A Time of Chaos?

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"Coercion cannot but result in chaos in the end."
~ Mahatma Gandhi (1869—1948)

While watching President Bush’s January 11th "Surge Speech" I bristled when he emphasized himself in his statement: "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people — and it is unacceptable to me." However, by the end of his diatribe I was sure that George Bush no longer thought of himself in any terms other than those of a god.

Indeed, my suspicion seems to be confirmed when just today (January 15, 2007) George Bush decreed that he is going to send more troops to Iraq regardless of Congress,’ or for that matter, the American public’s insistence otherwise.

Observing President Bush, as the false god of state, bumble foreign affairs, devastate economies, feign the security of nations, preach his canard of freedom, ululate the canon of democracy, and mock moral law with the shameless torridity of a street prostitute, one has to wonder if the American empire isn’t about to revisit the chaos that accompanied Rome in the 3rd century AD.

Certainly, there are some parallels to be drawn between Rome in the 3rd century and what has occurred or is on America’s horizon.

Beginning in about 235 AD and lasting for about 50 years, Rome was racked with a failing economy which quite literally brought Rome to the brink of extinction. This was partly due to the excesses of emperors of the first and second century and the resulting inflation: by now what had once been "silver" coins were for all intense and purpose entirely bronze.

However, natural disasters soon added to the empire’s misery. Earthquakes left whole regions of the empire unproductive and in some cases uninhabited. Following the devastation of the earthquakes were plagues which resulted in disease. A further result of these plagues was that the foundation of society, agriculture, collapsed bringing on famine. With the people no longer able to buy or grow food, food riots resulted, and the army was no longer paid.

Adding to the Rome’s despair, in the northwest, the Franks, Jutes, and Germanic Alemanni crossed the Rhine River and began taking back their ancient lands. In the mean time the pressure continued from the Vandal and Goths who invaded the empire from the Danube River in the empire’s northeastern providences. However, the greatest and most present threat to Rome was from the east and the ancient empire of the Persians.

As the Roman legions began to suffer, they mirrored the people’s frustration concerning the impotence of the state to "solve" the empire’s problems. This grew into massive unrest among the Roman military and ushered in a group of Roman emperors known as the "Barrack emperors."

From late 235 AD until Diocletian took the title of emperor, November 20, 284 AD, Rome saw at least 23 emperors rise and fall. Of these flash-in-the-pan emperors, 13 were murdered, mostly by their own troops; 4 died in combat; 1 committed suicide; 2 died of natural causes including the plague; 1 died of unknown causes; 1 was struck by lightning; and 1 died a prisoner of the Persians.

Valerian on coin

It is the emperor, Valerian, who died as a Persian prisoner that has some relevancy to George Bush’s ambitions of empire and his much vaunted "war on terror."

Like GW, Valerian was born into privilege and social status as a member of an old Roman senatorial family. Also, as with GW, Valerian made his name via family ties with the state and his appointment to government positions.

However, unlike GW, Valerian in 253 AD was commanding legions in Raetia [the Roman province that included present-day eastern Switzerland and western Austria] and Noricum [the Roman Empire south of the Danube River in present-day Austria west of Vienna] when he was ordered to bring his troops to Italy for a fight against the forces of Emperor Aemilianus.

The whole argument was somewhat analogous to the hanging chad problem GW had in 2000 but instead of the problem being "settled" by legions of lawyers, and a decree of a supreme court, the Roman’s during this period counted military legions and hanging swords. There wasn’t a fight. The decree of supremacy came from the point of a sword. Thus, Emperor Aemilianus’ troops murdered him when they saw they could not defeat Valerian and his legions.

As a side note don’t think for one moment that the 2000 court cases between Bush and Gore weren’t about who could muster enough federal and state weapons to become president. Not much has really changed in the affairs of "choosing" which denizen of the fiery abyss will be elevated to a position of leadership.

Having killed their commander, Aemilianus’ legions joined Valerian’s forces and together they crowned Valerian as Rome’s newest emperor.

Weak and irresolute, Valerian’s abilities were unequal to the difficulties Rome faced at this critical time. Like GW, Valerian saw the world in black and white, holding a civilized or barbarian view of all those who were either Roman or not. Thus, while the Persian threat was minimal to Rome, the fact that more barbarians were infringing on the Roman world was not to be tolerated.

Valerian undoubtedly saw the threat to Rome’s empire being from his "axis of evil" with, like GW, the kingpin being that great boogeyman Persia the same as GW’s Iran.

As mentioned earlier, the Persians were more than a little fed-up with the Roman occupation of ancient Persian lands and since about 252 AD they had made insurgencies into Roman territory having conquered and plundered Antioch in Syria in either 253 or 256 AD.

Valerian saw his answer in a troop surge that was designed to stop this blatant disregard for civilization and to free the world of barbaric acts of terrorism. So Valerian marshaled his army but unlike GW, Valerian led his armies eastward to fight the last dynasty of Persian kings, the Sassanid.

Initially Valerian’s armies met with success, even recapturing some of the lost Syrian provinces. With his success Valerian saw a chance to finally solve his "eastern" problem once and for all, so he marched to Carrhae [the ancient Mesopotamian city of Haran] and Edessa where he hoped to defeat the Persian army under the command of King Shapur I.

While history doesn’t give us a record of the battle we do know the following. In 259 AD, Valerian’s army numbered 70,000 including the elite Praetorian Guard. This superior Roman force was facing a Persian force of nearly half its size of about 40,000 Persians led by King Shapur I.

When the fight was over the Romans had suffered heavy losses including the capture of the Roman Emperor, and a host of high-ranking Roman officials. It was a humiliation the like of which Rome would not see again until Rome was sacked by the Goths towards the end of the 5th century AD.

Emperor Valerian had sealed his fate with a war against the Persians. His armies decimated, the once proud Pontiff Maximus of Rome was reduced to serving as a foot-stool for the king of Persia as he mounted his horse. Upon his death this Roman "god" was used to further humiliate Rome, for Lactantius says that Valerian was skinned, then stuffed with manure to produce a trophy which hung in a Persian temple as an example of Roman submission.

Will a failing economy, further adventures in Iraq, weather, and natural disasters bring the American empire to its knees with chaos on the magnitude that ancient Rome experienced?

It is certainly a possibility given recent history and the folly of our "leadership." There is certainly a strong probability that this "surge" of troops the President will insert into the Iraq debacle will exacerbate the unrest of the American population and very well could be the catalyst for a war with Iran.

In his recent article Paul Craig Roberts makes a chilling analysis of the President’s sending more troops to Iraq. He states: "If Bush is unable to orchestrate war with Iran directly, he will orchestrate war indirectly by having US troops attack Iraqi Shi’ite militias. Bush has already given orders for US troops to attack the Iraqi Shi’ite militias, who oppose the Sunnis and have not been part of the insurgency. Obviously, once Bush can get US troops in open warfare with Iraqi Shi’ites, the situation for US troops in Iraq will quickly go down hill. Bush will be able to blame Iranian Shi’ites for arming Iraqi Shi’ites that he can say are killing US troops."

I pray Mr. Roberts is wrong but I fear he is correct.

Of two things we may be certain.

First, President Bush although much younger will never have the backbone that the 69-year-old Emperor Valerian had when he accompanied his troops to fight the Persians.

Second, as long as the state continues to coerce, manipulate, force, bully, or intimidate peoples we will stand on the razor edge that separates social chaos from social order.

The only question left is what will tip the scales and plunge the American society into chaos?

Tim Case [send him mail] is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: u201COnly the educated are free.u201D

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