Food for… thought

From rougeclassicism:

The incipit of a piece at the CBC on the war in Afghanistan:

When a Canadian soldier dies in Afghanistan (as more than 150 have so far), it makes front-page news. In Ontario, a stretch of the 401 has been renamed the Highway of Heroes, and Canadians pay tribute by lining the overpasses from Trenton to Toronto.

Now cast your mind back a couple of millennia. In 216 B.C., 48,000 soldiers were killed in a single battle on a single day. The place was Cannae, on the Italian Peninsula, and the occasion was a battle in the Second Punic War between those imperial rivals, Rome and Carthage.

Not only did these 48,000 men – there were only male soldiers then – die in a single day, but they were butchered in what military historian Robert L. O’Connell calls a “massive knife fight.” As he told me on a recent Ideas episode, those men, mostly Roman, were herded together and slaughtered by the cunning Carthaginian general Hannibal. O’Connell is the author of The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic. There is no doubt in O’Connell’s mind that the most hellish place on Earth that day was a patch of ground on the Italian peninsula.

Military historians have a way of graphically presenting their facts. Based on what O’Connell estimates was the average weight of a Roman soldier – 130 pounds, or almost 59 kilograms – there was, on the battlefield, “6-7 million pounds of freshly slaughtered human meat.” A feast for carrion, a “bonanza” for foxes, wolves, vultures and other rummaging creatures.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. William Tighe says:

    I visited the site of Cannae in July 1974. As the whole of the valley was a densely-cultivated olive grove it was very difficult to envisage the battle there.

  2. Athanasius says:

    While this highlights that modern man has no love of war casualties, the comparison is less than apt.

    Hannibal was an invader, invading Roman territory, who had burned countless fields, farms and sacked numerous small towns, as well as having annihilated 15,000 at lake Trasimene and having inflicted numerous casualties at Trebbia. Defeat meant the end of the Roman Republic, no matter how dubious were Hannibal’s chances at actually taking Rome. If the allies left them through inaction then it was the end, of course the Romans would mobilize, it was their finest hour.

    Afghanistan by contrast is a war on foreign soil, where the goals, time table and even the purpose of our continued intervention to fight Al-Qaeda (especially when we are supporting them in Libya) are not clear to the average citizen, let alone raising any peril to our country. To top that off we now see soldiers making trophy killings in random villages to terrify the local populace. It is not even a question of the casualty level, it is of the purpose. 50,000 men giving their lives for their nation’s survival against a powerful foreign foe (one of the best generals in history no less) is something people can stomach. The intervention in Afghanistan does not appear to most people a worthy conflict, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong.

  3. AnAmericanMother says:

    ” . . . many strong souls to Hades it hurled,
    And gave their bodies to the feasting of dogs and birds of all kinds . . . ”

    Athanasius, we were told over and over during the last presidential campaign that Iraq was the ‘wrong war’ and Afghanistan was the ‘right war’. It was nonsense then and it is nonsense now. The experience of the British and the Russians is evidence enough.

    Plus we have the missteps in Egypt and Libya, all the while the administration ignores the Iranian nuclear elephant in the living room.

    I deplore and resent our fighting men — including my son, a U.S. Marine who just finished a tour in Afghanistan — being put at risk for blatantly political reasons by an administration that clearly has no idea what it is doing.

  4. muckemdanno says:

    We moderns are certainly no more civilized than the ancients. The U.S. government killed 100,000 (civilians!) in a single day on Aug 6, 1945…and again on Aug 9, 1945.

    The reason there are “only” several men killed each day in Iraq or Afghanistan is because those wars are obviously completely unnecessary. Were they actually necessary for the defense of America, the leaders of the government would not hesitate to engage in unmitigated slaughter at the push of a button – just as they did in 1945 – except that the death toll this time would be in the hundreds of millions instead of the hundreds of thousands.

  5. Athanasius says:


    I was speaking matter of factly, don’t think that I’m not against both wars, plus this third, and the infinite number that will continue to blow up as the arabs continue to revolt. Frankly I think our country is disgusting, and what we did in WWII was at least as bad as Hitler and Stalin between Dresden and Hiroshima. Ottaviani was right when he said that all modern warfare is initself sinful because by its nature it targets civilians. Look at our secular military head hunting in Afghanistan. I don’t think God is blessing America.

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