July 4, 2003

Is this our last Independence Day before the advent of Empire?

by Justin Raimondo

There's plenty of irony in being called "unpatriotic" by foreigners who know little of and care nothing for this country's proud legacy of contempt for empires. But I must put away my bitterness, for now, because this Independence Day is a time for mourning: it is, after all, quite possibly our last 4th of July before the advent of the American Empire.

How the Founders would have hated what has happened to their country. They fought against King George, and won a famous victory that was overthrown a couple of centuries later. This time, too, their enemy was a monarch named George, an American Tory whose conquering armies accomplished what the redcoats could not.

A republic such as we had was not easily abolished. It took two hundred years of chipping away at the foundations, and then some, to undermine them so deeply that the structure could not be saved. Several previous attempts to replace the plain-cloth republican character of the American polity with the imperial purple proved abortive. For a long time Americans remembered their heritage, and agreed with Thomas Jefferson, who said in his Third Annual Message (1803):

"We should be most unwise, indeed, were we to cast away the singular blessings of the position in which nature has placed us, the opportunity she has endowed us with of pursuing at a distance from foreign contentions the paths of industry, peace and happiness; of cultivating general friendship and of bringing collisions of interest to the umpirage of reason rather than of force."

It took three world wars and the opening shots of a fourth to finally get Americans even minimally comfortable with the idea of acquiring an empire. It had been tried before, without much success; in the Philippines, where the ungrateful natives resisted so fiercely that we wisely decided it wasn't worth the effort; and in Cuba, which we similarly abandoned. Puerto Rico and Hawaii, which might have been profitably left by the roadside, were acquired, almost by accident, in spite of determined opposition in Congress and the country at large. In any case, it wasn't much of an overseas empire, compared to the British, the French, the Germans, and even the Portuguese.

A few claim the very founding of the American colonies was an imperialist crime against the Indians, but this radical anti-Americanism is historically dubious and morally empty. No one denies that the Americans, both military and civilian, committed war crimes against native peoples, but the Indians were hardly the gamboling innocents depicted by Hollywood. We might still be pledging allegiance to the British monarchy if only the Brits had afforded the colonists better protection against the wilding tribes who committed unspeakable atrocities, especially when emboldened by "firewater."

By treading paths through a pristine wilderness, could native tribes be said to own it? Not according to the Lockean principles the settlers brought with them. In mixing their labor with the land, they came into possession of it, regardless of whether a nomadic tribe was in the habit of passing through.

As for the Mexican-American war, and the acquisition of Texas, California, Arizona, and the rest, the annexation was first set in motion by the authorities in Mexico City, when they invited Americans to settle land largely empty of Mexicans. All the settlers had to do was swear allegiance to Mexico, obey the laws, and convert to Catholicism. Thousands took them up on it, and they called themselves Texans.

So many took them up on it that the Mexican officials began to get nervous. They began to restrict immigration, but it was too late. The vast empty spaces claimed by Spanish conquistadores fell into the roughhewn hands of American pioneers. They came not as conquerors but as adventurers, and, in the beginning, did not seek to plant the American flag in foreign soil: instead, they petitioned the central government in Mexico City for statehood status. It was denied, and the Mexicans underscored this insult with the dispatch of an army northward. The Texans had no choice but to fight, and they did it rather well. The Mexican army was beaten, badly, and took refuge within the walls of a fort known as the Alamo. Surrounded, they asked for terms of surrender, and the Mexicans were allowed to retreat with their tails between their legs.

But the Texan militias were not organized into a regular army: they had no commanders, no unified tactics, no strategy for victory. There came a day when the Mexicans returned to the Alamo, but this time the defenders were Texans, a few hundred fighters, including Davy Crockett, who did not ask for terms but stood and fought. 150 Americans, who called themselves Texans, against 3,000 regulars of the Mexican army. At the end of 12 days, the butcher Santa Ana breached the walls and did what butchers do. Not a single defender survived.

The Texas Republic was won at the price of their blood, but still the price went higher. Texas needed to protect itself from Mexican incursions, but its existence presented Washington with a dilemma. To recognize Texas was one thing, but annexation was thought impossible: it would have to mean war with Mexico, and that nearly everyone ruled out. The admission of Texas to the Union would upset the delicate political balance, with the addition of another slave state. It wasn't until the British began to take an active interest in Texas, proposing some sort of vague affiliation with the Empire, that the Americans were thrust into expansionist mode.

In any case, the Mexican-American war and the California Gold Rush merely accelerated a trend that would have eventually overwhelmed Mexico's tenuous land claims. The Americans could have taken Mexico City and Central America in the bargain. Instead, they drew the line at the Rio Grande, instinctively drawing back from the hot and humid lands of the South. Their destiny was in the West, and somehow they knew it.

America was virgin land, free of European princes and ancient blood feuds, the stuff republics are made of: a place where character counts, not genealogy, and commerce is king, not a Tudor, a Hohenzollern, or a Romanov. For nearly a hundred years Americans remembered the warnings of the Founders to go not "abroad in search of monsters to destroy," lest the great escape from the European maelstrom was all for naught.

Even in the wake of their victories in two world wars, still Americans were reluctant, and thought, at least in the beginning, that they would not stay. After the Great War, Americans once again repaired to their continental bliss, and tried to stand apart from Europe's quarrels. Even after the second conflagration, and on the eve of a possible third, there were many who retained a healthy Jeffersonian disdain for the seductive wiles of Europe:

"Their political interests are entirely distinct from ours. Their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government, are all foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of the labor, property and lives of their people." – [Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1823]

Today we are the one nation on earth that can be fairly described as being dedicated to "eternal war," but where and when did this complete reversal of polarities take place? Was it sudden and cataclysmic, or a long, slow evolution? The answer is: both. For sixty years we have been drifting in the direction of Caesarism, sometimes retreating, but more often advancing on the road to the New Rome. September 11, 2001, was the tipping point, the catalytic event that gave imperialism a "defensive" rationale and led to the planting of the American flag in the sands of Iraq.

It is telling that, even now, a war to conquer the Middle East has to be sold to the American people in terms of a "war on terrorism." While some of the bolder policy intellectuals openly proclaim their imperial vision, the empire-builders still feel obliged to fly the flag of "democracy" and "self-determination." Niall Ferguson and Paul Johnson say that the anti-imperialist tradition in America is largely a myth, but such an entrenched belief is a powerful validation of the American mindset over and above historical facts.

It is no wonder that two foreigners Brits, of course would disdain what they call a "myth," and seek to make the concept of Americanism more British. The Brits were fatally lured by the promise of empire, and then by the fool's gold of socialism: in the end, bankrupt and exhausted by war, they turned to us to redeem and reconstitute the Anglo-American imperium. Where once a British Viceroy reigned, now sits Paul Bremer, riding an Iraqi tiger not quite ready to be domesticated into a house cat.

The end of the republic, and the advent of empire, can only mean the end of whatever meaning July 4 once had. We'll still celebrate the holiday, of course, perhaps more vigorously than before, with more fanfare and "patriotism" of the ostentatious sort. But real patriotism will perish with the last vestiges of our old republic, and cannot be anything but nostalgia.

The America of the republican era, of limited, constitutional government, is gone: in its place is a bloated, widely-hated empire, the degenerated mutant offspring of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and George W. Bush. I mourn the passing of the former, and fight like hell against the depredations of the latter. That is what patriotism means, today.

– Justin Raimondo

comments on this article?

 Please Support Antiwar.com

520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Your contributions are now tax-deductible

Antiwar.com Home Page

Most recent column by Justin Raimondo

Archived columns

Mourning in America

No Exit?

The Road Map

The Culture of Imperialism

The WMD Cult

The New Thought Police

Empire of Liberty?

The Gaza Trap

What's It All About?

Trotsky, Strauss, and the Neocons

Classic Raimondo:
Israel's Taliban

Behind the Lies

Liars 'R Us

Hell to Pay

Wackos, Weirdos and Wing-Dings

We Were Right

On to Tehran?

Classic Raimondo:
Decline and Fall

Outing the Neocons

Revolt Against the Neocons

Regime Change Roulette

Blowback in Riyadh

The Anti-Americans

Classic Raimondo: Living in a Soviet America

Smoking Gun

Mad Dogs of War

Whose 'Road Map'?

The Final Secret of 9/11

Neocons in Denial

Santorum's Sins

The Real Crisis

Screw the UN

Putting America First

Fickle 'Victory'

Nesting Habits of Washington's War Birds

Phase Two Begins

King George Returns

The Real War

World War IV

If This Be Treason

On the Middle East Escalator

A Perle of High Price

Iraqi Pandora

A No-Winner

Commissar Frum

Bluff and Bluster

Shine, Perishing Republic

This Isn't About You

What's It All About, Ari?

Postwar Blues

Reckless Warmongers

This War Is Treason

The Hapless Hegemon

Libertarianism in the Age of Empire

Notes from the Margin

Is War Inevitable?

War Party Stumbles

Vive la France!

A 'Toxic' Meme

Rallying for War

Rally Against Fear

One Battlefield, Two Wars

Antiwar Breakthrough!

The Lying Game

Free Taki!

The Kook Factor

Our Reds, and Theirs

Beware the Ides of March

Growing Up

Israel's Amen Corner

Target: Scott Ritter

Listen Up, Soldier

Watch Your Back

Going Crazy

Turning Point

War Party in Retreat

Hail Caesar?

Korean Ghosts

Do Neocons Exist?

Happy New Year?

Previous columns

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us