Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cleopatra - The Obsession With Beauty

Antony And Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy c2010

Of all the women of ancient history, Cleopatra is the best known. Who has not heard of the Queen of the Nile?
Most people “know” she was, perhaps with the exception of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, but was she? Putting aside the vagaries of just what constitutes beauty, what did this most famous of queens look like?
It is difficult to depict charm, or intelligence, or quickness of wit in sculpture, and Temple paintings are so highly stylized as to be useless as a guide to physical appearance.

The historian Plutarch tells us:
In itself her beauty was not absolutely without parallel, not the kind to
astonish those who saw her; but her presence exerted an inevitable
fascination, and her physical attraction, combined with the persuasive
charm of her conversation and the aura she somehow projected around
herself in company, did have a certain ability to stimulate others.

Writing one hundred years later, the historian Dio comments that Cleopatra “was a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and a knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone.”
Is it any wonder then that the brightest stars in the Hollywood firmament have sought to play this fabled queen who combined both brains and beauty in a most powerful combination. Vivien Leigh, Claudette Colbert, Elizabeth Taylor, and Kim Cattrall are but a few who have assayed the role, and even now a new film is being readied for Angelina Jolie to star in as Cleopatra.

No doubt Cleopatra would be flattered to have such beauties portray her on stage and screen.

Allow me to quote at length from the new book, Antony And Cleopatra by Goldsworthy:

Absolutely nothing is certain. Cleopatra may have had black, brown, blonde or even red hair, and her eyes could have been brown, grey, green or blue. Almost any combination of these is possible. Similarly, she may have been very light skinned or had a darker more Mediterranean complexion. Fairer skin is probably marginally more likely given her ancestry. Greek art traditionally represented women and goddesses as very pale, and fair skin seems to have been part of the ideal of beauty. Roman propaganda never suggested that Cleopatra was dark-skinned, although this may simply mean that she was not exceptionally dark or simply that the color of her skin was not important to her critics.
At no point will we need to consider Antony’s appearance at similar length and this should remind us that the obsession with Cleopatra’s looks is unusual, and not entirely healthy. Not only is there no good evidence, but also there is something disturbing about the desire to base our understanding of her first and foremost on her appearance. Cleopatra was not another Helen of Troy, a mythical figure about whom the most important thing was her beauty. She was no mere object of desire, but a very active political player in her own kingdom and beyond.
Cleopatra was born and raised in the real and very dangerous world of the Ptolemaic court in the first century BC. When her father died in 51 BC, she became queen. Auletes had planned for his son and daughter to rule jointly. Cleopatra had other ideas.
-from Antony And Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2010 pp.128-129

Goldsworthy has hit on the crux of the problem, and like the historian Michael Grant, reaffirms for us just how little we know for certain about Cleopatra's appearance, and, more importantly, how little it really matters.

As is often the case, what a person does matters far more than what they look like. In the end, Dr. King put is most succinctly and eloquenty: we must judge a person by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. And when it comes to character, Cleopatra is one of the most fascinating characters not only of her time, but of anytime in human history.

For more about Cleopatra and the world in which she lived, see:
Antony And Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2010 ISBN: 978-0-300-16534-0

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Playing At War

Hannibal, Scipio and the Art of War Gaming

"My mother bore a general, not a warrior." - Publius Scipio Africanus

Recently my grandson and I have been playing the war game Commands & Colors designed by Richard Borg and published by GMT Games of California. We actually started playing scenarios from the game two years ago when Mr.K was 7 years old, and while he did understand the mechanics of the game then, his tactical finesse is now, at age nine, much better. No doubt two years hence it will be better still.

Of course we are both avid, if irregular, game players – Risk, Axis & Allies, Conquest Of The Empire, Battle of the Bulge, and Stratego are all favorites. Indeed I started playing war games at about the same age as Mr. K, though I began with Joseph Morchauser’s book How To Play War Games In Miniature. His simple yet well thought out rules brought order and purpose to the chaos that had marked our playing with toy soldiers.

From there I moved on to Map & Counter war games, like Blitzkrieg and The Battle Of The Bulge, then being published by Avalon Hill. In college Panzerblitz was all the rage while at the Armor Officer Basic Course the games of choice, in the evening over beer and pizza, were SPI’s Firefight and Avalon Hill’s Kingmaker (about the War of the Roses). 1

Since then games have taken a back seat to life in general. My family has been courageous over the years, indulging my love of games as they have, and they actually seem to enjoy playing Space Hulk, the Aliens inspired tabletop game from Games Workshop. However, it was the arrival of the grandson that brought games back to the forefront in a big way.

So it was, that last week Mr. K and I were playing Commands & Colors, re-fighting the battles of the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome, when we came upon the scenario for the Battle of Dertosa, in Spain, between Hannibal’s brother, Hasdrubal, and the Scipio brothers Gnaeus and Publius.

To their great credit, GMT includes a brief but detailed description of each battle, giving the historical outcome and challenging the players to do as well as the original generals. Mr. K, who always plays the Romans, was intrigued by the name Scipio, and I mistakenly said, “Oh, Publius Scipio goes on to defeat Hannibal at Zama and take the name Scipio Africanus.”

Actually, this is correct, just the wrong Scipio.

The ancient Romans were a practical and pragmatic people, to a fault, except when it came to naming their children. In this they suddenly displayed a total and frustrating lack of imagination. Sons were often named after their father, still a common practice today, but so too were daughters, all of them. Thus you had families with three daughters all named Julia or Agrippina. This is probably why the Romans had slaves. Imagine asking one of your three daughters to pass the olive oil. You might starve before it was decided just which Julia you were addressing. 2

So it is that historians, both professional and amateur alike, must be careful when it comes to the Romans and figuring out just who is who.

In the case of Dertosa, it was the father and the uncle of the future Africanus that led the Roman army in that particular battle. The younger Publius (and future Africanus) had campaigned at his father’s side several years before this and had actually saved his father’s life at the Battle of Ticinus River in 218 BCE. Seeing his father surrounded by the enemy, the younger Publius ordered his troop of cavalry forward to the rescue – but the legionaries refused to move. Scipio rode alone into the enemy and his troop, thus shamed by his courage, joined him in the charge that saved the elder Scipio. It is said that the elder Scipio offered his son the corona civica (the Civic Crown) one of Rome’s most revered honors, awarded to those who save the life of a fellow citizen, however the younger Scipio declined the honor.

All of this got me to thinking about just what a remarkable fellow Scipio Africanus really was.
The Cornelian family, of which the Scipio are one branch, were perhaps the oldest and most storied family in all of Roman history, a distinction due in no small part to the members of the Scipio house. They believed in the “res publica” or ‘the public thing’ which is to say fulfilling one’s duty to the Republic in both peace and war.

Scipio’s father and uncle were both gifted generals who won several important victories in Spain against the Carthaginians. 

Indeed, the 2nd Punic War was something of a family affair for while the elder Scipio brothers, Publius and Gnaeus, were fighting in Spain against the Hamilcar brothers Mago and Hasdurbal Barca, young Scipio, now just twenty years old, was part of the Consular Army in Italy moving to confront Hannibal, the third Hamilcar brother. Scipio was assigned as a Military Tribune in the 2nd Legion, a typical position for a young Roman aspiring to a career as a Senator.

Although the elder Scipio brothers were enjoying success against the Hamilcar brothers in Spain, the Romans in Italy were being consistently out maneuvered and out fought by Hannibal. After weeks of chasing the Carthaginian army around the country side the Romans finally brought Hannibal to battle, but on ground of Hannibal’s choosing. This proved decisive for although the Romans had a much larger Army, Hannibal inflicted upon the Romans the worst defeat in their history.

In one afternoon, at the Battle of Cannae, the Roman Consular Army of 85,000 legionaries was utterly destroyed. Losses were staggering – over 48,000 dead, including one of the Consuls, a Proconsul and 80 Senators, as well as 18,000 legionaries taken prisoner. The remainder, some 14,000 odd survivors, were scattered about the countryside. Among them was the young Publius Scipio.

Pause, for just a moment, and consider the staggering nature of this defeat. Imagine if we in the United States received word from Iraq or Afghanistan that we had lost 48,000 soldiers killed in a single afternoon. And imagine if those losses included not only 80 members of Congress, along with their sons, but also the current President and the former President. Of course for our modern military the loss of 48,000 soldiers, while grievous would still represent less than 10% of our total military manpower. For the Romans however, this was a loss, in a single afternoon, of more than 25% of their armed forces (not including the casualties among their Latin Allies). Added to the losses suffered in recent previous battles and it seemed that Rome’s days were numbered, and in single digits. Is it any wonder then that many of the surviving officers, all sons of noble families, considered abandoning Rome and seeking safety by fleeing overseas? However, a few officers were not ready to give up. One of them was young Scipio. 3

We do not know anything about Scipio’s movements during the actual battle, but his conduct after the battle is well known and quickly became part of Scipio family lore. Scipio and Appius Claudius, another young Tribune, rallied the survivors and held them together by sheer force of will. At the same time Scipio moved decisively to check the desertion of his demoralized fellow officers. He forced each of them in turn to follow his example by swearing an oath, to Jupiter, that he would never desert the Republic nor allow anyone else to do so on pain of death for himself and his family.

In Spain, Scipio’s father and uncle enjoyed continued success against the Hamilcar brothers until, four years after Cannae, their Spanish allies abandoned the Romans and, now outnumbered, the Scipio brothers were defeated and killed in separate battles. This left the majority of Spain under the control of Carthage. The few survivors hung on for dear life and waited for help from Rome. 4

At the age of 25, Scipio was given command of the Roman Army in Spain with the rank of Proconsul even though he had never been elected Consul. This was an unprecedented move, but Scipio proved worthy of such trust and used his authority wisely. Indeed, Scipio well understood the seemingly modern military concept of “winning the hearts and minds” of the populace as a means to winning the war.

Scipio was in Spain when a captive was brought to him. She was a maiden of noble birth, whose beauty drew all eyes to her. Scipio had this woman returned to her fiancĂ©, and made the couple a marriage gift with the gold, which her parents had brought as a ransom. The tribe was so overwhelmed by his conduct that they gave themselves over to the cause of the Roman people.” – Frontinus, Stratagems 5

As Shakespeare would later write in Henry V, “…for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.” Henry V, Act III, sc. 6

Scipio also appreciated the need for good intelligence and meticulous planning. His victories in Spain were the very model of superior planning and the astute application of military intelligence. Scipio defeated Hasdrubal Barca at the Battle of Baecula and, two years later, Mago at the Battle of Ilipa.

Now with Spain firmly under Roman control and his father and uncle avenged, Scipio returned to Rome where he was elected Consul (even though he was still too young at age thirty) by promising the people that he would take the war against Carthage to Africa itself.

In 204, after his year in office and now just 31 years old, Scipio was granted the province of Sicily to govern as Proconsul. Although Sicily was the ideal base from which to strike at Carthage, what the Senate did not give Scipio was an army with which to do so. Thus blocked by his jealous rivals in the Senate, Scipio set about raising an army of volunteers and training then for the invasion of North Africa.

Once again Scipio was meticulous in his planning, gathering intelligence about the enemy and training his army to the peak of readiness. When he at last launched his attack it was with a well-trained, well-armed and well-supplied army against which the Carthaginians had little chance.

Scipio moved quickly, destroying two Carthaginian armies by surprise night attacks. Carthage entreated for a truce, but this was likely just a ruse to buy time so Hannibal could return from Italy and lead the defense of Carthage himself. With Hannibal safely home Carthage resumed the war. True to his nature, Scipio was ready.

In 202 BCE, the Roman Army (including two legions of survivors from Cannae) met the larger Carthaginian Army at Zama. Although Hannibal’s forces included a large contingent of elephants, the Romans for once outnumbered the Carthaginians in cavalry, thanks to Scipio’s Numidian ally Masinissa. This would prove decisive for when the elephant charge failed to break the veteran legionaries, the Roman cavalry chased their Carthaginian counterparts from the field. Now deprived of their cavalry, the Punic infantry proved no match for the Romans. In the end, looking at the number of casualties suffered (which were heavy but not catastrophic) it was not the Carthaginian Army that was destroyed at Zama, but rather the Carthaginian will to resist. Scipio had won his greatest victory and in so doing he had not only avenged the defeat at Cannae but, more importantly, he had restored Roman honor.

Scipio, now called Africanus, returned to Roman where he celebrated a Triumph and, in 194, was elected Consul for the second time. Now just 41 years old Scipio hoped to be named Proconsul of Greece, but it was not to be. His rivals in the Senate led by Cato the Censor, stymied Scipio at every turn.

Scipio had committed the one unforgivable sin – he had risen too high too fast, and if the Romans were a practical people they could also be an extremely jealous people in equal measure. Scipio had achieved more in his 30 plus years than most other Senators would in two or even three lifetimes, and that was something they would not abide.

Scipio did eventually serve in the east with his brother, but he remained mostly in the background lest it be said that any Roman victories were his doing and not that of his brother. There was also the incident of his son, who was taken prisoner by King Antiochus. It was said that Scipio feigned sickness on the day of the battle at Magnesia to avoid taking the field against an enemy who had so recently show him mercy by releasing his son.

Scipio died not long after returning from the East. He had survived Cannae, and out maneuvered all of his battlefield opponents, but in the end he could not out maneuver his rivals in the Senate or survive their machinations against him. He was exiled to Liternum, south of Rome, where he died in 185 BCE.

Scipio’s legacy did survive him, most pointedly in is daughter Cornelia and her sons Tiberius and Gaius, known to history as the Grachii. 6

Of all the stories told about Scipio Africanus, the one I like most is the one about the time Scipio and Hannibal meet in Syria many years after Zama. As told by the Roman historian Livy, I quote it in full:

Africanus asked who, in Hannibal's opinion, was the greatest general of all time. Hannibal replied, "Alexander ... because with a small force he routed armies of countless numbers, and because he traversed the remotest lands"

Asked whom he placed second, Hannibal said, "Pyrrhus. He was the first to teach the art of laying out a camp. Besides that, no one has ever shown nicer judgement in choosing his ground, or in disposing his forces. He also had the art of winning men to his side."

When Africanus followed up by asking whom he ranked third, Hannibal unhesitatingly chose himself. Scipio burst out laughing at this and said, "What would you be saying if you had defeated me?"

"In that case," replied Hannibal, "I should certainly put myself before Alexander and before Pyrrhus -- in fact before all other generals!"

This reply, with its elaborate Punic subtlety, affected Scipio deeply, because Hannibal had set him apart from the general run of commanders, as one whose worth was beyond calculation. (Adrian Goldsworthy, In The Name Of Rome, c2003, page 69)

Perhaps this story isn’t true, but it should be.

Upon hearing this, Mr. K smiled and said, “So, they were friends after all.”
Yes, I replied, in a way they were. And with that, we returned to the game.

1 Map & Counter War Games enjoyed their ‘golden age’ during the 1970’s and 80’s with the leading publishers, Avalon Hill and SPI releasing a dozen or more games each year. However, the hobby fell on hard times in the 90’s (thanks in large part to video games) and it is only now enjoying a modest resurgence in popularity. Hasbro purchased Avalon Hill while SPI’s library went to Decision Games in Bakersfield, California. Avalon Hill’s biggest sellers, Panzerblitz and Squad Leader, ended up at Multiman Publishing in Canada.

2 Roman naming conventions are challenging to say the least. See Adrian Goldsworthy’s 2009 lecture at the Kansas City Public Library for his amusing comments about Roman names and the confusion caused by asking Julia to “pass the salt please.” The Podcast of the lecture may be found here:
3 Ancient Historians are notorious for inflating numbers of both total combatants and casualties in any given battle, so all such numbers must be approached with caution. Losses at Cannae may have been as low as 30,000 dead and as high as 50,000 depending upon who you trust. Goldsworthy in his book, The Complete Roman Army, places Roman dead at 45,500 infantry and 2,700 cavalry.
With regard to what percentage of the Roman Army these losses represent, again the numbers depend upon where they come from and who they are counting. P.A. Brunt estimates the losses at 23% of mobilized Roman manpower, but he is only counting Roman citizens and the Latin allies. In terms of total Roman military might, both citizens and allies, the losses at Cannae might be as high as 40%. As we do not know total manpower reserves for the allies in Italy, Spain and elsewhere it may be a percentage that is impossible to know for certain. I am indebted to Romany Army Talk Forum Member Pompieus for this information.
4 The Celtiberian allies were paid to abandon the Scipio brothers despite their generous and evenhanded treatment of the local tribes. Buying allies, or buying off enemies played to the Carthaginian’s strength as a mercantile empire. It is a technique the Romans themselves would learn to use in later years.

5 See Chronicle Of The Roman Republic by Philip Matyszak, c2003, p102.

6 The story of Cornelia and her two sons is well known. See:
Famous Men Of Rome by John H. Haaren & A.B. Poland, c1904, p126
Also, Chronicle Of The Roman Republic by Philip Matyszak, c2003, p127. The photo caption relates Cornelia’s wish “to be renowned, not as the daughter of Scipio, but as the mother of Tiberius and Gaius.”

Indeed, Cornelia was considered the very epitome of Roman motherhood. The story was told of how one day a close friend of Cornelia’s paid her a visit to show off some newly acquired jewelry. After displaying her finery, the friend asked Cornelia, “Now, let me see your jewels.” At that very moment Cornelia’s two sons returned home. She called them to her and placing her arms around them Cornelia replied to her friend, “Here are my jewels.”

Sources Consulted
In The Name Of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2003 ISBN: 0-297-84666-3
The Complete Roman Army by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2003 ISBN: 0-500-05124-0
Cannae by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2001 ISBN: 0-304-35714-6
Hannibal’s War With Rome by T. Wise & M. Healy, c1999 ISBN: 1-85532-980-8
Famous Men Of Rome by J.H. Haaren & A.B., Poland, c1904 ISBN: 1-59915-046-8
Chronicle Of The Roman Republic by P. Matyszak, c2003 ISBN: 0-500-05121-6
A Dictionary Of The Roman Empire by M. Bunson, c1991 ISBN: 0-19-510233-9
The Art of War Great Commanders of the Ancient & Medieval World 1500BC--AD1600 edited by Andrew Roberts, c2008 ISBN: 978-1-84724-259-4

Links of Interest
Roman Army Talk Forum -- an excellent source for information on the ancient Romans and lively discussions of same.

GMT Games -- The publisher of the Commands & Colors games and one of the better sources for traditional Map & Counter style war games

Commands & Colors: Ancients -- A third party site devoted to the Commands & Colors systems with many scenarios beyond those that come with the game.

Two feature films about Scipio Africanus:

The 1937 version, commissioned by Mussolini, is available on DVD

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Horsing Around In London

The Blues & Royals

This regiment was formed in 1969 by the amalgamation of the The Royal Horse Guards (the Blues) and the 1st Royal Dragoons. The Horse Guards trace their lineage to a regiment raised in 1650 by Oliver Cromwell. In 1651 they joined with the Earl of Oxford’s regiment, The Oxford Blues, whose blue uniform color the current regiment has retained.

The Blues & Royals have participated in every major war fought by the UK including both World Wars and, most recently, Desert Storm in 1991 and the current conflicts in SW Asia. Indeed their capture of the Regimental Eagle from the French 105th Infantry at the Battle of Waterloo is commemorated by a small embroidered eagle worn on the left uniform sleeve by all members of The Blues & Royals. (You can just make out the sleeve eagle on the Guardsman in this photo.)

In the photo above Stefan is posing with the “Box Man” from The Blues & Royals. The Box Man, in either the Foot Guards or the Household Cavalry, is the Guard who stands on duty at White Hall, Horse Guard Parade and Buckingham Palace in London. To be The Box Man is the most sought after duty by a Guardsman and only the best looking Guards and horses are selected for this duty. A Box Man spends one hour on post, or, on extremely cold days, one half hour.

Patience is a virtue for both Guardsman and horse as they deal with a seemingly unending stream of tourists, some of who are less than polite to the Guards. In the case of this photo, the horse seems to be asking, “Can I go now?”

There is a tradition that those wishing to give the Guardsman a “note of assignation”’ will place that note on the Foot Guard’s bayonet scabbard or inside the top of the Horse Guard’s boot.

So Stefan, did you slip the Guardsman a note?

The Guards - Britain's Household Division by Simon Dunstan c1995 ISBN: 1-85915-062-4
The Guards text by John de St. Jorre photos by Anthony Edgeworth c1981 ISBN: 059-54376-1

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jobs -- Is War The Only Solution?

I can’t call off the war. I’ve already paid a month’s rent on the battlefield.” – G Marx

The hot topic in the news, not surprisingly, is the economy and the jobless recovery we seem to be in right now. Many people have now been out of work for a year or more with no sign that they will return to work any time soon.

What is to be done?

Two schools of thought have emerged – The Stimulators and the Free Marketeers.

The Stimulators are advocating for more government spending while the Free Marketeers believe we have already spent too much and we should instead let market forces decide who fails and who survives. Everyone looks back to the Great Depression and FDR for clues as to how we might solve our current economic woes, but in this case hindsight appears to be less than 20/20. One thing both camps seem to agree on is the fact that it was World War Two that brought the US economy back to full and robust life.

So, is war the only answer?

One of the goals of war (as outlined in the 1967 book Report From Iron Mountain On The Possibility And Desirability Of Peace) is to use up the produce of our labors. “Why is war so wonderful? Because it creates artificial demand…the only kind of artificial demand, moreover, that does not raise any political issues: war, and only war, solves the problem of inventory.” (p35)

We are already engaged in two wars that have proven to be ruinous to our economy rather than the boom World War Two was. Now some would say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bear little resemblance to what is arguably the seminal event of the 20th Century and they are quite correct. Unlike WWII, that saw the entire US on a war footing, we are fighting the “War on Terrorism” more like we did the Vietnam War, with a peacetime economy. The current wars are simply not using up enough inventory.

So, does this mean we need a really BIG war to revive our economy?

And if so, then with whom shall we fight?

Germany and Japan are now our allies, as are the Italians. Russia, who was our ally in WWII and then our enemy during the Cold War, is certainly big enough, but given their current economic woes they seem an unlikely opponent.

China, on the other hand, has both a robust economy and a first class military. However, beyond MacArthur’s warning against undertaking a land war in Asia, attacking China would be like attacking your local Wal-Mart. Yes, it might be fun at the time, and yes the pillaging would certainly be impressive, but once the fires died out where would you shop for all of those items you need & want?

That leaves Iran, the current enemy of first choice for neo-cons and anyone else who slept through their high school history classes.

The last person to defeat the Persians was Alexander the Great, and his empire didn’t last very long. Even the Romans, whose empire did endure, found the Persians a tough nut to crack. Yes, they could and did sack the Persian capital several times, but the Romans did not have the resources, and more importantly, the will to stay the course and solidify their Eastern conquests. This is worth noting, as the Romans traditionally had proven to be dogged in their pursuit of victory. The Punic Wars and the Siege of Jerusalem are but two examples of the Romans spending whatever it took, in blood and treasure, to secure a lasting victory on their terms. Yet, when it came to Persia, their resolve seemed to crumble in the face of more practical considerations. If nothing else the Romans were both practical and pragmatic to a fault.

Despite neo-con hyperbole and promises to the contrary, a war with Iran will be neither short nor easy. Be that as it may, the real question is: would it revive our economy? Maybe, but the chances are that as the aggressors, most Americans would quickly lose heart and our eventual victory would leave a bitter taste in our mouths.

So, who then to fight a new world war against and in so doing save our economy and put our people back to work?


If only the Nazis really had retreated to the Moon (as postulated in the film Iron Sky) and were, even now, waiting for just the right moment to return to Earth and fight World War II The Sequel.

Damn Nazis – where are they when we really need them?

So, no enemy means no war, and no economic recovery.

Or does it?

In the 1970’s President Jimmy Carter tired to rally Americans to “fight the moral equivalent of war” and in so doing save the planet and ourselves from ecological disaster. This call to arms, issued long before Al Gore spoke of the Inconvenient Truth, fell on deaf ears. And yet, Carter was correct, both morally and economically. He was simply ahead of his time.

Many derided Carter then, and Al Gore now, yet 30+ years since Carter's presidency clean water is still a luxury for many, basic health care is unobtainable for too many, and renewable, sustainable, green energy is a dream for all but the very few.

The looming ecological disaster is now more obvious (the doubters not withstanding – the ice caps really are melting folks) and the economic need is obvious. Time to dust off Carter’s Moral Equivalent. It is time for the Unarmed Forces of the United States.

This new force would be organized, trained and led just like the US Army. They would wear the same uniforms, have the same rank structure, be grouped into squads, platoons, battalions, and so forth, be subject to the UCMJ and receive the same pay and privileges as the current US military. They would, for all intents and purposes, be soldiers, but they would not carry weapons nor fight on the conventional battlefield.

The US Army is currently reshaping itself away from the heavy infantry and armored divisions it thought it would need to fight against the Warsaw Pact, and towards the more flexible and rapidly deployable Brigade Combat Team. The adoption of the Stryker combat vehicle and the doctrine of Total Situational Awareness have hastened this transformation.

A typical Stryker Brigade has a TO&E of just under 5,000 personnel. This number is in some flux as the Army works out exactly how many soldiers it needs in the Support Battalion and the Forward Support Companies, however, for our purposes (and to keep the math simple) we may say that each Brigade Team has 5000 soldiers.

If each state raised four Brigade Ecological Teams (BET) of 5000 soldiers each we would have a new army of 1 million solders across the fifty states. They would need uniforms and equipment, vehicles, housing, food and all the other items any army needs in order to function.

Additionally, because the BET is not designed nor expected to engage in combat, the ranks throughout the brigade would be open to both men and women. Engineer, medical and logistics units would replace actual combat elements. Required skill sets would run the gamut and include doctors and other medical technicians, engineers and skilled construction professionals, electricians, heavy equipment operators, communications and networking engineers, law enforcement and education, agricultural specialists, etc. etc. etc.

This one million in uniform would require several more millions supporting them, producing and providing them with the tools and equipment, food and supplies they would consume in the course of performing their job.

Doing what?

Working to restore the ecological balance of our planet.

Green Energy Projects

Clean Water & Water Reclamation

Infrastructure Upgrades both physical and virtual

Disaster Relief

Forest Restoration

How long will this war last?

Long enough for most of the new soldiers to make a career of it, retiring after 20 years with a pension pegged at 50% of their base pay.

Many (my brother the lawyer and my sister with the PhD in Economics) might well say that this approach, a gigantic government works program, is totally impractical for a host of legal and economic reasons. They may be absolutely correct.

Likewise, there are some (those who remained awake in their High School History classes) who might recall that Germany tired much the same approach in the 1930’s and 40’s, drafting able bodied young men and women into labor battalions of the National Labor Service (RAD). This approach not only fed upon the need for jobs but also the seemingly unique German penchant (some might say ‘love’) for organization, uniforms and marching.

Of course, any association with the Nazis is be avoided, and for good reason, however, given the typical American's natural rebelliousness, it seems unlikely the BET would devolve into some sort of political shock troops. Even so, those of a practical bent might still object, and they too may be absolutely correct.

Yet practical thinking seems to be getting us nowhere, so perhaps it is time for some impractical thinking.

Now I am not the first to suggest the Unarmed Forces of the United States (UFUS) and I dare say I will not be the last, however the time has come to give this proposal serious consideration.

Just as the Founding Fathers looked to those great civilizations of Greece and Rome for guidance in the formation of our own Grand Democratic Republic so it is fitting that we consider again this concept of Universal Service.

Military service has never been a prerequisite for holding elected office in our country. Although many on the right pay lip service to such a concept, in fact few members of the GOP have served. Indeed it is a peculiar irony of the US Congress that of those few who have served the majority are Democrats, while the majority of Republican members have never served or have actively avoided military service even when their country called upon them for their help.

Service as a Hoplite, a “citizen soldier,” was a corner stone of Greek Democracy during the age of the City States. Likewise, during the years of the Republic, members of the Roman Senate regularly served in the military as part of their duty as citizens. (Of course, Rome may be unique in this regard and perhaps not the best example, for Rome did not have an army – Rome was an army.) Some have even advocated military service as the price for citizenship, along the lines portrayed in Robert Heinlein’s book Starship Troopers. However, this is perhaps carrying the concept too far.

The idea of universal military service as a requirement for the holding of elected office has its merits and the advent of the Unarmed Forces of the United States would allow for more of our fellow citizens to do so without undue risk to life and limb. Those who chose to service in the UFUS would have a longer term of active duty obligation than those who selected service in the Armed Forces. Say 4 years in the former and 2 in the latter. Beyond that there would be no distinction between the two forces in look, discipline, basic structure, pay or benefits.

Cleaning up the Earth and restoring some ecological balance to our planet would seem, on the face of it, both imminently practical and wisely foresighted. Besides, keeping one’s only home clean and in working order is only common sense.

And, once we have cleaned up Earth there is Mars and the galaxy beyond. It will take a lot of inventory to fill up outer space.