Monday, March 21, 2011

The Ninth Legion

A number of readers are probably familiar with the novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and the movie, The Eagle, based on her work which is being released in a few days.  In short, it deals with the disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion in the north of Britain. 

While historians have kicked around theories about what happened to the Ninth, the most likely one is that it was destroyed in fighting against the northern Britons.  In turn, the Emperor Hadrian came to Britain to survey the situation, resulting in a realization that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to subdue the Britons, and resulting in construction of Hadrian's Wall.

This event was important in two respects.  The first was that it showed that there was to be a high-water mark for what Romans could control in Britain (the Antonine Wall proved to be overreach and was abandoned after twenty years).  The second was that there was a recognition in general that there was a limit to what could be achieved through the force of Roman arms.

There is always a temptation to compare modern events to historical ones, to try to achieve some understanding of the present course based on the past.  Sometimes the comparisons are valid, sometimes they are similar in appearance only.  The sudden Western intervention in Libya is one of those events.

There is a belief that Rome's wars were solely wars of expansion and conquest.  The reality is that most of Rome's wars were seen by the Romans at the time as being wars to try to establish security.  While, yes, slaves and gold were nice benefits to military victory, the more important thing was making sure that a raging horde of Samnites or Celts didn't come knocking on the frontier. 

Likewise, we're in a position where we're waging perpetual war for perpetual security, but in this case, it's about oil security, not physical security.  Without territory, Rome could not maintain its stability.  Without oil, we cannot maintain our economic stability.  Libya's military is not a threat to ours -- Libya is simply in the middle of a small civil war.  The problem from the perspective of the West is that oil facilities are usually destroyed, along with other infrastructure, as people fight over these valuable assets.  In return, oil output from nations engaged in civil war drops dramatically.  This ultimately leads to economic damage to the industrial world. 

The problem, in the long term, is that we are getting overextended.  We cannot close the debt gap and we have no real serious discussion about trying to get spending under control.  At some point, this is going to catch up to us, but it's also questionable if we even have a choice but to try to stabilize the Middle East. 

Interesting times away...


  1. This is a great blog with intelligent and thought provoking commentary. Many thanks to the author and please keep up the great work!

  2. IMO we are involved in Libya with limited insight (non-existent?) into the unintended consequences of our actions. Obama (nor the European states involved) are willing to put boots on the ground. Without boots on the ground, air resources can not force Qaddifi and his tribesmen from power. All we are doing is creating rubble upon which the people of Libya will bleed.


  3. I really enjoy reading the thought provoking posts on this blog. Thanks !

  4. Just came across The Leibowitz Society. Glad I did.

  5. From what I'd read...I was under the impression that the U.S. CIA had started that civil war in order to have an excuse to go over there to bomb them. The same sources said that Qaddafi (spelling?) had plans to take his oil off the U.S. dollar and sell it for gold dinars.
    We had no business there except to mess with their country, kill a lot of innocent people, and destroy some of their infrastructure. Which, by the way, we could rebuild with our contractors.
    But...that's just what I heard. Maybe they were wrong - but it sounds like our M.O.