[FOUNTAIN]How much will victory cost?Alexander the Great was the idol of the emperors who succeeded him. Right after his death in the 3rd century B.C., ancient kings in the Mediterranean region worshiped the great conqueror as their role model and wished to be a second Alexander the Great. Pyrrhus of Epirus ruled Northern Greece, and he was a great strategist best resembling the revered emperor.
Pyrrhus made his place in history with his invasion of Rome. He entered the war when he brought his army to assist Tarentum, a Greek kingdom in southern Italy, in the fight against the Rome. Pyrrhus crossed the Mediterranean with 20,000 soldiers and 20 elephants to face the Roman troops. Rome was a newly emerging nation that had just launched a campaign to unify the Italian peninsula.
Pyrrhus had the strategy and experience to win two battles against the Romans. The first battle took place in a plain, where Pyrrhus used elephants as tanks to attack. Learning from the devastating defeat, Romans engaged the second battle in a narrow valley. More than 10,000 men died on both sides, and Pyrrhus lost several commanders.
When Roman soldiers retreated, Pyrrhus’ men cheered, but he did not seem satisfied by the outcome. After the costly victory, he said, “One more such victory and I am lost.” In fact, Pyrrhus was defeated by the Roman army in the third battle, and upon returning to Epirus with his exhausted soldiers, he died in a battle against Sparta. “Pyrrhic victory” became a synonym for a nominal victory so costly as to be ruinous.
The United States lost 138 lives during the war against Iraq, and Washington boasted about minimizing casualties. But since U.S. President George W. Bush declared victory on May 1, the death toll has continued to rise, with deaths being reported frequently. By Aug. 26, the number of deaths after May 1 exceeded the number of deaths during the war. As Iraqi insurgents vowed to fight coalition forces, 79 were killed in the month of November. Attacks have spread to civilians of allied countries, and the deadliest month yet ended with two Korean power company contractors killed.
Mr. Bush’s campaign might end up as a Pyrrhic victory. Nanami Shiono, a Japanese writer living in Florence, Italy, wrote in her “Story of the Romans” that Pyrrhus was a man who had everything but patience ― that is, careful calculation and prudent decisions.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.