What Do Empires Do?

Published on Voltairenet.org, by Michael Parenti, April 23, 2010.

While the definition of empire when referring to the United States is no longer anathema for the U.S. public, it’s use has been sanitized and drained of its full substance. Empire is mentioned as a synonym of power and prestige, as of something to be proud of, but rarely is public opinion reminded of the devastating deeds perpetrated by U.S. imperialism. Michael Parenti analyses the disconnect between perception and reality among the U.S. population … //

… So for centuries the ruling interests of Western Europe and later on North America and Japan went forth with their financiers—and when necessary their armies—to lay claim to most of planet Earth, including the labor of indigenous peoples, their markets, their incomes (through colonial taxation or debt control or other means), and the abundant treasures of their lands: their gold, silver, diamonds, copper, rum, molasses, hemp, flax, ebony, timber, sugar, tobacco, ivory, iron, tin, nickel, coal, cotton, corn, and more recently: uranium, manganese, titanium, bauxite, oil, and – say it again – oil. (Hardly a complete listing.)

Empires are enormously profitable for the dominant economic interests of the imperial nation but enormously costly to the people of the colonized country. In addition to suffering the pillage of their lands and natural resources, the people of these targeted countries are frequently killed in large numbers by the intruders.

This is another thing that empires do which too often goes unmentioned in the historical and political literature of countries like the United States, Britain, and France. Empires impoverish whole populations and kill lots and lots of innocent people. As I write this, President Obama and the national security state for which he works are waging two and a half wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and northern Pakistan), and leveling military threats against Yemen, Iran, and, on a slow day, North Korea. Instead of sending medical and rescue aid to Haiti, Our Bomber sent in the Marines, the same Marines who engaged in years of mass murder in Haiti decades ago and supported more recent massacres by proxy forces.

The purpose of all this killing is to prevent alternative, independent, self-defining nations from emerging. So the empire uses its state power to gather private wealth for its investor class. And it uses its public wealth to shore up its state power and prevent other nations from self-developing.

Sooner or later this arrangement begins to wilt under the weight of its own contradictions. As the empire grows more menacing and more murderous toward others, it grows sick and impoverished within itself.

From ancient times to today, empires have always been involved in the bloody accumulation of wealth. If you don’t think this is true of the United States then stop calling it “Empire.” And when you write a book about how it wraps its arms around the planet, entitle it “Global Bully” or “Bossy Busybody,” but be aware that you’re not telling us much about imperialism. (full text).

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