero played by Dustin Hoffman, addressed the Capitol trying to stir consciences and then some. He elicited a loud and emotional ovation and, I suspect, little else. The fear of nuclear conflict is rather like the fear the Greeks had of unleashing a war against the mighty Persians. In fact, they preferred to surrender Ionia rather than get into trouble. But the truth is that they had — I am bored of this quote — the dishonor, and then the war as well. I have a question for those who today play the nuclear anti-war card: what makes you think that looking the other way while Putin massacres Ukrainians will spare the West from nuclear war?
No, I am not looking forward to a nuclear holocaust. I have no desire to have to put on hazmat suits every time I go shopping with my family; after two years of pandemic, I feel an irrepressible need to be able to scratch the tip of my nose without anything getting in my way. But I note on both sides of the political spectrum an obsessive denial of the evidence. Even a good deal of conservatives are adamant that, however unjust the deaths of Ukrainians may be (if you didn’t cry with the video Zelensky screened on Capitol Hill you probably have no soul), the risk of a full-scale nuclear conflict is too high. I find it quite repugnant to value people’s right to live based on the risks of those who have a moral obligation to defend it. Again, take a look at Ionia and Athens. The Greeks didn’t want to take the risk. They sold Ionia out for ten more minutes of fake peace. (READ MORE: How Future Historians Will View Ukraine)
The West must stand with Zelensky on the battlefield. There are many ways to do so while minimizing the risk of nuclear war. It is time for intelligence, leadership, and talent. There are a million things we can still do to help the Ukrainians, and perhaps the first of them is not to livestream every damn secret operation we are going to conduct, including the delivery of weapons or aircraft. The delivery of the Polish planes to Ukraine was thwarted by the indiscretion of Josep Borrell, head of European Union Foreign Affairs, a guy who being Spanish, like me, doesn’t protect him from being an idiot. The operation was supposed to be secret, but he was overcome by the desire to appear at a press conference to tell the story and score a point or two. He screwed up the operation. In the same way that Biden’s verbal incontinence in anticipation of the White House’s plans for inaction encouraged Putin to throw himself headfirst into this war.
There is, definitely, a lot we should learn from all this. And also from Ionia. This offensive will not stop with Ukraine.