19 September, 2006

imperialism studies

"Imperialism 101 - The US Addiction to War, Mayhem and Madness, Part I" by Stephen Lendman:

. . . What once was hidden behind a politically correct facade and would never be admitted publicly is now seen as something respectable and even an obligation to advance "western civilization." How low we've sunk in coming so far. But how different is today from the past? Not much for those who know the country's true history that's quite different from the proper and polite version of it taught in school at all levels. Expansionism and militarism have always been in our DNA since the early settlers first confronted the nation's original inhabitants and then over the next few hundred years slaughtered about 18 million of them to seize their land and resources. We may even have put language in our sacred Declaration of Independence to give us a birthright to do it. In it we called our native people "merciless indian savages," and with that kind of framing gave ourselves a moral justification to remove them. It's a code based on the notion of might makes right and what we say goes.

. . .in our imperial wisdom, we came, stole, and conquered "for their own good" and in the process left lots of bodies around to prove our good intentions. . . .

Woodrow Wilson was another of the "noted" presidents we now revere as one of our greatest who came to office with noble promises of wanting to reform national politics and have an enlightened presidency only to fall far short. While proclaiming all nations had the right of self-determination, he believed that America had a duty to see they all had the kind we practiced even if we had to bring it to them at the point of a gun. The result during his tenure was the military occupation of Nicaragua, Haiti (beginning 20 oppressive years) and the Dominican Republic. He also had his problems with Mexico and did what any good US president would do. He sent in the Marines to invade the country, seize and occupy Veracruz, the country's main seaport, manage to resolve that dispute and then do it again with Army regulars under General John Pershing (the Dwight Eisenhower of WW I in charge of the American Expeditionary Force sent to Europe) to hunt down Pancho Villa as payback for Villa's cross-border incursion into the US killing 19 Americans. Pershing didn't find him but nearly began a full-scale war with Mexico trying before Wilson decided the whole adventure was a bad idea and called it off.

But all this was prologue to what Wilson wanted most while claiming otherwise - getting the US into WW I to further our undeclared imperial ambitions. In 1916 Wilson was reelected on a platform promise of: "He Kept Us Out of War" - referring to the one raging in Europe since 1914. Of course, he had to promise that as the US public overwhelmingly wanted nothing to do with it. But he no sooner was reelected than he began making plans to get into it. He established the Committee on Public Information under George Creel which was able to turn a pacifist nation into raging German haters resulting in the Congress overwhelmingly declaring war on Germany in April, 1917. Once in the war, he managed to control most public anti-war sentiment with the help of the outrageous Espionage and Sedition Acts that outlawed criticism of the government, the armed forces or the war effort, imprisoned or fined violators and censored or banned publications daring to publish what the Wilson administration wanted suppressed. It all has a familiar ring to it. . . .

Our tradition of imperialism began at the republic's birth, but until the end of the "cold war" wasn't discussed in polite society or acknowledged publicly. But that changed in the 1990s, and now it's seen as something respectable, a matter of national pride and contributing to the advance of civilization. It shows in our new language that portrays us as agents of a humanitarian mission (a benign Pax Americana or modern "white man's burden") still hiding the cold reality that what we're really up to is keeping the world safe and profitable for corporate America. Those on its receiving end need no explanation, but the public at home does as it harms them too. They must be convinced that what's good for business also serves them, but it's never stated in those terms. It's always sold at home as an effort to achieve national security, make the world safe for democracy, or bring our form of rule to other parts of the world we decided need our version of it. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, just that we say it is and can convince people to believe it. Based on our track record, that's not a problem as time and again the public is willing to swallow most any reasons government officials tell them (reinforced, of course, by the corporate media trumpeting them like gospel) to get them to go along with the schemes they have in mind, no matter how outrageous they are. They're never told the truth because it's so unpalatable it's has to be suppressed, especially in time of war when it's the first casualty.


Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster talks about his new book Naked Imperialism: The U.S. Pursuit of Global Dominance:

MP3 stream, download mp3 file

. . . The U.S. government under the Bush administration, so the argument goes, has been taken over by a neoconservative cabal that has imposed a new policy of militarism and imperialism. For example, University of California at Los Angeles sociologist Michael Mann argues at the end of his Incoherent Empire (2003) that "a neoconservative chicken-hawk coup...seized the White House and the Department of Defense" with George W. Bush’s rise to the presidency. For Mann the end solution is simply to "throw the militarists out of office."

The argument advanced here points to a different conclusion. U.S. militarism and imperialism have deep roots in U.S. history and the political-economic logic of capitalism. As even supporters of U.S. imperialism are now willing to admit, the United States has been an empire from its inception. "The United States," Boot writes in "American Imperialism?," "has been an empire since at least 1803, when Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory. Throughout the 19th century, what Jefferson called the ‘empire of liberty’ expanded across the continent." Later the United States conquered and colonized lands overseas in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the brutal Philippine-American War that immediately followed—justified as an attempt to exercise the "white man’s burden." After the Second World War the United States and other major imperialist states relinquished their formal political empires, but retained informal economic empires backed up by the threat and not infrequently the reality of military intervention. The Cold War obscured this neocolonial reality but never entirely hid it.

The growth of empire is neither peculiar to the United States nor a mere outgrowth of the policies of particular states. It is the systematic result of the entire history and logic of capitalism. . . .

. . .Even as a massive antiglobalization movement was emerging, notably with the protests in Seattle in November 1999, the U.S. establishment was moving energetically toward an imperialism for the twenty-first century; one that would promote neoliberal globalization, while resting on U.S. world dominance. "The hidden hand of the market," Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer-prize-winning foreign policy columnist for the New York Times, opined, "will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without a McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps" (New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1999). The "hidden fist," however, was only partly hidden, and was to become even less so in the ensuing years.

(from the "Introduction" to Naked Imperialism)


Katrina: The Final Frontier, by John Feffer:

New Orleans was the first glimmer of what journalists and politicians would proclaim in the 1840s as America's "manifest destiny" to stretch from coast to coast. Over the course of the 19th century, in a pell-mell rush, the United States pushed its frontier westward, seizing a chunk of Mexico along the way for good measure.

By 1890, after much death and displacement of indigenous peoples, it was all over. The United States had reached its territorial limits. The frontier was suddenly no more.

Three years later, historian Frederick Jackson Turner transformed the closing of the American frontier into a provocative thesis on the national character of the United States. He contended that the frontier—its democratic nature, its seemingly unlimited resources, and the conflicts it generated—exerted an enormous influence on the American psyche. The end of the frontier would usher in a new era of competition within the United States. It was, to use Turner's words, the end of "the first period in American history."

Turner's frontier thesis of 1893 came at a propitious time, for as one door closed, another was opening. Although Turner did not consider imperialism, his address came just as a second period in American history was beginning in earnest: overseas expansion. Turner's conception of social evolution as a sequence—from hunter to rancher to farmer to urbanite—lent itself to a more general application. Having evolved toward a more perfect union, the United States was ready to spread not simply westward but globally.

Historian Brooks Adams supplied the missing link in this grand scheme with his 1895 argument that democracy could only be preserved through expansion abroad. Thus did the architects of the new American empire acquire a suitable ideology. After 1898, the world was our frontier, and we ventured outward to extend dominion over Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, followed quickly by Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico—all in the name of democracy. "There is in the ocean no constitutional argument against the march of the flag, for the oceans, too, are ours," declared imperial cheerleader Albert Beveridge before the Senate in 1900 in a paean both to the "self-government" that the United States was imposing on the Philippines and to what the Indiana senator declared elsewhere to be the "commercial supremacy of the Republic."

It took the insights of historian William Appleman Williams, in his famous 1955 essay "The Frontier Thesis and American Foreign Policy," to trace this Turner-Adams hybrid ideology through Teddy's Roosevelt's directives, Wilson's 14 Points, and Truman's references to the "frontier of democracy." Just as Turner had declared the frontier closed in 1893, Williams declared America's new global frontier closed during the Cold War. Nuclear weapons, he argued, put very definite limits on territorial expansion and the promotion of democracy. An escalation of the conflict between Moscow and Washington, he wrote, "would make the world a frontier for fossils."

When the Cold War ended, approximately 100 years after the closing of the American frontier, a new set of options emerged. The possibility of an even-greater extension of U.S. influence—the unipolar moment—beckoned. Adams' notion of democracy through expansion became a hallmark of the neoconservative revolution. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, Washington has attempted to widen what it calls the "zone of democracy." Turner might not have approved of the presumption that the United States should impose its social system on others. But he would have applauded the pioneer spirit that has overtaken the White House.

What had begun in New Orleans—the westward push and the linking of territorial expansion to increased global interaction—has come to an end in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina marks the third and final closing of the American frontier. First we hit the Pacific Ocean. Then we butted up against the seemingly implacable power of the Soviet Union. And now we have reached the final frontier: the limits of the planet itself.

Climate Change

. . .
In the 1890s, Turner was fascinated by the dark heart of economics: scarcity. The frontier represented an abundance of land and resources; its closure suggested reaching not simply territorial limits but ecological ones as well. Today, Washington's putative expansion of democracy occurs hand in hand with an attempt to secure control over energy resources. Preserving access to Middle Eastern oil has come at the expense of serious energy conservation at home and any deliberate policy to control greenhouse gas emissions on either a national or global level.

This combination of democracy promotion and resource exploitation typifies a frontier ethos that has run amok. Climate change compels not simply a new U.S. approach to the environment but a fundamental rethinking of U.S. foreign policy as well.
. . .
Until Katrina, environmental limits had a speculative quality, for they were often expressed in terms of numbers (rising temperatures, mounting emissions, shrinking ozone). Debates raged in the popular press between apocalyptics and Pollyannas largely in the future tense. Katrina, however, was not hypothetical. Katrina was as real as it gets. Environmental limits set by climate change, like the territorial limits that brought continental expansion to an end, will ultimately render America's unipolar moment unsustainable.


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