Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Themistocles vs Tony Blair

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Themistocles vs Tony Blair

Article excerpt

Tony Blair has excused himself for the Iraq war by saying that he did what he believed was right. But no one was suggesting that he had done what he believed was wrong. The charge was a matter of integrity: that he deceived Parliament and turned a blind eye to the evidence on weapons of mass destruction.

The Athenians knew a sharpster when they saw one. The historian Diodorus described how in 477 BC Themistocles, a man admired by the Athenians but known to be something of a con man, conceived of a plan to turn Piraeus, at that time a rocky outcrop, into a full-blown commercial and military harbour. Aware, however, that the Spartans would be bound to try to stop it if it were discussed openly, he asked the Athenian assembly to appoint two people to vet privately 'an important project of mine'.

The Athenians appointed to the job two of the straightest men they knew, but who were also political rivals of Themistocles. When they heard of the plan, they announced to the assembly that it was both feasible and greatly to the city's advantage. …

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