At some point, given the increasing desperation of the anti-war polemicists, the code-word “imperalism” had to come up. And so it has. In what is to me a deeply clarifying alliance, the hard right and the hard left agree on this: The war on Iraq is an imperialist war.
So claims the Creature From the Blog Lagoon, surfacing for his weekly burp on Salon. But what does this “code word” mean to a middle-class Brit born well after the twilight of the only empire that anyone in the West has cared about?
In the inaugural issue of his new magazine, American Conservative
, Pat Buchanan bemoans the history of imperalism, and how over-reach undid “the Ottoman, Russian Austro-Hungarian, and German empires in World War I, the Japanese in World War II, the French and the British the morning after.” Which leads Pat to the following prediction: “We will soon launch an imperial war on Iraq with all the ‘On-to-Berlin!’ bravado with which French poilus and British Tommies marched in August 1914.”
Not to be outdone, Gary Kamiya, yet another Salon lefty boomer, vies with Buchanan in his isolationist fears: “By word and deed — breaking treaties, disdaining allies, declaring America exempt from international law, announcing a new doctrine of preemptive force — the Bush administration has shown its desire to establish the United States as, in effect, an imperial power, the new Rome. After Sept. 11, an angry and triumphalist America is to be answerable to no one. Flaunting our 3,000 dead like a crusader’s banner, we will march against foes wherever we may find them, our unchallengeable military and invincible rectitude giving us the right and might to do whatever we want. Deus lo volt!”
And so, as is customary with every “mainstream” journalist, opinion is neatly divided into “left” and “right” — with nothing else either in between or outside of that paradigm. By attempting to conflate them, The Creature wishes to create the illusion that he’s standing on new ground. But it’s the same old ground of course. Ground in which anyone who dares to criticize the President Select is a Fifth Columnist.
The political corollary to this fast-accelerating meme is Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., fresh from his tour of Baghdad, where he did all he could to give aid and comfort to one of the most brutal dictators in world history. “This president is trying to bring to himself all the power to become an emperor — to create Empire America,” McDermott pronounced last Sunday. He was referring to Bush, not Saddam, natch.
Having lobbed the requisite mudball, the Creature turns “thoughtful.”
But is the United States these days anything like an actual empire? Being an empire, after all, does not merely mean that you are extremely powerful, militarily, economically or culturally. It means, if it is to mean anything concrete, the appropriation of others’ territory, goods and people at the barrel of a gun.
Maybe. For the “Soft Imperialism” of corporate domination leaves a mark just as lasting as a bullet. Odd seeing all those “Third World” peasants running around in Addias T-shirts. “Golden Arches” cover the globe as do cell-phones and the computers on which you’re reading my words. No need to fire a gun when you’ve turned the enemy into that most useful of citizens — the “Consumer.”
Even one of the milder empires in world history, the British Empire, was essentially an imposition of brute force on large parts of the globe in order to generate wealth and cheap goods for the domestic market. The people subject to such imperialism have no role in their own future, no sovereignty over their own country, no right to their own goods and services. Under any viable definition of imperialism, the colonies provide tribute to the center, as the fledgling American colonies once did to London. And they have no choice.
And part and parcel of this “mildness” is the way it lingers popular culture — from Gunga Din in the 30’s (with humpy Cary Grant, lovely Doug Jr., proto-“bear” Victor McLaglen, and pipsqueak Sam Jaffe in blackface) to the latest remake of The Four Feathers (with ultra-bland Heath Ledger easily upstaged by the gorgeous Djimon Hounsou)
Once you spend a couple of minutes thinking about this, you realize that the notion of “Imperial America” is dangerous nonsense. Take Afghanistan. Has the United States annexed the country, as the Soviets and British once did? Have the Americans put large numbers of troops in there to control the entire country? Did they impose a government by force? Are they busy plundering the place for its natural resources? Nope.
Actually it’s “yep,” dear. The oil companies Dick Cheney works for are going to get their pipeline.
They liberated the country from an invader, they helped set up a domestic council for a democratic Afghanistan and, far from bilking the place for treasure, they have actually spent millions rebuilding the country, with no direct quid pro quo.
“direct” is such a lovely weasel-word, isn’t it?
An exception? Hardly. Remember Germany and Japan? How many imperial powers have sunk fortunes into colonies only to allow them complete independence, even to the point of resisting American foreign policy?
Oh really dear? Somebody rush out and scare up video copies of Nagisa Oshima’s Night and Fog in Japan and Kurosawa’s last film Mandadayo and send them along to Sully. Hell, why not a whole film festival and throw in Godzilla and Hiroshima Mon Amour for good measure?
Some leftists and rightists concede this but argue rather that free trade itself is a form of imperialism. But, as the nineteenth century protectionist and imperialist Tories could have told you, the critical point about free trade — once fiercely defended by anti-imperialist liberals — is that it’s voluntary. No one is being forced to trade right now with the United States, or anyone else, for that matter. Without military coercion in order to appropriate goods, there’s no imperialism by any reasonable definition of the same.
Nobody’s forcing you to buy Microsoft, right? As usual the Creature is as forthcoming about the actual workings of Capitalism as he is about his sero-status when surfing the net for potential tricks.
What about McDermott’s implicit point: Is Bush trying to exercise powers of war and peace in ways that make him a de facto Caesar of the New World?
Need President Bunnypants beware the Ides of March?
He is asking for no more powers to wage war than many other presidents before him, and Congress has a huge say in what emerges. Bush couldn’t even get the networks to cover his major war address Monday. Somehow, I think Caesar had an easier time of it.
And that’s because the networks know the difference between Walter Cronkite and Maury Povich. But “star billing” is beside the point.
And remember how reluctant this president once was to wage war at all.
In the campaign, he was clearly less interventionist than Gore, asked for less defense spending and urged America to be a “humble nation.”
More obfuscation. The latter, a sop to the Fundie faithful, has nothing to do with the former — words mouthed to convey the illusion of “thrift.”
He changed because war was declared on us.
By who? Yes, this is a Trick Question.
And his current war-proposal is, if anything, explicitly anti-imperialist.
Who, after all, is Saddam?
One of the stars of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, of course. He has the film’s second best musical number,”I Can Change” (“Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch” beats it by a nose.)
He’s a man who presides over a fake nation, contrived by British imperialists;
Well Jean-Luc Godard in In Praise of Love calls the U.S. a fake nation. I’m not buying, but it’s a point worth considering.
a man who tried to invade and annex Iran; and then tried to invade and annex Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Imagine that! A former ally — a man to whom we gave chemical weapons — acting as if he owned the place. The nerve!
He, unlike Bush, has no constitutional authority and will never be subject to popular criticism or resistance.
Whoops! Need we revist the 2000 “election” again?
Deposing him is therefore the precise opposite of what Buchanan and Kamiya and McDermott claim. It’s an anti-imperialist venture. And because such ventures invariably have the people on their side, this is yet another war that the anti-imperialist hegemon, America, will almost certainly win.
And so Sully ends on the proper Orwellian note : We Have Always Been at War with Oceania.
But I’m getting a tad tired of Orwell, aren’t you? These days I prefer Pasolini who in his Lutheran Letters observes:
Ours is not then the case of an explicitly repressive or fascist society. We live at least nominally in a period of parliamentary democracy, of well-being and tolerance. That ‘extra’ the boys live is not therefore a fascist ‘extra’, an extra of dedication to working-class revolution. In the time of Fascism, when I was an adlescent, my comrades gave me daily lessons in not only how to be virile and vulgar but also in how to be rowdily loyal to the fascist authority. Today your comrades give ‘repressive’ lessons not only of attachment to authority in its destructive aspect (Fascist) but also — and indeed above all — of revolutionary spirt, whther Communist or extra-parliamentary.
Today one would add that newly-minted label “Contrarian.” For as Pasolini concludes “every day you recieve a tremendous lesson on how to behave and think in a consumerist society.”
And Sully, an Apple-Polisher to the manner born — is nothing if not Teacher’s Pet.