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How To Run An Empire
From John Bull to Uncle Sam:
August 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 5
But having scored the debating point that British advice to the American empire is not to be taken lightly, let us turn away from post-mortems and towards the future. It is a perfect moment to do this, for the end of the Vietnam war will be either the finest or the darkest hour for American imperialism. When the armistice is signed on the 50th parallel, whatever the communiqués may say, America’s enemies will assert that the new empire has lost a war, lost face, and lost the confidence and esteem of her allies. Many of those allies will be secretly and spitefully delighted. For America herself it will be the parting of the ways. For nearly thirty years she will have moved away from her homely traditions and down the imperial road. This is the new empire’s first reverse. All the old Yankee prejudices, all the latent isolationism of the early years, all the diverse forces which lead the new generation to revolt against society, will be brought into play, and there will be immense pressures to start a return to the cosy assurance of the American womb. Why, it will be asked, was America ever tempted to go back to the bad old struggles from which the early fathers had with such travail escaped? Surely the whole raison d’être of the nation was to create a haven away from political entanglements for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? What was the Monroe Doctrine but a barrier against outside interference with the American dream? And where was the American dream to be realised except in America? It will be a testing moment, perhaps the supremely testing moment of the century. The British Empire underwent a similar moment when, in December, 1805, Napoleon overthrew Austria at Austerlitz, and all Europe, until then subsidised and succoured by England, was in French hands. In one agonised outburst, Pitt ordered the map of Europe to be rolled up; but only a few months later, just before he died, he confidently declared in a speech at the Guildhall in 1805, “England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.” It is not too farfetched to argue, against the background of increasingly militant Communist expansionism in Asia, that the situation of 1806 is about to be with the Western world again.
The time for advice has arrived. If America is not to lose her imperial sway, she must retain her empire. To do so, she will certainly have to reconsider some attitudes. She may even be obliged to reform some institutions. Let us take the empire first, the threefold empire— the territories outside the continental United States, the military bastions around the world, and the great golden calf reflecting the American way of life.
Keep, I would say to Americans, all your overseas territories. If weak nations ask for your protection, give it. Do not surrender Guam. Do not negotiate a transfer of Guantánamo. Keep a firm hold of the Panama Canal. Maintain your bases in Subie Bay and in the Ryukyu Islands. Make quite certain that when the peace protocols are written you are given in South Vietnam whatever facilities you require for exerting influence in that area. If it’s the peace of the world you wish to secure, the Pax Americana cannot be guaranteed from within Fortress America. Every empire, from the Roman to our own, repeats that lesson. World power cannot be exercised by any nation unless she goes beyond her own frontiers. Only one empire can resist another. Within decades of your retreat behind your own stockade, much of the world, and certainly all the East, will have fallen under Communist control.
What indeed is so morally wrong about American flags among palm and pine? Pure self-determination could only logically apply if nations consisted of one race, long established within natural ethnic frontiers. The nations which answer to that description are few and far between. Every single boundary in Africa was artificially drawn during the nineteenth century in some European foreign ministry. What moral right have the Spaniards and Portuguese in South America? Or Romanian Jews in Israel? Why do the Soviets rule in Samarkand? Why is the government of an independent Mauritius given to the immigrant Indian community? In each case, the answer is simple—no moral right at all. The Spaniards and Portuguese conquered the territories and killed the natives; the Jews settled and now defend their settlements; the Russians extended their empire overland to the east; the Indians are the most numerous and vote for each other. There are no morals about it. Americans, as part of their imperial duty, must spread and multiply. If they care to play to the gallery by granting statehood to Puerto Rico or erecting an elaborate Potemkin façade of independence in front of Panama, that’s their business. It’s always sensible to undermine your opponent’s arguments by conforming to what is called “world opinion,” however ill-founded. Even the Russians have allowed the Baltic states to keep their languages and folk songs and national costumes. What does it matter who dances on the village green, as long as every function of government is in Russian hands?