Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Imperialism and the Philippines

Imperialism seems one of those concepts that can be defined too broadly. If everything is Imperialism then the term is meaningless. How many Empires have there been in World history? Not so many, but they all were bent upon conquest, subjugation and permanent occupation. Those who attempt to force the U.S. into the Empire mold must use all sorts of finagling, saying “The U.S. is a different sort of empire,” and then describe what the U.S. is and call it Empire. The most significant problem with calling the U.S. an empire is that it is a Liberal Democracy. That is why it had such a problem with its one Imperialistic venture, the Philippines: Empire ran counter to what the U.S. was, a country that believed in freedom, not just for itself but for all nations.

If we want to argue that America’s current interest in the spread of freedom is imperialistic, then we enter the realm of paradox and oxymoron. How can a nation that wants other nations to be free fit the mold of Empire which wishes to subdue and occupy other nations? If the U.S. is a “new kind of empire” which wishes to promote freedom and Liberal Democracy in the world, then the term Empire has come to mean its opposite. To be free is to be out of the clutches of an Empire. America’s current ambition in Iraq is to see it established as a self-sustaining free society – not the sort of work an empire engages in. I know anti-Americans for the bulk of the time American was in Iraq were claiming imperial motives for us, but they are quiet now. Anbar province was turned over to the Iraqis to the Iraqis today. Where are all the anti-Americans admitting that they were wrong?

To refer to all the actions the U.S. engaged in during the Cold War as imperialistic is part of the Cold-War Communist propaganda. We moved our troops here and there to prop up and defend nations that were resisting Communism. We engaged in realpolitik believing the enemy of my enemy is my friend “during the Cold War.” But with the end of the Cold War it was not surprising to see U.S. political theorists wanting to give up realpolitik and return to the American ideal of Liberal Democracy. Why not be true to America’s roots? Why not advocate Liberal Democracy rather than realpolitik as long as we are not constrained by the exigencies of the Cold War?

Do our troops in Japan, South Korea, and Europe comprise an act of Empire? Hardly; our troops have enabled these regions to develop their economies without huge military expenditures. They didn’t need huge numbers of military forces because our military forces guaranteed their freedom. South Korea, Japan, and Europe don’t want our troops to leave, for then they would have to be responsible.

Fukuyama’s End of History anticipates the time when all nations will be Liberal Democracies. What will become of the term “Empire” if that happens? Oh, but no, now that the Autocracies seem to be doing well we may have to fight or prepare to fight against some of them – more likely protecting our friends and allies than ourselves – and be accused of Imperial acts the entire time.

Lawrence Helm

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