Continuing the series on Rome’s rise to Empire, it is important to look at her great dictator, Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, and the Army. Sulla and the great Roman military reformer, Gaius Marius, were contemporaries though Sulla was a little older. The stories of their lives and campaigns can be found in Livy and Plutarch. For this article a passage from Plutarch’s life of Sulla should give the modern American pause.
“But now the generals of this latter period were men who had risen to the top by violence rather than merit; they needed armies to fight against one another rather than against the public enemy; and so they were forced to combine the arts of the politician with the authority of the general. They spent money on making life easy for their soldiers, and then, after purchasing their labor in this way, failed to observe that they had made their whole country a thing for sale and had put themselves in a position where they had to be slaves for the worst sort of people in order to become the masters of the better… And here it was Sulla more than anyone else who set the example. In order to corrupt and win over to himself the soldiers of other generals, he gave his own troops a good time and spent money lavishly on them. He was thus at the same time encouraging the evils of both treachery and of debauchery. All required much money…”
Marius was first in Roman history to do away with the property requirements for military service, making it a paid profession and watering down the meaning of service. Recall that during the early Republican era threats to Rome were immediate, men went to arms to preserve their property and way of life. Their pay was the removal of a threat to them and their families. In one instance of Roman history the whole noble Fabian family provided their troops from their own clan to fight a neighboring nation to avenge the death of a kinsmen, they were killed to the man.
However as Rome expanded its’ influence levies of basically unpaid volunteers couldn’t suffice. The need to maintain control over far flung provinces necessitated a paid standing army.
The parallels between the modern U.S. military and the Army of Sulla’s day as described by Plutarch carry some similarities. Mainly the use of financial incentive for service, since the start of the current Recession (or Jobs Depression) recruitment for the U.S. military has become easy: there is job security, there are the benefits, the bonuses, and college money. Even with a War on a far flung enemy and no clear military objectives many a young person is willing to face the chance of danger to secure a future.
One of the main differences (or one glossed over by the Ancients as being a non-issue) is the hardships of military service. To the average American the demanding grind of military life is enough of a disincentive to avoid service. This does not negate the fact that the military has become a thing separate from the interest of the average American, nor does it say much that as a people hard work and hardship are as repulsive and death and mutilation.
So let the reader consider, is our military more like that of Fabia or that of Sulla?