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imperialism & war

Misunderstanding America


Emma's upcoming thesis is titled: "Feminists need fathers too."
This illustrates why, for example, the talk we hear from the paleo-Right and the anti-American Left and most places in-between about the American "empire" is so disingenuous. In fact, if you look really, really closely, you'll discover that when American lefty intellectuals prattle about American imperialism it is mostly a metaphorical argument. They confuse our cultural dominance with the Roman Empire's dominance, skipping right over the fact that the Roman Empire installed Roman governors, collected imperial taxes, imposed Roman law, conscripted colonial subjects into the Roman army (eventually), and generally considered Rome the supreme and final authority on any important question.

Sure, the U.S. has military bases all over the world which are often compared to Roman garrisons but unlike Roman garrisons their host countries can get rid of them by asking them to leave. The same holds true for our overly hyped "imperial" holdings, like Puerto Rico. They are one referendum away from independence.

Anyway, my point is simply this: Saying we rule the world doesn't make it so. We don't rule the world. We lead the world this is a huge distinction to people who live outside the intellectual menagerie of an Ivy League English department. If the coolest guy in school wears a leather jacket and all the other kids follow suit, that's hardly the same thing as the coolest guy forcing them at gunpoint to buy a leather jacket from him.

Now, the fact that we are not an empire, but could be one if we wanted to, confuses the dickens of all sorts of people. Indeed, some people find the idea so confusing they willfully refuse to believe it and just go on insisting we are an empire the way the guy in the Monty Python skit just kept insisting the parrot wasn't dead. Other folks don't use the word "empire" but they are just as confused about America's behavior. Marxists, for example, have a hard time fathoming that America doesn't behave according to their straight-line predictions about how a capitalistic "hegemon" should behave. So they mine the data. They ignore the inconvenient and misinterpret the unignorable.

Europeans who did have colonies and who did invade both their neighbors and distant lands for material gain and, to be fair, for more ideologically complex motives have a hard time computing that America isn't behaving the way they did. They think they've evolved past us, that they are on the same road as us and are simply a few miles ahead of us on the path to enlightenment.

What they can't grasp is that America took a different fork in the road a couple of centuries ago. We can argue about who's on the high road or the low road now, but we're on different roads. And judging from the fact that they keep running into ditches, forcing us to be their AAA service, I think they can't tell us much we need to know (this terminates the extended road metaphor). Calling us an empire, Hitler-like, and the rest are simply examples of Europeans misapplying categories from their past onto the United States. America isn't the European past, fellas, America will be the European future, if you're lucky.

Similarly, Arab nationalists and Muslim fanatics believe that the United States wants to colonize the Middle East. They have some understandable reasons to think that, considering how they view Israel, the Shah of Iran, etc., and the degree to which their intellectual class has been poisoned by European intellectual fads. But just because you have evidence which points to a certain conclusion doesn't mean that conclusion is correct. Richard Nixon reportedly once said that the world is obviously overcrowded because wherever he went he saw huge crowds. My wife feeds Cosmo the Wonderdog (too much) when we eat dinner. But that doesn't mean Cosmo is right when he concludes we made the dinner for him.

Look: If America actually wanted to conquer and occupy Iraq, we would have done in it 1991. If we were the imperial nation that all of these buffoons think we are we would have done it back then. In fact, if we were the hegemonic bully all of these people imagine we are, we would have conquered the entire Middle East already. Trust me: It's not the awe-inspiring might of the Arab world's military juggernaut that has kept us from invading and conquering you guys. The only that stopped us is that we didn't want to do it. In fact, I often wonder if the Arab world would rewrite its entire worldview if only it got enough self-esteem to realize that we don't normally spend much time one way or another thinking about Arabs, the crusades, and the rest. We have better things to do.

Nevertheless, I confess I have sympathy for people who want to squeeze America into one prefabricated ideological category or another. America is hard to understand. It doesn't surprise me that we look stupid in a complicated way to people like Nasser and his successors because those people are blind to what really motivates us. If you don't believe in freedom and democracy and free markets; if you think the only use for power is its utility for furthering your own ambitions then American foreign policy is going to look bizarre. And, if like so many Europeans, you believe that power and force are no longer necessary, that everything in the international arena can be settled by democratic debate or, better, intelligent conversation in the lobby of a four-star hotel, then American foreign policy will look pretty darned weird to you, too.

America is unique because it has the power to be an empire and has chosen not to be one. That choice wasn't merely a hard-headed calculation of our self-interest. And it wasn't an accident either. It was a moral choice, reinforced from one generation to the next. But because so many other nations failed that test, they assume nobody could pass it. Well, we did pass it and if we conquer Iraq we won't turn it into a colony. Hopefully, we'll teach it how to pass the same test.
It make us very sad 24.Sep.2002 21:20

Bushka Byndova

People in U.S.A. please explain. We citizens of Czechoslovakia are wonder what happen to your once great country. How happen this, and why?

Dear Bushka 24.Sep.2002 22:39


What happened to America is that corporate interests have taken over and now they control our government. Instead of serving the people the government serves the corporations and the rich.

The people with the money also control the media and so they control public opinion. Most Americans know only what they see on TV, which is a very distorted picture.

It's sort of the same thing that happened in Germany under Hitler.

GOD BLESS THE HOMELAND! 24.Sep.2002 23:18


What a load of bullcrap.

Go to the library and get some books on politcal economy then maybe you can figure out how Amerikkka can participate in imperialism without formal "colonies".

Oh yes, Great Hearted Amerikkka! Responsible for 3 million dead in Vietnam. Oh, that was just a little mistake.

There is a problem with the Hitler analogy. It does not go far enough.

Hitler had significant support from the "Good Germans". Bush has significant support for his warmonging from the "Good Amerikans".

Just the result of too much TV? Come on! Amerikan leftists have this idea that if everyone could sit down with a good Noam Chomsky book all good Amerikans would see the light.

But just like the Germans most fully identify with their leaders plans for the greatness of Amerikkka.

The post above is one of the more polly-annish examples of this syndrome.

No one has any sense of History 25.Sep.2002 07:55


Corporations taking over?

Haven't any of you read any history. Capital owners, corporations etc. used to run this country wholehartedly. Look at the rights of individuals v the corprate Interest (Railroads, steel etc.) throught history.

It is only after massive social problems, the depression 30's, unrest in the 60s and 70s etc. etc. that we recieved any sort of social protection for labor and citizens at large.

The problem with Kids on this board is that you were born too late, and have only seen these protections dimantled by the government Begining with Regan's all out attack in the 80s.

I doubt Mrs. Czechova's words or country of origin are genuine, but that's only my suspicion of the bad PR tricks of todays halfassed activists.

i love this. 25.Sep.2002 08:23

this thing here

i "really" love this piece.

so, lamet vali, everything is going to be fine? we should all just settle down and stop worrying about it?

and to borrow your logic, just because YOU said america ISN'T an empire, then it ISN'T? or, because YOU say it doesn't want to be, then it won't be?

i would agree with your distinction that leading the world is not the same as ruling over the world. but, you apparently haven't read the new strategy document that has got everyone talking. it repeats a certain word, lamet vali, that you might want to consider: dominance. "continued american dominance.."

how do we maintain dominance, lamet vali, IF WE DO NOT YET CONTROL THE FATE OF THE WORLD? please, tell us. how? you've failed to grasp where america is heading, and the direction it is moving according to its new map spelled out by the bush administration. the document described a direction. you're writing about yesterday, today.


where do we get off deciding the future of other countries?

your attempt at being an apologist shows where your heart really lies, shows your true face, shows that you want to see america assume an imperial position. your attempt to rationalize america's movement toward a dominating (i.e. controlling through force, might makes right...) world power has not dissuaded my fears that america is playing under a hornets nest, is playing with fire, is taking on a responsibility that will drag it down, and is biting off more than it could ever chew. all you have done, lamet vali, is admitted that there's smoke clouding the air, and the walls feel hot to the touch, but "there's no fire."

Labor, your corporate history is wrong 25.Sep.2002 12:32


Labor, you are absolutely wrong in your appraisal of american corporate history. Historically, we have had a very skeptical relationship with corporations, and in fact much of the impetus for the revolution was anger with the enormous power of huge british monopolies such as the 'massachusetts bay company' and the 'hudson bay company'.

These entities were created by the crown to pool risk and develop the colonial resources. Toward this end, they were given wide powers to control politics, such as the right to appoint governers of colonies. These decisions were made for the interest of the companies not the colonists, and lead to wide discontent among the people. Witness the Boston Tea Party, which was designed directly to challenge the power of the Massachusets Bay Company (whose tea was destroyed).

This antipathy toward corporations--which were considered undemocratic--lasted throughout the 18th century. If you want to see the level of this feeling in America, read the text of Andrew Jackson's (a populust president) 1832 veto of the Bank Bill which sought to extend a national bank corporation for another ten years.

He argued: "The entire control of the institution would neccessarily fall into the hands of a few stockholders, and the ease with which the object would be accomplished would be a temptation to designing men to secure that control in thier own hands by monompolizing the remaining stock. There is danger that a president and directors would then be able to elect themselves from year to year, and without responsibility or control manage the whole concerns of the bank during the existance of its charter. It is easy to conceive that great evils to our country and its institutions might flow from such a concentration of power in the hands of a few men irresponsible to the people."

In fact, it wasn't until after reconstruction and the rise of republican (in the traditional not modern sense) politics that corporations were given wide latitude in America to help rebuild the south.

This change in attitude lead to the 1893 supreme court decision "Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad" which granted corporations 'Legal Personality'. This legal fiction makes corporations natural persons who posess all aplicable rights such as the right to free speach. Consequently, corporations can influence our democracy, and unfortunatly due to their huge resources and lack of death, the influence of a corporation is much greater than that of a real persons.

I will grant you, labor, that there was some reaction against corporations in the early 20th century such as allowing unions, and breaking up monopolies. However, with the rise of the military industrial complex following World War II, corporations have gotten steadly larger, less regulated, and more powerful in controlling government.

Personally, I think this is the single greatest threat to our democracy, and a point that should bring the right and left together. Both libertarians and anarchists, both true conservatives and true liberals should resent the undemocratic power of corporations in America, and the loss of democracy associated with it.

We ought to be fighting power when it fails to serve the people, and we ought to return to at least some of the principles of the american revolution.

If not now when?

... 25.Sep.2002 12:45

this thing here

>This change in attitude lead to the 1893 supreme court decision "Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad" which granted corporations 'Legal Personality'.<

ahaa! finally. thank you for sharing this bit of info. i have heard this repeatedly, but never the specific year or the specific case.

To labor: it's a joke, i think 25.Sep.2002 13:33


Buska Byndova... Bush can bend over? But anyway...