of US wars and US aspirations for empire have had their work cut
out for them for over 100 years. This does not mean that there has
existed a single, continuous antiwar or anti-imperialist movement
of any real public visibility. Certainly, there have been underground
currents, so to speak.
T. Flynn, who opposed FDR's rush to war and became a
critic of Cold War militarism, had witnessed as a young
man the debates in Congress between the "expansionists"
and the anti-imperialists over the annexation of the
Philippine Islands (1900). This left a lasting impression
on Flynn and has something to do with his later scepticism
about US pretensions to global rule. Historian Charles
A. Beard and sociologist Harry Elmer Barnes were conversant
with the anti-imperialist literature of the 1920s and
that awareness had some bearing on their opposition
to Roosevelt II's foreign policy. Barnes lived long
enough to become a trenchant Cold War critic.
maintaining a certain consistency of outlook, these
men were perceived as having "moved" from
Left to Right. It might have been noted that it was
US policy-makers who had moved from a less ambitious
foreign policy to one of empire. But my point is that
no broadly based movement or institutional structure
has existed to connect the anti-interventionists of
one generation to the next. In a real sense, each generation
has had, with the help of a few veterans of earlier
fights, to discover the terrain for itself.
INCREDIBLE MOVING ESTABLISHMENT
key to this overall lack of continuity may be the ability
of those in power, those who crave each new set of interventions,
to redefine any current situation as entirely new and
unprecedented. To the extent they are successful in
this, they blur the continuity of their policy initiatives
with those of their predecessors. This leaves their
opponents unaware of their own tradition, or unaware
that they might even have such a tradition.
no two crises involving proposed intervention are exactly
the same, this strategy has rested on a plausible if
flawed basis. The issues were almost joined by Senator
William Borah (R., Idaho), who brought a sophisticated
critique of US imperial strivings for an Open Door in
Asia to bear on the debate over the Versailles Treaty
in 1919. As historian William Appleman Williams presented
that debate, it was a three-cornered fight between 1)
those who sought a concert of imperial powers, i.e.
Wilson and his supporters, 2) those who preferred a
unilateral policy of US imperialism, e.g. Senator Henry
Cabot Lodge, and 3) those like Borah, who rejected either
form of imperial policy in favor of relative laissez
faire liberalism and no US involvements outside the
Establishment managed to simplify the debate into a
two-sided one between far-seeing "internationalists"
like Wilson and narrow, troglodytic "isolationists"
like Borah and Lodge, thereby throwing two very different
critiques into the same camp and blocking historical
reconstruction of the 1919 debate along the lines proposed
by Williams. Senator Borah died in 1940, depriving the
anti-interventionist cause of a spokesman who might
have tied the discussions of 1900, 1919, and 1940-1941
the writings of Flynn, Barnes, Beard, and others display
a knowledge of the broad sweep of history, the anti-interventionist
politicians of 1939-1940 tended to argue more narrowly.
This may have been in part because their own party (Republican)
was implicated in the policies debated in 1900 and divided
on those argued over in 1919. Yet a case can be made
that the essential issue in each instance has been the
same: empire vs. republican liberty.
prevailed in 1941, partly by provoking an attack on
American territory, and – always quick to spot a new
crusade – invented the Cold War almost before the ashes
of World War II had cooled. Opponents – mainly right-wing
Republicans – put up a rearguard fight and succumbed,
with most of their mass base going over to the new cause.
The Vietnam War occasioned the beginnings of a debate
on the fundamentals of US foreign policy: a debate on
empire as such. Unfortunately, left-wing critics of
the US empire led the charge and coupled it with broad-gauge
attacks on all aspects of American life, with the result
that their potential audience was repulsed and baffled.
REINVENTED AS NEEDED
Estabishment regrouped, retooled the Cold War, found
new enemies, and the debate over empire was turned aside.
One might have thought that the sudden implosion of
the Soviet enemy would have re-opened the aborted discussion
set off by Vietnam. For various reasons this did not
take place, outside of libertarian and paleo-conservative
circles. Meanwhile, the policy establishment managed
to find new enemies and repackage US foreign policy
as the pursuit of worldwide humanitarianism and political
correctness enforced by cruise missiles.
At the risk of repeating myself, the debate over whether
or not the American people wish to undertake the "joys
and sorrows of empire" was never joined. In the
wake of the 9/11 "blowback," certain establishment
figures have begun to announce – with infinite cheek – that, of course, there is an American empire; who
ever doubted it? It is a wonderful thing, this US empire.
We must all fall down and praise its mighty works.
SUDDENLY FOUND IN EXISTENCE AND GOOD
may be the cruelest cut of all. Having never had a real
debate on empire, we are now to be told that the empire
is an accomplished fact not subject to discussion. Instead
of a discussion, the empire-builders have sent us little
cards announcing that they have won the debate which
never was. This seems more than a little arbitrary,
but very convenient for the aspiring New Romans.
the imperial birth announcements and matching marching
orders have been very numerous in the last five months.
They pop up in all manner of mainstream journals and
straddle the political opinion magazines all the great
wide way from Center Right to Center Left. The only
disagreements are about the extent to which domestic
socialism will be sacrificed to the needs of the imperial
are a number of themes running through this repellent
literature. These include permanent mobilization for
perpetual frontier wars, which will include nation-building
and other high-toned social work projects. Barnes used
to war against "perpetual war for perpetual peace"
but now it's de rigueur. The perpetual crusade will
recreate "community," "patriotism,"
and force the American couch-potatoes to "sacrifice"
to ends higher than their mere contemptible bourgeois
lives. The US will literally "invade the world"
but this will somehow be rationalized as "defense" – even when it involves proactive reconstruction of
whole societies so that they will be much nicer and
never threaten us and our "interests." These
interests apparently include everything there is. Do
you see now why some writers spot a thread of very bad
theology running through US policy and discourse from
at least 1861 forward?
TO THE GREAT KHAN, OR ELSE
unreconstructed nation or tribe, anywhere, is a standing
threat to "our" peace and prosperity. The
mere thought that someone, somewhere, is doing things
of which Global Sam disapproves, must disturb us in
our sleep. It was seen in 1947 as a lack of verbal sophistication
when President Truman said that the purpose of his famous
doctrine was to help people who want to live the way
we do go on living the way they want to live (this is
a close paraphrase). Now, this malapropism has taken
wing, gained a lot of weight, and threatens mankind
with high-tech weaponry.
course if mankind submits, there will be no need of
violence. If this seems like madness, there is probably
good reason for that. Empire involves that sort of thing.
future columns, we shall look at some of the writers
who are encouraging the madness, including the neo-pagan
foreign policy guru and travel writer, Mr. Robert D.