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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

15 Not Quite Spartan Britons

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"They did exactly as they should have done from start to finish," said Jock Stirrup, Britain's chief of defense staff. He was referring to the release of 15 British sailors who had been taken hostage by Iranian forces. When I heard this, I gave up even pretending I understood the story.

The British seamen were shown on Iranian television for two weeks stating that they had violated the country's international waters.

The sailors surrendered themselves into captivity without firing a single shot. It isn't important whether they actually violated Iran's international waters. What matters is that they knew perfectly well which country they were sailing near. Ultimately it was the president of this surprisingly hospitable Islamic republic who ultimately authorized their release.

I think that this would provide great material for a historical film, which would go something like this:

Gaius Mucius, a brave youth, sneaks into the Etruscan camp and, instead of trying to slay King Porsenna, he kisses his feet. Upon his return to Rome, a people's assembly decrees that our hero conducted himself properly.

Or how about this one:

Three hundred Spartans see that Xerxes' army is nearing Thermopylae. King Leonidas kneels before Xerxes, who then forgives everyone. Spartan mothers are moved to tears at the brave conduct of their sons.

I realize that the British sailors were pressured. They were told they could confess and go free or face seven years in prison. But these are soldiers. They sign up knowing that part of their job might include dying for their country. Bringing shame on their country when threatened is not in the job description.

In his Tim?us dialogue, Plato told of how the barbarians seized Atlantis, the riches of which led to its own destruction. It sounds stranger in a modern context, as if Plato was claiming a state would fall because its gross domestic product was too large.

But thousands of years of history have shown Plato was right on the money: The richest and most civilized empires have fallen at the hands of barbarian aggressors because their populations became soft and cowardly. Barbarians saw it as unfair that such cowardly people slept on soft beds and ate with fine plates and utensils, while the brave and proud had no place to lay their heads at night.

Any prosperous country -- whether a Sumerian city, Roman empire or Asian Khanate -- ultimately became something like a low pressure zone by virtue of the ease enjoyed by its citizens. This created a vacuum into which stepped the "higher-pressure" and physically stronger neighbors who invaded. This historical cycle was only broken when personal bravery was surpassed in strategic importance by the advantage of more technologically advanced weaponry.

It would be an exaggeration to say that Iran or any other group of fanatics or terrorists are capable of overpowering the West. The more imminent threat facing the West is the undermining of their democratic institutions in the name of the fight against terrorism.

But it is truly remarkable that some Western leaders -- U.S. President George W. Bush foremost among them -- seriously believe that their soldiers, accustomed as they are to creature comforts and computers, who surrender to the enemy without a fight, can act as the torchbearers of freedom in the Middle East. You can't expect them to serve as role models for people who have a different concept of civilization than Hollywood, hamburgers and democracy.

Try to look at it through the eyes of an average Iranian. On his television screen he sees an Englishwoman wearing a hijab and thanking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What will he feel for such a soldier other than sneering contempt? What will he think about democracy, other than it hasn't the strength to stand the test?

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.