William Astore
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Friday 21 September 2012
“We need to stop posing as benevolent caregivers and start being more honest with ourselves.”

The Siren Song of American Imperialism

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Considering the scale of our mistakes over the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, if we as a country truly want to pursue a leaner, smarter, more effective foreign policy, the first step we must take is to stop listening to the siren song of our own imperial rhetoric. We need to stop posing as benevolent caregivers and start being more honest with ourselves.

And that honesty extends to our own history. The French have a saying that translates to "the more things change, the more they remain the same." The appropriateness of that saying was brought home to me last week when a good friend of mine played an old campaign speech of William Howard Taft. In 1908, when he was running for president to succeed Teddy Roosevelt, Taft recorded several speeches on Edison-era cylinders. Fortunately for me, my friend collects vintage Edison phonographs and cylinders.

As I stood in front of the large trumpet-like horn of the player, Taft's voice came alive for me. As Taft sought to justify the U.S. invasion and occupation of the Philippines, it occurred to me that the rhetoric he was using a century ago was the same as that of Presidents Bush and Obama in justifying our most recent foreign misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Taft, as we shall see, was if anything more direct and honest than our most recent commanders-in-chief.

The thrust of Taft's speech was that Americans were lifting up the benighted and "ignorant masses" of the Philippines. In Taft's words, we were involved "in a great missionary work that does our nation honor," one that "is certain to promote ... the influence of Christian civilization." Evidence of our progress included improvements to Filipino infrastructure such as the building of harbors, roads, and railroads. More evidence included our role in building up Filipino police forces to improve internal security. Education was also cited as decreasing "the dense ignorance of the ninety percent."

Having portrayed our presence in the Philippines as purely benevolent and disinterested, Taft ended with a rousing dismissal of critics who were advocating what today would be termed "cutting and running." To relinquish the "burden" of our civilizing mission in the Philippines, Taft concluded, would be "cowardly."

Considering Taft's rhetoric and comparing it to that of Bush and Obama, it's clear that little has changed in one hundred years. It's true that we no longer talk openly about spreading "Christian" civilization. And we're more circumspect about portraying native peoples as "dense" and "ignorant." But other than that, our imperial rhetoric hasn't changed at all. Our presidents still praise our country as being motivated entirely by benevolence; as evidence of our generosity and "progress," they still tout infrastructure built and native police forces trained; and they still dismiss critics of our imperial efforts as misguided (at best) or cowardly (of the worst kind of "cut and run" variety).

But the truth is that it's tragically hard to win hearts and minds overseas when we don't even recognize what's in our own hearts and minds. We venture forth on "civilizing" missions when our own culture could use some civilizing. We think we're pure of heart, but "civilizing" missions based on military occupation inevitably contain a heart of darkness.

Whether it's the presidential election of 1908 or our current one of 2012, we've heard enough speeches about how great and noble and honorable we are. To chart a new course, let's educate our own "ignorant natives" in the USA before we try to cure ignorance elsewhere. Let's rebuild our own crumbling infrastructure. Let's tame our own passions. And let's reconnect with a virtue that, though not unique to Christianity, was then and is now closely associated with it: Humility.

To put this in words that may have resonated with Taft, the self-styled "Christian missionary," let's first work on removing the beam from our own eye before focusing on the motes in the eyes of others. For it's only after removing our own beam that we'll succeed in charting a smarter foreign policy -- as well as a far less hypocritical one.

To paraphrase Taft, it would be cowardly indeed to lay down the burden of removing that beam until our purpose is achieved.



As long as humankind walks

As long as humankind walks the Earth there will be rapacious, cruel, indifferent, hyper-ambitious, duplicitous, murderous, myopic, self-aggrandizing, vainglorious,
religious dogmatics, prejudicial, credulous, nationalistic, individuals who will lead the lemmings in the establishment and maintenance of what is commonly referred to as "Empire." The very word represents invasion of a foreign land and people, acquisition of "their" lands, resources, their hopes, their dreams, and often their people as both labor and sex slaves. The concept stretches back to antediluvian times when the first primitive man ruminated, correctly, that he and his tribe could assume control of a vital watering hole by using violence to first obtain it for themselves and then keep it using lethal force. The relatively few deviations from this paradigm have been the exception...not the norm and their is astonishingly little cause to believe that the future will be any different.
The last man on this beleaguered planet, (or woman), will look back at a landscape quite literally seeped in the blood and bones of their violently predatory ancestors and more likely than not, still not comprehend what went wrong. Pandemic environmental destruction will be the only thing that will put an end to the actions of what amounts to be a seriously flawed species. And the Christians maintain that man was made (assuming there is one) in God's image. We had all better hope not.

Check out the Green Party New

Check out the Green Party New Deal. It begins with an Economic Bill of Rights, moves on to a Green Transition, it includes Real Financial Reform and proposes reforms for a Real Functioning Democracy. Instead of voting for the evil of two lessers, be brave and take a stand with Jill Stein and help us break out of this stranglehold of the fallacy of two party system. We all know there is currently only one party that the demo/pubs show allegiance to and it is not We the People!

Behind the benevolent guise

Behind the benevolent guise of noblesse oblige that Taft painted was the picture that Mark Twain gave us of our soldiers poised around the caldera of an extinct volcano firing down on the massed tribesmen that were trapped beneath them.
His disgust led to his "War Prayer", which was not published during his lifetime. This scathing admonition of imperialism should be taught in the schools to raise awareness of any "hawk" that stands up in the halls of congress,wraps himself in the flag , misuses the Bible for his own ends and pokes holes in the sky to propound a belief system that should have ended with the 20th Century.

Outmoded adventurism that costs the lives of any nation's young men and women is a tired and dangerous path that serves only the privileged class of old men still playing war. Only these posturing clowns are killing our sons and daughters. Time to to take them into protective custody, put their toys in the attic and move on to the promise of the better world that our respective belief systems have long promised us.

We can change the concept of human nature to something a little closer to nature and redefine what it means to be human.

The only reasonable solution

The only reasonable solution to the perpetual political conumdrum we suffer would be for every voting American to write in their own names for president. That would the ultimate staement that we the people are the government.
Power to the People! Right(eousness) on!

Amen brother. Hope everybody

Amen brother.

Hope everybody finds the strength to vote for the most anti-imperialistic candidates they dare to.

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