Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is rightly considered a masterpiece. Even though we might deplore the animosity towards the Church which exudes from his volumes, we can only admire the scope of his work which is sustained across thousands of pages by his masterful prose. I was reminded of Gibbon’s classic work when reading this piece in the New York Times about the world’s current preeminent power, the USA:

“The Pentagon has just restarted a program to enlist skilled immigrants into the Army, giving recruits a swift path to citizenship in return for their special abilities in languages and medicine.”

This scheme was suspended three years ago after the Fort Hood massacre (whatever happened to that shooter? it seems to have gone all silent on that front) but will now accept 1500 people a year for the next two years.  It’s called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (“MAVNI”) and seeks immigrants who speak high-priority languages – Albanian to Yoruba (a West African language – I notice that “Kiwi” isn’t a high-priority language) or who are dentists, surgeons, psychiatrists and other health professionals.  There is some check on who are eligible – undocumented immigrants and people with criminal records are not accepted.  But if you are accepted, you can be naturalised right after basic training, or in about ten weeks. And apparently, those accepted under the MAVNI program are model soldiers:

“The Army’s study of the first Mavni class found that recruits were highly educated (a third had master’s degrees or higher) and highly motivated (their attrition was one-fourth that of other recruits).

The program could not have a finer standard-bearer than Sgt. Saral Shrestha, who came to the United States from Nepal at age 17 and joined the Army through Mavni in 2009, when he was 21. Sergeant Shrestha, who repairs power-generation equipment, is with Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C. According to the Army News Service, he has a bachelor’s degree in computer information science and wants to earn a master’s in computer engineering and become an officer. On Oct. 22, he was named the Army’s 2012 Soldier of the Year.”

Now, it is not on the same scale, but haven’t other world powers sought to fill their army with foreigners in exchange for citizenship? As we read in Chapter 30 of The Decline and Fall:

“A Grecian philosopher, who visited Constantinople soon after the death of Theodosius, published his liberal opinions concerning the duties of kings and the state of the Roman republic. Synesius observes and deplores the fatal abuse which the imprudent bounty of the late emperor had introduced into the military service. The citizens and subjects had purchased an exemption from the indispensable duty of defending their country, which was supported by the arms of barbarian mercenaries… The measures which Synesius recommends are the dictates of a bold and generous patriot. He exhorts the emperor to revive the courage of his subjects by the example of manly virtue; to banish luxury from the court and from the camp; to substitute, in the place of the barbarian mercenaries, an army of men interested in the defence of their laws and of their property; to force, in such a moment of public danger, the mechanic from his shop and the philosopher from his school; to rouse the indolent citizen from his dream of pleasure; and to arm, for the protection of agriculture, the hands of the laborious husbandman.”

Of course, I am joking, no one can seriously suggest that the USA is doomed because it will naturalise 3000 foreigners over the next year – but it is interesting to see history if not repeating, then at least rhyming. However, Synesius’ suggestion of a civilian militia army might be right up the founding fathers’ alley…but I’m not sure that it’s the best idea for running a global military…

Of course, the real question to ask of the MAVNI recruits is: will they be able to vote???

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...