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"Overseas America" Presents Face Of Empire, Not Democracy

by Franz Schurmann

Like Ancient Rome, America Shifts From Republic To Empire

(PNS) -- Most Americans don't sense the profound changes in the country since 9/11. Inside the 50 American states, democracy prevails and in the domestic arena, money and votes can buy power. But in overseas America, the Pentagon uses power to get money -- and more power. The Pentagon has hundreds of bases all over the world, and Congress finances them with few questions asked. That alone shows that democracy is waning and empire waxing.

Like the Roman Empire's legions, armed forces are empire's main weapon. American democracy used to use the draft to fight wars or threats, in order to prevent the rise of standing armies. But empires need standing armies to control the huge territories they have to patrol. That is why, even without a draft, we have a Pentagon that gets money from Congress but only scantly reveals what the money is for. That's the situation in Iraq, where the Pentagon employs paid-for-service personnel. When that happens, the decline of democracy and the rise of empire speeds up even faster.

The Random House Dictionary (RHD) defines empire as "an aggregate of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor or other powerful sovereign or government, usually [on] a territory greater than a kingdom." Americans believe we don't have an emperor and therefore we are not an empire.

But in recent years our presidents have easily switched two hats. One hat -- that of the "Chief Executive" -- is familiar throughout the world. But the president can, if a serious crisis occurs, suspend the Constitution. Then he swiftly puts on the other hat: "Commander-in-Chief." Since the Korean War (1950-53), presidents have found they can appear in overseas America as the Commander-in-Chief, but in the USA of the 50 states as the Chief Executive.

The scholars who put together the RHD in the early 1960s added, after the word emperor, "or other powerful sovereign or government." In those Cold War days, the other "powerful sovereigns" were Communist rulers. However, by also adding the word "government," they left the door open for a future time, like now, when democracy is waning and empire waxing.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in late 1991, many American and European intellectuals hailed the coming triumph of democracy all over the world. When China showed signs of troubles, especially the Tiananmen massacre, the intellectuals predicted an imminent collapse. Yet Russia is now regaining its former strength -- and not in democratic ways. And China has become capitalism's most spectacular success story in the new century, even while flaunting the hammer and sickle, the worldwide emblem of Communism.

In fact, the Pentagon may have generated a new political wave worldwide. Many countries, especially in the non-Western world, understand what is going on in America. While they are adopting many institutions of American democracy, they also note the advantages of a state-within-a-state such as the Pentagon. The result is that empires are sprouting up all over the world, as other nations try to assert their power more widely.

The world's biggest continent, Asia, now is witnessing the resurrection of four ancient empires. The oldest empire (11 century BCE) is China in the east; the next is Indian civilization (also 11 century BCE) in the south; the next (6th century BCE) is Iran in the west; and the youngest (9th century CE) is Russia in the north.

China created the world's first organized state. With few breakdowns, it also is the longest political entity in world history. Now it is the premier performer in the world economy. India began to build its civilization the same time as China built its state. India exported its culture to China, while both countries for centuries carried on the biggest bilateral trade in the world. Now they are on the verge of repeating this feat.

In the 6th century, Iranian tribes swept into the Middle East and brought in a new religion, Zoroastrianism, that influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Cyrus the Great created an empire that extended from Central Asia to the Aegean. He exerted great influence on Alexander the Great, who in turn influenced the Romans, who let the Republic wilt away while they created an empire even bigger than Cyrus'.

Russia and Iran are now flexing their neo-imperial muscles. The Russians are continuing to supply nuclear know-how for Iran's allegedly peaceful energy program. But within Russia and Iran, as well as China and India, lies a deeply embedded pride in their ancient empires.

Large numbers of diverse peoples and large expanses of territory are marks of empire. In Africa, for example, Nigeria has been acting as a fledgling empire by bringing about peace within its smaller neighbors. Contrary to Hollywood depictions of empire, empires don't want war, because war undermines their prosperity. The ancient Roman Empire's main policy was to enforce the Pax Romana, "the Roman Peace."

It's not impossible, but it is unlikely, that the European Union (EU) could become an empire. The only empires Europe had were short-lived (Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler). The only empire many European have is NATO, which is commanded by the Pentagon.

Latin America has potential for empire, especially in Brazil. Brazilian history includes a real emperor, Dom Pedro, in the 19th century. More important, Brazil resembles the United States with its diverse peoples and great cultural and social gifts. The future will reveal whether it develops its own Pentagon.

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Albion Monitor June 16, 2004 (

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