The American Empire needs your money – and more of it!

Summary: Cheerleaders for empire fill the news media, opponents are usually suppressed. A close look at some imperial propaganda illustrates why we have put America on the skids.

Globe lying on the American flag
ID 90922781 © Sergey Podlesnov | Dreamstime.

Not a week goes by in which a major media outlet does not warn that the military of the American Empire is underfunded! Enemies, enemies everywhere. Here is the latest.

As Went the British, So Will Go America’s Empire.

By Will Smith at The American Conservative, 4 October 2019.
From far-flung foreign obsessions to failing industry, the parallels are striking.

“The parallels between Britain’s interwar myopia and today’s American foreign policy establishment, which is relentlessly fixated on Russia and the Middle East even as a rising China presents profound new security challenges, should be obvious. …

“The parallels between the American and British experiences are ominous. Just as Great Britain relied on a small force of long-serving professionals to police its overseas territories, small special forces detachments have come to exemplify American military reach and expertise. …Far from being symbols of American military power, drones, AC-130 gunships, and helicopters are in danger of becoming latter-day versions of the obsolete British warships that once patrolled the Yangtze River. …

“During the interwar period, British admirals ignored naval aviation and submarine warfare in favor of maintaining a fleet of battleships. American naval and air supremacy has been a fact of life for the past 30 years, but China’s military investments, including so-called anti-access area-denial technologies, are likely to change that calculus, just as Japanese airpower and German U-Boats brutally exposed the Royal Navy’s shortcomings.”


This is quite mad. Let’s count the ways.

We spend vastly more than all our foes combined.

The US spent $650 billion on its military in 2018. That does not include spending buried in other departments (e.g., nukes in the Department of Energy); total spending is one trillion or more. But even the nominal total is 2.6x China’s spending, equal to 36% of the world’s total, and equals that of the next 8 big-spenders combined. Including spending by our closest allies, our total military force dominates any likely alliance against us. See the current report from SPIRI and their database.

The American Empire is unique. Uniquely unprofitable.

Even now people like Niall Ferguson write nonsensical (but pretty) propaganda about the glories of the British Empire. I can excuse love for empire by long-ago romantics like Kipling, but not that of a historian writing a century later. In one of his best essays (in HorizonFebruary 1942), Orwell cuts through Kipling’s idealism to see the base reality of empires. First, people tolerate, not love it.

“It is a fact that Kipling’s ‘message’ was one that the big public did not want, and, indeed, has never accepted. The mass of the people, in the nineties as now, were anti-militarist, bored by the Empire.”

True in 1942 Britain. True in 2019 America. The American people have always had an isolationist viewpoint, liking the pageantry but unwilling to support foreign wars with their money and blood – excerpt after provocations and when stoked by propaganda. As we have seen with our post-9/11 wars: strong support from the public at the start, which fades as the war runs on – but it makes no difference. The wars’ advocates remain confident, journalists act as cheerleaders, and the government (including liberals like Hilary and Obama) continued the wars.

Second, Orwell reminds us that empires are businesses.

“He could not understand what was happening, because he had never had any grasp of the economic forces underlying imperial expansion. It is notable that Kipling does not seem to realize, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern. Imperialism as he sees it is a sort of forcible evangelizing. You turn a Gatling gun on a mob of unarmed “natives,” and then you establish “the Law,” which includes roads, railways and a court-house.”

While true of all empires, America’s elites put a unique spin on this. All empires up to the British Empire were run for national profit (however unequally it was distributed). The American empire is run for profit, but extracted by our elites from us (not the “wogs” abroad) through defense spending and keeping us distracted while they pick our pockets. We are a uniquely gullible people.

Our imperial wars run on, endlessly, at great cost but producing little or no benefit to America. We act as the policeman to the world. An unpaid policeman, proving services requested by no one for which nobody is willing to pay. We pay in money and blood.

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000
Available at Amazon.

Now for the bad news

None of this matters to our cheerleaders for Empire. Fear is one of their most powerful tools. They whip up hysteria about an ever-changing roster of foes. Now China is at the top of the list. We see the result in the Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy. It is fourteen pages of “goals” – written with no regard for cost, or weighing of costs vs. benefits. It is a megalomaniac’s To Do list. Our defense strategy is madness – the rapid pursuit of bankruptcy.

This is a common way that empires fall. See Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Over-extension of a nation’s geopolitical reach and excessive investment in military power combines with underinvestment in domestic infrastructure and R&D. He called it “imperial overstretch.” America is on the grim path followed by so many previous hegemonic states. See the introduction to the book. Paul Kennedy is a professor of history at Harvard (see Wikipedia).

But we can still step off this road to decay. Most Americans know this is folly, but our apathy is our greatest foe.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Another perspective: “The American Empire Is the Sick Man of the 21st Century” by David Klion at Foreign Policy, 2 April 2019 – “Failure at the center has left the United States up for sale to the highest bidder.”

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the American Empire, about the British Empire, and especially these …

  1. The foundation of America’s empire: our chain of bases around the world.
  2. To understand the Imperial Unconscious, Tom provides the Dictionary of American Empire-Speak.
  3. A warning from the past. Might the American Empire drag down America?
  4. The American Empire, as seen by a Major General of the PLA.
  5. Watch America destroy its own empire.
  6. Warnings from Keynes and Kipling about our mad empire.
  7. America’s military gets a mission statement fit for an Empire!

Books about our mad empire

American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy by Andrew Bacevich (2002).

The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare by Nick Turse (2012).

American Empire: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home, 1945-2000 by Joshua B. Freeman (2012).

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (2017).

American Empire by Andrew Bacevich
Available at Amazon.
A People's History of American Empire
Available at Amazon.

9 thoughts on “The American Empire needs your money – and more of it!”

  1. Larry: “The US spent $650 billion on its military in 2018. That does not include spending buried in other departments (e.g., nukes in the Department of Energy); total spending is one billion or more.”

    Shouldn’t that be “total spending is one trillion or more.”

  2. I’m legit shocked the American Conservative published this piece from which the excerpt is taken. It’s a total reversal of their usual foreign policy viewpoints. Very true about how the populous is mostly isolationist.

    P.S. I know that this is off topic, but what is your analysis of Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon?
    PPS Did you get my emails with questions?

      1. You didn’t answer my other questions. Would it be amenable for you to do so.

        I really like our discussions. It allows me to grow as a person

        One more question: your opinion on the Quincey institute. It’s an anti war think tank financed by (I’m not jokeing) George Soros and Charles Koch

        An article for your perusal. Not sure how accurate it is.

      2. Isaac,

        I’m uninterested in an analysis by Nick Bunker, an economist with the jobs site Indeed. I don’t have time to look at such things. However, real wage growth has been quite slow this cycle for private sector production and supervisory workers (~83% of all workers): ~1% per year since the pre-recession peak (Dec 2007) thru August. Meanwhile, wealth and income have skyrocketed for the 1% – and profits have soared.

        As for his wonderful news for those at the bottom – stories of horrific labor abuse abound at Amazon’s warehouses and workers at the many companies in the “gig” economy. That shows that there is a surplus of labor. No surprise given our growing underclass and pretty open borders for the past several decades. I suggest holding off on popping the bubbly.

  3. I’m guessing that this bunker fellow isn’t a good economist then.
    Sorry to hear that your so busy. Do you think that it would help to set up a patreon to assist with the blog?

    Also, if I’m bothering you with questions, please let me know. I have terrible personal relation skills; comes with the autism. I ask so many questions because I highly value your opinion.

    1. Isaac,

      “I’m guessing that this bunker fellow isn’t a good economist then.”

      No. Being an economist is a tough gig. Just like most other jobs, where people do what they are told to do. This was a great story, probably got a lot of attention – and so his boss was happy.

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