August 28, 2006
The myth of Manifest Destiny, Take Two
“In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor--the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the right of others.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US president, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
"Politically speaking, tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by "a world of enemies", "one against all", that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man."
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
"Where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control."
Lord Acton (1834-1902)
In March 1885, John Fiske wrote an essay for the magazine Harper’s, called "Manifest Destiny", in which he contended that the so-called "English race" was destined to dominate the entire world during the coming 20th Century. Then, according to this hubristic theory, there would be a millennium of peace and prosperity. However, it is the expansionist editor John L. O'Sullivan, who in 1845 coined the famous expression when he wrote of "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."
Such scary thinking was echoed half a century later by German fascists who thought their fascist Reich would last a millennium and that they could control the world. It would seem that delusional imperialists often think they have discovered the "millennium" magic recipe for dominance. They cloak their insane ambitions in notions of German or American Exceptionalism. Fundamentally, any 'Exceptionalism' among peoples is deeply rooted in racism and the self-serving hatred of "the other". Imperial nazi Germany was race-conscious and it went on extermining people because they were of the 'wrong' race and were declared "Untermensch" (undermen). More than fifty million people died to dispel these dangerous myths.
When religious excesses reinforce ideology and imperialist instincts, things can get even more hallucinatory. For some, the "divine doctrine" of Manifest Destiny originates in the sanctimonious conviction that the Christian 'God' intended the world to be under the control of white European or American Christians. It is the old colonialist idea that dark-skinned people in foreign lands are unable to govern themselves and need external intervention. For example, according to Puritan millennialism, or the theory of Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic racial superiority, some religious Americans, in the 19th Century, saw themselves in their delusion as some sort of a "New Israel", and they persuaded themselves that they should fight savages for the sake of a higher Christian civilization. According to this racial theory of history, popular in late 19th Century America and in early 20th Century Germany, the Teutonic nations [are destined] "to carry the political civilization of the modern world into those parts of the world inhabited by unpolitical and barbaric races", as explained by historian John Burgess.
In 1886, a period fertile with delusional authors, Josiah Strong published a book titled "Our Country", in which he opined that the English speaking peoples have the "mission" of evangelizing the world. A few years later, Brooks Adams published a similar ethno-centric theory of history in a book titled "The Law of Civilization and Decay", whose main thesis was that nations oscillate historically between barbarism and civilization. In a surprising development, the author then went on to extoll barbarism, arguing that barbarism was necessary to develop empires and subjugate colonies. Adams went on to envisage the emergence of an Anglo-Saxon alliance between the U.S. and Great Britain that would dominate the world.
Such eccentric ideas are not inconsequential, for sooner or later opportunistic politicians think of using them as stepping-stones to power. For instance, an imperialist American politician, Theodore Roosevelt, wrote a book in 1889 titled "The Winning of the West" in which he said: (The 1864 slaying of several hundred Cheyenne women and children was) "on the whole as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier." For this politician drunk with millennium ideas, the extermination or genocide of the Indians was done to advance "civilization".
When he became president after the assassination of William McKinley, in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt applied his racial theories of civilization in the Philippines, where the United States fought a nationalist insurgency for fourteen years, not unlike what mission-bound George W. Bush is doing today in Iraq. Maybe not surprisingly, the American Protestant missionary press was most supportive of the brutal Philippines war (1899–1913), a war that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Of course, in the realm of genocide, Adolf Hitler outdid all millennium imperialists when he undertook, in the 1930's, to exterminate the Jews and Gypsies in Germany, and in many parts of Europe. It took a world war to stop this insane fool.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, a similar wind of folly blows in certain quarters.
In Israel, for instance, religion-based "manifest destiny" thinking is widespread. For instance, the popularly accepted theory of Zionism is based, to a large extent, on the self-serving myth of the "chosen" people. The judaist Bible is supposed to have given present day Israelis a godly right to all of Arab territory in Palestine. This myth is then used to justify the building and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Arab lands, in Gaza and the West Bank.
One can also better understand the causes of perpetual war in the Middle East when it is known that according to Halacha (Jewish religious law), the term "human beings" according to Halacha refers solely to Jews. Indeed, a decisive majority of Talmudic sages view goyim (the derogatory Hebrew term for non-Jews) as either animals or sub-humans. With such extremist views, it is understandable that some Orthodox rabbis in Israel consider that international conventions, such as the 4th Geneva Convention which outlaws the deliberate killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian homes and property, are part of "Christian morality" and are not binding on Israel.
In the U.S., the powerful neo-conservative movement is also driven by a sense of moral superiority and by an apology of imperialism for the "good cause".
The cause this time that conceals more down to earth interests is the spread of democratic universalism, especially in the oil-rich Middle East. Irving Kristol, one of the original neocons, advanced the idea that America needs a 21st century version of democratic Manifest Destiny. For him and his cohort of Neocons, just as it was Manifest Destiny for the United States to reach the Pacific Ocean in the 19th Century, so it is today's American Manifest Destiny to control oil-rich regions like the Middle East, under the pretexts of spreading 'democracy' or fighting terrorism around the world. Thus is constructed the intellectual foundation for building a ruthless and plutocratic empire under the guise of spreading a 'one-size-fits-all' democracy.
The shaky assumption behind such thinking is that people, and especially Americans, will not see the fundamental contradiction of wanting to impose democracy through undemocratic means (i.e. using military power to spread democracy). Nevertheless, for neocon missionaries, it is legitimate to use force to convert the world to some sort of American supervised 'democracy'. —This is the new religion. This is, of course, a hoax; in a democracy, power originates from the people, not from armed foreign invaders, and the law, not force, regulates the interactions between individuals and between nations. In fact, imperialism is the very antithesis of democracy.
Nevertheless, with such open-ended patronizing and condescending hubris, there lies the seeds of many imperialistic wars to come, —wars that may suit the agendas of some powerful special interests. Indeed, the new neocon theological version of Manifest Destiny is also a theology of permanent war. As such, these old theories in new clothes represent the gravest danger to world peace. And since George W. Bush subscribes to this flawed ancient geopolitical theory, the world should pay special attention.
As for Bush Jr. himself, indeed, while protesting that the U.S. has no plan to stay long in Iraq, after the so-called "liberation" he illegally engineered on his own in the spring of 2003, he takes great care to stress that the decision of when to remove US troops from Iraq will rest with ''future presidents and future governments in Iraq", not with him. This is understandable since his administration is currently busy building a Middle Ages-type fortress in Baghdad, disguised as an embassy. This new Carcassonne fort will have a 15-foot thick perimeter wall and will be spread over a 104-acre site. The Pentagon is also busy building 14 permanent American military bases in occupied Iraq, capable of hosting 50,000 American soldiers and their families. Some temporary expedition! —As General Anthony Zinni, former US Middle East commander, has put it, there could not be a more ''stupid" provocation to the Muslim world than building permanent military American bases in a Middle East Arab country. This is a sure guarantee of decades of war and unrest. —In a repetition, one hundred years apart, of the Philippine invasion, U.S. war commanders now think some level of American forces will be 'needed' in Iraq until 2016. "Plus ça change, plus c'est pareil."
Such duplicity does not escape the attention of the world, even though many Americans keep their heads buried deep in the sand, and refuse to face the reality and consequences of their "imperial" government. A recent poll taken in Great Britain, for example, found that Britons have never had a lower opinion of the leadership of the United States than presently. Indeed, a June 26-28, 2006 survey found that only 12 per cent of Britons trust the Bush-Cheney administration to act wisely on the global stage. This is half the number who had faith in the post-Nixon Vietnam-scarred White House of 1975. Today, a large majority of the British see America as "a cruel, vulgar, arrogant society, riven by class and racism, crime-ridden, obsessed with money and led by an incompetent hypocrite." —Let's keep in mind that Tony Blair's Britain is supposed to be George W. Bush's staunchest ally. It is therefore reasonable to believe that America's reputation in other countries, under Bush II, is probably much lower.
He is the author of the book 'The New American Empire'.
Visit his blog site at www.thenewamericanempire.com/blog.
Posted, August 28, 2006, at 5:30 am
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© 2006 by Big Picture World Syndicate, Inc.