Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Excellent Analysis of Empire: Reflecting on Cairo

The United States, like Germany, came late to the empire business. It did not aspire to informal Empire, but rather went to great lengths to undermine the existing empires to open them up for US business. Eric Louw tells the story very well:

Louw, P. Eric. 2010. Roots of the Pax Americana: Decolonization, Development, Democratization and Trade (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

In his account, the US was going to great lengths to undermine Britain's Empire, especially India, even when those powers were allies during the Second World War. He attributes Chamberlain's behavior in Munich to a justifiable fear that dependence on US support in fighting the Nazis posed a greater threat to the empire than the Nazis themselves. He shows that the US made good use of Gandhi in discrediting the British Empire.

Rather than going to the expense and trouble of maintaining a formal Empire, the US preferred finding compliant regimes in important venues. For example, the US could have kept Cuba as a colony, but it got what it needed much more cheaply by keeping friendly governments in place. In contrast, Puerto Rico, which was much smaller, would not pose much trouble as a territory controlled by the US.

The book does not seem to be intended as a radical critique. It does not discuss how this Pax (Pox) Americana proved to be a disaster, leaving people under the rule of Marcos, Mubarak, the Shah, and other such klepocrats and thugs I am anxiously waiting new chapter being written today in the streets of the Middle East.

2 comments:

Brenda Rosser said...

Here's Harold Pinter on the subject of the American pox, as he accepts the 2005 Nobel prize for literature:

"...The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.
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Ken Houghton said...

"The United States, like Germany, came late to the empire business."

Really? Seems very much to depend on your definition of "late," no? (For Germany, that is, not the US. Though I can make a better case that the US has viewed itself as an Empire since maybe 1803 and certainly 1848, which explains nipping at the heels of that aged, broken sheep dog across the Pond.)