Posts Tagged With: fall of the Roman Empire

RE-LEARNING THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

When Jesus walked the Earth over 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire was at its zenith. Ruled by its emperor Augustus Caesar, (who was ultimately responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus), the Roman Empire covered virtually all of Europe including England, North Africa (now called the Mid-East), and Western Asia. Its power and military might was considered almost invincible, as it mercilessly and brutally ruled over conquered lands. To challenge the mighty Roman army was considered a suicide mission. Rebellion against Rome in in countries they ruled was often brutally suppressed with the opposing fighters usually crucified or slaughtered outright, or captured and sold off into slavery. Women were also put on the market for slaves or as concubines and prostitutes. In essence, conquered lands were considered primary sources of free labor or sexual slavery.

Rome, as the most advanced civilization at that time, also had acquired superior technology that was unknown by  other nations on this planet. The Roman government had built an extensive system of aqueducts that brought purified water to the homes of mainly the rich and elite. Advanced plumbing systems, roads and bridges were also being put into place. The Roman Colosseum was built to provide entertainment, such as watching gladiators being torn to shreds by hungry lions, again, primarily for the amusement of the upper classes. (Parts of the Colosseum still exist today as a tourist attraction for visitors to Rome.) But even at the height of its power, cracks began to develop in the foundation of the Roman Empire. Romans started to become soft and lazy, fixated only on the indulgence of usually depraved pleasures and sensuality. An estimated 32,000 prostitutes littered the streets of Rome. Subsequent emperors to Augustus Caesar, over the centuries, such as Nero and Caligula, became infamous for spending huge amounts of resources on lavish parties, where guests drank and ate themselves into almost a coma-like state. Diseases became rampant because of all the prostitutes and beggars living on the streets. Alcoholism was at epidemic proportions. So was political corruption. New, incoming emperors had to bribe the Army for a chance at the throne. If the bribe wasn’t enough, they would be thrown out of office or just murdered outright. During the 100 years starting in 186 A.D. Rome had 37 emperors, 25 of whom were assassinated.

Economic problems also started to multiply. Business owners who had to hire workers couldn’t compete with those that were able to acquire slave labor. Inflation started to skyrocket because once Rome ran out of nations to conquer, the supply of gold into the economy began to sharply decrease. The government had to lessen the amount of gold being put into its coinage, which made the coins less valuable. Eventually, the coins had so little gold that most merchants began to use a barter system. Then there was a growing disparity between the powerful and rich elite, and the rapidly disappearing middle class. (Sound familiar.) In addition, military spending to defend the Empire’s vast borders from barbarian hordes also greatly drained government resources. Finally, the government could not provide sufficient goods for its growing population. It was no longer conquering other civilizations and using their technology as well as their people for slaves. In fact, Rome began actually losing territory it could no longer maintain with its legions.

The final nail in the coffin came from the barbarian hordes I just mentioned. They consisted primarily of the Huns, Vandals, Goths and Visigoths, that came mainly out of what is France and Germany today. They were the terrorists of that era, envious of Rome’s wealth, (compared to the miserable poverty they were forced to live in), and determined to destroy the Roman Empire. The barbarians knew they couldn’t defeat the powerful Roman army in a face-to-face battle; so, as is the case of today’s terrorists, they resorted to acts of sabotage and gratuitous murder. They would attack outlying villages in remote corners of the Empire, that Rome could no longer defend, and murder all the men and children, and carry off the women as sexual slaves. At least those women they were attracted to; the others would also be killed. Then they would sack the village and burn it to the ground. While this was happening, Romans, over the centuries had become soft and lazy, with the rich being so heavily involved in debauchery that they had lost all desire for war. There was no will left to even defend themselves from the oncoming barbarian hordes that were marching toward the gates of Rome. So the government began the practice of hiring mercenaries to wage war on these various germanic and franco tribes. The trouble with using mercenaries, however, is that they’re usually willing to offer their services to the highest bidder. Thus, it was not unusual for these mercenaries to switch sides once they got a better offer from the barbarian terrorists  they were originally sent to destroy.

Finally after centuries of economic dysfunction, political corruption, eroding social conditions,  debauchery among the rich and powerfully connected, and a plain lack of will toward self-defense, the Roman Empire collapsed before the invading barbarians hordes. Historians put the final overrun of Rome by germanic and franco tribes as occurring in 476 A.D. From then on, roads and bridges throughout the former Roman Empire were left in disrepair and fields were left untilled. Pirates and bandits made travel unsafe. Cities could not be maintained without farm products, as trade and businesses began to disappear, because the Roman Empire was no more in the West. Europe then fell into the bleak and sorrowful period known as the Dark Ages, that lasted more than a thousand years, before reformation finally began to put civilization on a path to recovery.

So how is this relevant in today’s word. Today, we have a new set of barbarians at the gates of Western civilization, known as the Islamic-Fascist Jihadists. I’ve written previously and extensively before about the bottomless pits of evil that terrorist groups such as Boko-Haram, ISIS and Al-Qaida crawl out of to commit murder and mayhem. The latest outbreak being the murder of 17 innocent people in Paris last week, supposedly because of religious offense to unflattering cartoons of the prophet Muhammed. Think about it. People are actually being slaughtered because of cartoons in a newspaper. But the key question is whether the U.S. and its allies have the will to take on these present day barbarians and destroy them while it can still be done on the cheap. Or have we become too soft and lazy, or too intoxicated by our current pleasures and indulgences to wage meaningful combat against these cutthroats. Have our political and economic systems become too corrupt to engage in a meaningful battle to protect the gates of civilized behavior. Perhaps we should hire mercenaries to do our fighting since it worked so well the last time.

Every day we fail to take meaningful action, the Jihadists become stronger and the battle becomes more costly. The token bombing raids we initiated against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have had virtually no effect as the terrorists have expanded the territory they now occupy. Present leadership in the U.S. appears to be too dysfunctional and polarized to initiate a meaningful war against Islamic fascism, while Europe appears to have the same level of corruption and malaise, or lack of willpower, about going to war, as the Romans did when faced with their terrorism threats. If Western civilization falls again to the barbarians, the Dark Ages will reappear for at least another thousand years. Will you still be playing with your I-Phones when that takes place?

 

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HOW FAR CAN WE FALL?

The answer to that question is -a lot further than most people realize. I suppose it’s human nature to take the constitutional freedoms we possess,  and the political process that ensures those freedoms, for granted. Most of the under developed nations of the world have no such process and are, therefore, in a constant state of turmoil. Look no further than recent events in Egypt, where a 30 year military dictatorship was replaced by an attempt at constitutional government, resulting in a freely elected president. However, the man elected was attempting to establish an Islamic dictatorship, which would result in the dissolution of all constitutional liberties that had been recently established. When the people rose up in protest, the Islamist president was then overthrown and replaced by a new military dictatorship. Back to square one; but the Egyptian people are probably better off with their new rulers.

In any event, as I’ve said, most people take the political process established in this country for granted. A full 40% or more of eligible voters can’t be bothered to take the time out to vote in a presidential election. That figure rises to near 60% in non-presidential elections. We assume that the political system we have in place will always be there, even if we’re not paying attention. Duly elected future presidents would never dream of suspending all further elections as well as civil liberties, would they? The way Hitler did in Nazi Germany, which had been a functioning constitutional democracy until he became Chancellor. I guess most Germans weren’t pay close attention either, at the time. In fact, we can thank George Washington for the fact that we have a constitutional election process in the first place. Our founding fathers wanted to establish a monarchy with Washington as king, until George nixed that idea.

This is kind of a long preamble to get to the point I really wanted to make, of how low we’ve sunk in our national election system. This past week the Chairman of the Republican Party sent off an angry missive to TV stations NBC and CNN, because both stations were in the early phases of developing documentaries about the life of Hillary Clinton. How dare these stations, said the Chairman, consider programming anything that might be seen as favorable to Hillary’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016. Threatening blackmail and other dastardly deeds, the GOP said the 2 stations must stop these projects dead in their tracks, immediately. Even though they are in the earliest stages of script writing, and no one knows exactly how the documentaries will turn out. To me, this represents a new low in political mudslinging and thuggery.

Now the GOP knows that its fiscal policies of trickle-down-economics, tax cuts for the rich, and slashing Government assistance to the poor, the sick, and the elderly  doesn’t sit that well with large parts of the electorate. Couple that with its social agenda of anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, and anti-gun control, and one can see how the Republicans have a problem in winning over a majority of the electorate. So to compensate, Republicans engage heavily in the politics of personal destruction and demonization. Democrats try that too; but they’re far more inept and incompetent at it than Republicans. With Democrats it’s like amateur night versus highly professional Republicans when the politics of personal destruction are employed. For example, early in the 2008 primary season, when it appeared Hillary Clinton would easily win the Democratic nomination against an unknown, black Senator from Illinois with the peculiar name of Barack Obama, the GOP mud-slinging machine kicked into hi-gear. It already started printing up bumper-stickers that said: “Monica Lewinski’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife For President.” You can expect the same treatment if she’s dumb enough to run for president again. With all the grief she had to endure when Bill was President, and being in her late sixties by 2016, one would think that the Oval Office would be the last place she’d want to spend her remaining years. But, I guess, one never knows.

Being president these days means having to cope with a government mired in dysfunction and polarization. The greatest amount of polarization since the Civil War. Congress is currently on its month-long vacation for all of August. It’s recuperating from the enormous burdens of having to put in 3-day work weeks,  (Tuesday thru Thursday) at least 2 or 3 times a month. Who can cope with such stress? When it returns sometime after Labor Day, Republicans will try mightily to defund Obamacare and further slash social spending. House Republicans are threatening not to pass a fiscal 2014 budget, or raise the debt-ceiling unless those objectives prevail. The President, of course, will refuse to go along with defunding his signature piece of legislation. So look for a government shutdown after September 30, similar to the one that occurred in 1995. That’s when House Republicans led by GOP firebrand Newt Gingrich, refused to fund government operations unless deep spending cuts were made to Medicare. President Bill Clinton refused, and the government was shut down for 3 weeks before Gingrich finally budged. I can foresee a similar scenario occurring this year, perhaps resulting in an even lengthier government closure.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the human condition to see great civilizations rise to the apex, and then slowly crumble. Many social prognosticators have already proclaimed that America’s best days are behind her. There are those that trace the start of America’s downhill decline to the time a dingbat like Sarah Palin became prominent in American politics. But I would go back further to 1960. In the waning days of his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people about the undue influence and power accruing to the military-industrial complex. He warned that if left unchecked, such power could destroy America from within. Coming from a 5-star general, it was a warning to be heeded. But America generally ignored what Ike had to say, and the chickens are coming home to roost. Like bloated $700 billion a year Defense budgets, and unwise American entanglements in all kinds of foreign escapades.

As I’ve said, perhaps it’s our destiny to fall after we’ve accumulated such vast power. For those of you interested, you might want to compare America’s history with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It’s eerily similar. Those of you that have great fortitude and patience can learn more by reading British author Edward Gibbon’s classic, six volume work called “The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire.” Because we seem to be trudging along the same path as the ancient Romans. So how far can we fall? All the way to the bottom. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to pay greater attention to the political process.

 

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