(This article by Charles Shaw and Colin Shea was originally published in the July/August 2003 issue of Newtopia Magazine)
“In the Third millennium after the birth of Christ one nation bestrode the world like a Colossus: The United States of America. Its culture was the world’s culture, and its armies garrisoned the Earth. It truly was the time of the Pax Americana. Then one perfect day a small group of shadowy men destroyed the symbol of American economic might and snuffed out 3,000 souls, and the people asked – Why do they hate us? We aren’t an occupying empire, are we?”
–Pax Americana – WBUR Boston
America will always be known as the nation who first brought the world the concepts of freedom and democracy. There was something about this strange new agrarian republic of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant farmers that resonated with an ancient world torn asunder by war and plunder. It was a land free of tyranny, with equal rights for equal men. Unfortunately it was not equality for all men, and certainly not for women. And so, for the first seventy-five years, America seemed like a utopia of sorts, where everyone owned property and reaped the profits of their land. America grew rich, and to remain so and grow ever more rich, America waged it’s own genocidal war against the Native inhabitants of North America, a continent the White Man believed he was “destined” to rule. This became known as the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, and once realized, America sat back to reap it’s spoils.
Then came the Industrial Revolution, and with it a brutal civil war for the future of America. Those wanting the United States to remain a sleepy, agrarian republic powered by slave labor were destined to lose. America possessed too much raw material, potential, and strength to remain an isolationist utopia. Human ambition saw to that. The British were already deeply entrenched in wiping out the slave trade to perpetuate their Industrial Empire, so it was a painful inevitability. The Industrialists won, and within fifty years of the Civil War we launched our first Empire, conquering Spain to acquire the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.
With Empire came the great immigrant migration that built the nation we have today. America rose with machines and ideas, moxie and optimism, with cunning and cool. But it wasn’t just industrialization that made America great, it was the marketplace of ideas, the perpetual optimism of raw, unbridled capitalism. It was a spirit, an élan vital heralding the birth of the Modern Age to which it felt destined to rule. As the Romans were the pioneers of ordered civilization, and the British were the pioneers of Industrialization, America taught the rest of the world how to live in the Modern age by essentially inventing the culture of the late 20th Century, which was merely prologue to their unfettered rule in the 21st Century.
It is quite simple. The United States of America is the most dominant military and cultural force in the history of mankind. There are two reasons for this. We have spent $15 trillion American taxpaying dollars over the last 50 years to build up the world’s most deadly arsenal and base it around the world. And we have developed the most perfect form of mass media, and as such, the most perfect tool of propaganda the world has ever known. Our annual military budget (and this includes military spending cloaked as other causes like the “War on Drugs”) is roughly $700 Billion dollars, which is more than all the rest of the world put together. The net worth of the American media empire is in the trillions, and it reaches virtually every human being on earth.
Of course there are sacrifices. To pay for this military empire, the richest nation in the world behaves like an old European Colonial power, denying its citizens the spoils of such wealth, particularly its working classes. Nowadays, only the wealthy have any degree of security in America. This is particularly egregious to the vast American middle class, who is the tax base that foots the bill at an average of $5000 a year in a nation with a per capita income in the neighborhood of $32,000. This means each middle class American gives up roughly one-sixth of his or her income to the Pentagon.
Bear in mind, all those American millionaires and billionaires are figured into that per capita income, but very few of them pay taxes, and with the current Administration, even fewer. The Federal government takes this middle class money for wars fought in third world countries, which they tell them is for “National Security”, and then claim there is no money for food, housing, education, transportation, or health care right here at home. For “Personal Security”, these people are told to go to the millionaires and billionaires at the Corporations and the Churches, and if you are with neither, there is nothing for you. At home, poor and tired, they stare at a hundred channels of empty entertainment, scandal, celebrity worship, propaganda about freedom, democracy, and patriotism, and violent indoctrination to war through all our media, educational systems, and recorded history. In America, war is our forte, a game, a spectator sport. It has made the brutal domination of the world into an action movie/videogame/fastfood spinoff, and co-opted all resistance into more entertainment.
Never the reluctant Empire it likes to portray itself as, America is as guilty of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and unfounded saber rattling as any of its European forbearers. In fact, considering our current dominance of the world, we are in many ways so much worse. While the most feared power in history, we have also stood for liberty and equality for the rest of the word, and our ethos and culture has spread to the four corners of the globe.
This nauseating uniqueness comes from a paradox of Imperialism and self-determination, both of which we have embraced with Patriotic fervor in order to derive our conflicting notions of identity. We have fought against the Colonialism imposed on us while forcing Colonialism upon others. We slaughtered our indigenous peoples, but scream and war when genocides occur outside our borders. While the Jews survived the Roman-mandated Diaspora for a thousand years before returning to their homeland, the race of Native Americans is all but extinct, and their nations are now our nation. Yet despite atrocities like these we remain truly unique, equally loved and despised in world history.
The biggest problem is, those living in the Homeland do not really understand American influence around the world, and most importantly, how we got to be that way. The author of Pax Americana, an American, provides an interesting anecdote of when he first realized that America was a power on par with the Roman Empire, during a trip through US Occupied Germany in the 1970s.
Pax Romana was the order that the Roman Empire brought the civilized world, unifying many cultures under one language, currency, and protectorate military structure. Outside the Empire were the uncivilized “Barbarian hordes”. People welcomed the Roman Conquerors because with them came security and prosperity.
Despite modern Hollywood intonations, Rome was brutal. In AD 1, Rome had Upper, Middle and Lower classes, but less than 1% of the population controlled 99% of all wealth. Rome was the first city to host a population of 1 million people, and controlled the lives of countless millions in the Empire. Like in Britain and the US, while there were some forms of welfare, hunger was still rampant. The Poor foraged for food in the refuse heaps of the rich where, like dumpsters of today, babies were often abandoned when mouths were too hard to feed. Some Romans with means rescued babies from the trash piles, but usually only when they needed a slave. Baby refuses today are called orphanages, and they swell year after year.
Roman society rapidly disintegrated into an amoral, decadent mass of power and pleasure seekers, and eventually were all forced to embrace a new, radical monotheistic religion called Christianity. Like today, Senators retained influence by throwing elaborate orgies for the rich and influential. Roman citizens watched grisly spectacles in the coliseum like Christians being fed to wild animals and convicts fleeing gladiators. Today’s media, the modern “bread and circuses”, and our persecution of Muslims are all analogues. As ancient Rome collapsed, public officials were surrounded by rampant financial, military, and sex scandals. Coup d’etats were de rigueur and political assassinations were rampant. Today, political character assassinations achieve the same end, and if that doesn’t succeed, well then there’s always the Wellstone Special.
As for the British Empire – it was full of paradoxes. At times brutal, the British colonized the third world in order to provide raw materials for their industrial economy housed in England. They wiped out the slave trade because, just like in the American Civil War, slave labor was the biggest threat to Industrialization. It didn’t hurt that their man competitors were the Dutch, who were the slave traders.
Because this was fraught with contradictions, what ended up happening was that in a sense the Brits conquered the world with force in order to bring civility, subjugated whole people’s in order to wipe out slavery, and imposed moral order in order to bring about new form of decadence. But it was still the age-old process of bringing peace on the end of a lancer and cementing the wounds with religion, of “destiny” for the white race. Throughout their reign, the British intoxicating the people with talk of Empire and manifest destiny, Evangelization and the White Man’s Burden, and many flocked to the colonies to make their claims for a better life. Few better lives were to be found, and even when they were starving in the streets of London, the Empire maintained the illusion of the Chosen people.
On balance, the British Empire spread democracy and free market economics to the four corners of the globe, as well as science, health, education, industry, and gin and tonics with lime. The world is a better place because it existed. At some point the reasons the British wiped out slavery become moot, and only the fact that slavery is gone matters. Thus, do the goods of American Empire exonerate the bads? Or are they simply indivisible, an unavoidable consequence of mucking about in another culture’s affairs and refusing them the right of self-determination?
But even at it’s height when it ruled a quarter of the world’s population, the British Empire paled in comparison to the hegemonic influence of the American Empire. And that was no accident.
Colin Shea adds:
“the Romans had no complex culture of their own. Once they conquered Greece, they adopted it to their ends and brought it to the rest of Europe. We did (do) something similar, albeit in a different order. We co-opted the ideals of the French Revolution and Enlightenment in the first stages of our empire, and still use it today to justify blatantly imperial actions. You can here an echo of “Liberte, egalite, fraternite!” in our invasion of Iraq. It has been co-opted into a domestic and international system of social control, much as the Romans used their version of Greek culture to educate and pacify the barbarian hordes. And in the end this was perverted and turned upon itself, becoming a simple ritualization of hypocrisy and amoral self-gratification – the same decline detailed by Gibbon is reflected in the Bennets and Santorums of our age. Nietzsche feared German power would extinguish the subtlety and thoughtfulness of the Enlightenment just as Rome had done to Greece.
“The fascinating aspect of the American Empire is that it is a massive expression of worldwide popular will to enter into a culture of consumption. It extends itself largely without conquest. Old social orders cannot cope with the change wrought by mass consumerism and the information society, collapse, and are replaced by something more amenable to our interests. We maintain bases throughout the world to project power when necessary, but this is nearly obsolete. The real projection of power is the dependence of the world on our markets, on a financial system that we control and can use to punish when necessary. Take as one example of many Indonesia being forced to drop its currency board by the IMF as an attempt to unseat Suharto once he was deemed expendable.”
Americans may not know this, but the United States has always been the mother of all Imperial nations, dressing up the practice in pretty fifty-cent words like “Manifest Destiny”, “making the world safe for Democracy”, “Fighting Communisim/Facism/Militarism/Terrorism/IMPERIALISM”, “liberating oppressed peoples”, “police actions”, and “regime changes”. And all of these actions since 1947 have been veiled under the guise of “National Security” when in fact, more often than not, the Nation was fully secure, as the bombs dropped half a world away in a place no one ever heard of. This was not accidental; on the contrary, it seems almost preordained.
The US system of government, our capitol of D.C., our system of Military deployment, our linguistic and cultural hegemony, were all patterned after the Romans. All great military Empires were patterned after the Roman Army, but the United States was the first to adopt -their whole package lock, stock, and barrel, right down to the hands-over-the-heart pledge to the Republic that every American child is taught in school. Another coincidence is that the bulk of Rome’s Empire was built while it was still a Republic controlled by the Senate. We first ventured into Empire in 1898 by forcing the Spanish-American war in order to expand into Asian and Caribbean markets, and it was the Senate that drove the war machine. In the latter stages of both Empires, the rule is almost exclusively consolidated in the Head of State and his “council of advisors”, because Empires are rarely effective by-committee.
It was only when a rich noble named Crassus staged terrorist raids on Rome with his own private army and then blamed them on Spartacus, a former slave and “barbarian”, that the Republic willingly dissolved under threats to “national security.” A military and financial triumvirate of Crassus, Pompey, and Julius Caesar, claiming they would protect the people, and that the Senate had grown corrupt and immoral, took over. After the assassination of the much loved (and ambitious) Julius Caesar, the people of Rome themselves handed over total power to Tiberius, who is said to have remarked, “how quick you are to become slaves.” The exact same thing happened in Germany after the Reichstag fire when Hitler was handed total power to launch a war, and eliminate all the Jews, dissidents, homosexuals, and non-Aryans in the process.
Americans need to understand. There is a legitimate political revolution going on in this country. These so-called Neo-Conservatives, are really political radicals dressed up in suits and red ties, Wilsonian imperialists with 21st century Evangelical zeal. They have seized control of this country with a very terrifying and intoxicating message, and are slowly and methodically doing away with all the legislation and infrastructure that was created to protect the great immigrant half that gave them their Empire, paid for in blood, sweat, tears, greenbacks, and land script.
With the National Security Act of 1947, which established the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, Congress (and by proxy, the People of America) ceded all military and national security control to the Executive Branch via the National Security Council. This means that since 1947, America has been a “National Security State”, which is just a reformatted version of a form of passive Martial Law, a state under a constant state of emergency, in a perpetual wartime economy. The reason (and origins) of the National Security State lie in the self-terrorism of the Romans, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler, and since 1947 we have evolved into a bloated military behemoth driven by unfathomably wealthy global Industrialists who veil nothing but the most blatant Imperial ambitions under the auspices of reluctant nobility and world security.
In truth, since the advent of Nuclear Age, the United States has had very little competition. Even the grandly ambitious Soviet Empire was never the threat the American media and certain forces in the government made it out to be. They were a threat to our Imperial expansion, for sure, and we did war with them for forty years over control and access to natural resources in the third world. This “Third World War” was the third major mass casualty world conflict of the 20th century which took place exclusively in the Third World: 3 million dead in Korea, 3 million in Vietnam, 3 million in Cambodia, 1 million in Laos, more than a million in Latin America, 2 million in Iraq, uncounted millions in Afghanistan, and armed dictators who acted and still act as US Proxies who have murdered millions more on their own. But with a vastly smaller and less efficient economy, the Soviet Union was essentially a Third World nation with a First World Military that was destined to collapse. And once the Communist Block collapsed, we turned the same energies and budgets towards our new foes, Terrorists and Rogue States.
Never once are Americans taught that their leaders, through the NSC and CIA, created most of the terrorists and rogue states giving us such trouble today. Starting with Noriega, we began what Gore Vidal calls the “thug of the month club”. Manuel Noriega, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein all worked for or were funded by the CIA. All we are really doing in these wars of attrition is wiping out the armies we helped build, while clearing a path for the American corporations to steal other nation’s natural resources.
There are other costs. The fatal toxic waste formed by the creation of some 45,000 nuclear weapons has polluted whole sections of the American Heartland that are now strictly off-limits, matters of “National Security”. A nationwide drug scourge brought about by CIA heroin trafficking in Vietnam and Afghanistan during the 60′s and 70′s, and cocaine trafficking in Central and South America in the 80s and 90s, done in order to appropriate funds to operate with impunity, above all known International law.
This “Shadow government” as it was called to try and make it seem more fictional and fantastic than it really was, was somewhat revealed in the Iran-Contra scandal. I say somewhat because the hearings were so staged, and the media whitewash so complete and total, that the real issue-the NSC and CIA operating above the law and in collusion with major cocaine traffickers in Central and South America-was completely lost on the American people, who heard a story about patriotic Americans in the NSC and CIA selling arms to free US hostages and aid anti-Communist rebels. The perfection of the cover story, and by extension the whole Defense-Media apparatus, was that it was partly based in truth. The rest was omission, patriotism, and politics.
As the 20th Century was closing, there was a New Economy society tiring of the same old Imperial wars, which looked for a world of peace and trade following the end of the Cold War.
What they got instead was “Globalization”, and without the Soviet bulwark, Globalization became the nom du jour of continued American Imperialism. What rose from globalization, was a violent resistance movement, very unlike the passive movements of the 1960s. It was a movement that would bring down Globalization, and it made its debut in Seattle in 1999.
Enter September 11th, the “War on Terror”, and The Patriot Act of 2001, which essentially laid the foundation for a modern police state. The Patriot Act alone gave George Bush the same relative powers as Crassus, Julius Caesar, Tiberius (the man who crucified Christ) or, yes, even Chancellor Adolph Hitler and Chairman Joseph Stalin. What separates American leaders from these despots is that they do not slaughter their own people or wage wars against other “civilized” nations. Yet. And as such, any comparisons to despots, even if some of the methods are identical, are almost immediately dismissed. Apparently, if you believe what our government tells us, Americans are incapable of evil, particularly American Presidents.
What really happened is that after WWII the leaders of the Industrialized world, led by the Americans, acknowledged they were fighting each other over colonial resources, and agreed not to wage any more widescale wars against each other or each other’s populations, particularly on their home soil. The Soviets were always a bit spiky towards us due to the royal hose job they got first from the Germans and then from us, all calculated to make them a lesser power regardless of who won the war. After the war, both the US and Soviet Union were determined to still pursue Imperial power and the resources it provided. To make it look legitimate to the decimated people of the world (who would have turned on their leaders in a second if they caught a whiff of more war in the air) America made all the old colonial powers “give up” their empires, and a flood of new nations were created. Then, in marched the CIA to lay the ground for American intervention, and all the old colonies, essentially, became for a while either American or Soviet, and eventually, just American, governed by proxy, just like the Roman system.
For the bulk of the 20th Century American Imperialism veiled and legitimized its activities through Cold War “policing”, and through International bodies like the UN, WTO, World Bank, and the IMF. But since the Bush Coup and the 9/11 attacks, it appears the veneer has been dropped and Americans are being asked to embrace Empire wholesale, while accepting a social rollback to 1929.
Woodrow Wilson spoke of American Empire as “Making the world safe for Democracy”. The Bush Administration has adopted this Wilsonian rhetoric in their attempt to redefine Empire, asserting our inherent responsibility as the word’s most powerful nation to spread security, prosperity, and democracy, a true Pax Americana. But how can this be believed when the evidence all points towards this being pure, simple, blatant Imperialistic grab with a concurrent suppression of dissent that we all see and feel?
So then what is this? Is this the rebirth of Pax Romana? The “White Man’s Burden” redux? The last gasps of a Petrochemical behemoth, head buried in the earth lapping with swollen tongue at the last few drops of the water of industrial life? Or, bleakest of all, are these the ongoing unconscionable acts of modern day robber-barons dressed up in suits and elected or appointed offices? We must ask ourselves some very searching questions if we ever hope to end this death spiral.
As a parting shot, consider this. The Romans built the first roads in order to quickly mobilize their armies, and the roads eventually became the economic engine of the Empire. It was down those same roads that the word of Jesus and the conquering barbarian hordes would travel to overrun Rome. Britain used the sea. The roads of the American Empire were built in the air, and global supremacy traveled through jet fighters, smart bombs, and broadcast waves. Now, the airwaves return word of new messianic complexes and holy wars in the form of burning towers and militant cave dwelling fundamentalists, threats supreme to our “National Security”.
In this issue we will address these questions and provide some very shocking answers. This is the kind of material you won’t find in the Mainstream Corporate Media, not because it is untrue or incredible, but because it is not in their best interest to report any of this, because they just might be implicating themselves or their parent companies. General Electric, parent company of NBC, is one of America’s three largest defense contractors. Uncover the defense or energy connections of the other Media giants, and you will find much the same thing. Money makes money, you know.
But the Internet is rising to the occasion. Where once entities like the New York Times, CNN, or The New Republic dismissed Internet publications as “not credible and unprofessional”, I think we all know whose reporting is “not credible” and “unprofessional” now.
So, as I said, welcome to the New Mainstream. We’ll report what they won’t. Your job is to tell everyone else about it.
As Nail Ferguson said, “The U.S. may be a “hyperpower,” the most militarily powerful empire in history. But it is an empire in denial, a colossus with an attention deficiency disorder. That is potentially very dangerous.”
Pay attention, America.
Chicago July 2003