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A Little Context

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Dear sir:

The attempt by your reviewer of the Trojan Women to inject her political biases into Seneca's play is as unfounded as it is malicious ("War Wounds" by Kerry Reid, 4/25/03). She states, "As the play progresses, the group best representing current American policies are the victorious and uncompromising Greeks, who say over and over that anything less than total subjugation of Troy will mean fighting another war in ten years' time."

But Seneca's unfriendly portrayal of the Greeks is premised on the ignoble purposes and conduct of the victors, whose introduction to the audience comes with a description of an argument among them as to how to divide the spoils. The cause of the war was almost personal--the abduction of Helen by Paris--and the victors have purposely reduced the vanquished Troy to a heap of dust.

The cause of the American incursion into Iraq is related, against a background of the September 11, 2001, attacks, to the nature of the Saddam Hussein regime and present or potential perils to the United States. Whether one agrees that the facts justified the means or not, it must be conceded that the U.S. did not act with a view toward decimating Iraq or seizing its assets as booty.

Quite the contrary. The U.S. military action was conducted to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, notwithstanding the fact that the resistance included combatants in civilian clothing, often operating from what are normally considered civilian sanctuaries and that danger and expense to the U.S. were increased by this precaution. The action was conducted to cause the least amount of physical destruction as well, so that Baghdad and other Iraqi cities are largely intact. Moreover, the U.S. has announced, and no good reason exists to doubt the announcement, that Iraq's most prominent asset--its oil--is to be used for the benefit of the Iraqis; it will not be confiscated by the victors. Further, the U.S. is attempting not to destroy the Iraqi nation, but rather to rebuild the country as a democratic society that, rather than constituting a menace both to its citizens and to its neighbors, will unify the disparate elements of the country. It may be legitimate to question the practicability of the enterprise, but not its motive. The expense of ousting the tyranny as well as that of rebuilding the country is certainly to be borne in large part by the victors, exactly the opposite of the Greeks' attitude (according to the playwright) toward the hapless vanquished Trojans.

To read Seneca's damning of the Trojan war as a general pacifist statement is not justified by anything in the text itself. Pacifists did oppose the war against Hitler's Germany--militantly--many oblivious of the probability that, in the absence of resistance to the Nazis, they would simply have been annihilated. Certainly the most just of wars causes misery, but the judgment must be made, primarily by those responsible for safeguarding the republic, as to whether the grief caused by a given conflict ultimately outweighs worse effects likely to follow from failing to fight. We could have avoided World War II simply by giving in to Hitler; perhaps your reviewer would have recommended such a course. It is not likely rational citizens would have agreed.

Jack Joseph

W. Monroe

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