The American Empire

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The American Empire

In recent posts I have been talking a lot about the propaganda machine that is the mainstream media. Let me just say from the outset that I understand that the idea of thought control is simply ludicrous to most Americans. The standard line is that we live in a free and democratic country with an equally free and independent press. People will point to negative stories about Bush or the Iraq war as proof. I understand this, and I accept this. This is one reason why in my last post on the subject I listed five excellent books on the topic of the media (I forgot Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media"). The most I can hope to do is plant some subversive seeds, maybe put something in such focus that you begin to think about this thing from another angle. It's not the power of my logic that wins here, it's simply our ability to reason when given the proper vantage point.

One of the best ways to see the power of the elites to control public opinion is to look at the subject of American Empire. You see, one trait of highly propagandized populations is that simple, fundamental truths are not easily seen, discussed, or understood. The example Noam Chomsky usually gives is of the invasion of South Vietnam. That's literally what it was and yet you'd never know that from mainstream accounts of the event. It's always talked about as a "defense of South Vietnam." And yet the same people who make such a clear distinction where none existed have no problem talking about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But, like I said, that's Chomsky's example and he can have it. The example I have in mind is our empire. In my experience people will often react angerily to the mere suggestion that the United States of American is in control of one of the largest empires in world history. It's ludicrous, right? I've had people just stare at me like I'm crazy at the mere mention of American Empire, like I just made something up, or maybe I don't get out much. To get the flavor of just how foreign a concept this is take Donald Rumsfeld's response to questions posed by Al Jazeera back in April of 2003. They asked him if the United States was building an empire. His response:

"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been."

Well thank God for that.

While searching for a link to the Rumsfeld quote I came across a great description of imperialism and how it relates to the United States:

Imperialism is the extension of rule or influence of one state over outside states or territories. Expanding from an Atlantic coast nation into one that stretches from sea to shining sea was imperialism. All of those cities in the Midwest that have Native American names don't have them because we were being sensitive and multi-cultural when we named them. They have those names because Native Americans used to live there. The first time the U.S. Navy sailed into Los Angeles in 1846, it was a foreign invasion. And before New Mexico was called New Mexico, it was just called Mexico. You get the idea.

Naming a territory you just stole from Mexico "New Mexico" is the equivelant of stealing a guys bike and then riding over to his house and saying, "Hey, check out my 'new bike."

But the point is the quest for empire has been with us from the very beginning as we pushed Westward and killed those damn savages who were on 'our' land. Then we stole half of Mexico by 1848. We overthrew the Hawaiian queen and turned that into a Dole plantation. We kicked the Spaniards out of Cuba only to take over, intervening incessantly and helping install the Batista the Butcher until Castro finally kicked us out. We invaded the Philipines and killed 600,000 of them to open up 'new markets.' We created Panama to basically get our grubby hands on the canal zone. The list goes on.

I'm not going to make the argument that we have an empire. Instead, I'd like everybody to think about it for a while. Maybe you know we have an empire, but do the vast majority of our citizens understand this simple fact? If the majority of Americans did understand this fact it would be impossible for someone like Donald Rumsfeld to ever say such a thing without getting laughed at. But why is such an elementary fact not more readily understood? The enormous cost of our military affects all of us. For those of us who truly believe occupation is a crime, it does us well to consider that the United States is occupying most of the world already!

My challenge is for each of us to scrutinize the pre-suppositions we have. If I've been taught–in schools, from family, through church–that the United States is a noble country that only goes to war to help people and I hear that we are trying to "defend" South Vietnam, isn't that likely to blur my understanding of reality? If you told me that Bush wants to abolish Social Security–as he actually does–wouldn't that have a different impact on public opinion? If every news channel you turn to talks about how George Bush wants to reform Social Security, you're going to tend to think that he really wants to reform it. We've probably invaded and occupied more countries on this planet than any nation on earth and yet we get indignant when Iraq invades Kuwait. Why the double standard?

In subsequent posts I will be discussing our empire in more detail, but I'd like to hear back from you. What do you think of the propaganda model? Does it impact your understanding of the world, or are you immune to it? Is immunity even possible? Or am I just a nutzoid paranoid lefty?

If we didn't have an imperialistic bone in our bodies, we'd be thirteen little ol' states on the East Coast. Nevertheless, in a society that valued independence and freedom, specially freedom of thought, it would be impossible to not see that we are a global empire.

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Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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