Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rome & The Republic

The study of history has largely been abandoned in the American education system, particularly any study of ancient history but there are many lessons to be learned by simply examining the mistakes of the past. The parallels between ancient Rome and modern America should give pause to our political leaders today. Rome was a Republic that lasted for 482 years. It had an elected body—the Senate led by two Consuls. This was a very successful government until overthrown by Caesar in his drive for total power, but Rome itself lasted for over a thousand years and during that period experienced many problems and situations America faces today.

Rome was expansionist in that it conquered and incorporated territories into the Empire. But Rome was careful to preserve the cultures and leadership of those territories. Kings were left in place but most importantly Rome was careful not to tamper with the local customs and religions, that is until they ran up against the monotheistic Jews and Christians. This religious tolerance was not again experienced until the founding of America who incorporated religious tolerance into the Constitution. The Romans tolerated the Christians at first but the Christians simply would not accept the polytheistic views of the Romans. Eventually the Christians prevailed and the Roman Empire became Christian. Today America tolerates all religions including Atheism and Islam. However, just as the early Christians refused to accept the religious tolerance of the Roman Government so does Islam refuse to accept any religion except Islam. The Muslim community pleads for peace and understanding just as the early Christians did, but it should be noted that the Christians did not Christianize Rome through violence but through creeping influence and conversion until Rome was Christian. How will Islam impact America and America’s religious tolerance?

Rome accepted other people and cultures and the city itself was overflowing with people from all parts of the Empire. The Goths, Gauls, Visigoths, Britons, and others were not trying to overthrow Rome, they wanted to be part of the Roman Empire. They wanted to share the wealth and standard of living that characterized Rome. But in the simplest view, Rome simply could not accept this influx of people and cultures. Today America is under assault from thousands of people crossing our borders not to conquer us but to share the wealth and enjoy the stability of the government. This was a problem the Romans could not resolve for many reasons. They were preoccupied with foreign affairs, various wars, corruption in the government, failure in communications, unemployment, and a weakening economy. All of these issues exist in America today and it doesn’t appear that our government is any closer to solving them than the Romans but perhaps it might be worthwhile examining what the Romans did and try to not do those things.

Initially the Roman Senate was elected by the citizens of Rome and it represented their interests but gradually the Roman Senate became a self-serving group filled with corruption. Posts were bought and sold with the understanding that the person filling the post would enrich himself through corruption. The American Senate isn’t quite that bad – yet, but does the American Congress represent the people who vote them into office or do they represent the special interests and wealthy contributors who pay for their elections? The Romans never resolved this problem and whether America can is yet to be seen.

At one time Rome had over a million men in the Army spread across the Empire. This military presence was very expensive to maintain and it required a huge tax base just to maintain it. Nevertheless this huge Army was simply not enough to protect the borders or to maintain the integrity of the Empire. Today American has a huge military spread around the globe protecting America’s and in most cases international interests. This is being done with American money with only token amounts from other countries in the form of soldiers and money. Can America continue to support NATO? Can America continue to pretend the UN has any relevance and authority? Can America continue to play world policeman? The Romans couldn’t can America?

The lessons are there – is any one listening?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Periodically I run into something from my childhood that is long forgotten and placed on some dusty mental shelf. Something that suddenly brings into sharp focus the things that shaped me as a child and I recently encountered one of these artifacts -- this poem written my Rudyard Kipling. I first read this poem either in the eighth grade or freshman year and have long since forgotten it but in re-reading it as a retrospective on my life I am amazed by its accuracy and how it describes so much of my life.

Everyone is faced with challenges throughout their life and they never get easier, especially if you elect to lead others. Leadership is not for the weak or faint of heart because to stand out you must stand up and in standing up you present a target for those who lack the courage or temperament to lead. This short poem captures what leadership is all about.


Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;

If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!