Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

August 28, 2006 by susan

by susan

Have we run out of laundry? Nope, just too much to hang on the line and so little time.

But today's entry in Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac has some interesting historical reminders, and neatly juxtaposes the decline and fall of modern and ancient empires.

The first bit on the Dems is depressing -- especially for all of us who got clean for Gene and thought we were forging a brighter future. And the second bit puts it all in perspective.

It was on this day in 1968 that riots erupted outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It had already been one of the bloodiest years of the decade. That February, the North Vietnamese launched their devastating "Tet Offensive," which indicated that the Vietnam War was nowhere near over. Then, in April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, sparking widespread riots. Two months later, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed at his victory party after the California primary.

In the wake of Robert Kennedy's murder, the Democratic Party establishment chose Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as their candidate, but the anti-war faction of the party wanted Senator Eugene McCarthy. Thousands of college students and anti-war activists showed up at the convention to protest the choice of Humphrey and the Democratic Party's support of the war in Vietnam.

For the first two days of the convention, protesters shouted insults at the police and threw rocks and other objects. Then, on this day in 1968, the police responded by charging toward Grant Park where thousands of protestors were gathered, attacking everyone in their path with billy clubs and tear gas.

In his notebook that night, the reporter and historian Theodore White wrote, "The Democrats are finished." Hubert Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon that year. Before 1968, the Democrats had won seven of the nine presidential elections since 1932. In the ten presidential elections since 1968, Democrats have won only three.

Can we turn this around? Maybe not.

Today is believed to be the date in 474 A.D. when the Western Roman Empire, which had lasted for almost five hundred years, came to an end as Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by a barbarian.

One of the groups of barbarians responsible for the downfall was the Visigoths, who delivered a stunning defeat to the Romans at Adrianople. The Visigoths were superior warriors because they had invented a horse's saddle with stirrups, which made horses much more maneuverable. Other Germanic tribes began to move into the Roman Empire over the next several decades: the Vandals, the Burgundians, the Franks, the Angles, and the Saxons. Rome was sacked twice, first by Goths in 410 and again by Vandals in 455. By the time the emperor was deposed on this day in 474 A.D., the Roman Empire was in shambles.

Historians have been theorizing about the causes of the fall of Rome ever since. The most famous theory was one put forth in Edward Gibbon's multivolume work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), which argued that the Christian Church was to blame. After Christianity became the official religion of the empire, the best and the brightest leaders became leaders of the church rather than leaders of the government or the military.

Another theory about the fall of Rome is that the aqueducts, which carried the water supply, were lined with lead, and so the Romans slowly went crazy. Some geologists believe that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius released so much ash into the air that it brought about great climactic changes, which ruined Roman agriculture and weakened the empire.

And to think we've got it all -- official religion, a culture gone crazy and climate change. A trifecta in the race to oblivion.

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