July 30, 2005

Empires and New Men

Who might these fellows be? They seem to be American soldiers posing for a photo somewhere in Iraq. Close but not quite. Each and every one is a foreigner, a non-American who wears the uniform of the United States of America. Each and every one volunteered to fight and bleed and possibly die not for their own country but for mine. They come from Cambodia, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, England, Jamaica and Trinidad. There are many others like them in the US military---30,000 or thereabouts. Those below were sworn in as American citizens after the photo was taken. Welcome to the Club, boys! (Hat tip: Michael Yon.)

The idea of soldiers fighting under flags not their own and earning citizenship is not a new one, though not every empire has done this. The world's first true empire, Assyria (c. 1800 - 609 BC) relied almost wholly upon Assyrians for her military. When these became scarce during the reign of Ashurbanipal (d. 626 BC) the empire fell quickly to a coalition of Medes, Scythians and Chaldeans. The Persian Empire (529 - 331 BC) always had massive armies full of non-native peoples, yet it was officered only by the Persians themselves. Foreigners always remained foreigners. The first empire to employ non-natives and offer them citizenship in a world empire was Macedonia under Alexander (356 - 323 BC). His death ended the experiment. Local Macedonian rulers might use native levies but these could never aspire to the privileges granted only to Macedonians.

And then came Rome. Beginning in the last centuries of the Republic and continuing until the fall of the Western Empire (476 AD) Rome used conquered peoples as a necessary part of the Roman army. These received half the pay of Romans, but after 15 years or so of service those that survived the constant warfare of the Roman Empire could attain citizenship. They were not mercenaries, foreign soldiers who fought only for pay and who always kept their own citizenship and loyalties.

The Incas acted similarly, recruiting conquered peoples into their army. Many of these would learn Quechua and gain the right to be called Incas. Britain and France also offered citizenship to those who served in their armies, though France kept non-French in her Foreign Legion. It is still in existence, and it publishes a monthly magazine, Kepi Blanc.

America's policy of allowing foreigners into her military is of long standing. During the US Civil War 20 percent of the soldiers of the Union were foreign. Now only two percent are, but some would like to change this. Here is Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations:

The military would do well today to open its ranks not only to legal immigrants but also to illegal ones and, as important, to untold numbers of young men and women who are not here now but would like to come. No doubt many would be willing to serve for some set period in return for one of the world's most precious commodities - U.S. citizenship. Open up recruiting stations from Budapest to Bangkok, Cape Town to Cairo, Montreal to Mexico City. Some might deride those who sign up as mercenaries, but these troops would have significantly different motives from the usual soldier of fortune...

Call it the Freedom Legion. As its name implies, this unit would be modeled on the French Foreign Legion, except, again, U.S. citizenship would be part of the "pay." And rather than fighting for U.S. security writ small - the way the Foreign Legion fights for the glory of France - it would have as its mission defending and advancing freedom across the world.

Quite an offer: serve in our military and earn US citizenship. Like very few other nations, ours is worth fighting for. Just ask those guys in the photo.


July 25, 2005

Home Alone

The war in my lungs is over. I won. My lungs won. Ciprofloxacin won. Modern medicine won. Western Civilization won. What the Hell, we all won. The defeated was the pneumonia bacillus Streptococcus pneumoniae. Cipro led the assault, aided by steroids, inhalers, rest and Thai food. The victory was complete. Now my recovering lungs engage themselves in expelling the corpses of the vanquished. The dead tissue has an odd metallic taste. But no matter. I will not be among the 60,000 Americans who die each year because of pneumonia.

It is an ancient killer. Stonewall Jackson died from it, not from losing his arm to friendly fire. Both Moses and Stephen Austin of Texas fame (no relation, alas) died of it. Before the discovery of antibiotics the treatment of the disease was rest and prayers. Now it is pills and rest and prayers. Truly, antibiotics are God's gift to the bacterially infected. It was Alexander Flemming in 1928 who first noticed a pathogen-free ring around some mold (Penicillin notatum). It took until 1944 though for the drug to be isolated and widely available. The rest is medical history.

And so I am pneumonia-free and back in Oklahoma City after five weeks of recovery at the home of some of the best people in the world, Tim and Kristina and David. They nursed me, fed me Thai food and compelled me to down many bottles of Corona. (They also forced me to watch part of the movie Elf, but I have forgiven them.)

The road trip from Portland to OKC was strange, as I drove almost straight through and ate nothing for nearly three days. I began to hallucinate somewhere between Salina and Wichita, Kansas. The apparitions were neither distracting nor frightening, just odd. There was impossible shrubbery sprouting along the edges of the highway, and silly people gibbering in my Jeep. Isolation and  starvation mixed with cipro and steroids? Who knows? I remembered a poem I had put to memory years before (with apologies to Ogden Nash):

Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn't there.

He wasn't there again today.

I wish that man would go away.


When I awoke in my own bed after 14 hours of sleep, all phantoms had gone. I was alone again, naturally.


There are three weeks to go until school begins. I have two hundred unread books upon my shelves, miles of writing to do on my webs and twenty pounds to lose from my body. The race is on.



July 20, 2005

Scotty Has Beamed Up

James Doohan (1920-2005)



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