Imperialisms, Old and New,

The Roots of American Militarism

excerpted from the book

The Sorrows of Empire

Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic

by Chalmers Johnson

Henry Holt, 2004, paper


As distinct from other peoples on this earth, most Americans do not recognize-or do not want to recognize-that the United States L dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, they are often ignorant of the fact that their government garrisons the globe. They do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire.

Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales.

The new American empire has been a long time in the making. Its roots go back to the early nineteenth century, when the United States declared all of Latin America its sphere of influence and busily enlarged its own territory at the expense of the indigenous people of North America, as well as British, French, and Spanish colonialists, and neighboring Mexico. Much like their contemporaries in Australia, Algeria, and tsarist Russia, Americans devoted much energy to displacing the original inhabitants of the North American continent and turning over their lands to new settlers. Then, at the edge of the twentieth century, a group of self-conscious imperialists in the government-much like a similar group of conservatives who a century later would seek to implement their own expansive agendas under cover of the "war on terrorism"-used the Spanish-American War to seed military bases in Central America, various islands in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines.

With the Second World War, our nation emerged as the richest and most powerful on earth and a self-designated successor to the British Empire. But as enthusiastic as some of our wartime leaders, particularly President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were for the task, the American people were not. They demanded that the country demobilize its armies and turn the nation's attention to full employment and domestic development. Peace did not last long, however. The Cold War and a growing conviction that vital interests, even national survival, demanded the "containment" of the Soviet Union helped turn an informal empire begun during World War II into hundreds of installations around the world for the largest military we ever maintained in peacetime.

During the almost fifty years of superpower standoff, the United States denied that its activities constituted a form of imperialism. Ours were just reactions to the menace of the "evil empire" of the USSR and its satellites. Only slowly did we Americans become aware that the role of the military was growing in our country and that the executive branch - the "imperial presidency" - was eroding the democratic underpinnings of our constitutional republic. But even at the time of the Vietnam War and the abuses of power known as Watergate, this awareness never gained j sufficient traction to reverse a Cold War-driven transfer of power from the representatives of the people to the Pentagon and the various intelligence agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the rationale for American containment policies, our leaders had become so accustomed to dominance over half the globe that the thought of giving it up was inconceivable. Many Americans simply concluded that they had "won" the Cold War and so deserved the imperial fruits of victory.

Americans like to say that the world changed as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It would be more accurate to say that the attacks produced a dangerous change in the thinking of some of our leaders, who began to see our republic as a genuine empire, a new Rome, the greatest colossus in history, no longer bound by international law, the concerns of allies, or any constraints on its use of military force. The American people were still largely in the dark about why they had been attacked or why their State Department began warning them against tourism in an evergrowing list of foreign countries. ("Why do they hate us?" was a common plaint heard on talk shows, and the most common answer was "jealousy?') But a growing number finally began to grasp what most non-Americans already knew and had experienced over the previous half century-namely, that the United States was something other than what it professed to be, that it was, in fact, a military juggernaut intent on world domination.

Americans may still prefer to use euphemisms like "lone superpower," but since 9/11, our country has undergone a transformation from republic to empire that may well prove irreversible. It suddenly became "unAmerican" to question the Bush administration's "war on terrorism?' let alone a war on Iraq, or on the whole "axis of evil," or even on the sixty or so countries that the president and his secretary of defense announced contained al-Qaeda cells and so were open targets for unilateral American intervention. The media allowed themselves to be manipulated into using sanitized expressions like "collateral damage," "regime change,"
"illegal combatants," and "preventive war" as if these somehow explained and justified what the Pentagon was doing.

... as of September 2001, the Department of Defense acknowledged at least 725 American military bases existed outside the United States.

Our militarized empire is a physical reality with a distinct way of life but it is also a network of economic and political interests tied in a thousand different ways to American corporations, universities, and communities but kept separate from what passes for everyday life back in what has only recently come to be known as "the homeland."

historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., adviser to President John F. Kennedy, observed on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks

"One of the astonishing events of recent months is the presentation of preventive war as a legitimate and moral instrument of U.S. foreign policy... During the Cold War, advocates of preventive war were dismissed as a crowd of loonies .... The policy of containment plus deterrence won the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyone thanked heaven that the preventive-war loonies had never got into power in any major country. Today, alas, they appear to be in power in the United States."

Part and parcel of the growth of militarism in the United States, CIA has evolved into the president's private army to be used for secret projects he personally wants carried out (as, for example, in Nicaragua and Afghanistan during the 1980s). One begins to understand why John F. Kennedy was such an avid fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond tales. In 1961, Kennedy listed From Russia with Love as one of his favorite books. No doubt he envied Dr. No and the head of SMERSH, both of whom had private, semimiitary forces at their disposal to do whatever they wanted. Kennedy found his first in the CIA, until it humiliated him in the failed Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba, and then in the army's Green Berets.

Today the CIA is just one of several secret commando units maintained by our government. In the Afghan war of 2001, the CI.Ns semimilitary operatives worked so closely with army Special Operations troops (Green Berets, Delta Force commandos, etc.) that it became impossible to distinguish them.

... the growth of militarism, official secrecy, and a belief that the United States is no longer bound, as the Declaration of Independence so famously puts it, by "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind" is probably irreversible. A revolution would be required to bring the Pentagon back under democratic control, or to abolish the Central Intelligence Agency ...

... The danger I foresee is that the United States is embarked on a path not unlike that of the former Soviet Union during the 1980s. The USSR collapsed for three basic reasons-internal economic contradictions driven by ideological rigidity, imperial overstretch, and an inability to reform. Because the United States is far wealthier, it may take longer for similar afflictions to do their work. But the similarities are obvious and it is nowhere written that the United States, in its guise as an empire dominating the world, must go on forever.



American leaders now like to compare themselves to imperial Romans, l even though they do not know much Roman history. The main lesson for the United States ought to be how the Roman Republic evolved into an empire, in the process destroying its system of elections for its two consuls (its chief executives), rendering the Roman senate impotent, ending forever the occasional popular assemblies and legislative comitia that were at the heart of republican life, and ushering in permanent military dictatorship.

Much like the United States today, the Roman Republic had slowly acquired an empire through military conquest. By the first century BC, it dominated all of Gaul, most of Iberia, the coast of North Africa, Greece, the Balkans, and parts of Asia Minor. As the Canadian essayist Manuel Miles observes, "There is no historical law prohibiting a republic from possessing an empire. There is a trend toward autocratic takeovers of imperial republics, however, especially after they reach a certain stage of growth. Even now this process is underway in the USA-the President, like the first Roman emperors, decides when and where to wage war, and his Senate rubber stamps and extorts the funding for his imperial adventures, just as the original came to do in the time of Caesar and Octavian."

The Roman senate, much like Congress, worked well enough for two centuries. But by the first century BC, the size of the empire and the armies its maintenance required overwhelmed the capacities of the senate and the consuls. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar violated Roman law by bringing his army across the small stream called the Rubicon in northern Italy and plunged the country into civil war among the imperators, the generals of Rome's large armies. After the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian emerged as the most powerful of the generals and assumed dictatorial powers in order to end the military civil wars. In 27 BC, the senate passed most of its power on to him, giving him the name of Augustus. As the first emperor, he reigned from 27 BC to AD 14. Within a few decades, the Roman senate had grown to over a thousand members, while being reduced to little more than a club of the old aristocratic and military families. Rome ruled all of the known world except for China, but in the process Roman democracy was supplanted by dictatorship, and eventually the Romans were overwhelmed by the world of enemies they had created. To the very end Roman armies pretended to speak for "the senate and the Roman people" and paraded under banners emblazoned with the Latin initials SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus). But the days when the senate mattered were long past; empire had become an end in itself.

It is a commonplace in the teaching of international relations that empires do not give up their dominions voluntarily. The USSR was a rare exception to this generalization. Inspired by Gorbachev's idealism and a desire to become members of the "common European house" and to gain international recognition as a "normal" state, some reformers in the Soviet elite believed that rapprochement with Western European countries could help Russia resume its stalled process of modernization. As the Russian historian Vladislav Zubok has observed, "At certain points,... Soviet political ties to France and West Germany became more important and perhaps warmer on a personal level than relations with some members of the Warsaw Pact. Much like the Hungarian Communist Party chief Imre Nagy in the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising in Budapest and Czech Communist Party first secretary Alexander Dubcek in the 1968 Prague revolt, Gorbachev had turned against the imperial-revolutionary conception of the Soviet Union inherited from Stalin. He willingly gave up the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe as the price for reinvigorating the Soviet Union's economic system.

The American leadership did not have either the information or the imagination to grasp what was happening. Totally mesmerized by academic "realist" thought, it missed one of the grandest developments of modern history and drew almost totally wrong conclusions from it. At one point after the Berlin Wall had come down, the US. ambassador to the Soviet Union actually suggested that the Soviets might have to intervene militarily in Eastern Europe to preserve the region's "stability"

After some hesitation the American government and military decided that, although the Cold War in Europe had indeed ended, they would not allow the equally virulent cold wars in East Asia and Latin America to come to an end. Instead of the Soviet Union, the "menace" of China, Fidel Castro, drug lords, "instability," and more recently, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the "axis of evil"-Iran, Iraq, and North Korea-would have to do as new enemies. In the meantime, the United States did its best to shore up old Cold War structures and alliances, even without the Soviet threat, expanding the NATO alliance into Eastern Europe and using it to attack Serbia, a former Communist country. The Pentagon, in turn, demanded that military spending be maintained at essentially Cold War levels and sought a new, longer-term rationale for its global activities.

Slow as Washington was to catch on to what was happening in the Soviet Union-as late as March 1989 senior figures on the National Security Council were warning against "overestimating Soviet weakness" and the dangers of "Gorbymania" - the [U.S.] leadership moved with remarkable speed to ensure that the collapse would not affect the Pentagon's budget or our "strategic position" on the globe we had garrisoned in the name of anti-Communism. Bare moments after the Berlin Wall went down and even as the Soviet Union was unraveling, Pentagon chief Dick Cheney urged increased military spending. Describing the new defense budget in January 1990, Michael R. Gordon, military correspondent of the New York Times, reported that "in Cheney's view, which is shared by President [George H. W.] Bush, the United States will continue to need a large Navy [and interventionist forces generally] to deal with brushfire conflicts and threats to American interests in places like Latin America and Asia." Two months later, when the White House unveiled a new National Security Strategy before Congress, it described the Third World as a likely focus of conflict: "In a new era, we foresee that our military power will remain an essential underpinning of the global balance, but less prominently and in different ways. We see that the more likely demands for the use of our military forces may not involve the Soviet Union and may be in the Third World, where new capabilities and approaches may be required." It should be noted that the Pentagon and the White House presented these military plans well before Iraq's incursion into Kuwait and the ensuing crisis that resulted in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

The National Security Strategy of 1990 also foresaw the country's needing "to reinforce our units forward deployed or to project power into areas where we have no permanent presence," particularly in the Middle East, because of "the free world's reliance on energy supplies from this pivotal region." The United States would also need to be prepared for "low-intensity conflict" involving "lower-order threats like terrorism, subversion, insurgency, and drug trafficking [that] are menacing the United States, its citizenry, and its interests in new ways .... Low-intensity conflict involves the struggle of competing principles and ideologies below the level of conventional wart' Our military forces, it continued, "must be capable of dealing effectively with the full range of threats, including insurgency and terrorism' Through such self-fulfilling prophecies, the military establishment sought to confront the end of the Cold War by embarking on a grandiose new project to police the world.

The distinction between the military and militarism is crucial. By military I mean all the activities, qualities, and institutions required by a nation to fight a war in its defense. A military should be concerned with ensuring national independence, a sine qua non for the maintenance of personal freedom. But having a military by no means has to lead to militarism, the phenomenon by which a nation's armed services come to put their institutional preservation ahead of achieving national security or even a commitment to the integrity of the governmental structure of which they are a part. As the great historian of militarism Alfred Vagts comments, "The standing army in peacetime is the greatest of all militaristic institutions."' Moreover, when a military is transformed into an institution of militarism, it naturally begins to displace all other institutions within a government devoted to conducting relations with other nations. One sign of the advent of militarism is the assumption by a nation's armed forces of numerous tasks that should be reserved for civilians.

Life in our empire is in certain ways reminiscent of the British Raj, with its military rituals, racism, rivalries, snobbery, and class structure. Once on their bases, America's modern proconsuls and their sous-warriors never have to mix with either "natives" or American civilians. Just as they did for young nineteenth-century Englishmen and Frenchmen, these military city-states teach American youths arrogance and racism, instilling in them the basic ingredients of racial superiority. The base amenities include ever-expanding military equivalents of Disneyland and Club Med reserved for the exclusive use of active-duty men and women, together with housing, athletic facilities, churches, and schools provided at no cost or at low fixed prices. These installations form a more or less secret global network many parts of which once may have had temporary strategic uses but have long since evolved into permanent outposts. All of this has come about informally and, at least as far as the broad public is concerned, unintentionally. If empire is mentioned at all, it is in terms of American soldiers liberating Afghan women from Islamic fundamentalists, or helping victims of a natural disaster in the Philippines, or protecting Bosnians, Kosavars, or Iraqi Kurds (but not Rwandans, Turkish Kurds, or Palestinians) from campaigns of "ethnic cleansing."

Whatever the original reason the United States entered a country and set up a base, it remains there for imperial reasons-regional and global hegemony, denial of the territory to rivals, providing access for American companies, maintenance of "stability" or "credibility" as a military force, and simple inertia. For some people our bases validate the American way of life and our "victory" in the Cold War. Whether the United States can afford to be everywhere forever is not considered an appropriate subject for national discussion; nor is it in the propagandistic atmosphere that has enveloped the country in the new millennium, appropriate to dwell on what empires cost or how they end.

The new empire is not just a physical entity. It is also a cherished object of analysis and adulation by a new army of self-designated "strategic thinkers" working in modern patriotic monasteries called think tanks. It is the focus of interest groups both old and new-such as those concerned with the supply and price of oil and those who profit from constructing and maintaining military garrisons in unlikely places. There are so many interests other than those of the military officials who live off the empire that its existence is distinctly overdetermined-so much so that it is hard to imagine the United States ever voluntarily getting out of the empire business. In addition to its military and their families, the empire supports the military-industrial complex, university research and development centers, petroleum refiners and distributors, innumerable foreign officer corps whom it has trained, manufacturers of sport utility vehicles and small-arms ammunition, multinational corporations and the cheap labor they use to make their products, investment banks, hedge funds and speculators of all varieties, and advocates of "globalization' meaning theorists who want to force all nations to open themselves up to American exploitation and American-style capitalism. The empire's values and institutions include military machismo, sexual orthodoxy, socialized medicine for the chosen few, cradle-to-grave security, low pay, stressful family relationships (including the murder of spouses), political conservatism, and an endless harping on behaving like a warrior even though many of the wars fought in the last decade or more have borne less resemblance to traditional physical combat than to arcade computer games.

American propaganda resolutely ignores the carnage our high-tech military imposes on civilian populations, declaring that our intentions are by definition good and that such killings and maimings are merely "collateral damage' Such obfuscation is intrinsic to the world of imperialism and its handmaiden, militarism.

The characteristic institution of so-called neocolonialism is the multinational corporation covertly supported by an imperialist power. This form of imperialism reduces the political costs and liabilities of colonialism by maintaining a facade of nominal political independence in the exploited country. As the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara observed, neocolonialism "is the most redoubtable form of imperialism-most redoubtable because of the disguises and deceits that it involves, and the long experience that the imperialist powers have in this type of confrontation .

The military paranoia of the Cold War promoted massive military-industrial complexes in both the United States and the USSR and helped maintain high levels of employment through "military Keynesianism", that is, substantial governmental expenditures on munitions and war preparedness. The Cold War also promoted employment in the armed forces themselves, in huge espionage and clandestine service apparatuses, and in scientific and strategic research institutes in universities that came to serve the war machine. Both countries wasted resources at home,

undercut democracy whenever it was inconvenient abroad, promoted bloody coups and interventions against anyone who resisted their plans, and savaged the environment with poorly monitored nuclear weapons production plants. Official propagandists justified the crimes and repressions of each empire by arguing that at least a cataclysmic nuclear war had been avoided and the evil intentions of the other empire thwarted or contained.

America's foreign military enclaves, though structurally, legally, an conceptually different from colonies, are themselves something like microcolonies in that they are completely beyond the jurisdiction of the occupied nation. The United States virtually always negotiates a "status of forces agreement" (SOFA) with the ostensibly independent "host" nation, a modern legacy of the nineteenth-century imperialist practice in China of "extraterritoriality"-the "right" of a foreigner charged with a crime to be turned over for trial to his own diplomatic representatives in accordance with his national law, not to a Chinese court in accordance with Chinese law. Extracted from the Chinese at gun point, the practice arose because foreigners claimed that Chinese law was barbaric and "white men" should not be forced to submit to it. Chinese law was indeed concerned more with the social consequences of crime than with establishing the individual guilt or innocence of criminals, particularly those who were uninvited guests in China. Following the Anglo-Chinese Opium War of 1839-42, the United States was the first nation to demand "extrality" for its citizens. All the other European nations then demanded the same rights as the Americans. Except for the Germans, who lost their Chinese colonies in World War I, Americans and Europeans lived an "extraterritorial" life until the Japanese ended it in 1941 and Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang stopped it in 1943 in "free China."

Rachel Cornwell and Andrew Wells, two authorities on status of forces agreements, conclude, "Most SOFAs are written so that national courts cannot exercise legal jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel who commit crimes against local people, except in special cases where the U.S. military authorities agree to transfer jurisdiction." Since service members are also exempt from normal passport and immigration controls, the military often has the option of simply flying an accused rapist or murderer out of the country before local authorities can bring him to trial, a contrivance to which commanding officers of Pacific bases have often resorted. At the time of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, the United States had publicly acknowledged SOFAs with ninety-three countries, though some SOFAs are so embarrassing to the host nation that they are kept secret, particularly in the Islamic world. Thus their true number is not publicly known.



PRESIDENT DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, Farewell Address, January 17, 1961

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience .... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

In the United States, the first militarist tendencies appeared at the end of the nineteenth century. Before and during the Spanish-American War of 1898, the press was manipulated to whip up a popular war fever, while atrocities and war crimes committed by American forces in the Philippines were hidden from public view.

On May 1, Admiral George Dewey's Asiatic Squadron, forced to leave the British colony of Hong Kong because of the declaration of war, attacked the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay and won an easy victory. With Filipino nationalist help, the Americans occupied Manila and began to think about what to do with the rest of the Philippine Islands. President William McKinley declared that the Philippines "came to us as a gift from the gods' even though he acknowledged that he did not know precisely where they were.

During the summer of 1898, Theodore Roosevelt left the government and set out for Cuba with his own personal regiment. Made up of cowboys, Native Americans, and polo-playing members of the Harvard class of 1880, Roosevelt's Rocky Mountain Riders (known to the press as the Rough Riders) would be decimated by malaria and dysentery on the island, but their skirmishes with the Spaniards at San Juan Hill, east of Santiago, would also get their leader nominated for a congressional Medal of Honor and propel him into the highest elected political office.

Peace was restored by the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10, 1898, a treaty that launched the United States into a hitherto unimaginable role as an explicitly imperialist power in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The treaty gave Cuba its independence, but the Platt Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress in 1901 actually made the island a satellite of the United States, while establishing an American naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba's south coast. Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut had attached an amendment to the Army Appropriations Bill, specifying the conditions under which the United States would intervene in Cuban domestic affairs. His amendment demanded that Cuba not sign any treaties that could impair its sovereignty or contract any debts that could not be repaid by normal revenues. In addition, Cuba was forced to grant the United States special privileges to intervene at any time to preserve Cuban independence or to support a government "adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty' The marines would land to exercise these self-proclaimed rights in 1906, 1912, 1917, and 1920.

In 1901, the United States forced Cuba to incorporate the Platt Amendment into its own constitution, where it remained until 1934-including an article that allowed the United States a base at Guantánamo until both sides should "agree" to its return, a stipulation the American government insisted upon on the grounds that the base was crucial to the defense of the Panama Canal. The Platt Amendment was a tremendous humiliation to all Cubans, but its acceptance was the only way they could )avoid a permanent military occupation.

Whereas the Spanish-American War\ (Cubans call it the Spanish-Cuban-American War cost only 385 American deaths in combat, some 4,234 American military personnel died while putting down the Filipino rebels. The army, many of its officers having gained their experience in the Indian wars, proceeded to slaughter at least 200,000 Filipinos out of a population of less than eight million. During World War II, in a second vain attempt to escape imperialist rule with the help of a rival imperialist power, Aguinaldo collaborated with the Japanese conquerors of the islands.

Exercising what the historian Stuart Creighton Miller calls its "exaggerated sense of innocence' the United States portrayed its brutal colonization of the Filipinos as divinely ordained, racially inevitable, and economically indispensable.

One prominent American imperialist of the time, Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana was fond of proclaiming, "The Philippines are ours forever ... and just beyond the Philippines are China's illimitable markets .... The Pacific ocean is ours."

... [Woodrow] Wilson began with the Mexican revolution that broke out in 1910. He could not resist interfering and backing one faction over another. This was, of course, nothing new for an American government that already had Caribbean colonies and semicolonies. It was the way he justified these acts that distinguished him from the turn-of-the-century Republican imperialists and that ultimately made him the patron saint of the "crusades" that would characterize foreign policy from intervention in the First World War through the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Woodrow Wilson was an idealist and a Christian missionary in foreign policy. He was always more concerned to do good than to be effective.

The child of a chaplain in the Confederate army, Wilson was an el e of the Presbyterian Church and a daily reader of the Bible. As one of his biographers, Arthur S. Link, observes, "He never thought about public matters, as well as private ones, without first trying to decide what faith and Christian love commanded in the circumstances." Born in Virginia Wilson was also a racist and a prude. Because of America's republican form of government, its security behind the two oceans, and what he saw as the innate virtues of its people, Wilson strongly believed in the exceptionalism of the United States and its destiny to bring about the "ultimate peace of the world." He did not see America's external activities in terms of realist perspectives or a need to sustain a global balance of power. He believed instead that peace depended on the spread of democracy and that the United States had an obligation to extend its principles and democratic practices throughout the world.

With the outbreak of the First World War in Europe, Wilson followed George Washington's advice and remained neutral. His position was extremely popular with the public, and in 1916 he was reelected on the campaign slogan "He Kept Us out of War?' From the outbreak of war former President Theodore Roosevelt and Elihu Root, by then a senator, had proved outspoken critics of Wilson's insistence on neutrality. However, Wilson, when he finally did lead the country to war in 1917, turned out to be-as his Mexican adventures indicated-far more than a classic imperialist in the 1898 mold. He was, in fact, precisely the kind of president George Washington had warned against. Roosevelt and his colleagues advocated an American imperialism, modeled on British precedents, that sought power and glory for their own sakes through military conquest and colonial exploitation. Wilson, on the other hand, provided an idealistic grounding for American imperialism, what in our own time would become a "global mission" to "democratize" the world. More than any other figure, he provided the intellectual foundations for an interventionist foreign policy, expressed in humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. Wilson remains the godfather of those contemporary ideologists who justify American imperial power in terms of exporting democracy.

With Woodrow Wilson, the intellectual foundations of American imperialism were set in place. Theodore Roosevelt and Elihu Root had represented a European-derived, militaristic vision of imperialism backed by nothing more substantial than the notion that the manifest destiny of the United States was to govern racially inferior Latin Americans and East Asians. Wilson laid over that his own hyperidealistic, sentimental, and ahistorical idea that what should be sought was a world democracy based on the American example and led by the United States. It was a political project no less ambitious and no less passionately held than the vision of world Communism launched at almost the same time by the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution. As international-relations critic William Pfaff puts it," [The United States was] still in the intellectual thrall of the megalomaniacal and self-righteous clergyman-president who gave to the American nation the blasphemous conviction that it, like he himself, had been created by God 'to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty."

If World War I generated the ideological basis for American imperialism, World War II unleashed its growing militarism. It was then, as retired Marine Colonel James Donovan has written, that the "American martial spirit grew to prominence?' The wars with Germany and Japan were popular, the public and the members of the armed forces knew why they were fighting, and there was comparatively little dissent over war aims. Even so, the government carefully managed the news to sustain a warlike mood. No photos of dead American soldiers were allowed to be printed in newspapers or magazines until 1943, and the Pentagon gave journalists extensive guidance on how to report the war .

World War II produced a nation of veterans, proud of what they had achieved, respectful but not totally trusting of their military leaders, and almost uniformly supportive of the use of the atomic bombs that had brought the war to a rapid close. President Franklin Roosevelt played the role of supreme commander as no other president before or since. He once sent a memo to Secretary of State Cordell Hull saying, "Please try to address me as Commander-in-Chief, not as president?' Congress did not impose a Joint Committee to Conduct the War on Roosevelt, as it had on President Lincoln during the Civil War, and military institutions like the Joint Chiefs of Staff were still informal and unsupervised organizations created by and entirely responsible to the executive branch. As [Marine] Colonel [James] Donovan has observed, "With an agreed policy of unlimited war, Congress was also satisfied to abdicate its responsibilities of controlling the military establishment .... Some military leaders believed civilian control of the military was a relic of the past, with no place in the future."

The most illustrious of World War II's American militarists, General Douglas MacArthur, challenged the constitutional authority of President Harry Truman during the Korean War, writing that it was "a new and heretofore unknown and dangerous concept that the members of our armed forces owe primary allegiance or loyalty to those who temporarily exercise the authority of the Executive Branch of the Government rather than to the country and its Constitution which they are sworn to defend. No proposition could be more dangerous."

At no moment from 1955 to 2002 did defense spending decline to pre-Cold War, much less pre-World War II, levels. Instead, the years from 1955 to 1965, 1974 to 1980, and 1995 to 2000 established the Cold War norm or baseline of military spending in the age of militarism. Real defense spending during those years averaged $281 billion per year in 2002 dollars. Defense spending even in the Clinton years, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, averaged $278 billion, almost exactly the Cold War norm. The frequent Republican charge that Clinton cut military spending is untrue. In the wake of the Reagan defense buildup, which had so ruined public finances that the United States became the world's largest debtor nation, he simply allowed military spending to return to what had become its normal level.

From the Korean War to the first years of the twenty-first century, the institutionalization of these huge defense expenditures fundamentally altered the political economy of the United States. Defense spending at staggering levels became a normal feature of "civilian" life and all members of Congress, regardless of their political orientations, tried to attract defense contracts to their districts. Regions such as Southern California became dependent on defense expenditures, and recessions involving layoffs during the "normal" years of defense spending have been a standard feature of California's economy. In September 2002 it was estimated that the Pentagon funneled nearly a quarter of its research and development funds to companies in California, which employed by far the largest number of defense workers in any state.

The military-industrial complex has also become a rich source of' places to "retire" for high-ranking military officers, just as many executives of defense contractors receive appointments as high-ranking officials in the Pentagon. This "circulation of elites" tends to undercut attempts at congressional oversight of either the Defense Department or defense contractors. The result is an almost total loss of accountability for public money spent on military projects of any sort.

military officers or representatives of the arms industry in high government positions. During 2001, the administration of George W. Bush filled many of the chief American diplomatic posts with military men or militarists, including Secretary of State General Cohn Powell, a former. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, who was undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration. At the Pentagon, President Bush appointed Peter B. Teets, the former president and chief operating officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation, as undersecretary of the air force; former brigadier genera! and Enron Corporation executive Thomas E. White as secretary of the army (he resigned in April 2003); Gordon England, a vice president of General Dynamics, as secretary of the navy; and James Roche, an executive with Northrop Grumman and a retired brigadier general, as secretary of the air force. It should be noted that Lockheed Martin is the world's largest arms manufacturer, selling $17.93 billion worth of military hardware in 1999. On October 26, 2001, the Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin a $200 billion contract, the largest military contract in our history, to build the F-35 "joint-strike fighter' ...

Richard Gardner, a former ambassador to Spain and Italy, estimates that by a ratio of at least sixteen to one, the United States spends more on preparing for war than on trying to prevent it.

... the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute was compiling the 2001 edition of its authoritative SIPIU Yearbook. It shows that global military spending rose to $798 billion in 2000, an increase of 3.1 percent from the previous year. The United States accounted for 37 percent of that amount, by far the largest proportion. It was also the world's largest arms salesman, responsible for 47 percent of all munitions transfers between 1996 and 2000.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the United States's nuclear arsenal comprised 5,400 multiple-megaton warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles based on land and at sea; an additional 1,750 nuclear bombs and cruise missiles ready to be launched from B-2 and B-52 bombers; and a further 1,670 nuclear weapons classified as "tactical' Not fully deployed but available are an additional 10,000 or so nuclear warheads stored in bunkers around the United States. One would think this might be more than enough preparedness to deter the three puny nations the president identified in early 2002 as the country's major potential adversaries-two of which, Iran and North Korea, had been trying unsuccessfully to achieve somewhat friendlier relations with the United States. The staggering overkill in our nuclear arsenal-its ability to destroy the planet several times over-and the lack of any rational connection between nuclear means and nuclear ends is further evidence of the rise to power of a militarist mind-set.

No single war or occurrence caused American militarism. Rather, it sprang from the varied experiences of American citizens in the armed forces, ideas about war as they evolved from one war to the next, and the growth of a huge armaments industry. As the international relations theorist Ronald Steel put it at the height of the Vietnam War: "We believe we have a responsibility to defend nations everywhere against communism. This is not an imperial ambition, but it has led our country to use imperial methods-establishment of military garrisons around the globe, granting of subsidies to client governments and politicians, application of economic sanctions and even military force against recalcitrant states, and employment of a veritable army of colonial administrators working through such organizations as the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the United States Information Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Having grown accustomed to our empire and having found it pleasing, we have come to take its institutions and its assumptions for granted. Indeed, this is the mark of a convinced imperial power: its advocates never question the virtues of empire, although they may dispute the way in which it is administered, and they do not for a moment doubt that it is in the best interests of those over whom it rules .

The habitual use of imperial methods over the space of forty years became addictive. It ultimately transformed the defense establishment into a militarist establishment and vastly enlarged the size and scope of the role played by military forces in the political and economic life of the nation.

Sorrows of Empire

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