"The world held hostage — day X"

Posted on

As the distinguished British historian of empire and revolution, Eric Hobsbawm suggests, we live uniquely in a world with a single empire whose policies, to most of the planet’s inhabitants, look increasingly mad, even in the long run, mad on their own terms (that is, destructive of the empire itself). Hobsbawm’s sweeping consideration of empire, war, the global economy, and particularly what’s new today in imperial terms, merits the most serious consideration. He highlights the strange contradiction at the core of our present imperial path. We are increasingly an empire of arms (and increasingly an empire dependent on the arms business) growing ever more militarily powerful, while our economy, only decades ago predominant, grows ever weaker.

There is in our present puzzling policies which go by the relatively bland term, “unilateralism” (“one-way-street-ism” might be slightly more accurate) a quality of bank robbery – or of holding the world for ransom. There should perhaps be a new Nightline on late night television – a la the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 – that would have a logo: “Showdown with the US: The world held hostage — day X.”

What makes our particular brand of madness especially unnerving, as empires go, is that our leaders have religion and I don’t just mean fundamentalist Christianity – though I don’t exclude it either. Our leaders have the fervor of their deeds and, as Hobsbawm comments, “Few things are more dangerous than empires pursuing their own interest in the belief that they are doing humanity a favour.”

The two great dangers our present course suggests, according to Hobsbawm, are “militarization” at home and abroad the “destabilization of the world” — or, as I’ve put it before, the world in rubble. It’s worth noting that the three places the U.S. has taken responsibility for since September 11th – Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian occupied territories are all quite literally in rubble.

I add as well a long, thoughtful piece by Guardian columnist George Monbiot that appeared in the British New Statesman on the kind of greed (and madness) that’s let us tear to bits the world American leaders built between World War II and the 1980s. Monbiot also considers ways to oppose our imperial path and reorganize the globe. These are admittedly dreamy at best. Nonetheless, it is important to consider paths out of the present mess (including what a new global “charter” might someday look like), even if those paths are ones we have no way of taking now.

Finally, I add a recent column in the Washington Post by American Prospect magazine writer Harold Meyerson that describes how we are triumphant in “hard power” terms, but in “soft power” ones have disarmed ourselves utterly in the name of a president who is proud to be a “belligerent provincial.” Tom

After the Winning of the War
United States: wider still and wider
By Eric Hobsbawm
Le Monde Diplomatique
June 2003

June 2003

For those with a long memory and an understanding of the ambitions
and history of previous empires – and their inevitable decline –
the present behaviour of the United States is familiar and yet
unprecedented. It may lead to the militarisation of the US, the
destabilisation of the Middle East and the impoverishment, in every
way, of the rest of the world.


The present world situation is quite unprecedented. The great
global empires that have been seen before, such as the Spanish in
the 16th and 17th centuries, and notably the British in the 19th
and 20th centuries, bear little comparison with what we see today
in the United States empire. The present state of globalisation is
unprecedented in its integration, its technology and its politics.

To read more Hobsbawn click here

How To Stop America
By George Monbiot
The New Statesman

June 07, 2003

Presidents Roosevelt and Truman were smart operators. They knew that the hegemony of the United States could not be sustained without the active compliance of other nations. So they set out, before and after the end of the Second World War, to design a global political system which permitted the other powers to believe that they were part of the governing project.

When Franklin Roosevelt negotiated the charter of the United Nations, he demanded that the United States should have the power to block any decisions the UN sought to make. But he also permitted the other victors of the war and their foremost allies – the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, China and France – to wield the same veto.

George Monbiot’s book The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order is published by Flamingo on June 16th.

To read more Monbiot click here

Reaping the World’s Disfavor
By Harold Meyerson
The Washington Post
June 11, 2003

Save for the continuing search for its justification, the war in Iraq is over. For the United States, if not yet for Iraq, the consequences are clear. We have established yet again the utter supremacy of our hard power.

Unfriendly governments tremble anew at our armed might and our willingness to use it. Some, to be sure, are hard at work building their atomic arsenals, and the last thing we need is a trembling adversary with a nuclear trigger. Still, if the challenge before us is military, our government is justly confident we can deter or defeat it.

But when it comes to our soft power — our ability to persuade nations to work with us, to inspire their people to admire us and our social arrangements and ideals — we have all but unilaterally disarmed. At least so long as George W. Bush is president.

The writer is editor at large of the American Prospect.

To read more Meyerson click here