Pompey’s Counter-Insurgency

Quintus Curtius has a fine article on his web site about Pompey’s most impressive victory:

Every victory seems easy in retrospect, of course.  But the campaign against the pirates was successful for very specific reasons.  They are as follows:  (1) deployment of sufficient forces to deal with the threat; (2) assignment of specific sectors of operation to local commanders, with each one made responsible for what happened in his area; (3) relentless pursuit of fleeing pirates so that they could not rest or hide; (4) a policy of “paroling” captured pirates and allowing them to return to their homes provided that they swore to abandon crime; (5) execution of the worst offenders; and (6) the capture of the main pirate strongholds in Cilicia.

These principles translate well to the modern age:

  • Overwhelming Force – The insurgent must respect your strength, and eventually learn to fear attacking you.
  • Divide, Clear, and Hold – pick the areas where they are weakest. Secure these first. Then painstakingly expand into areas where they are stronger, and drive them out of these. Pompey didn’t try to do it all at once; he ground them slowly down. This is the only thing that has ever worked.
  • Mercy to the Masses, Punishment to the Criminals – As Sun Tzu reminds us, men with no possibility of escape will fight to the death. The impulse to treat all insurgents the same must be avoided. During the Chinese Civil War, the Communists made it a policy to release Nationalist enlisted men who surrendered, and only imprison or kill their officers. This made it hard for the Nationalists armies to maintain fighting morale. The United States Army used a similar policy to great effect against Aguinaldo and the Phillipine insurgents at the turn of the 20th century. Any rebel could surrender and be paroled; only those accused of specific crimes would be punished.
  • Co-ordination. The disadvantage of government forces is that they lack the complete freedom of movement the guerrilla has, being weight down by the need to defend territory and the weight of institutional impedimenta. But with shared responsibility and independent action, they can bring their strength to bear.
  • Attack Their Sanctuary. None of the above matters if the insurgents can constantly regroup safely. Successful insurgents almost always have safe areas where their enemies cannot or will not go (North Vietnam and Cambodia, Tribal Areas of Pakistan, etc.). All effort must be made not to allow this.  When insurgents have no sanctuary, and their supplies are cut off, their institutional weaknesses become fatal.

A Defense of Brutus?

Over at Signature Reads, a review of Barry Strauss’ The Death of Caesar. Strauss’ take is that the assassination, whatever the particular motivations of the various actors, was at root a defense of liberty and an attack on tyranny, and so ought be commended.

Now, I’ve written on this topic myself. Back in 2016, I argued the opposite, that the assassins, in striking Caesar down, made him more powerful than they dared imagine:

 Julius Caeser was assassinated at the beginning of a public meeting of the Senate by 12 Senators who had decided that Julius Caeser was a threat to the Republic, that his becoming Dictator  Perpetuus was the latest in a string of unconstitutional excesses that would end in Rome becoming an authoritarian state.

In this, they were almost certainly correct.

But in assassinating them, they made that state certain. In assassinating Caesar, they made him a martyr, and themselves – and the cause they espoused – the enemies of good order. Within a few years, the Roman imperium is divided among Caeser’s heirs. Within 20, Octavian has legally obtained from a tame Senate all the authority that matters. And the Roman people stood mum as long peace obtained.

If Caesar had served out his time, even as Dictator Perpetuus, elections might have followed. Octavian, at the time of Caesar’s death, was a nobody, who became important precisely because he was Caesar’s heir. Now, it may be that Caesar would have pushed him up the cursus honorum during that long dictatorship. But the opportunity to seize power and exercise it ruthlessly happened because Caesar became a god in death. Shakespeare has Caesar’s ghost haunting Brutus and Cassius for a reason.

Strauss apparently acknowledges this:

And yet Strauss concludes that the conspirators were heroes after all. “If they didn’t save the Republic, they saved republicanism.” If they hadn’t acted, Strauss argues, Caesar and his successors would have felt no threat to their power. But they did act, and because they did, “as long as men and women remember the names of those who killed Julius Caesar, dictators will not sleep safely.”

And to be fair, only about a third of Caesar’s successors died in their beds. But this did not prevent the Empire from perpetuating. However many Caesars were stabbed, there was always another eager to take his place, and a Praetorian Guard happy to crown him. The assassins missed their mark; the problem was not Caesar. The problem was that the wealth of the Mediterranean world drove a wedge between the Senators and the People. Neither could trust the other, both handed power over to a strong man rather than let the other win. And so liberty died.

As it happens, Caius Caligulia will have some thoughts on this topic in his Meditations. Watch this space.

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This is happening.

Welcome to Imperial Rome

Victor Davis Hanson calls out the steps, and our progressive New Class masters dance to them:

Sometime in the mid-first century a.d., an otherwise little known consular official, Gaius Petronius, wrote a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite. The Satyricon is an often-cruel parody about how the Roman agrarian republic of old had degenerated into a wealth-obsessed, empty society of wannabe new elites, flush with money, and both obsessed with and bored with sex. Most of the Satyricon is lost. But in its longest surviving chapter — “Dinner with Trimalchio” — Petronius might as well have been describing our own 21st-century nomenklatura.

For the buffoonish libertine guests of the host Trimalchio, food and sex are in such surfeit that they have to be repackaged in bizarre and repulsive ways. Think of someone like the feminist mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, who once railed about the need to enforce sexual-harassment laws, now only to discover ever creepier ways to grope, pat, grab, squeeze, pinch, and slobber on 18 co-workers and veritable strangers, whether in their 20s or over 60. Unfortunately, the sexual luridness does not necessarily end with Filner’s resignation; one of his would-be replacements is already under attack by his opponents on allegations that as a city councilman he was caught masturbating in the city-hall restroom between public meetings.

He’s just getting warmed up, but I’ll cut to the chase:

Just as Petronius’s world went on for another 400 years, ours may too.

Read the whole thing.