Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair
Mother Jones has the dirt on the Pentagon's abiding interest in history as a means to maintain American hegemony. Seems the Defense Department believes that studying the Macedonians, Romans, Mongols, and Napoleonic French can impart lessons as to how we can shore up our military advantage:
In the summer of 2002, the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment (ONA) published an 85-page monograph called "Military Advantage in History". Unusual for an office that is headed by Andrew Marshall, the Pentagon's "futurist in chief," the study looks back to the past—way back. It examines four empires, or "pivotal hegemonic powers in history," to draw lessons about how the United States "should think about maintaining military advantage in the 21st century." Though unclassified, the study was held close to the vest; a stamp on the cover limits its dissemination without permission. Mother Jones obtained it only through a Freedom of Information Act request. Though the report is far from revelatory, it provides a window into a mindset that unselfconsciously envisions the United States as the successor to some of history's most powerful empires.
The study looks a little like a high school text book, devoting chapters to Alexander the Great, Imperial Rome, Genghis Khan, and Napoleonic France and citing texts by Sun Tzu, Livy, and Jared Diamond. It attempts to break down exactly how historic empires sustained their military might across continents and even centuries. The study posits that the historical examples offer "insights into what drives U.S. military advantage," as well as "where U.S. vulnerabilities may lie, and how the United States should think about maintaining its military advantage in the future.
Now, I'm all for studying history, particularly when it's motivated by a desire to avoid re-making past mistakes. But the Pentagon's analysis of past empires begs a couple of prominent questions.
First, seeking to maintain military hegemony and imperial prerogatives would seem to be at odds with certain fundamental concepts -- trite and dated in today's world, to be sure -- like life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. But I digress.
Second, unless I'm mistaken, didn't all those empires fall? I understand that the Pentagon is taking a sort of postmodern stab at escaping history here (America will endure, because we're studying where those other empires went wrong), but it seems to be a foolish undertaking.
Unless of course the defense establishment is cynical enough to grasp that the Fall is inevitable, and is just attempting to extend the party as long as possible. Make hay while the sun shines and all that.