Caesar on 9-11

Posted by Barry Strauss under on September 9, 2011

With the tenth anniversary of 9-11 approaching, I summoned up once again the ghost of one of history’s greatest strategic thinkers. Hail Caesar! What words of wisdom do you have for us, as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9-11?

Caesar would not have waged war as you Americans have. After a conspiracy attacked your country around the Nones of September 2011, you chose to engage in a long, slow, frustrating struggle. You have sacrificed lives and money to improve your security, but with neither guarantees nor any end in sight. Caesar has no patience for low-intensity warfare; he would have opted for a short, swift, bloody but decisive conflict.

Against whom? Would you have had us take on the entire Muslim world?

After having driven the Taliban out of Afghanistan, Caesar would have invaded Iraq immediately in 2001, and not waited until 2003. Ridding the world of an enemy of the United Nations – and of America – was reason enough for war. Caesar would have raised enough troops to finish the job in Iraq right away, without postponing a “surge” until 2007. With that done, he would have given Iran and Syria bloody noses in order to get them to stay out of Iraq.

Madness! You would have roused the whole world against us. And the American people would never have gone for it. To say nothing of the strategic incoherence of the Iraq War.

It was not incoherent to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. It was incoherent only to do so piecemeal. Worse still, you are now abandoning the country you conquered.

Rome had many enemies but it always found allies. You would have fared likewise. As for the support of the people, they do not know what they want until a great man shows them. Only a man of auctoritas can exercise imperium – only a leader can exercise command; the people follow.

You do not understand American democracy, Caesar. The American way of war may grind along slowly, but American resources eventually win the day, just as they did in the Cold War. I’ll take the War on Terror over another World War any day!

Who’ll be building the weapons for the new Cold War – China? As for democracy, I understand it only too well. You prefer the safety of a war without victory to the risk of a fight to the finish. And so, you celebrate not the day the war ends – for it hasn’t ended – but only the day it began. Will you commemorate May 2, the day American troops killed Bin Laden, the way you commemorate September 11? I think not. Bin Laden is dead but Bin Ladenism lives on.

You underestimate the genuine success that the USA has had in weakening al Qaeda. You also underestimate the difficulty of destroying a terrorist network spread around the world.

Cui bono? “Who benefits?” That’s what we Romans always asked. Defeat the states that benefit from terrorism against the United States and you will see the terrorist networks dissolve.

Too much war! I prefer the messy reality of a measured conflict to the violent fantasy of a second Gallic War. What was that, Caesar? Did you snort? Never mind. Let’s turn to the 9-ll commemoration that you so disdain. But Rome too commemorated a terrible day, March 15, 44 BCE – the Ides of March – the day that Caesar was assassinated.

You mean, the day that Caesar became an immortal god. In any case, you are mistaken. Romans did not dwell on the Ides of March. There was no memorial at the site. Instead, Romans bricked up the room where Caesar was assassinated, to keep anyone from entering. Later, they reopened it – as a latrine.

Et tu, Brute!

As for the Senate, it had always met on March 15 before, but after Caesar’s misfortune the day was dubbed Parricide Day and Senate meetings were forbidden.

Romans preferred to celebrate Caesar’s birth rather than his death. In fact, they named a whole month after him. Caesar was born on Quintilis 13, but Quintilis became Julius – July.

Are we marking our solemn day appropriately?


Not enough pomp and circumstance, eh? You Romans certainly knew how to give a parade, I must say.

On the contrary, you have too much pomp and circumstance. It is proper to remember the dead but the republic should associate itself with victory rather than with adversity. Banish the breast-beating. Rebrand 9-11 as Heroes’ Day, a time of thanksgiving for the daring and devotion of all who sacrificed themselves that day for the common good, from first responders to the passengers of United Flight 93.

But at least we’ll get some stirring speeches against the backdrop of new World Trade Center being constructed.

Funeral orations are the least we owe the dead. But beware of politicians who twist their words to their own benefit. When Caesar was still young, he launched his political career with a eulogy of his aunt, the widow of the populist Marius and the offspring of one of Rome’s finest families. The speech draped Caesar in the banner of a red tory – a popular champion of the bluest blood. He infuriated his enemies but thrilled the crowd.

So, “vote for me” is the hidden message in “lest we forget.”

You have judged rightly.

Filed under:
Barry Strauss © 2024