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Andreas Kluth

To Understand the World Today, Read Thucydides

The “Athenians” of China, Russia and Turkey are showing the world that might makes right. Only the Americans can challenge that, if they dump Trump.

Melos then, Idlib today.

Melos then, Idlib today.

Photographer: Aaref Watad/AFP via Getty Images

In 416 BCE a mighty army from Athens, the superpower of the day, showed up on the small and neutral island of Melos in the Aegean Sea. The Athenians told the Melians to submit and pay tribute or be obliterated. Stunned, the Melians appealed to morality, justice, law, even the gods. There’s been a misunderstanding, the Athenians replied: You simply have a choice between doing as you’re told and being destroyed, so please stop wasting our time. This isn’t fair, the Melians insisted.

So the Athenians “put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves, and subsequently sent out five hundred colonists and inhabited the place themselves.”