Ancient empires all had one thing in common. They developed myths that served to obscure the pathology inherent to their very existence. They created barriers of irrational tribalism and superstition that cloaked cogent warnings of descent and collapse. They became drunk with pious self importance and bread and circuses filled their days and nights while they ignored the anger in the streets and the famine in the fields. In short, none of them saw the end coming. But, alas, it did come.
I, like every other American, was raised hearing similar myths. I was instructed that we were the “good guys,” that “God was on our side” and anyone our nation went to war with was evil. I grew up believing that Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall and Soviet Russia, and the United States military was the most noble in all the world, battling the evil Saddam Hussein in defense of incubator babies in Kuwait. Each successive military intervention was to help the oppressed in some godforsaken part of the world, or as a necessary exercise to defend freedom and the homeland. In truth, I grew up in a sea of lies immersed in a culture conditioned to ignore the impact of its genocidal, slavery ridden, colonial roots. When I was older these stories began to unravel in the daylight of a brutal and unforgiving truth. And I began to realize that I was a citizen of the most powerful and ruthless empire the world has ever known.
The American Empire now spans the entire world with military bases in almost every nation. But to most of its citizens it is not an empire at all. In fact, many see the United States as some kind of benevolent giant, eager to bestow good fortune on any people on earth as long as they respect our “democratic values.” The true intention of US interventions and their horrific aftermaths are obscured by design. The mainstream press, which is owned by a few powerful corporations, acts as a mouthpiece for government propaganda, and does not show the public the body parts of young lovers at a wedding obliterated by US drone strikes, or the bodies of doctors burned alive in a hospital by a hell fire missile, or a little girl sliced to shreds by a cluster bomb, or a grandmother blown up in front of her grand children as she picks okra in her field.
The general public essentially has no grasp of the long, dark history of US backed coups, death squads or mercenary militias financed and trained by the Department of Defense or the CIA. This history is carefully edited by the elite. And what is perhaps even more alarming is that most are not aware of, or alarmed by, the pernicious growth of the militarized police state at home. The same hypermasculine, nationalistic culture that infects almost every sports event or educational ceremony, and wraps a flag around the eyes of an ever distracted, demoralized and disenfranchised public, encourages obedience to a brutal form of internalized authoritarianism. It is also useful to a treacherous military industrial sector which swindles young men and women, with scant economic or educational choices left to them, to join their ranks. Beholden to high ideals of service and duty, most are swept into a malicious machine that pits them against other poor, disenfranchised youth in far flung places around the world.
The ugly truth is that the Unites States, with the aid of efficiently trained storm troopers and well paid private mercenaries, is the main arbiter of terrorism and war in the Middle-east, drug trafficking in Central America and political turmoil in Africa. And all of the spoils of each new war or military exercise invariably go in the coffers of the wealthy and powerful. Ordinary soldiers are expendable after their usefulness to plunder is depleted. And if they survive, but return home damaged, they are hurriedly escorted into the shadowy corners of the homeland, neglected, abandoned and forgotten. This is why one rarely, if ever, sees the son of a politician or daughter of a corporate executive embedded in real combat missions. They know how the myths work very well, and they believe their aristocratic blood is too precious to be spilled for the loot they enjoy from each one of these exploits.
In the end, however, militaristic societies invariably turn their animus inward toward the weakest and most vulnerable. Gun violence and mass shootings, police brutality with impunity, entrenched, institutionalized racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant sentiments are signatures of this path to self-destruction. It becomes impossible for the powerful to export guns and aggression abroad and keep the homeland unsullied by the same mechanisms of violence for too long. And growing income disparity, where half of the world’s wealth is held by a mere handful of people, only serves to inflame this corrosive antipathy further among a humiliated populace. It will however, without a doubt, end.
How, then , shall we live at the end of empire? The ruling class would like nothing less than for us to forget ourselves and each other, and to wallow in our fears and prejudices, or indulge in vacuous narcissism, mindless shopping or obsess over the insipid escapades of celebrities. It must keep up the facade of democracy to maintain its continued plunder of the living earth and all who inhabit it. After all, we cannot expect the merchants of death, distraction and consumption to be anything other than duplicitous. And no leader that emerges from their ranks, no matter how forthright they may appear to be, will be permitted to buck or disrupt the liturgy of rapacious greed and authoritarian aggression that underpins imperialism itself.
Today’s empire is only different from ones long ago in its scope and its technological prowess. It covers the entire planet, the only home humanity has ever known. It fuels itself by ravenously piercing the flesh of the earth like an insatiable mosquito, sucking one last drop of its primordial blood before it exhales its noxious breath into the atmosphere, all while checkering the landscape with apocalyptic weapons to protect its habit. If there is an antidote to the poison of empire it is in realizing it is a poison to begin with, as deadly to the exploiter as it is to the exploited. The toxic indoctrination that informs every part of life within its reach must be rejected and replaced with a new story of who we are and what kind of world we wish to live in and create for our children. And to start building its foundation, brick by brick. But unless we take that antidote very soon imperialism’s penchant for avarice, plunder and belligerence is poised to decimate it all in the blink of an eye.
Kenn Orphan 2016