If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out through writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.

Anais Nin

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Valedictory Speech, {requisciat in pace?}

An inoculation against Parthian Convictions

by Kenneth Lipp

That the Persians of old often outfought the best that anyone in the West could throw at them-including the Roman Empire-makes lingering chauvinism understandable. But those same Persians, and their successors in subsequent centuries, have had many downs to go along with the glorious ups. Some of the downs have been catastrophic. Ward estimates that the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, for example, killed as much as three-fourths of Iran's population, which may not have recovered to preinvasion levels until the mid-twentieth century. The resulting outlook for today's Iranians is a keenly felt but curiously heterogeneous mixture of insecurity and distrust along with pride and perseverance.
The Parthians wrestled the Seleucid Empire from the Greeks and Romans. They were well-known for their horsemanship and the ability to ride forward while shooting arrows accurately behind them, just like the previous Scythians. They followed Zoroastrian-Mithraism as a religion.

A 'parting shot' is now a metaphorical term but it clearly alludes to the shooting of weapons. The first such literal reference that I've come across is in the writings of John McLeod, who was surgeon of His Majesty's Ship Alceste. McLeod includes this comment in A Narrative of a Voyage to The Yellow Sea, 1818:

The consort, firing a parting shot, bore up round the north end of the island, and escaped.

The figurative use of the phrase comes not much later, in the records of the Religious Society of Friends (The Quakers) - The Friend, or advocate of Truth, 1828:

I think it would be much more becoming..., if you could separate without giving each other a parting shot. If you could but use this short sentence,  "we cannot agree and therefore we separate."
That derivation of 'parting shot' appears to be very simple and straightforward. Not so fast; enter the Parthians and their 'Parthian shots'. The Partians were an ancient race who lived in north-east Persia. They were renowned archers and horsemen and were known for their practice of confusing the enemy by pretending to flee and firing arrows backwards while retreating - not the easiest thing to do on a galloping horse. The tactic must have been successful as in first century B.C. Parthia stretched from the Euphrates to the Indus rivers, covering most of what is now Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Parthians' reputation was well known to English-speaking scholars in the 16th and 17th centuries. For example, Samuel Butler makes a specific reference to their battle tactic in An Heroical Epistle of Hudibras to His Lady, 1678:

You wound, like Parthians, while you fly, And kill with a retreating eye.

 Categorically, the ways in which communication and dissemination have changed in the past 30 years or so have exacerbated this, and made remedial actions and overall management of communication far more complex and problematic.

The advent of digital technology has changed the scope, scale and speed of communication in ways that we are still only seeing above the water line. It is not surprising that the world of diplomacy, marked by tradition and trappings of the past, has been slow to appreciate the promises and the perils that come in the wake of these upheavals. 

Diplomats themselves and the ways in which the FCO, the U.S. State Department and sundry mostly western but international State-labeled agents in general failed to get to grips with the promises and perils of an expanded, and less wieldy, communicative domain. 

The breakdown in trust in those with statutory, economic, or, martial leverage over a more or less coherent State (up to the most "modern" stable" and stubbornly self-forgiving of eclipsing superpowers) and the people with whom they are contracted (in some symbiotic capacity)fuses an identity among cultural antipodes; and toward the end of effecting sufficient power of whole-state impeachment. 

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