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Letters to the Editor

Empires collapse

November 4, 2009

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To the editor:

It was said of the French Revolution and various other revolutions that “the revolution always eats its own.” Robespierre and his gang of cutthroats gloried in decapitation and death. Blood ran in the streets, and it was not an unwelcome sight to them. They met their deaths at the hands of their own kind. Lenin, Stalin and Mao improved upon this adage and decided early on it was best to evolve their revolutions into one long line of constant killing.

Schoolchildren in the United States used to be taught that the American Revolution was different, more on the order of a rebellion, a necessary corrective to being denied our rights as Englishmen. They were taught that the founding fathers built a republic and not an empire. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both warned against foreign entanglements; we were to be friends of liberty everywhere but custodians only of our own.

Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to rewrite that script. We are paying now in Afghanistan and Iraq for their success as authors of America’s modern obsession with spreading democracy and correcting other nations’ perceived inadequacies as we paid so dearly in Vietnam. We have become an empire largely in avoidance of the essential truth of history: All empires collapse as surely as the Roman Empire collapsed when it lost its convictions and fell into the dustbin of history.

As sure as revolutions eat their own, empires sacrifice their children in foreign lands for reasons both convoluted and capricious.

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