The empires that brought us here


Empire is always (or new, as it was not always) a touchy subject in the American Empire. Most people in the United States would deny that the United States ever had an empire, just because they never heard of it, and therefore it doesn’t have to exist. And those who are most inclined to talk about the American Empire tend to be either supporters of violent anti-imperial struggles (a notion as outdated as empire) or bearers of the Good News of the impending collapse of America. empire.

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My concerns about the predictions of the impending collapse of the American Empire include (1) like the happy predictions of “peak oil” – a glorious moment that was never foreseen until enough oil was burned to eliminate the life on Earth – the supposed end of the American Empire is not guaranteed to happen soon enough by anyone’s crystal ball to prevent environmental or nuclear destruction of virtually everything; (2) like the gradual takeover of Congress or the violent overthrow of Assad or the restoration of Trump, predictions generally appear to be little more than wishes; and (3) predicting that things will inevitably happen tends not to inspire maximum efforts to make them happen.

The reason we have to work to end the empire is not only to speed things up, but also to determine how an empire ends, and in order to end, not only one empire, but all of it. institution of empire. The American Empire of military bases, arms sales, control of foreign armed forces, coups d’état, wars, threats of wars, drone killings, economic sanctions, propaganda, loans predators and sabotage / co-optation of international law is very different from past empires. A Chinese empire, or another, would also be new and unprecedented. But if that meant the undemocratic imposition of harmful and unwanted policies on most of the planet, then it would be an empire and it would seal our fate as surely as it is today.

What might be useful would be a lucid historical account of ascending and descending empires, written by someone familiar with all of this and dedicated to both cutting through centuries-old propaganda and avoiding simplistic explanations. And that we now have in Alfred W. McCoy’s Governing the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Changes, a 300-page tour through past and present empires, including the empires of Portugal and Spain. McCoy provides a detailed account of the contributions of these empires to genocide, slavery and, in contrast, human rights discussions. McCoy interweaves considerations of demographic, economic, military, cultural and economic factors, with an interesting consideration of what we would today call public relations. He notes, for example, that in 1621 the Dutch denounced the Spanish atrocities by pleading for the taking of possession of the Spanish colonies.

McCoy includes an account of what he calls “the empires of commerce and capital”, namely the Dutch, British and French empires, ruled by the Dutch East India Company and other pirate enterprises, as well as a account of how various concepts of international law and the laws of war and peace have developed from this background. An interesting aspect of this narrative is the extent to which the British trade in enslaved human beings from Africa involved the trading of hundreds of thousands of guns with Africans, resulting in horrific violence in Africa, all as importing arms into the same regions does. nowadays.

The British Empire features prominently in the book, including a few glimpses of our dear beloved humanitarian hero Winston Churchill declaring a massacre of 10,800 people in which only 49 British soldiers were killed to be “the most memorable triumph. never won by the arms of science over barbarians. But much of the book focuses on building and sustaining the American Empire. McCoy notes that “Over the next 20 years [WWII], the ten empires which had ruled a third of humanity would give way to 100 newly independent nations ”, and many pages later,“ Between 1958 and 1975, military coups, many of which were sponsored by the The United States has changed governments in three dozen nations – a quarter of the world’s sovereign states – fostering a distinct “reverse wave” in the global trend toward democracy. (I pity the fate of the first person to mention this at President Joe Biden’s Democracy Conference.)

McCoy also takes a close look at China’s economic and political growth, including the Belt and Road Initiative, which – at $ 1.3 trillion – he calls “the biggest investment in China’s history. ‘humanity’, perhaps not having seen the $ 21 trillion invested in the US military in just the past 20 years. Unlike a lot of people on Twitter, McCoy doesn’t predict a global Chinese empire before Christmas. “Indeed,” wrote McCoy, “in addition to its growing economic and military weight, China has a self-referential culture, obscure non-Roman script (requiring four thousand characters instead of 26 letters), undemocratic political structures and a subordinate legal system. it will deprive him of some of the main instruments of world leadership. “

McCoy does not seem to imagine that governments that claim to be democracies are in fact democracies, as much as he notes the importance of democratic public relations and culture in the spread of empire, the need to employ “rhetoric. universalist and inclusive ”. From 1850 to 1940, according to McCoy, Britain espoused a culture of “fair play”, “free markets” and opposition to slavery, and the United States used Hollywood films, Rotary clubs, popular sports and all that “human rights” gossip while starting wars and arming brutal dictators.

On the subject of imperial collapse, McCoy believes that environmental disasters will reduce the ability of the United States for foreign wars. (I would point out that US military spending is increasing, the military is excluded climate agreements at the behest of the United States, and the United States military is promote
the idea of ​​wars as a response to environmental disasters.) McCoy also believes that the growing social costs of an aging society will distract the United States from military spending. (I would note that U.S. military spending is increasing, U.S. government corruption is increasing; wealth inequality and poverty in the United States is increasing; and that imperial U.S. propaganda has effectively stamped out the idea of ​​health care as a human right of most American brains.)

One possible future suggested by McCoy is a world with Brazil, the United States, China, Russia, India, Iran, South Africa, Turkey, and Egypt dominating parts of the globe. I don’t think the power and proliferation of the arms industry, or the ideology of empire, allows that possibility. I think we very likely need to move on to the rule of law and disarmament or see a world war. When McCoy brings up the subject of climate collapse, he suggests that global institutions will be needed – as they have, of course, been desperately for a long time. The question is whether we can establish and strengthen such institutions in the face of the American Empire, no matter how many empires there have been or what ugly society they place the current empire in.

David swanson
is an author, activist, journalist and radio host. He is executive director of
and campaign coordinator for Swanson’s books include War is a lie. He blogs on
and It hosts Talk Radio Nation. He is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson
and Facebook.

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