Sunday, March 10, 2013

Odd Military Parallel Between Byzantium + America

While reviewing the declines of multiple empires looking for the best parallel for modern America's decay, I realized no decline is the same, but the Western Roman Empire's slide and final decapitation by Theoderic the Ostrogoth felt like a best fit. Despite that feeling, I kept going back to the Byzantine Empire. There were so many things in my Norwich books on Byzantium that felt applicable to present day America, which I'll post about later. The most eerie being the power struggle between the cosmopolitan culture of Constantinople that supplied men to the academies, church and bureaucracy vs. the proto-feudal, large land estate dominated Anatolian aristocracy that supplied men to the military. Constantinople was the religious, political, impregnable, and wealthy capital of the Empire, while Anatolia was the grain producing area to the southeast in modern day Turkey. As the Empire took shape, good Emperors knew that a healthy Anatolia with the small farmers who would serve as soldiers and the large land owners as an aristocratic officer class were good for the Empire's health. It was a delicate relationship that needed attention at times.

 
Strikingly similar to modern America, here is a great passage near the end of the second book in Norwich's trilogy, The Apogee. The passage explains what created the situation of the military being weak and in poor condition right when it was needed most with the new threat, the Seljuk Turks, on the edge of the frontier:

Once again the bureaucracy was all powerful operating on a scale unmatched anywhere else (with the possible exception of China) for several centuries; for it has to be remembered that the Byzantine Empire, absolute monarchy though it might be, ran its economy on distinct socialist lines. Capitalism was allowed, but rigidly controlled at every stage; production, labor, consumption, foreign trade, public welfare and even the movement of population were all firmly in the hands of the State. The consequence was a vast army of civil servants, taking its orders theoretically from the Emperor - though effectively more often than not, from Psellus and his friends - and inspired, so far as one can see, by one overriding principle: to curb - if not actually to destroy - the power of the army... It followed that the Army must be humbled, and reduced to a proper state of subordination. It must be starved of funds, the authority of the generals must be limited, the former peasant-soldiers - many of whom had followed government advice and bought their exemption from military service - must be progressively replaced by foreign mercenaries.


The progressives who make up the American media and academia class are decidedly anti-military. America has for years moved bombing and operations away from generals and towards the Oval Office (drone kill list review anyone?). We have more lawyers than you can count in the military with countless orders of engagement that seem to tie our troops' hands instead of applying maximum force. We have the media elite debating if the military is too white and male. In 2009, immigrants made up 8% of the armed forces personnel, a jump from 5% from the prior year. As far as peasant-soldiers buying an exemption from service, well that might as well be our move from the draft to an all-volunteer force. We do not require all young men who normally grow up to be the leaders of a nation to serve; we just take all comers with financial & citizenship incentives. This Byzantium faction struggle was a short period, taking less than fifty years to hollow out the military and weaken their nation. A string of incompetent Emperors and a bureaucratic class devoted to its power, court security and prestige in the Empire, above all else, created the long slow decline of the great Empire. Sounds a little too familiar.

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