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
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 or tactics?
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
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 burns.
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
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" happen.
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,
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 more hollow.
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.
contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald
Radosh's out-of-print classic study of the Old Right
conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of
Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
Have an e-gold account?
Contribute to Antiwar.com via e-gold.
Our account number is 130325
Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard
printable version of this article
Stromberg: Empire as a Way of Death
de la Boétie and Voluntary Servitude
de Molinari on States and Defense
Future of States and Wars: On State-Strengthening
Wars, Part III
State- Strengthening Wars: Part II
State- Strengthening Wars: Part I
N. Rothbard on States, War, and Peace: Part II
N. Rothbard on States, War, and Peace: Part I
and Upward with the American Empire
Taylor of Caroline, Federalism, and Empire
Conservative Canes Wogs – Film At Eleven
Great Yodeling Conspiracy
Spooner and Foreign Policy
I: Austria, Nations, States, and Human Scale Revisited
Bromfield (1896-1956): Farmer, Novelist, and Cold
Reuben Clark (1871-1961) and Non-Intervention
Paine on War, Governments, and Trade
Martí : Cuban Nationalist, Critic of American
Déjà Vu All Over Again
Trade, Mercantilism, and Empire
Lost Episode of the Old Right: The 'Great Debate,'
2000, Or Get It in Writing
Elmer Barnes: Progressive and Revisionist
Karp: War Critic and Republican Theorist
'Overstretch,' and the Joys of Collapse
Palmer Thompson: Historian, Neutralist, Marxist
Untergänge, and Other Unpleasant Matters
Fukuyama, and Folksong Hermeneutics
Millennia, Empires, and Everything
or Consequences in an Age of Empire
Morley: An Old-Fashioned Republican
Chodorov: A Libertarian's Libertarian
Policeman's Lot Is Not a Happy One – at Home and
Appleman Williams: Premier New Left Revisionist
Austin Beard: The Historian as American Nationalist
Critics of Intervention: Part III
Critics of Intervention: Part II
Critics of Intervention: Part I
The Good War, and Ironclad Orthodoxies
Bono? Imperialism and Theory
or Empire: The Long View
for an Historical Sketch of the American Imperial
Smith: A Pound of Motherwit and an Ounce of Clergy
'Loss' of China, McCarthy, Korea, and the New
Thoughts, Mostly on Bombing
and the American Language
'Isolationism': The Foreign Policy of the Old
as a Way of Death
Indo-Europeans, and the Destiny of the Warriors
Powers': Vague, Undefined and Post-Constitutional
Lost and Otherwise
R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian
publications since 1973, including The Individualist,
of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review,
and the Agorist
Quarterly, and is completing a set of essays
on America's wars. He was recently named the JoAnn
B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the Ludwig
von Mises Institute. His column, "The
Old Cause," appears each Tuesday on Antiwar.com.