3 , 1999
EMPIRE AS A WAY OF DEATH
Pericles' Funeral Oration is widely
seen as a noble statement of core Western values. Noble, doubtless,
but the rest is arguable (Western Civilization having had a bad
day or two). Pericles the Athenian FDR? saw the Athenian
Empire as the great defender of freedom freedom defined,
however, by the Athenian Empire and its "defensive alliance,"
the Hellenic NATO aka Delian League. The analogy goes further. Athens
was democratic and imperialistic thus refuting Wilsonian
Fallacy #1 that "democracies" are always peaceful and
kindly. Like the American globocrats and their NATO counterparts
after 1989, the Athenians asserted in the famous dialogue
with the Melians their "right to rule" after the
overthrow of the Persians. For the Americans and NATO, the Soviets'
fall raised the question first posed by Southern comedian Brother
Dave Gardner in the early sixties, "What will the preachers
do, when the Devil is saved?" We know what George Herbert Walker
Bush did: he found a lesser devil on whose country he dropped the
full weight of humane police action and peacekeeping to the tune
of hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis who never posed the slightest
threat to Kennebunkport.
AMERICAN EMPIRE'S FIRST CENTURY
The American Empire lurched into existence
a hundred years ago with the Spanish-American War. President William
McKinley quickly learned how to sail under Two Doctrines. The Outer
Doctrine for public consumption was that American
intervention was uniquely philanthropic: the freedom of the poor
Cubans and good government for the Filipinos were our only goals.
(Things didn't work out that way but never mind.)
The Inner Doctrine was a vision of prosperity through economic empire.
The Open Door Notes staked the claim. Government support for the
expansion of favored corporations into world markets became the
central theme of 20th century US foreign policy. Where foreign empires,
states, or revolutions threatened this goal, US policy makers would
risk war to sustain it. In the end, whatever his outward fuss over
"freedom of the seas" and Teutonic "barbarities,"
Woodrow Wilson's drive to involve Americans in the First Euro-Bloodbath
had as much to do with possible threats to the Open Door program
as with his "idealism."
After Americans repudiated Wilson's war, a series of Republican
Presidents pursued the Open Door with less fanfare. It was emphatically
not a period of "isolationism" despite the moderation
of those in charge. It seemed to Herbert Hoover that the Open Door
and the "territorial integrity of China" were not worth
a war. His New Deal successors fitted their policy, especially from
1937, to threats to the Open Door while grumbling about Italian
and German inroads into Latin American markets. Once the European
war broke out in September 1939, Roosevelt worked to intervene as
rapidly as possible.
US wartime military and civilian planning reveals the grand scale
of the American leadership's postwar ambitions. They thought in
terms of US dominance of the "Grand Area" later
the "Free World," and now, the "New World Order."
This planning rested on a mercantilist conception of hegemony. The
self-named "wise men" of the northeastern political and
corporate Establishment were supremely confident of their ability
and right to manage the globe. After bombing their opponents flat,
they looked forward to an American Century, only to find the Soviet
Union blocking their path into very desirable markets and resources.
The Open Door does not explain everything about the origins of the
Cold War but it was a major (even obsessive) concern of policy makers
in the late 1940s. Whether the Cold War made any sense at all, it
did allow the worldwide extension of US power. It gave an ideological
and practical framework for the growth of what can only be called
an American Empire.
It also gave us dear old NATO. Debating the treaty in the aftermath
of the Berlin Blockade and the Marshall Plan, only a handful of
Senators opposed that entangling alliance. Senator Taft said that
the pact "will do far more to bring about a third world war
than it will ever maintain the peace of the world." This shows
how hard it is to foretell things. Taft could not have dreamed that
NATO having achieved its object and having, therefore, no reason
to exist would expand its membership and attack a state which
had not attacked a NATO member any more than he could have imagined
the wild ride of the Arkansas traveler.
But much more than NATO was at issue. The Wise Men and their National
Security managers wanted colossal mobilization blurring the distinction
between peace and war. As some of them admitted in the infamous
NSC-68, had there been no Soviet Union, they would still have pursued
much the same program. This ambitious program almost ran aground
on Congressional opposition to its costs (hard to believe now).
The postconstitutional, Presidential War in Korea saved the planners'
bacon. It also continued the military practices and moral theory
developed in other conflicts. One General commented, "almost
the entire Korean peninsula [is]... a terrible mess. Everything
is destroyed.... There were no more targets in Korea." General
Curtis LeMay noted, "We burned down just about every city in
North and South [!] Korea..... we killed off over a million civilian
Koreans and drove several million more from their homes." He
was not being critical. I shall pass over the "strategy"
and "tactics" of the Viet Nam War.
WAR AND POST-COLD WAR ADVENTURISM
An Empire and by any standard
there is an American Empire which subscribes to a doctrine
of Total War ought to make everyone nervous. Somewhere along the
line from the Pequod War, Sherman's March to the Sea, the bloody
so-called "Philippine Insurrection," and the firebombing
of Japan and Germany, US leaders civilian and military
took up the notion that it is reasonable to make war on an Enemy's
entire society. Only a few observers like C. Wright Mills and Richard
M. Weaver even questioned the doctrine during the High Cold War.
And, sadly, it all ended. For the planners and managers the Soviet
collapse was inconvenient requiring a new ideological rationale,
new enemies, and much retargeting if they stayed in the Empire
business. I leave, unsung, the Gulf War, with that lovely phrase
about "making the rubble bounce" as well as the hundreds
of thousands of Iraqis who have died since that splendid little
war under the "humane" mechanisms of "economic warfare."
I only add that this style of warfare fails, in detail, the following
useful test: Can we conceive of Robert E. Lee using these weapons
AS A WAY OF DEATH: MORAL, INSTITUTIONAL, AND CULTURAL
There are many writers who worry themselves
sick about "late capitalism" (whatever that might be).
It is more to the point to worry about the pattern of late empire.
Here we find an array of interlocking ideological, political, and
economic facts paralleling those of comparable periods in other
civilizations. One of these facts is irresponsible power centered
in bureaucracies that aspire to manage all aspects of human life
(here Paul Gottfried's After
Liberalism is very useful). At the apex of the would-be
Universal State stands the figure of Caesar. Oswald Spengler defined
"Caesarism" as "that kind of government which, irrespective
of any constitutional formulation that it may have, is in its inward
self a return to formlessness.... Real importance centered in the
wholly personal power exercised by Caesar" or his representatives.
Having allowed the American President to become an Emperor, who
dares now be surprised that an "impeached" Executive can,
on his own motion, begin bombing a state with which neither the
US or NATO was "at war" in the name of human rights and
universal do-gooding? Perhaps Mr. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. needs
to take a deeper look at the imperial presidency. The sheer contempt
shown for all law Geneva Convention, UN ephemera, NATO Treaty,
and, what ought to matter, our Constitution shows an "arrogance
of power" that would stun the present incumbent's former employer,
Senator J. William Fulbright (not to mention his History Professor
Carroll Quigley). That so few notice or complain is itself part
of the late imperial pattern. Empire, with its many "abridgments
of classical liberty" (to quote Richard Weaver) is, in its
American form, not the personalistic rule of a Great Khan, but is
mediated through mega-colossal bureaucracies, which at times can
block the President. Precisely because Presidential power is most
unhampered in foreign affairs, recent Presidents have aspired to
strut upon the world stage while Rome or at least Los Angeles
DOCTRINE, INNER DOCTRINE, IMPERIAL DOCTRINE
In late empire, the empire itself becomes
an ideological value. The Empire is necessary, benevolent, and good.
While spin-masters may still deploy universalist rhetoric
"Doin' right ain't got no end," empire is increasingly
its own justification. It comes to seem unreasonable that there
should be there more than one power in the world. This is the classical
imperial doctrine. Some writers refer to this pattern as "Asiatic"
a formula that leaves out several important cases.
Where two empires exist, each calls the other "evil" and
asserts its claim to sole universal rule, as in the "Cold War"
propaganda duel between Justinian and Chosroes (as recounted by
George of Pisidias). The full imperial claim, which arises with
late empire, entails the following, as summarized by BYU Historian
Hugh Nibley: "(1) the monarch rules over all men; (2) it is
God who has ordered him to do so and.... even the proudest claims
to be the humble instrument of heaven; (3) it is thus his sacred
duty and mission in the world to extend his dominion over the whole
earth, and all his wars are holy wars; and (4) to resist him is
a crime and sacrilege deserving no other fate than extermination."
Clearly, there is room only for one such Benefactor and all others
should get out of Dodge. Except for the references to God, this
outlook undergirds "the act you've known for all these years"
and the propaganda pronouncements of this latest frontier war. The
"lateness" of our imperial period is suggested by how
little attention the public pays to these exercises. They are now
normal, even if few acknowledge that there is an American Empire.
And yet, as Garet Garrett wrote in 1954, "The idea of imposing
universal peace on the world by force is a barbarian fantasy"
and the mental state of a realized empire is "a complex of
fear and vaunting."
The late "war," "police action," whatever, provides
many examples of the imperial hubris. Thus we witnessed the usual
demonization of the Enemy Leader and, then, the Enemy People. The
mindless reflex that demands "Unconditional Surrender"
soon kicked in. Towards the end (of this phase, anyway) Sandy Berger
drew up Skinner Boxes for the Serbs, who would be rewarded with
less bombing as they withdrew from square A into B and so on. Bombing
after an "agreement" damned sure isn't traditional diplomacy
and it may not even be good behaviorism. But, then, Empire
means never having to say you're sorry. Or wrong. But "mistakes"
IDEOLOGY, AND PRACTICE
During the splendid little Serbo-American
War, imperial spokesmen fielded the old Outer Doctrine of Doing
Right alongside the new Imperial Style of just issuing orders whose
justice is implicit. (Perhaps this is the real "End of History.")
The warmakers' practices simply improved on their old ones: hence
the new focused terror bombing in which civilian deaths are all
"accidental," "unintended," "collateral,"
etc., and the Wise Guys' Lessons of Viet Nam: no real press coverage,
no casualties, no answering back from Congress, etc.
The ideological babble was deafening, as the sixties "Civilian
Militarists" gave way to the young Social Militarists. (What
are armed forces for? mused Secretary Albright.) It is beyond belief
that these uninformed, half-educated eternal youths, helped out
by a few leftover ghouls from the Cold War, wish to tell the world
how to live. (Already in 1946, Felix Morley called the US "the
world's greatest moralizer on the subject of the conduct of other
governments.") After the high-tech smashing of Serbia, the
US elite's little sermons about "weapons of mass destruction"
(and ordinary guns owned by those terrible rednecks) ring a bit
Just as World War I was the War of Austrian Succession and World
War II the War of British Succession, this "war" be seen
as the War of Soviet Succession (or part of it). This brings us
back like the Freudian return of the repressed to
our old friend the Inner Doctrine: Open Door Empire. As Jude Wanniski
points out, NATO's American-run Drang nach Osten has something to
do with grabbing political-economic control of all the former Soviet
assets in Western Asia. Oil is sometimes mentioned. The old dream
of American mercantilist world-overlordship now misleadingly
discussed as "globalization": a mysterious force rising
spontaneously out of equally mysterious "late capitalism"
is back. This is why the sober political-economic elites
can tolerate the actions of the hippie-bombers. Uncooperative minor
states like Serbia that refuse their assigned role must be swept
aside. Their actual deeds are beside the point (and similar deeds
by others, who do take their orders, go quite unpunished). One wonders
if the overgrown, eternally innocent Boy Scouts who are spreading
the NATOnic Plague have any idea how dangerous major historical
transitions can get? Do they think about World War III? Probably
not. Do they think it's clever to poke the wounded but irritable
Russian Bear with a stick? Do they yearn for a rerun of the Crimean
War? Do they think at all? Who knows? After all, they don't have
to think and that, too, is part of the syndrome of Late Empire.
R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since
1973, including The Individualist, Reason,
of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the
and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He is a part-time
lecturer in History at the college level. You can read his recent
Cold War," on the Ludwig
von Mises Institute Website. His column, "The Old Cause,"
appears each Tuesday on Antiwar.com.
contribution of $20 or more gets you a copy of Justin Raimondo's
Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in
the Balkans, a 60-page booklet packed with the kind of intellectual
ammunition you need to fight the lies being put out by this administration
and its allies in Congress. Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form