|Dr. Hartnell's Nutty the A.D.D. Squirrel||
We all fall down...
At the beginning of the Middle Ages (350-1450), the Western Roman Empire fragmented, weakened, and fell in 476. The theories surrounding its fall are numerous, and since the Roman Empire crumbled, all other empires have been compared to it.
Understanding the fall of Rome is the key to the survival of American. Since the 20th Century, the U.S. has been compared to Rome. Here's how:
(1) Military: This is the most obvious comparison. Rome was the superpower of its day, and the U.S. is just as dominant (with a military presence in 132 of the 191 member states of the UN).
(2) Technology: For the Romans, it was their straight roads that let them move troops/supplies at awesome speeds. Those highways find their counterpart in the information superhighway: the Internet (begun as a U.S. military tool).
(3) Language: The English language has become the Latin of its day – a language spoken worldwide.
(4) Money: The American dollar remains the most powerful currency in the world, much like Roman coinage.
(5) Cultural sabotage: As the Romans observed in Britain, the natives liked togas, baths, and central heating – but never realized these were symbols of their "enslavement". Today, the U.S. offers a cultural package of Starbucks, Coke, McDonald's, and Disney.
(6) Rule by proxy: When it works, you don't have to resort to direct force; it is possible to rule by remote control, using client states or alliances. Do NATO and the UN ring a bell?
(7) 9/11 moment: Rome had its own 9/11 disaster. In the 80s BC, Hellenistic King Mithridates called on his followers to kill all Roman citizens, naming a specific day for the slaughter. They heeded the call – and killed 80,000 Romans in communities across Greece. Romans asked the same thing Americans did after 9/11... "Why are we hated so much?"
(8) Myths: America's mythologizing of its past – its casting of Founding Fathers as heroic titans, its folk-tale rendering of the Boston Tea Party and the War of Independence – is very Romanesque. Rome, too, felt the need to create a mythic past, starred with heroes.
(9) God's favoritism: America shares Rome's conviction that it is on a mission sanctioned from on high. Caesar Augustus, the first emperor, declared himself the son of a god, raising a statue to his adoptive father Julius Caesar on a podium alongside Mars and Venus. The U.S. dollar says "In God We Trust", and U.S. politicians end speeches with "God bless America".
Don't worry. There are still many differences between the U.S. and Rome:
Romans reveled in their status as masters of the world, but few Americans would brag of their own imperialism. (Most would deny it.) Raised to see ourselves as a rebel nation and plucky underdog, it's hard to accept the role of "master".
One key factor keeps Americans from making a parallel between themselves and Rome: Rome fell.
Cambridge scholar Christopher Kelly says the U.S. must ask itself:
"What is the optimum size for a non-territorial empire? How interventionist will it be outside its borders? What degree of control will it
wish to exercise, how directly, how much through local elites?"
These were the same questions faced by Rome. Let's hope the U.S. is smart enough to address them early on...