After listening to the Afghanistan speech Trump read from the teleprompter, I was struck by two elements that I kept tuned in to hear the Cable News pundits talk about. I was only mildly surprised that they missed the fuller implications of the speech which to me seemed to be an American President nakedly embracing the concept of an American Empire run under military, not civilian, leadership. Trump was clearly ceding his Commander in Chief responsibility to the Generals who now seem in control of his Administration’s foreign policy in a manner reminiscent of Empires of yore. Yet there was one other element in that speech that chilled me with frissons of fear because it solidified the concept of American empire:
“In this struggle, the heaviest burden will continue to be borne by the good people of Afghanistan and their courageous armed forces. As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”,
While that section seemed to go unnoticed by the cable news pundits and their bevy of analysts, who are part of the nation’s Military/Intelligence establishment, there actually have been many stories of this ilk: The victor, the spoils? Trump eyes Afghanistan’s elusive mineral riches. If you remember the Trump campaign he frequently made the point that we should have taken ALL of Iraq’s Oil to pay for our expenses there. Now it seems that he has added that feature to the American strategy in that never-ending War.
In human history, the impetus and excuse for the creation of ALL great Empires has been loot. The Roman Empire for instance created its’ Pax Romana by dispatching its conquering legions in to occupy nations and then leaving them in place as they systematically looted them, under the cover story of maintaining the peace. While many of us for years have believed that much of the United States military ventures of the last 60 years have been basically economic enterprises, never before has an American President admitted publicly that we are in the end after the loot. I was chilled by this speech then because it seems to herald the attempt to establish a new era for our country, the era of American Empire, shorn of any pretense of altruism in the name of Democracy. I wrote the following piece last year on the day before the Fourth of July. Little did I realize that one year later we would see the specter of American Empire come clearly into view promoted by the American Presidency, occupied by a bigoted Reality TV star.
The Quest for American Empire
Tomorrow we will celebrate the Fourth of July, our nation’s quintessential holiday celebration. All over our land there will be fireworks, barbecues, sporting events, beer guzzled by the caseload, patriotic speeches and even a major league baseball game played for the first time on a military base, Fort Bragg. As things have gone in this country since the end of World War II, our love for our country has seemed to become inextricably entwined with our bloated military establishment and an unceasing militaristic outlook. Beyond that our media and politicians publicly celebrate our country’s seemingly constant state of being at war, in wars not declared via the letter of our Constitution. My America has become an imperial nation and Empire before my soon to be 72 year old eyes. What’s up?
I have lived in eight decades on this planet. Every one of those eight decades has had an American involvement in a foreign war. To be sure there is a massive degree of difference in magnitude let’s say between World War II and Grenada, but both were wars nonetheless. There is a common thread in all of these involvements that goes beyond the immediate causes and that is the quest for Empire. A persistent undertone in American thought has been expansive since Jefferson made The Louisiana Purchase. While this need to expand hasn’t always been present in the public political debate as a motivation, those whose thoughts held sway over the political and intellectual backbone of our country have always openly discussed it. While America, which initially remained primarily an agrarian nation, was expanding into the vast frontier of this continent, our dreams of empire focused on taming the country and overwhelming its Native American population by a passive form of genocide. By the mid Nineteenth Century, the industrial revolution influenced American thought and the need to expand to acquire natural resources, replaced agrarian needs, while making the taming of the frontier more urgent.
Given our constitutional underpinnings and the magnificent sentiments of the Declaration of Independence, many felt qualms about our displacement of Native Americans in our expansion westward. Darwin’s Origin of The Species, published in 1859 became an instant sensation for intellectuals worldwide and for those with the power to shape a nation’s thought processes. Social Darwinism, survival of the fittest, was the new model for developing rationales and mythologies to absolve our country of any residual guilt in our struggle with the native population and allowed those who shape American opinion and other ideologues to frame the “Indian” issue in terms of the struggle of civilization against savagery.
Though most proponents of expansion never directly used the term Social Darwinism, it was the commonly understood intellectual underpinning of their theories. These theories devolved and spread into popular entertainments, literature, and journalism, creating a mythology of the virile American hero vanquishing the uncivilized brutes who would prevent our manifest destiny. By the 1890’s most American thinkers believed the Frontier to be closed. Two of the most influential were Frederick Jackson Turner and Theodore Roosevelt.
They both believed that the struggle of the “Frontier” had imbued the country with the energy that was leading to its emergence as a great international power. Turner was more subdued in emphasizing the heroic aspects of the struggle, while Roosevelt dwelt mainly on the singular heroism and virility of men who lived “the strenuous Life”. They also shared a belief that it was the natural state of human affairs for the “civilized races” to overcome the “savage barbarians”. Roosevelt was much more direct in his theories and they included the notion that the Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic peoples were the most highly evolved and that it was our Country’s duty to bring civilization to the savages and rule over them. Mr. Roosevelt, coming from the upper, managerial classes also believed it was the duty of that class to guide the rest of the American populace, with their superior qualities of leadership. He was the more influential of the two writers at the time and his theories found themselves guiding popular American Culture in novels and in entertainments such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which was the most popular mass entertainment of its’ time.
That vastly popular entertainment depicted the heroism of the frontier and the virility of those heroes who tamed it. While Buffalo Bill Cody was friendly with Native Americans and evinced some understanding of them, his show presented them as savages mercilessly attacking white settlers and white soldiers alike. This in turn evolved into a common American mythology, which had the effect of absolving all of our brutality in displacing the natives and gave great purpose to these actions. We were after all “advancing civilization”.
The quandary back then for thinkers like Roosevelt and Turner, was that if the American Frontier had energized this country towards greatness, with the close of that frontier, how could we re-energize our nation to continue to strive ever upwards in our destiny to become the greatest of nations? Roosevelt’s answer was much more open and direct than Turner’s and fit better the needs of ever expanding American Industry into what was our “manifest destiny” to be first among nations. His answer was imperialism and empire. Roosevelt’s rationale was that those who were not of Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic origin represented inferior racial stock, which needed guidance by the more competent and more virile race that Anglo/Saxon’s represented. One might think in pondering this statement that something is amiss with it, since the America Roosevelt talked of had a much more diverse population. While that is true, T.R. saw his class, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, as the “race” of the surviving fittest who needed to guide the less evolved racial types such as Native Americans, Blacks, Celts, Latins, Jews and other Eastern Europeans. While distinguishing his class from the others in the population, he at the same time conflated all Americans as representing the Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic “Races”.
There are some that might argue that Roosevelt was known as a “Progressive” and that these are not what is considered to be “Progressive” beliefs today. The problem today, as in the past, is that when political/sociological discussions are framed in labels, the essence of the discussion gets lost. Labels change through the years. The original “liberals” for instance have far different beliefs than the present “liberals”. “Conservative” beliefs have shown a similar reversal through the years. The Republican Party of abolitionists became the Republican Party of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”.
That replacing the impelling energy of our westward expansion, with the impetus of imperialist notions of empire, made sense to those whose economic growth depended on expansion to new markets and control of new natural resources, the industrialist/capitalist/wealthy classes. Empire, rarely directly stated as such, provided for expansion of American business interests into a global market and a global supply chain. For the masses, each new imperialist gambit was framed in the classic mythological terms of avenging ourselves against savages who would bring this country down. Our enemies were and are always depicted as being less human than we, almost “animalistic”, therefore we are justified in opposing them with all the might available and with little mercy.
My proposition, is that our country in its expansion has always acted imperialistically, yet has always too used a series of myths to make our aims palatable and our motives seem pure. Today we are engaged in “wars” on three fronts, all with countries containing strategic resources and all these societies depicted as lacking the cultural civilization to create a modern, democratic state without our “assistance”. The thinking behind these involvements, at least publicly, is that our troops and country are making great sacrifices to uplift nations from oppression. Privately we are doing it to expand our world domination and empire, for the benefit of those oligarchs, military leaders and politicians who actually determine our nation’s actions.
The Project for the New American Century revealed the boldness of those who believe in American Empire and dream of a “Pax Americana” imposed upon the world. Given that this was engendered by the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, in 1997, it provides ample reasons for why we are at war today. You will note that the countries where we are making war also seem to be depicted popularly as failed nations, incapable of achievement in the modern world without our assistance.
Five years before the Project for a New American Century social critic and historian Richard Slotkin wrote “Gunfighter Nation”, which impressed me greatly when I first read it and impresses me even more almost twenty years later. The title of the book itself can lead ones mind to the prospect of how we Americans see ourselves. The title connotes the entire genre of movie Westerns that most of us have grown up with and the heroic mythology of the lone gunman doing what is “right”. The book itself convincingly makes the case for the fact that this “gunfighter nation” mythology that Slotkin describes has molded the outlines of America’s foreign policy. Slotkin provided the impetus for my musings here and I think unknowingly foreshadowed the events that have been shaping American Foreign policy in the Twenty-first Century. If we view the action of American Foreign Policy from this perspective, we can understand that imperialism has been the driving policy in our countries history and that racialism conflated with civilization has provided the mythological underpinnings selling this policy to the American people.
One of the things I write about obsessively is the notion of American Empire that has been sold to us by the Corporate/Military/Intelligence Complex (CMIC). We have seen their handiwork in the horrible and unnecessary wars that followed in the wake of 9/11. These wars have not only killed hundreds of thousands, but in the end have proven to be complete failures to achieve even the phony “necessity” used to justify them. Our media has not only reported on these conflicts from the perspective of military propagandists, but has joined in perpetrating the meme that to criticize these wars, is to criticize our troops, who are undoubtedly among the victims of the CMIC. Tom Englehardt wrote about this two years ago in From Bush to Bergdahl, which presents “Five Disturbing Truths about America’s Culture of War”.
I will present these truths below and in doing so I’m sure you will see why they would be “disturbing” to most Americans. If you honestly think about these five truths, I believe that you will see that their veracity is unquestionable. However, if you you doubt their accuracy, follow the link above to Tom’s article to fully grasp his facts and his reasoning. I believe that you will see he is merely expressing truths that most of us who love this country find painful to acknowledge, yet must acknowledge if we are to stop this mad, endless cycle of war in the name of amorphous imperialism. It is insane to keep persisting in a path of action that is proven time and again to be a disaster, yet despite the political party in power our nation has kept making the same mistakes over and again. Perhaps in all of these dubious military adventures the goal of those ordering them has never been success, rather their purpose has been to enrich and empower those that benefit materially and career-wise from these mis-adventures.
1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.
2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.
3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.
4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.
5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.
The truth, however, is that as we have continued the tradition of never-ending war that has seen hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops endlessly in enclaves billeted in foreign climes, the goal is not victory. It is glory for the endless stream of high ranking officers who make their fortunes through military conflicts, the loot stolen from foreign lands and finally the blood and lives of average soldiers conned into believing they were discharging their patriotic duty.