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We are mad, not only individually, but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders; but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of genocide? There are no limits to our greed, and neither to our cruelty. And as long as such crimes are committed by stealth and by individuals, they are less harmful and less portentous; but cruelties are practiced in accordance with acts of the senate or of a popular assembly, and the public is invited to do that which formerly was forbidden to the individual. So we come to this clearest manifestation of insanity: that deeds which rightfully would be punished with a sentence of death when committed by an ordinary man, are suddenly praised and celebrated when committed by a general wearing a uniform. By his nature man is a gentle creature, yet does he not revel in the blood of others without shame? … Against this overmastering and widespread madness, philosophy comes as a matter of great effort, only slowly assuming the strength gathered by the forces of barbarity.
–Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, epis xcv, sec 30-33 (CE 64) (S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”