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.
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
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):
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
of interest to the umpirage of reason rather than of force."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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