THE ARSENAL OF 'DEMOCRACY'
Several days ago when former President George Walker Bush left Washington once and for all, oddly, it reminded me of when Julius Gaius Caesar walked into the Senate for the very last time. For someone who had triumphantly entered Rome years earlier and was now facing assassins (who thought they were saving the Roman Republic from tyranny), and for a leader of the Roman Empire to be crying out, "Et tu, Brute?" ("You, too, Brutus?"), it was clearly a not so Triumphant Exit. The reason I say "oddly" is, because, even though there are many differences between George W. Bush and Julius G. Caesar, history has a way of sometimes converging at critical moments in time. In 509 B.C.E., exactly twenty-five centuries ago of this year, the Roman State was founded. Is it coincidence or a twisted act of fate?
Facing his accusers, I wonder if Julius Caesar knew that when Rome was founded the people determined never to be ruled by a ruthless monarch again and therefore, established a republic? Did he think back to when he rode his fathers chariot and dreamed of being a great Roman general? Did he recall that during his military training how he once stopped and out of self-pity, wept at the feet of a statue of Alexander the Great for not achieving what Alexander had? George Bush also wanted to be known as a great "War President" and a military strategist. Instead, and as "The Decider-In-Chief," he showed the world that even a modern democracy can be mismanaged, manipulated and malevolent, especially when the "tyranny of the minority" are allowed to rule. Whereas Julius Caesar's reign helped ruin a Republic, George Bush, by abusing his war powers and executive orders, discredited a Democracy. Sadly, "messy" democracies create and produce messy wars, and milestones become millstones around the neck of freedom and liberty.
At the moment of his death, did Julius Caesar remember how the Roman Republic became an Empire through conquering and exploiting much of Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor? Did he bear in mind how Rome's hardening policies led to fear and insecurity and how Roman extremists demanded war? Did he learn how the hardliners shouted, "Carthago delenda est"? ("Carthage must be obliterated.") Did he finally understand what the conquered Greeks meant when they said, "The Carthaginians fought for their own preservation and the sovereignty of Africa, the Romans, for supremacy and world domination"? Did he too, like many Romans, believe the Mediterranean was Mare Nostrum-"Our Sea"? After initiating wars for war itself, when George Bush left the White House did he regret the hatred and mass carnage in the name of democratic supremacy? In his last speech to the nation, did he look inward when he said, "Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere"? Does he still think of the Middle East as "Our Land" and "Our National Security"? An exit strategy that follows a policy of "Iraqo delenda est" and that leaves behind a trail of blood, is not so triumphant, neither is it very democratic.
When Julius Caesar starved and slaughtered entire Germanic tribes, and then used the excuse that he was only protecting the Gauls, did he keep in mind the words of Livy who claimed, "There was one people in the world which would fight for other's liberties at its own cost, to its own peril, and with its own toil...that everywhere justice, right, and law might prevail"? Did he remember spreading his fame by writing his own 'Commentaries on the Gallic Wars', and in telling only of his victories but not his defeats? Did he recall the Senate ordering him to disband his legions but instead, how he defied their orders, crossed the Rubicon, and committed treason by marching on Rome? When George Bush left, did he recall how he "fixed" the intelligence to invade Iraq and when there were no weapons of mass destruction and the war went badly, how he accused dissenting senators of being unpatriotic and of not wanting to protect Americans? As George Bush considers his 'Commentaries on the Global War On Terror', will he mention the torture memos, Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, and the massacres at Haditha and Fallujah? And where is justice and the rule of law?
After starting another civil war and while walking through a battlefield of slain Roman soldiers, did Julius Caesar remember saying, "They would have it so"? Did he remember his own Triumphant Entry into Rome-something he had planned for-and how he led thousands of enslaved women, children and men? Did he keep in mind how he rode at the head of the procession and proudly displayed the plundered gold, silver, cultural objects, exotic animals, and the other spoils of war? George Bush also choreographed his Triumphant Entry onto the USS Abraham Lincoln. Behind him was a banner with the words "Mission Accomplished." It turned out to be his albatross, though, for over 4,000 U.S. troops died and 50,000 more were wounded after his Triumphant Entry. The war also lasted five more years at a staggering cost of over $1 trillion. But at least George Bush had his Triumphant Entry, and his triumvirate consisting of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and himself. And for the tens of thousands of Iraqis that have died, 'Would they have it so too'?
At the moment of his death, did Julius Caesar think back to his victories that enlarged the Roman Empire and caused cheap goods and grains to flood Rome's markets, which in return created landless farmers and a class of unemployed? Did he remember how the Roman Empire produced wealthy oligarchs who purchased latifundias-large parcels of land, and imported thousands of slaves? Did he know that he would someday cause the Roman historian Appian to write, "The powerful ones became enormously rich and the race of slaves multiply throughout the country, while the Italian people dwindle in numbers and strength, being oppressed by poverty, taxes, and military service"? Did Julius Caesar recognize the same senators who scrambled for profitable contracts in supplying Rome's Legions (and were now scrambling to kill him), and then fabricated the amount of goods they sold? Like Julius Caesar, did George Bush's pre-emptive invasions and free trade agreements destroy small farms and localized businesses? By subsidizing corporations that were already growing fat from war, and by neglecting fair wages for workers and soldiers, did the Bush administration increase the disparity between rich and poor? And which senatorial nobles and military generals scrambled to make profits from such tragedies like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, and Hurricane Katrina?
When Julius Caesar was assassinated, did he cry out to the Roman gods? After all, the imperial religion of Rome had much to do with obedience to the state and little to do with ethics and conscience. Did he remember using the gods to justify wars and to support the violent myths of the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome). Did he realize that by subjugating peoples, wearing purple robes, and by placing his image on coins or in temples to be worshipped, that he created many enemies and was viewed as a tyrant? As he laid there dying, did he now understand Thucydides' famous truth that, "Athens kept its democracy but lost its empire; Rome kept its empire but lost its democracy"? When George Bush left the White House, did he too bear in mind the majority of people who wanted to end the wars of conquest? After being appointed by the Supreme Court, and after a skewed election four years later, did he recall mistakenly thinking he had a clear "mandate" from the people to rule? While democracies are not very good at running empires, democracies that try to create their own reality are even worse. And after using God to justify the failed invasion and occupation of Iraq, to what god does George Bush pray to now and who will save him from his not so Triumphant Exit?
When Julius Caesar breathed his last breath, did he remember the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Rome's famous poet and orator, who said, "How much greater and more glorious to have enlarged the limits of the Roman mind than the boundaries of Roman rule"? What will George Bush's last memory be? Will it be the awful and terrible wars he initiated and that have shattered nations and thousands of lives? Will it be the disregard for the Geneva Conventions and the numerous human rights accords? Or will it be the crowds chanting at President Barack Obama's inauguration, "No more Bush! No more Bush! No more Bush!"? And when George Bush walked up the steps of the presidential helicopter and turned around and waved for the last time, I wonder if he mockingly thought to himself "the Ideas of March had come"? But we all know that just like Julius Caesar, who was warned to take heed of March 15 and had mistakenly thought he had escaped, the "Ides of March had not yet gone."
There is a phrase written on the Twelve Tables, or the Roman legal code, that says, "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!" The beginning of the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, "We the People of the United States, in Order to from a more perfect Union, establish Justice,...". Unlike the past, it is not to late for the U.S. Senate and the People to remake the world anew again (as our paters did) and to transform a "not so Triumphant Exit" into a "very Triumphant Exit." This can be accomplished by pursuing charges of treason and of war crimes against former President George Walker Bush and those involved in his administration. Americans should also resist the next Triumphant Entry, for no matter how often they occur, they still benefit only the Few at the expense (death) of the Many. And whether it be a Republic-turned-empire like Rome, or a Democracy-turned-superpower like the U.S., Triumphant Entries that try to either Romanize or Americanize the world, are, after all, not so triumphant. And worst of all, "individual" Triumphant Exits-like Julius G. Caesar's and now George W. Bush's-often become "collective" not so Triumphant Exits, as in the case of when St. Jerome wrote of Rome in 410 A.C.E., "It is the end of the world...Words fail me. My sobs break in...The city which took captive the whole world has itself been captured."