Age of empire

There is certainly at least one way America is exceptional

Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Never before in modern history has a country dominated the earth so totally as the United States does today.

Der Spiegel, German magazine

The U.S. Empire today is the largest in world history with 1,100 military bases and outposts spreading over the globe, dwarfing the Alexander, Roman, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Spanish and British empires of yesteryear.

President Obama has urged Americans to shift attention to Asia but surreptitiously has increased militarism in Africa from A to Z (Algeria to Zambia). Africa swarms with U.S. military.

Tom Dispatch, social media critic, reports, “Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion.”

Above all, the ever-expanding American empire is the most destructive in history and the greatest disturber of peace in the world—a warmonger without parallel. William Randolph Hearst, who epitomized yellow journalism, boasted that the 20th century was the American Century. It was. And it will doubtless be the same in the 21st century, too.

William Blum, historian of the U.S. Empire, published a book in 2000, Rogue State, recording the terrible military history of America since World War II. America has:

• Dropped bombs on 30 countries.

• Tried to oust 50 governments.

• Tried to kill 50 heads of state.

• Messed with democratic elections in 30 countries.

• Tried to suppress populist movements in 20 nations.

The list of Blum’s examples is too long to mention all of them, but the major ones are cited in this article.

To begin with, U.S. empire building is nearly as old as the Republic. The “sainted” Thomas Jefferson, slaveholder, coveted all of North America for the United States. When the War of 1812 broke out, the great imperialist wrote to a friend:

“The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax, the next and final expulsion of England from the American continent.”

No one hates monarchies or denounces religion more than I do. I agree with the great polemicist Diderot: “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” But Jefferson’s comment is a frightful example of the expansionist spirit that has so often gripped America.

Forty years later, it became known as Manifest Destiny, the notion that American settlers were destined to expand across the continent. Its twin themes:

• The American people are exceptional and their institutions unique.

• America’s mission is to spread that superior civilization to the West.

Prominent Americans like Lincoln and Grant rejected Manifest Destiny. So did the Whigs, an important political party in the 19th Century. Historian Daniel Howe writes: “American imperialism did not represent an American consensus. … Whigs saw America’s moral mission as one of democratic example rather than one of conquest.” The Whigs were right, but the “losers” don’t determine history.

The rhetoric of Manifest Destiny was used by Democrats to justify the U.S.-instigated Mexican War (1846-1848). America won that war, seizing California and other vast tracts of land in the West. The seizure fulfilled the Manifest Destiny boast to stretch the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Other manifest destinarians wanted to grab a large part of present day British Columbia with their slogan “fifty-four forty or fight,” referring to the 54/40 north parallel across the Pacific Northwest.

President Polk, abandoning his earlier position favoring 54/40 because he declined to fight two wars simultaneously, accepted a compromise at the 49th parallel. (The boundary of Canada and the United States today.)

Comedian Dave Barry cracked about the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine: “Other nations are not allowed to mess around with the internal affairs of nations in the hemisphere. But we are.” Or, as William Blum notes, “The U.S. operates an intervention machine.”

To Native Americans, the colonists and their American successors stole the vast territory of their ancestors. Roger Williams, great Rhode Island exponent of the separation of church and state, wrote a tract in 1632 questioning the right of what became the state of Massachusetts to the land “without first buying it from the Indians.”

The Philippine-American War (1899-1902) predated World War I, but the U.S. role was expansionism. America acquired the Philippines from Spain after the Spanish-American War. The Filipinos, happily seeing Spanish shackles thrown off, now wanted independence from the United States. America brutally suppressed that desire.

The United States led the western invasion (1918-1920) of the infant Soviet Union “to strangle it at its birth,” as Churchill phrased it. The alliance sought to prevent the Russian Revolution from removing one-sixth of the world’s land surface from capitalist exploitation. Fortunately, it failed.

The U.S. intervened in the Chinese civil war after World War II, taking the wrong side by backing the corrupt Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists against Mao Zedong’s communist social welfare revolution.

The Korean War was fought between North and South Korea from 1950 to 1953. It arose from the division of Korea at the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. It was an “era of corrupt, reactionary and ruthless governments in the South and the huge, war-crime filled American military intervention,” Blum notes.

One of the major cases of U.S. meddling abroad occurred in Iran in 1953. The CIA engineered a coup, overthrowing the leftist Mossadegh and installing the reactionary Shah of Iran as absolute monarch.

Mossadegh rightly wanted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP). The United States wrongly did not. So Operation Boot booted Mossadegh. Iranians have hated America ever since. The original Cabinet name was the War Department, which it obviously was, but euphemistically renamed the Defense Department, which it obviously is not.

The next U.S. meddling folly occurred in Vietnam, part of the anti-communist crusade. It was a war that never should have been fought yet lasted 21 years, from 1954 to 1975.

It pitted the government of North Vietnam (Viet Cong) against South Vietnam. North Vietnam, which defeated the French colonial administration in 1954, naturally wanted to unify the north and south into one communist nation.

That conflict was none of the U.S.’s business, yet it sent 500,000 troops there with 58,200 of them killed. In one of the most gratuitous assaults in history, America destroyed hundreds of North Vietnamese villages while dropping napalm and subjected Cambodia and Laos to vicious carpet-bombing.

Death toll: hundreds of thousands of civilians. Martin Luther King summed up the U.S. role in Vietnam: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. I cannot be silent about it.” He wasn’t. “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam,” he declared. “A nation that continues to year after year spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

• • •

Ever-new technology rendered obsolete the mustard gas used by the U.S. in World War I. Cluster bombs, nerve gas and Agent Orange are modern lethal devices. Cluster bombs, dropped from U.S. planes, would break open in midair and scatter 200 bomblets. These exploded, shooting out shards of jagged steel shrapnel.

U.S. cluster bombs were dropped on Yugoslavia in 1999, laughably titled “Operation Bomb for Humanity.” President Clinton unleashed the cruelty to prevent Slobodan Milosevic from withdrawing the province of Kosovo from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The fact that Milosevic was a dictator was of no concern to America.

A recent New York Times article reported, “Cluster bombs, outlawed munitions that kill and maim indiscriminately, have caused more casualties in the Syrian civil war than in the 2006 Lebanon conflict when Israel’s heavy use of the weapons hastened the treaty banning them two years later.”

Another appalling U.S. intervention occurred in Cuba during the anti-communist jihad. It was engineered by the bogus liberal President Kennedy whose CIA invaded Cuba in 1961 to topple the communist Fidel Castro. Justice prevailed. The Bay of Pigs invasion was crushed in three days.

Never mind that Castro produced a better and more liberal society than America. Cuba enacted universal health care. America did not and probably never will in this obscenely capitalist country.

America’s anti-communist madness reached an apogee in 1973 when the murderous General Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende, the highly popular and democratically elected president of Chile. No matter to the U.S. Allende was a Marxist. The CIA led the charge. Secretary of State Kissinger exulted.

War, what is it good for?

On and on it goes. The U.S. invaded Panama in 1989, sending its mad bombers to blast a large tenement barrio in Panama City. Some 15,000 citizens were left homeless. Why? To oust Manuel Noriega on trumped up charges of drug trafficking.

For brevity’s sake, let’s summarize these atrocities:

• In 1954 a CIA-backed coup ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. He made the mistake, from Washington’s point of view, of nationalizing U.S.-based United Fruit and legalizing the Communist Party. The takeover regime slaughtered 200,000 indigenous Guatemalans. The U.S. backed Guatemala death squads. In one province a “silent Holocaust” operated on military bases. They maintained crematoriums, chopped off limbs, singed the flesh and administered electric shocks.

• Sukarno of Indonesia was an excellent president in the late 1950s. This the U.S. could not abide. Sukarno made the “mistake” of traveling to China and Russia. Another “bigger mistake”: He nationalized private holdings of the former Dutch masters. So the CIA plotted to assassinate him. He was blackmailed with a phony sex scandal. Fortuitously, Sukarno survived all the chicanery.

• Patrice Lumumba became Congo’s first prime minister in 1960 after independence from Belgium. Because he justifiably wanted economic liberation from Belgian injustices heaped on the natives, he was labeled a communist. Lumumba was assassinated with CIA connivance on orders of President Eisenhower.

• Juan Bosch was elected president of the Dominican Republic in 1965. He called for land reform, low-rent housing and modest nationalization of business. This was “creeping” socialism leading to “dreaded” communism. So the U.S. sent in 23,000 troops to crush efforts to keep him in office.

• Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia refused to be a client of Washington. So his country paid the price: secret carpet bombing in 1969-1970 ordered by war criminal President Nixon at the urging of fellow war criminal, his adviser Henry Kissinger. Sihanouk was overthrown in a coup engineered by Washington in 1970. Five years later, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took power, inflicting even greater misery on Cambodia. Nevertheless, the U.S. supported the Khmer Rouge savages.

• Leftist Maurice Bishop took power in minuscule Grenada in 1979 after a coup. The Reagan administration began destabilization tactics with outrageous lies and disinformation. Then in 1983 the U.S. invaded the powerless and impoverished nation and installed leaders who would follow U.S. orders.

Iraq War I

American economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq 13 years before the war, depriving families of vital medicines. Then America invaded with “shock and awe,” killing and destroying. After 10 years of war, it decamped, leaving a frightful legacy of death, destruction and despair.

America is left with the shame and stain of one of the least justifiable wars in history. It was illegal, unconstitutional and genocidal. Saddam Hussein was a dictator, but he controlled the sectarian tensions and hatreds in Iraq. His ouster and the departure of Americans left the country at loggerheads: Shiites vs. Sunnis, Arabs vs. Kurds, Islamists vs. al-Qaida. The tattered country has been left with deadly suicide bombings, car bombings and blown-up buildings.

The war toll was high: 4,500 Americans killed and 30,000 wounded. About 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Cost to U.S. taxpayers: $2.2 trillion. Since President G.W. Bush and his evil Vice President Cheney ordered the invasions, they are war criminals.

The corporate press urged the war. The Washington Post and New York Times led the cheerleading. Republicans and Democrats in Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution authorizing use of military force.

While presidents bear the burden of this lengthy indictment, never forget that Congress has played a horrendous role in the U.S. mayhem. It is packed with cretins who are unacknowledged terrorists.

Iraq War II

President Obama heaps irony on irony. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has re-invaded Iraq and is trying to topple the government of Cuba.

The Great Liberal Betrayer returned to Iraq with air strikes, ground troops and advisers. All of Iraq’s immense problems were caused by the United States. They will not be solved by re-entry into that cauldron.

His aim is to thwart Sunni (caliphate) rebels with drones and fighter jets by destroying their positions in Iraq. The ground troops are what Obama calls “a humanitarian effort” to protect the U.S. consulate in Erbil.

Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist, sums up the absurdity: “Our boneheaded meddling just creates ever-more-virulent monsters. The United States has taken military action in Iraq during 17 of the past 24 years, the ultimate mission creep in a country smaller than Texas on the other side of the world.” Obama has dispatched hundreds of soldiers to fix something that couldn’t be fixed with hundreds of thousands of troops.

Yet Obama says it is “a long-term project,” which means the U.S. could be there for years. Re-entry into Iraq destroys what little moral authority he had left.

Obama is also casual about torture. At a recent press briefing, he admitted, “We tortured some folks.” That is a terrible way to describe a disgraceful policy. As William Pitt wrote for Truthout: “Torture is a stain on the soul of this nation.”

Meanwhile, Obama is scheming to overthrow the government of harmless Cuba. An investigation by the Associated Press revealed that since 2009 his administration has secretly been dispatching young Latin Americans to Cuba to foment rebellion. Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvians pose as tourists while scouting for potential agitators.

Surely the Obama administration has better things to do for the American people like pushing passage of the Equal Rights Amendment for women, stopping clandestine spying on Americans, urging universal health care and demanding the end of corporate tax dodging at home and abroad.


It is hard to match the bleak vision of war written by Chris Hedges in the online TruthDig. He wrote a scathing indictment of senseless wars and their senseless perversities. Hedges, as correspondent for the New York Times for 10 years, has seen war up close. Here is his biting truth:

“The war in Afghanistan … feeds the culture of atrocity. The fear and stress, the anger and hatred, reduce all Afghans to the enemy, including women, children and the elderly. Civilians and combatants merge into one detested, nameless, faceless mass. The psychological leap to murder is short. And murder happens every day in Afganistan. It happens in drone strikes, artillery bombardments, airstrikes, missile attacks and the withering suppressing fire unleashed in villages by belt-fed machine guns.

“… Robert Bales, a U.S. Army staff sergeant who allegedly killed 16 civilians in two Afghan villages, including nine children, is not an anomaly. … We kill children nearly every day in Afghanistan.”

Hedges related the “constant search in all wars to find new perversities, new forms of death” in an “effort to ward off the boredom of routine death. This is why during the war in El Salvador the death squads and soldiers would cut off the genitals of those they killed and stuff them in the mouths of the corpses. This is why we reporters in Bosnia would find bodies crucified on the sides of barns or decapitated. This is why U.S. Marines have urinated on dead Taliban fighters. Those slain in combat are treated as trophies by their killers, turned into grotesque pieces of performance art.”

U.S. backs Israeli war crimes

The United States supports Israel with large amounts of money and weapons to kill Palestinians and destroy their homes, mosques and buildings.

For Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, President Obama signed an act of Congress giving Israel $225 million in emergency aid. On top of that, the Americans give Israel a $3 billion gift every year. With a powerful friend like the U.S., Israel can ignore worldwide denunciation of its multiple invasions of Gaza.

Marjorie Cohn, law professor in San Diego, is blunt: “U.S. officials abet the commission of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity by Israeli officials, battle commanders and military forces.” Israel, a nation of eight million, deals violence to a small strip of Gaza packed with 1.8 million people living in dire poverty.

Gideon Levy, columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, writes: “Israel should be condemned and punished for creating insufferable life under occupation” and for continued abuse of an entire people. In another article, Levy writes: “The slogan of the Mafia [killing] has become official Israeli policy.”

Yes, Palestinians fire rockets. But Israel continues to build illegal settlements and infrastructure on Palestinian land. As Noam Chomsky notes, it does so to “integrate into Israel whatever might be of value, meanwhile consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to repression and violence.”

Aside from all his brutality and terrorism, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sets the tone for his people who cheerfully call savage Israeli invasions “mowing the lawn.”


As with Hussein, Colonel Qaddafi was a Libyan dictator, but he held together the fractious tribes and militias. Today, three years after his ouster, Libya seethes with violence, threatening a civil war and a portending long-term destabilization in North Africa.

Qaddafi’s crime? He had overthrown a rich ruling clique and instituted a welfare state. So the U.S. declared that he had to go. In 1981 U.S. aircraft shot down two Libyan planes in Libyan air space. Five years later, a Qaddafi residence was bombed. He faced assassination attempts, economic sanctions, efforts to overthrow him and a disinformation campaign full of enormous lies. All deservedly failed.

• • •

Eugene McCarraher, Villanova history professor, wrote: “Creation of a post-imperial identity could be a liberating thing for Americans. To do so, however, they will have to forsake the dreams of empire and the hallucination of manifest destiny.”

Unfortunately, President Obama will not forsake that dream, a dream for the greater good of America and of mankind. He hasn’t got the wisdom to do otherwise. Moreover, reactionary advisers surround him. As Edmund Burke knew: “A great empire and little minds go ill together.”

The United States, except for World War II, has almost always been on the wrong side of history when it comes to war, gratuitous invasions, bombings, assassinations and toppling of governments.

America badly needs a Truth Commission such as South Africa, Guatemala and El Salvador created to reveal the crimes of their governments. A truth commission would expose outrageous claims like that of President Clinton: “Americans are targets of terrorism … because we act to advance peace and democracy.”

As Barbara Tuchman wrote in “The March of Folly” in 1984: “Rejection of reason is the prime characteristic of folly … to recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government.”