In Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War the powerful Greek city-state of Athens made an ultimatum to the tiny island of Melos: surrender or be destroyed. It was part of a larger war between Athens and Sparta, and the island of Melos had hoped to remain neutral and avoid the conflict, relying on Sparta to protect them.
Attempting to remain neutral was no defense against the hostile Athenians. The Melians, outnumbered and outgunned, attempted diplomacy, debate and appealing to reason and emotion.
None of them worked. The Athenians were insistent that only two outcomes were possible for the Melians: surrender or destruction. The left the Melians with the telling message: ‘The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.’
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