September 30, 2003
Classical pacifism, an oxymoron
I listened to Wesley Clark in Henniker, New Hampshire at the start of the weekend and heard between the lines the classic warning of a first-class warrior against the folly of limitless empire:I agree with Glenn Reynolds that the analogy does not hold, and not simply because the United States is not an imperial power like Rome, but because pullback strategies (whether Hadrian's strategy may be called appeasement is debatable) did not secure peace then, now will they now -- and Hadrian's pullback from certain provinces should not be seen in isolation. In Hadrian's case, even the perception of the pullbacks as appeasement might have had a role in triggering a war with disastrous consequences -- some of which are with us today.
While it is true that Hadrian pulled back from the Euphrates and made deals with the Dacians, these areas had already been pacified, and he pulled back because he felt the empire had been overextended. Building the famous wall between England and Scotland also stressed Hadrian's idea of clearly defined, defensible borders. There is not one iota of evidence that Hadrian ever backed down from a war once it started. One of Rome's worst wars, in fact, started after Hadrian's pullback: the bar Kochba rebellion, discussed infra.
Now, I cannot state conclusively that Hadrian's pullbacks were seen as "weak" and emboldened Shimon bar Kochba or any of the Jewish rebels. Rebellions in Judea had been going on for many decades -- long before Hadrian was born. In order to make the claim that the pullbacks emboldened the rebels, you'd have to get inside the rebel leaders' heads and analyze their thinking, which Romans did not do; although they did present Hadrian with the head of bar Kochba. But the fact is, the uprising did start after Hadrian's pullbacks. The empire had grown quite huge and unwieldy, so adjusting the borders may well have been the reasonable, prudent, and wise thing to do. Certainly it was not appeasement. But, in the eyes of angry, messianic radicals, waiting for any sign that their moment was at hand, a pullback by the Romans from other outlying provinces could very likely have been seen as precisely the evidence of weakness indicating an opportune moment to strike.
So much for Hadrian and how the border pullbacks of a vastly overextended empire might have played a role in the timing of a revolt. What has this in any way to do with General Clark? I didn't make the analogy, but the only way I can makes sense out of it is if I accept the underlying premise that the United States is a vast empire which needs a Hadrian to pull back from its overextended borders. Otherwise, the analogy makes no sense.
But even if I accept Mr. Ludlow's premise that we are another Roman Empire (and that presidents are the same as emperors), the argument still doesn't make sense -- precisely because pulling back failed utterly to create a magical Pax Romana for Hadrian. 90,000 Romans died in the bar Kochba war. In those days, each man had to be killed the hard way; by swords, spears, arrows. Today this would be called hand-to-hand combat. Adjusted for the relative size of the populations, 90,000 Romans becomes 500,000 Americans. (Around 50 million lived in the Roman Empire.)
No matter how you look at it, that's a pretty expensive peace. And on top of that, consider the 580,000 Jewish deaths....
Contrast General Clark's view:
One thing I've learned is--in my work in the Balkans and visits elsewhere around the globe: you very seldom solve political problems by killing people; you intensify them. The killing needs to stop."
While it might be true that killing fails to solve political problems, war is much more than a political problem, as Hadrian discovered.
Anyway, for a variety of reasons, Clark is no Hadrian.
I think Mr. Lydon ought to pull back from his rather strained analogy.
posted by Eric on 09.30.03 at 10:57 PM
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