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Ancient and modern

Ancient & modern

Whatever Nato thinks it might achieve in Afghanistan, it is not at all clear that the Afghans themselves are in favour of it.

24 July 2010

12:00 AM

24 July 2010

12:00 AM

Whatever Nato thinks it might achieve in Afghanistan, it is not at all clear that the Afghans themselves are in favour of it. In a remarkable speech put in the mouth of the Caledonian leader Calgacus before the battle of Mons Graupius in ad 84, the Roman historian Tacitus articulates with extraordinary precision the feelings that many Afghans must have about the American presence today. For ‘Britons’ reads ‘Afghans’, for ‘Romans’ read ‘Americans’ throughout.

‘When I consider the crisis that drives us to battle, I am convinced that the united front you are showing today will mean the dawn of liberty for the whole of Britain. Everyone to a man is here, together. None has ever tasted slavery. Battle for the brave, for us, is the road to glory; for those cowards, it is the only escape-route they have.


‘Whatever the outcome of earlier battles against Romans, our country has never abandoned hope, because we are here — tucked away in her most secret places, the noblest Britons of them all, our country’s last resort. Our eyes free from the defilement of tyranny, we, the last men on earth, have enjoyed the protection of our isolation and obscurity.

‘But the whole of Britain now lies open to our enemies. The lure of the unknown is always, of course, irresistible, and with these Romans, there is no hope of mercy in submission or compromise — they pillage the world, their blind plundering ravaging the land. Greedy if their enemy is rich, they grind the poor under their heel. East and West alike have failed to glut their maw. Rags or riches, it’s all the same to them — they lust after it, come what may. These liars call their robbery, their butchery, their extortion “government”. They create a waste-land, and call it peace…

‘Do not imagine that the Romans’ bravery in war matches their debauchery in time of peace. Look at them, a motley conglomeration of nations — or can you seriously think that those Gauls and Germans and, to our bitter shame, many Britons too, are bound to Rome by genuine loyalty or affection?’

And so on. Romans knew that they would never win over a province without the people — which meant in the first place the local elites — coming onside. So does Nato. Does it know what it is up against?


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