Homer’s Iliad, despite having been published over 2,700 years ago, continues to teach us about the nature of war today. Especially, the Trojan War depicted in both The Iliad and The Odyssey share an uncanny resemblance to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Both wars could have been resolved earlier but extended for a long period of time, sacrificing soldiers who didn’t know what they were fighting for because of people with power demanding more war.
The Afghanistan War, the official name Operation Enduring Freedom ( OEF ) is an international conflict in Afghanistan that was triggered due to the 9/11 attacks in New York City.
This attack was perpetrated by Bin Laden and the ringleader of the attack, Mohamed Atta. Both members of the Al Qaeda network. After the network rejected the United State’s demands to close terrorist training camps, relinquish the leaders of the al-Qaeda network, and return all foreign nationals unjustly detained in Afghanistan, President W. Bush announced the opening of the attacks on October 7.
2001. It was intended to arrest or kill Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda militants, as well as reform the institutions of the Afghan state into a U.S friendly government. However, initially, there was a higher probability of peace since according to the BBC, every year not only does the conflict intensify, it becomes more complicated. They have stated that “The attacks are becoming bigger, more frequent, more widespread and much deadlier” ( BBC.com ). The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan ( UNAMA ) report shows that for the past three years, the Afghan civilian deaths is increasing and is expected to be even higher in 2019.
Similar to the Afghanistan War, the Trojan War commenced due to the response of the Greeks to a Trojan’s act of abduction of Helen, the Spartan Queen, and the wife of Menelaus by the Trojan Prince, Paris, on Greek soil. Although it is hard to imagine, the World Trade Center symbolizes Helen — both competed for, a significant figure in the city, and most importantly, caused a long-drawn-out war. Because of the abduction, Menelaus is in rage and leads thousands of ships to Troy in order to attack the young prince. Similarly, this conflict could have been solved earlier if Paris had returned Helen to her rightful husband. Instead, he decides to keep his wife with the help of Aphrodite and fight Menelaus in single combat. Since he is not the “fighting” type, his brother leads the war in order to protect the honor of Ilium.
The next question is if it was easier for both wars to be solved earlier, why weren’t they? The answer: both the Trojan War and the Afghan War extended due to people in the position of power demanding more conflict due to egocentric reasons. In The New York Times article, “The Real Lesson of Sept. 11th” the former United States veteran, Joe Quinn states that by continuing the war, we are doing exactly what Bin Laden or Mohamed Atta wanted and he ends his article simply yet powerfully by stating, “End the war”( Quinn ). In addition, Michael H. Fuchs, a senior member of the Center for American Progress, and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs stated in The Guardian article that as the 17-year war in Afghanistan continues, it is using up America’s resources and strategic focus while the list of more serious national threats grows.
He also describes how no matter the deployment of many allied forces to Afghanistan, there is no victory to be had. Like Quinn, he also ends the article saying that inertia and the fear of the unknown are not good enough reasons to continue the war and therefore the war should be stopped. Quinn and Fuchs are not the only people that show support for ending the Afghan War. According to the survey published by Smithsonian Magazine, the majority of the current and former service members (84%) said they agreed that the current occupation in Afghanistan has been going on too long. Although, in “The Real Lesson of Sept. 11th”, Quinn also states that while he was stationed in Afghanistan, he learned that “most generals would always ask for more money, more troops, more time — and more war. It’s like asking Tom Brady what he wants to do on Sunday”.
According to Bloomberg.com, after the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump publicly acknowledged that he would complete the withdrawal his predecessor had started. However, the gradual persuasion by his advisers — most notably National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis on escalating the U.S presence to maintain the pressure on the increasing terrorist groups, affected him and on August 2017 he declared the “fight to win” strategy. He stated “Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge ” ( Trump ). According to The Guardian, he has deployed an additional 3,000 troops, increased the scope and autonomy of counter-terrorism operations, and asked Nato allies to cooperate even further. In addition, according to The Washington Post, General John W. Nicholson has testified that he would like an increase of 5,000 soldiers to break the “stalemate” in Afghanistan. Already, Afghanistan War costs approximately $1.07 trillion and The Guardian also states that we have come to a point where the United States is in a “triple-blind”: “it cannot win the war, it cannot halt the war, and it cannot leave” ( TheGuardian.com ).
In the case of The Iliad, the ones with power are the gods, especially Hera, sister-wife of Zeus and Athena, the goddess of wisdom. In the epic poem, they show avid support of the Greeks in the Trojan War because Paris chose Aphrodite as the fairest instead of Hera or Athena, several years after Peleus and Thetis’ wedding. In Book 3 extract H, when Zeus suggests ending the war because it has extended to long and brought too many costs, Athena and Helena rebelled. In Homer’s words,
“These two together sat making mischief for the men of Troy, and though she held her tongue, a
sullen anger filled Athena against her father. Hera could not contain her own vexation, saying:
‘Your majesty, what is the drift of this? How could you bring to nothing all my toil, the sweat I
sweated, and my winded horses, when I called out that army to bear hard on Priam and his sons?
Act, if you must, but not all here approve! ( The Iliad, 3.26-37 )”
This shows how Hera doesn’t want to end the war because she has spent so much in order for her favorite “side/team”, The Greeks to win when she doesn’t acknowledge or be affected to the drawback of the war due to her being an immortal goddess. Like Trump, Zeus was also persuaded by the people below him and gave in the wishes of Athena and Hera.
The Trojan War lasted for 10 years of bloodshed, sacrificing thousands of men. Likewise, the Afghanistan War is still ongoing after 17 years, recording as the second-longest war in U.S history ( 17 years and 2 months ), but there is a high probability of it becoming the longest war since there is now only a 2-month difference from the longest, The Vietnam War. It has gone so long that even people born after the 9/11 attack can now enlist. Because of this, soldiers sacrificed themselves without knowing what they were fighting for. According to the report recently published by Brown University\’s Costs of the War Project, there have been 147,124 deaths from October of 2001 to October of 2018, and out of this 38,480 are civilian deaths. However, numerous former veterans who have participated in the Afghanistan War are opening up but how they didn’t know what they were fighting for. For example, Joe Quinn states in the article that he learned that people who made the ultimate sacrifices are very best America and that he tried to live a life “worthy of their sacrifice”( Quinn ). Although, he states how it is easier to “It’s easier to bask in the warm embrace of “Thank you for your service” without questioning what that service was for”. This shows that soldiers who have participated in the war believed that their mission is to sacrifice themselves and die on the battlefield without knowing what was it for. Ben Sledge, a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, Sledge served 11 years in Afghanistan and Iraq stated that when soldiers are on the battlefield, they aren’t necessarily fighting for their country but survival: either kill or be killed. In addition, when Danny Sjursen, US Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point, served in Afghanistan and lost his great friend Anderson, he says that he couldn’t tell his mother what he was actually dying for. This is not just the case for soldiers, even President Obama stated that “we ended up staying in Afghanistan for another five years, another eight years, another ten years. And we would do it not with clear intentions but rather just out of an inertia” in 2010.
Correspondingly, The Iliad is set in the 9th and the final year of the Trojan War. The Greek warriors are all weary, homesick and divided. In Book 3 Extract E, one of Priam’s counselors trying to rationalize the war by saying
‘We cannot rage at her, it is no wonder that Trojans and Achaeans under arms should for so long
have borne the pains of war for one like this” ( The Iliad 3.14-17 )
Furthermore, at the beginning of the novel, Homer states that Achilles’ anger
“caused the Achaeans loss on bitter loss and crowded brave souls into the undergloom, leaving so
many dead men” ( The Iliad 1.3-5 )
Both of these quotations show that the nine long years of slaughter have affected many Trojans and Achaeans. Similar to the soldiers not knowing what they were or are fighting for in the Afghanistan War, here we see the transition of how at the beginning of the war, the motive is clear. Achaeans trying to get their beautiful Spartan Queen, Helen back from the Trojan Prince. But gradually, people seem to forget the original intention and as I mentioned previously, gods and goddesses wanting more and more war for their entertainment, reinforced the warriors to have no understanding of what they were actually fighting for.
Homer to this day shapes how we think about wars through his literary masterpieces. Both the mythical war in Troy and the ongoing war in Afghanistan’s sharing characteristics teach us how initially it was easier for both wars to be resolved, but as the conflict extended for many years due to people in power’s selfishness, soldiers are sacrificing themselves without knowing what they were fighting for. Additionally, Homer also tells us how there are actually no winning or losing in wars because, in the end, neither side benefits from it.