Our history books extol the Roman Empire: the aqueducts! The buildings! The wealth! The power! The glory that was Rome; tragically destroyed by barbarians.
Alternatively, according to your personal agenda, destroyed by bread and circuses-the supposed Roman welfare state, or by Imperial Overreach-spreading their forces too thinly across the “civilized” world. If only we could pinpoint the reason for the fall of the Roman Empire, we could avoid the fall of our own. Yet all empires fall, 100%.
The truth is always more interesting and knobbly than history book propaganda. The Roman Empire, that mafia with a big army, did not fall in such a spectacular manner as supposed. Because of the usual political intriguing and self-interested back-stabbing that afflict all empires, the ‘Roman Empire’ moved to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 330 AD and lasted over a thousand years until 1453 when it was conquered by the Ottomans.
What happened back in Rome itself after that was that the rump of the Roman Empire slowly committed suicide. The barbarians (anyone not Roman, according to them) who entered Rome in 410 AD were Germanic Roman mercenaries who had been betrayed and screwed out of even what they needed to stay alive: land and therefore food. They did not destroy Rome. They did some minor looting, passed through and continued looking for land on which to settle their families.
As for the Pax Romana, the supposed peace that Rome imposed on the world, you might ask those they subjugated how they enjoyed it. For example, while we often think the crucifixion of Jesus was a unique event, the Romans actually crucified tens of thousands of subjects. Trajan totally wiped out the entire population of Dacia and Julius Caesar killed millions in Gaul, both for gold. Trajan erected a column to celebrate and Caesar published his chronicle to put his spin on events. And how do we admire a society that met regularly to watch humans and animals slaughtered in vast numbers in real time-for fun?
Why this distortion of the history of the Roman Empire? Who benefits? Obviously, the perpetrators and elites in the Roman Empire, who wrote the histories. “History is written by the victors,” said Winston Chruchill, who also said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”
Why is the bloody, inglorious Roman Empire held up as some sort of role model for the West? It makes sense if a nation intends to create a bloody, inglorious empire of its own and imbue it with heroic significance.
Washington described America in 1783 as a “rising empire,” and later predicted that the “infant empire” that was born from the revolutionary war would one day “have some weight in the scale of Empires.” In Hamilton’s opinion, expressed in Federalist #1, America was “the most interesting” empire in the world. “Empire for Liberty,” the title that Temple University’s Richard Immerman chose for his book, is from Jefferson, who also described the United States as an “Empire of Liberty.”
The tension between liberty and empire is apparent. How can you spread, conquer and control others and claim to be for liberty? Liberty for your self alone is hypocritical. So America fought in Vietnam to free the Vietnamese from communist oppression, in Nicarauga on the side of the murderous Contras against the socialists and of course on the side of the mujahadeem in Afghanistan against the USSR. America’s wars are always presented as righteous adventures, not imperialism, to the American public.
Martin Luther King said, “A lie cannot live,” by which he meant it cannot live forever. Some lies have lived for quite awhile, though, and in a nation constantly at war and with over 800 military bases on foreign soil, maybe it is time to just tell the truth. “We want your resources; we want to control your oil and your economy and we want to take your stuff.”
As Johan Galtung, founder of Peace Studies at Transcend International, said, “The Vikings were the last honest thieves.”