Monday, June 23, 2014

 

Following in the footsteps of the Roman Empire?



In AD 200, the Roman Empire seemed unassailable, its vast territory accounting for most of the known world. By the end of the fifth century, Roman rule had vanished in western Europe and much of northern Africa, and only a shrunken Eastern Empire remained.

This was a period of remarkable personalities, from the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius to emperors like Diocletian, who portrayed themselves as tough, even brutal, soldiers. It was a time of revolutionary ideas, especially in religion, as Christianity went from persecuted sect to the religion of state and emperors.

Ultimately, this is the story of how an empire without a serious rival rotted from within, its rulers and institutions putting short-term ambition and personal survival over the wider good of the state.—amazon.com review of  Adrian Goldsworthy’s How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower (2009)

by Larry Geller

No, I haven’t read Adrian Goldsworthy’s How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower, but I should add it to my reading list (Amazon lists a used copy at only 78 cents). But if history repeats itself endlessly, perhaps it is repeating itself now, so this book might be relevant to our times.

Must we repeat history? Let’s not.

The US media is both covering and speculating wildly about the meaning of the ISIS sweep down the core of Iraq towards Baghdad. Check out this morning’s paper, or anything on-line. It many ways it resembles this country’s invasion of Iraq, doesn’t it? The march toward Baghdad, moving quickly and mostly unopposed, ending with the toppling of a dictator. Remembering that invasion, the current president of Iraq might well be reviewing his escape plan.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Obama is being pushed both ways—support the Iraqi government which, supposedly, our troops fought and died in order to install (never mind the oil)—or keep us from getting involved again in a war in a country that does not threaten us (but there is this oil…).

[Aside on oil: do you remember that when US troops arrived in Baghdad, they defended the oil ministry but stood by while the museum was looted?]

It was a time of revolutionary ideas, especially in religion, as Christianity went from persecuted sect to the religion of state and emperors.

Perhaps this time it is Islam rather than Christianity that is coming out on top, and perhaps it is also a relatively extreme (or fundamentalist?) form of Islam.

Speaking of ISIS, while the focus is diverted from Syria, some analysts speculate that at the end of a long civil war, it will be Assad who is victorious. So we could have two bad situations.

Except that Assad has been a dear ally—we sent captives to him to be tortured as part of our “extraordinary rendition” program. It’s hard to say we would mind if he won, and heck with all the Syrian lives lost.

But we’re supporting the rebels officially, remember. If they are defeated, it’s another defeat for us.

If the rebels should win, would it be ISIS?? This is a bit confusing, mainly because our news coverage is so poor.

Meanwhile, back in Washington…

Ultimately, this is the story of how an empire without a serious rival rotted from within, its rulers and institutions putting short-term ambition and personal survival over the wider good of the state.

‘nuff said.



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