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Rome-Antic: US and Rome

'Shock and Awe' Among the Ancients


    "Delenda est Carthago!" (Carthage must be destroyed.) - Cato

    "War was deliberately provoked by the Romans, who made a conscious decision to destroy the enemy. Roman negotiators shamelessly exploited the Carthaginians' willingness to grant concessions in their desire to avoid war with Rome, steadily increasing the demands to force a conflict on a weakened enemy. By the standards of modern strategy, the war was unnecessary - - ." (All quotes, unless otherwise designated, from The Punic Wars, by Adrian Goldsworthy)

So, where are the weapons of mass destruction? If the above quote from Cato sounds a bit like Bush and Rumsfeld, and the second quote reminds of the 'Coalition' launching the war while Iraq was still destroying its missiles, history does have a tendency to repeat itself. But - let's not quibble, the war is over, and we are busy 'building democracy'. And restoring our tattered alliances with Europe, Russia, and Arab countries. The UN can help with the cleanup. We'll parcel out the contracts.

    "Roman wars ended only when the enemy ceased to be a threat by admitting total defeat and accepting the future as a subordinate ally."

Did anyone notice something peculiar about the 'Coalition of the Willing'? Let's see, our partners and supporters were Great Britain - the last of the Great Empires. Spain - whose empire preceded the British. And Italy - once Rome. Much as Iraq once was Babylon, also an empire. And who were the major players who opposed us? Russia, France, Germany - all failed empires, the USSR, Nazi Germany, Napoleonic France, each collapsing before dominance was established. In short, the successful empires of the past (apart from Babylon herself, of course) urged us on. We are their child, their successor. Which, in the case of Britain, is obvious. While the failed empires wanted us to fail also. A human response if ever there was one.

In previous discussions, I have argued that the present Change of Ages is occurring now, from 1998 to 2012. In assessing the implications of world events, it is useful to turn the pages back to the last Change of Ages, which would have occurred approximately 150 BC. The pivotal event of that era was the Third Punic War and the resulting destruction of Carthage (an 'Arab' empire in North Africa) - which marked the transition of the Roman Republic into the world's 'Policeman' and sole 'Superpower'.

    "Most of the problems which beset the (Roman) Republic in the century before its end - increasingly fierce aristocratic competition, the rapidly escalating costs of a political career, the decline of the rural population - - , urban poverty and debt, the difficulties of recruitment which led to the creation of a professional army - were all directly or indirectly the consequences of imperial expansion."

Now some of those might sound a bit familiar today. Beset by economic difficulties, Rome refueled her armies by offering limited Roman citizenship to allied and conquered peoples who volunteered to join Roman legions. Compare this, from 'Ask Us: Q & A About the War' in the Chicago Tribune, April 14:

    "There are an estimated 31,000 foreign nationals serving in the US armed forces. Under an executive order signed last July by Bush, 'green card' holders who join the military can become naturalized US citizens without a mandatory waiting period. Under federal law, most foreigners must wait 5 years after obtaining their green cards before they can apply for citizenship."

But how can we be an Empire? Surely our democratic ideals and purposes are noble:

    "Given that the great empires were an improving force, spreading education, the rule of law and Christianity to the dark corners of the world, it was unappealing to believe they had been created out of aggression or greed. The idea that the British Empire had been created 'out of a fit of absentmindednes' (prevalent in some scholarly circles) was readily extended (retroactively) to the Roman, especially since its culture, once allied to the best of Greek civilization, was so clearly superior to the rest of the world at that time."

In fact, sometimes The Winners do have something to teach; it's not always a bad idea to be the Romans:

    "Disaster struck the Punic (Carthaginian) Army when virulent disease broke out in the camp. The tighter organization of the Roman camps may have provided at least a basic level of sanitation."

And although the major cycles of history may repeat themselves, we are still permitted to hope for evolution within the cycles: for instance, in the earlier passage on problems besetting the Roman Republic, the author included the extension of slavery - no longer an acceptable idea in Rome, or America, today. Another example: "The Roman garrison commander - - massacred a population he suspected of disloyalty. The Romans had a pragmatic attitude to such atrocities, believing them acceptable if likely to be effective." - The present administration is justified in pointing out that, despite some serious helpings of 'collateral damage' and 'friendly fire', there was in fact a sustained effort to minimize civilian casualties. Our own ideas of what is 'pragmatic' have evolved a bit since Rome. (Or perhaps only since Dresden and Hiroshima.)

So, we may be the 'New Rome'. But the emphasis must be on 'new' as much as 'Rome'. On the ideal as much as the pragmatic. As Rome expanded, it incorporated the cultures and religions of conquered peoples. Their gods took their places in the Roman pantheon. (Just as our President has, rightly, insisted 'this is not a war against Islam'; Allah too can be made American.) Eventually, as Rome's political and military power ebbed, she won her last victory by incorporating Hebrew, Greek, Persian, Egyptian and Canaanite religious mythologies into the official state religion: which became the 'Roman Catholic (Universal) Church', or Church of Rome. In time, the religion of the 'New Age' will also become an American Institution, as we presently gather here all the religious impulses of cultures coming under the sway of American economic dominion. Let us hope what we create will have greater flexibility and tolerance than its Roman antecedent.

One more note: the reason we do not deal with 'weapons of mass destruction' in Korea in the same way we deal with them in Iraq can be answered in one word: China. The awakening giant. If we think of Empires replacing each other in a steady sweep from East to West (Sumero-Babylon; Alexander and Greece; Rome; Spain; England; the US), then China is next. Will that take 500 years or so? I don't know. But let's see if we can't add something to what's gone before before we turn it over.

Oh, and the very last thing: tell your kids to tell their kids that when the Congress tries to extend the Emergency War Powers Act and the term of the Presidency beyond 8 years, revolt! Franklinus Rooseveltus may have been our first Caesar, but let's put off the Georgeus Bushus lineage, Seniorius or Juniorius, as long as we can. It's still better being a Republic.


Copyright 2007 - 2017 by John Sacelli. All Rights Reserved.