Monday, January 30, 2012

Today’s Centurions

Jean Lartéguy’s novel, The Centurions (published in France 1960, in the US 1962) begins with this quote, a letter from a Roman Centurion to his cousin:

"We had been told, on leaving our native soil, that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens settled overseas, so may years of our presence, so many benefits brought by us to populations in need of our assistance and civilization.

We were able to verify that all this was true, and, because it was true, we did not hesitate to shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes. We regretted nothing, but whereas we over here are inspired by this frame of mind, I am told that in Rome factions and conspiracies are rife, that treachery flourishes, and that many people in their uncertainty and confusion lend a ready ear to the dire temptations of relinquishment and vilify our action.

I cannot believe all this is true and yet recent wars have shown how precarious such a state of mind could be and where it could lead.

Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the Empire.
If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the Legions!"

Marcus Flavinius
Centurion of the 2nd Cohort of the
Augustus Legion
To his Cousin Tortullus in Rome


I’m not angry, but I appreciate Marcus Flavinius’ anger. I call this caution and frustration, the centurion-syndrome.

We live in a day where our centurions are returning home. I wonder how they are faring as some continue their careers in the military while others are departing to civilian life. Many centurions wishing to continue service will be down-sized, let go, a corporate term for redundancy. I wish them well.

They have returned from some of the same desert sands trod upon by their Roman ancestors. Poignant beyond words. My comparison may be stretch for you.

I wonder if Lartéguy’s book, this one and the sequel “The Praetorians” is upon their bookshelves? The Praetorians is the one to read today, I believe, for we are living the sequel.

Lessons for learning? Perhaps. More like narrative to absorb. Both are out of print for good reason. Truthfully awkward. Worrying. Much too true, for it is narrative in a loop of real life as a soldier; serving as well as redundant. We should be concerned about the potential anger of the legions.

pictured above: Colonel Jeanpierre (1912-1958) Commander 1er REP, Algeria

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