Opulence and Sacrifice

by: Junker (2006)

In a time of urgent crisis what would you give? What’s worth fighting for?

The Canadian Forces will most likely not reach their recruitment goals this year. Currently, the forces aren’t facing attrition, but any plans to expand seem impossible at the moment. Unless Canadians in general have a dramatic change of heart, force expansion just isn’t in the cards because not enough people are signing up. At the same time, our small Armed Forces, which are still under-equipped in many areas, face numerous growing challenges.

In Afghanistan, the going is tough, and sure to get tougher. With Islamists just across the boarder posturing and posing and giving every inclination that they want a war, things could yet get very much worse. With funds from Iran and Pakistan available to fanatics, the risk to Canadians is not going away any time soon. A democratic Afghanistan needs our help to shake off its local fanatics, yet global events threaten to engulf the comparatively minor happenstance of tribal Afghanistan and turn it into something much bigger, and much bloodier.

All of this raises the question; what are you willing to give for the cause? Is the cause worth it? Is any cause worth it? Hell, do you even believe in "the cause?" Are you in the 18-30 bracket and have you ever honestly considered joining the military? Would that be too much sacrifice for you? Try this then; what government handouts or percent of your paycheck are you willing to part with in order to ensure that those who fight in your name do so with the deadliest and best possible weapons and equipment in hand? These questions may seem obvious, but I can’t help but feel that few have taken the time to seriously ponder them.

In a recent speech, the incisive Victor Davis Hanson noted that empires do not often fall from squalor, rather they succumb in moments of greatness. He cited Rome as an example, and a prime example it is.

Having weathered a Gallic invasion and re-asserted itself in Italy, Post-Etruscan Rome faced its greatest military adversary, Hannibal, in the second Punic War. As a General, Hannibal was brilliant. While several times fought to a draw, Hannibal succeeded in wiping out numerous Roman armies. Indeed, throughout his long career in warfare, Hannibal suffered only one decisive defeat, but it was that defeat that made the difference. While the strategy and tactics of the battles and war can be minutely discussed, the one vital attribute and advantage that carried the Romans to victory was the same determination that carried them to that final battle with Hannibal, and to every battle preceding it.

Again and again Hannibal proved his dominance on the battlefield by encircling and wiping out entire Roman armies. And again and again, the Romans would rally, reform their armies, and march back to war. The Etruscan-style military organization which the Romans used at the time may seem counterintuitive to us in our modern age. Every male Roman citizen was required to serve, provide his own armor and equipment, and put his life on the line. Truly, it was all for one, and the Romans refused to let defeat on the battlefield translate to defeat in war. At war's end, the Romans had lost nearly every battle and countless lives, but their determination had won the final battle, and the war.

Several centuries later the little city state of Rome had, with that same perseverance, carved out an enormous empire. And yet, the determination of the Romans themselves began to falter. It is said that eventually the great majority of the Roman army wasn’t composed of Romans at all. While the “true Romans” sat in their supreme opulence in Rome and Constantinople, the empire was picked apart by minor barbarian kings; a wide array of relative nobodies compared to Hannibal. By the time of Attila, who was still comparatively a lightweight, the Romans quickly reverted to bribery and appeasement. In the end, the accessions were always proceeded by war, war that the Romans were unwilling to see through.

The parallels to be drawn are obvious. Western civilization has reached levels of wealth and affluence unsurpassed anywhere in history. Yet in our “progressive” magnificence, we may have lost our will to fight for what we hold dear. To be sure, the pursuit of peace is a most noble undertaking, yet we are often too quick to forget that beyond our boarders are more than a few modern day barbarians who share none of our enlightened outlook. Through training and technology, our soldiers may reign supreme on the battlefield, but our civilization on the whole may have grown vulnerable in its affluence, opulence, progressiveness, and humanistic enlightenment. Cruder, more blunt forces unhindered by these, may now hold the advantage. Through a shortsighted lens it may be difficult, nay impossible, to imagine the fall of our own civilization, yet history's precedent says that it is all too likely.

Which brings us back to the beginning. In a time of urgent crisis what would you give? What’s worth fighting for?