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Modern-Day American Imperialism: The Middle East and Beyond part 2

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Gaddis is a good historian, and he cites the right sources on the so-called Seminole war, Jackson’s conquest of Florida. But he doesn’t bother telling us what the sources say, and it’s worth looking at what they say. They describe it as a war of murder and plunder and extermination, driving out the indigenous population. There were pretexts made, but they were so flimsy that nobody paid much attention to them. It was also the first executive war in violation of the Constitution, setting a precedent which has been followed ever since. There was no Congressional authorization. Adams lied through his teeth to Congress. It’s all very familiar. So Gaddis is correct: it is the model for the Bush Doctrine. He approves of both of them, but that’s a moral judgment. But his analysis is correct. Yes, what is happening now traces right back to the wars of extermination and plunder and murder and lying and deceit and so on— the executive wars that John Quincy Adams was the great spokesman for. Adams, incidentally, later in his life regretted this. After his own contributions were well in the past, he condemned the Mexican War as an executive war and a terrible precedent. It wasn’t a precedent; he’d established the precedent. And he also expressed remorse over the fate of what he called “that hapless race of Native Americans which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty.” They knew what they were doing. Contemporary history likes to prettify it, but if you read the descriptions and the observations by the people involved, they knew exactly what they were doing. He expressed regret for it, but his own role was long past. Well, it’s commonly argued that American imperialism began in 1898. That’s when the US did finally succeed in conquering Cuba, what’s called in the history books “liberating” Cuba— namely intervening in order to prevent Cuba from liberating itself from Spain, and turning it into a virtual colony as it remained until 1959, setting off hysteria in the United States which hasn’t ended yet. Also, conquering and taking over Hawaii, which was stolen by force and guile from its population. Puerto Rico, another colony. Soon moving to the Philippines and liberating the Philippines. Also liberating a couple of hundred thousand souls to heaven in the process. And again, the reverberations of that extend right to the present: ample state terror, and the one corner of Asia that hasn’t undergone high development—something we’re not supposed to notice. But the belief that the imperial thrust started in 1898 is an example of what historians of empire call “the salt water fallacy,” the belief that you have an empire if you cross salt water. In fact, if the Mississippi River were as wide as the Irish Sea, the imperial thrust would have started much earlier. But that’s an irrelevance. Expanding over settled territory is no different from expanding over the waters. So, what happened in 1898 was just an extension of the process that began when the infant empire, as it saw itself, was first formed, in its first moments. The extension to beyond was… Again, a lot of this starts in New England, with New England merchants who were very eager to take over the Pacific trade, the fabulous markets of China, which were always in their minds, which meant conquering the northwest so you can control the ports and so on, meant kicking the British out and others out, and so on. It went on from right here. The goal, as William Seward, who was Secretary of State in the 1860s, pointed out (a central figure in American imperialism) was that we have to gain command of the empire of the seas. We conquer the continent. We’re going to take it over. The Monroe Doctrine was a declaration that we’ll take it over—everybody else keep out. And the process of doing so continued through the nineteenth century and beyond until today. But now we have to have command of the seas. And that meant when the time was ripe, 30 years later, when the apple started to fall from the tree, given relative power, proceeding overseas to the overseas empire. But it’s basically no different than the earlier steps. The leading philosophical imperialist, Brooks Adams, pointed out (this is 1895; we were just on the verge of moving overseas extensively) that “all Asia must be reduced to our economic system, the Pacific must be turned into an inland sea” (just like the Caribbean had been). And “there’s no reason,” he said, “why the United States should not become a greater seat of wealth and power than ever was England, Rome, or Constantinople.” Well, again there was a deterrent. The European powers wanted a piece of the action in East Asia, and Japan by then was becoming a formidable force. So it was necessary to explore more complex modes of gaining command of turning the Pacific into an inland sea and going on. And that was lucidly explained by Woodrow Wilson, who is one of the most brutal and vicious interventionists in American history. The probable permanent destruction of Haiti is one of his many accomplishments. Those of you who study international relations theory or read about it know that there is a notion of Wilsonian idealism. The fact that that notion can exist is a very interesting commentary on our intellectual culture and scholarly culture if you look at his actual actions. Fine words are easy enough. But these are some of his fine words which he was smart enough not to put into print. He just wrote them for himself. He said, “Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down … even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.” That’s 1907. There’s a current version of that, a crude version by Thomas Friedman, who says that “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas” (meaning the US Air Force). Well, that’s a crude version of Wilson’s point. You’ve got to batter down the doors by force and threat, and no corner of the world must be left unused —no useful corner. There was a watershed in this process at the time of the Second World War. At the time of the Second World War, the US already had by far the largest economy in the world and had for a long time, but it wasn’t a major player in world affairs. Britain was the leading player, France second, the United States lagging. It controlled the hemisphere and had made forays into the Pacific, but it was not the leading player. However, during the war, the US planners understood that the war was going to end with the US the world dominant power. However it turned out, other competitors were going to destroy themselves and each other, and the US would be left alone with incomparable security. In fact, the US gained enormously from the war. Industrial production virtually quadrupled. The war ended the Depression—the New Deal measures hadn’t done so. At the end of the war, the US had literally half of the world’s wealth (and competitors were either damaged or destroyed) and incomparable security. It controlled the western hemisphere; it controlled both oceans; it controlled the opposite side of both oceans. There’s nothing remotely like it in history. And during the war, planners understood that something like that was going to turn out. It was obvious from the nature of the war. From 1939 to 1945, there were high level meetings, of the State Department (the State Department planners) and the Council on Foreign Relations (the sort-of main external nongovernmental input into foreign policy), and they laid careful plans for the world that they expected to emerge. It was a world, they said, in which the United States will “hold unquestioned power” and will ensure “the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with US global designs.” Incidentally, I’m not quoting NeoCons. I’m quoting the Roosevelt administration, the peak of American Liberalism.

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Duration: 10 minutes and 7 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
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Views: 135
Posted by: sgentile on Apr 20, 2010

Discours énoncé par Noam Chomsky à l’Université de Boston le 17 mars 2009. Transcription par Steve Lyne

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