The American Empire and the Fourth World
ANTHONY J. HALL
Shunpiking online is reproducing the text of the preface to Anthony Hall's new work, The American Empire and the Fourth World, which is volume one of The Bowl With One Spoon (McGill-Queens University Press). Dr. Hall is founding co-ordinator of Globalization Studies at the University of Lehridge, Alberta and will be a keynote speaker at the forthcoming Halifax International Symposium on Media and Disinformation, July 1-4, 2004 on the panel, Disinformation and First Nations. He has been a contributing writer to shunpiking magazine since 2002.
The Spanish War then created opportunities for acquiring such stations, far out in the Pacific as well as in the Caribbean. It placed in America’s grasp territories which, if not seized, could go to potential rivals. And it offered a chance for Protestant Christianity (also a species, by Social Darwinist canons) to score a gain in its struggle for survival against Catholicism and heathenism.
Ernest R. May, American Imperialism: A Speculative Essay, 1967
As columns of US tanks rolled into the centre of Baghdad in April 2003, the resurgent military mastery of the American empire was on global display. In seizing control of Iraq from the regime of Saddam Hussein, the US government injected its unique brand of high-tech martial power into the heartland of ancient Mesopotomia. This legendary domain between the Tigris and Euphrates waterways, a site of some of humanity’s earliest breakthroughs in agriculture, irrigation, literacy, and civic formation, has long been viewed as one of Western civilization’s primary seedbeds. There were many rich ironies, therefore, in the extension of the so-called War on Terrorism into Iraq, a country situated near the cultural headwaters of the civilizational stream now surging through the United States in its current role as the “the West’s” chief agency of global domination.
The extension of the US government’s War on Terrorism to the goal of “regime change” in Iraq placed a new light on the old myth that the West’s destiny in global history is synonymous with the destiny of civilization itself. As presently structured, the West’s most tangible instruments of global pre-eminence lie in the power of the US government and in the closely related operations of the world’s largest commercial corporations In 1960 retiring US president Dwight D. Eisenhower identified the most instrumental agency at the hub of this mix of institutions as the militaryindustrial complex. The production of ever-more-lethal and sophisticated weapons of mass destruction constitutes this technopoly’s most advanced frontiers of innovation and control, linking the destiny of all living beings on our shared planet. Among its many global functions, this military-industrial technopoly has become one of capitalism’s most high-octane stimulants as well as its primary police force.1
The intertwined complex of US public institutions and corporate leviathans that currently dominates global capitalism was spawned most prolifically in the process which saw the United States emerge from Western Europe’s imperial colonization of the Western Hemisphere. It was spawned with particular fecundity in the expansion of the United States to continental proportions. This expansion was characterized by the conquest of many Indigenous peoples and their lands. Before their ingestion by the United States, these North American lands and their Aboriginal inhabitants had been colonized by the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Spain, Russia, and, of course, Great Britain. Central to this process of annexation through conquest was the transformation of huge expanses of the earth’s most diversified, bounteous, and hospitable territory into titled private property whose ownership was vested not only in human persons but also in those corporate polities that first acquired their legal personality as “natural persons” in the United States. To understand the most aggressive motifs of globalization at the present time, there is no more telling history to explore, ponder, narrate, and debate than the process which saw the world’s sole remaining superpower emerge from European imperialism generally and from British imperialism more specifically.
The surge of US territorial acquisition and transformation in North America gave rise to one of the West’s most heavily dramatized and romanticized sagas of frontier conquest. A few common themes emerged from the rationales used to justify the seizure by the United States not only of its western frontiers but of the global fate of the West itself. These justifications for conquest and domination have been remarkably consistent with the rationales once dispensed in explaining the imperial annexations and impositions of European empires. Such rationales have been permeated by a view of human history as a linear progression marking the ascent of civilization over the alleged savagery of those peoples who have slowed or impeded Western dominance. Only rarely has the story of the West’s rise to global pre-eminence been presented in more complex and nuanced narratives, describing all manner of mergers, clashes, and accommodations among civilizations.
As the architects of the American empire have increasingly gazed towards the Arab-speaking and Muslim worlds as the next frontiers of their social, military, political, and commercial re-engineering, it has become essential to understand the persistent power of the West’s master parable. The key to that parable is the concept of all human interaction as a struggle to advance civilization’s conquest of savagery and barbarism. In mounting its War on Terrorism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, tragedies, the regime of George W. Bush drew heavily on the evangelical impulse of the West’s old civilizing mission. The US president and his advisers renewed the justification once popularized to explain both European imperialism and Manifest Destiny.
Where the United States emerged in its early years as both opponent and agent of European imperialism, Manifest Destiny seemed to invest the American nation’s expansionist energies with a sense of providential mission and sanction. Manifest Destiny was initially directed at extinguishing the Old World titles of Indigenous peoples as well as the Old World claims of the European powers that had previously colonized the Western Hemisphere. In the Cold War era the Red menace driving the build-up of the American war machine was no longer perceived to be Indians and British Red Coats. Instead, the perceived enemy had been globalized to encompass the real and imagined threats of international communism. Then, in the post–September 11 world, the imagery of terrorism replaced that of savagery and communism as the main explanatory catch-all to describe the real, illusory, or manufactured enemies of the American way of life.
In framing the underlying assumptions of the War on Terrorism, there was virtually no recognition by the government of the United States of the ironies entailed in mounting such a campaign in a society born of violent revolt by a heavily armed citizenry against the sovereign authority of a duly constituted government. There was virtually no public recognition that the very shape and workings of Western civilization are inextricably bound up with the violent overthrow of old orders in the course of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. Indeed, without the violence of the American Civil War, who can say how much longer the institution of slavery would have been tolerated and accommodated within the structures of American federalism? In making these observations I am not implying that there is no need to mobilize against genuine zealots who constitute very real menaces to the integrity of public order and the physical safety of civilian populations. What I am alleging, however, is that, without some substantial public reckoning with how to negotiate the complex of connections linking power and coercion, both outside and inside the institutions of sovereign governments and their corporate progeny, the War on Terrorism is in danger of becoming little more than a self-serving cover for the worst sorts of oligarchies. Already this unorthodox “war” has enabled many opportunists lodged in corrupt and discredited regimes to demonize their critics, repress their foes, and entrench their own power as though its monopoly under their own control was some final, utopian outcome of history fulfilled.
The War on Terrorism has deep roots in American history that cut far beneath the events of September 11. While the labels of the demonized other may have changed over time, the imagined attributes of the stigmatized foes of the American Dream have remained remarkably consistent since the era of the founding of the United States. In their very first act of self-justification, the founders carved out in 1776 a special category to encompass a class of humanity deemed bereft of inalienable rights, a class of people thought to embody such potential for unpredictable violence and anarchy that they were placed outside the assertions of equal rights proclaimed as the raison d’être of the revolutionary republic. In an internal contradiction too long neglected by scholars and teachers of American history, this class of humanity was characterized as predators to be excluded and extinguished in building the edifice of universal liberty. The War on Terrorism gave renewed force and legitimacy to prejudices similar to those that once induced the authors of the Declaration of Independence to refer to the Indigenous peoples of North America as “merciless Indian savages.” Their “known rule of warfare,” the founders proclaimed in the most famous and consequential political manifesto ever penned, “is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.”
This identification of Aboriginal Americans with savagery and with the indiscriminate destruction of people and property would cut a bloody swath through American history in the rise of the United States to continental, hemispheric and, ultimately, global pre-eminence. From the beginning of this ascent, those distinct peoples who stood in the way of the United States’s territorial ambitions were dehumanized and criminalized in the text of the Declaration of Independence. They were collectively set up as the target of what, in today’s terms, might be characterized as a campaign of territorial, commercial, and political aggrandizement disguised behind the cover of a self-righteous war on terrorism. They were collectively subjected to a regime of racial and moral profiling that has seen the lawless violence once directed at “merciless Indian savages” extended, to name only a few, to Aboriginal Hawaiians, indigenous Philippinos, nationalist Vietnamese, socialist Central and South Americans, revolutionary Cubans, and displaced Palestinians. Who knows how many other groups on the next frontiers of American power in both the Arab-speaking and Muslim worlds will find themselves demonized because of the arbitrary judgments made by those in charge of an endless War on Terrorism? Who knows who will be the next to be stripped of their inherent right of self-defence, let alone of their rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Who knows what government, what people, what nationality will next be denied all access to anything approaching due process in the international community, all in the name of the superpower’s self-declared imperative of pre-emptive attack? Who knows how many groups or individuals within the imperial heartland of the informal American empire will be denied all civil and political rights because it is claimed they represent a danger of “an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions?”
In the spring of 2003 the world watched, fixated, as the governments of the United States and its British imperial parent defied the international authority of the United Nations. Without the approval of the UN’s Security Council, the sole agency on the planet with the international authority to sanction lawful warfare, the former and current superpowers joined forces to install an Iraqi government more in keeping with their interests. The decision of the governments of the Unites States and Britain to defy the jurisdiction of the United Nations brought to the surface a range of new schisms dividing the West and, indeed, the entire global community. The resulting controversy revealed a profound difference of opinion among governments, politicians, and organized bodies of citizens within most countries. At the core of this disagreement was the question: Will the planet henceforth be governed through the exercise of some sort of democratic rule of law, centred, however imperfectly and precariously, at the United Nations? Or does the military and commercial power of the United States render the government of that superpower as the highest authority, as the ultimate court of final resort in the making of world order?
When that question seemed to be answered, for the time being at least, by the raw assertion of political and military will entailed in the US-led invasion of Iraq, the unwritten, unregulated, and informal nature of the American empire came under increasingly close scrutiny throughout the global community. How much longer, it was asked, could the United States claim the power and privileges of its dominant role in global finance, global geopolitics, and global control of weapons of mass destruction without bearing the costs that have traditionally accompanied the possession of formal empire? How much longer would the rest of the world tolerate the overt and covert interventions in their own domestic affairs by a multifaceted superpower apparently unconstrained by any rules other than those attending its own internal calculations of self-interest? At what point might it become no longer feasible for the United States to claim all the rights and privileges of a global empire without assuming in more predictable, codified, consistent, and verifiable ways the large responsibilities that go along with an imperial role in planetary governance?
In the course of the American military intervention in Iraq, a reminder of earlier resistance struggles on former frontiers of American power appeared in the skies above ancient Mesopotamia. The names given these airborne devices of war served as a reminder of the historical background of contemporary controversies over the place and function of international law. They provided a symbol that most of the great issues to be addressed in the formulation and enforcement of international law are closely connected to the unbroken cycles of colonization that continue to relegate most of the world’s people and peoples to subordinate status. Along the extended supply lines linking Baghdad with the strategic shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf flew tight formations of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters. The designations attached to these agile mechanisms of military force were taken from some of the warring opponents of the United States during earlier phases of its imperial expansion. By identifying the original resisters of American power with some of the US military’s most efficient killing machines, the superpower demonstrated its knack for cultural appropriation. It demonstrated its propensity to incorporate the fighting spirit of Old World Aboriginals into the arsenals and iconography of its New World empire.
The original Black Hawk led an Aboriginal resistance movement in 1832 in the Illinois area. A group of pro-American Winnebego men eventually captured the besieged freedom fighter. They handed over their captive to the top US officials at Prairie du Chien, a post that retained its distinct character from its earlier days as an important fur-trade emporium in both French and British imperial Canada. Black Hawk’s incarceration can be seen as the final pre-emption by the United States of the sovereign aspirations of the Indian Confederacy. This legendary confederation of First Nations had extended its commercial ties with the Montreal-based traders into a military alliance with the British imperial government during the War of 1812. The Indian Confederacy’s aim in allying itself with the British Army in North America was to achieve for its citizens sovereign recognition of an unextinguishable Aboriginal dominion in the heart of North America. In seeking a permanent national polity with fixed borders in their own ancestral hemisphere, the Indian Confederacy mounted the most concerted Aboriginal challenge ever to the expansionist policies of the United States. With the quelling of the Aboriginal resistance led by Black Hawk, a seasoned veteran on the British side in the War of 1812, the US government was, in a sense, mopping up the military remnants of Tecumseh’s once-formidable Indian Confederacy.
After incarcerating Black Hawk for a short time, the American War Department decided to take its prize captive on a tour of major US cities in the nation’s more heavily populated regions. The object of the exercise was to impress on Black Hawk and his oldest son, who also joined the tour, that it was futile for Aboriginal Americans to resist the power and might of the United States. Much to the surprise of the event’s organizers, Black Hawk and his entourage created a minor sensation. Everywhere they went, Black Hawk and his son met with intense curiosity from large numbers of animated onlookers. The newspapers quickly joined and amplified the phenomenon, extending to Black Hawk a new kind of celebrity status. As this episode and others like it demonstrated, the American public were fascinated by defeated Aboriginal warriors. Ironically, in attempting to protect their own ancestral portions of the American homeland, these Indian patriots had contributed to the mythology of the seizure of the American West as a classic martial drama highlighting the hard-won character of civilization’s conquest over doomed savagery.
In the years ahead there would be many variations on the themes of resistance, conquest, and celebrity in the glamorized myth making surrounding the westward movement of the American frontier. At Little Bighorn in Montana Territory in 1876, for instance, a well-armed Indian fighting force led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull beat the US Seventh Cavalry of General George Custer. Custer’s military carelessness was partly attributable to his desire to parlay a major victory over Indians into winning the keys to the White House. In attempting to climb through military ranks to the ultimate prize of the US presidency, Custer had before him the example of Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. Both were decorated Indian fighters who had shot to the top job in the United States largely through the fame they had garnered in leading frontier assaults portrayed and celebrated as part of America’s benighted conquest of a dark and savage continent.
The setback for the US Army at Little Bighorn proved there could be significant military reversals in the course of Western civilization’s onslaught on Indigenous peoples. The strange fate awaiting Sitting Bull was one marker of this realization. In the years before he was assassinated by a Siouan police officer in the employment of the US government, Sitting Bull briefly became the star attraction in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. This populist extravaganza laid out the basic plotlines and script for literally hundreds of Hollywood “Westerns” in the years that followed. These lucrative early products of the Hollywood Dream Machine signalled to Americans, and increasingly to a growing global market as well, the seemingly inevitable course of the United States’s leadership in vanquishing savagery and securing the West for civilization’s ascendance. For many decades the various plots supporting this basic storyline remained largely unchanged. Only the deep political schisms generated by the heavy US involvement in the Vietnam War changed the symbolic geography that had given rise to the stark dichotomies dramatized in Hollywood Westerns. As the acrimony over Vietnam shattered a host of naïve certainties on which many pillars of American nationalism had been built, it became more difficult to recycle the standard mythology of the moving American frontier as an unwavering force for civilization’s ascent over savagery. Some of the new realism proved more ephemeral than long lasting, however, when the Hollywood presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s returned the United States to some of the more primal motifs in the representation of American patriotism.
The warriors for whom the Apache helicopters are named achieved this distinction by being among the most effective guerrilla fighters the world has ever known. “They are the tigers of the human species,” observed Lieutenant-Colonel George Crook, the officer assigned the job of overseeing the US government’s military hunt to disarm and to kill or incarcerate the last of the free Apaches in the Sierra Madre range in the Chihuahua region of Mexico.2 From that remote mountain bastion the last of the Apache holdouts conducted a concerted armed resistance until the mid-1880s against the incursions of the acquisitors of their ancestral lands in Arizona, New Mexico, and Chihuahua. At the head of this small array of legendary resisters was Geronimo.
Geronimo and his group might never have been captured if Crook had not succeeded in hiring Apache scouts to track down their relatives in their secret mountain hideaways. In bringing Indian scouts into the US Army to advance American interests in the American Indian wars, the US government began to acquire expertise in the arts and science of divide and conquer. From Apacheria to India to Iraq and Afghanistan, the strategic techniques of infiltration, bribery, payoffs, and co-optation to open, widen, and exploit divisions between and within Aboriginal groups have been essential to the creation, expansion, and operation of virtually all imperial systems.
Geronimo gained an enduring reputation that remains securely lodged in the symbolic mystique of Americana. To this day the series of pictures taken by C.S. Fly when Geronimo and his small band of Chiricahua Apache were briefly captured remains among the best-known and frequently reproduced images in the history of photography. After posing for Fly, Geronimo and his group eluded their American captors one more time. Several months later they were apprehended by a force of 5,000 soldiers. They were immediately deported, along with some of the now-disfavoured Apache scouts, to a military prison in Pensacola, Florida. Like Sitting Bull, Geronimo was transformed by promoters into a popular attraction. He was allowed to sell autographs and souvenirs to tourists as his part of the bargain.
In 1904 Theodore Roosevelt invited Geronimo to join in the US president’s inaugural procession down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Roosevelt’s goal in selecting Geronimo was to present the famous old warrior as the “before” stage in a kind of before-and-after display designed to dramatize the civilizing ideals of the United States generally and of US Indian policy specifically. Geronimo was meant to embody an uncivilized contrast with Quanah Parker, a Comanche rancher and US magistrate who rode in the parade along with several graduates of the Carlisle Indian Boarding School. They had been selected to demonstrate the perceived success of American methods in elevating former savages to the refined heights of advanced civilization. Geronimo, however, generated a level of admiration not extended to Parker. The famed Apache, in fact, overshadowed all the participants save one. Only President Roosevelt was more applauded than Geronimo. According to Geronimo’s biographer Angie Debo, as the onlookers threw their hats in the air, one is said to have exclaimed, “Hooray for Geronimo! Public Hero Number 2!”3
During the many years Geronimo spent in the custody of the American Army at Fort Pickens, Florida, and Fort Still, Oklahoma, there was always uncertainty about his precise legal status. This doubt anticipated a similar controversy that arose as the US government pursued the first stages of its War on Terrorism. A special prison was established at the American military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to contain Taliban fighters taken captive in Afghanistan. These soldiers, it was believed, had close links with al-Qaeda, the group tagged by the Bush regime as the primary culprits responsible for the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Just as the Declaration of Independence placed “merciless Indian savages” in a kind of constitutional no man’s land outside the domain of inalienable rights, so the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were similarly denuded of all protections of law and due process. The “detainees” were denied access to the domestic criminal courts of the United States and to the international laws and procedures governing the treatment of prisoners of war.
The parallels between the case of Geronimo and the Guantanamo Bay incarcerees hint at the existence of many similar comparisons awaiting timely investigation. A central danger to be addressed in such investigation is how the US-led War on Terrorism holds the potential to renew some of the worst abuses of sovereign authority that Western civilization had seemingly surmounted in moving beyond European empire building, German fascism, Soviet totalitarianism, and South African apartheid. What is at stake is nothing less than the integrity of the rule of law, a tenuous, incomplete, and imperfect human creation even at the best of times. The rapid erosion of the rule of law has been closely connected to renewed patterns of imperial abuse that have placed some of those on the receiving end of modern-day colonialism, in a constitutional twilight zone without access to the remedies of both domestic and international law. Those so victimized are the contemporary descendants of the Declaration of Independence’s “merciless Indian savages.”
It could be argued, in fact, that many of the victims of the modern-day colonialism are actually worse off than some of the “savages” and “natives” on the receiving end of earlier versions of imperial rule. In the case of the British Empire, for instance, its subjects had frequently to contend with the alien authority of colonial institutions. For the most part, however, these institutions acted on the basis of public acts of the imperial Parliament and executive orders formulated through political procedures whose substance could usually be evaluated in the relatively clear light of day. Though these colonial institutions, along with the officials who administered them, often performed in repressive and unjust ways, the oppressive structure of this system was sufficiently clear that critics, such as Mahatma Gandhi, could advocate its replacement with indigenous instruments of home rule.
In the present constellation of global power, no such clarity exists. In the place of a world divided between imperial powers and their formal colonies, we now have a planet where the majority of citizens are effectively dominated by the domestic political whims, massive military establishment, transnational banking institutions, and prolific corporate progeny of a single superpower. There is no transparent constitutional shape, no tangible rule of law attending the methods of remote-control governance that have become the modus operandi of the informal American empire. While the staff of the American State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, and its many related agencies might perform tasks similar to those that once took place in the British Colonial Office, very little of this activity directed at controlling events outside the American homeland has any basis in duly constituted law. The laissez-faire policies long favoured by American business enterprises, both at home and in their global operations, have been adopted as the primary technique of American foreign policy. This term, which seemingly recognizes the foreign and externalized character of the rest of the world as a domain lying beyond the jurisdictional scope of the United States, serves to disguise the global reach of American power. Underlying this thesis is the observation that the unilateralism of the United States is far more influential than the multilateralism of the United Nations in the way the world is actually governed.
The techniques of this global regime of remote-control governance are well documented and well known in some circles. They include forms of financial blackmail regularly practised in the poorer countries by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the covert sponsorship of “regime change,” such as those US-backed coups known to have taken place in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, to name but a few, and the sponsorship of puppet regimes as epitomized by the royal dynasty in Saudi Arabia that is the local custodian of US-based oil and gas interests. Even the most superficial examination of the information freely available on the background of the September 11 tragedy reveals that the axis of evil behind the savage attack has most to do with the politics of the religious fundamentalism known to thrive among some clients of American power in Saudi Arabia. Compared with the intensity of the complex interplay among the religious fundamentalisms that came to dominate the executive branches of the governments of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, the role of the former regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq in the genesis of international terrorism was relatively insignificant.
Much of this project is devoted to explaining that the methods of indirect rule in the informal American empire are not new. They have evolved over an extended period, but especially since the devastation of Europe and Japan in the Second World War. What has changed with the Bush regime’s leadership of the War on Terrorism is that the US government no longer hides and obfuscates its unwillingness to abide by the main tenets of multilateralism and international law. At the core of the international system as it existed on the eve of September 11 was the principle that the world’s nation-states are each invested with a sovereign authority that cannot be legitimately breached. That principle evolved gradually after its rudimentary outlines were first articulated in 1648 in the Treaty of Westphalia. In place of the investment of the powers of self-governance in the agency of nations-states, the US government now asserts that it possesses a unique imperative to conduct “regime change,” “pre-emptive strikes,” and “anticipatory self-defense” to change the character of governments it does not like. It makes this assertion based on the conviction, frequently articulated by the president and his chief law enforcement officer, that the licence to violate the sovereign authority of foreign states has come to the United States by divine right.
In May 2003 the Bush White House shortened the name of the War on Terrorism to the War on Terror. It thereby highlighted the sharp internal contradiction within the phrase. War is, after all, a concentrated form of terror. The semantic adjustment was introduced in the course of a military victory ceremony on board a US aircraft carrier. “The Battle of Iraq,” declared President George Bush from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, “is one victory in the War on Terror that began on September 11, 2001.”4 Bush’s speech was delivered amidst an event that was pure American showmanship, a finely honed spectacle of political propaganda designed to generate those kinds of images that belong more to the realm of mythology than to articulate argument. In an era when software, public relations, and celebrity have become central currencies in the political economy of mass illusion, the event was a textbook example of artful advertising for the military-industrial complex.
It served to help illustrate that the most consequential conflicts of our time are not those fought with the weaponry of physical violence but with the means of manipulating public opinion. The Bush White House seemingly acknowledged this aspect of contemporary warfare by referring on its website to “the largest media embed operation on any ship in naval history.” In this operation, the Lincoln’s large crew played host to photographers and scribes representing the world’s major media conglomerates. From Time-Warner to Disney-ABC, to General Electric-MSNBC, to Westinghouse-CBS, to Rupert Murdoch’s transnational media empire, these info-entertainment conglomerates are deeply embedded within the technopoly of the military-industrial complex. The media spectacle married elements of the American sci-fi thriller Independence Day and Leni Riefenstahl’s classic Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. In the opening scene of Triumph, Adolf Hitler is pictured approaching from the air the Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg in 1934. President Bush began his big spectacle on board the Abraham Lincoln by touching down on the vessel’s deck in a S-3B Viking jet. Emblazoned on the windshield of the aircraft were the words “Commander-In-Chief.” The US president then emerged in full fighter pilot garb, invoking the imagery of the dramatic concluding scenes in Independence Day. In those scenes, an American president leads a global coalition of armed forces from the cockpit of a small jet fighter. The aim of this US-led operation is to defend the planet from the attacks of outer-space aliens.
The Lincoln and its crew provided the American president with a monumental setting for a stirring depiction of militarism triumphant. While the producers of the extravaganza borrowed heavily from the propaganda techniques pioneered by Riefenstahl and her associates, however, the event was designed to conjure up the aura of Gettysburg rather than Nuremberg. A central element of the plan was to locate the ceremony on board the warship named after the American president who abolished the institution of slavery in the United States. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln went to Gettysburg, the site of the Union’s most pivotal victory over the slave-owning Confederacy. In his address, one of the most celebrated orations of any American president, Lincoln invoked the rhetorical power of some of the most timeless phrases in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln justified federal military actions in the American Civil War as being dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” The sacrifices of the Union side were dedicated to “a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” In 2003 George Bush attempted in his speech on the Lincoln to draw on the authority of these same principles. He described US operations in Iraq as serving the cause of freeing the Iraqi people from “enslavement.” The purpose of the campaign, Bush asserted, was to produce a new regime “of, by, and for the Iraqi people.”
In attempting to link the US objective of regime change in Iraq to the abolition of slavery throughout the course of the American Civil War, the Bush administration may have been responding to an interpretation initially suggested by British prime minister Tony Blair. Blair first connected the idea of the War on Terrorism with the abolition movement in a presentation he delivered at a Labour Party conference soon after the September 11 attacks. Oxford historian Niall Ferguson referred to this “messianic speech” in the concluding paragraphs of a survey text he wrote to accompany a BBC television series on the history of British imperialism. In Blair’s early response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Ferguson comments, the British prime minister seemed burdened under the misapprehension that the United States was born “in a war against slavery” rather than “in a war against the British Empire.”5
One of the main themes of Ferguson’s prolific scholarship is that, on balance, the British Empire brought more advantages than disadvantages to humanity collectively in the course of that pluralistic polity’s rise and fall Among the positive legacies of what Ferguson refers to as “Anglobalization” are the pervasiveness of English as a worldwide medium of communication, the elaboration of expansive financial infrastructures favouring relatively unobstructed and abundant flows of international commerce, the spread of parliamentary institutions, and the benefits of the kind of social cohesion which arise from the ascendance of the rule of law over the rule of force.6 Generally I agree with this aspect of Ferguson’s work – and I believe I extend and support his thesis with many of the arguments I develop in these pages. I maintain, for instance, that the continuation into the twenty-first century of crown treaty negotiations with the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia, Quebec, and the federal territories of Northern Canada is directly attributable to the persistence of the imperial rule of law that was retained in what remained of British North America after the United States achieved sovereign independence in international law in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. A similar argument could be made about the political position of Indigenous peoples in Australia, especially in light of the Australian High Court’s ruling in 1992 that they possess Aboriginal rights that cannot be unilaterally extinguished through application of the ethnocentric doctrine of terra nullius – of the strange legal precept that the land was unpeopled at the onset of European colonization.
Unlike in the remaining crown domain of North America, the United States has, since 1871, simply denied the existence of an international law of Aboriginal title, arguing at the un and elsewhere that it derives its powers over Aboriginal Americans and their ancestral lands from the act of conquering them. Between 1776 and 1871 the US government continued the constitutional inheritance codified for British North America in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The US government made and ratified in Congress almost four hundred treaties with Indigenous peoples in order to gain Aboriginal sanction for its expansions into Indian Country. Most often, however, these treaty negotiations took place only after the US military had conquered Indian fighting forces in the original antecedents to the Battle of Iraq. The Treaty of Greenville, for instance, was negotiated by American officials in 1795 only after the fledgling US Army under General Anthony Wayne achieved a martial victory over the Indian Confederacy in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the Great Lakes region. Before 1795 the fighting forces of Little Turtle, the leader who led the negotiation on the Indian side in the making of the Treaty of Greenville, had twice defeated the American Army in military conflicts testing disputed claims to rich lands north of the Ohio River. The graduation years later of Little Turtle’s grandson from the US Military Academy at West Point serves to suggest the kind of advantages made available to Aboriginal collaborators and their families once they changed sides to become instruments rather than obstacles of US power.
The history of Aboriginal-US relations surrounding the making of the Treaty of Greenville holds significant clues pointing towards possible outcomes from the US intervention aimed at bringing to power a new regime for the governance of Iraq. This history of US expansion within North America helps also to illuminate some of the relationships of power affecting conflicts over jurisdiction in lands and waters claimed simultaneously by the Israeli state and the Palestinian people. From the perspective of those parties dealing from the stronger position of entrenched state power, the prerequisite for successful treaty negotiations seems to be a decisive demonstration of armed superiority, making conquest the underlying basis of any peace settlement. This pattern links the aftermath of the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 with the aftermath of the Battle of Iraq in 2003. Both interventions by the US military established a balance of power conducive to the subsequent installation of Aboriginal client regimes willing to sanction the transfer of control over the exploitation of natural resources.
To realize this fundamental objective, the US government and its proxies can be expected to hold tenaciously in the future to the position that they possess the prerogative of conquerors to decide who is or is not eligible to sit on the other side of the negotiating table. It seems likely that any new treaties to emerge from such conditions on the superpower’s imperial frontiers will be more like Indian treaties in the United States than the constitutional instruments used to restore national governments in Western Europe and Japan after the Second World War. Accordingly, any agreement to recognize new polities in the occupied portions of the Middle East will probably draw on the legacy of conquest in the American Indian wars. Those in possession of the instruments of state terror will attempt to pressure selected representatives of Aboriginal groups to acknowledge formally that all their rights, titles, and jurisdictions flowing from their prior possession of the (s)oil have been extinguished. The other side of this same coin is the attempt to gain Aboriginal consent for the principle that the authorities of the newly recognized regime flow from delegated powers transferred from the stronger to the weaker parties in treaty agreements. Hence the concept of extinguishing the Aboriginal rights and titles of Indigenous peoples remains integral to the continuing expansion of the New World Order that excluded the merciless Indian savages – in other words the imagined enemies of civilization – from the liberties declared universal at the moment of the future superpower’s revolutionary inception in 1776.
My emphasis on Aboriginal title as an important element in the concept of universal human rights leads me to support and amplify Ferguson’s view that the British Empire invested the process of globalization with many redeeming features. I am less pleased, however, by his characterizations of the rise of the United States from a civil war in British North America to its current status as the planet’s sole superpower. This weakness in Ferguson’s work reflects an analytical problem that cuts widely, I believe, across a broad spectrum of British imperial and American historiography. The basis of that problem is twofold. One weakness lies in the failure of most historians to recognize the nature of so-called “Indian Affairs” as a precedent-setting continuum of relations establishing underlying paradigms and patterns for broader complexes of relationships between colonizers and the colonized. The other weakness lies in the failure to situate the American Revolution in its broader temporal context of violent clashes between competing empires, competing interests, and competing theories of sovereignty.
As I see it, the dates 1754 and 1814 are the most important temporal bookmarks in framing the duration of the most violent phase of the more extended American Revolution. The first date identifies the onset of the Seven Years’ War, when Great Britain and France tested the power of the military force backing their overlapping imperial claims. The year 1814 saw the negotiation of the Treaty of Ghent, the agreement concluding the War of 1812. This war was the last time that the United States and Great Britain, the present and past superpowers, clashed in violent confrontation.
Throughout this period from 1754 to 1814 the Confederacy of Indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes–Ohio Valley area played a disproportionately large role in determining the course of imperial history in North America, a saga whose pivotal effect on global history is now apparent. In conflict after conflict between colonial antagonists, the Aboriginal inhabitants of this contested region held the balance of power. At the core of the contention between Great Britain and France in the Seven Years’ War, for instance, was the future of the strategic Aboriginal territories between the watersheds of the St Lawrence and the Mississippi rivers. Following British North America’s incorporation of Canada, a disagreement over the character of Aboriginal rights and titles in the newly acquired territory was instrumental in expanding the schism between competing camps of British imperialists in the genesis of the American Revolution. In the War of 1812 it was the prospect that the citizens of the Indian Confederacy would achieve international recognition for their sovereign Aboriginal dominion in the heart of North America which infused the most profound ideological and geopolitical issues into that conflict. Prominent among the mobilized military forces in the War of 1812 was the Liberation Army of the Indian Confederacy. Under Tecumseh’s inspired leadership, its military campaign amounted to an Aboriginal and British-backed version of the first American Revolution. The aim of this unfulfilled War of Aboriginal Independence – this second American Revolution – was to secure and hold jurisdictional ground for the First Nations. Such an outcome, if realized, would have set an international precedent that might well have moderated the ethnocentric extremes displayed in future expressions of European imperialism and American Manifest Destiny.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century these historical episodes acquire added meanings as the US government weighs the fate, for instance, of the Palestinians, the Kurds, and the diverse peoples arbitrarily grouped together as Iraqis following the First World War. One obvious place to look for indications of how these and other similarly oppressed groups will be treated in the American imperium is to look to the experiences of Indigenous peoples in North America, especially during the period when the United States emerged from its British imperial origins to claim and to colonize its own continental empire. Indeed, this process holds important keys to better understanding of many current phenomena, including the propensity of the American people and government to turn away from any approaches to global governance that might render the United States as a subject as well as a maker of international law. The roots of this pattern go back to the period before the American Civil War, when the US government rejected any external intervention into the sovereign authority of the southern states over the institution of slavery. Similarly, after the War of 1812, the US government deftly fended off all European involvement in the Indian wars and Indian removals that took place in the course of western expansion. This push found an extension in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. In his most famous international pronouncement, President James Monroe articulated the intent of the US government to reserve the entire Western Hemisphere, save what remained of British North America, essentially as a colonial hinterland of the imperial United States. One outcome has been to deny to the largely mestizo populations of Central and South America their inherent right to elaborate without US interference their own complex of foreign relations in the larger global community.
These historical vignettes are suggestive of the genesis of the near pathological unwillingness of the US government under President George W. Bush to acknowledge any secular law or authority on the planet higher than the power vested in the United States. They provide the contextual setting for a very consistent line of decision making connecting, for instance, the failure of the US government to join the League of Nations, the US refusal between 1948 and 1989 to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the unqualified antagonism of the Bush regime towards any US involvement in the International Criminal Court. These and numerous other displays of American unilateralism have emerged in a country forged in the determination that its western expansion would not be impeded by either the resistance of Indigenous peoples or the constraints of imperial and international law.
From these beginnings, the United States and its corporate progeny have continued to expand in ways that eschew as much as possible the kind of elaborate constitutionalism that became an important factor in the evolution of the British Empire into the most pluralistic polity the world has ever seen. This nuanced constitutionalism placed a premium on flexible adaptation to the diversity of peoples, languages, cultures, and religions within Great Britain’s imperial embrace. In contrast, the melting-pot liberalism of the United States has paradoxically made its informal empire far less tolerant than was the British Empire towards the eclectic character of subject peoples, but especially in the realm of economics and religion. The sense of Manifest Destiny permeating the expansionistic ethos of the United States has long imbued its version of the civilizing mission with a particularly strident strain of evangelism, one that has treated the universalization of capitalism almost as if the goal of commercial conformity was the product of divine revelation.
Much calculation and cunning has been employed in crafting the web of power behind the facade which gives the impression of the superpower’s laissez-faire relations with the rest of the global community. The development of these relations outside the constraints of an overarching rule of imperial law is much less inadvertent than Ferguson indicates in his proposal that the United States should adopt a global personality more like that of Great Britain during the height of its imperial powers. Ferguson misleads his readers in picturing the United States as though its position in the world is currently similar to that of Great Britain at the moment when it began to transform its sphere of influence from an informal to a formal empire. As the most powerful outgrowth of the world’s most sophisticated imperial system, the informal American empire is best characterized as a distillation, rather than an unrefined version, of the most expansionistic elements of the British Empire. This pattern is especially clear from my vantage point in Canada. My country emerges from the position of those in North America who chose to stay with the British Empire through the course of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Since 1776 it has become increasingly clear that the imperialism of those on the Tory side of these conflicts was pale compared with the expansionary zeal of those who transformed the United States into the world’s powerhouse of commercialism and militarization. Charles Darwin’s theory of the “survival of the fittest” meets Wal-Mart and Hiroshima.
In the New York Times, Niall Ferguson encourages his readers in the United States to move beyond the “tradition of organized hypocrisy” that prevails “so long as the American empire dare not speak its own name.” As part of the transition Ferguson advocates, he proposes that the best American universities should devote more attention and resources to cultivating a class of graduates willing to serve overseas for long periods of time in a US version of the British colonial service. In tendering this advice, Ferguson reflects on the importance of his own country’s system of higher learning, which produced the “Oxbridge-educated, frock-coated mandarins” that guided the British Empire from positions deep within the colonial hinterland. “You simply cannot have an empire,” he writes, “without imperialists – out there on the spot – to run it.”7
I expect that Harvard University is as deeply engaged in the operation of the informal American empire as Oxford University ever was in the management of the British Empire. Where the older empire sent most of its colonial agents out from the metropolis, however, the superpower deploys its system of higher education mostly by importing students to transform the offspring of foreign elites into willing agents of American indirect rule. Advancement of this process has helped build the careers of many American academics. For instance, Harvard professor Henry Kissinger began his rise through the ranks by guiding many foreign students through the assimilative process aimed at winning them over to collaborate, when they returned to their home countries, in US-centred networks of global command, both formal and informal, overt and covert.
This assimilative function was entrenched in Harvard’s legal foundations since its founding in the seventeenth century. Like several other Ivy League universities in the former English colonies of the United States, Harvard’s charter includes a specific mandate to educate a class of protestant Indian missionaries equipped on graduation to evangelize their own Aboriginal groups. A similar assimilative design seems evident in the decision of the US government to open a space at the prestigious West Point Military Academy for Little Turtle’s grandson after the Treaty of Greenville. A cruder version of the same manipulative pedagogy developed in the training of Latin American military forces in the murderous arts and sciences of “counterinsurgency” at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.
As Ferguson should realize, the system of higher education in the United States has long since been recruited into many instrumental roles in the military-industrial complex that lies at the core of the informal American empire. Through the medium of consultant contracts, for instance, scores of academics have been as thoroughly embedded in the command structure of the American war machine as those CNN journalists who made their way to Baghdad inside US Army tanks. President Dwight D. Eisenhower devoted considerable attention to the perils of this infiltration of the academy in the speech where he first warned of the anti-democratic tendencies of the military-industrial complex. He cautioned that “a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.” He added: “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is to be gravely regarded. Yet in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”8 As should be clear by now, this text comes from outside the community of embedded academics in the military-industrial complex. Some of them have indeed substituted curiosity for government contracts, and the elusive ideal of scholarly objectivity for a chance to participate in the chain-of-command overseen by America’s most overtly imperial presidency.
The frequent references by President Bush to the grace of God as the source of ultimate sanction for US policies has effectively rendered the world’s most powerful country, for the time being at least, as a Christian theocracy. The division between church and state has been whittled away so that evangelical Protestantism, which has long vied with Enlightenment rationality for the heart, soul, and mind of America, has apparently prevailed. The sense of Manifest Destiny, which historically imbued the expansionistic ethos of the United States with Christian purpose, has been renewed, this time with a vengeance on a truly global scale. The old Manifest Destiny of the United States has been absorbed into the Born Again evangelism inspiring the unbridled zealotry of the War on Terrorism. Both currents of conviction and action have encouraged Americans to see themselves as God’s Chosen People, assigned by the Creator to build a New Jerusalem on earth. Both currents of conviction and action draw heavily on the evangelical precepts that infused European imperialism with much of its messianic drive. That missionary enterprise began dramatically in 1493, just as the Christian Crusades against the peoples of Islam were coming to a close. With news of the “discoveries” of Christopher Columbus before him, the pope moved boldly to implement the doctrine that he was the exclusive instrument of universal power as Christ’s sole vicar on earth. He did so by investing the sovereigns of Spain and Portugal with a divinely sanctioned title to own and to govern the entire Western Hemisphere in the name of the Christian sovereigns’ duty to elevate infidel savages to the higher glories of Christian civilization.
Most of this text and of the larger project of which it forms a part were conceived, researched, and written before the War on Terrorism began. Very quickly, however, the events that followed in the wake of September 11 have rendered one of its key propositions far less controversial: that the United States forms the metropolitan centre of a larger, more expansive polity that I choose to call the American empire or, sometimes, the American empire of private property. An essential dynamic animating this empire, I argue, was first set in motion when the United States was formed as an instrument to overcome British imperialism. The founders created a new kind of indigenous North American sovereignty for several reasons, including the objective of creating a more efficient agency of statecraft for the ingestion and privatization of the continent’s vast and pluralistic Indian Country.
I first began developing this thesis in studying the Indian policies of my own country, a polity that absorbed and retained French-Aboriginal Canada even as it turned away from many of the principles animating most of the Anglo-Americans in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812. In both of these conflicts it was clear that the most zealous Indian fighters were on the supposedly liberal side of the clashes. In their Indian wars the founders and developers of the United States demonstrated attributes that help to clarify the nature of the dominant thrust in the complex of processes that have been recently described as globalization.
As I see it, one of the major themes in globalization is that the so-called decolonization movement, which unfolded with particular intensity in the 1960s, did not realize the promises of liberation during the dismantling of the old European empires. Instead, European imperialism was replaced by the form of unregulated, superpower hegemony that currently defines the main outlines of world order. The broad dissatisfaction with the failure of the decolonization movement to deliver genuine liberation may be difficult to apprehend from the perspective of the network of privileged enclaves that presently guides and exploits the continuing globalization of western dominance. But for 75 per cent of the world’s population, the giant class of groups and individuals still sometimes referred to simply as “natives,” the resentment mounts daily that the formal structure of empires, colonies, and subject peoples has not been replaced with a fairer means of organizing human relationships. We ignore at our peril this growing frustration with the continuity of colonialism. Surely the fate of “the West” and of the whole world does indeed depend on our capacity to formulate an application of Enlightenment ideals that is more just and progressive than the division of humanity between a small entitled minority and a large, disentitled majority.
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