Top Leaderboard, Site wide
July 28, 2014
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Help us grow by sharing
and liking Truthdig:
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Newsletter

sign up to get updates


Boom-or-Doom Riddle for Nuclear Industry
Truthdigger of the Week: Yuval Diskin




The Sixth Extinction
War of the Whales


Truthdig Bazaar
Pure Goldwater

Pure Goldwater

By John W. Dean; Barry M. Goldwater, Jr.

more items

 
Arts and Culture

Gary Indiana on Hobsbawm?s ‘On Empire’

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Posted on May 30, 2008
book cover

By Gary Indiana

American global enterprise was mixed with politics from the start, or at least from the moment that President Wilson addressed a convention of salesmen in Detroit in 1916, telling them that America’s “democracy of business” had to take the lead in “the struggle for the peaceful conquest of the world.”
—“On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy,” by Eric Hobsbawm

America’s struggle for conquest of the world has been anything but peaceful. Any worthwhile account of the 1919 Versailles Conference—a Babel of unlimited revanchist score-settling into which Woodrow Wilson barged, trumpeting his 14 Points like a circus clown, comic relief between lethal knife-throwing acts—recognizes Wilson’s ludicrous salesmanship there as a subtle accelerant of the inevitable Second World War.
Wilson carried out his mission with the tone-deaf presumption of superiority that has determined America’s behavior in the world ever since. His naiveté typified an obstinate American conviction of “innocence” and noble purpose which, were the United States an adolescent male, would be diagnosed as either sociopathy or autism, or both.

 

book cover

 

On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy

 

By Eric Hobsbawm

 

Pantheon, 128 pages

 

Buy the book

 

Eric Hobsbawm’s “On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy” serves as a (mostly) post-9/11 epilogue to Hobsbawm’s magisterial “The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991, which spans the “Short 20th Century” from the outbreak of World War I through the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Ivan Berend of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences minted the “Short 20th Century” as a concept; Hobsbawm has given it wide currency.) One of Hobsbawm’s many virtues as a historian is his continuity of focus: Though one of “On Empire’s” four sections was written before the event that supposedly changed the entire world, Hobsbawm’s perspective encompasses the long view, in which 9/11 can be viewed as a tripwire for an undoubtedly short-lived program of hegemonic American dominance in the world, in the same sense that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand precipitated World War I—it would’ve happened anyway, but simply needed a sensational event to set it into motion. (It is a relief not to encounter, for once, the obligatory longueur of valedictory mourning about 9/11, and the by now implicit assumption that the 9/11 attacks were uniquely tragic because they occurred in America rather than in some unimportant country Americans have never heard of.)

Hobsbawm’s short book telegraphs so much insight that its brevity is deceptive—his preface is a shapely essay in itself, and establishes some important premises woven throughout the sections that follow.

The first of these is that free-market globalization has spread, and heightened, social and economic disparities, both within sovereign states and internationally, even if it has, to a limited extent, reduced extreme poverty in many distressed areas. 

Hobsbawm observes that “the impact of globalization is felt most by those who benefit from it least,” and cites the baleful effects of outsourcing labor on wage and salary earners in the developed countries. It has compromised living standards in advanced countries by forcing their labor forces in all income categories to compete with those of countries where equally qualified but drastically less compensated workers can be used.

While globalization has so far occurred on a fairly small scale, its impact has been massive, including that of immigration into developed countries: This has become a significant problem despite its statistically unimpressive numbers. Hobsbawm cites figures from the KOF Index of Economic Globalization: In the ranking of countries affected economically by immigration in the past eight or so years, the United States is in 39th place, Germany 40th, China 55th, Brazil 60th, South Korea 62nd, Japan 67th and India 105th—figures on “social globalization” are higher in all these countries except Brazil. In the developed world, however, only Britain figures in the top 10 for both social and economic globalization.

“On Empire” covers the period 2000-2006, which has been dominated by the United States’ assertion of global hegemony following the 9/11 attacks, its repudiation of previously accepted international agreements, and its assertion of the right to launch wars of aggression and other military attacks whenever it wishes. The Iraq war reflects the unreality of this imperial-minded overreach.

While a case has frequently been made for military interventions by great powers on behalf of human rights, Hobsbawm avers that militarily strong states like the U.S. may indeed intervene in ways that coincide with the wishes of human rights advocates, and certainly recognize the propaganda value in doing so, but whatever human rights advances happen to occur as a result are always incidental—intervention is, io ipso, an assertion of the right to intervene.

The case for intervention rests on flawed assumptions—for instance, that intolerable conditions like massacre or ethnic cleansing demand it, that no other methods exist to deal with such calamities and that the benefits far exceed the costs. This may sometimes be true, as in two instances Hobsbawm identifies: Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia to end the Khmer Rouge regime in 1978 and Tanzania’s removal of Idi Amin from power in Uganda in 1979. (Tellingly, both the United States and China supported Pol Pot throughout the Vietnamese intervention.) Quite as often, intervention may only make matters worse.

The ill-named U.S. “coalition” invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 were not at all humanitarian in nature, but were sold to the public on a number of pretexts, including humanitarian ones, primarily as the only method of removing—Hobsbawm’s term of choice—“unsavory regimes.” Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were readily ousted from power, but neither war has resulted in victory or the purported goal of “establishing democratic values.” In Iraq, certainly, the population lives in worse conditions than existed before the U.S. invasion. (The U.S. armed Saddam Hussein throughout the Iraq-Iran war and even provided him with the chemical weapons he used against the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq. With regard to the Taliban, the U.S. didn’t mind negotiating with it before 9/11, after the Taliban’s criminal destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas and murderous imposition of sharia law on its population, or even for some weeks afterward—contingent on its surrender of Osama bin Laden—on behalf of American oil and gas companies that wished to run a pipeline from the Central Asian republics to the sea across Afghanistan.)


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By Spinoza750, June 8, 2008 at 5:59 pm Link to this comment

I think their is little doubt that there is a “Fascist” mentality that is more pervasive in the USA than in other “Western” countries.  I suspect the reason why is because we “won” WWII in more than one way. We won as the chief economic and military power and did not go through a deNazification.  I mean by this, the Bush family, the Ford Family, Some of the DuPonts and many families of wealth were strong pro Nazi supporters before the war.  Father Coughlin’s movement and various factions of “America First” lasted through the war and some became prominent members of the Republican and Dixiecrat Parties. The CIA had a relatively large number of former Nazi’s in its ranks. Strange as it seems America was Nazified by WWII!!!  The following movie demonstrates this.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-446387292666223710&q=media+duration:long

Report this

By Lewis Beyman, June 8, 2008 at 5:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If you have not seen The Panama Deception you ought to. It explains American Foreign policy perfectly with the exception of the Carter Regime. There is no doubt as to the Fascist Nature of the American State.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-446387292666223710&q=media+duration:long

Report this

By Crimes of the State Blog, June 4, 2008 at 5:32 pm Link to this comment

“...contingent on its surrender of Osama bin Laden”

This was a deliberate provocation by not providing any evidence of bin Laden’s guilt or involvement in 9/11.  The Bush regime knew that the Afghans would not turn over their guest without evidence of guilt.  None was provided.  There was no legitimate reason to invade without such proof.  Yet, they invaded anyway destroying international law in the process.

Report this

By lethal77, June 2, 2008 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment

I enjoyed the review but i have to point out in the interest of truth we must stop dancing around the 9/11 issue.
It is clear that there is a great deal that still remains to be discovered about that day.
The sheer number of distingushed and educated people coming forward and questioning the official version is growing every day.
Please dont respond with the official story its an insult to most peoples intelligence.
PNAC is explicit is stating a new pearl harbour is needed to start this present era of american arrogance,defense spending is simply breathtaking and it would never have been allowed pre 9/11.
Missile bases are being installed all over the globe,and please dont tell me its to contain Iran and North Korea,ample proof is available to bury that lie.
9/11 is the key to understanding the present and it needs to be addressed.
America is an empire in decline and its more dangerous because it is in decline.
The world needs to demand a new investigation into 9/11 and the true criminals need to be brought to justice.

Report this

By Michael Shaw, May 30, 2008 at 9:10 pm Link to this comment

The first time I posted it didn’t appear.

Report this

By Michael Shaw, May 30, 2008 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Indiana presents us with a ration history from Hobsbawm. I would argue one point however, that 30 years of western containment had as much to do with the former Soviet collapse as did any internal strife they experienced. In fact dare I say, this and this alone was probably the greatest factor of internal turmoil. It also led to massive underfunding of necessary programs and infrastructures here at home by replacing those needs with the incredibly ridicules amounts in funding to our military industrial complex.

I appreciate greatly what Hobsbawm points out when he says other countries who experienced oppression eventually reverted on their own to more civil and democratic societies without outside intervention. Today this lends hope that even we have a chance to remove the shackles of corporatist totalitarianism right here in our own back yard. Perhaps our own salvation can be found in this: “Military power is not enough to control even national territories.” But how long will it take? One thing our own good Mr. Sheer pointed out in a Democracy Now interview might answer that question. All of the current presidential candidates actually support even more military spending then we have now, which currently dwarfs the combined total of the rest of the world. This doesn’t lend hope to an escape from totalitarianism but rather a move to further it.

Another point of interest in an overall interesting and superb article: “We shall have to find another way of organizing the globalized world of the 21st century,” As indicated, perhaps that way has already been found. It is called the mounting destruction of the environment by industrial pollution and other human activities(including warfare) whereby if the peoples of this world do not unite as they never have before, under the most sincere guidelines in mutual cooperation, life on this planet for both rich and poor, strong and weak, capitalist and socialist, despot and democrat will perish collectively, leaving Darwin’s theory of evolution to satisfy the overall equation. Outguessing or not, this more than anything else seems to be the most likely scenario unless we put down our differences and set aside the power lust and greed that seems so inherent to at least some if not many within the ranks of our particular species. We must rethink the entire equation before it stamps us all out! Bravo Mr. Indiana and Mr. Hobsbawm!

Report this

By Michael Shaw, May 30, 2008 at 9:02 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Indiana presents us with a ration history from Hobsbawm. I would argue one point however, that 30 years of western containment had as much to do with the former Soviet collapse as did any internal strife they experienced. In fact dare I say, this and this alone was probably the greatest factor of internal turmoil. It also led to massive underfunding of necessary programs and infrastructures here at home by replacing those needs with the incredibly ridicules amounts in funding to our military industrial complex.

I appreciate greatly what Hobsbawm points out when he says other countries who experienced oppression eventually reverted on their own to more civil and democratic societies without outside intervention. Today this lends hope that even we have a chance to remove the shackles of corporatist totalitarianism right here in our own back yard. Perhaps our own salvation can be found in this: “Military power is not enough to control even national territories.” But how long will it take? One thing our own good Mr. Sheer pointed out in a Democracy Now interview might answer that question. All of the current presidential candidates actually support even more military spending then we have now, which currently dwarfs the combined total of the rest of the world. This doesn’t lend hope to an escape from totalitarianism but rather a move to further it.

Another point of interest in an overall interesting and superb article: “We shall have to find another way of organizing the globalized world of the 21st century,” As indicated, perhaps that way has already been found. It is called the mounting destruction of the environment by industrial pollution and other human activities(including warfare) whereby if the peoples of this world do not unite as they never have before, under the most sincere guidelines in mutual cooperation, life on this planet for both rich and poor, strong and weak, capitalist and socialist, despot and democrat will perish collectively, leaving Darwin’s theory of evolution to satisfy the overall equation. Outguessing or not, this more than anything else seems to be the most likely scenario unless we put down our differences and set aside the power lust and greed that seem so inherent to at least some if not many within the ranks of our particular species. We must rethink the entire equation before it stamps us all out! Bravo Mr. Indiana and Mr. Hobsbawm!

Report this

By bg1, May 30, 2008 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The publicly stated rationales for invading Iraq were false, and were to hide the real reason which was OIL.  The US wanted to replace Saddam Hussein with a regime that was friendlier to western oil interests, and more compatible with western control of the Mideast oil fields.

Report this
 
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
 
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 
 
 
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Publisher, Zuade Kaufman   Editor, Robert Scheer
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.