Coming to Grips with Imperialism
If you’re an American under the age of 30, your country has been “at war” almost every day of your life. Not that it directly affects you. Or hardly anyone, really, except members of the lowest socio-economic classes.
We were at war for every single day of the Obama presidency and today, with a very different President, we still are. Although certain movies might have given you the impression that “war is hell” — while others suggest it’s kind of cool and heroic — our modern conception of war is abstract and theoretical. More like a video game. It’s always someplace far away, against an enemy that’s no threat whatsoever to our sacred Homeland, which, nevertheless, requires $2 billion a day to be spent so that the rest of us may be free to thumb through our phones.
So why are we there? (And by “we” I mean “the sons and daughters of people who are not members of Congress.”)
High school and college are increasingly distant memories for many of us. But it might be useful to recall some basic definitions we learned way back when. Like, say, imperialism. What the heck is it?
Imperialism is an economic system or industry exercising control over foreign regions upon which it depends for resources and markets. Banking or textiles or oil cannot, themselves, control anything. But governments with armies and armaments can do their bidding, serving as a benevolent representative for each industry’s financial interests. The justifications for governments acting as proxies for economic organizations are manifold, and they sound most convincing when the words “humanitarian mission” and “democracy” are included. But historically the one invoked most readily by imperialists across the globe is manifest destiny. Divine right. The same right that entitled Britain to take for itself India, Hong Kong, Australia, and bits and pieces of Africa. The right France had to seize Vietnam, Haiti, and bits and pieces of Africa. Japan to seize Manchuria. Russia to grab Port Arthur. And the same right that allowed the United States of America to annex much of the North American continent from native residents and put them on “reservations.” The USA also invoked manifest destiny to justify our occupation of the Philippines at the dawn of the 20th century.
At the end of the day, imperialism doesn’t need to explain itself. All it requires is an opportunity for the powerful to subjugate the weak.
Many patriotic Americans take umbrage at their country being called imperialist, as though our nation’s singularly high-minded motives weren’t being properly appreciated. Instead of being insulted, we ought to carry the torch of imperialism with pride. It’s one of the main reasons we enjoy a far better lifestyle than the average Native American, or Filipino, or Mexican, or any other people whose lands we took. (Another reason is slavery, but that’s not something one can openly celebrate.)
So when our brave and caring leaders, including Commanders who’ve never seen a day of military service, usher us into our next international “conflict,” you’ll hear rhapsodic justifications for the impending violence and misery that, when repeated sufficiently, sound almost plausible. But the real reason, as every good imperialist knows, is this: winning means never having to say you’re sorry.