Thursday, November 08, 2018



David Frye, Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick (New York: Scribner, 2018), pp. 116-117:
In AD 376, a large body of Goths arrived at the Danube River, pleading to be allowed into the Empire as refugees. These were the same barbarians whose forefathers had slain an emperor, sacked Athens and Ephesus, and taunted the walled-in Romans for living like birds in a cage. They had recently received their comeuppance from the Huns and Alans—two nations then widely identified with Gog and Magog. The Goths had no answer to the tactics of the steppe men, and after a desultory attempt at building their own great wall, they decided that perhaps the Empire knew a thing or two about security after all.

The Romans would have been amply justified in turning away their old foes. The Goths certainly had it coming, and schadenfreude, after all, is a dish best served while watching one's archenemies scramble haplessly to construct a proper wall. But thousands of men, socialized from birth to be warriors, were seeking entrance into an Empire whose greatest problem remained how to recruit soldiers from a walled and unwarlike populace, and from a certain perspective the arrival of the Goths could be viewed as an opportunity. A bold and unfortunate idea presented itself. The Romans, eyeing the crowd of barbarians as just so many potential recruits, agreed to the Goths' request. Roman officers supplied vessels to transfer the Goths into the Empire, ferrying them across the Danube on boats, rafts, and canoes for several days and nights. At the time, it must have seemed like a clever and perhaps even generous move—good for both the Goths and the Romans—but this Gothic Dunkirk soon turned sour. For in the memorable phrase of the Roman historian Ammianus, Rome had just admitted its own ruin.

The refugees, unhappy in their new conditions, had hardly entered the Empire before they turned on their hosts, ambushed a Roman garrison, and began raiding cities and villas. According to Ammianus, the land was set on fire. Women watched while their husbands were murdered. The Goths tore babies from their mothers' breasts and dragged children over the dead bodies of their parents. They drew ever closer to Constantinople, the city that had only recently emerged as one of the dual capitals of a state that in those days typically had two emperors. The refugees had become invaders...
Ammianus Marcellinus 31.4.6 (tr J.C. Rolfe):
With such stormy eagerness on the part of insistent men was the ruin of the Roman world brought in.

ita turbido instantium studio orbis Romani pernicies ducebatur.

adducebatur Mommsen

As for recruiting foreigners to serve in the armed forces because citizens are too unwarlike and unwilling, cf. Dominic Nicholls, "Armed Forces open door to foreign recruits who have never lived in Britain," Telegraph (November 4, 2018):
Foreign nationals will be allowed to join the Armed Forces without having ever lived in Britain, ministers will announce on Monday, in a major move to address a deepening recruitment crisis.

The Ministry of Defence will drop a requirement for applicants from Commonwealth countries to have resided in Britain for five years, The Telegraph has learned.

Military leaders now hope to recruit 1,350 extra personnel from foreign countries every year to the navy, army and air force.

It comes amid a struggle to recruit enough servicemen and women which has left the army "disappearing before our eyes", according to MPs.

Under the new policy, applicants from countries including Australia, India, Canada, Kenya and Fiji will be considered for every role in the armed forces. The Royal Navy and RAF will begin recruitment procedures immediately, with Army applications opening in early 2019.


Giving evidence to the Commons Defence Select Committee recently Lieutenant General Sir Mark Poffley, Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Military Capability, admitted the army had failed to hit recruitment targets in recent years.

From an annual requirement of around 10,000 recruits, the army has only had around 7,000 entrants for each of the last three years.

In the first quarter of 2018 only seven per cent of the required number of soldiers had been recruited. "They are going to miss the target by some margin," Lt Gen Poffley said.
Thanks to Jim K. for drawing my attention to the article in the Telegraph.

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