No 1591 Posted by fw, February 10, 2016
“…expansion is the path to security. If you want to be secure you have to control everything else. The commitment to empire goes back to the original colonization. By the second world war the United States was in a position of unprecedented power. At the end of the second world war the US literally had half the world’s wealth. The tacit assumption was “We own the world.” …. And since we own most of the world, in the sense, we have to defend it. So we have to have a thousand military bases, military forces almost as great s the rest of the world combined.” —Noam Chomsky
In the video-recorded interview, embedded below, Noam Chomsky is asked why America seems driven to create an empire. Is this drive rooted in its history? Is it the nature of any state to pursue military domination? Is it inherent in capitalist America’s unrelenting drive for profit? As a military power, how does the US justify to its citizens, its use of military power, of violence, to expand its empire? One last question, is the American empire in decline?
Below, in addition to the 9:00-minute video, is my transcript, with added subheadings. Alternatively, to watch the video on YouTube, without the transcript of course, click on the following linked title.
Noam Chomsky helps us answer the big questions: Why does the United States seem driven to create an empire?
Welcome to the Henry A. Wallace National Security Forum. Many Americans are not accustomed to the idea that our country sits at the top of a global empire. But with military bases in dozens of countries, interventions in other countries’ political processes, and all our invasions, there’s no other word to describe our trajectory. But why are we so prone to empire-building? Joining me to answer that question is renowned author, linguist and political commentator, professor Noam Chomsky.
Q – Where do you think the United States’ aspirations for empire come from? Is it the nature of any state to pursue military domination? Or do you think there’s something specific to US history that this country is particularly prone to imperialism because of?
“Expansion is the path to security.” The tacit assumption is “We own the world.”
A good explanation of it was given by John Lewis Gaddis: expansion is the path to security. If you want to be secure you have to control everything else. The commitment to empire goes back to the original colonization. By the second world war the United States was in a position of unprecedented power. At the end of the second world war the US literally had half the world’s wealth. The tacit assumption was “We own the world”.
In the sense that the US owns most of the world, they have to defend it
You can see this very clearly in what happened as soon as this system of power began to erode. And that happened very quickly. In 1949, China became independent. There’s a name for that in American political history – it’s called “the loss of China.” The phrase “loss of China” expresses the tacit assumption that basically we own China, and if it moves to independence we’ve lost it. And since we own most of the world, in the sense, we have to defend it. So we have to have a thousand military bases, military forces almost as great s the rest of the world combined.
“This fear of everything is pervasive” – that’s the source of the imperial thrust, security through expansion
And it runs right through American history. This fear of everything is pervasive. It goes back to the origins of the society. It’s related to the imperial thrust of, as Gaddis put it, attaining security through expansion. And that’s limitless essentially. So that’s the imperial thrust. It’s not unique to the United States. It’s developed in an extreme form here but that’s because of extraordinary US wealth and power.
Q – How intertwined is corporatism and the drive for profit with our militarism? Is it always the case that the drive for access to resources tends to drive our militarism?
The issue for the US has always been to gain ‘control’, to get ‘‘critical leverage” over other powers
Well if you take a look through history again, in the 19th century the major commodity – the equivalent of oil today — was cotton. That was the source of the industrial revolution. Jacksonian presidents of the mid-nineteenth century explained very clearly that they wanted to conquer Texas and a large part of Mexico, approximately half, in order to gain a monopoly over cotton. President Polk might have said that would bring England “to our feet” by gaining a monopoly of the major commodity in the world – cotton.
Move on a few years, oil becomes the major commodity. And incidentally, it’s not a matter of primarily access to oil. During the whole period when the US was the major producer and didn’t need access to the oil, it’s policy was the same. The issue was control over oil, not access. And there was a reason for that. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Zbigniew Brzezinski said if it works it will be very good because controlling Iraqi oil and increasing our control over Middle East oil will give us what he called “critical leverage” over Europe and other industrial powers. We’ll be in a position to hold the spigot. I’ve just talked about two of the major commodities. You look at others and you get pretty much the same story.
Q – You’ve written a lot about mass media and how it is, you know, often used to manufacture consent from the US public for things like war and strengthening US empire. But today we’ve had a significant changed media landscape, at least it seems so. I’m wondering if you feel that we as citizens are still prone to the kind of brainwashing that we once were?
The US government will never admit that its aggression is wrong, or that it’s violence is wrong. At most, they may admit “It was a mistake”
People are deluged with a single message – “We’re defending ourselves”. So, take a look at the invasion of Iraq, let’s say. Barack Obama is considered a critic. But notice his grounds. Not that aggression is wrong. Not that destruction of society by violence is wrong. It’s that it was a “blunder” so that it implies that if the aggression and violence had succeeded in expanding our control over one of the major resources of the contemporary world, giving us “critical leverage” over our rivals, then it wouldn’t have been stupid. It would have been fine. That’s called ‘criticism.’ The worst criticism that can be made within the main stream of US policy is “It was a mistake.”
The US justification for its thrust for empire is always that “We’re defending ourselves”
These are the standard views of what are called ‘statesmen’ — people who are committed to defending and expanding powerful interests, powerful domestic interests. And that leads to the thrust for empire and the justification of that thrust as defensive.
The US calls its enemies’ justification of aggression or violence ‘propaganda’; when US does it, it’s called ‘education’
Now, going back to the population, it is submerged in the doctrinal pronouncements of this kind. When enemies do it we call it ‘propaganda’; when we do it we call it ‘education’. But it’s not very different. But an isolated individual faced with this deluge of propaganda, doctrinal uniformity, does have a difficult time extricating himself or herself from it.
Q – Finally, professor Chomsky, many have predicted that the US empire may be waning; that we’re in this sort of twilight of empire phase. Do you have any sense that that might actually be true?
The process of decline of the American empire goes on, waxes and wanes, but it’s not steady
There has certainly been decline from the high point of power, which was 1945. But as I mentioned, that decline began right away. By late 1949 a large part of the empire was lost. There was immediate concern that Southeast Asia might be lost, thus the origins of the Vietnam War. Concerns over Latin America, the Middle East. In the last decade, South America has gained substantial independence. By now, they’re very free from US domination, It’s an enormous change. That’s the loss of South America if you like. Sure, the process of decline goes on, continues, waxes and wanes. It’s not a steady process. But there is a tendency for power to become more diffused.
The US leads the world in violence, military bases, military technology and military spending
But the United States is still overwhelming in many dimensions. Crucially in the dimension of violence. The US is far ahead of anyone else. In the military bases, military technology, we’re far more advanced than anywhere. And even simple military spending is almost as much as the rest of the world combined. So empire is a complex affair. Yes, there’s a decline; it began in the 1940s, it’s continuing, but has by no means abated.
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