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Learning from the past - Rome and the West

Reader comment on item: A Million Moderate Muslims on the March
in response to reader comment: Kind letter by Ianus

Submitted by Ianus (Poland), May 15, 2007 at 15:47

Dear Guy Leven-Torres , or Ianus Agricolae salutem !

> Now that is what I call scholarly debate!

> Well said, and I must admit you are probably right.

Thanks a lot.

> My parents and I spent time out east and my father (still living) would agree with your comments whole heartedly! He regards Islam as a 'stupid religion' after serving in Iraq while it was still under British rule. He admired the Kurds though greatly. As for the rest he thought them totally incapable of improvement. He had good reason to believe this one suspects because of pals of his being bumped off (killed). Things do not appear to have changed much do they?

This reminds me strongly of something I came once across accidentally two years ago on another forum . A woman told about his father - a British veteran who served in North Africa in 1942-1943 and had very bitter experience dealing with the Arabs . He was appalled by what he had seen . Small wonder he became quite pessimistic about the future .


" What I can tell you is this. My Father, Frank Ransom, was a Sargeant in the British Commandos in WW2. (...) . During the war he was sent to North Africa. He traveled with the "regulars".

The evenings, when the soldiers stopped to eat and sleep, became a dreaded time for all. The arabs, who were in collusion with the Nazis, knew that the Brits and Americans found it appalling to kill children and women. Capitalizing on this, the arabs would send little children into the camps under the disguise of begging for food. Under the clothing of the arab children were bombs. Once inside the camps, the arabs detonated the bombs, blowing up the soldiers and their own children! Another tactic was to send in old women and young girls with baskets of trinkets, under the disguise of peddling their wares to the soldiers. Bombs were placed inside their baskets, and once again, the arabs would detonate the bombs, blowing up soldiers and women and girls alike. My Father said it was a terrible experience for the soldiers, who, once they realized what had happened to their fellow soldiers and the American troops, were forced to shoot the children and women when they approached their camps. It became such a problem, not knowing whether or not ANY approaching arab was concealing a bomb on their person, that they shot whoever approached. It was a terrible psychologic game the arabs played. They knew that it was morally reprehensable to the Brits and Americans to shoot these children and old women....some soldiers would "choke up" and not shoot them, resulting in terrible consequences for the soldiers. Many suffered lasting emotional problems from being forced into this horrible situation.

After the war my Father drilled into our heads daily this admonition, "Don't worry about the Germans, it is the arabs who will one day rise up and try to finish what Hitler started. Blowing themselves up....and everyone else....this is the future!" My Father is gone now, resting in Heaven. But my stomach churns and churns and I keep telling everyone who will listen what my Father warned us about for the future. Only the future is today! My Father's prophecy has come to pass."

> I have the luxury of being a scholar and one must always maintain an optimistic view of life otherwise one would have no faith in any of humanity.

Well, many good things happened in the past in spite of all the evil that otherwise prevailed . So there is at least some small reason to be optimistic. For a European during the Black Death it seemed unthinkable that this disease that killed 1/3 of Europe's population would be one day almost as innocent as a cold.

> My parents belonged to the old British Empire, and so I probably am a little romantic and want to believe the best in people. I must admit my life and travels in the East were most enjoyable, even if sometimes events proved perhaps otherwise, such as the murders of British soldiers by those opposed to British rule. Although this was fact, it did not change my basic assumption that individuals at least can make a difference.

Sure , they can do provided they live in an environment which allows and encourages indivuals to make a difference. Islamic culture doesn't belong to this category whatever criteria we might apply. It's a most herd-like and primitive religion I know. On individuals it imposes deadening uniformity , stultifying mediocrity and on all a paranoia .

> In an age when Imperialism and memories of it are fading fast, and the lessons to be learned from it that could be applied to modern day Iraq, it is tempting to see things a little less cynically than many modern people do unfamiliar with the past and a time when the West played a bigger role in the Islamic world than it does now.

Not only bigger but quite propicious. Slavery in Islamic countries was abolished only thanks to direct armed Western intervention . Although Islamically speaking it is a most "respectable" institution . The so called prophet was a major slave-holder.

> We can learn from the past nevertheless. It seems we are at present relearning the lessons my father's generation learned 70 years ago in respect of Islam and especially Iraq, and in fact the whole MIddle East.

> This is a pity since one would have thought the lessons should have been learned by now. Classical history has a similar situation in the post war period of the Second Punic War (218-201BC). Fifty years after that affair, Roman armies fared poorly in Spain, that like iraq was an unpopular war with Roman citizen soldiers. They too had to relearn the lessons only so recently learned 30 years before, by their fathers and grandfathers against Hannibal. The same poor leadership, lack of a proper understanding of the nature of the enemy, even appeasement.

> One General Mancinus surrendered 40,000 Roman legionaries to Numantia in Spain. These were only saved by Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, whose father had taken on the Numantines and their city as postwar clients some years before. Gracchus did a deal with the Spaniards but the whole affair was rejected by the Senate and the treaty destroyed. Mancinus was handed over to the Spanish in disgrace and a 'surge' under one Scipio Aemilinaus saw off the Numantines, their city destroyed and themselves sold into slavery. That war like Iraq was more brutal than most wars but there are lessons here for us surely?

But even after that the Romans didn't learn so much and the situation deteriorated as the experiences of the shameful Jugurthine wars show . But frankly , how could they learn ? The social backbone ( free and self-reliant peasantry) of the Roman Republic was eroded . The Gracchan reforms to revive free peasantry failed. Jugurtha saw clearly what new forces were shaping Rome's politics now and acted accordingly. He cynically noticed that in his political calculations he relied on nothing but on the insatiable greed of the ruling class in Rome and his finacial resources to buy support from them. ( C. Sallustius , Bellum Iugurthinum , 1 ; 5 "in avaritia nobilitatis et pecunia sua spem habere.")

It sounds very "modern " , doesn't it ? Today's Saudi princes seem to be reincarnations of Jugurtha under changed circumstances. If this comparison holds , then the West is a moribund late Roman republic. Externally strong , well-armed , waging a war here , a war there , but internally weak , corrupt and decadent . The spirit that made the West great and really powerful is almost dead .

Jugurtha also remarked a few decades after the events you mention "omnia Romae venalia esse" : "all things are for sale in Rome" . He added that the Roman Republic would perish the moment a rich enough and determined purchaser turned up . Well, mutatis mutandis the same can be said about the Western democracies . Any of them seems to be for sale . One has to wait untill a Sulla or a Caesar turn up backed by their Saudi treasurers to buy what is for sale and to appropriate by force what isn't .

> Cicero said something about 'a man not knowing history, has no future' I seem to remember. Is this perhaps our problem today with Iraq and extremism? or rather one ignores the lessons of the past with peril?

Or perhaps one simply doesn't know the past ? Given the fact that school system everywhere in the West deteriorates and poor eduction prevails in schools , can we be surprised that fewer and fewer of the young generation know and care about who in reality their forefathers were , what they did , thought , what made them so different from what they see around them ? What they are taught is mostly a cheap propaganda and generalisations apt to promote self-hatred and to accomodate the growing aggressive Muslim minorities who historically have always been the greatest threat to the Western culture. But all of this doesn't contribute to form critical minds of the youth.

Honestly , I know no leading politician who has a profound knowledge of the past. What they usually say about the past is most often nothing that trite glib phrases , rituals repeated ad nauseam which most surely betray an uncritical or forgetful mind .

> George W may just have the answer with his 'surge' after all!

> I think your President is far cleverer than many give him credit for!

Perhaps you're right . But my guess is that history will not be kind to him the moment the Saudi and American archives are open.


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