The Angst of the Legions…


"We had been told, on leaving our native soil, that we were to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens settled overseas, so many years of our presence, so many benefits brought by us to populations in need of our assistance and civilization. We were able to verify that this was true, and because it was true, we did not hesitate to shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes. We regretted nothing, but whereas we over here are inspired by their frame of mind, I am told that in Rome factions and conspiracies are rife, that treachery flourishes, and that many people in their uncertainty and confusion lend a ready ear to the dire temptations of relinquishment and vilify our action. I cannot believe that all this true, and yet recent wars have shown how pernicious such a state of mind could be and to where it could lead. Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we protect the glory of the Empire. If it should be otherwise, if we should leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware the anger of the legions."

From a letter supposedly written by one Marcus Flavinius, a centurion in the second cohort of the 2nd Augusta Legion serving overseas, to his cousin, Tertullus, in Rome, quoted in the Prologue of Jean Larteguy's novel, "The Centurions."


Perhaps there was such a letter, perhaps.  It is odd that Marcus Flavinius did not have three names.  I suspect that this is apocrypha.  There is another such letter supposedly written from Dacia by another Roman soldier.  In it, the writer complains that every time his unit learns how to perform its mission, the mission is changed or they are re-organized or whatever it is that fits the subject of the Army schools class in which it is quoted.

I am concerned that the legions and their commanders are becoming more politically active and resistent to civilian authority than is good for them or the country.

McChrystal's estimate is a case in point:

– This paper presents the president with only one option on a "take it or leave it" basis.  I realize that Stanley M. is a subordinate theater commander and a full general but he is still the president's subordinate and he serves at the pleasure of the president/commander in chief.  In all the Army schools that I attended (Infantry Officer Basic Course to the US Army War College), it was more or less customary to present the commander with several options in the way of "courses of action."  If you do not do that then you are clearly seeking to limit the freedom of action of the commander.  This is insubordinate in spirit.

– There is considerable log-rolling going on to bring Stanley and Dave back from their commands to Washington so that they can talk it up around town.  When Petraeus testified before Congress on behalf of the AEI/Keene Iraq strategy he was justifying GW Bush's policy.  That was bad enough in that it made him a player in the political process, but in this case the Republicans and the AEI crowd clearly want these two gentlemen back here so that they can be used to undercut the possibility of an independent policy decision by their constitutional civilian commander.  The Republicans seem to have forgotten that the wheel of history is turning and that soon they will have a Republican president in the White House whose authority may be challenged on the basis of the precedent they seek.

– It has been blogged (not by me) that people on Stanley M's staff claim that he has the thought that he might ask to be relieved if not given what he wants.  I do not know if that is true.  If it is, and he follows through on that hoping for an "Old Soldiers never die…" moment, then he ought to be retired in his permanent grade.

– Andrea Mitchell reportedly said on Friday that one of the redacted secret parts of the Stanley M. estimate says that 500,000 troops will be needed in Afghanistan over the next five years to achieve success in a counterinsurgency campaign.  That appears to means that some combination of US/NATO troops and Afghan troops amounting to half a million would be required.   Does that mean that whatever portion of that half million is not supplied by the Afghans must be supplied by the US and NATO.  Someone should ask Stanley M. what he expects will be the peak "in country" strength for US/NATO forces.

The legions and their commanders are not exactly angry yet, but they wll be.  pl

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28 Responses to The Angst of the Legions…

  1. Brad Ruble says:

    The Huffingtonpost has a link to a youtube video showing a G-20 protester being grabbed by men in fatigues. Is 21st century anger of the legions?

  2. WP says:

    And so?
    Following from your post, should we not be asking where are the formations Legions of Afghans that have been under training for the last few years? Or was it simply a shell game where Afghan men came for a few weeks of training, took the money, beefed up their nutritional needs, gained a few needed pounds of muscle, and rotated out to serve the insurgents? Has the training only made the need for for counter-insurgency more urgent?
    Should we heed any advice from those most interested in continuing the American Wars?
    Or, is the buisness of America war and should we not complain when the Chief Operations Officers of that American business become restive and seek to expand their fiefdoms?
    As a civillian, I see great danger in all of this. Pat, where is all of this leading?

  3. DT says:

    The end of the draft and the all volunteer army ushered in this kind of sanctimony. I had read Catch-22 two or three times before Vietnam and found it helpful trying to figure out WTF was going on.

  4. Very fine post.
    And let us think of the spouses and children of the Legions, and the young folks who are to commission as part of the legions. I look a number of these fine young folks, young men and women, in the eyes every day in class and try to speak the truth and encourage them.
    I must say, I am reaching the limits of my own patience after a couple decades of federal and state service. These whores, these Alcibiades wannabees, these corrupt politicians in Congress grovelling to the Zionist Power, these traitors penetrating so deeply into our Federal Executive deserve the contempt of the citizens of this Republic and more.
    Legions…well now, Mr. Jefferson spoke of his “Tenth Legion”, those citizens of the Shenandoah Valley — particularly Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Page — who were staunch in their adherence to the old democratic and republican values of the former Republic.
    In contemporary culture, I suppose the most apposite theme song for the Alcibiades types like McCh. etal and their ilk (assorted Neocons, and various other whores and agents of foreign influence) would be Frank Zappa’s composition “Willie the Pimp” (apologies to Frank)which I heard him and his band perform once:
    Lyrics: Willie The Pimp
    Frank Zappa
    I’m a little pimp with my hair gassed back
    Pair a khacki pants with my shoes shined black
    Got a little lady…walk the street
    Tellin’ all the boys that she can’t be beat
    Twenny dollah bill (I can set you straight)
    Meet me onna corner boy’n don’t be late…”

  5. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Rome is too far in distance and in time to be relevant to the United States.
    Spain, as a world empire, as well as Britain are better fits.
    As for politicized military – isn’t that also – just like the so-called National Security State – a consequence of a great global power?
    Are not these supposed ills a consequence of the great power dynamics in which US is being pitted against less deomcratic or non-democratic states?
    Is it not necessary, over decades- for US to come to resemble Russia and China as they slug it out for global power?

  6. Patrick Lang says:

    No. Rome and Greece are the underlying models of our civilization. pl

  7. F B Ali says:

    An excellent review of the game being played, entitled “How to Trap a President in a Losing War”, can be read at:

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I disagree.
    The Legacy of Rome is only one of the 3 major strands of the Western Civilization; the other 2 being Christianity and the Tradition of Persoanl Liberty of Germanic tribes. The influence of all 3 are manifest in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

  9. Spain, as a world empire, as well as Britain are better fits
    The novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, in The King’s Gold provides a description of 17th Century Spain that bears too much semblance to today’s USA:

    Made lethargic by the benefits of overseas trade, Seville, like the rest of Spain, had become incapable of sustaining any industry of its own. Many people from other lands had managed to set up businesses there, and thanks to hard work and tenacity, had made themselves indispensable. This put them in a privileged position as intermediaries between Spain and the parts of Europe with which we were at war. The paradox was that while we were locked in battle with England, France, and Denmark, as well as the Turk and the rebel provinces, we were, at the same time, through those intermediaries, buying all kinds of merchandise from them: rigging, tar, sails, and other goods that were essential both in the Peninsula and across the Atlantic. Thus the gold from the Indies slipped away to finance the armies and navies that were fighting us. It was an open secret, but no one put a stop to this traffic because everyone was profiting from it. Including the king.

  10. WILL says:

    “Recently Karen DeYoung noted in the Washington Post that the Taliban now regularly use very sophisticated military techniques – “as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the US Army’s Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments”. Of course, some of them have attended training sessions which teach them to fight in “austere environments”, probably time and time again. If you were a Talib, wouldn’t you scout the training being offered to Afghans on the other side? And wouldn’t you do it more than once if you could get well paid every time?”

  11. MS says:

    What we want to model ourselves on is important, but not as important as parallel salient facts. There are scary parallels to pre-WW1 Britain’s situation, and the cultural and economic structures are way more similar.
    There is no clearer description of what has come to pass since WW2 than “standing army and foreign entanglements”. This framing has the advantage of coming from an unimpeachable source. I think they envisioned this angry politicized soldier scenario.
    We need to get out of this game for another reason. Projecting US power into the Eastern hemisphere against the will of rebuilt Russia or China will require a credible threat of nuclear escalation to offset their logistical advantages, just as it did in the cold war. This has all kinds of ugly implications involving how the other side is obliged to respond – hair trigger. We cannot sit around hoping everyone is Stanislav Petrov. It is especially foolish considering exactly whose interests are being defended over there – we are not protecting Western Europe.
    Laying low during the world wars as long as possible is how we became strong and prosperous, and remained free. Trying to enforce status quo bankrupted Britain. The strength of their political culture kept them free. Where is that strength in the US now?

  12. jonst says:

    Which “Rome and Greece”? The Republic or the Empire? Or both?
    We once were a ‘revolutionary’nation. Not a pure one, but one still the same. Are those days to be looked back upon in the same manner as the baby boomers look back at pictures of themselves from the 60s. With a bemused, slightly sympathetic look, but thinking at the same time, how could i have been that stupid to look like that?
    Have we to morphed into a short sighted, clumsy, semi-Colonial power? One that, unlike the old Colonial powers, say what one will of them, takes no long term view of development in the country occupied? One that fails to develop the expertize that other Colonial powers thought necessary to be a Colonial power in the first place. Stunningly ignorant of the area we have settled upon. Devoid of foreign language expertize.
    What an ‘Empire’ we are.
    The Legions might get angry? Yes, could be trouble. Bigger trouble will come however, if the ‘People’ get angry.

  13. Patrick Lang says:

    I modified my last post to reflect more clarity on exactly what Mitchell evidently said Friday pl

  14. Actually the struggle between Christendom and Islam is also both a formative and enduring theme of Western Civilization. Both religions of course plus that of the Jewish faith makes US what we are. AS to the Legions, believe that Rome military strategy and tactics still actively studied. After all even Hitler called his brief emprire the “Third Reich.” So where does this leave US. Is civilian control of the military just a fictional gloss? I don’t think so but not because of the quality of the Civilian leadership. More the realization that successful miltiary careers are fashioned by a modus vivendi that causes at least superficial politness and respect from the military to the civilian. But there should be no doubt the military has been manipulated heavily by both parties in various ways, including promotions and benefits without regard to the long term impact on the military culture. What might be of consequence is that the “female” and gay/lesbian soldier might have a different view of civilian control. Unstudied issue as far as I know. I suspect we (US) is within months of a major test of Obama Administration by some nation-state, non-state actor, or for want of a better term “fifth column” or interest group or political party with respect to civilian control of the military. It could come in the form of military/industrial/acacademic complex issues. And as always could be wrong.

  15. Green Zone Cafe says:

    I think that is the point of bringing up Rome: as we discard both Christianity (in the real sense) and the “tradition of personal liberty of Germanic tribes,” as well as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we become more “Roman.”

  16. turcopolier says:

    Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You are mis-informed about Rome, in my opinion.
    Rome was a polity thoroughly based on the twin practices of ancestor worship of individual family and the worship of the Roman People (the Collective).
    China and Japan are two contemporary polities that are, in my opinion, exhibiting similar characteristics.
    And that is why rabbis (and Jesus) rejected Rome – it was Godless at the personal and polity levels.
    The scenario that you are envisioning has happened, to my knowledge, only in Western Europe and only in its most pure form in Germany during the 150 years from Peace of Vienna to the Peace of Yalta. But in those European states, after the Enlightenment, blood was still the base of citizenship. That is not the case in the United States where citizenship is based on conversion into the American Religion. But this American Religion, crucially, depends on the health of the Constitutional order in the United States. It cannot survive without it – in my opinion.
    The weakening or demise of the constitutional order in the United States will not make it more Roman. Since the Roman, was, to the core, a pagan – a man wedded to ancestor worship etc.
    On the contrary, the collapse of the visible institutions of the American Religion – a non-revelatory religion – will most likely lead to a revival of Christianity and other revelatory religions in the United States as well as a much smaller surge in ethnic-based blind tribalism.

  18. Fred says:

    I would like to second WP’s question, where are all those Afghan troops (and police) trained over the past years?

  19. If the Andrea Mitchell report is correct that 500,000 is the real estimate of force structure, including US, allies, and Afghanistan forces then this will never happen under current budget limitations whatever the policy decisions taken by US military and civil leadership. The well is dry. The FED has already made the decision to further devalue an almost worthless US dollar [now worth less than $.05 of the 1970 dollar when Nixon devalued it] and soon will be international pariah monetarily speaking. Yes, in fact preventive war helped bankrupt the US.

  20. Green Zone Cafe says:

    I don’t know Babak, I think all polities are corrupted by the same thing – the worship of power.
    The American Religion, which you and I agree on, is based on restraint, duty, and historial and civic knowledge and loyalty to the Constitution. In the case of Rome, to the principles you allude to. This is Republicanism in the original, Roman and American, sense. Res publica, the things of the people.
    Worship of power is the common characteristic of Imperial Rome and the USA now. This supplants the American religion, as it supplanted Roman religion.
    The rest is all style and a corrupt opiate of the masses. Didn’t the Emperors use ancestor worship and other religion to gain and use power? Indeed, they declared themselves gods over all other deities. Presumably this included their own ancestors and certainly the Roman people.

  21. Redhand says:

    Nice signifer artwork. Where did you find it?
    I think the Rome analogy is all too apt. Of course, legionary pressure was a lot more direct in those days: think “Year of the Four Emperors” and how Vespasian came out on top. But, the influence of the US military on national policy justifies the comparison.
    McChrystal is another ugly legacy of the Bush years. I think of W. as a failed emperor whose weakness was underscored by his public abdication of war policy to
    Petraeus. “Whatever the General Wants.” Should we wonder, then, at McCrystal’s possible brinkmanship?
    Of course, obnoxious attempts by American generals at usurpation of war policy are not a new phenomenon in our history. McClellan and MacArthur come to mind.
    Hey, wait a minute, I’m seeing a pattern here: McClellan, MacArthur and McChrystal! (Sorry for the lame attempt at humor.)

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Green Zone Cafe
    I think you and possibly others are discounting the role of the Roman Religion in the affairs of Rome.
    Moreover, you are looking at the institutions of that polity and its modifications over time.
    Those changes did not supplant the Roman Religion of Ancestor Worship – what did that was Christianity.
    Ancestor worship predates the Empire or the Roman Republic. It was the original religion of all of mankind with almost identical rituals all over the world.

  23. John Badalian says:

    Colonel Patrick, I’ve been following your writings long enough to observe that a fine Historian does not do things by coincidence. I’m observing this excellent illustration of what appears to be a member of an elite Roman “Palatine” formation (your worthy predecessor). I think that the expensive chain-mail armor was worn by Rome’s best troops and was a 3rd Century invention – maybe copied from the Persians. This brave man’s lamentations regarding (the Roman Province) Dacia (much of modern day Romania) would prove to be sadly prescient. Despite this man’s many victories over Barbarians (i.e., the Goths primarily), the tough Roman Emporer Aurelian felt compelled to abondon Dacia in the mid-280s(?) A.D. Defending Dacia had proven to be a financial and logistical nightmare, despite military superiority. Should our young President draw a few lessons from the tough-as-nails but brute pratical Aurelian??
    Thanks, Colonel – JB

  24. Cato says:

    Three observations: first, if ever McChrystal begins to doubt civilian control of the military, there is a remedy and it will be exercised. McC. can then go fishing. This is not a serious issue. No one is talking about McC disregarding an order. No one would allow McC’s swager to become a serious issue, not given our long, honorable tradition and the many people, like those on this blog, that would fight to maintain the true and just constitutional order. Seriously, he’d just be fired.
    Second, remember who McC. works for: us. Yes, there are some small-minded games being played in Washington (alert the media!), but when McC. expresses a dissenting opinion, he’s actually upholding his subordination to civilian authority. We the People have a right to the best current information on the conduct of this war. McC. defers to us when he honestly informs the citizens and their representatives of the actual state of affairs. It would be dangerous in the extreme to try to fashion a rule whereby the people’s representatives would be shut out from the honest views of those who most intimately know the facts on the ground. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and a bit unseemly for a general to get cross-wise with the policy his Commander in Chief wants to pursue: but that’s a wholly political matter within the Executive branch. If Obama doesn’t like McC.’s opinion, he’ll just send him fishing a little sooner than expected. Framed just a little differently, it would be truly insubordinate if McC. were such a wuss that he couldn’t muster the courage to disagree with the President. Disagreement, in this Republic, does not, and cannot, equal an insubordination of constitutional dimensions.
    Third, when McC. plays ball with AEI or CNAS or whoever, he plays with fire and may get burned. He should be careful. But insofar as he contributes to a debate in, or reports to, Congress, he submits himself to civilian control, in the form of answering to the sovereign and the aspect of that sovereignty most directly, and easily controlled by the people–a self governing people. Consequently, I have to disagree with your take on this. Dissent expressed by a military commander to the Congress on a vital matter affecting the Republic tends to sharpen and strengthen the debate, and may well cause us to find and adopt a more prudent policy.
    Lastly, the Founders were intellectually tough as nails. What they expected of a McC., if he indeed is ever put under oath to testify before Congress, is that when the tough questions were squarely put, that McC. would have the virtue to answer as fully, candidly, and completely as he was humanly able. That would take guts, but our form of government occasionally demands it.
    Should these think tanks try to split a commander publicly from his commander in chief? I think not. Much can be done in private. The ambitions of those overly grand neo-cons, for example, could really use the corrective of a Roman sense of virtue and moderation. Not everyone needs to get his fat behind on television; not everyone needs to preen around Washington proclaiming the excellence of their view, and no other. In other words, yeah, these jokers should dial it back, if for no other reason than that a general like McC. should not be made to look like a tool. It’s unbecoming to his, and to our, dignity.
    So, long-winded as this post is, McC., again, should just be a little more circumspect in his actions; take care with the kind of people he hangs out with; not be too eager to be a player. Keep the damn reports secret. If he’s called to testify, then testify, and do so truly. Then just do your job as told. Over the long run, if we follow this now ancient, tested, constitutional formula, it will absolutely get messy, but we’ll find the right formula, eventually, and we’ll, God willing, continue to be free.

  25. Patrick Lang says:

    An honest expression of opinion is the duty of an officer in helping his commander, in this case the president, reach a decision. Once that decision is reached it is the duty of an officer to loyally help carry out that decision without further cavilling. If the decision is so bad that the subordinate can not live with it than he/she should ask to be relieved of duty and seek to leave active duty so as to be free to do all the testifying and informing that is necessary to inform the tribunes of the people. To continue to bitch and conspire while still on active duty would be just contemptible.
    In the case of Petraeus and Odierno these officers have already demonstrated a willingness to sneak around and go behind the backs of their superiors to get what they wanted. They both did this in communicating with Cheney’s office through the medium of a retired officer who should have known better.
    There is nothing you can say that changes the basic truth that the president is commander in chief, and reponsible for the military policy and actions of the United States. If the Congress disagrees violently with that policy let them remove the president. They came very close with Andrew Johnson.
    To encourage these or any generals to conspire with Congress against the president is is to risk the day when the hidden contempt in which most military people hold civilians is acted upon. pl

  26. ads says:

    William R. Cumming wrote:
    As to the Legions, I believe that Rome military strategy and tactics still actively studied. After all even Hitler called his
    brief empire the “Third Reich.”

    It wasn’t a reference to Rome. The First Reich was Frederick the Great’s Prussia and the Second was Bismarckian/Wilhelmine Germany.

  27. ads,
    I hate being pedantic. However, I couldn’t let that one slip by. The First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted from Charlemagne to Emperor Joseph II, roughly a thousand and 50 years and was dismantled by Napoleon. The Second Reich was founded at Versailles at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 andended with the revolution and abdication of Wilhelm II in 1918.

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