Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Sorrows of Empire, by Chalmers Johnson

I always thought John Pilger was indulging in a bit of hyperbole when he said the United States was the world's biggest exporter of terrorism. Having read the Sorrows of Empire, I now totally agree.

Chalmers Johnson is a former cold warrior. He supported the Vietnam war and thought the hippies and students opposing it didn't know what they were on about. In his last book, Blowback, he says he wish he'd been more open minded to what these critics were saying.

Mr Johnson has followed up the prescient Blowback, which he wrote before the September 11 attacks, with an awesome indictment of the United States and its non stop military culture. He makes the distinction between being prepared for war, an army trained to fight wars, and militarism, a constant military culture.

I haven't read a book that explains so well the US military presence that straddles the globe. There are some 725 listed military bases the world over - many more remain secret. Soldiers serving on these bases are exempted from the laws of the host country, under agreements made with the United States. Thus, many crimes committed by these soldiers on foreign army bases - murder, rape, criminal negligence resulting in civilian deaths - pretty much go unpunished. Anyone who has studied the My Lai massacre, and knows how the ringleader got off pretty much scott free, will know what I'm talking about.

This is one of the many reasons for anti-American sentiment in foreign countries. When two soldiers raped a twelve year old girl on the Japanese island of Okinawa - a US military base since the second world war - thousands turned out to protest.

The book brilliantly details the frightening amount of power the Pentagon wields. The money spent - and lost, or rather wasted - is staggering:

'This "circulation of elites" tends to undercut attempts at congressional oversight of either the Defense Department or defense contractors. The result is an almost total loss of accountability for public money spent on military projects of any sort. As Insight magazine journalist Kelly O'Meara has noted, in May 2001 the deputy inspector general at the Pentagon "admitted that $4.4 trillion in adjustments to the Pentagon's books had to be cooked to compile ...required financial statements and that $1.1 trillion.....was simply gone and no one can be sure of when, where or to whom the money went."'

I need not say where the money could have been better spent. Instead, the US spends loads of cash in training armies in other countries. Only recently I read that the US is looking at spending $700 million on training 'friendly' militias in foreign countries. That's what can be understood as exporting terror.

There is a good chapter on globalization too. He quotes Lawrence Summers, who was the chief economist at the World Bank:

'On December 12, 1991, Summers became notorious for a leaked memo to senior officials of the bank encouraging polluting industries in the rich nations to relocate to the less developed countries. He wrote, "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage countries is impeccable and we should face up to that."'

This is literally exporting our own crap to the poorer parts of the world. And we wonder why people protest this?

On our involvement in the Iraq war Mr Johnson has this to say:

'Why the British and Australians went along with this fiasco when they could so easily have stood for something other than 'might makes right' remains a mystery.'

The book is indeed a sorrowful one, only because, following Shakepeare's past is prologue formula, the empire will end, and it won't be pretty. I quote the book's last paragraph in full.

'There is one development that could conceivably stop this process of overreaching: the people could retake control of Congress, reform it along with the corrupted elections laws that have made it into a forum for special interests, turn it into a genuine assembly of democratic representatives, and cut off the supply of money to the Pentagon and the secret intelligence agencies. We have a strong civil society that could, in theory, overcome the entrenched interests of the armed forces and the military-industrial complex. At this late date, however, it is difficult to imagine how Congress, much like the Roman senate in the last days of the republic, could be brought back to life and cleansed of its endemic corruption. Failing such a reform, Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits impatiently for her meeting with us.'

1 comment:

Giddy London said...

This sounds like really interesting reading. Can't help wondering if Nemesis didn't already have something to do with 9/11... she's not waiting in the wings. Now, with more perspective, it seems like an even greater tragedy that 9/11 eventually resulted in further bloating of that hubris. There seemed such hope in the early days when Americans started wondering, "Why do they hate us so much?", a question sadly subsumed in the war on terror.