I’ve been watching a 24-episode series on the Cold War, produced by Ted Turner over a decade ago. It has enabled me to better understand the dangerous logic of empire-building. It is quite clear that the threat of Soviet aggression and world domination (a threat that was real but which appears to have been wildly exaggerated by U.S. propaganda) provided an opportunity and a plausible justification for the enormously expensive arms buildup and the militarism that were crucial to the expansion of the American Empire—along with our meddlesome involvement (covert or blatant) in the domestic affairs of other nations, such as Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, Iran, Chile, and Nicaragua, to name but a few. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—after a brief period as a ‘lone superpower’—we were fortunate enough (from the standpoint of the opportunistic military-industrial complex and NeoCons) to have been attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001. Now, these same power-hungry expansionists and opportunisitc profiteers have grossly exaggerated—and then, greatly exacerbated—the terrorist threat in order to justify further waste of life and treasure, at the deliberately deceived taxpayers’ expense, of course.
What is becoming much clearer now—with no help from the corporate-controlled media—is that once a nation has inflated itself to imperial status (imp-flatus?), there is no simple or ‘glorious’ way to dismount that tiger. Our national arrogance, our intrusive and disruptive meddling in others’ affairs, the state of comfortably insulated ignorance and morally scandalous prosperity in which many of us dwell—have earned the contempt and even the hatred of many outside our ‘bubble’ borders. Nevertheless, many Americans are flabbergasted to learn this when they dare to travel abroad or when they see anti-American protests on CNN. ‘What did we ever do to them to deserve such hatred?’—we ask, scratching our benumbed and befuddled heads.
To be sure, our news media, many of our television shows and films, our lamentable public school (and now university) educations do not go out of their accustomed way to alert the citizenry to the shady shenanigans in which our government and our military, our corporations and financial institutions, are engaged in these often faraway places. But the truth is not deeply buried or censored from publication. If an American citizen has suspicions that he or she is not being provided with a complete or fair account of what is going on in Washington, on Wall Street, in Iraq and Afghanistan—or throughout the whole history of American foreign relations and domestic affairs—there are plenty of available sources of reliable information to flesh out the picture. But we should be prepared to have our moral innocence thoroughly offended and battered by what we will learn from an honest investigation into these disquieting matters. We must first summons the courage and the open-mindedness required to begin dismantling the complex tissue of lies and naïve sentiments that possess our minds and insulate us from the truth. Because so few of us, comparatively speaking, bother to challenge and to bring an end to this steady stream of deception, of calculated distraction, and of deliberate disinformation, the corrupt and greedy ruling elites are able to continue robbing and deceiving us without any serious opposition or organized dissent.
The ideal scenario for navigating through this mounting crisis would, of course, not entail a violent and mutually catastrophic showdown between the few and the many—the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’—although if things continue down their present course, this is one possible outcome. The other extremely undesirable outcome of continuing down the present course is the explicit emergence of a fascist police state, headed by thuggish warlords and composed almost entirely of conscripted, ignorant, angry yahoos who have been raised on Rush Limbaugh and ‘dominionist’ televangelists. The problem with either of these outcomes—a leftist-style, popular revolution (such as put Allende, briefly, in power in Chile before the C.I.A. helped Pinochet to snuff him out) or a fascist overthrow of the government (as with Hitler’s Blackshirts burning the Reichstag and ending the liberal but economically bedeviled Weimar Republic)—is that neither is likely to produce a generally respected leader who can hold the nation together.
It seems obvious to me that the optimal course to follow is a ‘middle way’ through the center of the dangerously polarized, explosive situation that we are presently in. Since most Americans are as deeply troubled by the symptoms of this volatile situation as they are blind to its true causes, a match tossed into this tinder box could rapidly turn into a case ‘where ignorant armies clash by night.’
There is far more ‘heat’ than ‘light’ stored up in this nation’s addled collective brain and yet a relatively containable, but startling crisis may (again) be necessary before the nation’s pitifully scant and scattered attention can be thoroughly captured. Such a crisis occurred, of course, on September 11, 2001, but that opportunity was cynically and cunningly exploited by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Co. as a means of steering the nation’s fury and attention in a colossally backwards direction. Bush was merely the compliant, frightened dunderhead—in way over his head—who tried to put a ‘folksy,’ jingoistic face on the fiasco and the obscene squandering of political and financial capital that quickly ensued.
So, assuming that a revolution and/or a fascist takeover by a police state can be averted after the first truly destructive tremors begin to break open the corrupt corporate-run, militaristic empire, there may be a brief, and only a brief, opportunity for an Odyssean figure (or better, a cluster of gifted statesmen) to chart a path through Scylla and Charybdis. Will America produce a Solon from out of its crisis?
Didn’t FDR assume something like this role with his liberal reforms and legislation—in response to the Great Depression? Of course, our entrance into WWII consolidated the ties between government and industry, putting an end to the New Deal and the politically sane form of mild socialism that it had fostered. After the war, things would never be the same for the working class man—and eventually, for the middle class. Empire had succeeded the Republic.