Home History No Public, No Brains, Crash

No Public, No Brains, Crash


Abstract; Having a republic (“public thing”) is not just nicer to the public, it’s also a military advantage.  The important concept here is “public”. Rome crashed militarily from too much fascism, that is, lack of public input. The USA stealth war in Afghanistan (1979-2013) and the rise of the USA as a surveillance state were engaged secretly and pursued without public debate. Thus no real public support, or intelligence. Time to cut the secrecy, and bring back the public. If one does not want to kiss the republic goodbye, that is.

When the fall of Rome is evoked, old fashion historians focus on military events at the end of the Fourth and beginning of the Fifth Century. Or they brandish hundreds of entangled causes of decay. Superficially the empire cracked because:

The military crash of Rome blossomed at the Battle of Hadrianopolis, August 9, 378 CE, when the Gothic cavalry decisively annihilated  the extremely experienced Oriental Roman field army (including the emperor Valens, single-minded author of the disaster).

(Although the mysterious defeat and death of Augustus Julian in Mesopotamia (earlier, in 363 CE) was more fateful.)

The disaster at Hadrianopolis/Adrianople was a near fatal blow to the prestige, military, economy and tax base of the core of the empire. The empire was unable to recover for a number of reasons. In particular because plutocrats were too mighty to be taxed.

In 400 CE, the legions were ordered out of Britain and the Rhine Frontier. The Franks, shock troops and nation “infeodated” (under treaty and oath) to the empire were left in charge. Instead of having the defense of the empire staying a public thing, it was subcontracted!

However, during the winter solstice of 406 CE, the Rhine froze over, and an enormous coalition of savage Germanic nations charged through Gallia and Hispania, all the way to Africa (in the case of the Vandals).  

That was the fatal blow to the Western empire, the “Occidental Part”. Population and economy collapsed. The Vandals, from their African redoubt, established an empire that reigned on the Western Mediterranean, cutting the grain trade, starving Italy, shutting down international trade, etc.

The Goths seized Rome four years later (410 CE). A century later, the Franks, in a full consultation with the Consul Anastasius (who reigned in Constantinople as Augustus for 27 years until his death at age 88), would finally destroy the Goths at the Battle of Vouillé, in 507 CE. Rome, that is, Constantinople, then made Clovis Consul.

Real Man: Clovis Killed King Alaric Himself
Real Man: Clovis Killed King Alaric Himself

Thus 101 years exactly after the savages broke through, the Romans (aka the Franks) turned things around militarily at last. True, they had been busy meanwhile, destroying the cause of all that turmoil, the Huns (who had pushed the Goths and other Germans west, to start with).

Vouillé had avenged Hadrianopolis. 129 years later. History can unfold slowly, although it goes faster these days.

But the most interesting question is what happened at Hadrianopolis.

And, even more fascinating, why did it happen?  Roughly, the defeat happened because the Roman system was fascist, with one single jealous man at the top. The intelligence of the collective was reduced to the intelligence of one.

Actually it was a bit more subtle: the top emperor, Valens, was jealous of the success of one of the top generals, Sebastian, who had defeated some Goths, and of his nephew, the young Gratian, emperor in Occident, who had also defeated fierce enemies, the Alamani (the Franks would finally destroy those “All Men” two centuries later).

Valens wanted his own victory. Although everybody in the Roman military structure, including the officers in his own field army, and the Frank Richomeres, head of Gratian’s guard, told him to wait for Gratian’s army, which was only 400 kilometers away. So Valens marched his army ferociously for 7 hours over difficult terrain in full sun, and when thoroughly exhausted and dehydrated, engaged battle, without even knowing where the redoubtable Gothic cavalry was.

One man had taken all the decisions, all the wrong decisions. The one-man-alone-in-command factor was the fundamental cause of the defeat.

One can compare with two other spectacular defeats, this time the defeat of famous Republics. At Cannae an enormous Roman army was annihilated by Hannibal. What happened? The Romans fell into a trap: Hannibal retreated to give the Roman center an illusion of victory, drawing it in, and then enveloping the entire Roman body with cavalry, squeezing it, similarly to what would happen, six centuries later, at Hadrianopolis.

At Cannae, the Roman army was unwise, imprudent, outsmarted. However the army was not engaged in a march of obvious idiocy because of one man’s folly, as it would be at Adrianople. If it had been, that would have been stopped right away (as happened say when the French army tried to defeat the Brits in Toulon; as France was a republic, Napoleon, then just a captain, was able to contest the strategy of his superiors, was supported by politicians, and won a great victory).

The same hold for the defeat of France in May 1940. Just like Hannibal at Cannae, but on a much grander scale, Hitler and his generals, thoroughly desperate to start with, decided to be lucky, as that was the only thing that could save them. It did. They conceived the phantasmagoric plan to draw in the army of the Republic, by smartly attacking the Netherlands first.

Just as the Romans at Cannae and Hadrianopolis, sure of victory, the French rushed in their elite armor and armies forward. Then the Nazis, undetected thanks to Lady Luck, and how crazy their strategy was, cut them from behind.

So the difference is subtle. It’s a question of degree. The mind of one, versus the mind of the many. At Hadrianopolis, the orders given to the army were outright insane. All top military officers begged emperor Valens to reconsider. He refused, because he could, being the head fascist. But his head was no good. It was permeated by Christianity, that is, superstition.

At Cannae and the Battle of France, the armies of the Republics, blinded by hubris, confronted adversaries who were desperate, in all logic, and thus could only try to be lucky. And they were.

Then, of course, luck carries only that far against the intelligence and character that a superior public brings. Rome took seventeen years to defeat Carthage (218 BCE-201 BCE), the French republic, thanks to its reluctant, or even initially hostile, but finally enthusiastic allies, six years to annihilate the Nazis.

Conclusion? War is always the most serious business. One has always to be ready for the worst. Hubris ought not to be invited. And the public is both the brains and hearts of war.

The USA started the war in Afghanistan by 1979, under Carter, to block the Afghans, Russians and. despised French to exploit the resources in Central Asia without profits for Washington/Wall Street, and to show all who was the boss (Brzezinski claimed it was just to destroy the USSR, but he is dissembling).

At the same time, to make war by proxy, the USA decided that Pakistan’s dirty work in Afghanistan was best complemented by others. So Washington recruited Bin Laden and other fanatics, in cooperation and collaboration with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and its collaborator and enemy, the Saudi Inter Service directorate (notice all these people are alive and well).

That attack on Afghanistan was hubristic, greedy, full of imperial overstrech. Those adjectives count as three moral negatives. In Afghanistan, the USA had, at best, only one (fake) moral positive: namely the specious, devious argument that their rogue mercenary Bin Laden had attacked from there. (Yeah, and who made Bin Laden into a soldier of god, and armed him, to start with?)  

Perhaps the most important asset in a long war, is moral superiority. Morality is the extension of war to the realm of the possible.

Moral superiority is why, ultimately, the Republics won against the fascists Hannibal and Hitler. Or why, ultimately, the Franks defeated the Goths (the Franks were tolerant, inclusive, more civilized, and supportive of the 97%; not so with the Arian, exclusive Goths).

Reciprocally, lack of Roman moral superiority is why the Romans were defeated by the Goths (both sides were Christian; but the Goths had made a peace proposition that was advantageous to Rome, and that Valens rejected hubristically).

A fourth moral negative in Afghanistan is that the USA made a cynical usage of a primitive superstition, precisely because it was primitive, hateful, and illogical. Right from the start, in 1979, the USA fought to establish, or re-establish, fundamental Islam in Afghanistan (as the USA had done in Iran, or Pakistan, let alone Saudi Arabia or Egypt).

Once again the prominent tactic was that superstitious people can be easily manipulated, as the CIA had done in Iran, by instrumentalizing the Shiites against PM Mosaddegh (culprit of oil nationalization, and general insolence). However, Afghanistan, as a republic, and the benign monarchy before that,  had been pretty much free of superstition and at peace, so the USA strived to re-impose, twice, on Afghanistan a fascist, sexist interpretation of Islam.

This is no way to win a war. Morality cannot foster, or tolerate, big contradictions. As it is, the West has nothing much to defend in the Islamist republic of Afghanistan. Best to negotiate directly with the Taliban. Or, barring that, to just withdraw.

One lesson of the Roman military collapse, was too much energy was spent fighting war in the Middle East without enough overall civilizational superiority to win once and for all. All this energy playing military Sisyphus was as much energy that was not spent on the crucial frontiers: the Balkans, and, especially, the Rhine-Danube gap. Or reacquiring civilizational superiority.

Instead, what we presently observe is that the USA is turning stealthily into a military regime, complete with secret supreme court of surveillance and secret laws. How can one have secret laws in a res PUBLICA? Are not laws the architecture? Are they not public, by definition, in a republic?

It’s time to stop that drift. Obama should yank the USA out of Afghanistan, after making to the Taliban an offer it can’t refuse. He should also remember that Rome rotted from inside first. The more secret the rot, the worst the gangrene. Industrial strength secrecy has no place in a Re-PUBLIC. Moral force is domineering for wars, and the survival of civilization, in the fullness of time.

History is not just complex. It has meta-layers of complexity, as psychology does, and because psychology does, on the grandest scale. Those who do not want to learn from history, do not want to learn from psychology.

Patrice Ayme


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