Teaching Thursday: Cheating and Byzantium
Just a short post today because I want to leave my loyal readers plenty of time to digest Mick Beltz interesting and important arguments about cheating over on the Teaching Thursday blog. That being said, I can’t resist commenting on a recent article in the Weekly Standard (forwarded to me by Kostis Kourelis). This short article summarizes the arguments of E. Luttwak in his new book, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, and casts them in the light of U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy. Luttwak himself summarized many of the arguments in an article in Foreign Policy entitled “Take me Back to Constantinople: How Byzantium, not Rome, can help preserve the Pax Americana“.
In the article, he suggests that the often-embattled position of the Byzantine Empire is a good parallel for the US in the 21st century. Like Byzantium, the US is surrounded by a variety of enemies using a wide range of tactics, with a wide range of political, military, and, ideological goals. Moreover, the economic foundation of the Byzantine state, like the US today, was often variable making long term strategic decisions difficult to implement (if not to contemplate). Luttwak’s observations regarding the Byzantium represent another example of recent intellectual efforts to see Byzantium as a useful lens through which to view a post-Modern 21st century. (My favorite being J. Kristeva’s Murder in Byzantium).
To get back to cheating, Luttwak argues that we can learn from the Byzantine’s is that “subversion is the cheapest past to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies.” Subversion is often seen as means to gain an “unfair” or at best, unseemly victory. It undermines the ethical nature of battle and threatens on fundamental grounds some of the most widely held arguments for just wars. The morally ambivalent (to our 21st century eyes) Byzantines (read: Oriental Byzantines) could get away which such practices, whereas the U.S. as practitioners of the “Western Way of War” must play by a more restrictive set of rules or run the risk of undermining the very values that justified military actions from the start. In other words, cheating in warfare is wrong.