Osama bin Laden 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There has been some shock at the state in which Osama bin Laden was found.
Despite the presence of a wife and at least eight children, his house’s interior
looked like something out of a trailer park. Where was all the Bin Laden
wealth? A CNN report noted “the candid recording of an aging bin
Laden... portrays him as an ordinary man, not a terror
But in trading his one-time power and menacing airs for a
life in hiding, he joined a pantheon of other leaders, some vile, some less so,
who have brought ruin to themselves and their people. In the classical period,
several Athenian statesmen came to very un-statesmenlike ends. Themistocles, the
“Glory of the Law,” was a populist who rose to prominence when Athens was
becoming a great power. He fought in both wars against the Persian empire, and
helped construct Athens’ walls and its great navy. But he earned the ire of his
countrymen and was exiled, travelling from one lesser city-state to another
until he found his way to Persia. Plutarch, the historian, bemoaned the fact
that he “lived on for a long time without concern.”
He died in exile,
perhaps by suicide.
The Athenian statesman Alcibiades long outlived his
fame. Born in 450 BCE, he became a general of Athens at its height, during the
Peloponessian war. Accused of sacrilegious actions, he was condemned to death
while out leading the Athenian fleet in an invasion of Sicily. He subsequently
defected to his country’s great enemy, Sparta. In 412, having fallen out of
favor in Sparta, he became a traitor once more and joined the Persians. After
further travails, the Athenian found himself a refugee in Phrygia – a passive
and dull tributary of Persia. In 404 BCE, living with his mistress on a pathetic
estate, Alcibiades was surprised by assassins who set fire to his home. He
rushed outside with a dagger to confront them and was killed by a hail of
In 336 CE, Darius III inherited a Persian empire that stretched
from the gates of Europe to India. But he was unlucky enough to be confronted by
the Macedonian- Greek king Alexander. For three years he fought battle after
battle with the Greeks, until no more armies could be raised. Rather than
surrender, the hapless Persian retreated to Bactria, in what is now Afghanistan.
Pursued to the ends of the Earth by Alexander, his own followers killed
Hannibal, the great general of Rome’s enemy, Carthage, died in
similar obscurity. Born in 247 BCE, he was raised by his father, a Carthaginian
warlord engaged in subduing parts of Spain. Assuming command of the Carthaginian
army in 229, he led the famous march over the Alps and spent years slaughtering
Roman legions sent to fight him. Rome eventually landed an army close to his
country’s capital, near modern-day Tunis, and Hannibal was recalled to Africa.
He lost a major battle and, at the behest of Rome, went into exile in Tyre.
Hannibal then became a military advisor to the Seleucid empire in Syria, but
eventually had to flee Crete for Bythnia – a small, useless kingdom in Asia
Minor (Turkey). Still hounded by the Romans, who wanted him dead, he took
poison by the Sea of Marmara around 183 BCE. His grave was unknown to his
countrymen, even in his own time.
In the 1860s the president of Paraguay,
Francisco Solano Lopez, fancied himself a great leader. He embroiled his small,
landlocked country in a war with its giant neighbors; Brazil and Argentina. For
six years, Paraguay struggled against its enemies, losing much of its adult male
population. Lopez ended up living in the mountains, accompanied by just three
men, where he was found by Brazilian cavalry and killed, shouting “I die with my
fatherland.” Paraguay did not recover from the destruction until a
CHE GUEVARA, the great hero of the international Left,
whose face is the icon of so many college students, was born in Argentina in
1928. A trained doctor, he found his way to Guatemala and then Mexico, where he
met a young and ambitious Fidel Castro. In 1956 he was with Castro during the
invasion of Cuba. After the revolutionaries had triumphed, Che became a key
member of the ruling communist elite, but eventually had a falling out with
Castro and left the country to lead other revolutions. Briefly in Africa, he
eventually moved to Bolivia. But by this time the CIA had sent a team to help
the Bolivians and Che, who was ill, was eventually hounded to his death, his
hands cut off and his body buried in an undisclosed location.
Escobar is thought to have been one of the wealthiest criminals in history. Born
in 1949 in Colombia, he began as a contraband smuggler, but discovered that with
cocaine he could make a great deal more money. Eventually he was shipping 70
tons to the US each month. Escobar constructed his own zoo, and was elected to
Colombia’s congress. But he grew too powerful and was implicated in bombing an
airline and the kidnapping and murder of numerous people. With US help, the
Colombians hunted him down and killed him on a rooftop in 1993. The image of the
shirtless, overweight drug lord, with his trademark jeans turned up at the
bottom, was beamed all over the world.
Over the centuries, many people
have come to bad ends after long hunts.
That bin Laden wasn’t caught and
put on trial is proper; like his forebears, he lived by the sword and he died by
it. In shooting him, the US Navy SEALs were following historical precedent
rather than modern conventions.The writer has a PhD from Hebrew
University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.