War and Democracy: A Comparative Study of the Korean War and the Peloponnesian War
Walling, Karl, Naval War College Review
McCann, David R., and Barry S. Strauss, eds. War and Democracy. A Comparative Study of the Korean War and the Peloponnesian War. London: M. E. Share, 2001. 385pp. $77.95
"At first glance," the editors of this volume observe, "it seems odd to compare the Peloponnesian War and the Korean War." One conflict was ancient, the other modern; one was long, the other short; one featured multiple battles at sea, the other was essentially a ground war, albeit with imaginative and potentially decisive amphibious dimensions.
So why compare these two wars? The reason is that they were (and were perceived to be) largely struggles between different kinds of societies-democratic Athens versus authoritarian Sparta in Greece; and the liberal-democratic United States versus international communism in Korea, led by the Soviet Union with assistance from China. These were tests of democracy during great struggles for hegemony, with Athens ultimately failing that test after twenty-seven years of war, and the United States surviving the challenge after forty-odd years of the Cold War. Why did one democracy succumb and the other prevail?
Foundations of an answer lie in this book's five sections, which respectively address the character of democracy at war, the nature of these different wars, the dilemmas of small states during struggles between major powers, the dynamics of populism and civil-military relations in these conflicts, and the culture of democracy at war.
For readers of this journal, the essay by the noted Thucydides scholar Victor Davis Hanson is perhaps most important. The institutions of American representative democracy and Athenian direct democracy are radically different, but their shared political culture, devoted to equality and liberty, has encouraged a degree of dynamic innovation no authoritarian government has been able to match. Nonetheless, it can be dangerously misleading to impose a Cold War framework on the early struggle between Athens, a democracy at home but a tyrant over its allies, and Sparta, tyrannical at home but relatively mild in its treatment of allies. As one contributor, Robert Kagan, suggests, the American-led anticommunist alliance in Europe and Asia was not a Delian League, exacting tribute at sword point and crushing all who resisted it. …