Friday, July 17, 2015

My Recovery Story

This narrative of what it's been like to have a virtually unchecked propensity to abuse drugs, to suffer bi-polar and schizoaffective disorders---this is my story.

I start at the beginnings. In the 5th grade, after class, I left the room by clamboring out an open window. A classmate reported this to the teacher and I was reprimanded. In the sixth grade, I trod bare-footed through a dirt field laden with sharp prickles which induced me to jump and skip. I did it deliberately and yelled in pain while traversing the whole lot. While sitting in a pew in a Catholic Church with other grammar school kids, I punched my jaw hard, repeatedly. Why did I act these ways? I don't know. All I know for certain is I was acting weird. Still, my grades in school were excellent and I was arguably the best little league pitcher in town. I published an issue of a class newspaper, and I was generally favored. I had friends and I was allowed by the nuns and priests to work at the coveted job of washing pots and pans on week-ends at the nearby monastery.

My brother Paul on the left, in San Francisco, on summer
 vacation at Grandma Porche's house, pretending to fight for the camera.
I graduated in 1964 from St. Rita's Grammar School in Sierra Madre, CA.---and entered La Salle High School, at that time an all male college preparatory school in Pasadena, run by the Order of Christian Brothers. In the second semester, junior year, I smoked a marijuana cigarette for the first time. I couldn't get enough. My grade point average plunged from near 3.0 to failing. Call it inherent character weakness, misguided epicureanism, youth rebellion. I had absolutely no defense against the appeal of pot, which liberated me from inhibition and opened the door to hilarity--- but which also demoted my aspirations to little more than the aspiration to smoke another joint. I couldn't proceed to the senior year because I had failed to pass almost all the junior year courses.

In time, my dad discovered a joint hidden in my bedroom---that was the last straw---bam!---my parents ordered me to vacate the house. I understand. I can see how I might easily have required the same if I were in their position. I honor the memories of my deceased parents. Still, I did feel driven to rebel. My mom and dad were much too strict, not only in my estimation but in the estimation of most of my friends. I feel my folks unwittingly helped to foment in me the very rebellion they decried.

I joined the Army in summer 1967, at age 17, while 500,000 U.S. troops were waging war in South Vietnam.

Graduation day: Basic Training, Ft. Ord, CA.
I'm second row down from the top, second from the right. 
I was a bad fit. I didn't care about being a soldier and it didn't take the Army long to find out. While I was stationed in Germany, Master Sergeant strode into the bunk quarters and told me to roll up my shirt sleeves. I did and he saw the bloody mess I'd made of both arms by slicing them up and down with razor blades.

The Army sent me to a mental hospital in Frankfurt, then across the Atlantic Ocean, across the United States to the Presidio in San Francisco, where on September 16, 1968, I was honorably discharged with a 10 percent service connected disability rating.

A veteran buddy and I rented an apartment on Waller Street, a block up from Haight Street in San Francisco. One afternoon I came home to find the apartment crowded with hippies who had moved in and bedded down with sleeping bags and blankets.

Top Floor Apt. on Waller St.
 which became a homeless shelter.
Without consulting me, my old Army friend had notified all of Haight Ashbury that our apartment was open to shelter the homeless.  It was chaos, but out of it a communal family of close friends was born that lasted seven years. Sheila, Ron, Larry and Bill and I rented an old Victorian on Sutter Street near Fillmore, then leased and operated a coffee house next door named "The Sign of the Fool." My job was to buy the eggs, cream cheese and bagels, apple juice and bananas. Larry cooked the omelettes.

But we were in more than the restaurant business. Plainclothes police with guns drawn barged onto our premises and arrested us one night on charges related to selling LSD. After our stints in jail, after we either bailed or were released, we piled into a 1957 purple jalopy and headed to Ohio.
I'm attempting to recount my story in linear fashion, but the memories jumble and overlap. I know the effects of drugs and mental illness often hold hands. I know for instance I had a supply of thorazine prescribed to treat me for an LSD induced nervous breakdown.
With hindsight, I see I was overwhelmed, or crushed, be it because of the turbulent times, my bad choices, the drugs everywhere so easily available, or because of a personal predisposition to mental illness, or, because of an amalgamation of these factors, but, around this time, I stopped talking. I didn't stop voluntarily. I stopped because I could no longer talk, and I couldn't talk for about a year.

When I did first speak again, our commune family was living in Port Costa, in the East Bay. I spoke to Sheila when we were in the kitchen. I'll never forget how happy she became, calling out to everybody in the house that "Michael talked!".
As I say, my memories don't permit me to assure you my story is narrated in proper, step by historical step order. But our commune fell apart after we returned to the San Francisco Bay Area from Ohio. Not that we didn't visit and see one another from time to  time, because we did.

I got on General Assistance and rented a room not much larger than a big closet in the Golden Eagle Hotel in San Francisco's gaudy North Beach district. While there I took a tab of acid and flipped out. I went psychotic. I couldn't handle the bad trip I was having due to an awakening awareness of my bi-sexual dispositions. I wandered the corridors and the stairwells in that hotel for two days. Probably the hotel manager called an ambulance, but when I saw those men dressed in white coming towards me, I fled up an extra flight of stairs and threw myself out the 4th story window. No way was I going to spend the rest of my life locked in a rubber room.

It was like I had never been born--- until I woke and saw and heard doctors at San Francisco General Hospital asking me if I could feel the needles they were poking into my legs, which I could. For the next six months I wore a white plaster body caste---from a hospital bed I watched the first man on the moon take his famous steps. And every week, my old hippie family friends came to stand by my bed and visit, even though much of what I said to them was absolute gibberish.

Eventually, after having been moved to Laguna Honda Hospital, a technician sawed off my caste,  and after physical therapy, I relocated to Hilarity Heights Apartments in Tiburon, in Marin County. A year later, in 1971, I bought a 25 foot wooden cabin cruiser and anchored it out in the waters of the Sausalito houseboat community.

Gate 5 Sausalito, where I often anchored my boat.
Much of this time I was sane and lucid. I was still plagued however with recurring nervous breakdowns. Not only during the two years I lived in my boat out on the water, but also when I moved onto land and into dirt-bag hotels in downtown San Rafael.

I began shooting heroin on a regular basis. If I didn't inject the dark stuff in time to keep from getting sick, I'd shiver and sweat.  I injected lots of speed and cocaine. I contracted Hepatitis C.

I was also during these times a well known client of the Marin County Mental Health System. I'd get into the locked looney bin at Marin General Hospital, Ward A, get released for three or four months, then return the next time I caved into the mania of a psychotic break.  I saw a vision out a window of Fidel Castro walking down the gang plank of a space ship. I was taught by pretty women witches how to walk past doors unseen. I never did learn how to talk to the dead on a telephone, but these witches tried to teach me. I met a fish wizard. I was put into the rubber room for God in Heaven knows what offense, but the touch under the door of the fingers of the woman patient with whom I had danced connected my life to her heart, and my isolation disappeared.

Those years were like a merry-go-round of disfigured horses. My friends were mostly mentally ill types, who went in and out of Ward A, and when out, went as I did five days a week to the Marin Psychiatric Day Care Center on Lincoln Avenue in San Rafael. Jumbo would look in a mirror and talk to Bob Dylan.  Bubba would slowly walk in circles in the day room for hours at a time. Once a week I bared my ass in the privacy of the Day Care office so a nurse could inject prolixin into me. We smoked bags of pot and drank cases of beer and then watched basketball games in the afternoon on TV.

Maybe...maybe round about this time it was the first time I ever prayed to Jesus Christ with some authentic measure of sincerity.

I remember this time to this day. It was raining. I was on the ground laying face down in mud under the Richardson Bay Bridge in Mill Valley. I felt an immense weight of flat rock on my back, and it was pressing me to the ground so much so I couldn't get up. I knew it was an imaginary rock, but still, because of it,  I couldn't get up and that part was for real. So I prayed to the Christ and the weight of the rock was lifted. Right then and there. I've never forgotten that experience.

Sometime in 1973, once again, I was on Ward A at Marin General Hospital.
Locked up once again at age 23 for mental illness issues, once again overwhelmed, mowed down once more by this disease that had already been knocking me to the ground for years.

I was in the day room on Ward A, and I collapsed. I utterly and entirely abandoned myself, so to speak, and leapt off a cliff hoping against all hope that the hands of Jesus Christ, if He were real, would stay my fall. I didn't care by then. If He were not real, I wouldn't care to go on living anyway.

Then I felt Him inside, holding me up. I felt Him alive, and experienced for the first time that He is a resurrected Lord. His love welled inside me from deepest, innermost cell to outermost bodily member. I shuddered and convulsed with tears that wracked me with sorrow because I realized I wasn't deserving of the crucifixion He had suffered for me. I laughed. I laughed and mixed the crying and laughing with a liberty, freedom and joy I had never before felt, not up to that time, nor after.  He was alive after all!

St. Emydius Catholic Church, where in 1978 on Sundays I used to
read selections from the epistles to the congregation. 
There was nothing else to do but laugh with joy and light without equal. Every distant and obscure rumour about the resurrection  of this God made man was proven true to me in an instant of transformation. I became a Christian, and despite  all later sin, all later misgiving and doubt, my faith in Him can never be taken away, not forever, not completely, not even by the demons I harbor inside myself.

I got off welfare---went to study at the College of Marin. I joined the Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, lived in an ecumenical community of Christians, and did work as a landscaper and carpenter. I later found work as a furniture finisher and refinisher for Furniture by Gatti in San Francisco. I worked this trade for 15 years, 3.5 years while in business for myself. I earned a B.A. in Journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter for three years.

My former wife and greatest support, Claudia Audelo,
after lunch, 2014, in San Mateo, CA. 
I married a wonderful woman and stayed married to her for nine years. I worked nine years as a security guard.

Office of the St. John Valley Times in
Madawaska, Maine, where I worked as a reporter.
I still have mental health issues. I will always need to fight for my sanity. I had a serious nervous collapse years after my conversion to Christianity, while I studied at San Francisco State University. There is no such thing as a magic bullet. I struggle still...with urges to do drugs. I had a major drug relapse just last March, and smoked bowl after bowl of crystal meth daily for a month. I abandoned my apartment and all of my property because the junkies and meth freaks living in my place wouldn't leave. I'm living now in a residential treatment house in San Francisco for veterans in recovery. I struggle, still---with doubt, with issues concerning faith and belief. I learn and I refuse to learn. But all in all, I believe I progress. I'm contented, even happy in a wonderful, confounding way.

Table and set of chairs I finished for a client while in
business for myself.
I'm interested. I want to live fully, more than ever. Yet still I have this part of me that seems to cling, to remain open to the temptation to deny, that wants to obfuscate, that fears complete honesty because of a pride within that balks at the truth that I'm not always humble, that sometimes I am arrogant and need to get with the program, need to hand the defects of my character to my Lord, my Higher Power, for healing that will work in God's time to shape me into the way He most would have me be while alive on this earth. I welcome the challenge this entails.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Her Visuals Herald Artistic Portrayals

She finds art awake in moments when expression itself captures the eye of her camera. A model's unsolicited gesture, the landing of a flight of pigeons in an old world plaza, distilled...rendering signature portrayal of beauty each unique in its depiction.

So it is with "Marianna Photography," founded in 2011 by a thirty something Polish woman who earned two Master's Degrees in Software Engineering, one from Blekinge Tekniska in Sweden; the other from Politechnika Wroclawska in Poland. Marianna went on to work a year in international business but felt a deeply rooted part of herself missing.

I ask about her greatest inspiration.  The answer speaks volumes.  Her choice to exchange a highly remunerative career for a niche in photographic art was influenced by Alan Watts, the philosopher and writer, who lived in the circa 1960s Waldo Point houseboat community in Sausalito, CA.   She supplies a link. It's by Watts and entitled "What would you do if money wasn't an object."

"What he is saying is absolutely true," she says. "They teach you all your life to run after money, but this won't give you satisfaction. You need to follow your passion to become successful."

Even when a photographic rookie, she had sufficient talent to shoot a picture included in the Finalist Category "Relations", part of Sweden's 2011 Metro Photo Competition.
"I think I just have a unique skill set," she says. "Technical skills are easy for me but at the same time I am creative and think unconventionally." And Marianna wanted a deeper level, something more than knowledge of modes of business.

She had always had an interest in photography. She bought an SLR camera about five years ago and discovered a passion she didn't realize she possessed. "It just clicked in," she says. " I have been going around everywhere with the camera and looking for amazing views, better angles, better composition, different settings and light..."

She didn't gain a certificate or degree in the field of photography. She claims she didn't take a single course. Instead, she maintains she studied the field on her  own.  She researched the internet and read books of her choosing. She molded her study to fit her own spirit of inquiry. "I believe that studying [in school] can limit your creativity,' she says. As well, friendships with other photographers, and the trade talk which ensued, helped her with lessons she valued more than any in the curricula  of institutional study.

Marianna exudes charm and self confidence. We banter during the Skype session about inconsequential matters. She's entertaining to interview, and although a beauty in her own right, although she has European flair and continental style, she's plainly down to earth. This approachable aspect musters ingredients of social skill which aid to sharpen the makings of her art.

"For me in photography the most important aspect is in the expression, the feeling," she says. "Usually those pictures are made in the moment when they [the models] don't expect to be captured...sometimes I am distracting making a joke to get them to smile."

As well traveled as Marianna is, having visited sixteen European countries from Spain to Bosnia to Ukraine, she fastened on Ecuador in South America as type and perhaps haven of second home. She lived six months in Ecuador's capital city of Quito, speaks Spanish, English and Polish, and raved about the topography of this small yet diverse country.

She currently lives in the mountains of Ecuador near Cotopaxi, where I wager a good portion of her most spectacular landscape photographs have been taken.

Marianna's photographs hurdle into viewers' sensitivities. Indeed, by force of content they must spur many a private exclamation that goes something like this...How can anyone's camera portray anything so beautifully!?!

Marianna reports not only with visuals but with writing that sometimes bring distant parts of the world close to where the reader. Her photo-reportage on Ukraine is immersive, an amalgamation of history, current conflict and compelling photographic tale. For my part, with my measure of interest in current affairs and international relations, her story on the tumult in Ukraine intrigues. I had no idea of the depth of what it has been like over there.

So yes, Marianna teaches. She teaches lessons about how to photograph, about hidden tricks of the trade. It adds usability to her website. Photographers can learn for example that, as she writes, "...there is no bad light in photography. You just need to be a little creative." She offers tips on how to use shadow or position of the model. She explains what she does to make her photos stand out in particular ways.

Anna Maria Marianna
As an artist, photographer and teacher, it's apparent to me that Marianna is offering all that she has to give not for the love of money but for the dream of finding and doing what she loves with passion.

Photos by Anna Maria Marianna

Monday, July 21, 2014

Handling money with a manual budget.

If you’d like an effective way to budget your income, try the arithmetic method. It keeps track of how much money you’ve spent throughout the month, and what expenses you still need to pay.

I use the arithmetic method because I’m on a fixed income and saving money to retire in Ecuador. That’s a personal top goal. Consequently other items take second place importance. I allocate minimal amounts in the secondary categories so as to save more. These amounts will be enough to cover the expense and no more.

You can use this uncomplicated budgeting system to plan for funding whatever needs or wants you have in your life.

It’s a manual system that monitors how you’re spending your money. It tells you in black and white if you’re staying within the budgeted amount for each category of expenditure. That’s why I like it. It tells me where I am. Knowing where I am means I can find wiggle room.

Unexpected expenses this month hit savings for Ecuador hard. I will be able to deposit only about 25% of its regular amount.  But I had to pay those surprise billings to stay on track and keep the house in order. Living is much like maintaining a home. It sometimes costs more than expected. The roof needs repair when it leaks. The car battery is dead. The printer ran out of ink. I know these unexpected expenses will happen; I know they slow down the rate of savings, but if I didn’t pay them I wouldn’t even be in a position to save to go to Ecuador.

In my personal budget, fourteen categories of expense are included.  I list them from top to bottom on the left hand side of a Word document. The list includes rent, food, gasoline, haircut, electricity; Mostly basic needs. One item is for miscellaneous expenditure.  One is for entertainment, which pays for Netflix. No way will I cut Netfix out to save $7.99 a month more for Ecuador. Then the amounts budgeted for the items are typed next to the items. The figures for the items when added exactly equal total monthly income. With receipt in hand after spending, I sit and find the category of expense for the receipt and subtract the charge from the amount in that category. I then see precisely how much remains at that time for that category for the remainder of the month.

I set aside $200 monthly for food, so I go to the grocery store weekly and buy no more than $50 worth of food. This month I set aside $50 for AT&T, but the bill was $46 so I moved the $4 surplus to the miscellaneous category.

Budgets reflect priorities. This week I added a new category. It will slow Ecuador savings by $120 a month but still to me it’s worth the expense. I hired someone from El Salvador to talk Spanish with me two hours a week at $15 an hour.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seeds of Vietnam war planted sixty years ago.

In the 50s and 60s Americans looked at Russia and China and saw a frightening threat to democracy. The 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis for instance produced anxiety that exceeded common sense. The threat of nuclear missile exchange prompted school officials to order safety drills. Kids huddled under their desks with arms over heads. None of that would have spared those children from incineration. But it did teach fear of communism.

Flag of the Communist Party of Vietnam

I barely knew Vietnam existed in 1963. The bulk of Americans shared a same or similar ignorance, but top American officials for several years had been feeling threatened by a course of significance to France and Vietnam.  France had been losing its war to defeat a nationalist and a communist movement fighting for a liberated Vietnam. Excluding the nationalist aspect, American officials focused on the communist aspect. While the Viet Minh resisted French occupation of Vietnam for Vietnamese reasons, Americans in Congress and the White House labeled their struggle international communist aggression.

Vietminh victory at the battle of Dien Bien Phu convinced France to drop the effort to hold on to French Indo-China.   At the 1954 Geneva Conference, the signatories accepted a two year, temporary partition of Vietnam into North and South. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics during this time moved from north to south. The Geneva Accords specified an internationally supervised election take place in 1956 to unify the country and choose a president.

The 1954 Geneva Conference
The Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh had been fighting the French for the entirety of Vietnam, but agreed to partition in hopes it could achieve this aim without bloodshed. The United States refused to sign the Accord. American officials felt alarmed because to them French capitulation translated into communist expansion. The Eisenhower administration was hampered by blinders and apparently could not detect the difference between the internal affairs of Vietnam and what it deemed the worldwide threat of communist expansion.

Ho Chi Minh 1946
I was part of that American mentality. I felt patriotism entwined with anti-communism.  I felt my country was obligated to oppose communism anywhere in the world.

As were most Americans, I was ignorant. As long as were fed tripe dosed with fear of communism, we dutifully supported the U.S. policy of containment. Most of us believed our leaders told the truth to common citizens, and no one relished the prospect of being perceived as un-American or soft on communism.

As a super-power obsessed with its anti-communism, the United States intended to subvert Vietnamese re-unification. After all, it had not agreed to the terms of the Geneva Accord. President Eisenhower backed Ngo Dinh Diem, who declared South Vietnam an independent country. Diem then “won” a South Vietnamese referendum to top office by more than 95% of the vote. Although obviously fraudulent, the United States granted diplomatic recognition and allied itself with Diem’s government. Diem trashed the 1956 Vietnam-wide re-unification election by refusing to participate. Sources report he would have without almost a single doubt lost the election to Ho Chi Minh.

Ngo Dinh Diem
Sponsored by the United States, in 1955 eight nations formed an alliance called the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. (SEATO) Composed of Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and the United Kingdom---the allied nations agreed to collaborate to fight communism in Southeast Asia. The battle lines were drawn. The seeds that would grow into a harvest of tragically mistaken war were now planted.

At the Vietnam War Memorial



Monday, July 7, 2014

Carthage perishes by the hands of Rome

After the defeat at Cannae, after the initial shock, Roman strength of will to win the war fired to ever greater depth.

A reversal to Carthage occurred in Spain and it lifted the Roman mood. Although the win was not decisive, the Roman forces that had been fighting in Spain all this time defeated the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal. Hannibal met a rare setback in Campania. Syracuse was recaptured and Capua besieged. While Rome assaulted Capua, Hannibal did march on Rome, hoping to draw the legions away. But the soldiers pressed on and took the city back for Rome.

Hasdrubal, determined to aid his brother Hannibal, marched his army from Spain over the Alps and into north Italy, camping south of the Metaurus River. If the armies of Hasdrubal and Hannibal were to combine, its force would have constituted a massive body of men at arms. Rome might have been defeated. Ancient history in the Mediterranean would surely have changed dramatically.

Hasdrubal sent riders to Hannibal to announce his arrival; they were captured and his presence and plans were discovered by Roman forces further south, facing Hannibal and under the command of Consul Claudius Nero. He quickly conducted a forced march north with part of his army to converge with Roman forces under Marcus Livius near the Metauras.

Fearing to battle the augmented Roman Army, Hasdrubal attempted retreat. If he could ford the Metauras, he would have been able to engage the Romans from the river banks as they emerged from the water. But the river was swollen most likely from spring rain and melting snow. Despite a desperate search for a crossing, Hasdrubal found himself blocked with the river at his back.

The following battle was hotly contested; its outcome not predictable in advance. The Roman center was pushed back by fierce Carthaginian assault and massive, enraged elephants charging. Hasdrubal on the right with sturdy, loyal African and Spanish troops then attacked the Roman center while it was being held in check. Before the battle, Hasdrubal had positioned his least trained, most unsteady Gallic troops in wooded, hilly terrain on his left. The Romans tried to get at the Gauls, but could not traverse the steep hills. The Roman commander on this line, Consul Nero, subsequently not engaged, decided to detach half a legion. He circled them into the pitch of battle at the center and threw the Carthaginians into disarray at the height of the contest. With no hope of victory, Hasdrubal charged the Romans on his horse and was slain.

His head was severed and heaved into Hannibal’s camp many miles south. Thus did Hannibal learn of Hasdrubal’s entrance into Italy and the fate of his brother’s army. Hannibal is said to have remarked that I now see the fate of my country.
It would have been different but for the odds, the decisions of men and the force of nature.

But the battle at the Metauras was not mere Roman victory; it was triumph that sealed the course of the war. It settled which path of history the ancient western world would take and virtually assured the stamp of Rome on its future empire.

Hannibal remained in south Italy but contained and offering little further threat to Rome. During all this time, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio had continued to wage war against Carthage in Spain. The Roman general in time conquered the whole of Iberia and was elected consul. With the consent of the Senate, he carried the war to Africa, embarking from Sicily.

Publius Cornelius Scipio
Carthage incurred repeated defeats at the hands of Scipio, until it called upon Hannibal to return and defend his homeland. The sense of relief in Rome must have been palpable. No more fierce and no more capable military leader had brought Rome so near to demise.

Hannibal and Scipio met at Zama in 201 BC and fought the final battle of the Second Punic War. Hannibal was soundly defeated. He reportedly lost 20,000 soldiers killed and 20,000 more to slavery. Carthage was not sacked, but Rome fixed harsh terms of peace and extracted much territory. The defeated enemy was ordered to pay to Rome about $250,000 a year for fifty years, and Rome ordered Carthage not to wage war without its permission.

No history of the wars between Carthage and Rome would be complete without the story of the Third Punic War. It began fifty six years after Zama. A Roman ally in Africa had been troubling Carthage with military incursions, yet Rome refused permission to engage in defensive operations. When Carthage fought back anyway, Rome invaded. It was the death of Carthage as a state or a power.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hannibal stuns Rome: The Second Punic War

If Carthage were to defeat Rome, it would have defeated Rome in the Second Punic War. Having recovered its strength after the First Punic War, and now with healthy respect for the Roman navy, Carthage was further expanding onto the Iberian Peninsula.  Rome was invading from the north. The trigger of open hostility again took form in the manner of an appeal. An independent Greek city in Carthaginian territory named Saguntum, allied with Rome, requested Roman help to counter a siege by Carthage. Rome agreed, and the war commenced in 219 BC when one of the most talented military leaders in history, Hannibal, launched an invasion of Italy via the Alps. With battle elephants and an army of more than 26,000, supplemented by Gauls, for 16 years Hannibal marched in Italy wreaking havoc on the countryside and defeating Roman army after Roman army.

The Romans met their first setback at Ticinus on the north side of the Poe River. During the next engagement at the river Trebia, Hannibal fooled the Romans. He feigned an attack and lured the Roman army to his side of the river, where it was overwhelmed by attacks on their front, rear and flanks. The Romans recuperated and interposed more forces between Hannibal and Rome, blocking two roads leading to their capitol city. Hannibal bypassed these routes and crossed the Appennine mountains, driving south through the marshes of Etruria. The Roman army followed, but Hannibal had laid a trap on the heights of the northern shore of  Lake Trasimene, over a passage through which the Romans had to enter to continue pursuit. The ensuing Carthaginian ambush [217 BC] killed 15,000 Roman soldiers and destroyed their army. Rome felt vulnerable. The Senate appointed a dictator named Fabius who ordered a policy of disengagement. Rome would harass Hannibal but not do battle. Some wonder why Hannibal didn’t march on Rome then and there. Instead he turned east and entered the fertile valley of Campania, laying waste with intent to provoke Fabius to battle. The dictator chose to block the surrounding mountain passes; Hannibal ordered a stampede of cattle with burning fagots tied to their horns up a mountain side, and the Romans guarding the pass fled at the unexpected and alien demonstration. Hannibal escaped, moving his army into Apulia, and Rome, disaffected with Fabian, selected two aggressive Roman consuls to pursue the war. The Italian cities remained loyal, and Rome raised armies anew.

Battle of Cannae

Eighty thousand Roman infantry and six thousand Calvary eventually drew opposite Hannibal in 216 BC at the small town of Cannae on the Aufidus River. Hannibal commanded forty thousand infantry and ten thousand calvary. He placed his weakest Spanish and Gallic infantry in front. On both flanks he put hardened African infantry. He positioned his Calvary troop on the left flank. When the legions attacked it drove the front line defenders back deep into the field of battle. The steady Carthaginian flank forces subsequently attacked and their Calvary circled and assaulted from the rear. The battle turned into no less than a massacre; in some circles seventy thousand Romans are reported to have been slain.

Every abode in Rome filled with gloom. No greater defeat had been inflicted in two hundred years, and Rome staggered at the loss of so many men.

Some Italian allies now switched allegiance. The Apulians, the Lucanians, the Samnites and the Bruttians declared for Carthage, as did Syracuse. Sicilian cities wavered in loyalty. The prosperous Italian city of Capua defected and Tarentum was deceived into Carthaginian hands. The king of Macedonia, Philip V, further threatened Rome by making an alliance with Carthage.

In the annals of history it appears clear. The question of whether Carthage might have defeated Rome is not idle. If it were, the debate would not continue today.  

To be continued next post...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rome and Carthage: What might have been.

The military struggle between Rome and Carthage that commenced in the First Punic War, circa 264 BC, was an inevitable clash of two expanding powers vying for dominance in the western Mediterranean.  I would not however consider the story of the Punic Wars a study of dead history. Its ramifications reflect, for one, in the Latin tongue rooted Romance languages spoken in Europe and South America today.

Depiction of Roman legionary soldiers

Our mode of thinking in the West, our world view originated, grew and took root in a long standing Roman world that valued even application of law, systematic order and strict organization. Carthage and Rome 2,300 years ago were giving birth to different types of babies in two different cradles of civilization.  One would be the cradle of civilization from which we would emerge.

Carthage was a Phoenician sea-faring power that traded extensively. It was ruled by a collective of merchants. It was a multi-lingual culture, learning the languages of its possessions rather than imposing its own tongue.
Rome was a land based power that had by this time fully subjugated the Italian peninsula. Its people were mostly farmers and soldiers ruled by an elite Senate. As opposed to Carthaginians who more valued literacy and science, Romans more valued practicality and efficiency.

Could Carthage have defeated Rome? It had sufficient capacity. At the start of the First Punic War, Carthage held sway over economically vibrant territory, including the north coast of Africa, the southern coast of Spain and most islands in the western Mediterranean, in addition to the southern half of Sicily.

Rome and Carthage at the start of the Second Punic War

How would the West be different if Carthage had destroyed Rome?

I surmise the idea and practice of democratic government would be more alien to us. It would not be in our blood as much because the Roman outlook revered values of political representation and public discourse. Carthage concentrated on commerce and trade. Its government was more oligarchic than republican.  If Carthage had erased Rome from world history, it would not have continued to expand to the length Rome eventually did. Carthage didn’t have the same aggressive spirit as Rome. If Rome had been totally vanquished, barbarian tribes from Gaul and Germania would most likely have invaded either Spain or Italy, checking the northward advance of Carthage. This would have prohibited the enclosing, nurturing and protecting process of assimilation of Roman culture in the provinces from which we in the West spring. The imprint on us by Rome would never have been made. For instance, the system of Roman roads throughout the Empire would not have been built and this would have compromised the spread of Christianity. We would not have had the architectural influence which inspires so many of our state buildings.

The trigger that launched the First Punic War took form in the manner of an appeal.  A Greek city in Sicily appealed to Rome for military intervention in a war, and when Rome obliged, the two regionally dominant powers struggled the next 24 years for control of the island. Despite the powerful Carthaginian navy, Rome won. It induced the North African power to pay an almost crushing war fine. Taxes began to flow into Rome from Sicilian towns and villages. Rome built a strong navy and Sardinia and Corsica were added to Roman jurisdiction.

The First Punic War was a prelude to the much more antagonistic and widespread conflict between Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War. It began in 218 BC, and many scholars believe during this war Rome might very well have succumbed to Carthage.

Doing the research for this post captured my attention, as I've long read books on Roman history as a hobby.  My next post will focus on the Second Punic War and how Rome was almost permanently brought to her knees.