Hannibal ad Portas:

Historians tell us that ancient Rome fell from within. By the time the barbarian Alaric showed up in the early fifth century, Rome's corruption and vice had so demoralized Rome that she was unable to defend herself. Well, it appears that history could be about to repeat itself. Only, instead of the Roman Empire falling, it could be us. Just take one recent depressing indicator. According to an unreleased General Accounting Office (GAO) report, the military today discharges 35 percent of its enlisted personnel before they complete their first term of enlistment. The reasons include misbehavior, performance shortfalls, obesity, pregnancy, and physical problems. These discharges cost the Pentagon $2.5 billion in 1993 alone. For a military depending entirely on volunteers, these numbers are shockingly high. Well, in an effort to bring them down, the GAO suggests the military should be more "tolerant" of minor disciplinary offenses, and not be so quick to boot out marginal performers. Whoa! Lower the standards? What kind of military will that produce? How well will ill-disciplined soldiers defend us in a real war? This is the same kind of reasoning that says to eliminate criminal drug activity, we ought to legalize all drugs. It only makes the problem worse. No, the solution is not to lower the military's standards. It's to raise standards everywhere. As Bob Maginnis of the Family Research Council noted, "the Nintendo generation kids coming into the military today don't have the discipline" necessary to succeed. They don't have it because they are reared to believe private morality is their own, private business. The high discharge rate proves that false. Private immorality has public consequences—it can destroy a nation's army. The lesson could not be timelier. For the past seven months, we've been bombarded with a steady stream of nonsense that says a man can be both a scoundrel and a good public official at the same time. However, as with ancient Rome, circumstances repudiate this idea with a vengeance. Our morality—or lack thereof—has begun to affect the performance of America's most basic public function: defending our country. And as the recent terrorist activities demonstrate, there are plenty of Alaric wannabes out there today. Now some people shrug it off and say, "if a war broke out, our soldiers will shape up quickly." But do we really think that a national emergency would wake us up from our dogmatic moral slumber and undo decades of self-indulgence? I'm afraid not. It didn't in Rome and it won't with us. Our one hope is to recover a biblical understanding of character—which involves every aspect of a person's life. The Bible does not support the modern distinction between private and public life. One person's lack of character can affect many other people—something the GAO has now documented. This is the lesson we need to share with our kids, our neighbors and anyone who will listen. When the Romans wanted to scare their kids into behaving, they would tell them Hannibal ad Portas: Hannibal is at the gate. Well, think of this GAO report as our version of that warning. And if we don't restore character, we may wake up to find that like Rome, the enemy is already inside the gate.


Chuck Colson


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