Sunday, June 10, 2007
Imperialism and Democracy: Strange Fruit
Chalmers Johnson makes a case for the incompatibility of imperial pursuits and democracy. Basically what he says is that when a democracy pursues imperial designs that the focus of power shifts from the population to that of the military. He also states that for America to regain its lost democracy, and it is lost, we would need to reverse over one hundred years of American imperialism. Chalmers Johnson does not believe it is possible and neither do I.
It could be argued that the seeds for the destruction of American democracy began with the ending of the Spanish American War which was the beginning of America’s occupation of the Philippines for which there are some interesting parallels to the kind of thinking we heard so recently during the build up to war in Iraq. It was believed that the Filipinos would greet Americans as liberators, sound familiar?
Dewey's Pacific Squadron quickly defeated Spanish naval forces at Manila Bay, but the question remained, Kramer said, how U.S. forces should engage with a Philippine revolutionary movement that broke from Spain in June 1898 and declared the first republic in Asia. U.S. forces attempted to make use of Filipino revolutionaries - who were defeating Spanish land forces in the islands - without recognizing their government. Filipinos, they assumed, would greet U.S. forces as "liberators." When Spain surrendered, Filipino diplomats were not invited to treaty negotiations. U.S. negotiators pressed Spain to relinquish "sovereignty" over the Philippines - an archipelago Spain no longer controlled - for $20 million.
In February 1899, U.S. forces outside of Manila fired on soldiers of the declared Philippine Republic and the Philippine-American War began. It would in no sense be either "splendid" or "little," Kramer said. It lasted more than three years, in some places as long as 10. It involved 126,000 U.S. troops and resulted in nearly 5,000 U.S. casualties, an estimated 12,000 Filipino military casualties, and the death by violence, dislocation and disease of an estimated 250,000 Filipino civilians. It began as a conventional struggle, but facing early defeats, Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo opted for guerrilla tactics in November 1899.
There are also interesting parallels between recent current events and the American military involvement in the Boxer Rebellion which began in 1899. President Mckinley ordered American troops to enter China without even asking Congress setting a precedent that still haunts us today as in the recent American naval shelling of Somalia done without consent of Congress.
In the summer of 1900, as the Boxers are besieging the foreign ligation in Beijing and threatening to kill all of the foreigners they can get their hands on, McKinley has to make a historic decision. And the decision is whether or not to send US troops out of Manila and onto the mainland of Asia. Obviously, American troops had never fought in this theater before and what McKinley does is not only order the troops onto the Asian mainland to fight in China, but he does it without consulting anyone. He essentially goes to war without asking Congress anything about it. He uses his commander-in-chief powers and it becomes a very important point historic precedent, the kind of precedent that later American Presidents will use to order American troops around the world.
We have been traveling down the road of imperialism for over one hundred years and the strange fruit of our efforts sit starkly before us. Americans, for reasons good and bad, gave the majority in Congress back to the Democratic Party with the idea that Congress would end the American occupation of Iraq yet the Democratic majority has not used their power of the purse to force Bush’s hand. Clearly though they know why they were elected they refuse to act on that reason and in fact they refuse to do this because they no longer represent us and their feeble attempts to convince us they do represent us become more ridiculous and transparent with every passing day. The connection between Congress and the industrial military complex gives us a good example of how imperial pursuits and democracy just do not mix. The reasons for this are better explained by Chalmers Johnson than me in this interview of Johnson which you can watch here, you will have to scroll down the page to view it.
In the interview, which touches on many topics concerning democracy, Chalmers Johnson discusses the relationship between the CIA and our presidents past and present. Johnson tells how the CIA is in effect a private army for our presidents who operate with almost no oversight if any. I agree with Chalmers about disbanding the CIA as not only are they ineffective in collecting intelligence but they give the president powers that were never intended by our Constitution though that hardly seems to matter much anymore.
The wild goose chase of American imperialism has not only effectively destroyed our democracy but is also driving us to the brink of destruction itself. As our government wildly spends money to support our militaristic pastimes they are bringing the nation closer and closer to bankruptcy which could well mean the dawn of a new great depression. Our past allies now view us with horror and repugnance reducing what might have really been a positive influence in world affairs to a sick joke. For those who believe that a new president will be changing the course of our ship of state I believe you are in for terrible disappointment because there is really nothing new under the sun and a century of momentum is behind our present course and there is really very little we can do to derail it because we no longer live in a democracy.
Strange fruit indeed.
Posted by rob payne at 5:59 PM