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Decline and Fall (seriously)

The other "Decline and Fall" thread put a final piece in place for me.

I've been thinking for a while that we may be seeing the decline of the American Empire. There are so many parallels to the decline of the Roman Empire it's not even funny - increasingly insular Congress, Chief Executives who seem to feel more and more like laws don't apply to them, television=colosseum, government that buys votes by redistribution of the wealth of others.

The one thing I couldn't figure out was the military - a major factor in the fall of the Roman Empire was that they had a mercenary army, so when it came time to keep the vandals out, there was no patriotism or allegiance to lay down their lives for the crown.

We have a mercenary army, but it's still nationalist and driven by patriotism, so I just didn't see it.

BUT - America did not become an empire on military might. It became an empire on economic might. So maybe the issue isn't "mercenary army" - it's "outsourcing that which made you great"

And suddenly it becomes *really* clear, and a little bit frightening...

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 21, 2003

how does the USA have a "mercenary army?"

.
Thursday, August 21, 2003

It can't come too quickly for me.  Empire is the last thing I want to be part of.  (And yes, that *is* a patriotic statement.)  Interesting insight about outsourcing, though, Philo!  Now I have something else to chew on when I can't fall asleep... ;>

Sam Livingston-Gray
Thursday, August 21, 2003

"how does the USA have a "mercenary army?" "

Paid to fight, fight for pay. :-)

It's a tongue-in-cheek comment, actually - I doubt many servicemen and women do it for the money, if any. (and FWIW, I served for 13 years, so I get to say things like this. :-) )

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Not even close, Philo.

At the moment we've got one of the best well-run governments on the planet.  Parts of the world has been governed by far worse for far longer.

You think we've got it bad?  Well, I'm off to Colombia next week.  You should come along with me; you'd see it gets far, far worse than this ...

Roman was ruled by autocratic emperors for centuries before it fell.  Many of them were outright homocidal fruitcakes.  We haven't even seen our first Nero yet.  And it took Rome about four centuries to fall after that.  And the collapse never happened immediately -- in the Eastern part of the empire, culture and stable government continued for another millinea.

The Canadians are pretty frightening, but I don't think they'll be sacking Washington DC anytime soon, waving swords and demanding retribution for centuries of outright subjugation. 

If there was ever a time when the US was in serious peril from within, it was the Civil War.  But these days I see no massive armed revolution on the horizon -- Marxist, libertarian, or otherwise.

Folks have been predicting the imminent demise of the US ever since 1776.  Well, some day they've got to be right by chance, but I see no reason why it should be in my lifetime anymore than it should have been in theirs.

Alyosha`
Thursday, August 21, 2003

"The Canadians are pretty frightening"

Should be changed to

The Canadians are EXTREMELY smart.

There you go
Thursday, August 21, 2003

"I doubt many servicemen and women do it for the money"

You stated somewhere that you were a Naval Academy grad, so you have a vastly different perspective than I did as a Sergeant in the Army back in the 80's. Most of the people I knew really didn't think that they would ever face a war. Many looked at it just as a job. For a lot of them, it was an escape from poverty or at least bleak job prospects in their hometowns. Surprising few, though, were in it for the Army College Fund, like myself.

I'm not saying there weren't a good many that were patriotic. Most were. I just didn't see it as their primary motivation for enlisting.

With all that said, however, I didn't know of any with a truly mercenary mindset. A real mercenary isn't as concerned as much with patriotism or morality as they are with money. I was in the 10th Mountain at Ft. Benning (before Ft. Drum was completed in NY). Along with all the infantrymen in my brigade I knew a lot of the Rangers stationed there. Even among the hoo-yah crowd I didn't personally know any with a mercenary mindset. I'm sure a very small percentage were, but they were few and far between.

Nick
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Nick-
(You people have *got* to put email addresses in so we can take stuff like this offline! :-) )

Well, since I had a crew that had the same 80's "oh we'll never really fight the Russians" attitude and ended up taking them into Desert Storm (yeah, much ado about nothing, but we didn't know that going in), I'll say I am nothing but proud of my guys - nobody ever talked about anything but doing their jobs and kicking Saddam's butt. I didn't see *any* griping about "actually having to fight."

Where I *have* seen the "I didn't expect to actually do anything" is in reservists - they're happy to train and take a paycheck, but when it comes time to actually deploy, suddenly a thousand excuses why they can't go come out of the woodwork. (not all reservists, mind you - most again are patriots. But an alarming amount really are just in it for the money and pension)

Philo

Philo
Thursday, August 21, 2003

"The Canadians are pretty frightening, but I don't think they'll be sacking Washington DC anytime soon"

Wrong-o Alyosha`. Obviously you've never seen the documentary "Canadian Bacon". Thank God President Alan Alda was able to lead our nation through those perilous times.

:-) [smiley face for the sarcasm-impaired]

Nick
Thursday, August 21, 2003

The Canadians are waiting for 2013 when it will be the 200th anniversary of when they sacked DC and burned the White House the last time.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, August 21, 2003

""The Canadians are pretty frightening"

Please explain the logic underlying this statement :) As a Canadian who has been living in Florida for a while and is soon moving across to Europe, I would *love* to hear how the system in place in the US is superior ....

jedidjab79
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Daniel 2:44

GenX'er
Thursday, August 21, 2003

I think it was meant to be a humorous jab at military threats to the US. Given that we (Canada) are largely homogenous with the US (you know, given the largely similar history and extensive migration between), I don't think it's a factor even if we weren't militarily impotent.

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Philo - I think we're in general agreement. I didn't know anyone that would've gone AWOL in the event of a war, and most would have been dug in with a kick-ass attitude. I can think of a few who would have been goldbrickers, but then again the Army doesn't attract as good of a class of people as the Navy (seriously).

My main point was that there were people who joined for the money, but they weren't mercenary (I think there's a clear distinction).

One last point in case I offended anyone with my "class of people" comment above.  As I watched the Iraq II war coverage with the embedded reporters, I couldn't help thinking how all the Army guys looked like normal people. That may seem like an odd comment, but back when I was in half the recruits were the dregs of society. A lot didn't have high school diplomas (just GED's). I also learned that "join the Army or go to jail" really is a sentence handed down by some judges. Others spent their formative years in juvie halls. I also met a few whose recruiters helped them cheat on the ASVAB test. But since then, the Army has raised the bar for enlistment criteria, so the "class of people" comment may not be as true these days.

I included my email address this time so I can be bombarded with hate mail, virus attachments, etc. :-)

Nick
Thursday, August 21, 2003

The empires fall from within. The Roman Empire fell among other things because roman emperors hired the foederati (Germanic tribes) to fight against other Germanic tribes. In the end nobody fought and everybody started to pillage Rome. Even so the invader’s leaders proclaimed themselves roman emperors and continued the roman tradition for a while.

Unlike other empires Bush had and still has a strong support for the Iraq war. Probably the American public will prefer to have troops abroad if this will diminish chances of attacks on US soil.

19th floor
Thursday, August 21, 2003

"I've been thinking for a while that we may be seeing the decline of the American Empire. There are so many parallels to the decline of the Roman Empire it's not even funny.."

I don't agree about the parallels.  The Roman empire's modus operendi was to conquer countries and then allow them to keep their armies if they agreed to pay taxes and fight for the empire.  Nowadays, empires simply rise and fall a lot faster (Russia, Great Britain, Spain, France, etc.).

As for the person who mentioned German mercenaries.  I believe it was a combination of European and Asian tribes that eventually conquered the Western half of the empire.

I do agree with you that we are witnessing the decline of the American Empire.  Technology and the rise of very large multi-national corporations are two of the causes.


"We have a mercenary army..."

Not really, however, we do give green cards to immigrants willing to join one of the armed forces. 

Our National Guard was created to deal with civil disturbances (primarily work strikes and riots) and since then its role has expanded.  The military will tell you that the National Guard's history actually goes back to the time when we had volunteer militias. 


"BUT - America did not become an empire on military might. It became an empire on economic might."

Perhaps in the beginning.  Nowadays we are a superpower (economic and military).

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, August 21, 2003

We don't even have to debate the merits of paying our armed forces because we actively employ mercenaries in addition to them. In the Gulf War,  1 out of 100 people over there fighting/working for us was a paid civilian. In the current Iraq business, 1 out of 10 is a paid civilian. Do the math, follow the trend, and you will see where we are heading. BTW, this data comes courtesy of paid military advisors who studied where all of the world's military went after the Soviet Union fell. Those people had to work somewhere.

FWIW, I agree with your Roman analogy Philo. And, to Alyosha`: just because other countries are worse than us doesn't mean we are doing great. Rome fell despite the fact that they were the most powerful empire for quite a time. In fact, the Vikings and the Huns had primitive economies and "barbaric" tactics, but still managed to extract hefty tributes and eventually toppled the Roman empire (directly and indirectly).

We will be challenged not because we all suck but because we are facing some of the worst economic and social challenges in our history and have no leaders intellectually or morally capable of leading us.

StickyWicket
Thursday, August 21, 2003

I don't pay attention to politics and economics too closely, but arn't we still creaming the rest of the world?  The US economy is in much better shape then everywhere else, and we are still at the forefront of most innovation.  Because of the U.N., I don't see the United States falling to another military power. (oh yeah, and also the fact that our military is vastly superior to everyone elses).  The only way I see the downfall of the US is either other countries economies catching up, or the US pissing off its own citizens and all of us revolting.  (but then it would still kind of be the US, just a different govt. right?) 

vince
Thursday, August 21, 2003

I think that the American empire is only about to emerge.

Iraq is the first step, with America translating its commercial influence into empirical rule.

The British Empire emerged from similarly commercial roots.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/state/empire/east_india_01.shtml

Ged Byrne
Thursday, August 21, 2003

i hope the US empire doesn' t decline too quickly, I don' t think I'd like to live in a world controlled by muslim fundamentalists or the chinese.

.
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Debt and deficit - gotta watch those two.

Britian went down the tubes due to debt - couldn't not meet the global expense of maintaining an empire.

In the 19th century it was hard to imagine another empire coming up - basically the lack of fun (due to wars) did the Brits in. And they had a protected market - they basically had cheap commodities shipped into England and had a monopoly on supplying the colonies in manufactured good.

I worry about the US because we gotta make money - at the moment too much of the US debt is underwritten by investors in other countries, like Japan and China.

US defence spending is high - but I am not sure how good that is for the overall economy. The USSR, among many other reasons, was bankrupt because of defence spending.

Sure we sell alot of defence gear overseas - but alot of it is given at a subsidized price.

US industries don't bring in the bucks they used to - in the fifties/sixties/seventies US manufacturing was king.

Boeing is the largest exporter - i.e. foreign earner for the US. But they are going through a tough time compared to Airbus. Boeing is going more in the defence route - but the major customer is the US government.

I think at the moment US industries see defence as the easy money earner - because this industry is protected. This is a hidden subsidy to the industries and make them less competitive in the commercial sector world-wide.

Just my 2 cents - I am not an economist or any thing like that. Just a guy worried about the future. I am barely able to pay off my student loans, buy a house, have kids, save for their education, add to my employer supported health insurance - so I do not have time to follow politics - irony intended :)

Rangit Sangha
Thursday, August 21, 2003

I've been thinking along the same lines, Philo ... that this could be the beginning of a societal collapse, like the collapse of the Soviet Union or communist Germany.  Mostly due to the various ways big corporations have been allowed to rape the public, with the help of the government in many cases.  Soviet Russia was the poster child for the failure of communism, but the US is on the brink of going down a path that will make it the poster child for the failure of capitalism.

The government is increasingly becoming a puppet for big business.  Corporations buy laws like the DMCA and other anti-free speech laws that can put people in jail just for watching a movie on an unapproved operating system or talking about information security or copy protection, like the guy who did over a year in Federal prison for warning a company's customers about a security hole that the company refused to fix after several months (http://www.securityfocus.com/columnists/179 ).  Meanwhile, they have been making progress in lobbying for even more extreme laws like the super-DMCA and CDBPTA.

Media consolidations are an ever-increasing the threat to free speech.  Mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, and over-reaching patents create more and more monopolistic forces in the economy, reducing not just the choice of what things we can buy, but also who we can choose to work for.

Corporations are in a mad frenzy to send as many jobs as they can overseas, regardless of whether it is actually profitable in the long run to do so. At the same time, the departure of jobs without any replacement on the horizon chops down their own customer base, creating a stagnant economy tinkering inches from the edge of a deflationary downslide.

Corporations are no longer instruments for making profits for shareholders, serving customers or creating jobs.  They have deteriorated to the point where they are just tools for fattening the pockets of the executives at the expense of everybody else.  Shareholder profits and jobs are now just side effects that may occur for a little while before the executives can collect 8-figure bonuses and pensions as they run the company to the ground.

All the above plus the multitrillion dollar government debt, the large consumer debt, and the ever-increasing trade deficit makes me wonder if there is anything holding up the US economy that is not merely a figment of our collective imaginations.

T. Norman
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Raging hedonism will bring down the US of A in due time.
The rest of the world doesn't have to worry, just watch those MTV videos where you see the seeds of hedonism is already starting to poison the mind of the American youths.

no worries
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Interesting read somewhat related to my post above

http://www.city-journal.org/html/13_3_how_hip_hop.html

no worries
Thursday, August 21, 2003

Philo,

I agree that there are enough parallels to the Roman empire  and the US to cause concern. 

At the beginning of the empire, the legions were not mercenary, but drawn from the poor classes who saw the army as a way to get land. The officers were from the wealthier classes. It was later that mercenaries made up the majority of the army. So we have a few years to go before the end! 

John McQuilling
Thursday, August 21, 2003

no worries has it spot on.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, August 22, 2003

"At the moment we've got one of the best well-run governments on the planet"

Thanks, that's given me my biggest laugh of the week!


Friday, August 22, 2003

I think a better model would be the British Empire of the mid-1800s.  America is in an expansionist phase and with the removal of the Soviet Union is beginning to work directly rather than through client states/governments.  I'd give it about 30-50 years before decline. 

A cynic writes
Friday, August 22, 2003

I'm sure we'll all be fine until the unlikely event of treacherous bunch of upstarts in some distant colony decide they want to rule themselves.

Now what sort of people would do a thing like that?

OC
Friday, August 22, 2003

Demographics.

Latin America, the Arab and Muslim world, and Africa have growing, young populations.

Europe, America and Japan have shrinking, aging populations.  As the West all retires, who's going to pay pension benefits, and who's going to work to make the economy grow?

So the only hope America and the West have is to successfully immigrate and indoctrinate young, energetic, procreating people into our societies if we want our cultural DNA to survive.

ps Trying to do my bit to save Western society with the procreation part.  One offspring, another on the way.  If my wife and I have another one after that, we will have contributed to positive U.S. population growth.

Jim Rankin
Friday, August 22, 2003

It's fun to read this thread, as a Chinese-Canadian.

Canada is homogenous with the US? Where is our Declaration of Independence?

Controlled by Chinese? Not bad at all, unless you mean the current (or nearly future) Chinese communist government. But wait  at least 30 years for China to become a real threat -- to have literate parents raise another generation of  literate kids.

Rick Tang
Friday, August 22, 2003

Dear Earth friends, don't worry...Martian visitors stand with you!

Observer
Friday, March 26, 2004

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