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The Sorrows of Empire:

In 1946 George Orwell wrote, “When one considers how things have gone since 1930 or thereabouts, it is not easy to believe in the survival of civilization.” Yes, those 16 years (from 1930 to 1946) were an expression of humanity at its worst: the mere mention of several cities sums up images of pure horror – Guernica, Nanking, Auschwitz, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Yet the world in 1946 was merely in ruins, and an Orwell, though terrified by the threat of communism, nevertheless could dream of rebuilding the world along the lines of democracy under the aegis of a newly created United Nations.

So while the world in 1946 was fractured and fragile, there was some reason to hope for a better future. What Orwell could not have anticipated was that the ultimate threat to world stability, security and sustainability would not be the evil empire of Russia but instead an Empire presided over by the United States.

I offer this thesis based on several issues as well as several historical developments. The threats to world stability, security and sustainability, I believe, are concurrently political, ecological and ultimately moral.

The major political threat, of course, is nuclear conflagration. Many scientists and world leaders saw this back in 1946, and many argued vehemently, though ultimately futilely, that production of atomic weapons must be stopped. Of course, we all know that Russia’s entry into the arms race temporarily blocked abolition, but the failure of world leaders from the fall of Russia to today has ushered in a new, deadly and almost out-of-control era of proliferation. The USA, with the largest stockpile and with the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stands at the front of the line.

Add to this failure the extraordinary and massive defense spending, arms manufacturing and arms sales all over the world and the “empire of military bases” in foreign countries, and we see the USA as the self-appointed determiner of international policy. Chalmers Johnson in his most recent expose of US military-obsessive-compulsive behavior, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, points out that the USA has constructed over 737 bases (the Army’s official number) in 132 of the 190 United Nations member states. Johnson says it is actually over 1,000 bases which employ over 325,000 military personnel. And for what? As it is, Johnson argues, the USA defense spending “exceeds that of all the other defense budgets on earth combined.”

Why does this threaten world stability, security and sustainability? Because we threaten our own bankruptcy, we arm the world, we squander our chance to halt nuclear proliferation, and now, because of the new Bush era consequences, we have “reduced America’s standing in the world and made the U.S. less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated.” (Jonathan Freedland, The New York Times Review of Books, June 14, 2007).

The trillions of dollars spent excessively on defense since 1946 could, of course, have been spent on health, education and culture all over the world.

Then add to this the USA’s contributions to global warming, resource depletion and, again, the failure to lead when ecological disaster was prophesied as early as 1962 (Rachel Carson), and we see why our preoccupation with world domination has made this a less safe planet. Chalmers Johnson believes we have a choice: give up our Empire and thereby keep our democracy – or lose both. And, of course, the world’s fate may well be dependent on our choice.

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