The Reinvention of History
by Donald Kagan
$26.95 List Price
The Greek historian Thucydides has long been a favorite of American secretaries of state. For George Marshall, the History of the Peloponnesian War illustrated many of the diplomatic pitfalls of the cold war. A generation later, framed on Colin Powell’s State Department desk was the more ambiguous and ultimately ironic paraphrase of Thucydides: “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.”
Restraint doesn’t much preoccupy Yale classicist and political commentator Donald Kagan, who spells out his version of the lessons the ancient historian has to offer in Thucydides: The Reinvention of History. Ahab-like, Kagan has tracked Thucydides for forty years, a decade longer than the Athenian general devoted to his History, translating and commenting on his work and now, finally, attempting to refute it. The new book pivots on the implication that Thucydides was a biased historian whose work is a defense of an undeserving Pericles, whose dovish strategy was “inadequate” and doomed Athens in its fifth-century BCE war with Sparta.
By using the modern analogy of military doves and hawks, Kagan attempts to turn Thucydides’s classic narrative of Pericles versus the demagogic, warmongering Cleon on its head. In a series of historical what-ifs, Kagan claims that had Pericles employed overwhelming force against the Corinthians before the war, this preemptive action “would have guaranteed a smashing victory and possibly the obliteration of the enemy’s navy” and led to peace. Pericles ignored the “hawks” of the Athenian democratic assembly and lost his chance for a swift