The Trojan War raged for a full decade, and the Greeks, led by Mycenaean king Agamemnon, were horribly unsuccessful in their attempts to breach the walls of Troy. Like all wars, this one resulted in terrible bloodshed (as recorded in The Iliad) and the destruction of family and home life (as shown in The Odyssey). When battles ended, the Greeks returned to their tents and camps, largely exposed to the elements, while the Trojans returned home to their wives and warm beds. At last, the Greeks were nearing surrender, having abandoned all hopes of victory.
But Odysseus, the wisest of the Greeks, devised a plan that would prove fatal to the Trojans. The Greeks had lost so many men in the war that they were going to have to abandon some ships when they sailed home, so they tore down the extra ships and built a massive wooden horse with a band of Greek soldiers hidden inside. The remaining Greek ships sailed around the coast, hidden from Trojan view, to give the impression that they had simply given up and gone home.
Left behind was the horse and, as told in The Aeneid, Sinon, apparently the best liar among the Greeks. When the morning watchmen saw that the Greek ships were gone and that a horse was outside their gates, they understandably went to investigate. Sinon spun a masterful tale of deceit, claiming that the Greeks had given up and returned home after recognizing the error of their ways. By leaving behind the horse as an offering to the gods, they hoped to appease the divine wrath their bloodshed had incurred. But they made the horse too large to fit within the city walls because the city would be made impregnable if such an offering were brought inside.
The Trojans ignored those who urged caution, including the prophet Laocoon, who distrusted the Greeks, even those bearing gifts, and Cassandra, a true prophetess whose warnings were always dismissed. The Trojans were deceived by Sinon, and, thinking that the horse would make them unconquerable, they drug it within the walls of their city, even ignoring the clanking of metal they heard while pulling it along.
When the work was done and the horse rested within the city square, the Trojans threw a massive celebration. They were thrilled both with the departure of the Greeks and with their newfound amulet against further attack. In one account, it is even said that the children of Troy danced around the legs of the horse as it was brought into the city. Wine flowed, music was played, and the city was filled with the sounds of laughter, singing, and rejoicing. All the while, their destruction loomed, as the Greek soldiers simply waited for the city to sleep.
Late that night, as the city fell into a drunken slumber, only a few night watchmen remained on duty. The Greeks dropped quietly from the belly of the horse, killed the guards, signaled the remainder of their army, and opened wide the city gates. The horror unleashed upon Troy was unspeakable, as nearly every man, woman, and child was murdered, many of them still in a stupor from the night’s celebrations. Troy was no more; it was destroyed not by the Greeks, but by its own stupidity and blindness.
It has been often said that history repeats itself, that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, that times do not change, only the details.
Sinon promised safety, and we have believed him. The liar planted in our midst to deceive us was too skilled, and the prophets who sought to protect us were ignored. The warnings of the Founding Fathers have fallen on deaf ears — “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” — in favor of soothing promises from modern senators: “Give me your liberty, and I will keep you safe.”
In the name of “national security,” we have torn down our own walls and brought destruction on ourselves . The promise of protection, of making our land impregnable against terrorists, led many to lay down their civil liberties, the very rights that kept us safe. As legislators enacted the PATRIOT Act, we were told that it only targeted the “enemy out there,” that only those outside our gates had to fear. We had to make sure they sailed away, to come again no more. So we ignored the troublesome omens and uncomfortable predictions and pulled the horse closer in.
Combat drones assassinated Americans, by order of the president — without charges, trials, or convictions. But that could be explained, right? Surely they were guilty. Was that metal clanging around? Sounds almost like armor or a sword. Just keep pulling; we’re almost inside, where we’ll be safe.
Our leaders promise even more safety, asking only a bit more liberty in exchange. Grant them the power to imprison us without charge, lawyer, or trial? President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law on New Year’s Eve while Americans celebrated, unaware that while they danced and sang so much was being lost. Many Americans will wake today, perhaps still in a stupor, to find that their country has been taken. After the celebrations, Troy was no more; what once was America — defined by rights and liberty — is no more.
In the name of protection, Troy destroyed itself and America is doing the same. Under the guise of national security, we have created a far more dangerous enemy within our gates. With the loss of civil liberty and the trampling of the Bill of Rights, Americans are in greater danger than ever before. We may now be arrested and detained indefinitely without any semblance of due process, by our own military, in our own land.
That is the one distinction between the fall of Troy and America’s rapid descent. Troy fell to an outside force that it brought inside the walls, while America’s biggest threat was within the gates all along. Often, the object that promises to save brings destruction. For the Trojans, it was a horse; for America, Congress and the president.