And yet there was an irony. A vision as imperious as that formulated by Darius naturally needed to be broadcast to the entire globe—and what better way to do that than by leading the empire to war? Thus, in the judgment of Xerxes, Greece had to be invaded. To shrink from risk, to confess that Persian power might be susceptible to overstretch, to abandon to the Lie the terrorist states of Athens and Sparta and the continent beyond them would constitute an abject betrayal of Darius and, even more unforgivably, of Ahura Mazda. Xerxes, as he prepared to conquer the West, aimed to triumph not merely as the King of Persia, but as the agent of Arta, of truth and order. So it was, in defiance, it seems, of his military advisers, who had urged him to lead a strike force composed only of elite units, that he insisted upon summoning the peoples of even the obscurest frontiers to pay him the tribute of their sons: a grand and extravagant coalition of the unwilling. Strategic folly it might have been, but war, for the King of Kings, had long ceased to be simply a matter of strategy. Rather, it served him as a vehicle of propaganda, as a means of flaunting his global mastery.
The result, of course, was catastrophe. Bogged down in a remote and inhospitable backwater, the King of Kings was forced, humiliatingly, to cut his losses and run. To the victorious Greeks, Xerxes’ name would forever after serve as a byword for folly and arrogance. The legend of Thermopylae and the beauty of the Parthenon stood—and would continue to stand—as glorious memorials to the victorious character of what has been termed by some “the Western way of war.” In matters of combat and strategy, as in so much else, we in the West certainly remain proud to consider ourselves the heirs of the Greeks. Yet “the Persian way of war,” despite its rebuffs at Marathon and Salamis, was destined to cast a no less momentous shadow over the succeeding millennia. Jihads and crusades, wars fought in defense of democracy, UN resolutions, even human rights; all, in the end, and however indirectly, owe something to it. Perhaps the future of human conflict, after all, is no less Persian than it is Greek.
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