the business of the empire

I helped make Honduras ‘right’ for American fruit companies in 1903. I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

“During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his rackets in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

– From War as a Racket by Major General Smedley Butler, U.S.M.C.


by mike morgan


U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, himself an imperialist buccaneer, once described the author of the above-referenced quote as “one of the really great generals in American history.” At least Smedley Butler was undoubtedly the most honest general in American history. MacArthur recognized a land-seizer and dependable bagman when he saw one. Throughout the first four decades of the previous century, the MacArthur family was the richest landowner in the Philippines. Douglas MacArthur’s father, Arthur MacArthur Jr., was the military governor of the Philippines. The Spanish-American war (1898) marked the establishment of the United States as an imperialist power, a position that was previously reserved for “Europeans and Ottomans Only.” Until then, the U.S. had limited its conquest to the continent of North America and its surroundings, consolidating the home base. It was in the Philippines that the scorched earth and free fire zone policies, later U.S. General Westmoreland’s chosen anti-guerilla warfare strategies in Vietnam, were introduced. U.S. Brigadier General James Bell boasted that his troops killed one in every six Filipino men on the island of Luzon. In Samar Province, U.S. General Jacob Smith ordered his soldiers to shoot every Filipino man, woman or child they could find over the age of ten years. A minimum of 200,000 Filipinos died during this brief colonial war. If we take the U.S. generals’ estimates and figures at face value, it was over a million.

It was also then in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, that the local citizenry were fed the line by the U.S. Government that “we have come to liberate you,” a replication of the current 2003 fallacy put forward in the Fertile Crescent, which was a verbatim repeat of the English Brigadier General Sir Stanley Maude’s speech to Iraqis in Basra, upon the British invasion of Mesopotamia in 1917. It was not honor, nor noble deeds, nor the luck of fortune hunting that put the MacArthur family behind the wheel in the Philippines. It was naked, brute force. Thus, when the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted another invasion upon those islands in 1942, temporarily substituting themselves as the new plantation owners, MacArthur was quick to respond with his famous quote, “I shall return.” Upon a more complete study of the facts, it would be safe to say that the saying in question is incomplete. A franker assertion would have stated something like, “I shall return to grab back what’s mine.” Had this truism been understood by all those grunts who died in droves on the beaches and in the cities and jungles of the Philippines while General MacArthur was whisked to the safety of Australia, perhaps events might have taken a different direction.

Douglas MacArthur’s troops in the Southern Pacific needn’t have delved too far back in history to gain insight into what their commander was actually all about. In the summer of 1932, over 20,000 U.S. World War One veterans descended upon Washington D.C. to demand their bonus pay, promised and still denied to them by the government for their services in the World War. Known as “the Bonus Marchers,” they built a squatter camp on the outskirts of the city at the Anacostia River, from whence the camp derived its name. As the depression fueled homelessness, poverty and unemployment across the country, shanty towns like Anacostia sprung up around many American cities. They were called “Hoovervilles,” an obvious sarcastic homage to the man in the big white house, Herbert himself. The government, deaf to the demands of the Bonus Marchers, who daily trudged up and down Pennsylvania Avenue (the same Smedley Butler of the “racket boondoggles” marched in solidarity with them), called on the army to disperse the veterans from the streets of the Capital. Douglas MacArthur personally oversaw the operation. Units of the U.S. Third Cavalry, commanded by Major George S. Patton, swept and cleared the roads with riders and tanks. This wasn’t enough for MacArthur. Disregarding his presidential orders, he crossed into Anacostia itself and razed it to the ground. There were deaths. Such was the contempt shown for those whose services to the empire were no longer required.

And if the empire was willing to ignore its own rank and file cannon fodder, then it comes as no surprise that it’s attitude towards its foreign-conquered peoples was downright heinous. The Boston Herald reported during the Spanish-American war, “Our troops in the Philippines…look upon all Filipinos as of one race and condition, and being dark men, they are therefore ‘niggers’ and entitled to all the contempt and harsh treatment administered by white overlords to the most inferior races.” While such language today would be dismissed and its authors or orators would be pilloried on the stocks of political incorrectness, we’re short-changing ourselves if we believe that the prevailing attitude of the current emperors towards their minions is substantially different. It’s merely presented more dishonestly. The fact that the Bush hierarchy includes black people (Powell and Rice) is a shining example of how race, in the inner circles of the empire, won’t interfere in the least with the promulgation of miserable, rotten ideas and actions.

But this is hardly the time to rewrite history, or wish for something different to have taken place. It is, however, the time to understand history. The cocoon of selective bad memory that permeates our society is one which is manipulated willingly by the architects of imperialism, often with tragic results. While it might be true that the majority of the great grandsons and granddaughters of the soldiers of genocide in the Philippines back in 1898 probably don’t know that it happened, or care for that matter, it is extremely unlikely that the Filipinos have forgotten it. The empire rarely understands the misery that it lets loose upon its subjects. Thus it does not comprehend the violent outbursts of reaction by these same subjects, either in the far flung corners of the empire, or in its metropolises. Witness George W. Bush’s response at an October, 2001 press conference, when asked about the probability of a large grouping of people elsewhere in the world harboring hostility towards the U.S. He said: “I’m amazed. I just don’t believe it because I know how good we really are.” Insincerity aside, such an answer is indicative of the combined arrogant swagger, boldness and plain old ignorance of the emperors. When the British Army occupied Basra in 1917, a military ordinance was issued stating that any local found in possession of a single cartridge was to be executed along with his or her family. This rule was firmly enforced. These kinds of horrible violations are not easily erasable from the victims’ collective consciousness, but instead are etched deeply into their memories and passed down from generation to generation. Despite the recent removal of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist thugs from the driver’s seat, this might help explain why the dancing in the streets in Iraq seemed low key and staged at best. People elsewhere remember. That we don’t, or choose not to, is our own fault.

* * *

“If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one.”

– Josef Goebbels, Nazi

When Josef Goebbels, the Third Reich’s propaganda barker, said this, he knew what he was talking about. An essential ingredient of empire-building is the perpetration of mythology. To take Goebbels’ thought a little further, it should be emphasized that the lie needs to be constantly repeated, until it becomes part of the assumed history. For example, in the days of white-ruled South Africa, the official South African school history textbook taught white and black students alike that the white settlers were the original sole inhabitants of South Africa. This unbelievable yarn premised itself upon the equally unbelievable notion that a large migration of Bantu people (Africans) only arrived from the north after the establishment of white settlements in the hinterland. The dubious historian under the microscope here, A.M. Van Jaarsveld, had to pull off a tremendous conjuring act to expand upon the “Native Wars,” but he does demand a grudging respect for being among a tiny minority of so-called scholars who could explain away battles fought in areas apparently unpopulated by one side. In a nutshell, his position was that Africans were non-people or foreigners in their homeland. Thus, what was done to them was justified. And this baloney was official history, taught to children.

Likewise, the early Zionist leaders in Israel fostered and stoked the “land without a people” nonsense to explain away the forced removal of over 750,000 original inhabitants of Palestine, liberally peppering their arguments with phrases such as ‘voluntary abandonment” and “choosing not to live with us.” This fantasy is still being prattled out today by apologists for Zionist expansionism. While the Intifadas have pretty much put this limping dog of a story to sleep, current Israeli policy enforcers are continuously faced with the reality of their choice, namely ethnic cleansing, a task that they appear to relish (along with their bulldozers and Apache helicopters). Palestinians, since the unnatural coming to life of the Israeli state, have also enjoyed the status of non-people in their own land of birth.

U.S. settler history is more of the same. Visions and talk of “wide-open spaces,” “land for anyone willing to grin and bear the trials and tribulations of frontier life,” “the howling wilderness,” “the sea of prairie,” “it’s yours for the taking,” “ripe for the picking,” “vote yourself a farm,” “go west,” etc., are all camouflaged fronts for what most should acknowledge to be the truth and that is the land had to be made uninhabited by the systematic killing of the original inhabitants (definitely transforming American Indians into non-people). Even Kevin Costner knows this.

Once the lie is established, it becomes easier to embellish and distort. It can be fine-tuned, even it’s more vicious results that can no longer be kept under wraps can be apologized for later (much later, when the original guilty ones no longer exist, or are too enfeebled to be brought to book). It can be twisted around in such a way that the victims become those responsible for the crimes, while the real criminals become the liberators (for astutely explained examples of how this trick is regularly performed, read Malcolm X, or take in the film “Mississippi Burning,” a Hollywood fantasy about the FBI leading the struggle for civil rights). More importantly, the lie will become one of the mainstay justifications for the need for empire. After all, somebody has to whip ‘em into shape.

* * *

“Enemies are necessary for the wheels of the U.S. military machine to turn.”

– John Stockwell – Former C.I.A. chief

“What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War.”

– Zbigniew Brezinski, former U.S. National Security Adviser

What on the surface appear to be a flip-flop of allegiances and a chameleon-like opportunism to side with whatever forces or states present themselves as viable and pliant, these do not quite adequately describe the empire’s duplicity in its world of allies and enemies. For there is one golden steadfast rule, namely “Go against the empire’s interests and you will be vilified, subject to military invasion, your cities will be bombed, your social infrastructures will be destroyed, your people will suffer and die.” New enemies that were old allies in the days of the Cold War against the other dead “Evil Empire,” are held accountable now for a list of standards (real or imagined) that the only remaining empire doesn’t and has never cared a flying hoot about…human rights, democracy, repressive internal policies, instability, belligerence towards neighbors, weapons of mass destruction, religious persuasion, women’s rights, all are supposed sacred concerns of a caring empire. Nothing could be further from the truth, but for our benefit, it’s worth exploring the maze of some of the more absurd contradictory routes that the emperors find themselves navigating around.

In 1980, the U.S decided to initiate a new global Islamic jihad that not only would invade Afghanistan, but also attack Islamic regions of the former U.S.S.R. Thousands of Muslim recruits volunteered from all over the world to be trained and armed in C.I.A. created camps near Peshawar, Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden was one such volunteer. Not quite a prince, but extremely wealthy and connected, he was chosen by the Saudi royalty to lead their contingent of the jihad. The son of a construction mogul, he brought in his construction company to help build roads and tunnels for the Mujaheddin. In 1986, he assisted in the building of the Khost tunnel complex, which the CIA was funding as a major arms storage depot and training center in the mountains of Afghanistan, close to the Pakistani border. This installation, together with the aspirin factory in Sudan, were blown up by Clinton’s cruise missiles in 1998 to divert attention away from the President’s sexually perverse sideshow and his then current impeachment proceedings. By virtue of Bin Laden’s stature and charisma, his own popularity amongst fellow Muslim radicals grew. In 1989, he set up his organization Al-Queda (“The Military Base”), as a relief center for Muslim veterans who fought with the Mujaheddin. By 1992, he broke ties with the Saudi Royal family (to do with Saudi acceptance of “infidels”) and subsequently went “rogue,” identifying the U.S as the new target of the jihad. He is regarded now by the empire as its number-one enemy. That Osama Bin Laden is a well-known figure to the empire is due to the fact that his life as a political militant was born out of an empire creation (the same can be said for the Taliban).

Ask yourself these questions, “Exactly how many newly ordained Hitlers have we seen emerge in the last thirty years? And when did these Hitlers actually become Hitlers? And what about the aspiring Hitlers who never acquired Hitler status?” For example, Saddam Hussein was the empire’s blue-eyed boy in the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s and before that. A vehement anti-communist and an altogether awful man (impeccable credentials), he and his Ba’ath party ruled Iraq with an iron fist, amassing wealth in his coffers, and bodies of his opponents in the graveyards and cellars of his jails and torture chambers. None of this mattered one iota to the emperors, he was a reliable ally, after all, his army was involved in a bloodletting with bearded proponents of the “Great Satan” position. He was supplied chemical weapons by the U.S., which he was encouraged to use against Iran and the Kurds and did so. Yet he made a mistake. In 1990, he occupied Kuwait, an oil-rich Protectorate south of the Iraqi border, and perhaps the only territory in the world to be named after the richest family residing in it. Saddam Hussein had never acted previously without consulting his string-pullers in Washington. He met with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie prior to the Kuwait occupation and received the O.K. from the empire. Without any further explanation, the “yes” soon became a vehement “no.” But it was too late, Iraqi troops had already secured the Protectorate. This set the wheels in motion. Saddam had become the Hitler of the Middle East. The rest is history, still recent enough for even people here to remember.

Interestingly enough, Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), never got to be dubbed Hitler, even though he made the infamous statement that “never in a thousand years will there be black majority rule in Rhodesia.” Translated from another angle, this reads “white supremacy in Rhodesia will rule for another thousand years.” This thousand year business is perilously close to an actual Hitler quote, but, despite doing his utmost, Ian Smith didn’t pass muster on the Hitler litmus test. While he inflicted havoc and terror on the Africans of Zimbabwe, he survived the fallout (thanks to the British and Robert Mugabe), and he enjoyed Minister Without Portfolio status in the new Zimbabwean government for many years after his criminal career as head of state ended. For what it’s worth, the Rhodesian Army Veterans’ Association regularly convenes in the U.S. (Lake Tahoe) for its annual reminisces and binge-ups.

The case of Moammar Abu Minya Al Qadhafi, the self-appointed leader of Libya, is another example of contortion. Qadhafi has always been a mixed-bag politically. For example, he simultaneously supported Italian Red Brigade initiatives and strikes against the Italian automobile industry, while single-handedly bailing out the Fiat Corporation from virtual bankruptcy. Presiding over oil-laden Libya, he managed to avoid the scrutiny of the empire for many years, even falling into the “moderate” and “responsible” categories. Such was his good standing with the empire that when a British sponsored covert plan to overthrow him, with the use of South African and Israeli commandos in the 1970s, was presented to Washington, it was vetoed by the State Department and thus never happened. Qadhafi had incurred the rancor of Israel and South Africa by supporting liberation organizations in both places and by calling for an international oil boycott of these states, one that appeared to have some teeth. In a period of saber-rattling and growing accusations by the Reagan administration of terrorism sponsorship, Qadhafi all of a sudden appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1985 with a headline which read, “THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS MAN!” How does one transcend relative obscurity, even as a head of state, to become the most dangerous person in the world? And, if indeed, Qadhafi was a dangerous man, wouldn’t the emperors at least try and spell his name correctly? After all, one should know as much as possible about the world’s most dangerous man. The Reagan rhetoric finally resulted in the U.S. bombing of Tripoli on April 15, 1986, at which time the Great Communicator himself referred to Qadhafi as “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Qadhafi has subsequently survived the Lockerbie affair (Lockerbie is remembered, but the shooting down of an Iranian commercial airliner by the U.S. military on July 3, 1988 over the Red Sea has been conveniently forgotten or off-handedly referred to as “a mistake”). Qadhafi temporarily appears to be off the Hitler list. The world’s most dangerous man apparently isn’t (at least for now).

Slobodan Milosevic, after the emperors produced an unacceptable clause to a treaty already agreed upon between themselves and the Yugoslavian government, became Hitler overnight, a pre-requisite to the inevitable bomb dropping in Kosovo. However, Hendrik Verwoerd, Johannes Balthazar Vorster, and P.W. Botha, former apartheid South African Prime Ministers, never won the coveted Hitler award, even though they were all interned in South Africa during World War Two for membership in the “Ossewa Brandwag,” a pro-Nazi, Afrikaner, clandestine military organization. General Augusto Pinochet, head of the military regime in Chile from 1973 to 1989, never came close to Hitler association, even though he dressed and acted like the man. When Germany was partitioned post WWII, the East raised anti-Nazi resistance as an honor, dotting the cities with statues and billboards commemorating resistance fighters, while the West assimilated former Nazis into positions of respect and officialdom (mayors, managers, etc.). In popular ahistoric empire folklore, the GDR (the East) is associated with fascism (many initial GDR politicians were camp survivors), while the West (the FRG) is aligned with freedom.

Suharto, the former Indonesian military-backed leader, who orchestrated the slaughter of over 1.5 million Indonesians in an anti-left pogrom on those islands in 1965, and later killed many more in East Timor, a monumental murder spree he could never have accomplished without the hands-on assistance of the empire (already exposed and admitted to), was greeted by both Bill Clinton and Al Gore at the White House on a 1995 visit. According to the New York Times, “there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.” Decades since the killings, Indonesia is still reeling from Suharto’s bloodbath, but that didn’t stop a senior Clinton administration Asian specialist from quoting in 1995, “he’s our kind of guy.”

When a phrase such as “moral imperative” is bandied around by the emperors, it’s usually time to beware. If history has taught us anything, it is the complete lack of morality that fuels their engine. Another pitfall is the assumption that the enemies of the empire are automatically friends of socialism (e.g. the Taliban, the Ba’athists, and goose-stepping North Koreans). This is the bed which the empire has made, and it pays to be vigilant, otherwise one surprisingly might well die in one’s sleep.

* * *

Lesley Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died in Iraq. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?
Madeline Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price? We think the price is worth it.

– CBS Sixty Minutes, 1996

Globalization has descended upon the subjects of the empire like a gigantic Mothra. It devastates human potential and natural resources. Rather than resolving crises, it creates them. Globalization, by its tenacious expansionism, is a vehicle for disorder and chaos, and for revolution. This revolution can come from either the right or the left. It is in these winds and currents that the emperors steer the ship. The vessel could well swim with the sharks and enter the waters of sheer barbarism. It might be hijacked away and pirated towards idyllic lands. Or it could be wrecked on the rocks by inept skippers and pilots, and drown the lot of us.

For many who came to consciousness as a result of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war in the Middle East, the problem appears to lie solely with the latest crop of emperors. While they (the Republicans) are no doubt audacious and worthy of the “Young Turks” label, they are in fact the next group of power brokers executing a strategy which was afloat long before their moment in the limelight. This is not to say that the rule of capital isn’t continuously facing new challenges and obstacles, and that it has to conform and adopt new strategies to overcome them. Witness the change of approach to national liberation movements a few decades ago. The development of neo-colonial structures reined in the liberating potential of these movements and made them new obedient and immediately corruptible governments, the opposite of their stated desires as movements (Zimbabwe, Namibia, Nicaragua, South Africa).

Despite the Republicans being in power, it’s difficult to imagine that a Democratic Party administration would behave in a radically different manner (how is Tony Blair, a Clintonian lookalike, explained away?). They might have differences about how to do things, but both parties would agree that the same ends need to be accomplished, and in that alone, they see only certain options, military intervention being the most obvious one. Clinton, addressing an audience of school children in Pennsylvania last week (May, 2003), emphasized the importance of always having a strong military and the guts to use it whenever necessary. In fact, Clinton bombed more foreign capital cities during his tenure than any other emperor. It’s probable that the combined Clinton/Blair strategy of economic embargo against Iraq has killed more people than Operation Iraqi Freedom did. For the one goes hand in hand with the other…economic strangulation (slow death) or demise by cluster bombs (quick, but messy). For many Westerners, the former seems more acceptable. At least, there were no mass rallies to oppose it during the period of the Clinton regime.

Despite certain mullahs’ intentions, the events of September 11, 2001 have strengthened the hand of the empire, not weakened it. With 9/11 as justification, the U.S. has carried out its global military invasions with impunity, defying world opinion and employing the “strike wherever and whenever we like” policy. Without 9/11, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney might not have survived a full-blown public investigation into the economic larceny at Enron and their respective involvement in that scandal. Had Americans nothing better to do than ponder the associations of their elected leaders with stealing, they (the elected officials) might not be so brazen in ignoring these allegations. Rudolph Giuliani, a man whose political career was all but washed-up, who spent the dotage of his mayoral days obsessing about building a stadium for the New York Yankees baseball team in NYC, forever will be remembered for the events surrounding 9/11 and his role therein. Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, might not have been elected as the new mayor of NYC if people had paid any attention to the election. His endorsement from Giuliani was enough to slither him in. And now, the Republican emperors are holding their convention in NYC to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 in 2004. Such a crass manipulation of an event recognized as a tragic loss of life should not be lost on us. It almost gives credence to the dismissible conspiracy theory that the empire was behind the entire disaster in the first place.

For at the heart of the real business of the empire is it’s appetite to conquer, own, maintain and increase power and control. Accomplishing this today is not so different from the manner adopted by previous empires. Seize territory, squash the opposition, put the natives in their place, confiscate and own the resources, push forward puppets and yes-men to do the empire’s local governing and policing, and stand by with a big stick (strike force) at the ready should things go awry. Many large energy conglomerates today employ private armies in foreign parts, a law unto themselves. The strength, sophistication and far-reaching tentacles of the empire’s domination can never be underestimated. No half measures will undo it, no lesser of two evils will unseat it. That it is venal, duplicitous, hypocritical, violent and greedy are obvious and explainable. This first must be understood. The empire has be stripped of its full regalia of untruths, so that the emperors eventually can stand before us, their naked infamy exposed for all to witness.

The Clash of Fundamentalisms by Tariq Ali
Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat by J. Sakai
In Search of Enemies by John Stockwell
Anti-Racist Action Bulletin – Fall, 2001, “Know Your Enemy” by J. Sakai


Originally published:
Issue Twenty-Eight
October 2003


(art: troy dockins)

A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.



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