‘War Sucks!’

he-will-invade-the-farms-3

I was idle, and I thought idly about war and anime. ‘Anime says that war sucks,’ is what I thought first. This seems to be the standard opinion. If it’s deployed, it’s frequently followed by mention of pacifism and the atomic bomb.

The thing is, ‘war sucks’ isn’t directly a pacifist statement. Root canal operations suck, but most people dutifully submit to their dentist’s not-so-tender mercies regardless. Something else needs to be added to the mix to turn ‘war sucks’ into an argument against war’s very existence: the belief that things that suck should be avoided at all costs, perhaps (in which case, no root canal operation for you), or the belief that there is a line of suckiness which must not be crossed — and that war crosses it.

After all, it’s hard to find someone who won’t agree that war sucks. There isn’t (or at least I hope there isn’t!) a vast military-industrial conspiracy of people who sit in smoke-filled rooms planning next year’s conflict, and every soldier I’ve met has made it clear they think war is an unpleasant business. Indeed, in my experience the respectable breed of pacifist is against war because of more sophisticated philosophical or religious convictions than brute hedonism.

You might wonder why this exercises me so much, so perhaps it’s worth explaining that I’m used to hearing grubbier anti-war campaigners who object to certain wars in particular, rather than to war in general. If you listen to their arguments, there’s a worrying tendency to conflate ‘war sucks’ and ‘this particular war really sucks’. It’s this blending that I find especially irritating, though it doesn’t surprise me, since political speechmaking is to clear thought as Nena Trinity is to wedding parties.

g00-clearthought

Despite its reputation for unremittingly futile violence, different parts of the Gundam franchise (which is of course where all the above was heading) go to different places with ‘war sucks’. Zeta, for example, depicts a very unpleasant conflict, ending on a famously downbeat note, with some reasonable, likeable human beings among the antagonists (alongside some monsters). At the same time, it’s clear that the villains’ plans are Bad and that it will be A Good Thing if the AEUG defeats them. In Zeta ‘war sucks’ but it’s also necessary: we want the AEUG to keep fighting, and to win.

SEED, by contrast, depicts a very unpleasant conflict in which both factions are led by Bad Guys, though again some combatants on both sides are reasonable, likeable human beings. It’s suggested that it will be A Bad Thing if either side wins. In SEED ‘war sucks’ and we want the heroes we see fighting each other to sort out their differences and then do something to sort out the war (by teaming up and shooting things until both sides stop). The war portrayed is futile, but the heroes’ violence is not, at least once they figure out who to shoot. Note that I’m not including SEED Destiny in my thinking here, because Meer’s ass threw SEED‘s Lacus-based value system out of whack.

 

(I’ve been unfair to the anime I’ve mentioned so far, though I’m hardly the only guilty one. I’ve assumed that each story has a relatively simple message to be extracted. None of these are explicitly didactic: it’s not clear that we’re expected to take these particular fictional wars as models with which to judge all wars, though SEED does feature some sweeping statements which nudge us in that direction. Still, we tend to approach stories hunting for a message, whether or not we’re promised one, so in my defence I shall say that I was simply imitating that mythical creature, the Average Viewer. I’m going to carry on being unfair for the rest of this post.)

0080-toyrobot

I watched 0080: War in the Pocket again before Christmas, because Christmas is coming and 0080 is the best Christmas anime (take that, Itsudatte My Santa OVA!). It’s not perfect, but the only element that seems really deficient to me is the music, and even that has a certain ‘so this is what the late eighties sounded like’ charm to it.

0080‘s hero is (perhaps) Al, an eleven-year-old boy. He could be very annoying — within the story he certainly manages to get on his mother’s nerves — and there are probably viewers who dislike him. I am not one of them: I appreciate Al because he appreciates mecha. I remember having Al’s fascination for large war machines when I was his age. I remember the glee I felt visiting the Tank Museum or Duxford. Al’s interest may be different in its expression, as since there’s a real war going on he can easily acquire actual memorabilia, but it’s similar in kind.

0080 takes Al’s love of war machines (the love that drives the toy sales that in turn fund the whole shebang) and makes it the catalyst for a catastrophe. Al’s concept of heroism, his rose-tinted appreciation of giant robots and perhaps his failure to understand the rules of 0080‘s genre — the Gundam always wins! — propel the story’s other hero, Bernie, towards that catastrophe. This is hardly the only clever thing that 0080 does — it has Bernie sensibly fleeing his responsibilities while wearing sunglasses that make him resemble Quattro (see below, and compare this blog’s banner), for example — but it’s the play on mecha fandom that I find most striking.

0080-cosplay

I’m a mecha fan like Al, so I’m jolted into an examination of my own attitude to machines and the wars they fight when I watch 0080. What of Britain’s wars, which in my lifetime have been geographically distant enough to feel like quarrels in far away countries between people of whom we know nothing? For some reason, I have a vote despite being chronically ill-informed about anything that really matters — when I’m holding a voting pencil I’m not unlike Bernie cosplaying as the veteran Quattro — so this isn’t as idle a question as it might have seemed when I began.

Because I grew up with war as something that happens somewhere else, and because I’m not a soldier myself, my attitude to war has been forged by experiencing war stories, historical or otherwise, and finding out whether or not I’m able to say ‘I see this, and I still believe some wars can be justified’. (For the record, I do.) Bombing determined the street layout of my home town, I was raised on history and having to repeatedly read the Aenied was one of the defining events of my late adolescence, so 0080 was hardly the first of these self-examinations. It’s just that the presence of robots gets me hard (in this way, not in that way).

Some Tyler, in case things have been too Serious in this post.

Some Tyler, in case things have been too serious in this post.

In conclusion— actually, I should be honest and admit that there’s not much here to conclude. I’ve learned a little more about myself, and you may or may not have learned something about anti-war rhetoric in Britain, but I don’t feel like I’ve said anything especially incisive about 0080. There is the point that long-running franchises don’t boil down easily — Gundam rarely, if ever, simply says ‘war sucks’, just as there’s a difference between music that seduces because it epitomises culture to those who have none, and music that seduces because of, um, Fold Waves — but anyone could’ve pointed that out. They probably have already.

Further Reading

  • Omo once considered the Gundam franchise in the light of the myth of redemptive violence (I don’t understand the myth of redemptive violence, but if you read Wink’s article maybe you will).
  • I swiftly dismissed any connection between suffering per se and pacifism (or at least pacifism which I can respect) in this post, and it might be worth reconsidering that in the light of DarkMirage’s comments on pacifism in Japan.
  • Oddly for a post involving phallic statuary, Cameron’s lengthy metaphor for the interplay between the media and a government which is fighting a war is probably relevant somewhere along the line.
  • This post is in no way endorsed by the Royal British Legion.
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56 responses to “‘War Sucks!’

  1. “every soldier I’ve met has made it clear they think war is an unpleasant business.”

    Riiiight, and they still decided to go and become killers for hire because its so, so overwhelmingly unpleasant. NATO soldiers, USians in particular, love killing so much, they dont even care if its an ally or an enemy.

  2. Belated happy birthday. And WE get a present! You must be a hobbit.

    Very nice survey of Gundam, and I particularly enjoyed the bits about 0080. I had just started re-watching it hours ago (no, really), which gives me even more appreciation for your subject and the angle you took.

    Mechafetish wrote the post you linked back to (and I responded to it) while ignorant of Macross 7 which took the dynamics of music/seduction a bit further (too far for many!).

    What it’d contribute to that discussion (and hopefully this one) is that it underscores your point that long-standing franchises aren’t easy to boil down:

    In Macross, music is weaponized as much as the mecha:

    -Redemptive in SDF Macross, and Macross 7
    -Not so much in Macross Plus, and Macross Frontier

    Basara plays along and submits to the weaponization of his music in the defense against the Protodevlin, but part of the wild rush in watching Macross 7 is how he attempts to subvert the whole exercise aligned to his pacifism/purity for music (whatever it is that runs that nutbag).

    In light of all that, I can still safely assume that Macross says that ‘Music is Love!’ as much as one can assume that Gundam says ‘War Sucks!’

    • Ooh, interesting contrast you make there. Would you say that in Macross Zero music’s opposed to the technological weaponry thrown around by both sides? I’m thinking this partly because it’s tied into the whole tribal/organic/environmental stuff that’s going on, and partly because specifically at the end of the final episode when the hero’s plane has given out, music has to step in.

      • Macross Zero is due for a re-watch from me (I haven’t seen it since it first came out 5 years ago I think).

        That ending is quite controversial for many fans – a lot didn’t quite get it.

        This is due to their own staunch refusal to watch Macross Dynamite 7 – which is fair because if they couldn’t survive Macross 7, this OVA is even more ridiculous.

        Except that it actually sets up Zero, it’s non-chronological sequel.

        Considering all this, I would say yes. Music is opposed to the technological weaponry thrown around by both sides in Zero.

        The Birdman’s ‘appropriation’ of Shin’s plane is symbolic or analogous in my view, of Basara’s subversion of his own Valkyrie throughout Macross 7- ‘repurposing’ it as a flying rock concert of peace and love.

        • Interesting: I like it when elements of a franchise which are set later in story time actually appear earlier in discourse time, setting up things which actually happened before them. Or . . . I like the idea of prequels? I didn’t find much that I objected to in Zero‘s ending, but I might not have been asking the same questions of it that a die-hard fan of the whole franchise might ask.

  3. Wow, cool cool post. I blame /m/ for making me watch 0080 every Christmas season.

    When I was the same age as Al, I was fascinated with tanks, too. Me and my friends would troop to the library and “fight” using the tank data in the books there. A fun pastime, though I’ve long graduated into mechs now.

    I found SEED to have more “armed interventions” than 00 ever had. CB only intervened in a few small-scale conflicts, and it quickly became the “world’s military vs them” and the Trombe-ing of battles stopped, but the Lacus Lackeys of SEED fought both sides who were engaged in massive battles.

    G has a bit of a message too. What struck me during the early episodes was how ravaged the Earth was thanks to the Gundam fight. Most cities were in ruins, and one Gundam Fighter even aspired to escape to the colonies. I guess no matter micro’d the war is, it’s still bound to wreck a lot of stuff.

    • SEED strikes me as an example of a recent trend towards having the heroes of a Gundam series realise that both sides are wrong, and form a third, ‘a plague on both your houses’, faction. 00 is in a sense an answer to SEED: it reverses the process, so that the heroes begin as a third (well, fourth) faction, but wind up involved in a two-way conflict with one side that’re plainly the good guys, and one side that’re the bad guys.

      If I remember rightly, Master Asia was basically, like Princess Nausicaä, fighting for the environment. And the colony/Earth division in G echoes (for me) the split between the developed world and the rest of the world. I don’t remember anyone in G arguing that people shouldn’t fight, though.

  4. @Karry

    You are either using some advanced double-sarcasm technique or you are displaying an astonishing ignorance of the mindset and motivations of a soldier.

    I’m a soldier in the US Army. If you want to discuss this civilly, I’d be happy to, though it might be best if we refrained from hijacking this post’s comment thread. Otherwise, I can only recommend that in the future you consider your opinions at least once before voicing them.

  5. of course i’m completely ignorant of the gundam franchise, but isn’t it the case that many of the shows have been conceived by different people? it’s no surprise then that they will come down differently on the war issue (or course, within the limitations of the Japanese mind meld, oops, I mean culture).

    • It is indeed the case that different writers are responsible for different parts of the franchise, fair point.

      Personally I’m not really interested in what they thought, though, because I’ve no hope of ever understanding what Gundam looks like from Japan. I don’t have the time to learn Japanese and live there for the requisite number of years.

      I’m presenting my reading of the franchise as a whole, shorn of its authors (or perhaps as though it only has one author): 0080 is like the franchise’s comment on itself.

      There’s a big thing here about context in reading, though. I’m not sure I can articulate it.

  6. It’s always puzzled me that war in the media is so often shown alongside the human cost, but with a little metaphorical subtitle that says “…but the planes, tanks and explosions look so cool though, don’t they?”

    My childhood must’ve been similar to yours – I grew up around some ex-military people in my family and always had a fascination with all things mechanical and How Cool Shiny Stuff Works, which naturally extended to avidly reading about military hardware. I guess as a kid you think of that stuff as interesting, without thinking that these Cool Shiny Things are designed to kill people rather than make young boys impressed.

    While I won’t think twice about calling myself a pacifist and slapping a CND sticker on my guitar I still think that, as long as there are people who think differently, people who dislike conflict will have to accept its existence.

    Of course, there’s also the contrast in this Japanese culture that hates warfare (and not without good reason really) but comes up with some of the coolest-looking hardware for the job.

    • News reporting does like to show the flashy stuff. It actually reminds me of the rather ghoulish interest that the media always takes in the abduction/murder of children, provided of course that said children are sufficiently cute. This is one reason that I prefer to listen to my news on the radio: I like to keep the screen for fictional violence.

      Gundam, and a lot of the more downbeat school of mecha anime, are really in two minds about this, which is one reason I find 0080 so interesting as a comment from the franchise on its own fascination for its fans. It’s also why I usually recommend 0080 as a good standalone series for anyone not interested in the rest of the franchise.

  7. Am I the only one who likes the music in 0080? I think the music in the action scenes really amps up the tensions well, and I even really like that cheesy 80′s music like the opening theme.

    But then, I’m somewhat biased with 0080. I seem to be unable to look at its flaws and only look at the things I adore about it.

    Anyway, very good post. Gundam often gets heavily accused of simply shouting “War is bad!” at the viewer, and while I think thats true in some cases, I also think it can do a job of showing both sides, and the reasons for going to war. 0080 is a really good example of this, and so is Turn A until about episode 41.

    • I’m sure you’re not alone, but I can’t bring myself to like it.

      I think it’s definitely worth asking why and how Gundam’s suggesting war is bad at any particular moment. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the time in the franchise, war is bad but the alternatives (the Titans gassing space colonies) are worse. And I’m not convinced that there’s much moral ambiguity in Gundam, at least when we’re talking about sides rather than people. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing . . . stories can thrive on clear moral judgements.

  8. I never quite understood the anti-iraq war protests; they had some good points but it didn’t make sense to me why they were objecting to just THIS war so much.

    Another great thing about the tank museum: right next to monkey world!

    • I suppose some incoherence is probably inevitable when a lot of different interest groups form a broad coalition, as happened with the protests against the invasion of Iraq. I think it is valid to object to certain wars in particular, but they tended to mix particular and general objections. It’s all a bit hazy in my memory, but I seem to recall that the majority of the population in the UK at least were against the invasion, which brought up the old chestnut about whether MPs should vote with their consciences (or their party whip) or just follow the opinions of the majority of their constituents.

      A relative of mine went to a conference of museum professionals at the Tank Museum once, and apparently the chief curator told the attendees ‘Please don’t climb all over our exhibits, or we’ll come to your museum and climb all over yours — and yours won’t take it as well as ours will!’

  9. nice post!
    just rewached 0080 myself, and looking past the bad sound design (the music is OK, but used badly, and the timing is usually off by a couple of seconds) it really is the best of the gundam series, and even though i have watched it several times before, the ending still brings a tear to my eye.

    i think the only other series i know of that gives an equaly good “war sucks” message is Vifam.

    • Thank you! I’m not sure quite which Gundam anime is the best, but I’d agree that 0080 is a contender for the title. Vifam is one of those shows that I’ve heard of, but never investigated. I’ll have to get around to watching it one of these days . . .

  10. I love War in the Pocket, my all time favorite Gundam animation.

    I think as children, we all played war. Seems kind of timeless and natural that boys play war in the fields while the girls host tea-parties with their dolls. Not that I’m saying those tight gender roles are natural or good for adults today, but lets face it, as kids that’s what it was all about.

    As for soldiers, although I haven’t met one who would claim to like war, most (in my experience) get into the forces for a reason. That reason, whether they want to admit it or not, is often to fire a gun, drive a tank and generally to live their favorite war movies. Things might change after their first experience in where-ever, but that’s how it starts.

    In regards to “war sucks,” it sure does. Gundam usually seems too detached from actual suffering for me to really drive the point home though. War in the Pocket is an exception I think, as it focuses on innocent lives being destroyed, on both large and small scales.

    • I do know one person who saw the army as a career, one which he thought he’d be good at. He was planning to enter as a trainee officer, though, and his family came from the class whose sons become officers. So he may be an unusual case.

      0080 is unusual in its focus on civilians, who aren’t even citizens of the two states which are at war. There is a lot of large-scale destruction in the rest of the franchise, and the odd atrocity, but not nearly as much interest in ‘ordinary people’. Now and then you get moments of focus on mundane suffering, though — I’d point to the stress put on the lives of the villages in The 08th MS Team and Amuro’s visit to his mother in the original MSG as examples. These are interesting examples, because they don’t involve massive death-tolls, just the everyday disruption caused by fighting.

  11. After all, it’s hard to find someone who won’t agree that war sucks. There isn’t (or at least I hope there isn’t!) a vast military-industrial conspiracy of people who sit in smoke-filled rooms planning next year’s conflict.

    You know too much. Ahem. Anyway, the Gundam franchise in itself doesn’t strike me as intrinsically anti-war or preachy on peace, merely that war does have consequences whether it is fought for good or ill.

    Ironically though, the shows that most strongly feature war as the central plotline, mecha, also dehumanize it too. With the exception of major character deaths, most grunts simply yell and die with a whimper as their mecha explode to spectacular effect.

    • Dehumanisation’s a tricky topic. I don’t really know enough about the way we understand (moving) images to properly discuss how it happens in anime.

      I would agree that the use of mecha can dehumanise fighting. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for mecha to stand in for their pilot’s bodies. This is obviously common in super robot anime, right down to mimicking their pilots’ expressions in some cases, but it happens at the real end of the spectrum too: I’d point to the defeated Zaku trying to raise its hand in the second episode of The 08th MS Team as a readily-available example.

  12. Have to agree with Yamcha a bit here… I think one there is certainly a sanitizing element to the use of mecha, in a similar vein to fighter aircraft (whether jet or space age). Essentially the conflict appears bloodless – lots of spectacular action and explosions, but very little sense of blood.
    On the flip side, the whole sanitizing effect may work to a series advantage – one could argue that the anti-war argument is made more effective because it doesn’t resort to cheap shock tactics.

    Going back to the post, something that’s always struck me about most of Gundam is that the conflicts seem to try to mirror the reasons for conflict in the century they exist in. A lot of the earlier shows have a very strong ideological motivation. On the flip side, from what I’ve seen of Gundam 00 (admittedly little), it seems the ethnic and cultural reasons behind the war are far more strengthened. Arguably I think a lot of the differences in each Gundam’s approach is probably due to the global political context they were made in… although I guess that’s not a groundbreaking idea.

    • Well, I’d refer you to my reply to Yamcha above. But I agree that sometimes the use of mecha sanitises the violence. Not resorting to shock tactics may indicate some restraint, but I don’t know if it necessarily makes the message more effective. I suppose it depends on how visceral you think messages are in television. I’m not sure on that one. On a related subject, are you still thinking of doing a typology of super/real mecha anime?

      The franchise’s age puts someone who is, like me, relatively new to it in a rather odd position: I watch things produced in several different political contexts while I remain in one context (the present time) — of course, I’m the ‘wrong’ viewer geographically and culturally too. Hmm. That probably doesn’t take us anywhere.

      00‘s conflicts are a pretty varied collection. Initially the conflicts that Celestial Being were intervening in were either power-plays between the three superpowers, or ethnic violence. (Strictly speaking, there wasn’t a clear distinction: the ethnic violence was being used by the three superpowers.) By now, near the end of the series, the fighting is more ideological — see the argument between Sumeragi and Billy near the beginning of the twenty-fourth episode, for example.

      There’s a difference between the original reason for the conflict and the motivations of the main characters, too.

  13. This reminds me of Simoun, where war is depicted as a part of life while the characters matures and ccumulate the courage to enter adulthood. Or one can see it in another perspective/theme of Simoun, thatthere should be a seperation between the military and the priesthood/religious body where the protagonists, priests by trade, should not use their prayers as weapons against their creed. However, in both sense, war is not seen as something that “sucks”. Rather, it is unavoidable, but people move through it, and the experience enriches one.

    • This, oddly, may be the most effective advocacy on Simoun‘s behalf that I’ve yet read. It sounds rather interesting.

      I read a book by John Keegan (not a scholarly book, one for general readers) in which he suggested that for a period warfare in Classical Greece may have been a bit like this: wars only happened in one season and usually only involved one battle, and the soldiers were amateurs. Battles were partly civic events, uniting the different generations of men in the city, and giving younger men the chance to prove that they were worthy of their citizenship. Of course, even if this was the case, it got thrown out of the window with the Peloponnesian War . . .

      • That sounds like a very Greek and very civilized ways to do things, or the later philosophers were sugarcoating things. Would the outcome of the battle be binding, or would it be more similar to a sports tournament? Although they are amateurs, they must still kill some of the enemy. I suppose the tragedy that is not written is probably in that…

        Were the city states binded closely during that era? I cannot imagine doing that with anyone but friendly cities… Or am I just cynical after studying Romans, who often hold mass killing of political enemies and the rich every couple of years (I am looking at you, Marcus and Sulla).

        • Marcus? Did you mean Gaius Marius? IRRC, the practice of proscriptions started with Sulla, who used the sequestered assets to replenish the depleted treasury. It’d be an accepted practice up until the ascendancy of Octavian – though I may be quite wrong.

        • Let’s see if I can remember Keegan’s description. The city states felt that they had some degree of common culture that separated them from the rest of the world, but there was also a lot of local rivalry, which is what lay behind the wars. I don’t know if it was a matter of civilisation so much as the fact that there was quite a narrow window of time each year in which soldiers who were also farmers could do any fighting. The battles tended to be quite bloody, but short and decisive: Keegan argued that this was the invention of the decisive battle as opposed to the skirmishing behaviour seen beforehand. The winners would set up a trophy to rub in the point that they’d won, but it was rare for large amounts of territory to change hands.

          The Peloponnesian War (which I have read more scholarly books on) dragged on much longer than expected, gradually professionalising some soldiers and creating a mercenary class. The use of satellite states, the abuse of political processes, atrocities, and the desire of both sides to get the Persians to intervene on their side pretty much put an end to the previous state of amateurism.

          Leaving aside the general trend towards armies with personal loyalty to their generals, political infighting and civil wars in the period from Marius to Augustus, the Romans also had a more total understanding of warfare than the Greeks. If I remember rightly, even after the Peloponnesian War, and the conquests of Alexander, Hellenistic states tended to stop fighting much earlier than the Romans. Or something.

        • Uhm, so it all has to do with the farmer’s planting season. The Roman did the same thing, until they start having trouble with Hannibal in Spain. Since Spain is way too far to come home during winter for planting, some milita had to stay in Spain year round. Of course, partricians took the chance to swallow up some of the Italian farmer militas’ lands when they were away. Romans tend to be quite tenacious and keep sending army after army, so perhaps that is why they fight longer wars…

          I thought Sulla did it mostly to get land for his veterans, but I am sure he did it to refill the treasury as well. Treason trials from Tiberius onward, though, I think, is more associated with filling up the treasury. Octavian was probably the last Roman leader to proscribe his enemies (those on Brutus and Cassius’ side, and people with lots of lands).

          On the topic of Simoun, I would highly recommend anyone to watch it. It is difficult to get over the highly sexualized facade, but the story, in my opinion, rivals the Legend of Galactic Heroes. There are some scenes that are awesomely GAR, and a large part of the story will seem out of place until one watches the show again with a better understanding of the overall theme of the anime. People also tend to see their own personal growth through their opinion of the story, especially if one watched it while one was a teenager transitioning into university/life. Of course, there is the incentive of spectacular watercolor background art. It is not at the level of sky porn yet, but it is a league by itself.

  14. @Animanachronism

    Heh, i think a full typology all super and real mecha anime is beyond my talents; i tend to recognize supers when I see them, but that’s more so I can stay away. A look into qualifiers for a real robot show, though… well, we’ll see what comes up.

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  16. It’s probably wrong, but I like the romantic view as to why Rome became an Empire whereas the Greek city-states bickered in petty battling until the bitter end.

    Simply stated, neither Athens nor Sparta nor Thebes became an Empire because of the quality of their immediate rivals (i.e. Thebes, Athens, Sparta, etc). That is, the greatness of the multiple city-states prevented any of them from clearing the rest and taking over. Rome’s neighbors were fools and thus ripe for subjugation. By the time Rome encountered its first decent rival, Carthage, it had enough power and knowhow to dispose of them as well.

    • I think that is probably quite true. Rome’s enemies were strong, but they were divided. The Etruscans were divided into city states. Although each city state is prepared for war and set on good geographical location (on a hill with fortifications), Rome conquered them one by one. The Gauls raided Rome, and Romans could do nothing but bribe them. Surprisingly, the Gauls left with some loot. The Greek Colonies in the South Italy were no challenge after Pirrous (not how it is spelled…) left because he cannot take the huge loss of men. (Pirrous came to S. Italy to assist the Greeks against the Romans with fleets of Greek army from the mainland.) Only the Samnites were a threat, mainly because they loved gurilla tactics. Roman adopted their way, though, and beat them at their own game. So Rome’s immediate enemies in Italy was certainly quite weak, with a few exceptions.

      Greeks had to face some formidable enemies too, though. Persians were no push-overs… Unfortunately, I am not well versed in Greek history, but I think there probably are some weaker city states that must play the stronger city states against each other to survive.

      • There were definitely weaker Greek city-states who were accustomed to play more powerful states off against each other. Indeed, Athens and Sparta both had this kind of relationship with the Persian Empire during the Peloponnesian War, each angling for Persian support against the other.

        You knowledge of Roman history is more detailed than mine. It sounds considerably less glamourous than the Aeneid and the myth of Romulus and Remus.

    • The geography of the Greek world makes it harder to impose centralised rule: not only is the mainland more mountainous than Italy, but a lot of the ancient Greek world was island-based or on the coast of Asia Minor. Philip II of Macedonia (which was regarded by the rest of Greece as a semi-barbarian state) eventually did unify Greece, of course, and his son went on to conquer everywhere that was anywhere.

      Admittedly, after his death Alexander’s conquests broke into separate Hellenised states which then competed much as the city-states used to, but his success established a certain kind of cultural empire, perhaps.

      I suspect a modern Greek would also point out that for a substantial part of its history (the last part, which ends in 1453) the Roman Empire was Greek.

      • Uhmm, interesting. So did the colonies along the coast have a huge impact on Greek politics back home (on the mainland)? You seems very knowledgable about the Greeks!

        About Roman being Greek, it is true that Greek was considered more civilized in Rome and used for some time for speeches in the senate and such. However, Alexander the Great never got around to blitz over Italy, if my memories served correctly. A part of the Roman allies were the Magna Greca, the Greek colonies in South Italy and the island of Scicily. Do you mean the cultural influence?

        • I have a bit of a grasp on some bits of ancient Greek history, partly because one of my friends is doing a degree that covers some of it, and partly from visiting the country. I’m not an authority, though!

          If I remember rightly, the colonies in Asia Minor did have a significant role in mainland politics. They were sometimes satellite states, used in conflict much like satellite states during the Cold War. And the first Persian invasion of the Greek mainland was the final result of interaction between the Persians, the cities in Asia Minor and those cities’ friends on the Greek mainland.

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  20. @will of the wisp

    No, I think what he means is that once the Roman Empire began to go into decline it got split into Western and Eastern halfs. The Western half centered in Rome collapsed in 476, but the Eastern half survived until 1453. Now, this Eastern half considered itself and called itself the Roman Empire until the bitter end, but they were more Greek than anything (today they’re usu. called Byzantines)…

  21. Ahhh. I see. Thanks Animekritik! I did not focus on the E Roman Empire in my studies, but is it more Greek than … Middle Eastern? The architecture seems to suggest a distinct Mosque like image, but that may be from a later era when Turkey steam rolled through Constantinople.

  22. One of the Byzantine Empire’s symbols for itself was a double-headed eagle, which (someone told me) represented the fact that they looked both eastwards and westwards. I believe a lot of the more Middle Eastern architecture in Constantinople and other ex-Byzantine cities is post-Byzantine, from the Ottoman Empire, as you say. It’s possible to find buildings that have been adapted and re-adapted (i.e. adding and then removing a minaret!).

    This being the Balkans, it’s all very mixed up and no one’s really as purely distinguished from any other group as they might like to claim. The Phanariote Greeks, for example, achieved quite a lot of influence on the Ottoman Empire’s internal affairs in the 18th century.

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