A Lesson from Herodotus About the Perils of Invading Iran

There’s a lot of talk these days about why we should or shouldn’t invade Iran, but I would submit this cautionary note, from all places my devotional book Month of Sundays:

King Cyrus was on top of the world. From mountainous Persia he ruled a vast empire; he was secure enough to allow the Jews to return to their homeland. In doing so he was God’s instrument, doing his will.

But Cyrus had other choices to make, too. A man named Artembares had an idea: that the Persians abandon their mountainous homeland and settle in a richer part of their new empire, probably what is now Iraq. Cyrus told them that Artembares and his friends could do what they wanted, but that he wasn’t going anywhere: “’Soft countries,’ he said, ‘breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.’ The Persians had to admit that this was true and that Cyrus was wiser than they; so they left him, and chose rather to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be subject to others.” (Herodotus, The Histories)

The Jews returned to their land and began to rebuild their temple. Cyrus’ descendants would rule from their rugged land for another two hundred years. And Cyrus’ decision still works: one reason why the U.S. attacked Iraq and not Iran (Persia) was because of the rugged terrain from whence Cyrus came.

We always want the “easy way” out, and our lives to always be smooth sailing. But rugged terrain—physically and in life—can build character and endurance in a way that nothing else can. Jesus Christ won us freedom on an old rugged cross: don’t throw it away for easy street!

Iran’s mountainous terrain has always been a barrier to it being conquered.  Not an insurmountable one, to be sure, as Alexander the Great, the Islamic conquerors (which engender a great deal of resentment amongst many Iranians) or Tamerlane showed.  But it’s a major problem, especially with the broad-front nature of modern warfare.

It’s also helped the country develop a singular civilization, one that has had a greater impact (especially via its diaspora) than most Americans are aware of.  Iran, like Russia and China, has an educational system which emphasizes the sciences, and even with the brain drain they’ve experienced, they’re still a technological powerhouse.  Invading Iran isn’t something to be taken lightly; I hope American emotionalism doesn’t get the best of us.

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