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Karmadillo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 09:29 AM
Original message
The End of the Republic? Rome, Militarism, Imperialism, and the US.
Edited on Sun Sep-28-03 10:07 AM by Karmadillo
The excerpt comes from a not too long article discussing the collapse of the Roman republic. The author attributes its fall to militarism and imperialism and suggests the Unisted States could suffer a similar fate. The story suggests history does not give us an infinite number of opportunities for saving what must be saved.

Does the author have a point? I think so. Simply note the failure of most Democratic Presidential candidates to suggest the ridiculously bloated defense budget can be cut. If you think it can't be done, check here or here. If we can't cut defense now, when can we? Will the Octavians and Neros waiting down the road be more willing to advocate necessary reductions? Not likely.

No one argues the military shouldn't be funded. The question of how much, however, must always be up for debate. We shouldn't shun compromise when appropriate, but we have to be able to distinguish between compromise and surrender. Most of us lack the courage of a Cicero, but we don't have to sit quietly while the insatiable appetite of the military industrial complex undermines our freedom.

The End of the Republic?
By Chalmers Johnson

Mr. Johnson's new book, forthcoming at the end of 2003 from Metropolitan Books, is The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.

The collapse of the Roman republic in 27 BC has significance today for the United States, which took many of its key political principles from its ancient predecessor. Separation of powers, checks and balances, government in accordance with constitutional law, a toleration of slavery, fixed terms in office, all these ideas were influenced by Roman precedents. John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams often read the great Roman political philosopher Cicero and spoke of him as an inspiration to them. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, authors of the Federalist Papers, writing in favor of ratification of the Constitution signed their articles with the name Publius Valerius Publicola, the first consul of the Roman republic.

The Roman republic, however, failed to adjust to the unintended consequences of its imperialism, leading to a drastic alteration in its form of government. The militarism that inescapably accompanied Rome's imperial projects slowly undermined its constitution as well as the very considerable political and human rights its citizens enjoyed. The American republic, of course, has not yet collapsed; it is just under considerable strain as the imperial presidency -- and its supporting military legions -- undermine Congress and the courts. However, the Roman outcome -- turning over power to an autocracy backed by military force and welcomed by ordinary citizens because it seemed to bring stability -- suggests what might happen in the years after Bush and his neoconservatives are thrown out of office.

Obviously, there is nothing deterministic about this progression, and many prominent Romans, notably Brutus and Cicero, paid with their lives trying to head it off. But there is something utterly logical about it. Republican checks and balances are simply incompatible with the maintenance of a large empire and a huge standing army. Democratic nations sometimes acquire empires, which they are reluctant to give up because they are a source of wealth and national pride, but as a result their domestic liberties are thereby put at risk.

These not-particularly-original comparisons are inspired by the current situation of the United States, with its empire of well over 725 military bases located in other people's countries; its huge and expensive military establishment demanding ever more pay and ever larger appropriations from a supine and manipulated legislature; unsolved anthrax attacks on senators and newsmen (much like Rome's perennial assassinations); Congress's gutting of the Bill of Rights through the panicky passage of the Patriot Act -- by votes of 76-1 in the Senate and 337 to 79 in the House; and numerous signs that the public is indifferent to what it is about to lose. Many current aspects of our American government suggest a Roman-like fatigue with republican proprieties. After Congress voted in October 2002 to give the president unrestricted power to use any means, including military force and nuclear weapons, in a preventive strike against Iraq whenever he -- and he alone -- deemed it "appropriate," it would be hard to argue that the constitution of 1787 was still the supreme law of the land.


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Karmadillo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 10:08 AM
Response to Original message
1. Kick to see if new thread title gets a few more hits. If this doesn't work
I'm changing it to "Dean and Brittney caught nude on the White House lawn."
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Eloriel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 10:12 AM
Response to Reply #1
Believe me, I know the feeling.

Thanks for the link. Off to read it.

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muriel_volestrangler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 10:31 AM
Response to Reply #1
5. I don't think there's much value in comparing
America to a republic of 2000 years ago which had vastly different attitudes (eg that toleration of slavery - Rome never lost it, the USA did, a long time ago, or the willingness of the army to kill its own people), and existing in a different world (eg technology, speed of communication).

There's more of a case for saying the USA would follow the path of Britain - the American legal system comes largely from England, and, even when the States got their independence, Britain was generally held to be the country that allowed its citizens the most freedom, and was keen on global trade. Plus that was 200 years ago, not 2000. But there's still so many differences that there's not that much to be gained in the comparison.
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Kathy in Cambridge Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 10:14 AM
Response to Original message
3. I Pre-ordered his book on Amazon
Did you happen to read 'Blowback'?

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Karmadillo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 10:23 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. I didn't, but thanks to you, I'm going to. Here's the link
if anyone's interested. Sounds great and thanks again for bringing it up.

If the 20th century was the American century, the 21st century may be a time of reckoning for the United States. Chalmers Johnson, an authority on Japan and its economy, offers a troubling prognosis of what's to come. Blowback--the title refers to a CIA neologism describing the unintended consequences of American activity--is a call for the United States to rethink its position in the world. "The evidence is building up that in the decade following the end of the Cold War, the United States largely abandoned a reliance on diplomacy, economic aid, international law, and multilateral institutions in carrying out its foreign policies and resorted much of the time to bluster, military force, and financial manipulation," writes Johnson. "The world is not a safer place as a result." Individual chapters focus on Okinawa (where American servicemen were accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in "Asia's last colony"), the two Koreas, China, and Japan. The result is a liberal-leaning (and Asia-centric) call for the United States to disengage from many of its global commitments. Critics will call Johnson an isolationist, but friends (perhaps admirers of Patrick Buchanan's A Republic, Not an Empire) will say he simply speaks good sense. All will agree he is an earnest voice: "I believe our very hubris ensures our undoing." --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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teryang Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 10:58 AM
Response to Original message
6. Interesting thesis
Edited on Sun Sep-28-03 11:17 AM by teryang
The only problem I have with it is that the American situation is socially and institutionally more complex. It is the huge corporations and banks and their ruling families that are the chief threat to the republic not the military. In fact, we have a military which is mostly corporate in orientation. For all the countless hundreds of billions spent on the military we can field an expeditionary force of only 150,000. The numbers of other American troops stationed elsewhere overseas are little more than a cadre for logistics infrastructure. The US Navy is only one half of its former size. The regular Army regular force structure is smaller than it was before Vietnam. Except for the inevitable rightest careerists in the armed forces, much of the officer cadre was actually opposed to this conflict in Iraq and the unprofessional and unrealistic way it came about.

With the largest budget since the height of the Vietnam war, we have a relatively small professional force. Most of the money goes to defense contractors who bilk the government at every turn. In the current dilemna where the usurper of the republic can't even field a force large enough to suppress and govern Gaul (Iraq), he has to rely on part- time forces such as the guard and reserve to carry out the function of the so called "professional forces." It was Bush I and Cheney that "downsized" the military and this is still regime policy. They call it "lite forces." It's smaller and less capable but it costs a hell of a lot more. It is the part time men ripped from their families and normal occupations, often losing their personal businesses, who must bear the personal costs of war. They really don't owe their allegiance to any general, they are marginalized and impotent socially and politically, like part time workers everywhere.

If anything the corrupt corporatists and their henchman don't want a body of veterans to which they have to be committed. In fact, they can't wait for the baby boomer veterans to die off, they are making far too many claims for government largesse. The neo con elites are committed to profits not patriots. The only republic they have in mind is the banana republic. No doubt the obvious corruption of national security functions, particularly in this regime, does result in the call for a man on horseback. The last of the larger groups of veterans from the cold war face old age with interminable waves of corporate and government frauds endeavoring to take their benefits, social security and their last dime on one pretext after another, including the phony national security issues.

Veterans and soldiers are plebian in orientation and status. The neocons seek to limit their status, resources and influence. Unfortunately, the military being what it is, it is generally ineffective as a check on fascist corporatism, even when it grows in power and influence. A part time military is even less influential. The corrupt corporate defense contractors and their cronies however are having a field day just like their "civilian" counterparts who profit from trading government debt instruments, increasing insurance rates, increasing utility scams, etc.
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shimmergal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 12:08 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. Thanks, teryang.
I totally agree.

The problem with most comments about "empire" is that they're based on the one example of Rome, and fail to define what its most pertinent characteristic is. Is it the disappearance of democracy at home? Or the spread of dominion/exploitation over other nations and peoples?

It sounds like this author at least tries to establish a link between the two. All well and good; there's ample evidence in Rome's history to support this. However...

Look at some other examples and it's not so clear. For example, the rise of the British Empire coincided with _increasing_ democracy at home.

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Malikshah Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 12:14 PM
Response to Original message
8. Great Read, Great Topic...d'oh relegated to obscurity...
Don't you realize that intelligent discussion of issues, theories, theses has no place.

We're here to argue the equine-love habits of the sundry candidates.

When all else fails, we resort to attacks on the ability or lack thereof of the various supporters of the various candidates to collect the blood of small woodland creatures for nefarious purposes.

Sorry for the dithering-- and thanks so much for the post--hopefully folks will discuss this rather than the American Bandstand-inspired attacks on the various contenders. ("X" has got a good beat and you can dance to him..." "Wait--did you just say that "X" beats ants? Well-I used to support him, but now...I'll have to go for "Y"--Well "Y" invented the "beating of ants"--here's a link... and so forth.)

Thanks again, tinoire--as ever--great use of the internet to get the good word out.
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Mari333 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-28-03 12:28 PM
Response to Original message
9. Gore Vidal knows about this quite well.....
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