“I am your Centurion.”

“This America Shall Not Fall!”

Those are the last two lines of John Ringo’s brilliant and prescient novel, The Last Centurion. First published in 2008, The Last Centurion is set in the then-future years of 2019 and 2020, but it’s a different world than our own. Following the success of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007, the United States launches an invasion of Iran in the early 2010s, overthrowing the Islamic Republic and establishing an Iraq-style democracy. When the story begins in 2019, the main character – an Army captain known only in the novel as Bandit Six – is stationed near the Iranian city of Abadan, in command of a Stryker company. Bandit Six is looking forward to returning home soon and taking over his family farm in Blue Earth, Minnesota.

But it is not to be. A mutated form of the Chinese bird flu known as H5N1 is loosed upon the world with devastating results. H5N1’s thirty percent mortality rate pushes America to the brink of disintegration, and its first-term female president (named Warrick, but clearly a stand-in for the Hilldebeast) is woefully unsuited to manage the crisis.

With the home front falling apart, the president orders a full withdrawal from the Middle East, but Bandit Six and his company are told to remain behind in Iran to prevent the $19 billion worth of abandoned equipment outside of Abadan from falling into the wrong hands. It is, needless to say, a fool’s errand. Following a massive assault by local Islamist insurgents, Bandit Six decides to take his company on an overland march to reach the safety of Greece, which unlike neighboring Turkey has managed to weather the crisis successfully. Bandit Six is essentially recreating Xenophon’s March of the Ten Thousand. Will his heroic flight for freedom be successful? Read the book.

Ringo’s novel is more than an account of modern-day hoplites fighting their way home. It is also a biting commentary on the social and political foibles of early twenty-first century America. Despite the fact that history in the real world took a somewhat different course over the past dozen years since the novel’s publication, it still reads as if its topics were ripped from today’s headlines. When the Chinese Wuhan coronavirus accelerated last month and stay-at-home orders proliferated, I immediately recalled Ringo’s novel and began rereading it. Ringo’s novel was excellent in 2008, and from the perspective of 2020 it stands as prophetic and classic. Like a fine wine, it has aged wonderfully. Check it out.

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5 thoughts on ““I am your Centurion.””

  1. I reviewed the book in July 2008, when it first appeared. For those interested, the review follows:
    Author weaves logistics in fascinating way

    Published July 27, 2008

    “The Last Centurion,” by John Ringo, Baen Books, August 2008, 448 pages, $25

    +++

    In 2018, the world gets slammed twice. An influenza pandemic sweeps the world, killing hundreds of millions.

    Order disintegrates in much of the world. In the United States, inept government response exacerbates things.

    The Big Chill follows. Earth is swept by an unprecedented cold spell.

    Minnesota’s weather resembles that of present-day Saskatchewan — northern Saskatchewan. Arizona is like today’s Iowa.

    The United States government, knowing that man-made global warming is the real threat, refuses to acknowledge reality.

    A state of emergency was declared following disruptions caused by the pandemic. The federal government uses that power to nationalize businesses and farms.

    It then runs them with the efficiency associated with federal bureaucracies. Starvation follows.

    This is all just framework for “The Last Centurion’s” main story. In John Ringo’s latest military science-fiction tale, domestic crises bring the U.S. military home. Abandoned, is most of its equipment, stored in logistics bases around the world.

    Fourteen bases were in bandit country, places where order collapsed following the pandemic. Rather than destroy the bases, the White House orders them held. A small force, typically a company, is left behind.

    One base is in Iran, where the War on Terror has moved after American victory in Iraq. The nearest friendly territory with an effective government is Greece.

    “The Last Centurion” tells the tale of the American soldiers left there. The story is told retrospectively by the unit’s commander of the eponymous, “Bandit Six.”

    The novel is classic military fiction, written with verve and humor, related in soldier’s language. Captain Bandit tells how he protects a perimeter that requires a brigade in a country ruled by chaos with just a company. Repulsing the inevitable attack, his position is then untenable.

    He cannot be relieved and the White House does not want the political fallout if his unit is destroyed in place. Bandit evacuates his Styker company and heads for Greece.

    A 21st century version of Xenophon’s march to the sea follows, often over the same territory.

    Bandit’s problems are compounded when a news team parachutes in, to “embed” themselves. Bandit Six finds himself the star of a reality television show with life and death stakes.

    The excellent combat scenes are expected in a Ringo novel.

    The pleasant surprise is Ringo’s ability to weave topics — like logistics and industrial farming — into his tale. They become integral parts of the story and fascinating reading.

    The politically correct will hate this book. Everyone else will enjoy it.

    Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City.

    4+
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  2. Got the Kindle edition.  This is about the suck-most first chapter of any novel I’ve read, which is to say it’s a fine rendering of military life.

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