Who Does that Cast as Caligula?

Military considers recruiting foreigners – The Boston Globe

I don’t want to sound like I’m catching creeping Spenglerism, after all this is only a trial balloon albeit one with antecedents (see #5 on this generally horrifying list), but isn’t recruiting foreign legions said to be one of the (many) causes of the downfall of the Roman empire?


The introduction of barbarians into the Roman armies became every day more universal, more necessary, and more fatal . . . As they freely mingled with the subjects of the empire, they gradually learned to despise their manners and to imitate their arts. … and though most of them preferred the ties of allegiance to those of blood, they did not always avoid the guilt, or at least the suspicion, of holding a treasonable correspondence with the enemy, of inviting his invasion, or of sparing his retreat.

— Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 397 (1776)

And, yes, the headline may be a cheap shot, since Caligula was part of the Western (Roman) empire, and I think in in the quote above Gibbon was writing about the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire. But “Who does that cast as Diocletian?”, or Theodosius I, Flavius Zeno or Justin II, would all be better questions, but wouldn’t have the same zing.

Whatever Gibbon meant, given the state of things inside the Beltway and outside our borders, it’s to the Byzantine and not the Roman Empire that we should be looking to for models. So here’s a nice academic parlor game: Which Byzantine Emperor does W most resemble?

This entry was posted in Politics: US. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Who Does that Cast as Caligula?

  1. anon says:

    “isn’t recruiting foreign legions said to be one of the (many) causes of the downfall of the Roman empire?”

    Very confused. I thought we liberals were supposed to rail on Bushie for going it alone in Iraq. Now you’re saying that multiculturalism, coalitions, and relying on the international community are bad things. Also, does your analogy extend such that muslims are like the Vandals and other barbaric tribes that destroyed Roman culture? Also, if its bad to have foreigners in our military, what about our factories?

    I’m not the smartest liberal thinker on the net, I like others to give me my talking points. So please clarify. Thanks!

  2. Michael says:

    Cooperating with democratically elected foreign governments in service to aims that contribute to international peace and security: usually good.

    Recruiting foreigners so desperate that they want to be our legionnaires and dangling citizenship in front of them as a reward — not because we think this is the sort of citizen we want, but because neither we nor our allies support our own wars enough to fight them — usually not so good.

    That help?

  3. anon says:

    How does one determine if the would-be soldiers are “desperate … to be our legionnaires” or are legitimately dedicated to making the ultimate sacrifice for American ideals? Surely in S.Fla. you are familiar with occasional Herald coverage of Hispanic immigrants serving to earn citizenship. Does one level the same criticism at Israel, where diaspora Jews seeking to make Israel home must serve in the army? What about the French Foreign Legion…good or bad?

  4. michael says:

    As regards immigrants joining up, the first point is that once they are already admitted to the US, they’ve not only chosen to be here but are within a category — family, skills, whatever — that Congress in its wisdom has decided is a good part of our national mix. The second point is that while some clearly are motivated by patriotic fervor, many others — like a large fraction of our native-born volunteer army — are motivated primarily by economic incentives ranging from a lack of alternate employment to wanting education benefits while in the service, or after leaving it.

    I don’t think the French foreign legion is a model I want to emulate. I see nothing attractive about it, and much to dislike. (Nor do I think that foreign shores are just crawling with people who want to die for US ideals, nor to protect you and me and our way of life; I’m going to presume, as does the discussion of this proposal, that in the main they are people who want a US passport and a US life, and are willing to take risks for it.) As for the Israeli model, which is born of necessity and seems to have considerable societal disadvantages, immigrants are only being asked to do the same duty as the locals. That is not this proposal at all.

    Maybe the US needs a serious debate on conscription; I can see arguments on both sides. But that would be a different and healthier debate than this one.

    (I guess no one likes my parlor game?)

  5. Matt Austern says:

    Nah, the passage you’re quoting from Gibbon is from the time of Constantine, before the eastern and western parts of the empire split for good. Besides, in context it’s pretty clear that Gibbon is discussing something that applied to all parts of the empire and that had been true for some time.

    It’s hard not to see parallels from Roman history, yes. The incompetent and monstrous emperor that I think of most, though, isn’t Caligula but Commodus.

  6. Joe says:

    Michael, when I worked at Navy Recruiting Command 20 years ago as a JAG officer, there were studies commissioned by the personnel command that predicted this very problem. As the birth rate dropped, and as fewer and fewer native born Americans were willing to join the all-volunteer force, the USA would come to a time when the military would have to actively recruit immigrants in order to maintain a viable force. If the native-born are not willing to serve in the military, and if Americans insist on maintaining this style of military presence in foreign countries, I don’t think that there is an alternative to the draft.

    Oh, and the French Foreign Legion got its collective ass kicked at Dienbienphu.

  7. Mojo says:

    Not an emperor (even in decline Rome had some standards), but I’d say Bush is most like Publius Quinctilius Varus.

  8. Vadranor says:

    It is true that Varus was militarily incompetent, but after the debacle at Teutoburg Forest, he took responsibility by committting suicide. Bush has never accepted responsibility for anything.

  9. anon says:

    Aren’t we supposed to be glad the American Empire is crumbling, so that the more enlightened international bodies like the UN will gain greater power? Isn’t it a good thing that our youth have wised up, as John Kerry says, so they don’t want to serve in the military?

  10. Dons Blog says:

    We’ve been using Philipinos for decades. And it would make a lot more sense to pay less and get more troops than what we’re paying companies like Blackwater. I’ll guarantee US troops aren’t being paid $50k a year.

    Add to this the opportunity to acculurate immigrants which often doesn’t happen in latino communities in places like East Los Angeles.

    I think the danger point is when we hire entire divisions of troops managed under their own leadership. But a few thousand immigrants folded into regular corp isn’t going to make that much of a difference. In fact, it may improve a few things as any diversity does.

Comments are closed.