Best Poems From
Punic Tragedy, Roman Genocide
It did not matter what the subject was.
Each time that the Roman statesman Cato the Elder
rose to speak, he ended it with these words:
'Also, I think Carthage must be destroyed'.
Carthage was a powerful city-state,
a prosperous North-African urban center, standing
on the Mediterranean coast, near the site of
modern day Tunis.
The people of Carthage were Phoenicians
by descent whom the Romans called Poeni.
As a colonial power they threatened the supremacy
of the Roman Empire. The conflicting imperial interests
between these two rival powers in the Mediterranean
region resulted in three Punic Wars that determined
the historical course of Western civilization.
The First Punic War,264-241 BCE, turned
on the competition for the control of
the strategically significant island of Sicily.
In the decisive sea battle fought at the Aegadian Isles
in 241, the Romans destroyed the Carthaginian fleet,
and their naval superiority thenceforth
The Second Punic War,218- 202 BCE, was provoked
by Roman attempts to stop Carthaginian expansion
in Iberia. In the course of the war, Hannibal,
the brilliant Carthaginian military commander,
brought Rome to the brink of a humiliating defeat.
He surprised the Romans by crossing the Alps
from the North and invading Italy with around
40,000 seasoned troops and a force of elephants.
He defeated Roman armies at the Trebbia River,
at Lake Trasimene and at Cannae. Hannibal occupied
much of Italy for 15 years, but the Romans
launched a counter invasion in North Africa
and at last defeated him in the Battle of Zama.
Cato the Elder visited Carthage in 153 and found
the city impressively large and its citizens wealthy.
Following Cato's return from his visit to the city,
says the Roman historian Appian, the Senate of Rome
had sought pretexts to attack Carthage.
At any event, Roman fears, hatred and mistrusts
of Carthage as a reborn mercantile power led to the
Third Punic War in the years of 149-146 BCE.
It ended in the total destruction of the city and
the loss of Carthage's independence.
In 149 BCE Rome declared war against Carthage.
A Roman army under Manius Manilius landed
on the African shore and demanded the surrender
of the city. Carthage handed over hostages and arms
But the Romans demanded unconditional surrender.
Although the war party overturned the faction
advocating submission only by one vote,
the Carthaginians decided to defend the city.
For two years, under the command of the Carthaginian
general Hasdrubal they resisted the Roman siege.
The city's half million inhabitants had transformed
the Punic capital into a fortress, where factories
sprung up producing swords, arrows, spears and
On their part, the Romans intensified their attacks
and revised their strategies. They appointed a new
military commander, Scipio Aemilianus, who assumed
now in his hand the reins of the siege. Distinguishing
himself already in the early operations of the war,
in 147 BCE, Rome elected him as consul. A strong
disciplinarian, Scipio besieged Carthage tightly and
constructed a mole to block the harbor.
In the spring of the following year, the Romans
succeeded to break through the city walls, but
the Carthaginians continued to fight heroically.
Every house, building and temple in the city had been
turned into a fortification. The Roman soldiers were
forced to capture Carthage in fierce battles of brutal
house by house and street by street combat.
In order to advance through the narrow streets
to the citadel, Scipio ordered residential buildings
to set on fire and thousands of children, women
and elderly perished in the flames. The Roman
soldiers raped the women in the city. And by the end
of the siege, they slaughtered about 450,000 people.
When finally Carthage surrendered only 50,000 of its
population remained alive and they were sold on the
slave markets. The Romans sacked the city for
several days and then razed it to the ground.
Roman losses were heavy, too.
Historians estimate that from the 84,000 strong
Roman army 17,000 was killed.
The destruction of Carthage mirrors
disturbing parallels with modern genocides.
Throughout history terrible atrocities and crimes
against humanity have been perpetrated
in recurring ideological patterns,
rooted in biased mindsets.
The Romans had their own propaganda campaigns
that vilified Hannibal and demonized Carthaginian
culture and religion.
The thinking of Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as
Cato the Elder, or of Scipio Aemilianus, for that matter,
is characterized by deep-seated racial and religious
prejudices, hatred for Carthage and the will for
territorial expansionism. Besides, Cato idealized
the Roman peasant as superior in character and race to
the merchant of Carthage.
Post-war Roman propaganda
depicted Punic society as cruel and uncivilized.
Historians, among them Plutarch, Orosius and Diodorus,
accused Carthaginians for practicing a religion that
involved child sacrifice. On the other hand, neither Livy,
nor Polybiuswho was a friend of Scipio and an
eyewitness to the siege of Carthageallege in their
writings that the people of that city- state sacrificed
their children to the Punic gods.
Genocidal propaganda dehumanizes targeted groups
of people. It incites for violence by vilifying and
demonizing the other. It sets in motion psychological
conditions eventuating in atrocities and mass murder.
The Most Powerful Words
We can love many things.
Sunshine and good weather,
a charming house and
perhaps, absorbing novels,
and delicious food.
You name it.
Our relationship with things
is usually simple.
After all, tulips or spaghetti
seldom make us nervous.
On the other hand,
can be complicated.
Verbalizing our love
Even for the closest person
to us can be jittery
Still, the earnest
simple three words:
"I love you",
are the most powerful words
In the whole world.
They carry deep meaning,
tenor of affection,
passion and ardour,
of the throbbing heart.
A Tanka on Life
While life is about
love, family, fun and joy,
learning and service;
we live it as if it were
about money, might and fame.
The ghosts of history haunt the Balkans.
Ancient passions, unbending hatreds
turmoil the region.
Painful tragedies of the past
are recycled by memories.
Permanent hostage of bound
and determined remembrance,
Race, religion and poverty clash
in violent convulsions.
Ethnic warfare and ruthless fright
sweep across nations,
fuelled by explosions of grief, revenge
They are immersed in horror,
terror, chaos and bloodshed,
the sufferings of children,
the sorrows of fathers,
and the agonies of widows.
In 1453 the Turks led by Mehmet II
and the Eastern Roman Empire
ceased to exist.
The Ottomans became the new masters
of the Balkan provinces,
ushering in long centuries
of rugged struggles for freedom
In 1697 Prince Eugene of Savoy
A historic city that he left burned down
and plague-infected. Although by 1717
the prince liberated Belgrade
and the Danube region from Ottoman rule,
he failed to retake the Bosnian capital.
In the 19th century Austria-Hungary
annexed Bosnia, but together with Albania,
it remains a Muslim stronghold
in the heart of Europe.
In one summer day in 1914
the driver of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
took a wrong turn to Franz Josef Street,
at the edge of the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo.
On an official visit, the heir presumptive
to the Austro-Hungarian throne was riding
in an open car along with his pregnant wife,
A young Serb, Gavrilo Princip, a member
of the secret Pan-Slavic Black Hand Society,
spotted them. He approached the car
and from a distance of five feet
he fired twice
his FN model pistol, shooting the Archduke
in the neck and Sophie in the abdomen.
Bleeding, but still conscious,
he pleaded her:
"Please, don't die. You must live
for the sake of our children".
But they both died
on the way to the hospital.
The assassination of the royal couple
was a main catalyst that precipitated
the outbreak of the First World War.
On July 28,1914, Austria-Hungary
declared war on Serbia.
Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of Serbs,
Croats and Slovenes,
came to existence in the Great War.
However, peace did not last long.
When Yugoslavia refused to join
Hitler's New Order in Europe,
the Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade
and Nazi Germany invaded the country.
The Fuehrer's armies occupied Sarajevo
on April 16,1941.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
as well as Croatia
became Nazi satellite states.
Fascist Bosnian Muslims,
Serb Chetniks clashed with each other
or fought against
Tito's anti-fascist partisans.
The fighting was bloody and brutal.
The occupying German forces
Committed dreadful atrocities.
The Croatian Ustasha
had been especially notorious
for wanton acts of cruelty,
torturing and murdering
thousands of Serbs and Jews,
men, women and children.
During World War II
over one million Yugoslavs died.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
was born out of the flames and ruins
of the Second World War.
Yet, after Tito's death
and the collapse of communism in the 1980s
the ethnic communities of the republic
The Serb Communist Party leader
Slobodan Milosevic became a nationalist
and changed the Serbian constitution.
He annulled the autonomy
of the Albanian province of Kosovo
and introduced repressive measures
against ethnic Albanians.
Slovenia and Croatia in 1991
voted to secede
from the Yugoslav federation.
A year later Bosnia, too,
In the Yugoslav Dissolution Wars,
Slovenia gained sovereignty,
following brief skirmishes
with the federal Yugoslav People's Army.
In other parts
of the disintegrating communist republic
the tragedy of war struck
with enormous devastation,
enfolding as a long lasting conflict,
a violent catastrophe
that engulfed a large part of the Balkans
In November 1991 Serb militias
supported by the Yugoslav Army
murdered hundreds of Croatians
in the Vukovar region.
They continued to bombard the town
for three months solid.
the Serbian Autonomous Oblast declared
its independence under the name
of the Republic of Serbian Krajina.
It controlled one third of Croatian territory
and pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing,
expelling the Croatian population
from the oblast.
But by 1993
the newly created Croatian Army
was strong enough to start an offensive
against the Serbs. The conflict escalated
into a full scale Yugoslav civil war
and entered its bloodiest phase.
In August 1995 the Croatian Army
invaded Krajina. Within a few days
more than 200,000 Serbs fled their homes.
NATO forces intervened
but supported the Croats.
They patrolled the skies and attacked
Serb surface-to-air missile radar sites.
Croatian planes raided Serbian towns
and army positions.
A dreadful nightmare
descended on the Balkans.
Croatian aircrafts bombed and strafed
Civilians, as frightened Serbs; old and young,
women and children, trying to reach safety,
had been trapped on roads
clogged with refugees.
Adding to the horrors, Bosnian Muslim troops
crossed the border into Krajina and cut off
the Serbian escape routes.
Along with the Croatian assault,
the Bosnian artillery pounded
the fleeing Serbs and burned down
Meanwhile the Serbian enclaves in Bosnia
had striven to join a greater Serbia
and engaged in ethnic cleansing.
In July 1995 Serb forces
of General Ratko Mladic
slaughtered thousands of Bosnian Muslims
The wounds of the Second World War
had not healed yet and Yugoslavs
found themselves now fighting a new
and terrible tribal war.
They realized that peace
is precious and fragile,
that it has to be constantly nourished,
that it can never be taken for granted.
They looked back with nostalgia
to past days of tranquility.
Not very long
before the troubles started
the Winter Olympic games.
The games were held in 1984
in the city of Sarajevo.
But now, eight years later,
Serbian troops encircled the Bosnian capital.
In a siege that lasted 43 months,
the nationalists cut off food supplies,
utilities and communications.
Serbian snipers shot at Sarajevans
going to work or to shop.
More than 12,000 Bosnian Muslims,
as well as Serb and Croatian residents
of the city were killed in the siege,
among them,1,500 children.
At the same time Serb nationalists
throughout Bosnia shelled and burned down
villages and towns, deported people
to detention camps and terrorized
Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
They systematically raped the women,
tortured and executed the men.
They conducted a scorched earth policy,
destroying houses, schools, roads,
bridges and railways and forced millions
of people to flee their homes.
In 1999, in the same decade
that the Rwandan genocide took place,
President Milosevic of Serbia attempted
another ethnic cleansing campaign
against the Albanian population of Kosovo.
After NATO intervened
and bombed Serbia in order to stop
the expulsion of Albanians from the province,
the returning Albanians attacked
the Serbian residents of Kosovo.
Now the former victims of ethnic cleansing
Became the perpetrators of the same crimes
against humanity. The Albanians drove out
one hundred thousand Serbs from Kosovo.
Human tragedies know neither political,
nor ethnical, nor religious frontiers.
The Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and Albanians
involved in the conflicts
of the Yugoslav Dissolution Wars
became both aggressors and victims.
Many of them committed
heinous war crimes.
Civilians, especially the women
and the children, suffered terribly
on all sides.