Ask a room full of historians when the fall of Rome became inevitable and you’ll get as many different answers as there are historians in the room. We can’t even all agree as to when Rome fell, much less the point at which she became unsalvageable. However, I will submit that one of the most significant points in Roman history, and one that was crucial in her fall, though not an immediate cause, was the Siege of Veii in 396 B.C.
Up until that time, the soldiers of Rome were citizens and fought for Rome, for Freedom, for Glory, for Honor, whatever it is to each man; money wasn’t part of the equation. But the Siege of Veii took longer than expected and it caused the soldiers to miss their harvest. To compensate, the Senate voted to pay the soldiers who remained in the field. This was supposed to be a one-time thing, but it turned into common practice and led to the formation of a large, standing, professional army. Men no longer tended their fields and then left for war, they were full time soldiers, serving as warriors for 20 years and doing nothing else. They fought for pay, and were no longer only interested in defending Rome. We see this many times through the many army camp mutinies when the pay was in arrears or was late.
The only difference between mercenaries and the Roman army was that the mercenaries would take their money and go home after the fight, while the Army was already home. All of the civil wars fought in later centuries would have hardly been possible if the Army had been as organized as it had been prior to 396 B.C.
I am more than a little concerned about how our American army is organized. It isn’t much different than the Roman army. There are very few who enlist principally to defend American liberty, most rightly recognize that American liberty is under no threat from foreign powers in the first place, but still, few understand what liberty is. It is a profession, or an adventure.
I enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard 10 years ago this coming May, and went to basic and AIT over the summer and fall. Most everyone in my training group had enlisted to “pay for college” or “for the bonus” or “to see the world.” Of course, a few disturbed individuals expressed their desire to “blow something up” or “to know what it’s like to kill someone.” Liberty was never part of the equation.
We had a brief time in our history before the government got involved where our military was largely like that of the Romans before the siege of Veii. In the early days of the Revolution there were no terms of enlistment. During the siege of Boston, patriots came and went according to their own schedule and there was no shortage of muskets trained on the Redcoats. Sadly, Washington brought over Friedrich Steuben, a Prussian army veteran who brought continental regularity to the new American Army. This means officers were appointed from above rather than being elected by the men and that the days of men coming and going as they pleased were over. After Steuben got a hold of the army there would be no more intermissions between battles, where men could go back home to engage in productive work and trade. Now, with regular terms of enlistment, men would be confined to camp for months at a time. No longer able to feed themselves through their own efforts, the army turned to seizing supplies from farms, which hurt morale and threw confusion over the civilian population. If the British happened upon your homestead, they might take everything and burn the place to the ground. It now seemed the only difference between the American army and the British Army was that the Americans were short on matches.
Ever since that time, soldiery has been corrupted. You know a war is worthy and just when men are willing to bear a financial burden of fighting it, but there is no way all the men going over to Iraq and Afghanistan would go and fight if they weren’t being paid. On the other hand, we would fight if we were invaded.
This is where we get back to the V.A. and the comments Jason made on the show. It is part of the contract to provide all the benefits that were promised, including healthcare and mental health. However, it is a deal that never should have been made.
Just consider the Scots in their centuries long struggle for independence from the English. Do you think they would be willing to fight only if the Scottish crown promised to provide disability checks to them and V.A. style benefits if they got hurt? NO. Better to lose life or limb than to be slaves to the English! And that’s a great indicator the wars we fight are unjust. Were they just there would be no need for disability checks, or for V.A. benefits, or even for pay aside from bacon and beans and a new pair of shoes every other year.
If the fight is worth fighting, you won’t need to be paid. You won’t need benefits. Liberty and the defense of home and hearth is all the motivation needed.
But war is the health of the state; the more wars that can be fought, the more power that can be consolidated into the hands of the state. And if men are unwilling to risk life and limb, pay them, give them enlistment bonuses, free college, V.A. benefits, disability benefits, survivor benefits, whatever the price, we must have war at any cost!
I’ll close it out with an excerpt from the Declaration of Arbroath, written by the nobles of Scotland in 1320 as an appeal to the Church to intercede and help bring peace to the British Island. It should provide a capstone in the contrast between those who pay their soldiers for conquest and those who fight only for defense and liberty itself.
“…Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself…”