Are US Troops Gathering Seashells By the Seashore?

Roman historians painted Caligula, the third emperor of Rome, as deranged, but his unpredictable actions may have had a political purpose. Illustration by Edward Sorel

by Burr Deming

Parallels in history are not hard to find with my President. The third emperor of ancient Rome used at least one remarkably similar military tactic. In 40 AD, the third emperor of Rome ordered his military forces to launch a campaign against Britain.

When crossing the channel turned out to be logistically impossible, he commanded his battle-hardened troops to run up and down sandy beaches gathering seashells. It was a demeaning exercise, and historians have speculated for nearly 2 millennia about his reasons.

Was this some sort of mythical claim of conquest against the god Neptune, who was thought to rule the oceans?

Was it a bizarre punishment directed at experienced soldiers for disappointing their emperor? The angry ruler had briefly directed that a Roman legion is decimated, with every tenth man executed as punishment. He changed his mind before the order was carried out.

Or was the leader of the Roman Empire simply a madman?

Whatever the reason, the seashells were gathered, stored and brought back to Rome.

One explanation seems especially plausible to me: the emperor loved parades. He had planned a wonderful procession of triumph through Rome after what he anticipated would be a victory in Britain. That victory did not happen. But the parade had to go on.

The narrative was changed. The emperor, in an act of military genius, had suddenly changed course and attacked ancient German enemies. It was fake news, but it would do.

His ancestor, Julius Caesar, had decades before conquered Gaul. The once-fierce tribes were now pretty much enslaved, at the disposal of Rome. So he ordered that the tallest Gauls be forced to dye their hair red, learn German, and take German-sounding names. They were brought to Rome as if they had been captured in Germany. The seashells were bagged and carried in large carts. As far as the crowds knew, they were stores of treasure taken from defeated enemies of Rome.

The parades are documented. So are the kidnapping of Gauls and the German disguises. What the hundreds of thousands of seashells were used for is speculative.

Historical similarities are often superficial. Even when they are not, differences in degree, when great enough, are differences in substance.

And yet…

How must history eventually regard a national leader who values adoration from his base above all?

Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!

Wisconsin Rally, October 24, 2018

A leader who employs deception in order to maintain that popularity…

Oh, we’re gonna build a wall all right! Who’s gonna pay for the wall? Mexico!

…and whips up hatred against ethnic and religious minorities.

…they’re rapists…

…shutdown of Muslims…

A leader who envisions himself above the law.

The saddest thing is because I am the President of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by that.

With Larry O’Conner, November 2, 2017

A leader who wants to order the prosecution and imprisonment of political opponents.

The New York Times reporting that President Trump wanted to order the US Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

Wolf Blitzer, CNN

A leader who takes steps to do just that.

And that’s not all. The Times reports that Donald Trump would go on to continue to privately agitate for these investigations of Hillary Clinton, obviously his chief rival in politics, and James Comey, his former FBI director.

Ari Melber, MSNBC

History does record that, for the third emperor of Rome, a historical description was iconic. He made it truly his own.

Allegory is not repetition. History knew Caligula and my President is no Caligula.

Where my President ordered prosecutions and investigations of those he simply does not like, Caligula’s orders were actually carried out.

President Trump prostitutes the office of President for corrupt financial gain. Caligula actually had prominent landholders killed so that he could seize their estates.

President Trump is recorded bragging about his sexual conquests. Caligula had the power to order those he suspected of opposing him to submit their wives or themselves to his sexual whims.

Trump orders bans on Muslims and whips up hatred against immigrants with the wrong skin color. Caligula organized the active governmental persecution of Jews and Christians.

Whether the President of the United States is inhibited by personal limits will never be known. He is constrained by circumstance. Whether he feels personally frustrated or not, he is unable to replicate the atrocities attributed to the ancient leader of Rome.

Still, those superficial similarities come easily to this mushy aging liberal brain.

I thought of the diversion of a battle-ready Roman army to the menial, militarily useless gathering of seashells as I heard this:

And we’ve already dispatched, for the border, the United States military. And they will do the job. They are setting up right now, and they’re preparing. We hope nothing happens. But if it does, we are totally prepared. Greatest military anywhere in the world, and it’s going to be, and is now, in great shape.

President Trump, November 1, 2018

Well trained, battle-ready troops, are on guard, laying out barbed wire along the Rio Grande, digging in. A caravan, largely composed of children and parents, make their slow way on a thousand mile trek toward asylum in the United States.

If they ever manage the journey, and as long as they turn themselves in for screening and processing, they will be entirely within their rights according to federal law. They cannot be turned away. At least they cannot be legally turned away.

When that meaningless mission is complete, when our battle-trained troops have either allowed or defeated these destitute refugees, my President will enjoy his military victory, and nobody will have to learn to speak German.

American troops will be allowed to continue with other duties. Including the next mission, my President may decide to have them perform for him.

Gathering seashells along the Rio Grande.

Many thanks to our friends at FairandUnbalanced.

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Posted by on November 25, 2018. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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5 Responses to Are US Troops Gathering Seashells By the Seashore?

  1. Michael John Scott Reply

    November 25, 2018 at 11:34 am

    A portrait of life as a soldier while Donald Trump is the commander-in-chief. Our young men and women, forced to perform menial tasks while waiting for the ‘invading horde’ that will never come. Brilliant piece.

  2. Glenn Geist Reply

    November 25, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I would think that these motivated and highly trained young men and women would resent being used as pawns and neglected once they’re used up, but what I see is faint damnation at most. I’m not sure the rest of us are any better – so quick with the “thank you for your service but I gave at the office”

    I don’t know if there was a method in the madness of Caligula or if there is anything other than madness in Trump’s “agenda” but the man makes no secret of his desire to control all the processes of our government and his disdain for the law, ethics or morality.

    History is littered with cautionary references to the fall of Rome, but I’m starting to take it seriously. The story of Caligula making his horse a consul may be fake, but Trump has appointed less qualified creatures to his cabinet. Just look at his horse faced daughter and her horse’s ass husband and despair.

    • Lyndon Probus Reply

      November 25, 2018 at 12:48 pm

      Much is lengendary about ‘Incitatus,’ the favorite mount of the Emperor Caligula. The chroniclers of his imperial rule written years afterward were biased toward the Julian/Claudian clan and wished to make his behavior toward Incitatus and otherwise the object of ridicule. Caligula undoubtedly was guilty of much cruel and bizarre conduct, even by Roman standards. But if Caligula ever loved anything, it was his horse Incitatus. His often foolish treatment of this beautiful white stallion may have been an indication of his deteriorating mental soundness.

      There are those who have written that Incitatus was attended to by eighteen servants, and fed oats mixed with gold flakes; according to Suetonius, Incitatus had a stable of marble, with an ivory manger, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones. Suetonius wrote also that Caligula planned to make Incitatus a Consul. Caligula even procured him a wife, a mare named Penelope. It has also been said Caligula claimed his steed to be a ‘combination of all the gods’ and to be worshipped as such.

      Caligula used to invite Incitatus to dinner, where he would offer him golden barley and drink his health in wine from golden goblets; he swore by the life and fortune of Incitatus and even promised to appoint him consul, a promise that he would certainly have carried out if he had lived longer. So, to answer your question Glenn, it does not appear that Caligula had a consul named Incitatus who lived in a stable of marble.

  3. Bill Formby Reply

    November 25, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    I dare say that if Trump stays in office very long he will have to be removed by force. He is focused now invalidating the electoral process. It is no great leap for him to start trying to invalidating the Constitution. Despite the fact that his current Acting Attorney General is not legitimate he is making no movement to make legitimate nor replace him. We are moving closer and closer not to a Constitutional Crisis but to an attempted coup.

  4. Shirley62 Reply

    November 26, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Looks like they are lobbing tear gas instead of collecting seashells.

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