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I have never been presented with so much evidence of the futility of war as when driving up the coast highway north of Beirut in Lebanon, coming to where the Dog River flows into the Mediterranean.

Maybe its best to tell the story of the place. In 1697, Henry Maundrell was chaplain to the Levan Company based in Aleppo in Syria. Not long before his retirement he decided to head a small expedition on a trip south to Jerusalem. As they went south, they came to the Dog River - Nahr El-Kalb. As they crossed the river, Maundrell noticed that there were large stone plaques on the steep sides of the gorge. Investigating was formidable, but what Maundrell discovered is perhaps the world's most sustained record of conflict among great empires. Today this is a UNESCO World Heritage site

The earliest plaque told of the army of Ramses the Second of Egypt coming here 3500 years earlier for conquest. Rameses set the pattern for a series of stone slabs which would tell the story of war century after century down to recent times.

Millennia after Ramses, Esarhaddon of Assyria left his mark as he passed by. A century later Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the new Babylonian empire marched through here on his way home to Babylon. He sends a clear message on his plaque that he has conquered Egypt.

On and on the plaques go on the cliff walls. Antiochus of Egypt, general in the armies of Alexander the Great, comes through, leaving his plaque. Celebrating victory in the 6th Syrian War. In 215, BCE the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius came though, leaving a plaque. In 1861 AD. Napoleons legions crossed the bridge to intervene in the Lebanese Civil War. He too leaves his claim to fame. In 1918, British and French forces come to conquer the Ottoman Empire. They leave a plaque. In 1919 the British Desert Corps take Damascus and Aleppo. In 1941 troops of Free French Forces inscribe their victory.

There are others. Why do I mention this place. Because of the dreadful images I have been looking at in Gaza, a comparatively short distance south of Nahr el-kalb, where most of these ancient armies - and some modern - marched.

The English poet Wilfred Owen tells us in a few short lines. He sarcastically quotes the Roman poet Horace, that it is "sweet and fitting to die for one's country," then writes of those ...

...who tell with such high zest

to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.

The rock reliefs of Nahr el-Kalb are mute testimony to that all too human instinct. 


Roman inscription. Commemorative stelae of Nahr el-Kalb, Lebanon. Nahr al-Kalb is the ancient Lycus River. Lebanon iStock 1161814267