Gen. Petraeus and Modern Day Praetorians

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Lately whenever
I see a reference to General David Petraeus, it makes me wonder
about the history of the Praetorian Guard. Yes, I know the names
are spelled differently — but I just can’t help putting them together.
Am I the only one afflicted with this impulse? It just seems too
weird to go without mentioning. Not only is the U.S.
re-enacting the decline and fall of the Roman Empire
, but the
name of the top military commander in the outer reaches of the empire
practically screams out for such comparisons.

In the next
few days there will be constant references to Gen. Petraeus leading
up to his anticipated report on the splendid “progress” we are making
in Iraq. This seems like a good time to see what Wikipedia says
about the Praetorian Guard. Here are some excerpts (with hyperlinks
omitted):

The term
“Praetorian” came from the tent of the commanding general or praetor
of a Roman army in the field — the praetorium. It was a
habit of many Roman generals to choose from the ranks a private
force of soldiers to act as bodyguards of the tent or the person….

In time,
this cohort came to be known as the cohors praetoria, and
various notable figures possessed one, including Julius Caesar,
Mark Antony and Augustus (Octavian) …The group that was formed
initially differed greatly from the later Guard, which would assassinate
emperors ….

With the
right amount of money, or at will, they assassinated emperors,
bullied their own prefects, or turned on the people of Rome. In
41 Caligula was killed by conspirators from the senatorial class
and from the Guard. The Praetorians placed Claudius on the throne,
daring the Senate to oppose their decision….

It seems painfully
obvious to me that the Praetorian Guard has been in charge of the
U.S. for many decades. We've had an assassination of a U.S. President.
With the right amount of money, or a commitment to open the U.S.
Treasury to military plundering, the Praetorians can elect Presidents
too. Is it any wonder that American voters were only given a choice
between two pro-war, Yale educated, Skull and Bones initiates in
2004? Is it any wonder that Cong. Ron Paul is the only Presidential
candidate that credibly opposes the war in 2007?

The Wikipedia
article on Gen. Petraeus
also provides disturbing facts that
only reinforce the historical theme of the Roman Empire. Take for
instance his stint at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International
Affairs at Princeton University. The sad legacy of Woodrow Wilson
has been recounted again and again at LRC, so I will simply provide
a sampling for those who want to look here,
here
or here.

The bio
on General "Praetorian" gets even more interesting for
those who want to predict the future, and not merely recount
history. As noted by Wikipedia:

On the other
hand, Lawrence Korb has called him “the most political general
since General [Douglas] MacArthur” and said that “[he] is very
ambitious” (adding “and there’s nothing wrong with that”).

It's not entirely
crazy to imagine that General "Praetorian" could become
President "Praetorian". Think about it. It wasn't too
long after the U.S dropped nukes on Japan that the country elected
a former General named "Ike" as President. And now it's
no longer considered MAD for the Pentagon
to openly test proxies for theatre tactical nukes right outside
Las Vegas
. Of course, the "credible" candidates for
President all refuse to take the nuclear option "off the table"
with respect to Iran.

The past is
prologue. Heck, even our very first President was a General. Maybe
W will simply declare himself Caesar for life, only to be deposed
by his own "Petraeus" Guard. Caesar Eisenhower warned
us about the military industrial complex, and Caesar Washington
warned us against entangling alliances and foreign adventures. But
the fate of the Republic seems to have been written from the very
beginning.

Certainly
our founders were conscious of the fate of ancient Rome even as
they adopted the fasces
as a symbol
of our national power. And yes, it's the same symbolism
from which Italian fascism derived its name. Guard! Guard! Arrest
the President. And the General too! Oh, never mind.

August
27, 2007

William
F. Watkins [send him mail]
is an attorney in Leawood, Kansas. He is a graduate of Georgetown
University, and the University of Kansas Law School. Whenever possible,
he attends Mass celebrated in that ancient Latin language of the
Romans.

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