Great Moments in Fighting Back

Posted by Barry Strauss under on December 28, 2009

“Federal prosecutors are expected on Monday to request a judge’s permission to obtain DNA from Mr. Abdulmutallab [the alleged terrorist on Flight 253] to compare with DNA found on remains of the device taken from the aircraft.”
–Wall Street Journal, Monday, December 28, 2009

Let’s not copy the Greeks’ and Romans’ brutality, but acts of war require a tougher response than Miranda-izing the defendant. Here, for comparison’s sake, are three portions of food for thought:

1. Shortly before sending an expedition to Greece in 490 B.C., the Persian King Darius sent heralds to Sparta. They demanded “earth and water,” that is, signs of surrender. The Spartans requested a judge’s permission to compare DNA from the heralds with DNA found on a Persian spearhead.

Oops! Actually, the Spartans unceremoniously threw the ambassadors into a well, where they died. The Spartans later apologized but went on to win the war.

2. In 479 B.C., after the Persians had destroyed the city of Athens and then retreated slightly northwards – Athens having won the great naval victory at Salamis – the Persians sent an ambassador to the Athenian encampment. He offered a peace deal. An Athenian named Lycidas stood up in council and spoke in favor. The Athenians requested permission to compare DNA from Lycidas with DNA from a Persian ram recovered at Salamis.

Oops! Actually, a crowd of Athenian men stoned Lycidas to death and a similar crowd of Athenian women did the same to his wife and children. No record of the Athenians apologizing, but they did win the war.

3. In 216 B.C., after crushing a Roman army at the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal sent ten influential Roman prisoners of war to Rome to negotiate surrender. He made the prisoners swear on their honor to return to his army. The Roman Senate nixed the deal and nine of the ten prisoners returned to Hannibal. The tenth announced that his oath was invalid on a technicality and so he would stay in Rome. The Senators requested permission to compare DNA from the prisoner with DNA from a Carthaginian horse bit.

Oops! Actually, the Senators hogtied the prisoner and dumped him in the Carthaginian camp. The Romans won the war.

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