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What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Reader comment on item: State's Terror Untruths

Submitted by M. W. Guzy (United States), May 29, 2002 at 22:46

Two-thousand years ago, Rome was the globe’s preeminent military power. Having assumed the throne after quelling the tumult of civil war in the east, Augustus Caesar -- the adoptive son of a previous emperor -- dispatched his 17th, 18th and 19th legions to settle affairs with rebellious tribes on the western frontier. These proud units marched on the Germanic territories under the command of Publius Varus. They are now remembered as the "Lost Legions of Rome."

During this earlier version of the war on terror, Varus formed alliances with selected provincial chieftains in order to suppress the general rebellion. In 9 A.D., he dispatched his troops into the Teutoberg Forest at the urging of a local ally of convenience named Arminius. Once mired in the nearly impenetrable wilds, the legions were ambushed by an army of confederated German tribes led by none other than the crafty Arminius.

Varus committed suicide and the westward consolidation of the empire was permanently halted at the Rhine.

The Romans were slaughtered to a man. A subsequent expedition would bury their skeletal remains some six years later. As a consequence of this disaster, Varus committed suicide and the westward consolidation of the empire was permanently halted at the Rhine.

Flash forward a couple of millennia, and we find the world’s preeminent military power conducting a campaign that bears striking resemblance to the doomed venture recounted above. Having taken office after the tumultuous 2000 election, George W. Bush -- son of a prior president --dispatched troops to Afghanistan to settle affairs with the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists. Supported by U.S. airpower, ground action was waged primarily by local proxies coordinated by Special Forces. This strategy limited American casualties but, in retrospect, appears to have yielded an ambiguous result.

A conciliatory interim government has replaced a hostile regime, however, Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden remain at large -- due, in part, to the casual habits of Afghan combat. Most Taliban troops, for instance, were repatriated and sent home upon capture. Rival factions simply changed sides as warlords reordered their loyalties to accommodate changing circumstances. Currently, the shooting has abated somewhat, although the locals still occasionally launch rockets at American troops.

Our new ally, Pakistan, remains officially aligned with U.S. interests thanks only to the ruling military junta that suppresses its virulently anti-American civilian population. Meanwhile, expanded prosecution of the war effort has been put on hold until diplomats can bring peace to the Middle East -- an effort undertaken to placate yet other mercurial allies in the Arab League.

Like the Romans, we seek to manipulate indigenous peoples to suit our ends. Which is not to say that we are predestined to suffer the fate of Varus. It’s possible to profit from the lessons of history. To do so, however, you first must learn them.


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