Sunday, May 04, 2008

Twilight of American Empire

by Len Hart, the Existentialist Cowboy

The fall of the American empire resembles that of Rome in several areas but primarily --military and economic. The economies of the US and Rome ultimately depended on conquest. To this end, the US was sold to the Military/Industrial complex for whom 'conquest' is both an addictive drug and a life's blood. By the time the Roman Empire was sold at auction to one Didius Julianus, Rome's currency had already collapsed, as the dollar is likewise endangered. The smart money had already dumped sestercius for Greek Drachmas and the sale of the empire was concluded in Greek currency --not Roman.

Today, the currency of choice is neither the US dollar nor the Euro. It's oil and because Iran would prefer to sell oil for Euros, nations wishing to buy oil must exchange their dollars for Euros. Iran is threatened because it possesses a precious resource no longer produced economically in the US --oil! Rome was likewise impoverished. The sestercius was essentially worthless. It doesn't require an economics degree to conclude that Rome invaded Dacia for its gold and that the US will attack Iran for its oil.

Lacking oil, lacking a currency of choice, the American empire is finished! Just like Rome!
The US made of the Military/Industrial complex a cornerstone of its economy as Rome had done. War apparently never paid its own way; Rome compelled its people to 'render unto Caeser' beyond the ability of most to do so. Poverty increased with higher prices. Many farmers fled Rome's tax collector; others lost their farms whilst away on wars of conquest. Dispossessed farmers had no choice but to help swell the population of poor in Rome's teaming ghettos --one of which birthed the Great Fire in Nero's reign.

In his Decline and Fall of the American Empire, Gore Vidal called the Pentagon an "economic black hole". Indeed, a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research makes the convincing case that military spending depresses the economy.
  • After an initial demand stimulus, the effect of increased military spending turns negative around the sixth year. After 10 years of higher defense spending, there would be 464,000 fewer jobs than in the baseline scenario with lower defense spending.
  • Inflation and interest rates are considerably higher. After 5 years, the interest rate on 10-Year Treasury notes is projected to be 0.7 percentage points higher than in the baseline scenario. After 10 years, the gap would rise to 0.9 percentage points.
  • Higher interest rates lead to reduced demand in the interest-sensitive sectors of the economy. After 5 years, annual car and truck sales are projected to go down by 192,200 in the high military spending scenario. After 10 years, the drop is projected to be 323,300 and after 20 years annual sales are projected to be down 731,400.

  • Construction and manufacturing are the sectors that are projected to experience the largest shares of the job loss.-- Center for Economic and Policy Research: The Economic Impact of the Iraq War and Higher Military Spending
Military spending is not the only blood sucker loosed on the American economy. At a time when China stocks the shelves at Wal-Mart, Japan supplies the cars and electronic 'play pretties', and oil is pumped almost everywhere but in the US, the business of government is the nation's only business and business thus owns and runs the government. There is a word for this: fascism. 'Criminal Justice' is not just an oxymoron, it is among the biggest businesses in Texas, for example. The same would have been true of Rome in its decline.
  • As many as 64 million Americans have arrest records, many of which never resulted in conviction. That means that about 27% of the nation's adult population have a criminal record. (Source:
  • In 2004, nearly 7 million Americans (3% of adult population) were under some form of correctional supervision: 2.2 million incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails; 4.1 million on probation; and 700,000 on parole. (Source: US Department of Justice) 4/23/08 UPDATE: Inmate Count in US Dwarfs Other Nations'
America likes to boast: "We're Number One!" I always ask: "in what?"

America by the numbers

  • The United States is 49th in the world in literacy (the New York Times, Dec. 12, 2004).
  • The United States ranked 28th out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).
  • Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day (The Week, Jan. 7, 2005).
  • "The International Adult Literacy Survey...tound that Americans with less than nine years of education 'score worse than virtually all of the other countries'" (Jeremy Rifkin's superbly documented book The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, p.78).
  • Our workers are so ignorant and lack so many basic skills that American businesses spend $30 billion a year on remedial training (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004). No wonder they relocate elsewhere!
  • "The European Union leads the U.S. in...the number of science and engineering graduates; public research and development (R&D) expenditures; and new capital raised" (The European Dream, p.70).
  • "Europe surpassed the United States in the mid-1990s as the largest producer of scientific literature" (The European Dream, p.70).
  • Nevertheless, Congress cut funds to the National Science Foundation. The agency will issue 1,000 fewer research grants this year (NYT, Dec. 21, 2004).
  • Foreign applications to U.S. grad schools declined 28 percent last year. Foreign student enrollment on all levels fell for the first time in three decades, but increased greatly in Europe and China. Last year Chinese grad-school graduates in the U.S. dropped 56 percent, Indians 51 percent, South Koreans 28 percent (NYT, Dec. 21, 2004). We're not the place to be anymore.
  • The World Health Organization "ranked the countries of the world in terms of overall health performance, and the U.S. [was]...37th." In the fairness of health care, we're 54th. "The irony is that the United States spends more per capita for health care than any other nation in the world" (The European Dream, pp.79-80). Pay more, get lots, lots less.
  • "The U.S. and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all their citizens" (The European Dream, p.80). Excuse me, but since when is South Africa a "developed" country? Anyway, that's the company we're keeping.
  • - by Michael Ventura
There is a palpable sense of despair throughout the "land of the free" as it becomes clear that Bush still insists upon imposing a dictatorship. In the end, Rome became irrelevant as America is rapidly becoming today. The legions, for example, were efficient killing machines and the work of its engineers can still be found from England to the Middle East. It hardly mattered anymore. Few continued to believe in the Roman ideal.

Today, the US espouses peace, prosperity and Democracy as it breaks the peace, confiscates oil, and imposes a fascist and imperial rule. Yet no one outside the US believes in the 'American' ideal and, inside the US, those 'ideals' were disdainfully repudiated by a would-be emperor who said of the only document that made of them law: "The Constitution is just a goddamned piece of paper!" The entire world sees Bush for the fraud he is! Why is he still supported in the nation that he has betrayed?
In wars, there is always a difference between the motives of the soldiers and the motives of the political leaders who send them into battle. My motive, like that of so many, was innocent of imperial ambition. It was to help defeat fascism and create a more decent world, free of aggression, militarism, and racism.
The motive of the US establishment, understood by the aerial gunner I knew, was of a different nature. It was described early in 1941 by Henry Luce, multi-millionaire owner of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, as the coming of "The American Century." The time had arrived, he said, for the United States "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit, and by such means as we see fit."
--Howard Zinn, Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me About the American Empire
This response, Zinn argues, is counter-productive. As this blog has pointed out: terrorism is always worse during GOP regimes. Zinn characterizes American foreign policy in a phrase: "an old way of thinking!". Zinn is right to term it a 'destructive script' repeated at Wounded Knee, the invasion of Cuba, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Central American nations such as El Salvador and Nicaragua. According to the US State Department, the US intervened militarily 103 times in foreign countries between 1798 and 1895. Zinn also connects "internal" imperialism with the "external" variety in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at home, the position of the globe's "sole superpower" is visibly fraying. The country that was once proclaimed an "empire lite" has proven increasingly light-headed. The country once hailed as a power greater than that of imperial Rome or imperial Britain, a dominating force beyond anything ever seen on the planet, now can't seem to make a move in its own interest that isn't a disaster. The Iraq government's recent offensive in Basra is but the latest example with -- we can be sure -- more to come. ... It's called A People's History of American Empire. It's a gem and it's being published today.
--Tomgram: Howard Zinn, The End of Empire?
The Emperor Valens, as I have mentioned too often on this blog, could not even raise an army. Nor can the US which recruits among those who cannot find work in the waste-land economy Ronald Reagan left behind. The real 'dirty work' is outsourced to mercenaries --just like Rome! Rome's defeat at Adrianople was, in fact, a battle fought between 'free barbarians' and 'mercenary' barbarians paid by Rome.

It is ironic that many writers cite the rise of Christianity as a major reason for the fall of Rome. Certainly --many found it impossible to render unto Caesar and unto God and it is equally clear that cultism was rampant throughout the latter empire. The 'Christians' were just one of many strange cults and still are. All of them were symptomatic of needs not met by empire. And nothing has changed. A subtle argument --and one that I have toyed with --is that Rome did not fall; it was, rather, supplanted from within and survives still in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. If the many who see this as a conflict between 'Christianity' and 'Islam' are correct, then, clearly, Bush has taken the bait. The radical fundamentalists who celebrated Bush as a new Richard Coeur de Lion may be in for the shock of several centuries. No one can predict what might arise from the ashes of the short-lived 'American empire'.

Gore Vidal dates the end of the American empire to a time during the Reagan administration when the US became a net debtor nation. It has been since! If that is true, then, clearly, the American empire must have begun in two acts of needless savagery which equal or surpass even the genocide of the Native American, and that is, the dropping of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lives of some 200,000 civilians were taken in a flash because imperial Washington wanted to make a point!

But what point? The surrender terms offered before the nukes were dropped are verbatim those signed later on the Battleship Arizona. For what noble principle were the lives of some 200,000 civilians sacrificed?
Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born scientist who played a major role in the development of the atomic bomb, argued against its use. "Japan was essentially defeated," he said, and "it would be wrong to attack its cities with atomic bombs as if atomic bombs were simply another military weapon." In a 1960 magazine article, Szilard wrote: "If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them."
--Mark Weber, Was Hiroshima Necessary?
It's never too late to do the right thing!

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