Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The absolute absence of irony here is what strikes me . . .

The following excerpt is from The Ancient Engineers, by L. Sprague deCamp.  L. Sprague deCamp is known primarily as a writer of science-fiction and science-fantasy - a colleague and contemporary of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.  This book deals with engineering in civilizations prior to the Renaissance.  In this passage, he discusses the decline of the (western) Roman Empire without ever drawing a parallel to modern American history.

This book was published in 1963 and even an author steeped in the use of his imagination, as L. Sprague DeCamp was, could not imagine what follies America would pursue in the 40 years that followed the book's publication.  It is this utter inability to imagine what has transpired that continues to strike me.  It is a measure of the failure - not of the author, so much as the ability of two generations of Americans to appreciate and defend their heritage (with special mention of Senator Ted Kennedy).

beginning on p. 246:

            Some take the view that there was no one cause of Rome’s downfall.  Instead, the Roman government, like every other, was confronted by a series of problems.  For a long time it succeeded in solving them well enough to carry on.  At last, however, as much by luck as anything else, a number of these problems piled up all at once at a time when the Western Empire lacked strong leadership.  The wonder is not that Rome fell but that it managed to keep going so long.
            The principle problem, of course, was the barbarians.  Before +400 their incursions had been only raids, destructive but not fatal.  However, in +406 the Vandals, Suevi, and Alans burst into Gaul and headed for Spain at a time when the emperors of East and West were too busy fighting each other to defend the frontiers.  A few years later the Franks, Burgundians, and others came in, settled, and refused to leave.  Although willing at first to acknowledge the Emperor’s rule, they proved too numerous to absorb and too strong to oust; so it was only a matter of time before they took over the rule of the lands they occupied.
            Another factor in Rome’s fall was that, while the Romans were almost standing still in science and engineering, the barbarians were advancing.  They were learning the roman arts of peace and war, the former by trading contacts and the latter by mercenary service in the armies of Rome.  The arts of peace enabled their lands to support denser populations, while the arts of war made them as formidable, man for man, as the Romans.

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