Posts Tagged ‘ANCIENT ROME’
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been in the news a great deal lately–and for reasons most organizations try to avoid. Or at least cover up. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by
- the United States
- the European Union
- the United Nations
- the United Kingdom
- Saudi Arabia
- the United Arab Emerites
- India and
It been condemned by such well-known human rights organizations as Amnesty International. And a major reason for this is the evidence of its brutalities that ISIS has proudly supplied. Among this evidence are its own Internet videos of
- the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists, and aid workers;
- the burning of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot;
- demands for extortionate ransoms for kidnapped Japanese and American captives;
- the wholesale shooting of captured Iraqi soldiers; and
- the selling of captured children.
The release on February 3 of a video showing the barbaric “execution” of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh, underscored ISIS reputation for cruelty
Al Kasaesbeh, locked in a steel cage like an animal, could only watch stoically as an ISIS member ignited a trail of flammable liquid leading directly to him. The pilot stood upright throughout the ordeal until the flames at last consumed him.
ISIS burning of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh
Terrorism experts believe that the elaborately-staged video was meant to weaken the morale of Jordan and other Sunni Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.
But it violated a fundamental rule of public relations: If you commit atrocities, do it secretly so you can deny it if the truth ever comes out.
That’s how the members of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s dreaded secret police–the N.K.V.D.–the predecsssors to the later-named KGB–operated throughout their brutal history.
In 1939, when the Soviet Union seized the eastern half of Poland, the N.K.V.D. executed 22,000 Polish army officers in the dense Katyn forest.
The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the forest in 1943. The Soviet Union furiously denied responsibility, claiming the victims had been executed by the Germans.
The Soviets continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when the government finally admitted its guilt.
ISIS has turned out videos of its brutalities which film experts have declared are almost up to the quality of Hollywood spectaculars. But ISIS leaders have apparently forgotten–if they ever knew–the truth of the saying: “You can make a throne of bayonets, but you can’t sit on it.”
Niccolo Machiavelli, in his classic work, The Discourses, offered a telling example of how magnanimity can triumph over brutality.
Camillus was besieging the city of the Faliscians, and had surrounded it….A teacher charged with the education of the children of some of the noblest families of that city [to ingratiate himself] with Camillus and the Romans, led these children…into the Roman camp.
And presenting them to Camillus [the teacher] said to him, “By means of these children as hostages, you will be able to compel the city to surrender.”
Camillus not only declined the offer but had the teacher stripped and his hands tied behind his back….[Then Camillus] had a rod put into the hands of each of the children…[and] directed them to whip [the teacher] all the way back to the city.
Upon learning this fact, the citizens of Faliscia were so much touched by the humanity and integrity of Camillus, that they surrendered the place to him without any further defense.
This example shows that an act of humanity and benevolence will at all times have more influence over the minds of men than violence and ferocity. It also proves that provinces and cities which no armies…could conquer, have yielded to an act of humanity, benevolence, chastity or generosity.
What Machiavelli doesn’t say–but what history offers plenty of examples to substantiate–is this: The brutality of aggressors will be met–and sometimes overcome–with brutality by their past or intended victims.
Nowhere was this better proved than during the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
Without warning, three million German soldiers–backed up by overwhelming air and tank support–attacked their “ally” on June 22, 1941.
The Wehrmacht blitzed its way across Russia–to the gates of Moscow and as far south as Stalingrad on the Volga River. In its path it left devastated cities and at least 20 million dead Russians.
German soldiers moving into a burning Russian village
Russian women were gang-raped, then shot, or blown up with hand grenades. Tens of thousands of captured Russian soldiers were allowed to die of hunger, sickness and freezing cold behind barbed wire. Other captured POWs were brutally beaten, tortured and/or shot.
But then the tide of war turned and the Russians launched their own offensives in 1943. And they kept going–all the way to Berlin.
Russians raped tens of thousands of German women–and nailed others to barn doors. Cossacks cut off the raised hands of Germans trying to surrender. Tanks crushed retreating German soldiers and civilians unlucky enough to be in their path.
Thus do those who practice barbarism often find themselves being repaid with it–usually ten-fold.
The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, may soon prove to be more than great entertainment. It may also turn out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.
In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.
While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba, slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus.
Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome. Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.
After all, Gaius Gracchus, the leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and stands ever ready to oppose his every move.
“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”
Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, so, too, are billionaires now buying the 2012 Presidential election.
Consider the candidacy of Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Were it not for the endlessly deep pockets of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Gingrich would have dropped out long ago.
Perhaps no other major presidential candidate in recent times has relied so heavily on the contributions of a single donor, as Gingrich has on Adelson. Since 2007, Adelson, 78, has spent millions in support of Gingrich and his causes.
In a primary season dominated by the mega-spending of super PACs, Adelson’s efforts on Gingrich’s behalf speak volumes about the corrupting influence of the super-rich on American politics.
Adelson put up seed money and, ultimately, $7.7 million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that served as a precursor to Gingrich’s presidential campaign.
In January, Adelson gave $5 million to a PAC run by former close aides to Gingrich.
Such a contribution is no small amount to the average American. But Adelson is clearly not the average American. He’s listed by Forbes as the eigth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.
Naturally, Adelson denies he has any selfish motives for shelling out so much money to a candidate for the most powerful office in the world:
“My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”
Unfortunately, Gingrich is not the only candidate of the rich, by the rich and for the rich seeking the Presidency.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is relying heavily on a small group of millionaires and billionaires for support.
A quarter of the money amassed by Romney’s campaign has come from just 41 people. Each contributor has given more than $100,000, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Nearly a dozen of the donors have contributed $1 million or more.
Some of Romney’s biggest supporters include executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash.
In short: This last contributor has directly profited from the suffering of others.
All of this can be directly traced to the 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended limits in corporate contributions to political campaigns. The decision is so named for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws.
The 5-4 decision led to the rise of Super PACs–outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate.
Meanwhile, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has a simple solution for people who don’t like all the political ads unleashed as a result: Change the channel or turn off the TV.
“I don’t care who is doing the speech–the more the merrier,” Scalia said. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”
On the contrary: A fundamental principle of propaganda holds that most people are stupid–or can be made to behave stupidly. If they are ceaselessly bombarded with mind-numbing lies, they will eventually substitute these for reality.
As proof of this: Nevada has the country’s highest foreclosure rate and the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
So what is Mitt Romney’s solution for the foreclosure crisis threatening the homes of millions of Americans?
“Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up.”
On February 4, Romney claimed victory in Nevada’s caucuses by a decisive margin.
So much for Justice Scalia’s comment: “People are not stupid.”
CEOs and Mafia bosses are bureaucrats at heart: When they want somebody roughed up or rubbed out, they nearly always order a subordinate to do it for them.
But once in a while a highly agitated boss (corporate or criminal, as if there’s a difference) loses his cool and decides to do the job himself.
Or, as in the case of Meg Whitman, herself.
According to a June 14 story in the New York Times: California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was accused of shoving an employee while she was head of eBay in 2007. The incident cost the company about $200,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
The employee, Young Mi Kim, said she was helping Whitman prepare for a media interview when her boss became angry, used an expletive and pushed her in a company boardroom.
In her acceptance speech last week, Whitman referred to herself and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, another former CEO, as “two business women from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done!”
Carly Fiorina seems to think that getting things done means making catty remarks about the hairstyle of her opponent–in this case, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.
And Whitman apparently doesn’t rule out the use of physical force in dealing with those who dare not strike back–at least, not physically.
Whitman’s actions may seem trivial, but they tell us a great deal about her–and certainly far more than she wants us to know. As the ancient historian Plutarch writes in his biography of Alexander the Great:
“And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.”
At a time when corporate CEOs (Corrupt, Egotistical Oligarchs) are trumpeting their ability to “get things done,” it’s well to ask: “What things?” and “How?”
As for “What things”: Meg Whitman has made it clear she believes that corporations pay far too much in taxes. And if the titans who bring home multi-million-dollar salaries are forced to pay out so much as a penney’s worth of taxes, it’s going to make them not want to hire people who are paid a comparative pittance.
On one hand, it’s the old hostage-game: “If you force me to live up to my obligations as an American citizen and pay taxes, I’ll take my football (company) and go someplace where I won’t have to live up to them.”
On the other hand, it’s the return of failed,
trickle-down Reaganomics: “Give billions in tax-breaks to the ultra-wealthy, and maybe they’ll deign to ‘trickle-down’ a few nickels to the peasantry.”
As for “How CEOs get things done”: There is a Russian phrase that sums it up beautifully: “Kto kovo?” Or: “Who whom?” as in “Who can do what to whom?”
For the vast majority of CEOs, the end of serving their own greed more than justifies whatever means they use to serve it.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Fiorina spent $5 million on her primary campaign and Whitman spent $71 million of her own money towards her race. All this for jobs that pay $174,000 (for U.S. Senate) and $212,179 (for Governor) a year.
Most Americans know nothing about the history of ancient Rome. But even those who do feel there is nothing to be learned from it. To them, the ruthless intrigues by would-be tyrants like Julius Caesar–financed by wealthy businessmen like Marcus Crassus–mean nothing.
On the contrary, there is much to learn from such history–and it sounds a warning for us.
In true “privitization” spirit, Crassus made his millions by setting up a private fire brigade (when there were no public ones) and then offering to buy those tenaments being consumed by fire.
If the owner agreed, Crassus’ brigade then put out the fire–and Crassus paid the now-homeless former owner a pittance. Crassus then became the property’s owner. If the owner refused, Crassus let the property burn–and the owner got nothing.
As the Republican propaganda machine loudly champions the private sector against the public one, it’s well to remember that the motivating force of that private sector is private greed.