Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Empires

by Michael K. Smith

1. Weave Big Myths

Myths make Empire's violent subjugations seem like tender solicitude. In India, the British taught not only English literature, but the superiority of the "race" that produced it. In Africa, the French taught black children that their "ancestors" had been born in Gaul. In Latin America, Spain taught the Indians that they were so racially feeble they were only fit to be slaves. Today's myths may be less crude, but they're hardly less effective. As we continue to instruct Iraqis in the gentle art of self-government-without-kicking-us-out, we impart the wisdom that our occupation reflects our innate superiority. They can't help loving us for that.

As things continue to fall apart, we can adopt the "civilized race besieged by ungrateful barbarians" theme, which has always worked wonders in the past. The British blamed climate and geography when they found their Indian subjects to be "inherently untruthful and lack[ing] moral courage." Lord Cromer, the virtual ruler of Egypt from 1883 to 1906, asserted that "Orientals" didn't have it in them to learn to walk on sidewalks, tell the truth, or employ logic. George Patton, leaving Mexico after failing to track down Pancho Villa, pronounced the country "ignorant and half savage." The best bet for the U.S.A. is to blame corrupt sheiks, ignorant "camel jockeys," and prehistoric "sand niggers" for squandering our gift of liberation.

2. Fuse Business and the State

World domination requires exclusive trading privileges and massive applications of force. The brigands who laid the foundation for European merchant empires of the 17th and 18th centuries made war their primary trade and unleashed flocks of warrior-entrepreneurs on an unsuspecting world. Generations of region-ravaging wars, mass poverty, and monopoly profits were among the happy results. According to Adam Smith, the British converted Bengal from a rich land to a place where "three or four hundred thousand people die of hunger in one year." One of their methods was replacing rich fields of grain with opium poppies.

Thankfully, the Bush-Cheney junta carries on this venerable imperial tradition. No one really knows where Halliburton ends and the Pentagon begins as Dick Cheney selflessly flits from Secretary of Defense to CEO of Halliburton to Acting President of the World. Firms that bankrolled Bush's near-election in 2000 are doing a good business making Iraq safe for total destruction, while Iraqis live without security or basic services and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees warns of humanitarian disaster.

Not to worry. Imperial memory is short. Starving Afghans are long forgotten since Washington handed the country over to a Unocal consultant. Prosperity for all is on the way!

3. Get Others to Do the Dying

Ancient Rome fought to the last Aetoli. The British boasted of battling to the last Frenchman. Ninety percent of British forces colonizing India were native mercenaries. Washington also generally prefers proxies, primarily denationalized looters and their frisky security forces, who guarantee a "favorable investment climate" of cheap labor, no unions, weak or non-existent regulations, generous profit repatriation, and low taxes. Mountains of corpses result, but we don't need to count them because they aren't Americans.

But Lord Wolfowitz has warned that it's unwise to rely on client regimes, so now we're back to old-fashioned occupation.

Just keep repeating, "We're here to liberate," and ignore the thunderous cries of "Death to America!"

4. Forget the Past

Memory is inconvenient to Empire, which is fun to acquire but impossible to hold. Amnesia is the road to renewal.

So forget the enormous losses of life and property, and the painful decline of Empires past. Forget that Indonesia pulled away from Holland, Britain handed India back to the Congress Party, and Malaysia, Ceylon and Burma broke free of the imperial yoke. Forget the ruinous French-Algerian wars and Washington's quasi-genocidal lark in Southeast Asia. Forget the dozens of new African states and how they came about. And definitely forget the mounds of Filipino corpses that troubled Mark Twain, and the look of burning hatred in Hawaiian eyes.

The sun never sets on the American Empire. Long live Baghdad, U.S.A.!

5. Be Racist

If you're going to rob people blind, it's best to demonize them first to blaze the trail. Thus, Empire-builders love talk of bringing civilization to savages, wild aborigines, "natives," lower orders, lesser breeds, and "backward" countries. Such non-white peoples are always and everywhere "lazy," "stupid," and "unreliable." E. S. Grogan, who traversed the African continent at the end of the 19th century, found Africans "but slightly superior to the lower animals." Sir Rudolph Slatin in the Sudan detected a flaw in African economic relations: "The nigger is a lazy beast and must be compelled to work."

U.S. leaders have been equally insightful. Loss of racial purity alarmed Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to ship blacks to Africa or the Caribbean, leaving a cleansed U.S. without "blot or mixture." A century later, Woodrow Wilson restored segregation to Washington, screened the Klan-friendly "Birth of a Nation" at the White House, and dispatched the Marines to occupy Haiti. In charge of the Haiti invasion was General Smedley Butler, who found the locals to be "shaved apes, absolutely no intelligence whatsoever, just plain low nigger."

Beloved Teddy Roosevelt thought the Nazi-like Sand Creek massacre of 1864 was "righteous and beneficial," eagerly charged up San Juan Hill to "whip the dagos" in 1898, and disdained the "Malay bandits" and "Chinese halfbreeds" resisting U.S. conquest of the Philippines. These Filipinos he rated no better than "savages, barbarians, a wild and ignorant people, Apaches, Sioux, Chinese boxers." He's a hero. Check with Mt. Rushmore.

In more recent times Richard Nixon immolated Southeast Asia while peppering his private conversations with references to "niggers," "jigaboos," and "jungle bunnies." He instructed Henry Kissinger to make sure his first foreign policy messsage to Congress had "something in it for the jigs."

The Baby Boomer presidents have toned down the racist rhetoric while continuing to rain death on their victims from the Imperial Sky. I guess they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

6. Invent Self-Serving Euphemisms

The Founding Fathers understood the importance of Empire. They openly spoke of the need to kill Indians, to guide slaves from savagery to civilization, to conquer and subdue foreign lands under an American banner. They and succeeding generations of U.S. rulers regarded it as their privilege and duty to rob, swindle, torture, and murder all those who obstructed their onward march to imperial paradise. As a result, the Indians were destroyed, generations of slaves were worked to death, half of Mexico was captured by drunken invaders, Spain's colonies were seized, and U.S. power circled the globe.

This was variously called "extending the area of freedom," maintaining "territorial and administrative integrity," and "saving the world for democracy."

7. Keep Expanding

"The history of the nation is in large part the history of the nation's expansion," said Teddy Roosevelt, which just goes to show that the current fashion of attributing U.S. Empire to a virgin birth in the era of Bush the Lesser is hardly fair.

Expansion inspired George Washington to offer intriguing anthropological speculations. In 1783 he wrote that "the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape." Thomas Jefferson found Indian peoples "backward" and foresaw that with expansion "we shall be obliged to drive them, with the beasts of the forests into the Stony mountains." He didn't see any reason not to take Canada along the way.

Chief Justice John Marshall came up with an ingenious rationale for Indian removal - "discovery." Simply declaring their lands "discovered," he said, "gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian right of occupancy."

Now we've "discovered" the Middle East. We're such traditionalists!

Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire" and the satire, "The Madness of King George" (illustrations by Matt Wuerker), both from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at

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