The '300' Spartans - A Lesson From History
March 20, 2007
by Stella L. Jatras

The motion picture '300,' based on the comic book story by writer-artist Frank Miller and colorist Lynn Varley, inspired by the 1962 Hollywood film The 300 Spartans, retells the epic Battle of Thermopylae. The exciting and moving film focuses on King Leonidas of Sparta who, with 300 of his personal guards and joined by a few thousand allies from other Greek city states, sees the threat to all of Greece from the hordes of the Persian God-King Xerxes and goes forward to meet the challenge, despite resistance and uncertain support at home. Miller and Varley's art is terrific, as always; the powerful combat scenes especially highlight the Spartans' awe-inspiring toughness and valor.

But '300' is more than the retelling of an ancient battle. It is a reminder that both action and inaction have consequences. What if? Without the Spartan stand at Thermopylae that inspired Greek unity and gave time to build the fleet that destroyed Xerxes' navy at Salamis, would all of Greece have become just a part of a vast Persian Empire instead of the birthplace of Western Civilization? What if the heroes of the Alamo had chosen to slip off and save their skins instead of fighting to the death to give time for Sam Houston to raise the army that defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto? Imagine how that would have changed American history.

Even today the shadow of Thermopylae points to the Middle East that George Bush and our fighting soldiers are facing. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said as much through his art advisor, Javad Shamqadri, who recently lashed out at the Hollywood movie '300' for insulting Persian civilization and accused the new movie of being part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture. Shamqadri was quoted as saying, "Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Hollywood and cultural authorities in the U.S. initiated studies to figure out how to attack Iranian culture," adding, "certainly, the recent movie is a product of such studies." (Source: Xinhua). Newsweek calls '300,' a film Marines love. Iran calls it an act of war.

The Iran of today was yesterday's Persia.

It was at Thermopylae, where a narrow pass controlled the only road between Thessaly and Central Greece, that King Leonidas chose his battle position for his Spartan warriors knowing full well it was the only hope of saving Greece from King Xerxes of Persia with his million ferocious warriors. Xerxes demanded the surrender of all Greece and for Leonidas to prostate himself to Xerxes as a god.

This is how the Greeks reacted to the Persian demands:

"After the expedition to Greece had gotten under way, Xerxes sent messengers to all Greek cities offering blandishments if they would submit, and asking for 'earth and water' from their soil as a token of their submission. Many smaller states submitted. However, the Athenians threw their envoys into a pit and the Spartans threw theirs into a well, taunting them with the retort, 'Dig it out for yourselves' (referring to the 'earth and water' demand)." (Source: Wikipedia).

When Xerxes demanded that the Greeks surrender their weapons, the Greeks replied, Μολών Λαβέ,, (pronounced Mollon Laveh), "Come and get them!" The same reply was shouted by Colonel William Barrett Travis when Santa Anna demanded that the Alamo defenders surrender their cannon. It is that same defiance from free men that was echoed by Charlton Heston, actor, conservative, and four-term president of the National Rifle Association, who proudly proclaimed,"I'll give up my gun - when they pry it from my cold, dead, hands."

Xerxes also warned that if the Spartans did not surrender, "they, [the Persians] would darken the skies with arrows," to which a Spartan soldier, Dienekes, replied, "Then we shall fight in the shade!" Leonidas and his Spartans fought for the glory, not just for Sparta, but for all of Greece!

"Freedom is NOT Free!" Sound familiar? But certainly not what you'd expect in a Hollywood film. Other words heard throughout the movie were "glory," "honor," and, "VICTORY," "VICTORY," "VICTORY" - " VICTORY!" (Nike), a word Americans have yet to hear from the anti-war, defeatist politicians in the U.S. Senate and mainstream media. It was the same defeatist mentality that lost the war in Vietnam, not on the battlefield, but in the Congress of the United States. The question is, will the American people allow them to do it again? It brings to mind the admonition of George Santayana, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Perhaps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is concerned that history is being repeated. Just as President George Bush has been accused of "starting a war we didn't want," the Spartan Council also accused Leonidas of "starting a war" the Greeks didn't want, and debating if they should send reinforcements to help the Spartans. Both a festival honoring the god Apollo and the Olympic Games had started and according to Hellenic laws, all wars were forbidden during that time, which accounted for the small contingent of Spartans that left to fight the Persians.

One character of the Spartan Council threatened the wife of Leonidas that without his support, Leonidas would never get the reinforcements he needed. It was like listening to the words of one Senator in particular who is threatening President Bush with legislation that would leave our troops without the reinforcements needed to win this war.

Unfortunately for Leonidas, a Greek traitor named Ephialtes led the Persians around the pass behind the Greek army. What names should we give our traitors? Some are the same familiar names that betrayed us in Vietnam?

"When the body of Leonidas was recovered by the Persians, Xerxes, in a rage at the loss of so many of his soldiers, ordered that the head be cut off and the body crucified. This was very uncommon for the Persians; they had the habit of treating enemies who fought bravely against them with great honor. "Xerxes was curious as to why there was such a small Greek force guarding Thermopylae and interrogated some Arcadian prisoners. The answer was that all the other men were participating in the Olympic Games, forbidding them to participate in war. When Xerxes asked what the prize for the winner was, "An olive-wreath" came the answer. Upon hearing this, Tritantaechmes, a Persian general, spontaneously responded by saying to Mardonius: "Good heavens! Mardonius, what kind of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for money, but for honor. (Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia) It was said that the body of Leonidas was retrieved about 40 years later.

A monument to King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans stands at Thermopylae that reads: "Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie."

But, "what if" the Greeks had been defeated by the Persians? Western Civilization, as we know it today, would not exist. If America is defeated by Islamo-Fascism what kind of world will we be leaving to our children and grandchildren?

Think about it.