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The Dummy's Guide to Nation Building

As written by the Romans.

By Will Offensicht  |  August 28, 2007

I know an Irish lawyer who hates the English because they hanged his grandfather years ago.  The English were trying to pacify Ireland and somebody shot a British soldier.  The English knew his grandfather hadn't done it, he says, but they hanged him anyway in hopes that the townspeople would be nice.

What wimps!  The Romans understood nation building, an art we and the British have forgotten.

When the Romans conquered an area and somebody goofed off, they'd march a legion into town and line up everybody according to height.  Then they'd march down the line counting 1, 2, 3,..  When they got to 10, they'd slice that person's belly open, pick up the count with 1 again, and so on down the line.

Killing one in ten is called "decimation."  Modern thinkers confuse "decimation" with "annihilation" which means killing everybody, not just 1 in 10.

But killing 1 in 10 wasn't the end of nation building.  The key came in the commander's speech afterward.  His speech went something like this:

Listen up folks.  You've seen what we do when we're pissed, piss us off again and we'll do it again.  Let me tell you the rules!

Rule #1 - pay your taxes.  There will be taxes paid here -- whether by you or by someone else doesn't matter -- but there will be taxes paid here.

Rule #2 - be Romans.  We won, you lost, you're Romans whether you like it or not.

Rule #3 - do what you like. We don't care about running your town, we care about collecting taxes.  We don't care who the good guys are, we don't care who the bad guys are, we just want you to be Romans.

You know who the bad guys are; we don't.  You have 3 choices:  1) Tell us who the bad guys are, we kill them.  That's not so good because dead men pay no taxes, but it's better than our coming back to town.  2) You kill the bad guys.  That's better, but the best is 3) get your bad guys to be nice.  Nobody dies, we collect taxes, and you guys learn how to be Romans.

I said you were going to be Romans.  If you act up again, we'll be back.  You know what we did this time, the second time, we do the same, we kill one in ten.

But the third time's different.  If we have to come back a third time, we figure you're too stupid to control your bad guys.  People that stupid are too stupid to pay taxes, so we kill you all.  Then we go someplace that has more people than it needs and we march 'em here.  They take your houses, clean up the mess, and they pay taxes.

It's real simple.  There will be taxes paid here; there will be Romans here - if not you, then somebody else.

Don't make us come back.

History says that the Roman style of nation building worked very well for a very long time over a wide area encompassing many different cultures, customs, and religions.  A bit brisk, perhaps, but it worked.  Considering total deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing 1 in 10 in a village or two and letting the word spread probably ended up killing fewer people than modern methods of nation building.