Mass migration brought down the Roman Empire. Can it bring down the American Empire?

John Wight
John Wight has written for a variety of newspapers and websites, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal.
Mass migration brought down the Roman Empire. Can it bring down the American Empire?
The migrant caravan heading north to the US from Central America is further evidence that the old world is dying and the new struggles to be born.

There is much the ancient world can teach us; and one of its most salient lessons is that mass migration – the product of conflict, societal collapse and/or extreme poverty – is capable of destroying the most powerful of empires.

Consider Rome, whose legions bestrode the ancient world like a colossus for a thousand years, and whose great and cruel, and most illustrious names – Caesar, Pompey, Augustus, Nero, Hadrian, Vespasian, Constantine, et al. – still induce awe and wonder despite the passage of millennia.

At its height, it would have been the very acme of insanity to claim that an empire that stretched from the Italian peninsula all the way across Western Europe and down into North Africa and the Middle East, could possibly be erased from the pages of history.

Yet erased it was when in 476 CE, what was then known as the Western Roman Empire was brought to its knees after successive barbarian invasions, made up of Germanic tribes, finally succeeded in penetrating the borders of the empire, leading ultimately to its demise.

The symbols of Roman power – the imperial vestments, diadem and purple cloak – were sent to Constantinople (Istanbul), the seat of power of the eastern half of the empire at that time. It brought the curtain down on hundreds of years of history, confirming that no empire, regardless of its economic and military might, lasts in perpetuity.

In truth, Rome’s demise had been a long time coming; the contradictions of an empire run on the basis of slavery, tribute, and plunder were so great it was inevitable they would become insurmountable. Under Rome’s rule, millions lived in poverty and squalor, supporting an elite whose wealth and ostentation was so obscene it became increasingly untenable.

By now, hopefully, a measure of drift is being got.

Any economic system that operates on the basis of coercion, domination, and hyper-exploitation gives rise to resistance. This in turn leads to more force being deployed to maintain it, which only succeeds in catalyzing more resistance and, with it, destabilization. It is this destabilization that produces the mass movement of people and peoples.

This, in sum, is what ended Rome, doing so in a dynamic the early stages of which are evident in our time with a growing migration crisis slowly and incrementally chipping away at the foundations of Western hegemony. The 2015 refugee crisis that beset Europe, and which remains unresolved, is a case in point, as is the aforementioned migrant caravan, currently wending its way to the US border through Mexico from Central America.

Here we are obliged to take a quick detour and address the tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theory brigade whose increasing number reflects not growing awareness but rising lunacy.

The notion that the migrant caravan is a Soros-funded stunt and/or Democratic Party ruse in the run-up to the US midterm elections is nothing if not preposterous. The suffering endured over generations by the peoples of Central America due to the militarism and economic domination of the US has and continues to be inordinate. Therefore denying its victims agency is tantamount to denying them dignity.

Honduras, from where the migrant caravan originates, was the scene of a coup in 2009, which succeeded in toppling the democratically elected leftist government of Manuel Zelaya.

The coup was led by General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, graduate of the notorious School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Thousands of military and security personnel from Central and Latin America have been trained in torture, assassination, and repression there since WWII.

According to US foreign policy specialist Professor Stephen Zunes, the Honduran coup, which took place under Obama’s watch with Hillary Clinton in post as secretary of state, ushered in a period of “horrific repression and [a] skyrocketing murder rate [resulting in] tens of thousands of refugees fleeing for safety.”

Though Zunes is careful not to allege Washington’s direct involvement in the coup, the conspicuous refusal to call for the restoration of the country’s legitimate president in the aftermath tells us everything we need to know with regard to an agenda that has for centuries viewed the various nations of this benighted region as a wholly owned subsidiary.

So now we have a migrant caravan making its way north and in Washington, President Donald Trump, describing it as an invasion while deploying 5,000 troops to the border. Though every occupant of the White House since time immemorial has made a virtue of injustice, in Trump, the Roman philosopher Seneca’s words spring singularly to life: “For greed all nature is too little.”

The greed for wealth, power, status, and fame that drives and determines Trump’s every wheeze is symptomatic of the sick society and cultural values of which he is product. It is those values responsible for the migrant caravan, and it is those values that will produce in time the downfall of the empire that occupies the space in our world that Rome occupied in its.

What cannot be denied, no matter the industrial scale national propaganda produced to the contrary, is that the masses of the poor and oppressed in the US have far more in common with the people on this migrant caravan than they could ever possibly have with their own ruling class. Ensuring that they never latch onto this fact is all that lies between their continued parlous condition and liberation – not to mention that of the continent and world entire.

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