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.
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.
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 Horizon, February 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.
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.”
- The foundation of America’s empire: our chain of bases around the world.
- To understand the Imperial Unconscious, Tom provides the Dictionary of American Empire-Speak.
- A warning from the past. Might the American Empire drag down America?
- The American Empire, as seen by a Major General of the PLA.
- Watch America destroy its own empire.
- Warnings from Keynes and Kipling about our mad empire.
- 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).
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).