Militarism and a Calculated Risk
Rome found herself, like the U. S. after World War II, in the unenviable position of being “world policeman.” Her people grew weary of this burden, and committed careless mistakes in a dangerous world.
In a military age, surrounded by nations becoming more aggressive, hostile and treacherous, Rome followed a policy that made her increasingly weaker defensively and more vulnerable to conquest. She thought her polices of defense would make her stronger, and for a while they did. But in the end they destroyed her!
Britain and the United States today, are experiencing the same problem. The English already have become satisfied with a “Little England” – giving up their position as a world power. The United States is also having grave difficulties. Despite the most awesome military machine the world has ever seen, The United States is losing power, prestige and respect. America no longer seems able to win wars, just stalemates at best.
It’s not that America and Britain have no power. It’s just that we have lost pride in our power. We are uncertain how to use our power. But notice what God said He would do if we refused to obey Him (which, we have): “And I will break the pride of your power” (Lev. 26:19).
Insignificant nations like Cuba and North Korea were able to stand up to superior American firepower. American forces were denied striking at the heart of enemy sanctuaries. This is a tragic spectacle for a nation that looks for its total protection from human weaponry alone.
For a dozen years the relatively inferior forces of the enemy of North Vietnam became a nagging nightmare to America, a major cause of national divisiveness!
Surprisingly, the historians report that the Roman Empire in the West fell under the dominance of “inferior” barbarians. Rome increasingly followed the military policy of taking a “calculated risk” on rearming neighboring warlike vassal states to defend her own borders. It backfired on her and, along with other shortcomings, allowed Roman power to be swept under!
For hundreds of years the Roman Empire possessed the most powerful, awe-inspiring and disciplined military force in history. At its peak, “The Roman Empire was surrounded by a ring of military fortresses, in Britain, on the Rhine, Danube and Euphrates; in Arabia, Egypt and Africa” (M. Rostovtzeff, Rome, pp. 210-211). But, to support this ever-growing military machine, with all its vast requirements for more fortresses, weapons of every kind, manpower and food, required heavy financial burdens on the government and populace. Taxes were high in order to support burgeoning military needs; the bureaucracy needing to back up the collection and distribution of supplies; grew ever more complicated and corrupt!
From Diocletian onward, vast armament factories manufactured all arms required for the insatiable military forces. There were fifteen factories in the Eastern Empire for production of shields and arms: Damascus, Antioch, Edessa, Nicomedia, Sardis, Thessalonica, and others. Other cities were centers for production of heavy cavalry armor.
The Western Empire had its vast military-industrial complexes, too. “There were shield works at Aquincum, Carnumtum, Lauriacum, Cremona, Augustodunum and Augusta Trevirorum, arrow factories at Concordia and Matison, a bow factory at Ticinum, a breastplate works at Mantua, sword factories at Luca and Remi, and for ballistae (catapult artillery) at Treviri” (A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, p. 834). Other arms were produced elsewhere.
Special factories produced bronze armor adorned with silver and gold for officers. Others produced uniforms for the troops and civil services.
“The factories must have been large establishments, for their personnel were a substantial element in the population of the towns in which they were situated” (ibid., p. 835). A familiar story to the economy of modern America and other nations! For example, the shipyards of Norfolk Virginia and military bases throughout the United States.
Rome borrowed military techniques or tactics from other nations. This gave her the latest effective tools of warfare. In the early Empire, the cool discipline and mastery of arms of her legions always won out in the end over the impetuous fury and more numerous hordes of many of her enemies. She might lose a battle, but she generally won the war.
The Romans were masters in the art of siege warfare. They built complex towers to overrun the highest walls. They developed huge protected battering rams to break down heavy walled fortresses. Besides the usual small personal arms – swords, spears, shields, bows and arrows, the Romans developed fear-inspiring and devastating heavy artillery, much of it mobile.
They had catapults that could hurl 50-pound rocks 400 yards or more – nearly a quarter of a mile reeking devastating destruction. Other catapults could hurl bags of stones, the Roman equivalent of shrapnel. One device called a ballista could hurl a 12-foot flaming spear 2,000 feet or more, over a third of a mile. A huge crossbow device could hurl smaller fire-tipped darts in rapid succession and strike home with great accuracy.
In early times, the Romans refrained from allying large numbers of barbarian troops. The sons of the senators, nobles and landholders produced the backbone and leadership of Roman legions. These were the courageous fighters who steadfastly fought for the protection and glory of their homeland, expressing the character and discipline of men engaged in the work of the state.
Later, however, the armies of Rome were literally filled by barbarian soldiers, many of them former enemies. In fact, when speaking of the army of the Empire in the West in the 5th century, we are talking basically about a barbarian army in the hire of Rome, and mostly an army of Germanic origin at that!
The Russian historian Rostovtzeff relates the beginning of this practice: “In the troublesome times of the later Antonines, Rome needed a constant supply of recruits to defend her from the barbarians. Thousands fell in battle, and still more were carried off by pestilence. And further, the civilized classes grew less and less accustomed to military service and sent inferior men to the ranks.
“Hence the emperors preferred to employ a more primitive section of the population, field labourers and herdsmen from the outskirts of the empire, Thracians, Illyrians, Spanish mountaineers, Moors, men from the north of Gaul, mountaineers from Asia Minor and Syria. And so the army came to represent the less civilized part of the population” (Rome, pp. 271, 274).
So Romans grew used to, and even preferred to have these barbarians do the fighting for them. They had long grown used to them as neighbors. Some even settled on lands within the Empire. They had long been well known as slaves. And gradually, the Germans became the greatest leaders of the military.
As pointed out by Roman historians, such as Tenny Frank, a vast change in the Roman character, temperament and national feeling developed as freed slave stock and other Easterners proliferated to become the majority within the Roman heartland itself. As the original Romans were killed in warfare or scattered in the colonies, their places at home were filled by these peoples. Racial stock changes had tremendous effect.
“The profuse intermixture of race, continuing without interruption from 200 B.C. far into the history of the Empire, produced a type utterly different from that which characterized the heroes of the early republic” (Duff, Freedom in the Early Roman Empire, p. 205).
With this gradual change of population came a steady drop in national feeling and deep patriotism. The freed slaves and other Easterners, after all, had little regard for ancient Roman traditions and cultural heritage. Their heritage lay elsewhere. In measure, this affected the quality of the armies of Rome, for many of the later Romans were unwilling to fight. Like the Romans, we too, are losing our patriotic history. Desecration of the American Flag, failure to state the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and a failure to teach history in our schools are only a few evidences of our patriotic decline.
“Under the later empire, service in the army grew so unpopular and even odious that many cut off the fingers of the right hand in order to escape military duty. The government was forced to impose severe penalties for such acts.”
“The results of this decline in the military spirit among the Romans was, as we have seen, that the recruiting ground of the legions became the barbarian lands outside the empire. The loss of the military spirit in a military age, and this transformation in the armies of Rome could of course have no other outcome, the entrance into the army of a non-Roman spirit, and the final overthrow of the imperial government by the revolt of the mutinous legions” (Philip Van Ness Myers, Rome: Its Rise and Fall, pp. 449-450).
Then, gradually, lower discipline and softer living further weakened the effectiveness of some of the troops. And rampaging corruption gripped many of the officers, with evil effects. Parallels to the sweeping changes taking place in the U.S. military structure cannot be missed, especially the relaxation of discipline and the scrapping of time-honored traditions.
Increasingly, growing numbers of Germanic tribes came in contact with the Empire, some peacefully, others as invaders. The general nature of these peoples was quite varied and unpredictable. Their basic nature was love of looting, pillaging and warfare, with few stable roots. Some became more peaceable because of weariness with warfare, and settled down within the Empire and served Rome.
Few of these tribes hated Rome to the point of wanting to totally destroy her. Many respected the civilization of Rome and its organization. But, the lure of plunder, riches and land often couldn’t’ be restrained when the opportunity offered itself and Rome steadily grew weaker.
With the pressure of many groups of rampaging barbarian tribes threatening the provinces, Rome accepted the offers of some tribes to serve in defense of the Empire as foederati (federated allies) in return for money, lands or supplies. Other tribes were forced en masse into the standards of Rome as the result of defeat in battle. Thus, the increasing threats of yet other ravaging barbarians pressured Rome into taking “calculated risks” and federating herself with uncertain allies. One has to question the relationships we are forming now in the Middle East. We are now extending the “hand of friendship” to those who have sworn to destroy us.
The German tribes, however, were more often fighting one another than fighting the Empire. Rome used them; first one, then another, to fight each other if any became a threat to the Empire. Rome tried, as much as possible, to maintain a balance of power between these warring unpredictable tribes so that none would gravely endanger Rome.
Rome even had to set up a “foreign aid” program to keep the barbarians from revolting. It was easier and cheaper to pay foreign mercenaries already in the provinces to protect the Empire than to go to her own defense. The policies of the Romans were much like our foreign-aid programs today. Rome hoped to buy her friends, and keep the “peace” with gifts of money and supplies. But the plan backfired!
“To fight the barbarians and also buy them off, and keep the magnificent edifice of the Empire standing, great resources were needed” (Ferdinand Lot, The End of the Ancient World and the Beginnings of the Middle Ages, p. 184).
More and more demands were made by the barbarians. As these demands increased on all sides, Rome could no longer shell out the required gifts. The parallels between then and now are clear!
A new terror struck the fringes of the Empire. Hordes of the terrible Huns were sweeping across the continent. Many German tribes fled in horror and sought Roman help. In A.D. 376 Emperor Valens permitted a million or so Goths to seek refuge within the Empire. The Goths came as suppliants for protection, food and shelter. If they were given lands and basic supplies, they promised that they would lead peaceful lives and provide auxiliaries for Rome’s defense if required.
“But the well-devised plan was frustrated by the knavery of the Roman officials who had its execution in charge. By their corrupt connivance the Goths were allowed to keep their arms; by their greediness the newcomers were defrauded of promised supplies; and by their perfidy they were driven into open rebellion” (William F. Allen, A Short History of the Roman People, p. 319).
Emperor Valens was killed in the battle of Adrianople (A.D. 378) in an effort to control the insurgents. (The Goths surprised the legions by introducing mounted cavalry which cut the Romans forces to ribbons.)
The Goths were finally given lands. But it was the beginning of the end. The story was to be repeated again and again in varying forms with many chieftains. The barbarians though often militarily inferior, continuously took advantage of the corrupt, internally weak and untrustworthy Roman government and military command.
The rapacious barbarians slowly sliced off pieces of the Empire until little was left of the Western Empire except Italy itself.
In this period, Alaric the Visigoth, supposedly in the service of Rome, sacked Rome because of slighted and cheated feelings. It was a sign of the weakness in the very heart of the Empire. In 455 Geiseric and the Vandals occupied and sacked Rome. The enfeeblement of the Empire had a snowballing effect. It encouraged other treacherous allies and enemies to join in the excitement and opportunities for plunder. The pressure on the forces of the Empire became unbearable.
Finally in A.D. 476, the fiction of Roman rule in the West finally came to an end when the Herulian, Odoacer, decided to replace the Roman figurehead, Romulus Augustulus, with himself. Rome, which had been at the mercy of her foreign allies and the barbarians, now fell before them.
As one Roman history source says: “The Roman army failed only at the end, and failed then because it trained in its own ranks the border nations that swept it back in the day of its old age and exhaustion” (Grant Showerman, Rome and the Romans, pp. 465-466).
Dr. Robert Strausz-Hupe’, noted educator in international relations, summarized Rome’s military woes this way: “Rome’s hostile neighbors turned more aggressive. For awhile, appeasement for her enemies bought Rome peace. Then her strongest allies defected, and her enemies, encouraged by Rome’s limp response to their provocations, renewed the attack and proceeded to ravage Rome’s home territories, Italy and Gaul.”
Rome’s “calculated risk”- her federations with questionable allies, failed. Her allies turned out to be “Frankenstein monsters”! They turned on Rome and destroyed her! What about Britain and America today?
The United States has spent trillions of dollars on armaments and defense since the end of World War II. It poured over $130 billion into Vietnam alone. Despite this awesome power potential, the U.S. lost the Pueblo and apologized to get the crew back without the ship,. Despite the latest weapons, a low rate power was able to encourage a U.S pullout from Vietnam. Why?
A number of years ago a Naval official, Commander P. N. Searls, spoke out against the declining moral standards and values of society, especially mentioning the new recruits he had to deal with.
“We can have the best missiles and ships and planes in the world,” he said, “but they are no better than the men who operate them.” Then he referred to Rome’s fall.
“Effete and over civilized Rome lost its national will and national purpose and was overrun by the Vandals. Civilizations with a low standard of morality have been pushed to the grave throughout history by people with a low standard of dying.” (In Vietnam, millions of Americans didn’t know why the U.S. was involved.)
Character and purpose are the important values. That’s where the strength of a nation begins. Unfortunately, we have been neglecting those qualities and have relied instead upon sheer military power (in armaments) along with the power of other nations as allies.
Since the end of World War II, the United States has given or loaned billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid! Has it gained us permanent, unwavering allies? In the past 50 plus years the United States has given away three to five times as much in arms as it has sold! It gave away nearly $35 billion worth of arms from 1950 to 1969, and sold over$12 billion more. Has it made America any safer? The United States has entered into defense pacts with over 40 nations.
Does military money, hardware and manpower form a wall behind which we can let morality, righteous goals and values collapse in a final splurge of self-indulgence and selfishness? Does America actually expect to remain permanently strong with such trends?
Today, America is being overcome with a noninvolvement frame of mind. The general populace had grown apathetic, ignorant and unconcerned about the increasing power of former enemies or potential enemies.
Military standards and spirit have decayed. Before the end of the draft in the United States, the prime young men of the nation, drafted for service, were rejected in alarming numbers for physical, mental or moral reasons.
In 1961, President Kennedy was highly disturbed when he learned that the U.S. Army had to call up seven men to get two soldiers. Of the five rejected, three were turned down for physical reasons, and two for mental disabilities. Later, standards were lowered so more could be accepted.
The lowering of spirit and quality of manpower has begun to manifest itself in growing trends affecting the military. Growing dissidence, refusal to obey orders, underground newspapers undermining loyalty, drug and moral problems, racial conflicts, and relaxed regulations regarding military discipline are all n the increase.
Today, the United States finds itself supporting, defending and looking for support from former enemies, while former allies are now enemies, or becoming more hostile to the U.S.
America and Britain chose to take a “calculated risk” when they rearmed Germany in fear of the Soviets. Increasingly, Japan and other nations are being asked to share the burden against the Communist “barbarians.” Our trust is increasingly placed in allies to defend the borders of the American sphere of influence.
And now our allies are growing uneasy and alarmed about America’s show of weakness and over involvement with her internal problems to the point where they suspect America may not keep up its professed commitments. Is history repeating itself?
Could it be possible that in the end our “calculated risks” will be provoked to take matters into their own hands and turn out to be “Frankenstein monsters”? Will it happen to us as to Rome?
An ancient warning was applied to the biblical nation of Judah that could be a solemn warning to modern America:
“How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers (allies) she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies” (Lamentations 1:1-2).
It seems to be a growing “sport” for many nations to blame the United States for any or all world ills, and this should not be lost to anyone with open eyes.