Homer then and now

The Nation has an extensive report on the experiences of American veterans of the war in Iraq. An excerpt:

We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photographs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they’d mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon… .

The scene, Sergeant [Camilo] Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man’s brothers and cousins.

A reader of Homer’s Iliad will find nothing surprising in such accounts. Achilles’ character is undone in the course of the Iliad; the warrior who once displayed the greatest concern for his comrades and the greatest compassion toward the enemy descends into self-absorbed brutality. Here is Achilles speaking to the Trojan warrior Hector, before killing him and dragging his body behind a chariot:

               "I wish my stomach would let me
Cut off your flesh in strips and eat it raw
For what you’ve done to me. There is no one
And no way to keep the dogs off your head.“

(Iliad 22, translated by Stanley Lombardo)

Standing on Troy’s wall, Hector’s father and mother witness Achilles’ treatment of their son’s body, groaning and screaming as they watch.

And here we are, twenty-seven centuries later, in the same story.

The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness (The Nation, via Boing Boing)
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Homer then and now