“America cannot have an empire abroad and a Republic at home”—Mark Twain
The USA became an empire November of 1956, when British Prime Minister MacMillan, bogged down in a Suez Crisis from which he could not emerge victorious, sent a telegram to President Eisenhower containing only three words, “Over to you.”
The military muscle for empire was already present in post war USA, but prior to World War II, the USA had been a secondary military power. Admiral Yamamoto, after reluctantly directing the attack on Pearl Harbor as ordered, observed, “I fear we have wakened a sleeping giant.” Having been educated in the USA, Yamamoto was aware of the industrial power, and knew it could be transformed into military production.
As a young man, I spoke with military veterans who had been in the US cavalry in the 1930s. In the decade before World War Two, they told me, they were still mostly on horseback, even as Hitler was producing then world-class Panzer tanks for his own cavalry. From such a feeble start, the USA finished World War II with aircraft that controlled battlefield skies, and the atomic bomb, making its military the most powerful on earth.
As for the British Empire which the USA replaced—at its height it ruled over about a quarter of the world’s land mass and about a quarter of the world’s population. English language and customs were spread around the globe, and the United Kingdom became the wealthiest nation on earth for a time from colonialism that was downright evil.
For example, its Northern India colonies grew poppies from which opium was derived to sell to the Chinese, who were persuaded to become addicted by the thousands. The British did this in the name of “free trade,” the same term that is used by the modern USA empire’s corporations to get around labor and environmental laws.
The USA’s leaders saw that maintaining an Empire like that of the British was out of the question. The European nations which colonized so much of Africa and Asia became hated by conquered peoples, and were often overthrown (the USA itself being an early case of colonies rebelling).
Instead of directly ruling over the nations of the world, the USA would simply place military bases around the globe, more by far than any empire in history. These bases would exist in defense of capitalism, which would be forced down the throats of any who got in the way. Any attempt at socialism would be overthrown, either by the USA’s military or proxies such as the Central American Contras or SE Asian Mujahadeen, both created by the Carter regime, to oppose socialism in Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
The problem with socialism is that capitalism can’t compete with it sans military intervention. Socialists don’t have to reward a wealthy class with shares of profits from everything traded, so can offer a lower price for goods, thereby taking the capitalist’s trade. It is for this reason that socialism is under constant attack by the capitalists globally.
Even before becoming an empire, the USA government opposed socialism abroad and even its own labor unions. Immediately after the last Czar was overthrown in Russia, the USA, together with the capitalist nations of Europe, sent troops in an attempt to put the socialist uprising down, but they were too late to save the royal throne. Since there are no socialist kings, royalty side with the capitalists, and for a good reason.
No matter how autocratic are the royalty, they usually get the backing of the capitalists. Czar Nicholas II, the last of the line, famously said, “I shall never, under any circumstances, agree to a representative form of government because I consider it harmful to the people whom God has entrusted to my care.” It’s no wonder the capitalists loved him—he wasn’t going to allow an iota of democracy.
The big scam of “democratic” capitalism is to pretend to be representative, while ensuring that a ruling class get the lion’s share of everything. Thus, in the US empire, a handful of billionaires have more wealth than the bottom half of the entire population. These billionaires and their corporations finance the elections for control of government.
To avoid conflicts that it can’t win, the American Empire has had a strategy of controlling nations a few at a time. Thus, Eisenhower, the first ruler of the new American Empire, put the Shah on the Iranian throne to control oil there (with help from the British), and put military leaders in charge of Guatemala to the benefit of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Banana). In both cases, representative democracy was overthrown and replaced by servants of transnational capitalism, willing to torture and murder to prevent democracy.
Massive funding goes to the CIA with which to undermine governments globally where there is a conflict with US interests or capitalism in general. Most of the funding is secret and hidden from the American people. This happens under all of the presidents, although it’s not apparent until action is taken (such as the bloody overthrow of the democratic government of Chile in 1973).
I spoke with former CIA case officer Philip Agee long ago and he told me that the CIA then had informants in every college and labor union in North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Labor unions and colleges are places where democratic opposition is likely to break out, so the Empire is prepared to immediately quell it. Agee had been stationed with the CIA in Washington, DC, Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico, so knew the agency’s Latin American adventures well. .
Usually Empire troops are not used, but they are employed when the Empire wants to make a statement that one cannot win against the Empire. Afghanistan’s entire population suffered for the alleged Osama bin Laden attack on 11 September 2001. I say “alleged,” because bin Laden himself more than once said he didn’t do the dirty deed. Bin Laden’s ties to Afghanistan were in support of the Empire’s effort to destroy the socialist government of Afghanistan using religious fanatic terrorists such as he, as far back as the 1970s under Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski (leading to intervention by the USSR).
Afghanistan’s government was so destabilized from the terrorism unleashed by the Empire’s proxy armies on it that, when the Empire decided to teach a lesson for the 9/11 attack, US troops had to be sent in. USA-supported terrorists had morphed into an out-of-control Taliban and al Qaeda, so would no longer serve the Empire.
Another use of Empire troops was the bloody war in Vietnam, which was to keep democracy from breaking out there. The French had lost their colony, which had given capitalism a bad name for the Vietnamese, who embraced Ho Chi Minh, the man who defeated the imperialists. With an election coming that would have unified the country under Ho Chi Minh and socialism, the Empire’s strategists concluded the only way to teach them a lesson for not behaving was to send in Empire troops, based on lies that the USA was supporting democracy and that one of its warships had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The most catastrophic of these occasions when USA Empire troops were employed was the illegal invasion of Iraq, based entirely on lies.
These last examples of using Empire troops backfired. In the case of Vietnam, the Vietnamese proved that the Empire could be defeated. In the case of Iraq, the Empire lost credibility, as its propaganda had alleged that it cared about international law, and international observers caught the Empire in a bald-faced lie. In the case of Afghanistan it was obviously hubris to think the USA could accomplish what other empires (Soviet, British, Roman, Greek etc.) failed to do in the “Graveyard of Empires.”
As for internal rule, the USA is operated by corporations on behalf of billionaire owners. Caitlin Johnstone writes, “Didn’t the Supreme Court rule that corporations are people anyway? Make Raytheon the secretary of defense, make Boeing secretary of state, make Goldman Sachs the secretary treasurer, make ExxonMobil the head of the EPA, make Amazon the CIA director, and Google the director of national intelligence. Then you’d have a completely honest face on the head of the US empire.”
Most Americans are unaware that they live in an empire, so successful is the mainstream media at pretending wars abroad are for democratic principles and freedom. Because of out-of-control spending for empire, the USA is the only major industrialized nation without a health care system for its people. To manage such an economy requires the world’s largest prison system coupled with homelessness and hunger unrivaled in the major industrialized world.
Our leaders pretend that the USA is a republic, but in a republic the people are represented. If we were represented, one-fourth of one percent of the population would not own more true wealth than the bottom 99%, as Michael Parenti makes it clear. In fact, The Empire government represents the wealthy of the world rather than its own people. Eight hundred foreign military bases control the world for capitalism rather than the interests of the American people.
Although our leaders pretend to care about international law, the USA does not allow the World Court jurisdiction, and often violates international law with impunity (such as the illegal invasion of Iraq). Our controlled mainstream press whine whenever nations on their current adversary list commit human rights violations but don’t usually mention violations of international law by The Empire.
The way to eliminate the empire, is to spread the word around the corporate-controlled media through alternative publishers with the purpose of creating informed citizens willing to push for a more democratic society. When enough people are aware of its workings, the Empire will collapse. Every thinking person must get involved.
Jack Balkwill has been published from the little read Rectangle, magazine of the English Honor Society, to the (then) millions of readers USA Today and many progressive publications/web sites such as Z Magazine, In These Times, Counterpunch, This Can’t Be Happening, Intrepid Report, and Dissident Voice. He is author of “An Attack on the National Security State,” about peace activists in prison.