When In Rome

In thinking about the Present State of Affairs I'm sometimes reminded of the situation at the end of the Roman Republic, when Rome was beginning to establish itself as a powerful force in the Mediterranean but was grappling with unpleasant pirates harrassing sea trade and local communities ashore. Like the Roman Republic, we're pretty difficult to beat on a fair field of battle. In fact, I would defend the proposition that it's never happened, in spite of what some nattering nabobs would have us believe about Vietnam. What do you do when you want to fight with somebody whom you know to be fully capable of kicking your ass? You turn to acts of piracy.

The thuggish attacks on civilians that we see not only in our own backyard but in many other places around the globe are almost universally reviled as cowardly acts, and rightly so, for that is what they are. No courageous person blows himself up in a sneaky attempt to kill innocent persons who are denied any chance of defending themselves. But what are the courageous to do about these boils on the bum of society?

The armies and navies of the Roman Republic were unable to do much about the pirates, both because of the way the pirates operated and because of restrictions on how the Roman armies and navies could operate. So the Roman Senate voted to give Pompey the Great extraordinary powers in hunting down and eliminating the pirates, which he proceeded to do in rather short order. He was not bound by the ordinary restrictions put on Roman armies and navies.

My conservative hackles are always raised when government is given greater lattitude in procedures for monitoring, controlling, or restricting ordinary folk, and I confess that the Patriot Act sometimes gives me pause. But in the face of what we presently face, I'm not fully convinced that some extraordinary measures may not be in order. Pompey relinquished his command when his job was done, but we are more cynical today: conservatives especially are distrustful of those who have been given power by the government to do things that none of the rest of us are permitted to do. This is a healthy fear, for the most part, but just as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus did not ruin the American Republic (and, contrary to what some have argued, it was not unconstitutional for him to suspend it), it seems to me just this side of possible that we will not always have to live with our present restrictions, just so long as those of us who are not in power are careful to keep close tabs on those who are, and see to it that our modern day Pompeys follow the example of the Great one.


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