POST #7. IRAQ: THE ALLEGORY 2.0

“Blind Into Baghdad”, by James Fallows, was the lead article in The Atlantic Monthly magazine of January 2004. The article, well written and carefully researched (as one would expect from both Fallows and The Atlantic) was published as it became apparent that almost everything that could have gone wrong with the post-invasion occupation of Iraq had, in fact, gone wrong. It chronicled the broad-based and detailed pre-war planning, by government and non-government agencies, and the Bush administration’s reaction to it. In reviewing the article for this blog, it seemed to me that the article should have been entitled Choosing To Go Blind Into Baghdad.

In President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech, he described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “axis of evil,” three nations he claimed were aiding terrorists and acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Events of the last decade suggest he was right about North Korea and Iran, but dead wrong about Iraq. In my opinion, it was more than coincidental that Iraq, the country he was dead wrong about, was the most vulnerable of the three to military action. I also can’t stop wondering if the fact that his father (Pres. Bush 41) failed or declined to conquer Iraq(points of view differ), had a bearing on subsequent events. It has often been said that President Bush 43 was preoccupied with Iraq from the beginning of his Presidency, and that the 9/11 attacks gave superficial legitimacy to that pre-existing preoccupation.

There had been concern about Iraq’s efforts to acquire nuclear material, and about Saddam’s acquisition and retention of biological and chemical WMDs. He’d used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds before the Gulf War, and after the war, had been forced to agree to destroy his arsenal. In fairness, it must be said that Saddam acted as if he was violating that agreement, given how he frustrated American and U.N. inspectors.  Some attribute this behavior to his desire to make other countries in the region think he had WMDs, so they’d fear him. It was also a way of making him appear strong and defiant to his domestic political rivals, who were emboldened after his forces collapsed in the “hundred hours war” with the United States. These motives were quite apparent at the time, however, and as noted in previous posts, there was little credible evidence that he actually had WMD’s.

Whether or not Saddam fooled anyone he was trying to fool, he played into the hands of Bush 43 Administration neocons, by making their claims about his WMDs sound credible. As the confrontation sharpened between Saddam and the Bush administration, U.S. government agencies, military planners, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) all contributed to a growing body of research and analysis about problems that would arise during an invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and how these problems might be averted.

The article details the progressive accumulation of available knowledge about Iraq, from  a year before the war to the invasion and its immediate aftermath. More important than the specifics (the article is available online at Blind Into Baghdad – James Fallows – The Atlantic) are two overarching themes: (1) The research from all quarters uniformly concluded that the military aspect of the invasion would be relatively easy, while the post-invasion occupation would be difficult and complicated, requiring careful planning and substantial resources; (2) The Bush Administration was antagonistic to the later recommendations, contradicted them without any supportive evidence, and retaliated against administration and military officials who spoke publicly about the difficulties of occupation and the resources it would require. Fallows concluded (and I agree wholeheartedly) that the Bush Administration was hostile to post-war planning and recommendations because it highlighted the serious difficulties and high projected costs of post-war occupation, making the war less palatable to the public, who would pay for and fight it.

Why would senior administration officials choose to initiate an avoidable war when all available knowledge indicated that the post-war occupation would be very costly and its success uncertain? The simple answer is that they had pre-conceived ideas about what they wanted to do, and didn’t want to be deterred by the facts.* These pre-conceived ideas were part of their Neoconservative ideology (they called themselves “neocons”) the foreign policy aspect of which urged aggressive promotion of American interests, by military means if necessary (and they often felt it was necessary). The merits and weaknesses of Neoconservatism are beyond the scope of this blog. I firmly believe, however, that giving precedence to pre-conceived ideas (ideology, theology, or otherwise) over facts and reality is a recipe for disaster, as it was in the case of the Iraq war.

I’ve gone through all this because, as I reviewed the Fallows article, I began to re-think one of my conclusions in Post #2, supra. There I concluded, and still believe, that Odysseus tried to avoid joining the war because a Greek power base on the Dardanelles would be of little value to an insignificant island kingdom in the Ionian Sea. But we also have to remember that the Greek coalition was there for ten years, though they vastly outnumbered the Trojans and their allies, and even then, they won by cunning rather than their superior might. I doubt that Bronze Age Greece had a vast intelligence apparatus, or government agencies analyzing data and making recommendations, but the Greeks must have known something about Troy. Greek merchant ships undoubtedly went there on their way to the Black Sea, and had to deal with Troy as it exploited its position and its surrounding geography. Those Greek merchant seamen (and, in all likelihood, military personnel) had more opportunity than they probably wanted to experience Troy, the strength of its walls, it’s strategic location, its military power and its wealth. They probably knew how difficult an attack on Troy was likely to be, or at least had sufficient information to make a well reasoned assessment. What if Agamemnon used his economic and military leverage to pressure other Greek states into invading because the retrieval of Helen provided a convenient justification, even though all the available information told them that their military power would be of little advantage in a siege of Troy? Agamemnon, as described in the Iliad, is the kind of leader who might ignore the facts when they didn’t suit his purposes.That would parallel the United States invading Iraq with a force that was inadequate to handle the occupation, when all available information highlighted that danger. In both cases, preconceived notions and the ideologies of leaders took precedence over facts, and led to disastrous consequences. In the Iliad, an enormous invading force bogged down for a decade because its leader ignored the available information. In Iraq, the successful invasion dissolved into a failed occupation for the same reason. Leaders determined to ignore the obvious would explain why the Greek invasion was thwarted for ten years. Odysseus, cunning as he was, and geographically far away from Agamemnon and  Corinth, may have seen the invasion as a fool’s undertaking. That might be another reason why he feigned insanity so he could keep little Ithaca out of the coalition.

*See “They will welcome us as liberators”i in the People, Places, and Things Sequence or Index pages .

POST #6. THE CURSE OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS

Agamemnon and Menalaous were the sons of Atreus, and are, on occasion, jointly referred to as Atreidae for that reason. However, the mythical history of the House of Atreus actually goes back to Tantalus, Agamemnon’s and Menalaous’ great grandfather. There are different versions of this mythical history, but all versions are rife with dark elements that form the basis of Greek tragedies.

The Greek male gods were notorious seducers of mortal women, and Zeus was the most notorious of the lot. Tantalus was a son of Zeus and a mortal, what is commonly referred to as a demigod. Pelops was Tantalus’ son. In order to marry Hippodamia, daughter of King Oenomaus, Pelops had to defeat the king in a chariot race. He enlisted the help of Myrtilus, Oenomaus’ servant, who sabotaged the King’s chariot, and the king was killed in the race. Pelops then killed Myrtilus, either to prevent him from revealing how the race was won, or, according to one version, because Myrtilus tried to rape Hippodamia. As he died, Myrtilus cursed Pelops and his descendants.Thereafter, Tantalus killed his son Pelops and tried to feed his body to the gods. Most of the gods perceived what was happening, but  the goddess Demeter ate some Pelops’ flesh. Tantalus was condemned to eternal torment in Hades, the Greek underworld.

Before his grisly death, Pelops (the grandfather) had two sons with Hippodamia, Atreus and Thyestes (in some versions, father and uncle were twins). Hippodamia, Atreus, and Thyestes were banished to Mycenae (in one version, because the brothers murdered their step brother, the bastard son of Pelops). In Mycenae, the brothers were put in charge of the kingdom while the king was fighting a foreign war, and Atreus’ wife (Agamemnon andMenalaous’ mother) began an affair with Thyestes. When the king of Mycenae died in battle, Thyestes and Atreus’ wife used trickery to gain  the permanent throne of Mycenae, but Atreus took the throne with the help of Zeus and the god Hermes. When Atreus learned of the adulterous affair between his wife and his brother, he killed Thyestes’ sons and fed them to their father, who was forced into exile for the sin of cannibalism. An oracle told to have a son with his own daughter, so that the son would kill Atreus. When that son, Aegisthus, was born, he was abandoned by his mother/sister, who was ashamed of her incestuous act. A shepherd found the infant and brought him to Atreus, who raised him as his own son, not realizing who he was and what he was ultimately supposed to do. Agamemnon and Menalaous were born thereafter. When Aegisthus reached manhood, he learned of his incestuous origins and the task he was conceived to perform. He killed Atreus, and he and Thyestes seized control of Mycenae, forcing Agamemnon and Menalaous to flee to Sparta. It is at this point that the curse of the House of Atreus entangles itself into the backstory, as set out in the Backstory page of this blog.

Tyndareus was then the King of Sparta. His wife Leda, had been seduced and impregnated by Zeus, who disguised himself as a swan for this purpose. (Zeus often disguised himself as an animal to seduce mortal women. What this says about the seduced women is beyond the scope of this already disturbing post.) This ornithological coupling caused Leda to lay two eggs. One egg hatched the children of Leda and Tyndareus, Clytemnestra and Castor. The other egg hatched the children of Leda and Zeus, Helen and Pollux. Helen and Pollux were thus demigod and demigoddess, respectively.

While in exile, the Atreidae, Agamemnon and Menalaous, married the two daughters, Clytemnestra and Helen, respectively. Variations of the myth have Clytemnestra betrothed or married to another man (a Peloponnesian king, or the king of Lydia, southeast of Troy), and another variation says she had an infant son. Most variations agree that Agamemnon used force to make Clytemnestra marry him, killing her fiancé/husband and her infant son as well. Upon Tyndareus’ death, Menalaous became king of Sparta. He helped Agamemnon drive out Thyestes and Aegisthus and regain the throne of Mycenae.

Twin brothers Castor and Pollux were involved in a family feud when the Trojan Prince Paris came to Sparta as a visitor. During preparations for the feast that would formally welcome Paris, the brothers left to pursue that feud, leaving their sister Helen alone with Paris, thus enabling Paris to kidnap or seduce Helen, and set the war in motion. Castor, the mortal twin, was killed in that feud. When Pollux, the demigod, offered to share his immortality with his brother so they could remain together, Zeus put them both in the sky as the brightest stars in the constellation Gemini.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

This grim saga spans four generations, with major players coming to the forefront  and then disappearing to make way for the next generation of miscreants. It‘s difficult to remember their names, and disheartening to remember the details of their dismal exploits, but for present purposes, overarching themes are more important than the minutiae. As you read the shadow of Xeno’s eye, keep the following in mind:

  1. Throughout the Iliad and the ancillary myths, Menalaous doesn’t seem to have suffered greatly from the curse of the House of Atreus, other than having his wife abducted or seduced, as the case may have been. Agamemnon, on the other hand, appears to have borne the full brunt of the curse, as reflected in his violent courtship of Clytemnestra, the way he’s depicted in the Iliad, and his tragic relationship with his children, particularly his daughter Iphigenia, as described in Post #2, supra.
  2. If Helen really was the world’s most beautiful woman, and the daughter of a king, she would have had extremely eligible suitors from all over the Mediterranean, if not beyond, and her father, King Tyndareus, would have been weighing the political and economic implications many advantageous marriage proposals. Tyndareus, however, allowed her to marry Menalaous, a then-unpromising exile, whose family was susceptible to the darkest human passions and taboos. The two elements of the myth thus contradict each other, but the codex of myths accept that Helen was the world’s most beautiful woman, and disregards the unlikelihood of her marriage to Menalaous. However, if one instead accepts the alternative, that Tyndareus consented to Helen’s marriage with Menalaous because she was not the world’s most beautiful woman, that this exile from a volatile family was a comparatively good prospect, then the mythical basis of the mythical war dissolves.
  3. After Agamemnon sacrificed/murdered Iphigenia, Clytemnestra returned to Greece and took up with Aegisthus. Recall that Aegisthus was raised as a brother to Agamemnon and Menalaous, but was really the incestuous offspring of their uncle, Thyestes, and his daughter, their cousin, and that he’d been conceived to murder their father, Atreus. Cannibalism, murder, rape and incest run rampant through this royal(sic[k]) family’s history. (Strangely enough, the mythical gods of Mt. Olympus also came into being through a saga of violence [gods can’t die], incest, and cannibalism).   I wonder if this explains why Homer’s Iliad ends with the death of Achilles, and the Odyssey picks up as Odysseus is leaving Troy after the war is over. It may be that the victory of Agamemnon’s armies was tainted by the curse of the House of Atreus, and became Pyrrhic, like the victory described in shadow.
  4. Consider the following: Corinth/Mycenae, the most powerful Greek city-state, was on the east coast of Greece, across the Mediterranean from Troy and the Hellespont. Though Ithaca was at the western tip of Greece, in the Ionian sea, it was small and puny, and therefore vulnerable to Corinthian force or influence. A rising Sparta, with a new King from a volatile background, would force Corinth to focus attention on Sparta, to the south, giving Ithaca and its wily king more room to maneuver  and conduct its own affairs. One then wonders if Odysseus had a role in convincing Menalaous to marry Helen, if he needed convincing because she was not the world’s most beautiful woman.

There doesn’t appear to be a 21st century counterpart to the curse of the House of Atreus. President Bush (43) came from a privileged family that doesn’t appear to have been fraught with that kind of dark past. President Obama, who (for better or worse), took the Iraq war on as his own (ostensibly to secure a good position from which to withdraw from it), was raised by a single mother, but appears to have had a generally supportive family. In this one respect, the fraudulent wars of antiquity and modernity are dissimilar.

POST 5. UPDATE (archeological record)

Below is a link to a schematic drawing from Wilhelm Doerpfeld’s excavations of Troy, following up on Schliemann’s dig. One can see how the city was rebuilt in layers, one on top of the other, so that digging straight through to a particular layer without professional methodology and meticulous patience would destroy  valuable artifacts along the way. The link also has pictures of particular phases of the excavations, and projections of what certain layers might have once looked like. I meant to include this in Post #4,and apologize for not having done so.

http://www.utexas.edu/courses/introtogreece/lect4/img23doerpmap.html

POST #4. THE ARCHEOLOGICAL RECORD

I’ve referred to the mythical Trojan war to distinguish it from how I believe it probably unfolded, if it was ever actually fought. Scholars disagree over whether a coalition of Greek city-states did invade northwestern Anatolia during the bronze age, when such an invasion might have taken place (if it did), and what the underlying causes of such a war might have been. Disagreement over this last question made the shadow of Xeno’s eye  a plausible account of the mythical war, inviting all the comparisons between the myths and the debacle in Iraq. I believe that, overall, shadow’s account is more plausible and logical than the romanticized heroic myth.

Historians and archeologists do agree that at some point after the interval when the war might have taken place (1250 B.C – 1180 B.C.), both the Mycenaean civilization in Greece, and the Hittite civilization in Anatolia, were overrun by invaders and collapsed. Thus, when modern interest in the myth began to emerge in the late 19th century, the relevant archeological sites were not only more than 3,000 years old, they’d been left to rot and/or been built over by succeeding civilizations. This was particularly true of Troy, where the Hittite civilization gave way to a Phrygian speaking civilization from Thrace (the northwestern edge of Turkey and what is now modern Bulgaria), eventually to be replaced by Greeks, and then Romans. The Trojan site at Hissarlik had many layers of cities, some with sub-layers, built one on top of the other. Upper layers contaminated lower layers through natural decay, earthquakes, and normal activity, over time, of those living in the upper layers. In addition, the incompetence of the first archeological investigators destroyed the integrity of some of the levels beyond repair.

Modern interest in the Trojan war myths was generated, in part, by publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin’s theories so directly contradicted the Judeo-Christian creation myths that it sparked interest in validating mythical accounts in general. The codex of Trojan war myths is one of, if not the, core non-biblical myths of western civilization, and the nascent field of archeology seemed to offer a scientific way to validate this foundation myth. This dynamic, however, led to questionable results and procedures. The deteriorated archeological record could not provide conclusive proof of the mythical war’s specifics, and the lack of objectivity of the investigators led investigators to interpret the already meagre archeological record as proof of what they’d set out to find. Furthermore, the newness of archeology as a systematic field of study left it without established guidelines and procedures.

The work of Heinrich Schliemann, the pioneer archeologist in the quest for Troy, embodied all of these problems. He’d been fascinated by the Trojan war myth since his youth, and his business success allowed him to pursue his dream in the late 19th century. Once at Hissarlik, he was convinced that the Troy he was looking for was deep underground, so he dug straight through many layers of newer cities to get at what he thought was the Troy of the Iliad. As it turned out, the Troy he reached, the Troy he thought he was looking for, was centuries too old, and he’d damaged or destroyed many of the layers he’d dug through to get at it, including layers more likely to have been Homer’s Troy. Some of his many detractors allege that he was more than merely incompetent. He is thought to have deliberately misrepresented some of his findings, even going so far as to plant artifacts at his dig that were really found elsewhere, claiming they were genuine Trojan relics. Although he did pioneer the excavation at Hissarlik, work that is ongoing to this day, his lack of professionalism destroyed valuable evidence, misdirected those who followed in his path, and compromised the integrity of the entire effort by lying about his findings and interpreting a circumstantial record as conclusive proof of what he’d originally set out to establish. Archeologists who followed him, Wilhelm Doerpfeld, Arthur Evans, Carl Blegen, and others, pursued the quest with greater care and professionalism as the science of archeology developed, but were not able to conclusively prove that the mythical Trojan war actually occurred, or that any particular layer of Troy was the site under siege by a  Bronze Age coalition of Greek city states.

This is the state of the current knowledge concerning the mythical Trojan war. Some scholars believe it was fought as mythically described, others do not. Some think that level VI at the Hissarlik site is the Iliad’s Troy, some think it’s level VIIa, the evidence as to either is circumstantial, if not ambiguous. I personally think it unlikely that a Spartan King would air his personal dirty laundry throughout the Greek world, or that other Greek city-states would commit their armies for ten years to recapture his wayward queen. Seizing control of the Dardanelles from the Trojans, and controlling access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, might have motivated such a commitment (except, of course, for the Ithacans; see Post #3) but such a venture would have needed a more emotionally appealing image, because the mercantile benefits of would accrue to the Greek equivalent of the top 1%, while the bottom 99% did most of the fighting. The shadow of Xeno’s eye thus came from the shadow in mine.

POST #3. IRAQ: THE ALLEGORY 1.0

Our deconstruction of the Trojan War myth began with a few hidden aspects of the sub-myths, the body of ancillary myths concerning the build-up to the war, the aftermath, or the lives of individual characters. In the 21st century, we had a new east vs. west war myth; that the United States invaded Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from using biological and chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction against the United States and its allies. The technological and social changes in the intervening 3,200 years would be unfathomable to Bronze Age Greeks and Trojans, who’d never even encountered a sword made of iron, let alone a television or a computer. The deconstruction of the Iraq War myth thus began with information technology that streamed the war into American homes.

The “shock and awe” aerial bombardment of Iraq and the subsequent ground invasion were broadcast on the nightly news. During this in-depth coverage, in which “imbed” and “boots on the ground” became colloquialisms, Weapons of Mass Destructions were conspicuously not being shown. It soon became apparent that they’d never been there in the first place, that the war’s justification, its “we are the good guys” myth, was inaccurate. Because the military intelligence underlying the myth was clearly defective, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence undertook an investigation, and released an initial report in July of 2004. This initial report, referred to as Phase I, focused on the Intelligence Community’s information gathering and analysis, but did not address how the administration’s senior policy makers used the intelligence it was given, or what role, if any, they had in shaping the analysis of pre-war intelligence. Some believe that investigation of this later question was delayed because Republicans controlled the Senate, and therefore the Select Committee.

Because this blog is a companion blog to a novel, rather than a political or historical blog, what follows is a brief summary of the Senate Select Committee’s Report:

The National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq’s program to develop WMDs both exaggerated Saddam’s capabilities and contained assertions that lacked any support in the underlying intelligence. Though there were many failures in the Estimate, issued about five months before the invasion, the primary failure lay in the flawed methods used to assess and analyze  the intelligence. The question of why these flawed methods were used was not addressed in Phase I of the Select Committee’s investigation, and this highlighted political divisions within the committee. There were claims that analysts had been pressured to skew their analyses to conclude that Saddam did have WMD’s and systems for deploying them. Democrats, then in the minority, wanted to explore that issue, but the Republican majority ruled that issue would be explored in Phase II of the investigation. That phase of the investigation dragged on interminably, over increasing Democratic protest, though two volumes of the Phase II report, dealing with other matters, were released in September 2006.  In the November 2006 mid-term elections Democrats gained a majority in the Senate, and therefore the committee, and a Democrat, Jay Rockefeller (D. W.Va) became chairman.

In May of 2007, the committee issued a volume concerning pre-war intelligence estimates of post war Iraq. One of that volume’s conclusions was that, prior to the war, the intelligence community did know that Iraq was deeply divided, and that if Saddam were overthrown, the various factions would engage in violent conflict unless the occupying force took substantial steps to stop it. This is significant, because senior Administration officials were claiming just the opposite, in order to make the war more palatable to the American public ( see “They will welcome us as liberators” in People, Places, and Things, index or sequence, depending where you are in the novel.)

In June 2008, another volume was released concerning whether pre-war statements by administration officials were supported by intelligence reports (which the committee had concluded, in Phase I, were themselves skewed). The report concluded that Administration officials presented intelligence as established fact, when it was actually unsubstantiated, non-existent, or even contradicted by other intelligence data. In a press release about the final volume’s publication, Senator Rockefeller, Chairman of the Select Committee, said that the Bush Administration had long been fixated on Iraq, especially after the 9/11 attacks, and “led the nation into war under false pretenses … … there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the american people that you know is not fully accurate.”

To this day, pro war advocates (Senator John McCain comes readily to mind) insist that the Bush Administration acted in good faith, pointing to the fact that the British interpreted the raw intelligence data just as the administration did. However, the Butler Review, an investigative body set up by the British in February of 2004, found that the intelligence relied on to justify Britain’s entry into the war was unreliable and, more importantly, wrongly assessed and evaluated, the same criticisms the Senate Select Committee leveled against the United States. The Review also concluded that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policy towards Iraq changed because of the 9/11 attacks, rather than because of intelligence concerning Saddam’s acquisition of WMDs. Like Phase I of the Senate Select Committee’s Report, The Butler Review avoided the question of the role pro war politicians might have played in skewing the analysis of the faulty intelligence. The Liberal Democratic and Conservative Parties so disagreed with this restriction that they declined to participate in the investigation. In 2009, one of the members of the Butler Review, Sir John Chilcot, was chosen as chairman of a much broader investigation into Britain’s role in the Iraq War, including pre-war events and conditions that led to Britain’s involvement. This became known as the Iraq Inquiry or the Chilcot Inquiry. The inquiry held open and closed hearings for more than two years. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was called to testify, and it was reported that he’d conceded that there had been no growing threat from Saddam in the months leading up to the invasion, though he’d told the House of Commons, before the invasion, that there was such a threat. The Chilcot Inquiry’s protocol included a procedure known as “Maxwellisation,” in which individuals criticized in the report are notified prior to the report’s release, so they can prepare responses to the criticism. As of this writing, the report of the Chilcot Inquiry has not been released. British columnist Simon Walters, writing in the Daily Mail, interpreted the long delay in releasing the report as indicating that Tony Blair will be criticized for false claims about Saddam’s WMDs, and for agreeing to enter the war because of his political alliance with President George W Bush, rather than any threat Saddam posed with WMDs (which Blair admitted was non-existent.)

The deconstruction of the Iraq War Myth began almost as soon as the Myth was being propagated. The evidence for the deconstruction was documentary, recent, and therefore well-preserved. By contrast, the deconstruction of the Trojan War Myth began more than 3,000 years after the alleged fact. It had to rely on analyses of the ancillary myths, geography, and a certain amount of inductive reasoning. The parallels, however, are striking.

Both myths concern a coalition of western powers invading asian civilizations in the same part of the world (Iraq is on the southern border of Turkey, ancient Anatolia, with Troy in its northwest corner).

In both cases, the invading western coalition was far more powerful than the invaded asian civilization, but both invasions bogged down, and both wars dragged on interminably.

The ostensible justifications for both invasions (their respective myths) were heroic and self-serving, but unable to withstand analysis. The ancient and modern myths each disguised that their respective wars were fought for the same reasons all wars are fought: scarce resources, diplomatic and foreign policy failures, delusions of grandeur in the minds of leaders.

How ideas become myths is briefly (and cynically) addressed in the shadow of Xeno’s eye.  I plan to explore it further in this blog.

POST #2. HIDDEN CLUES

The codex of Trojan War myths and sub-myths are rife with subtle clues that the war was something other than a crusade to recapture Helen, King Menalaous’ beautiful wife. Perhaps the most surprising clue is in the Iliad itself. A section known as “the catalog of ships” enumerates the city states and regions in the Greek coalition and how many troops they each contributed. Hidden in the lyrical poetry are some unusual and telling numbers. Though this was ostensibly a war to recapture the Spartan queen, the Spartan contingent was not the largest contingent in the coalition. The largest contingent came from Corinth. Agamemnon was the king of Corinth, and he also funded a large contingent from Arkadia, a mountainous inland area that had no tradition of seafaring. Between his own Corinthians and the Arkadians, Agamemnon’s contingent dwarfed all others in the Greek coalition, which is inconsistent with a war to recapture the Spartan queen. In the shadow of Xeno’s eye, the true purpose of the war was to establish a Greek power base on the Dardanelles that would control access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. This goal would justify such a high level of support and commitment from Corinth, which was the dominant Greek naval power at the time, and closer to Troy and the Dardanelles than Sparta.

Another clue lies in the ancillary myth of Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter. The Greek coalition massed its ships at Aulis, in what is now northeastern Greece, and prepared to cross the Aegean Sea to invade Troy. However, the winds kept the fleet in port, and sickness broke out among the soldiers. A soothsayer divined that Agamemnon had offended the goddess Artemis, and would have to make amends. Agamemnon sent for his daughter, Iphigenia, on the pretext that she would be married to Achilles, but when she arrived, she was forced to become a human sacrifice to appease Artemis. After she was sacrificed, the winds changed and the fleet was able to leave Aulis and sail to Troy.

Agamemnon and Corinth thus commit more resources and undergo greater suffering than any other King or city-state, just to build the coalition and get it going to Troy so the war can start. Something other than reclaiming Menalaous’ wife must have motivated these actions. A Greek base on the Dardanelles, control of the Black Sea, and a vast expansion of commercial and military shipping routes would motivate an ambitious king of a Greek military and commercial power, like Agamemnon of Corinth, to undergo such deprivations just to get the coalition’s fleet out of port and into the Aegean.

In spite of Agamemnon’s terrible sacrifices, he’s depicted as an arrogant and selfish leader in the Iliad, and he’s drawn to unstable women in the ancillary myths. I portray him as a combination of Pres. Bush (43) and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, and he gets all the contemporary neo-con lines. His selfishness and ambition plunged Greece into a prolonged and poorly managed war, just as the so-called neo conservative ideologues plunged the United States into a prolonged, poorly managed, and ultimately disastrous war in Iraq.

Geography is the key to yet another clue about the real nature of the Trojan war, and how the myths hide and romanticize it. There’s another ancillary myth about the pre-war mobilization, concerning Odysseus’ attempt to avoid joining the coalition. Odysseus was the king of Ithaca, a small backwater island in the Ionian Sea, at the westernmost tip of Greece. It is said that, as Agamemnon was marshaling the city states into a coalition, Ithaca did not respond to the call. Agamemnon (or in some versions of this story, his emissary, Palamides) went to Ithaca to personally bring Odysseus and Ithaca into the coalition. There he found Odysseus ranting and raving like a lunatic (the original attempt at a psychiatric deferment, for those old enough to remember the draft and the Viet Nam war). In the face of Agamemnon’s (or Palamides’) skepticism, Odysseus harnessed an ox and a donkey to a plow and plowed furrows in the mud along the shoreline, zigzagging because the two animals pulled at different paces. It was only when Agamemnon (or Palamides) placed Odysseus’ baby son, Telemachus, directly in the plow’s path, and Odysseus swerved to avoid him, that Odysseus’ ruse was exposed, and he was made to join the coalition. Ithaca is the only sovereignty that was forced to join the coalition against the will of it’s leader. In “the catalog of ships” mentioned in POST #1, Homer describes the Ithacan contingent as empty or hollow ships.

This story is supposed to illustrate Odysseus’ cleverness and cunning, the reason why Agamemnon would make the special effort to bring him into the war, but geography suggests a different interpretation. If the war was fought to establish a Greek base on the Dardanelles, gaining access to the Black Sea, Ithaca would benefit little, if at all, from the result. To get from Troy to Agamemnon’s Corinth, one would sail southeast across the Aegean. Athens and Sparta are respectively further south, so would require a slightly longer southeast voyage. However, goods coming from a Greek base at Troy would have to come by more difficult routes to get to Ithaca. They would first have to be shipped across the Aegean to the east coast of Greece (perhaps through  the straight of Malis to Thermopylae or Trachis) then cross mainland Greece by land, to Acarnania, from there to be shipped out to Ithaca. The alternative would be to put them on a ship that would sail down to the southernmost tip of Greece, around the Cape of Cythera, and then up the west coast of Greece to Ithaca. Either route would be cost prohibitive, so Ithaca would derive little, if any benefit from a Greek presence on the Dardanelles, and would be disinclined to join in a war to establish such a presence. In all probability, much of Odysseus’ Ithacan commerce was with the area that is modern-day Albania, to the north, perhaps further up the Adriatic coast, and the bottom of the heel of the Italian boot. His reluctance to join the coalition is easily explained by his understanding of the war’s true purpose, a Greek presence on the Dardanelles, from which he and his kingdom would gain no benefit.

The next post will explore our 21st century cognate myth: That the United States and its coalition allies were the saviors who invaded Iraq to prevent Saddam, the evil dictator, from threatening the world with his arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

POST #1. INTRODUCTION

Like Xeno (who may be my alter ego) I’m often reluctant to reveal things about myself, but an author’s companion blog to his own novel should probably discuss how and/or why he came to write the story. I myself don’t know the complete answer to that (implied) question, but I know enough to at least introduce readers to the book and how it came into being.

My parents gave me a book on Greek, Roman, and Norse myths, and my sixth grade teacher encouraged my interest. I was interested in mythology for years, until I went to law school, and almost stopped reading for pleasure. (Reading law is an aggressive and hyper-analytical activity, a way of putting someone else at a disadvantage.) I stumbled upon Tolkien’s Lord Of The Ring trilogy when I had some down time at an airport, and that fortuitous event got me back into reading for pleasure and thinking about myths. Another fortuitous event occurred years later, after I’d (finally) gotten married and started a family. Our twin babies were asleep, and I had a little down time (again) and  was surfing the channels and stumbled (again) upon Michael Wood’s In Search of the Trojan War. I still remembered all my mythology, and was struck by how his examination of archeological evidence couldn’t prove whether the Trojan war had even been fought, or whether the mythical Troy had ever existed or might ever be, found. Then the lawyer in me (a toxic aspect of my personality, or an objective aspect of my already toxic personality) began to ask new questions. Why would the king of a culture, that emphasized the group over personal well-being, involve his kingdom in his personal domestic matters? Why would the spartan (adjective) Spartans (noun) consent to such involvement? Why would so many other Greek city states involve themselves in the domestic problems of a supposedly spartan (adjective) Spartan (noun)? I had no answers, but took some twisted pleasure in the fact that the cornerstone myths of western civilization undermined themselves when you looked into them.

This twisted pleasure was rooted in an anti-authoritarian/iconoclastic personality, a prerequisite for being a criminal defense attorney, which I was for thirty-five years. In court, I came to discover that if I could find the story in a case, I had a better chance of winning it. Even when the evidence was overwhelmingly against me (my client, actually), a story that almost induced reasonable doubt would grab the jury’s attention, and keep them out far longer than the crushing weight of the evidence would have suggested. I came to see myself as a story-teller, and made feeble attempts at writing fiction, but being a trial lawyer and the father of twins consumes too much of one’s time and energy.

Our daughters were finishing high school when the United States the Coalition invaded Iraq to prevent Saddam from unleashing his weapons of mass destruction (sic). My wife and I were certified empty nesters as it became apparent that there were no WMDs in Iraq and never were, that we’d invaded on an incorrect premise. Then voices were heard saying that the incorrect premise was actually a fraudulent premise, that the administration knew, or should have known, that its justification for its war was based on patently flawed, as well as inaccurate, intelligence. Anti-authoritarian personalities are not Republicans, certainly not neocons or Bush supporters, and I took more twisted pleasure in these ideas as they developed. Then one day, when I was looking for something else, I stumbled across a short story that I’d begun and abandoned. (So much of this seems to have happened by accident.) The short story was about a grunt soldier in the Trojan Horse, a setting I’d picked because it was innately dark and filled with tension, a mood in which I enjoy writing. The story was originally supposed to end with the soldier, then with no name, realizing that the Trojan Horse had been a dumb idea that worked only because the Trojans were so desperate that they talked themselves into falling for it, and that he volunteered for it only because he was desperate to go home.

Twisted pleasures must have been the subconscious connection between this story and what I was hearing and reading about phantom WMDs. I started to think about expanding the story to have the soldier with no name conclude that retrieving Helen wasn’t the real purpose of the war. At the time, I was thinking of plunder as the real motive, because its modern equivalent was Iraq’s oil. Though I was in my late 50s, and therefore not naturally fluent in “digitalize,” I was comfortable enough with computers and the Internet to use search engines. I found discussions of the Trojan War and maps of ancient Troy and ancient Greece. Ideas about my short story came thick and fast, and I could try them out and change them easily with the computer’s word processor. When I came across a site that discussed the geography of the Dardanelles, and how prevailing winds and currents gave civilizations there control over access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, plunder changed to a Greek base on the Dardanelles as the alternative or hidden motive for the Trojan War.

I have twin daughters, no sons, but I was a son myself, once. Until our daughters, were born, my “son-hood” was an unsettling experience for all concerned. After our daughters were born (the beginning of my adulthood, though I was 38 at the time), I came to appreciate how young males often don’t do what their fathers want them to do, how they go off in their own direction, or lack of direction. My father did that by joining the army in World War II, when he probably could have remained deferred. I did that to my dad when I dropped out of a doctoral program for no reason other than being desperately unhappy. This nameless grunt soldier I’d created did the same thing to me. I tried different ways of introducing the “real” reason for the Greek coalition’s siege of Troy; camp rumors in the days leading up to the horse gambit, anonymous whispers inside the horse itself (I liked how that created another layer of tension inside the horse), but no matter what I did, the soldier with no name would do something with my idea that I hadn’t anticipated. Once, he answered the anonymous whispers in the horse and got in trouble with Odysseus. Another time, a camp rumor he’d heard made him suspicious of a soldier who ended up in the horse with him, and once outside the horse, he deviated from Odysseus’ plan because he didn’t trust that soldier. No matter what I did, this young guy went off on his own with it, and my short story got longer and harder to end. Unable to do much else, I followed him, like a dutiful dad, and my short story became a novel. I finally named him Xeno (a prefix meaning a foreigner, a thing from somewhere outside its current environment) because wherever he took me, neither of us really belonged there.

So, I had a protagonist who didn’t belong anywhere, an ancient myth (actually, a group of related ancient myths) that I was going to retell in my own anti-authoritarian way, and a war unfolding in front of me, the news from which made it easy to believe the worst about it and those who started it. the shadow of Xeno’s eye*was like a second set of twins. I was telling two stories at once, though one was ancient and mythical while the other was contemporary and all too real.

This post is getting too long. In a few days, I’ll talk about how the Trojan War myth, and the collection of ancillary myths surrounding it, undermine themselves as one sifts through the details.

*The title, except for Xeno’s name, will always be in lower case, even at the beginning of a sentence; part of my “brand.”