Author Page for Robert Farley
Was the fall of Rome a great catastrophe that cast the West into darkness for centuries to come? Or, as scholars argue today, was there no crisis at all, but simply a peaceful blending of barbarians into Roman culture, an essentially positive transformation? In The Fall of Rome, eminent historian Bryan Ward-Perkins argues that the “peaceful” theory of Rome’s “transformation” is badly in error. Indeed, he sees the fall of Rome as a time of horror and dislocation that destroyed a great civilization, throwing the inhabitants of the West back to a standard of living typical of prehistoric times. Attacking contemporary theories with relish and making use of modern archaeological evidence, he looks at both the wider explanations for the disintegration of the Roman world and also the consequences for the lives of everyday Romans, who were caught in a world of economic collapse, marauding barbarians, and the rise of a new religious orthodoxy. The book recaptures the drama and violence of the last days of the Roman world, and reminds us of the very real terrors of barbarian occupation. Equally important, Ward-Perkins contends that a key problem with the new way of looking at the end of the ancient world is that all difficulty and awkwardness is smoothed out into a steady and positive transformation of society. Nothing ever goes badly wrong in this vision of the past. The evidence shows otherwise.
This struck me as a bit overstated, especially given these posts by Erik and Dave regarding the conservative appropriation of the historical record. Now, in fairness, ancient history is a hobby for me and not a profession. I haven’t read the book. Dr. Ward-Perkins may have a very good set of reasons for believing that modern historiography has gotten Rome wrong and given the barbarians too much credit. Nevertheless, given the language of the blurb above, the character of some of the reviews, and the bizarre attraction that some right wing cranks have for the ancient world, I’m somewhat skeptical.
First, I’m wondering whether the blurb is actually an accurate description of the contents of the book. The aforementioned right wing cranks will buy anything that purports to debunk “political correctness”, and I could imagine that the blurb is just part of a marketing strategy directed at increasing book sales.
If the blurb is accurate, then I really have to wonder about what the author is arguing against. It has been relatively uncontroversial since, oh, Edward Gibbon that the fall of Rome in the West was a gradual affair that involved the slow but sure replacement of a Romanized elite with a Germanic elite. The synthesis of these two cultures brought us Western feudalism. I’m not really the best read guy on the subject, but I’m not aware of a lot of material suggesting that life got better in the West when Rome fell. One of the Amazon reviews claims that Ward-Perkins sees himself as attacking a Marxist interpretation of history which claims that life got better for the underclass after the fall of the Empire. If this is so, Ward-Perkins brutally misunderstands the Marxist view of history. Curiously, that same review says that Ward-Perkins claims to be a materialist, which really would be odd when combined with an anti-Marxist agenda.
Really (and stating again that it’s possible I’m being completely unfair to Dr. Ward-Perkins) this looks to me to be less about Rome and more about contemporary politics and academia. Lousy lefty politically correct multicultural academics want to go and complicate the fall of Rome by, you know, describing it in some detail. They have to be stopped. Viewing the Romans and the Germans as different cultures is wrong; viewing the Romans as the superior culture (by some standard not, apparently, referring to their warfighting prowess) is correct, and these darned lefties would understand that if they pulled their heads out of their asses. Some cultures are right and good, while others are bad and evil.
Now, I’m not even hostile to many elements of the argument. I agree that material prosperity was greater under the Empire than in the Dark Ages or the medieval period. Technologically, the Romans were significantly more advanced than those that followed them. Living under barbarians probably did suck, although living under the Caesar’s was no picnic, either. What I don’t see is the point of politicizing any of this. But, again, it’s possible that I’m just being paranoid, and that the book is a very solid piece of scholarship and not a hatchett piece.
Speaking of hackwork, I’m really uncertain what to say about this. I genuinely believe that Jonah Goldberg is smarter than the title of this book implies. Given that, it’s clear that he’s writing it just to piss people on the left off. So, I’m uncertain whether we should grant him the satisfaction of getting pissed off about it. I suppose that I’ll limit my commentary to the following:
The fascist parties of Europe are notable not for their commitment to universal healthcare and progressive taxation, which they share with just about every political party in Europe of the time and of today, but by their commitment to virile, violent masculinity and hyper-patriotism, two qualities which modern conservative commentators most often criticize American leftists for lacking. Although American leftists are far too willing to toss around the words “fascist” and “Nazi” when describing the American right, they at least are correctly identifying a meaningful similarity between the political position of American conservatives and European fascists.
I will attempt to refrain from further commentary upon publication.
Canada gets serious.
The Canadian navy is drafting a plan to acquire two large amphibious assault ships capable of transporting thousands of troops and dozens of tanks and trucks across the seas.
The idea, which merited a passing reference in last spring’s defence policy statement, is expected to go before the federal Treasury Board next year for consideration, said the director of the navy’s maritime requirements.
“We’re looking at being more engaged on a global scale,” said Capt. Peter Ellis.
“I think it’s a critical requirement, especially if we’re going to conduct operations at short notice.”
Rather than building the ships themselves, the Canadians may purchase two US San Antonio class amphibious assault vessels.
We’ll see if this actually comes through. I have my doubts as to whether this is part of a larger move against Denmark, but the ships could give Canada a bigger piece of the action in NATO and in other “coalition of the willing” operations.
Via Free Republic.
Alert reader Cathy points us to this report on the use of bioweapons in World War II:
Ken Alibek, a former top Soviet bioweapons scientist, contends that an outbreak of tularemia among German troops during the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad resulted from the deliberate spraying of the agent by the Soviet defenders.
I had not previously been aware of this claim. There are some reasons to take it seriously, as Alibek has apparently proven reliable regarding other claims about the Soviet bioweapon program. It’s likely that the Russians would have taken any measures that they were capable of in the defense of Stalingrad, although the use of bioweapons there would run into the same problems of self-infection as anywhere else; more, in fact, do to the close quarters nature of the fighting. A deliberately inflicted epidemic would also go some distance toward explaining the truly awful mortality rate of German prisoners from the battle (90% plus).
I’m inclined to agree Eric Croddy’s assessment in Military Medicine, though. A tularemia epidemic was already in progress in the region at the time, and affected the Red Army almost as seriously as the Wehrmacht. Moreover, German controlled Stalingrad was an almost ideal disease incubator, featuring lots of people in close quarters, without food, in unsanitary conditions, and under tremendous amounts of stress.
You know, somebody should write a dissertation about cooperative training between military organizations. In fact, somebody should pay some enterprising young scholar to write a book about it…
That seems about right. The most highly skilled military trainers in the world can’t conjure up a sense of national identity, loyalty, patriotism and a widespread belief in the legitimacy of a given government. That’s not a knock against the Americans doing the training, it’s recognition of the limits of training as such. In light of the fact that sectarian militias seem better able to field able fighting forces than does the Iraqi government, it should be no surprise that insofar as the Iraqi Army is an effective fighting force it’s also a sectarian militia not a professional, non-partisan, national force.
My concerns about the training of the Iraqi Army are a little bit different than those of either Yglesias or Halperin. I’m concerned that the US Army may be inadequate to the task of training the Iraqi Army to do what it needs to do, which is fight a counter-insurgency war. It has been noted in a few places that the problem with the US military effort in Iraq involves doctrine as much as numbers. The Army, and to a lesser extent the Marine Corps, don’t care for counter-insurgency and don’t do it particularly well.
Military doctrine consists of an extraordinarily complicated body of knowledge, much of which is bound up in the personnel of the military organization in question. Long story short, knowing and doing are tightly tied together in questions of organizational doctrine. Militaries know what they do and teach what they know. In the context of the US Army in Iraq, this produces some obvious problems. If we don’t really know what we’re doing in terms of counter-insurgency, then the Iraqis we train aren’t really going to know, either. Worse, to the extent that we teach what we know, we may be imparting onto the Iraqis a series of lessons that we would rather they not learn. I doubt this latter is happening; it seems to me (from a distance) that the Iraqi Army is not being trained as a clone of the US Army, but rather as something entirely different. That’s fine if you can pull it off, but I’m very, very skeptical that you can.
This is one of the reasons that coalition building still matters. The British and the French know how to fight counter-insurgency wars. It follows that they know how to train others to do the same. This makes them appropriate partners for the kind of reconstruction we want to do in Iraq. Previous US efforts to train large foreign military organizations have turned out poorly. Although Halperin blames recruiting for much of the difficulty in South Vietnam, it is also the case that the US Army just wasn’t very interested in training the ARVN, and displayed particularly little interest in training it to fight a counter-insurgency conflict. So, while the concerns of Halperin and Yglesias are well founded, I suspect that the problem may be deeper and more intractable than even they believe.
I think that Turkey should be part of the EU. My reasons? Asia Minor has been a critical part of the European world since ancient times, and Islamic Turkey since the 1300s. Turkey has territory on the European continent. Istanbul is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Including Turkey will expand the political and military capabilities of the EU, and demonstrate to the rest of the world that Europeans are tolerant of racial and religious differences. Turkish entry will ensure for the Europeans a stable and friendly gateway to the Middle East.
However. . .
It seems that most Europeans do not share these sentiments. Anti-Turkey attitudes seem stronger that similar misgivings about the entry of Eastern European states into the EU. Given this, it hardly makes sense to pursue seriously membership negotiations.
I suppose that a certain segment of the policy making elite in the EU believes that the general populace, which has opposed other steps toward deepening and enlarging the EU in the past, will eventually come around. In the case of Turkey, I’m skeptical, and I’m almost inclined to believe that pushing on this issue will create an anti-EU backlash at the popular level.
But, maybe they know what they’re doing.
The commissioning of Dreadnought set the navies of the world to zero, or close enough. The reasons for this remain unclear. Dreadnought represented no great technical revolution; she was simply larger, faster, and more heavily armed than any predecessor. The capacity to build a dreadnought type battleship was easily within the capabilities of any nation that could construct large armored vessels. Accordingly, the French, Russian, US, and German navies immediately began construction on their own dreadnoughts (the US South Carolina class, indeed, had been designed before Dreadnought). Those countries without the capacity to build large armored ships simply bought them from others, most often Great Britain. This group included Brazil, which ordered three battleships from British yards in the years before the First World War. Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo were delivered to Brazil in 1910, but the third ship, to be named Rio De Janiero, had another path.
Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo were very similar to Dreadnought in appearance and design, although they were slightly larger and carried 12 12″ guns, rather than the ten of Dreadnought. When presented to Brazil, the two ships were probably the most powerful in the world. They were certainly superior to the latest class of US battleships, although the US Navy commissioned four dreadnoughts in 1910 and two each in 1911 and 1912. The purchase of these ships spurred a minor naval race between Brazil and its Southern Cone neighbors, as Argentina ordered two ships from the United States in 1910, and Chile one from the UK in 1912 (although the Chilean battleship, Almirante Latorre, served in the Royal Navy as Canada for four years before delivery).
Other than Canada, none of these ships ever saw combat. For the Southern Cone navies (as well as for some others) battleships served no meaningful military purpose. Any war between the three states would be decided on land. The possession of a pair of dreadnoughts, even if the ships were state of the art, would not long dissuade a major naval power from intervention; as noted above, the US possessed eight such ships by 1912, would commission another eight by 1918, another five by 1923. At the Battle of Jutland, the Grand Fleet deployed thirty seven dreadnoughts and the High Seas Fleet twenty one. Sao Paulo and her kin were symbols, meant to indicate to foreign and domestic audiences that Brazil was a modern, powerful player on the world stage. In 1910, with The Influence of Sea Power on History being read by one and all, being modern meant possessing a dreadnought.
It did not, however, mean maintaining a dreadnought. Brazil has pursued a more active world presence that its neighbors in South America, and participated on the Allied side in both World War I and World War II. Upon Brazil’s declaration of war in 1917, it was thought sensible to deploy Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo with the Grand Fleet. Sadly, the two ships were in such poor condition that they had to be refit in order to be made battleworthy. The refits lasted nearly two years, extending well after the end of the war. The rest of the Brazilian Navy made a genunine contribution to the war effort by patrolling for U-boats in the South Atlantic.
During the interwar period the Brazilian Navy decided to modernize both of the ships. Between 1931 and 1935 Minas Gerais was extensively reconstructed. Sao Paulo, however, was in such bad shape that modernization was pointless. She served her last twenty years as a stationary defense ship, until being sold for scrap in 1951. In a storm off the Azores, Sao Paulo broke her tow line and disappeared. No evidence of the wreck was ever found.
Ms. Miller authorized Mr. Abrams to talk to Mr. Libby’s lawyer, Joseph A. Tate. The question was whether Mr. Libby really wanted her to testify. Mr. Abrams passed the details of his conversation with Mr. Tate along to Ms. Miller and to Times executives and lawyers, people involved in the internal discussion said.
People present at the meetings said that what they heard about the preliminary negotiations was troubling.
Mr. Abrams told Ms. Miller and the group that Mr. Tate said she was free to testify. Mr. Abrams said Mr. Tate also passed along some information about Mr. Libby’s grand jury testimony: that he had not told Ms. Miller the name or undercover status of Mr. Wilson’s wife.
That raised a potential conflict for Ms. Miller. Did the references in her notes to “Valerie Flame” and “Victoria Wilson” suggest that she would have to contradict Mr. Libby’s account of their conversations? Ms. Miller said in an interview that she concluded that Mr. Tate was sending her a message that Mr. Libby did not want her to testify.
What what what?
The fact that Libby’s testimony contradicted Miller’s notes indicated to Miller that Libby didn’t want her to testify?
That’s great. Just fucking great. A reporter for the New York Times, the flagship newspaper in the United States of America, and the paper most often critcized for its attachment to liberal causes, decided to sit in jail so that she wouldn’t contradict the testimony of one of her conservative sources by suggesting that, after all, he had lied in his testimony.
I’m glad that our journalists have such a deep, deep concern for their right wing sources that they’ll do time even when those sources indicate that testimony is permissable. It really redeems my faith in the journalistic profession, and in the New York Times specifically.