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Open Words about the Empire

by Eckart Spoo Thursday, Dec. 09, 2004 at 3:26 PM

Everyone who rises to prominence learns to think in the obsequious sentences of an English butler serving cookies to the Prince of Wales.. Wars as the US waged in the last 60 years always serve to prevent democracy at home.


By Eckart Spoo

[This essay originally published in: Ossietzsky 22/2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Zurich bankers will not say No when they can earn a little in US wars. Nevertheless they question the policy of the empire according to its inner logic.

According to its modest self-description, the Zurich Vontobel bank group is “active in assets management for private and institutional clients and in investment banking”. The non-profit Vontobel foundation publishes a journal in which the editor of Harper’s Magazine (New York) Lewis Lapham, recently commented on the theme “Imperial America”. I recommend this journal on account of Marshall Loiter’s masterful illustrations with themes like a broken Statue of Liberty in a shopping cart, the White House as a gas station, president Bush II with laurels walking at one end of the stage of history or an enormous pioneer vehicle with a ladder extending high in the skies where a minister in a Gothic pulpit at the top preaches to the tiny prisoners in the wilderness or finally Disney’s Mickey Mouse in shorts at the summit of all summits.

With the sobriety of a sophisticated Zurich banker, Hans-Dieter Vontobel says in the Foreword that the Pax Romana “like the Pax Americana was created with bayonets, not with ideas”. “America fascinates”, he writes and then adds “America also irritates and frustrates”. Why is this? “Because we feel America’s power after the downfall of the Soviet Union as threat and no longer as protection”.

Regarding threat, the Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff in the New York Times Magazine at the beginning of 2003, a few weeks before the US invasion in Iraq, made several grandiose statements about the “burden” of the only remaining superpower (Imperial powers do not know the luxury of timidity or nervousness since fear is not foresight but a confession of weakness” and “The United States is a nation in which the flag, sacrifice and martial honor are essential”) and also focused on relations to Europe. Americans are intent on binding Europeans in the strategies of their growing imperial project. Americans essentially dictate Europe’s role in this new brand design. The United States acts multilaterally when possible and unilaterally when necessary. Ultimately a new form of division of labor is envisioned where America takes over the fighting, the French, Brits and Germans set up police patrols at the borders and the Dutch, Swiss and Scandinavians offer humanitarian assistance.”

Unfortunately bold statements of leading US propagandists seldom find the way across the Atlantic in our trend-setting media. However it is instructive when Michael Ledeen from the American Enterprise Institute says for example: “Every ten years the United States must throw a little excrement on the wall to show the world that we are serious.” By introducing his essay with this quotation, Lewis Lapham can be certain to awaken the attentiveness of European readers.

Like the Heritage Foundation or the Council for National Policy, the American Enterprise Institute is one of the mammoth think tanks that according to Lapham “prescribe the world economic order that should be defined mainly by American money. This world economic order decides what other people should produce, what they receive for their labor, how they live and when they die.”

In the 1990s, Lapham repeatedly joined in conferences of such think tanks where former secretaries of state, secretaries of defense, admirals or CIA directors explained what was uppermost. “The captains”, he reports, “had signed enough supply contracts for weapons to know that America is always and everywhere surrounded by ambitious and malicious enemies. They boost the idea that war is good for business and for the soul”. A study by Dick Cheney and Colin Powell revealing the doctrines of “preventive attack”, “active deterrence” and “anticipatory self-defense” was the theme for discussion at that time. According to Lapham’s recollection, the elder statesmen would not leave the podium without voicing a note of regret: America will never come to its senses before something really dreadful happens.

The essay accentuates several recurring models of Washington’s imperial policy. “The shipwreck of the American battleship USS Maine in February 1898 in the bay of Havana and the English passenger steamer Lusitanian off England’s southern coast in May 1915 provided a casus belli comparable to that presented to the Bush administration with the destruction of the towers of the World Trade Center of New York in September 2001. The fifth-class colonial power Spain was characterized by the McKinley administration as “the most bewitched despotism of threes days on earth”. In the summer of 1915, Germany was said to be able to land 387,000 men on the New Jersey coast within sixteen days – a superb feat of military technology comparable to the feat of Saddam Hussein who was reputed to be able to fire weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

When the US was led into the first world war, an official of the US State Department wrote: “In America, there are 50,000 who understand the necessity of an immediate declaration of war but there are 100 million Americans who don’t waste much thought on this possibility. Our task is to reverse these numbers.” This was and is the purpose of the media. The insider Lapham describes how robustly they fulfill it and explains how the Congress vested president Bush II with the authority to order an attack on Iraq whenever he wanted and for whatever reasons seemed appropriate: “Seven or eight great, very rich and very timid corporations (including Time Warner, General Electric and the Disney Company) produce ninety percent of national news and everyone who rises to prominence as editor, columnist or publisher learns to think in the obsequious sentences of an English butler serving cookies to the Prince of Wales. John Swinton, the former chief of staff of the New York Times, proposed a toast during a farewell banquet in his honor: “An independent press does not exist at this moment of world history and in America. The business of journalists is to destroy truth, to lie, distort and slander and knuckle under the feet of mammon. We are the instruments and vassals of rich men in the background. We are the marionettes. They pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

The Harpers editor explains how US media brainwash, frighten and indoctrinate (European opponents of the war against Iraq were disparaged as “cowards” and “weaklings”) and the decisive function of “God” for war propaganda – entirely in the sense of Horace Greeley who commented on the massacre of the Indians in 1859: “These people must die out – there is no help for them. God has left his earth to those who reclaim and cultivate it. Rebelling against God’s legitimate decision would be futile.” Bush’s top terrorist hunter, John Ashcroft, is similarly pious. As Lapham reports, he “begins his work day punctually at 8’oclock with a meeting devoted to Bible study and to prayer holding hands. Sometimes he sings the uplifting songs of his own composition with the sentimental baritone of a bar singer from the Las Vegas of the 1950s. Now and then he distributes copies of the text and asks the government officials to sing with him.”

Ever since I can remember, foreign policy has been dominated by men from big business (Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, George Schulz, John Foster Dulles, Cyrus Vance, John McCoy, James Baker and so forth). George Kennan, one of the most influential politicians of the US in the 20th century, declared in his young years: “We possess 50 percent of the world’s wealth with only 6.3 percent of its population… In this situation, we must be the target of envy and embitterment. Designing a network of relations enabling us to maintain the position of inequality without damaging national security will be our preeminent challenge for the next years. To do this successfully, we must bid farewell to sentimentality and dreams.” Human rights, improvement of living standards and democratization appeared to Kennan as “unrealistic goals”.

Wars as the US waged uninterruptedly in the last 60 years always serve to prevent democracy at home. He does not conceal what US imperialism inflicted with its wars as in Iraq where irreplaceable cultural assets were destroyed “that had survived the conquests by Suleiman the Great and Dschingis Khan before the arrival of General Tommy Franks”. He also did not hide the many defeats and setbacks and guarded himself from deriving unjustified hopes from those reversals. On Bush’s opposing candidate Kerry, he wrote: “As an advocate of a strong and muscular praxis of a progressive internationalism, as he said himself, Kerry in the Senate supported the attack on Bagdad and opened his presidential candidacy by posing against the backdrop of an aircraft carrier stationed in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Kerry’s political career was financed by the same interest-groups that supported president Bush.

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