“Washingtoons”: The Lesson of Phidippides


21 March 2010

Lieutenant Colonel Allen B West (US Army, Retired)

“The Lesson of Phidippides”

Greetings Wheels on the Road (WOTR) readers, fellow South Floridians, and all Americans, time for another monthly political assessment. It is 11pm Sunday night, the first weekend of March Madness and my two teams, University of Tennessee and Kansas State University, survived and shall move onto the coveted “Sweet 16”. It is also the evening when our US House of Representatives stand ready to make a decision with immense ramifications for our Republic, the healthcare reform vote….another form of March Madness.

For whatever reason, I began the think about endurance. I pondered enduring the grueling 40 minutes of an NCAA tournament basketball game and how fantastic it must be for the University of Northern Iowa in beating #1 Kansas. I also considered how our America will endure what will certainly be a fateful decision soon to be made in the late hours of night.

As a former Army Commander, we always told our Soldiers that nothing good ever happens after 2300 hours (11pm for you civilians).

The theme of endurance led me to recall one of my favorite maxims, “the race is not given to the swiftest, but to he that endures to the end”. Therefore I remembered the Man for whom the Olympic distance race was named, the Greek Soldier Phidippides.

If I may set the stage, in 490 BC the great Persian Empire sought to expand their territory and move into Europe, under King Darius I. They landed a huge army in Greece, city-states who created the first ideals of democracy, just outside of Athens on the open plains of Marathon.

Athens was incredibly outnumbered and sought the assistance of the warrior city-state, Sparta. Sparta was some 140 miles away and the Athenian Generals chose a professional runner, Phidippides for the task. History records that he covered the 140 mile distance in 36 hours only to be told that the Spartans would not immediately support Athens due to a religious observance. Phidippides then ran back to deliver the horrifying news and afterwards, joined the Athenian Army to prepare for battle.

Outnumbered some 4 to 1, the Athenians launched a brilliant surprise attack and slew some 7000 Persians to minimal losses for their force. The Persians withdrew to the sea and embarked south to conduct a direct attack on Athens. The Generals again called upon Phidippides to run the 26 mile distance from Marathon to Athens informing them of the victory and the impending threat.

Phidippides rose to the challenge, after the trek to Sparta and back, and having fought in full hoplite heavy armor. Going past the normal limits of human endurance, he reached Athens, delivered the message, and died shortly thereafter from fatigue.

In America we are now in an ideological race for the soul of our Republic. We oft time believe we are heavily outnumbered and it seems as though there is no support.

The healthcare legislation which will certainly pass violates the foundational principles of our Constitutional Republic in every way. The voices of the American people are being cast aside for special interests such as unions and other deals for respective members of the House and Senate.

We know that our honored Senior citizens will be severely affected by the cuts to Medicare, regardless of what the liberal progressive spin may be. And in my State of Florida where there is a large retirement community, what shall happen when we see a growing loss of medical professionals?

We will see an incredible increase in taxes immediately while none of the “so called needed reform programs” begin until the years of 2013 and beyond. We will see a huge increase in the federal bureaucracy, especially the IRS which will now be empowered to penalize Americans not succumbing to unconstitutional mandates.

And how can anyone explain, or comprehend, an American government ordering its citizens to purchase health insurance? And this is supposed to punish those evil insurance companies?

And even in this legislation there was a proposal to make the federal government the sole source for college education loans, totally unrelated.

At a time when our economy is suffering and Americans are out of work, our Representatives will burden its producing citizens with more heinous taxation. Yes, we need healthcare reform but it must be done within the American principles which respect and cherish liberty and free market solutions.

Just as the Persians sought to conquer Greece and enslave their human will which was rooted in liberty and freedom, so we have entered into this ideological battle, race, in America. And in this race we, American citizens, must have the endurance of Phidippides to answer the call and stand.

Regardless of what seems to be an adversary that is all powerful and outnumbering us, we have to be bold. However we must be competent in taking actions which allow us to regain and retain the initiative. It is a long march to the 2d of November but we must not grow weary as future generations of Americans are depending on us…just the same as in Greece.

The ideological race in which we are embroiled, if lost, will relegate America to nothing more than an advanced debtor Nation. We will become a Nation whose foreign policy will be dictated because we will have lost any moral high ground. We will find ourselves more vulnerable to external and internal security threats because the liberal progressives seek a domestic agenda which makes us weaker.

I am reminded of a great quote, “We are either a unified people, or we are not. If the former, let us in all matters of general concern act as a Nation which has national objects to promote, and a National character to support. If we are not let us no longer act the farce by pretending to it”- George Washington, November 30, 1785.

My challenge to each of you is simple, run the race of endurance for America and its principles, not faltering. Let us lay aside every weight and burden which so easily ensnare each of us and run with endurance the ideological race that is set before us. We can remember the lesson of Phidippides but not finish in exhaustion but as those who run the modern day Marathon and win, receiving the wreath of Victory upon our heads.

In the end Greece defeated the Persian invasion not once but twice enabling the democratic ideals and principles they had borne to spread into Europe…and eventually to a fledgling Country called America.

In closing, remember the words of Thomas Paine in December 1776 after a series of early defeats for the Continental Army, “These are the times which try men’s souls. The summer Soldier and the sunshine Patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his Country; but he that stands now deserves the love and thanks of men and women”.

Join me and run this race, stand on the battlefield for America ensuring its future and legacy.

Steadfast and Loyal!

LTC A B West (USA, Ret)


To read more about Lt Col Allen West go here

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