Below the Capitoline in the Roman Forum before the Curia, the assembly of the Roman Senate stands on the Rostra or Rostrum, a platform from which the leaders of Rome addressed their citizens. The Latin word rostrum means beak or ship’s prow.
When the Romans won a naval victory, they would cut off the prows of the enemy’s ships and mount them on their own ships. These prows, usually made of bronze, were the most expensive and dangerous part of the enemy’s ships. So by doing this, Romans basically believed they could reduce any potential threat from an enemy and gain some of its power. However, there were also times the Romans showed their arrogance by mounting some of the rostra for public display rather than reusing them, as Octavian did after the naval battle of Actium when he defeated Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.
The Roman Rostrum was also used to exhibit heads of enemies. Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC), the uncle by marriage to Julius Caesar, and a dictator of Rome before Caesar, mounted numerous heads on the Rostrum. Obviously dictatorship does not happen overnight but develops in stages as people allow their leaders to slowly chip away their freedom, like what is happening today under the various administrations.
With military strength and petrifying tyranny, Sulla easily managed to bring the Senate and the Comitia (the people's Assembly) to pass laws that materialized his own wishes, and any individuals or groups that happened to disagree with his administration.
It may sound a bit hair-raising but the current leadership of this nation also seems to be following Sulla’s dictum, and as a result, we see disagreement with the administration more often than not leads up to disgrace and professional destruction. One does not have to look beyond the daily newspaper to see the tip of this destructive process, which was demonstrated particularly audaciously before and after the beginning of the Iraqi War, when various individuals were despoiled and in the case of various members of the military ostracized.
Even within the administration, those appointees who uttered just a few words of disagreement with the Triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were blatantly cashiered, disgraced, thrown out in cold. Many members of the Congress also seem to bend to this form of persuasion, which all but underscores the fact that “head taking” in and out of government is still prevalent.
In the meantime, the Triumvirate continues to make serious mistakes while executing its own wish with impunity, and its sycophants in and outside of the government still shower praise on it, making believe it is doing the best for all. Such mistakes occurring both on the domestic and international fronts will inevitably be recorded in history, and hopefully the future leaders will learn something from them. But unfortunately – based on past experience – we know that history can also be disputed.
It is indeed unnerving to watch how arrogance coupled with inflexibility is leading the nation down the path of loss of freedom, economic downfall and isolation from all but a few other governmental sycophants. Indeed, our leaders have now gone so far as to labeling any country that holds a different stance from ours as a potential enemy, economic or political, unwilling to admit that they are not the sole player in the game, do not have the right answers to all questions, and that very likely only “God” is on their side.
I certainly agree that this nation does have enemies, both internal and external, but nevertheless cannot bring myself to believe that we should treat all those who hold different viewpoints from us as our enemies. It is crucial that we start to differentiate between “true” and “fictitious” enemies, that is, enemies who indeed seek our physical destruction versus those who merely disagree or compete with us economically. Like those of any nations, our leaders do have an obligation to protect our soil from any physical perils, natural or imposed by others. But as indicated by several recent incidents, this Administration apparently lacks in competence to deal with physical dangers even when forewarned, so what makes us confident that it is capable of handling threats from our “true” enemies?
In a sense, we have progressed somewhat since the time of Sulla in ancient Rome – at least we no longer take physical heads of our enemies. But in terms of inflicting disgrace and professional destruction, the current Administration who can not seem to handle natural enemies are not doing essentially anything different from what Sulla used to do, but just picking their enemies a bit more carefully by going mainly after smaller individuals, since they do not have a Rostrum that is big enough.
Instead of “taking heads,” it is perhaps advisable for the Administration to start learning how to use their “heads.”
Editor’s Note: In the 1952 movie “Five Fingers,” James Mason played the valet of the British ambassador to neutral Turkey during World War II. He was a German spy who went by the code name “Cicero.” His intelligence information – including the date of D-Day – was excellent, but fortunately for the Allies, the Germans didn’t believe him, thinking him a double agent. The film was based on real events. The alternate title of the movie is “Operation Cicero.” The Roman political figure, orator and philosopher Cicero was a champion of the traditional institutions of the Roman republic and the enemy of autocracy, including the politics of Julius Caesar and Pompey.