March 27, 2015

1. Taxi Driver

I recently saw the classic American movie Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro. It’s an interesting movie, but it’s very violent, so I can’t recommend it. It’s about a taxi driver in New York City, and it shows only the dark side of New York. It was inspired by the shooting of George Wallace in 1972, and it inspired the shooting of Ronald Reagan in 1981. So it’s an example of art imitating life, and also of life imitating art.

The screenplay is by Paul Schrader, who drew on the story of Arthur Bremer. Bremer shot Alabama Governor George Wallace when Wallace was running for President in 1972. In 1973, Bremer’s diary was published under the title An Assassin’s Diary. Schrader doubtless read this book, and Taxi Driver has many echoes of Bremer’s life, including the assassination attempt. Bremer grew up in a dysfunctional family, was often ridiculed and bullied by peers, and had difficulty with women. Bremer said of his childhood,

I would escape my ugly reality by pretending that I was living with a television family and there was no yelling at home or no one to hit me.... No English or history test was ever as hard, no math final exam ever as difficult as waiting in a school lunch line alone, waiting to eat alone... while hundreds huddled and gossiped and roared, and laughed and stared at me.... In junior high school, I was an object of pure ridicule for my dress, withdrawal, and asocial manner. Dozens of times, I saw individuals laugh and smile more in ten to fifteen minutes than I did in all my life up to then.1

In his diary, Bremer said that he was going to shoot Nixon or Wallace in order

to do SOMETHING BOLD AND DRAMATIC, FORCEFUL & DYNAMIC, A STATEMENT of my manhood for the world to see.... I’m as important as the start of WWI. I just need the little opening and a second of time.

He read books about the assassination of Robert Kennedy. When he realized that he couldn’t get close to Nixon, he was concerned that the assassination of Wallace wouldn’t be major news. If something significant happens in Vietnam, he complained in his diary, the assassination of Wallace would get little attention. Getting attention was his goal.

Schrader said that the Taxi Driver screenplay was also inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground, which depicts an anti-hero, an outcast. Dostoyevsky often depicted the outcast, doubtless because he himself was an outcast. With restless eyes and twitching lips, the young Dostoyevsky was “painfully ill at ease. Turgenev described him as a mole who had crawled out into the light of day.”2 When Dostoyevsky said, “Ridicule is the world’s strongest weapon,”3 he was surely speaking from his own painful experience. We know that he was ridiculed by Turgenev, who called him “the knight of the doleful countenance” (a reference to Don Quixote).4 Dostoyevsky went insane for a time, which was probably both a cause and an effect of his isolation. What he wrote of Raskolnikov (protagonist of Crime and Punishment) probably reflects his own experience: “[Raskolnikov] had become so completely absorbed in himself, and isolated from his fellows that he dreaded meeting, not only his landlady, but any one at all.”5

Schrader’s screenplay was also inspired by his own situation, which resembled that of protagonist Travis Bickle. “Prior to writing the screenplay, Schrader was in a lonely and alienated position, much like Bickle is. Following a divorce and a breakup with a live-in girlfriend, he spent a few weeks living in his car.”6 One is reminded of Bremer, who also lived in his car.

The person who shot Reagan, John Hinckley, was obsessed with Taxi Driver, and with Jodie Foster, one of the stars of Taxi Driver. Hinckley wanted to get Jodie Foster’s attention. One might say that Hinckley was following the script of Taxi Driver. Do movies like Taxi Driver increase the amount of darkness/evil in the world, and inspire people to commit violent acts like the shooting of Reagan? If government censorship isn’t the answer, should filmmakers and novelists exercise self-censorship?

Scorsese, De Niro, and Schrader also collaborated on the movie Raging Bull, which was “voted by many critics including Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel as the best film of the 1980s.”7

2. Intentional Crashes

In an earlier issue, I discussed the Malaysian plane that disappeared, I argued that it was probably an intentional crash, and I listed numerous examples of intentional crashes. So when I heard about the recent crash of a German plane, when I heard that the weather was good, and the plane descended in a steady, controlled manner, I thought it might be another intentional crash.

After the 9/11 hijackings, cockpit doors were strengthened, making it impossible for “bad guys” to break into the cockpit. But evil is embedded in human nature, evil is on both sides of the door, we can never extinguish evil. As Horace put it, we can drive out nature with a pitchfork, but it will always come back (naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret). The very word “cockpit” reflects the dark side of human nature: it comes from cock fighting, which in turn comes from the pleasure people take in watching bloodshed.

The co-pilot of the German plane, Andreas Lubitz, relied on the strengthened cockpit door to carry out his plan, and save him from the embarrassment of being “caught in the act.” Did the pilot of the Malaysian plane also rely on the strengthened cockpit door?

Some U.S. airlines require two people to be in the cockpit at all times, and now other airlines are following this practice. Why did it take so many intentional crashes before this practice became standard? If two people were in the cockpit, Lubitz might have been caught in the act, humiliated, arrested, etc., so he probably wouldn’t have attempted to destroy the plane. He decided to destroy the plane because he had a plan that was not only likely to succeed, but certain to succeed. He definitely didn’t want to be caught in the act, and suffer intense humiliation, imprisonment, etc.

Are intentional crashes becoming more common? Are they more common now than they were in the 1950s? Is there some sort of social/spiritual/moral disease that is behind these crashes, and also behind the increasingly-common mass shootings? Is it more than a matter of troubled individuals? If Lubitz had some sort of religious faith, some sort of faith in life and the universe, he probably wouldn’t have crashed the plane.

Does Andreas Lubitz have anything in common with Arthur Bremer, whom we discussed above? Bremer’s problems began in early childhood. His mother had two previous children, each with a different man. Lubitz may have had a more subtle “upbringing problem.” Bremer was disappointed in love, and his virginity seemed to weigh on him. He wanted to do something bold, forceful, manly.

Lubitz apparently had a longtime girlfriend, whom he had met while working at BurgerKing years earlier; they shared an apartment in Düsseldorf. This woman has apparently not spoken publicly about Lubitz. Lubitz also dated a flight attendant in 2014, who

described him as mentally unstable, screaming at night, at one point locking himself in a bathroom and complaining bitterly about how he was treated at his job. The woman said that he told her he would someday “do something that will change the entire system and everyone will know my name and remember it.”

This would suggest that Lubitz planned the crash long in advance, and rehearsed it in his mind. One wonders why this flight attendant didn’t report Lubitz’s remark to her supervisors. Lubitz’s desire for fame is similar to Bremer’s. As I argued in my book of aphorisms, everyone wants to stand out today, everyone wants to be special, unique, famous, perhaps because they don’t feel part of a larger whole, they feel like atoms in the void, isolated atoms, meaningless atoms.

Perhaps Lubitz wanted something besides fame: company in death. People don’t like dying alone, they want company in death. Ernest Jones, a disciple of Freud, wrote an essay on “dying together.” Jones discusses the joint suicide of the German writer Kleist and a woman who was terminally ill. Arthur Koestler also died in a joint suicide; Koestler died with his third wife, Cynthia, who was “only fifty-five years old and believed to be in good health.” And Stefan Zweig died in a joint suicide; he was 60 when he died, his second wife Lotte Altmann was about 30.

3. Ancient Rome

A. The Gracchi

Continuing our discussion of ancient Rome, we come to the Brothers Gracchus, who lived around 130 BC. The elder brother was Tiberius, the younger (by about ten years) Gaius. Like Franklin Roosevelt, they came from the highest class of society, but they tried to push through reforms that annoyed the upper class. Like the Kennedy brothers, the Gracchi were both murdered at a young age (they both died at about age 33). While the Kennedys were killed by isolated individuals, the Gracchi were killed by their political opponents. The Gracchi were tribunes who represented the plebs, the “Populares,” their opponents were Senators, patricians, “Optimates.”

Rome had been free of internal bloodshed for almost 400 years. The Gracchan reforms ushered in a period of civil strife that lasted for about a century, and resulted in the downfall of the Roman Republic, and its replacement by the Roman Empire. The Gracchan reforms, and the bloodshed that they sparked, began when Rome had extended its power through most of the Mediterranean lands; one might say that, once the Romans had little to fear from foreign foes, they began fighting themselves.

The trouble started in 133 BC, when Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune. But for several years before this, there was tension between plebs and patricians over two issues: the draft and the ballot. The middle class, or “plebs,” was represented by the tribunes, the patricians were represented by the Senate and the consuls. The plebs resented the draft because the burden of military service fell heavily on them. The tribunes resisted the draft by temporarily imprisoning consuls, who were refusing draft-exemptions.

The tribunes also agitated for a secret ballot at the assembly (the “Comitia”), instead of an open declaration of one’s vote. The patricians controlled elections through their clients, through bribery, etc. The plebs hoped to reduce patrician power by having a secret ballot. But these measures didn’t seriously reduce patrician power, they were just warm-ups for the conflict that began in 133.

Why did Tiberius Gracchus attempt his reforms? What was his motive? Our authors, Cary and Scullard, say that his motive is unclear. Perhaps Tiberius, like Franklin Roosevelt, was motivated by a combination of personal ambition and a genuine desire to improve the economic situation.

As a young man fighting in the Third Punic War, Tiberius was “first over the wall of Carthage.”8 He also fought in Spain, and when he marched through northern Italy on his way to Spain, he noticed vast estates cultivated by slave labor. In Spain, he noticed that the Roman army was in decline, and he blamed this decline on “the decline of the Italian yeoman class.” The danger of slave labor became apparent in 135 BC, when slaves in Sicily revolted, and raised an army of 60,000 (this became known as the First Servile War). So Tiberius embarked on reforms to limit the size of estates, reduce the use of slave labor, distribute land to landless veterans and peasants, strengthen the yeoman class, etc. It wasn’t easy to strengthen the yeoman class because farmers were often drafted into the army, or lured to Rome by the siren song of easy living.

Tiberius brought forward a land-reform bill that was moderate, that had a chance to be effective, that had a chance to satisfy both patricians and plebs. However, he didn’t follow the established precedent of bringing the bill to the Senate first, he brought it straight to the Assembly, perhaps to save time. This aroused the ire of the Senate, and touched off a political crisis. “Whatever individual senators might think of the merits of his bill, as a body the House was bound to resent the slight which the tribune, however inadvertently, was putting upon it.”9

On other questions, too, Tiberius attempted to go straight to the Assembly, and bypass the Senate. He also violated the sanctity of tribunes by having a tribune forcibly removed from the Assembly (there were ten tribunes, and their sanctity had been respected for more than three centuries). Finally, Tiberius ran for a second term as tribune. This may have violated law, and certainly violated precedent (one thinks of Franklin Roosevelt running for an unprecedented third term).

When I read the newspaper on a recent morning, David Brooks was complaining about the same kind of precedent-violations in the U.S. today. He blamed both parties for the violations:

The political world is stuck in the middle of an accelerating protocol crisis. All sorts of customary acts of self-restraint are being washed away. It used to be that senators didn’t... filibuster except in rare circumstances. It used to be they didn’t block presidential nominations routinely.

It used to be that presidents didn’t push the limits of executive authority by redefining the residency status of millions of people without congressional approval.... It used to be that senators didn’t write letters to hostile nations while their own president was negotiating with them.

Are we entering a period of American history similar to the period of Roman history that began with the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus? Are questions of procedure and protocol as important as questions of policy?

When Tiberius said he was running for a second term, there was a heated discussion in the Assembly about the legality of this. A brawl erupted, the meeting dissolved. The Senate, meeting elsewhere, heard about the brawl, and some Senators wanted to join in. So a group of Senators, armed with clubs and supported by clients, servants, etc., hurried to the Assembly and killed Tiberius and about 300 supporters. Tiberius Gracchus died in 133 BC; his reform efforts had lasted less than one year.

After this incident, the Senate executed numerous members of the Gracchan party, following hasty trials. But the Senate allowed Tiberius’ land-reform bill to take effect. “Thus the senatorial nobility made it clear that its opposition had not been directed against the land-law as such, but against the methods by which it had been forced through.”10

In 123 BC, Tiberius’ younger brother Gaius was elected tribune. Gaius was a dynamic leader and superb orator; “as a public speaker he exerted a power second only to that of Cicero.”11 His career was hardly longer than his brother’s, but he pushed through several reforms; “for a year and a half he remained the uncrowned king of Rome.” He passed a corn-law to stabilize the price of corn, and to provide corn to Roman citizens at slightly below market value. He made it easier to prosecute provincial governors for extortion; he described this bill as “a dagger which he had fixed securely in the flank of the Senate.” Cary and Scullard criticize Gaius for having a “touch of vindictiveness.” Even when his reforms were well-intentioned, they sometimes had unintended consequences, undesirable consequences.

Some of Gaius’ reforms were purely formal, but offensive to his opponents — for example, he delivered speeches with his back to the Senate, contrary to the established custom of facing the Senate. In the last issue, we said that wars between nations are often caused, not by tangible things like money and land, but by intangibles like honor and respect. Perhaps civil strife, too, is often caused by matters of honor, such as the direction one faces while speaking.

Gaius tried to help the allied peoples of Italy by giving them some of the rights enjoyed by Roman citizens and Roman voters. This effort was opposed by the patricians, who liked the current system; under the current system, the patricians could control elections through their clients, through bribery, etc. And Gaius’ bill was also opposed by the Roman proletariat, who didn’t want to share their political rights with others. So Gaius’ bill was defeated, and the discontent of the Italian allies continued to grow until it finally erupted, a generation later, in the Italian War, also known as the Social War.

Gaius’ power and popularity were fading, his rhetoric didn’t electrify the plebs as it did initially. When the patricians tried to roll back some of his measures, Gaius called a meeting, feelings ran high, a patrician servant was murdered. The Senate passed a resolution, an emergency decree, that said the state was in danger, and authorized the consuls to do whatever was necessary to save it. This kind of resolution became known as senatus consultum ultimum.

The patrician party took up arms, attacked the Gracchans, and killed many, including Gaius. While the killing of Tiberius might be called a brawl, the killing of Gaius resembled a military operation. Then the patrician party arrested supporters of the Gracchan party and after a hasty trial, executed more than 3,000.12 Rome’s internal strife was intensifying.

In life, the Gracchi were controversial, but in death, they were enrolled among Rome’s heroes. When Aeneas visits the underworld, in Book Six of the Aeneid, he finds the Gracchi with other Roman heroes, such as the Scipios, Fabius Cunctator, etc. When Plutarch wrote short biographies of about 25 eminent Romans, he devoted one biography to the Gracchi.

The proposals of the Brothers Gracchus were moderate, well-intentioned, necessary. But both brothers were carried away by partisan passions, and they made “tactical errors” that enraged their opponents. Cary and Scullard view them as “tragic figures.” Their careers were the first act in the tragedy of the Roman Republic, the first blows struck in the civil wars to come.


Our authors conclude this chapter with some remarks on Gaul. We tend to think that Caesar conquered Gaul, and did so with set purpose. In fact, the Romans gained control of Gaul gradually, and this process began before Caesar was born. The Romans were drawn into Gallic affairs bit by bit, they didn’t enter Gaul for the sake of conquering it.

The Romans had an ally on the coast of southern Gaul — Massilia, modern Marseilles. Massilia asked Rome for help against attacks from the hinterland. The Romans defeated the hinterland tribe, then planted a colony north of Marseilles at Aix-en-Provence. They made friends with one tribe, quarreled with another, and were gradually drawn deeper into Gaul. After winning a decisive battle, they created a new province in southern Gaul, Gallia Transalpina, or Gallia Narbonensis (named after the colony at Narbonne). They built a road, the Via Domitia, through their new province, from the Rhone river to the Pyrenees. The conquest of Gaul had begun, and it was still twenty years before the birth of Caesar in 100 BC.

B. War With Jugurtha

After the death of the Gracchi, Marius gradually rose to become leader of the Populares. But Marius didn’t rise on the strength of his oratory, as the Gracchi did. Marius was a military hero who became a political leader. It was becoming increasingly difficult to hold political power in Rome if you didn’t have an army behind you.

While the Gracchi were Roman insiders, from the highest class of Roman society, Marius was an outsider, a provincial, who came from the upper-middle class, the “equestrian order”; he was a “new man” (novus homo). But he married a woman from the nobility — Julia, the aunt of Julius Caesar. Later in his career, Marius was a rival of Sulla, who was the leader of the patricians, and was of patrician origin himself. But as young men, Marius and Sulla were both army officers, and both served in North Africa, in the war against Jugurtha, King of Numidia.

In 118 BC, Jugurtha’s father died, and left his kingdom to his three sons, who began fighting each other. Jugurtha killed one of his brothers, then laid siege to his other brother, who was supported by an Italian community. When Jugurtha’s forces captured the city, they went on a rampage, and killed many Italians. When news of the massacre reached Rome, there were cries for vengeance, mixed with whispers that Jugurtha had bribed members of the patrician party in Rome.

The first Roman army sent against Jugurtha had little success: the Numidian cavalry easily eluded the Roman infantry. Whispers about bribery grew louder: the popular party brought Jugurtha himself to Rome, to testify against the Senators whom he had allegedly bribed. After Jugurtha returned to Numidia, the war resumed, and the Romans were defeated. Now the Roman proletariat became even angrier with the patricians, and with the patrician commanders fighting in North Africa; the Populares exiled several commanders. A new commander, Marius, was sent to Numidia with a new army.

Marius had acquired military experience in Spain and in North Africa. Marius’ army broke with Roman tradition in two respects: how the commander was chosen, and how the soldiers were enlisted. Tradition said that the Senate should appoint commanders, but Marius was appointed by an Assembly, “an important step towards the overthrow of the Senate’s authority.”13 And tradition said that soldiers were property-owners who were drafted into the army, but Marius enlisted volunteers from the proletariat. Thus, he converted the Roman army “from a conscript militia into a standing force of professional warriors.”14

In North Africa, Marius proved himself to be a superb commander: thoroughly training his raw recruits, maintaining morale and discipline, capturing several Numidian fortresses, and marching 600 miles west to seize Jugurtha’s treasury.

Jugurtha had allied himself with the king of Mauretania, Bocchus, promising him a chunk of territory when the war was over. (From west to east were Mauretania, Numidia, and Africa/Carthage, comparable to modern Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.) When the tide of war turned against Jugurtha, Bocchus thought about switching sides. Marius chose Sulla, his future rival, to negotiate with Bocchus.

Sulla made the long, dangerous journey to Bocchus’ camp, and suggested to Bocchus that he betray Jugurtha, and hand him over to the Romans. Bocchus hesitated, undecided. Instead of handing Jugurtha to the Romans, he could hand Sulla to Jugurtha. Finally Bocchus decided to betray Jugurtha, and in 104 BC, the Romans executed Jugurtha, and the war came to an end. In Rome, Marius was hailed as a hero, and possessed “quasi-dictatorial” powers. Sulla’s exploits made him a rising star.

Silver coin showing Sulla, seated, receiving an olive branch from Bocchus,
and Jugurtha kneeling with hands bound.
Sulla was dubbed Felix (fortunate) because he enjoyed a string of successes.

C. War With Northmen

As soon as the war with Jugurtha had ended, Marius was sent to southern Gaul, to take charge of the army there. For several years, Roman armies in that region had been fighting Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and the Teutones; this war is sometimes called the Cimbrian War. These two tribes had been driven from their homelands, around what is now Denmark, by a rising of the sea. They wandered around Europe, disturbing the status quo wherever they went, strong enough to defeat opposing armies, but not strong enough to acquire a permanent homeland.

The Cimbri and Teutones defeated several Roman armies, and threatened Italy, which hadn’t been threatened since the days of Hannibal. At the Battle of Arausio in 105 BC, the two tribes destroyed a large Roman army; it was the worst defeat that a Roman army had suffered since the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. The Roman people called on Marius to save them, and elected him to five consecutive terms as consul, without asking for Senate approval. Consuls served one-year terms, and usually weren’t re-elected for ten years, so this was a sharp break with tradition.

Despite their success at the Battle of Arausio, the two tribes seemed to be in awe of Rome, and didn’t make another assault until 102 BC. This gave Marius time to train new forces. He hardened his soldiers by making them dig a canal near the mouth of the Rhone River; this project “foreshadowed the great public works of the imperial army.”15

After training his men, and studying his foes, Marius finally attacked at Aix-en-Provence, and won a decisive victory (the battle took place in 102 BC, and is called the Battle of Aquae Sextiae).

The tribes had another army in northern Italy, but this army didn’t strike while Marius was busy in southern Gaul, it bided its time, giving Marius a chance to move his forces into northern Italy. In 101 BC, Marius defeated the tribes at the Battle of Vercellae, with help from Sulla, who was leading the cavalry. The Cimbri and Teutones were destroyed, Rome was saved, and much of the credit went to Marius and Sulla, the future rivals.

In 103 BC, with Roman forces engaged in the north, slaves in Sicily revolted again, as they had thirty years earlier. This is called the Second Servile War. The revolt was suppressed in 101 BC.

D. Domestic Discord

Meanwhile, back in Rome, the struggle between Populares and Optimates continued. A tribune named Saturninus tried to prosecute a commander named Caepio, who was largely responsible for the disaster at Arausio. Saturninus invented a new crime, “injury to the majesty of Rome” (maiestas populi Romani imminuta). This new charge became known as Lèse-majesté, and became popular with emperors and kings for centuries to come. It was a “vague indictment, under cover of which any unpopular person might be brought to court.”16

Saturninus pursued Gracchan policies, such as regulating the price of corn and giving land to veterans. But he used new methods, rough methods, frequently resorting to mob violence and assassination. Finally he alienated even Marius, who had been his ally. The Senate passed an Emergency Decree (senatus consultum ultimum) authorizing Marius to use force against Saturninus. Saturninus surrendered, and was killed by the same mob violence that he himself had often employed.

Marius didn’t use his army to take control of Rome, but “future army commanders were to prove more ambitious and less scrupulous.”17 The new proletarian army that Marius had created didn’t have farms to return to, they were professional soldiers, and they relied on their commander for their living; they weren’t loyal to the state (the Senate and people), they were loyal only to their commander.

For more on Marius, consider the account of the Jugurthine war by Sallust, a respected Roman historian. If you prefer a fictional treatment of Marius’ career, consider The First Man in Rome, by Colleen McCullough, an Australian writer best known for The Thorn Birds. The First Man in Rome is the first novel in a series called Masters of Rome. Among the fans of this series are Kissinger and Gingrich. An Australian politician, Bob Carr, was so fond of the series that he publicly campaigned for McCullough to write more volumes.

E. The Italian War

After the wars with Jugurtha and the Northmen were successfully concluded, the Italian allies renewed their demands for citizenship rights and voting rights, demands which the Romans had ignored for generations. Perhaps they were more insistent now, after Marius, a man from the provinces, had proven to be Rome’s best general. The Italians had long-standing grievances: they had to contribute soldiers to the Roman army, but had no say in decisions of peace and war, and were given only a small share of war-booty. Their pride was often wounded, as when Roman officials passed through their city, and they had to clear the public baths so the Roman would have the baths to himself.

In 91 BC, a tribune named Livius Drusus put forward a bill that gave the Italians full political rights. The bill had many opponents, and both Drusus and his opponents used violent methods. As often happened in this turbulent period, a political leader (Drusus) was assassinated.

Meanwhile, the cities of Italy were supporting Drusus’ proposal, and preparing to take up arms if the proposal failed. In 90 BC, after Drusus was killed, the revolt began. The revolt was supported by cities in mountain areas, and cities in southern Italy; it had little support in northern Italy; perhaps half of Italian cities supported the revolt. The rebels were well-organized, and managed to put 100,000 troops in the field; they even issued their own coinage. Some, such as the Samnites in southern Italy, wanted complete independence from Rome, but many of the rebels in central Italy wanted only political rights. The Samnites had their own dialect (Oscan), while the central Italians had adopted Latin.

A coin of the Italian confederacy,
showing Italian cities swearing an oath,
swords pointing to center, where a person is holding a sacrificial pig.
The inscription at the bottom is in Oscan script.

The Romans managed to field about 150,000 soldiers by recruiting not only Roman citizens and loyal Italians, but also Gauls, Spaniards, Numidians, etc. The Senate was directing the war effort, and they entrusted the Roman armies to inexperienced generals; they could have put Marius in charge, but they were wary of his political sympathies.

The war lasted two years, and is known as the Italian War, or the Social War (from the Latin socius, ally). It has been compared to the American Civil War: like the Confederate States, the Italians were, at the outset of the war, more eager, better prepared, and had better generals, and they won some early victories. But the Romans, like the Union, had more manpower and resources, and eventually chose able generals. The Romans could reach an accommodation with the Italians by granting them political rights, and thus could bring the war to a close. In the American Civil War, however, the two sides couldn’t reach an accommodation, so the war dragged on until the Confederate forces were utterly defeated.

A coin of the Italian confederacy,
showing the Italian bull goring the Roman wolf.
Inscription in Oscan script.

After suffering some early defeats, the Roman Senate put Marius in charge of their forces in central Italy, and they put Sulla in charge in southern Italy. So the two men who were the heroes of the war with Jugurtha, and of the war with the Northmen, saved Rome yet again.

F. Civil War: Marius vs. Sulla

The Italian War had scarcely ended when discord flared up inside Rome. In 88 BC, a tribune named Sulpicius Rufus proposed a bill to unseat Senators who were in debt. Sulpicius was a member of the Populares and an ally of Marius. He proposed putting Marius in charge of Roman forces in the East, while the Senate had entrusted this command to Sulla. (Roman forces in the East were trying to defeat Mithridates, King of Pontus, who was building an empire in what is now Turkey.) In his conflict with Senators and Optimates, Sulpicius was supported by a bodyguard from the Equestrian Order, and by some Italians who had come to Rome. In the ensuing brawls, Sulpicius and Marius triumphed over the Senate and Sulla.

Though officially stripped of his command, Sulla went to his soldiers, who were stationed south of Rome in Campania, and persuaded them to march on Rome. Sulla’s legions quickly overpowered the forces of Marius and Sulpicius. Our authors call this “the first civil war of Roman history.”18 Sulpicius was executed; Marius narrowly escaped capture, and found refuge in Africa/Carthage.

“Marius Amid the Ruins of Carthage” by John Vanderlyn, American,
painted around 1805. Early in his career, Marius became famous for defeating Jugurtha.


Late in his career, Marius returned to Carthage
to escape Sulla’s forces, who were trying to kill him.

Sulpicius’ recently-enacted legislation was rescinded, and a new order was established by Sulla. In this new order, no proposals could be brought before the people without first being approved by the Senate. Of the three popular assemblies, the Plebeian Assembly (Concilium Plebis) and the Tribal Assembly (Comitia Tributa) were rendered powerless, only the Comitia Centuriata remained. After establishing his new order, Sulla marched his legions out of Rome, and spent the next four years fighting in the East.

In 87 BC, after Sulla had left Rome, a consul named Cinna broke with Sulla’s new order, and clashed with the Optimates. Outlawed by the Senate, Cinna collected Roman soldiers and Italian soldiers, and prepared for a march on Rome like Sulla had made. Cinna was joined by Marius, who had returned to Italy, and had put together a force of African soldiers, Italian slaves, etc.

Cinna and Marius took over Rome, butchered leading aristocrats, and displayed their heads in the Forum. This was the kind of “partisan massacre” that had often occurred in Greek cities, but never in Rome. Dispensing with elections, Cinna and Marius declared themselves consuls. The institutions of the Roman Republic were becoming hollow formalities.

Soon after the consulate of Cinna and Marius began, Marius fell ill and died, leaving Cinna in control. For the next three years, with Sulla fighting in the East, Rome was quiet, but everyone wondered what would happen when Sulla returned. Cinna tried to organize an army to confront Sulla, but his soldiers mutinied and killed him. Carbo, now sole consul, wasn’t ready to hand Rome to Sulla, and continued recruiting troops. Sulla’s Eastern expedition had concluded, and in 83 BC, “the Roman civil wars began in earnest.”19

4. Miscellaneous

A. I discovered a novelist named Mary Renault, who wrote several well-regarded novels about ancient Greece. The King Must Die deals with the mythical figure Theseus; The Last of the Wine is about a student of Socrates; Fire From Heaven is about Alexander the Great. Renault was an English writer who spent most of her life in South Africa, and died there in 1983. She often wrote about homosexual relationships.

B. I discovered a writer of Fantasy/SciFi, Ursula Le Guin. She was born in Berkeley, California in 1929. Her parents, Theodora and Alfred Kroeber, were prominent anthropologists. She studied French and Italian literature at Harvard and Columbia. She married and had three children, and now lives in Portland, Oregon. She was influenced by the Irish/British writer Lord Dunsany: “He opened up a whole new world — the world of pure fantasy.” Like many Fantasy/SciFi writers, Le Guin is popular with young people as well as adults. Two of her best-known novels are The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. “In May 1983 she delivered a well-received commencement address entitled ‘A Left Handed Commencement Address.’”20 The address is included in her non-fiction collection, Dancing at the Edge of the World.

C. I discovered a non-fiction writer named Hampton Sides. Sides is a journalist and historian whose work has been compared to Erik Larson’s. Sides attended Yale, where he was influenced by John Hersey, author of Hiroshima and other works. Like Hersey, Sides tries to write history through the eyes of several participants, and ignores questions of grand strategy. Sides wrote Ghost Soldiers, about the rescue of American soldiers imprisoned by the Japanese. He also wrote Blood and Thunder, about the frontiersman Kit Carson, and Hellhound on His Trail, about the killing of Martin Luther King. Click here to see an interview with Sides.20B

5. Churchill and the Lusitania

May 7, 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the Lusitania sinking. A bestselling book, Dead Wake by Erik Larson, has drawn attention to the sinking.

One of the mysteries surrounding the Lusitania is, Why wasn’t it provided with an escort? Why wasn’t it warned about other sinkings in the area? Winston Churchill was then in charge of the British Navy. One week before the sinking, Churchill wrote a letter suggesting that a sinking might be a good thing:

It is most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores in the hope especially of embroiling the United States with Germany.... For our part we want the traffic — the more the better; and if some of it gets into trouble, better still.21

The sinking did indeed inflame anti-German feeling in the U.S. If Churchill were hoping that the sinking would bring the U.S. into the war immediately, this hope was disappointed: the U.S. didn’t enter the war for another two years. If Churchill were hoping that U.S. entry into the war would have a decisive effect on the war’s outcome, this hope wasn’t disappointed. Would the U.S. have entered the war anyway — even if the Lusitania hadn’t been sunk? It’s difficult to say how much the Lusitania sinking contributed to U.S. entry into the war.

The best explanation of why the Lusitania wasn’t better protected is that the British, particularly Churchill, wanted to ‘embroil the United States with Germany.’ If Churchill purposely exposed the Lusitania, if he’s partly responsible for its sinking, did he have any regrets? Would he act differently if he could live his life again? Probably not. Though the sinking was a terrible price to pay to promote Britain’s war effort, it was a price that Britain paid on an average day of war.

It has also been argued that Franklin Roosevelt knew that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor, but did nothing to prevent the attack, because he wanted an excuse to go to war. Ten days before the Pearl Harbor attack, Roosevelt talked to Secretary of War Stimson, and said that the Japanese have a penchant for surprise attacks. Stimson wrote in his diary,

[Roosevelt] brought up the event that we are likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.

I think it’s unlikely that Roosevelt knew where the Japanese were going to attack, and it’s unlikely that he would have paid such a high price to get the U.S. into the war.

© L. James Hammond 2015
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1. Wikipedia, quoting An Assassin’s Diary back
2. Biography by Yarmolinsky, ch. 4 back
3. The Possessed, supplementary chapter, “At Tihon’s” back
4. Dostoyevsky became a famous writer at a young age. “Although Dostoyevsky was at first lionized, his excruciating shyness and touchy vanity provoked hostility among the members of Belinsky’s circle. Nekrasov and Turgenev circulated a satiric poem in which the young writer was called, like Don Quixote, ‘The Knight of the Doleful Countenance’; years later, Dostoyevsky paid Turgenev back with a devastating parody of him in The Possessed.” (Britannica) back
5. I, 1 back
6. Wikipedia back
7. Wikipedia back
8. Ch. 20, #1 back
9. Ch. 20, #2 back
10. Ch. 20, #3 back
11. Ch. 20, #5 back
12. Wikipedia says Gaius committed suicide. back
13. Ch. 21, #4 back
14. Ch. 21, #5 back
15. Ch. 21, #5 back
16. Ch. 21, #6 back
17. Ch. 21, #6 back
18. Ch. 22, #5 back
19. Ch. 22, #6 back
20. Wikipedia back
20B. Cate Lineberry wrote a book about an escape from Albania: The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines. back
21. See Wikipedia and this website back