Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Strong Horse and the Weak Horse: America and the Fall of the Roman Empire

Endorsed by Fox News at GOP Hub

"When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse."

Osama bin Laden

"Yes, there have been appeasers in the past, and the president is exactly right, and one of them is Neville Chamberlain. I believe that it’s not an accident that our hostages came home from Iran when President Reagan was president of the United States. He didn’t sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran, he made it very clear that those hostages were coming

John McCain

It has become fashionable to draw parallels between the supposed misadventures of our “New American Imperialism” and the “Fall of the Roman Empire” -- a comparison that conveniently overlooks the fact that it took over a thousand years for the Roman Empire to ‘fall’. One of the most glaring inconsistencies of this comparison is that the Roman Empire was an unapologetically ruthless military power, which experienced no liberal pangs of guilt about its hard-won conquests. Indeed, to the typical Roman, who enthusiastically relished the daily bloody spectacles of the arena, the whole concept of having moral qualms about the manner in which they had acquired their vast Empire would be incomprehensible.

The Roman formula for conquering new provinces was fairly straight-forward. The Roman legions would simply annihilate any opposing force (no matter how long it took, or what it cost them in lives and treasure), systematically root out all remaining insurgents, and impose a locally administered Roman-style government, which would eventually build Roman-style buildings in which to conduct Roman-style business.

Once their territories were conquered, however, the Romans would govern them with a relatively light touch (despite a spate of anti-Roman, pro-Christian “biblical movies” produced in the 1950s -- usually starring the late Charlton Heston -- that invariably portrayed the Roman soldiers as sadistic brutes). So long as the local citizenry behaved according to the proscribed boundaries of the Roman model of civilization, adhered to the basic tenets of Roman jurisprudence, paid their taxes (which, for the most part, were considerably less than they had been paying under their previous rulers), and offered ceremonial homage to the Emperor once a year, the Roman attitude towards the local customs and religious practices was generally fair and unobtrusive.

However, Roman authorities would react swiftly and mercilessly to any perceived threat of dissent. In 146 B.C., in the city of Corinth, in the Roman protectorate of Greece, two Roman envoys were set upon by an unruly crowd of malcontents and were beaten up. The Roman response was quick and unequivocal.

The Senate dispatched the brutal Roman General Mummius who, with his four Legions, attacked the city of Corinth. He killed all of the men of military age, enslaved all of the remaining populace, burned the city to the ground and then, ceremoniously sowed salt on the earth so that nothing would ever grow there again.
An over-reaction? Perhaps. However, needless to say, after Corinth, anyone considering attacking a Roman citizen would, most likely, have serious second thoughts.

Indeed, if we are looking for parallels between our present-day American society and the Roman Empire, we need look no further than this episode of the two Roman ambassadors in Corinth, and compare the Roman reaction then to our government’s ignoble non-response to the plight of our helpless 70 American citizens who were held hostage for 444 days in the infamous 1979 Tehran Embassy takeover.

What then, if anything, can we learn from the history of the Romans?

First, when discussing the moral lessons symbolized by the 'Fall of the Roman Empire' we should perhaps consider how long it actually took to 'fall'. If one accepts the traditional date for the founding of Rome of 753 B. C., and the traditional date of the 'fall' of 476 A.D., then that means that the Roman civilization lasted for something like 1,200 years, while the actual process of the 'fall' arguably took about 300 years.

Transposing these figures onto America's timetable, this would mean that we might start losing ground around the year 2705, and could be in serious trouble by the year 3005. It seems to me that it would be a little difficult to realistically describe this 1200 year process as a 'fall'. I think it could better be described as a pretty big success story.

Additionally, this particular episode at Corinth occurred approximately 200 years before the Empire really reached it's peak, and, far from hindering the development of the Roman world, this incident, and many others like it, only served to strengthen its reputation and intimidate its potential rivals.

For 444 days, while our hapless President Jimmy Carter dithered and dallied with endless and empty diplomatic negotiations, our helpless 70 American citizens suffered the painful privations and unknown perils of their captivity. Only when a new president was sworn into office, an altogether different kind of man, whom they suspected might actually resort to force, were the hostages released.

These, then, are the lessons from Corinth in 146 B.C., and from Tehran in 1979 A. D. Somewhere between these two extreme reactions there is an eternal truth.

There are times when force is the only answer.

This now is our new enemy

These are his warriors

This is his ambition

And this is the threat

Will we be the Strong horse?

Or the Weak Horse?

Note from Radarsite: A large portion of this article was lifted from an earlier unpublished essay "America and the Fall of the Roman Empire". It would be remiss of me to reference this essay without acknowledging all of the help and good advice I received from my friend and first editor Marilyn A., who attempted -- with varying degrees of success -- to rein in my natural loquaciousness. I am still benefiting from her insightful suggestions. -- rg

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