Beyond Imperialism: The New Internationalism





Akira Iriye, Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University, has written widely on the history of international relations and U.S. foreign affairs. His books include “Cultural Internationalism and World Order” (1997), “Japan and the Wider World: From the Mid- Nineteenth Century to the Present” (1997), and “Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World” (2002). He has been a Fellow of the American Academy since 1982.

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Much has been said about the United States having become, or having to become, an empire. To provide the chaotic world, especially in the wake of the Cold War, with some semblance of law and order, it has been asserted, the international community needs a new world order, a global empire, a superpower that can speak on behalf of all countries and all peoples, a power willing to use its military and economic resources to protect all against the forces of violence and anarchy. There is only one nation that can fulfill the task: the United States. In the twenty-first century, therefore, humankind may be forced to choose between continued disorder and imperial governance instituted by the United States.

So one side of the argument goes. But others dispute this contention, insisting that for practical or moral reasons the United States should never take on an imperial role.

A historian can only contribute to this debate by historicizing it–-that is, by noting what empires and imperialism have meant in the past, and by examining what these might mean in today’s world. This essay seeks to put empires and imperialism in the context of modern world affairs and to discuss how they contributed, or failed to contribute, to stabilizing international order. It cannot be denied that there was a time when empires provided some sort of world order. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the globe was dotted by huge territorial empires, including the Ottoman, Persian, Mughal (Mogul), Russian, and Chinese (Qing). They presided over large, multiethnic populations and kept (with varying degrees of success) local tensions under control. These were traditional imperial states under the rule of dynasties whose origins went back several centuries. They governed essentially contiguous territories, thereby establishing some semblance of regional order. One might include the United States in this list as well: it, too, grew as a territorial empire during the nineteenth century, expanding northward, westward, and southward, with the central government establishing its authority over all parts of its territory, at least after the Civil War.

These landed empires were joined by the maritime empires of Britain, France, Spain, and other European nations that superimposed a commercial regime over the vast, traditional empires of the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. The relationship between the landed and maritime empires was sometimes violent– for example, in India during the 1850s when Britain displaced the Mughal Empire with its own colonial regime. On the whole, however, the traditional empires continued to function, even as merchants, sailors, and missionaries from the maritime powers infiltrated their lands.

Until the last decades of the nineteenth century, these territorial and maritime empires constituted an international order. The system of international law that had originated in Europe in the seventeenth century steadily spread to other parts of the world, and all these empires, as well as other independent states, entered into treaty relations with one another. This was an age of multiple empires. When we talk of empires today, or of the United States having become an empire, we obviously do not have in mind such a situation. Rather, many observers draw the analogy between empire today and the British and other maritime empires that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century when a handful of colonial regimes established near-total control over most of the world’s land and people. This distinction is important, since much depends on what historical antecedent one is referring to when one talks about an empire.

Likewise significant, in contemporary discussions the ‘imperialism’ that is most relevant is the ‘new imperialism’ that emerged in the last decades of the nineteenth century and persisted only through the first decades of the twentieth. A handful of nations whose empires were both territorial and maritime exercised the new imperialism; great military powers such as Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, and Japan incorporated overseas territory into their respective domains, thereby emerging as world powers. Most of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific were carved into their colonies and spheres of influence. Once acquired, these lands were governed by cadres of administrators recruited both at home and in the colonies; and these colonial regimes were in turn protected by officers and men sent from the metropoles and by troops and police recruited locally. The new imperialists vied with one another for control over land, resources, and people, and in the process they fought many colonial wars. Instead of producing global chaos and anarchy as a consequence, however, these empires at times managed to establish some sort of world order. They did so both by seeking to stabilize their relationships with one another and by making sure the people they controlled would not threaten the system.

The Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) and its aftermath serve as a good illustration. Ignited by Russia and Japan’s clashing ambitions in northeast China (Manchuria) and the Korean peninsula, this first major war of the twentieth century was a typically imperialistic war. When negotiations to define their respective spheres of domination failed, the two countries fought on land and at sea, but not on Russian or Japanese soil; the Chinese and Koreans themselves had no say in this war that would determine their nations’ futures. Victorious, Japan won control over Korea and southern Manchuria, turning the former into its colony and the latter into its base of operation on the Chinese mainland. The other Great Powers, assuming their own imperial domains would not be directly threatened by the conflict or its eventual outcome, did not intervene, but in the end the United States offered mediation with a view to preventing further bloodshed and regional disorder. Within two years of the war’s end, moreover, Russia and Japan reconciled and agreed to divide Manchuria (and later, Inner Mongolia) between them.

The two empires had fought an imperialistic war and, just as quickly, had decided to preserve their imperial spheres through cooperation. Such behavior was typical in the age of the new imperialism. The other imperialists essentially stood by, accepting the new status quo in Asia, although the United States, with its empire in the Pacific, began to view Japan’s growing power with alarm. Still, the United States and Japan reached agreement that they would not challenge their respective empires: the United States would not dispute Japanese control over Korea or southern Manchuria, and Japan would not infringe on U.S. sovereignty in the Philippines, Guam, or Hawaii. The Japanese also accepted French control over Indochina and Dutch control over the East Indies, despite the movements against colonialism that were developing in those colonies. Some of these movements’ leaders looked to Japan, the only non-Western Great Power, for support, but Japan chose to identify itself with the other imperialists.

At least for the time being, the imperial powers colluded with one another to keep their respective colonial populations under tight control. The world order they established entailed a division of humankind between the ruler and the ruled, the powerful and the weak, the ‘civilized’ and the ‘uncivilized.’ The world of the new empires had its heyday at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it disintegrated rapidly following the Great War. The German, Austrian, and Ottoman Empires collapsed after the four years of fighting, while the Russian Empire, on the opposite side of the conflict, was undone by the revolutionaries who came to power during the war. The empires of Britain, France, Japan, and the United States did not disappear, but they were no longer capable of providing the globe with system and order. They might have tried to cooperate with one another to preserve the new imperialism, but they had neither the will nor the resources to do so. Imperialistic collusion broke down, and Japan began challenging the existing empires in Asia and the Pacific in the 1930s. Under Nazi leadership a new German empire emerged, and Japan and Germany in combination collided head-on with the remaining empires of Europe and the United States.

In that sense, World War II was an imperialistic war, but it was also the beginning of the end of all empires, new and old. By seeking to destroy each other, the empires had committed collective suicide– but that was only one reason behind the demise of imperialism. More fundamental was the emergence of antiimperialism as a major force in twentieth-century world affairs.

Anti-imperialistic nationalism had many sources–ideological, political, social, and racial–but above all, it was fostered by the development of the transnational forces that are usually identified as globalization. The age of the new imperialism coincided with the quickening tempo of technological change and of international economic interchanges; more and more quantities of goods and capital crossed borders, and distances between people of different countries narrowed dramatically, thanks to the development of the telegraph, the telephone, the steamship, the automobile, and many other devices.

These advances in science and technology at one level facilitated imperialistic control over distant lands-–and for this reason most historians tend to claim that imperialism and globalization went hand in hand. Without the international order sustained by the imperial powers (in particular, by the British Empire), it is often argued, economic globalization would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, to develop. The empire provided a political and legal framework, backed up by military force, for the economic transactions and technological developments of the day. The imperial administrators built roads, established schools, and helped eradicate diseases in their colonies and spheres of influence, thereby modernizing these areas and incorporating them into an increasingly integrated globe. Thus, if one accepts such a perspective, it is possible to say that imperialism and globalization reinforced one another, even that they were two sides of the same phenomenon– something like the development of a stable and interdependent world order.

But it is also clear that globalization facilitated the growth of colonial resistance to imperialist domination. To the extent that globalization was an integrative force, bringing people of all countries closer together, it undermined one essential condition of imperialism: the rigid separation of colonizer and colonized. The blurring of the distinction took many forms: mixed marriages between these two groups of people, compradors acting as middlemen between colonial administrators and the native populations, and the education of colonial elite in the schools and universities of the European metropoles. Imperialism would have ceased to function if such blurring continued–-and that was why, even while colonizer and colonized were intermingling at one level, at another a system of rigid social and cultural distinction was maintained. Such distinction in turn aroused resistance and opposition from the indigenous populations, reinforcing anticolonialist sentiments.

If globalization, in short, facilitated the new imperialism, it also provided favorable conditions for the emergence of anti-imperialism. And in the end, anti-imperialism proved to be a far stronger imperative than imperialism.

Before the Great War, anti-imperialists in Tunisia, Egypt, India, China, Korea, and elsewhere were already aware that modern transportation and communications technology could serve their interests as well as they had served those of their colonial masters. Anti-imperialists could use railways and steamships to travel long distances and organize resistance movements; they could use the mass media and circulate handbills and newspapers among an increasingly literate populace; and they could even establish transnational connections and convene international congresses against imperialism.

Although some in the metropoles supported the anti-imperialist movement, before the Great War it had not significantly weakened or altered the structure of imperial governance. Yet even as large numbers of colonial troops were recruited to fight for their respective masters, the war experience did nothing but encourage the growth of anti-imperialism.

Both the Bolshevik revolutionaries’ antiimperialist ideology and Woodrow Wilson’s conception of self-determination indicated that even among the victorious Allies the ranks of the imperialist powers were breaking down. The processes of globalization that had facilitated imperialism were now encouraging the spread of anticolonial nationalism. If empires had defined the nineteenth century, then nationalism would define the twentieth.

This became quite evident after the Great War, when economic globalization resumed, buttressed by such technological inventions as the airplane, the radio, and the cinema. Imperialism, however, was not reinforced by this process but, on the contrary, was eclipsed by an ever-more vociferous clamor for national liberation all over the world. When the remaining imperial powers failed to respond in unison to such voices, or to prevent another calamitous war from breaking out between themselves, anti-imperialist movements grew so strong that by the end of World War II, nationalism had come to be seen as a plausible alternative to imperialism as the basis for reconstructing world order.

Instead of a handful of large and powerful empires providing law and order in the world, now, after World War II, sovereign states were expected to act as both the constituents and guardians of the international system. The former empires that were now shorn of colonies, the newly decolonized countries, and the countries that had been independent but noncolonial states–-all would be equal players in the postwar world order. They would ensure domestic stability while at the same time cooperating with one another through the United Nations, an organization whose basic principle is national independence and sovereignty. The so-called Westphalian system of sovereign states that had provided the normative framework for European international affairs since the seventeenth century would now be applied to the entire globe, as country after country achieved independence in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere. Global governance would no longer be based on a vertical division of the world into the ruling powers and all the rest, but instead established through a horizontal system of cooperation among nations of presumably equal status.

The history of the world in the second half of the twentieth century was to show, however, that sovereign states were no more capable of producing a stable international order than the empires had been: nearly as many lives were lost in interstate and civil wars after 1945 as in World War II. With rare exceptions, the United Nations proved incapable of preventing such conflict when national interests collided, and few countries were willing to give precedence to the principle of international cooperation.

It is often argued that the postwar international system was defined by the cold war in which the United States and the Soviet Union effectively divided the globe into two counterbalancing spheres of influence. The two countries, which controlled the domestic affairs of their allies and client states to maintain local order, managed to prevent a third world war from erupting. If we accept this view, we are in effect saying the United States and the Soviet Union behaved like erstwhile empires, as providers and sustainers of local and international order. But it must be recognized that unlike the nineteenth-century empires, they did not discourage nationalism.

The United States, after all, continued to espouse the principle of national selfdetermination, and the Soviet Union, for its part, preached ideological anti-imperialism. Both superpowers supported colonial liberation movements, although in practice they did not always find them compatible with their global strategies. Meanwhile, the independent states of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America often refused to heed the dictates of the Cold War antagonists. Nationalism, once unleashed, could not be contained even by the Cold War’s new empires.

Globalization proceeded apace after World War II, but this was not because of the Cold War or postcolonial nationalism, but rather in spite of them. Economic, social, and cultural bonds of interdependence were strengthened across nations by supranational entities (especially regional communities) and by non-state actors (such as multinational enterprises and international nongovernmental organizations). Regional communities, most notably the European Economic Community, sought to subordinate separate national interests to considerations of collective well being. The idea had always been there after all, it was well recognized that globalization implied some sort of transnationally shared interest–-but it was not put into practice until a group of European countries agreed to put an end to their history of internecine wars and to give up part of their respective sovereign rights for the sake of regional peace and solidarity.

The number of non-state actors grew rapidly after World War II. Whereas in the quarter century after 1945 the number of independent states nearly doubled, international nongovernmental organizations and multinational enterprises increased even more spectacularly. While the superpowers worked to advance their own geopolitical agendas, and independent states continued to look after their own parochial interests, these non-state actors together promoted globalization and a sense of transnational interdependence.

The question, then, was whether the non-state actors would be able to provide global order if this task could not be entrusted to the superpowers or the sovereign states.

This was the key question that had to be addressed in the last three decades of the twentieth century–-and it remains the key question today. Indeed, it is the question at the heart of the contemporary debate on empire.

During the 1970s and 1980s, as Cold War tensions abated, fresh national rivalries were unleashed, fracturing Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. At the same time, forces for transnational interconnectedness were strengthened. The European Economic Community, now joined by Britain, steadily effected regional integration, and its success encouraged similar, if smaller-scale, arrangements elsewhere, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the North American Free Trade Area.

Whether such regional entities would, by themselves, succeed in establishing a new international order remained to be seen. If such communities developed as exclusionary groupings, pursuing only their internally shared interests, they might end up dividing the world. But other developments in the last decades of the century tended to encourage international and interregional cooperation and to generate conditions for the emergence of a new, stable order. During the 1970s, for instance, issues such as environmental degradation and human rights abuses were becoming so serious that they would have to be solved through transnationally coordinated action. The United Nations sponsored conferences to deal with them, and it was joined by newly formed nongovernmental organizations that were transnational in character, such as Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International. Acts of international terrorism also aroused global awareness, evoking calls for collective response.

These issues were no longer confined to specific countries or regions. It was no accident, then, that international organizations of all sorts, but especially of the nongovernmental variety, grew spectacularly in the last decades of the century. At a time when sovereign states were proving incapable of constructing a viable international order, and when the Cold War was ebbing, regional communities, international organizations, and non-state actors were actively seeking an alternative–-a global community that did not rely for its viability on the existing governments and armed forces, but on the transnational activities of individuals and organizations. These were all aspects of the globalizing trend of international affairs.

Can such transnational forces and activities somehow manage to combine to establish a global structure of governance? That is the major challenge today.

A hundred years ago, globalization had coincided with the new imperialism. By the late twentieth century, nineteenth-century-style imperialism had long since disappeared from the scene, but the postcolonial states had proved no more capable of establishing a stable world order than the older nations that had been in existence for a long time. Would the regional communities provide the answer? If not, would transnational non-state entities such as nongovernmental organizations and multinational enterprises be able to construct a global civil society? How could nonstate bodies establish any sort of governing structure to provide law and order? How would they define their relationship to the existing states?

These were serious questions to which no satisfactory answer was readily available. It may have been for this reason that some began to look back fondly on empires as providers of international order. Two developments at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first made the question of effective world governance extremely urgent. One was the frequency and geographical spread of international terrorism, and the other, the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons across national boundaries. Both were serious challenges to the whole world, requiring an effective response from all–states, international organizations, regional communities, and non-state actors. Such cooperation, however, would take a long time to develop, so in the meantime the United States took it upon itself to punish terrorist groups and the ‘rogue states’ suspected of harboring weapons of mass destruction. For those who believed that international order must be buttressed by a great military power willing to use its resources for this purpose, the United States provided the ready, and possibly only, answer. The nation would carry out the functions that the earlier empires had performed. It would be the empire for the twenty-first century. But today there is little tolerance for any sort of imperialism anywhere in the world. Although old-fashioned imperialism is far from dead, it has no legitimacy in the international community, which is, at least in theory, constructed on the principles of national self-determination and human rights. Moreover, the Atlantic world, which dominated modern international relations and of which the United States was an integral part, can no longer claim the same degree of hegemony in world affairs.

On one hand, European countries have tended to move within the framework of their regional community, quite independently of the transatlantic ties. On the other hand, China, India, and some Latin American and Middle Eastern countries are likely to develop as centers of economic and even military power. To the extent that the new imperialism of a hundred years ago was largely a product of Western civilization, today we must reckon with the fact that non-Western civilizations have grown in strength and self-confidence. If a new empire were to emerge, therefore, it would not be able to function if it were identified solely with the West. Such an empire would have to accommodate different civilizations from all regions of the Earth, and it would need to be mindful of the transnational networks of goods, capital, ideas, and individuals that constitute global civil society.

In other words, a new empire for the new millennium would not be an empire in any traditional sense.

What may have worked briefly a hundred years ago cannot be expected to reappear and function in the same way today. There is, however, another nineteenth-century legacy that might, in its twenty-first-century incarnation, provide a more relevant solution to today’s problems: the legacy of internationalism. It is sometimes forgotten that the age of the new imperialism was also a time when modern internationalism was vigorously promoted, by governments, private organizations, and individuals. The Olympic Games were one example, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, another. The internationalists established transnational organizations and convened world congresses. They sought an alternative to a world order that was dominated by the imperialists. Yet the contest for influence between imperialism and internationalism appeared to be decided in the former’s favor when, despite the internationalists’ ardent pleas for peace and understanding among nations, the world powers chose war.

But the Great War proved to be the swan song of empires, and their certain demise was implicit in the establishment of the League of Nations, an internationalist project par excellence. Although the League did little about the existing empires besides placing Germany’s former colonies and those of its wartime allies under a system of mandates, and while it proved powerless to check the aggressive imperialism of Germany and Japan in the 1930s, its internationalist vision never died. The international body, assisted by a host of nongovernmental organizations, kept up the efforts–-even during the dark days of World War II–-to define norms of behavior for nations and individuals, efforts that laid the ground for conceptions of human rights, crimes against humanity, and universal equality and justice under the law. The United States and Great Britain, even as they fought against the Axis Powers, without hesitation embraced this internationalist legacy that became the basis of the United Nations.

Even if somehow a new empire were to emerge, that empire would have to embody principles of human rights and justice for all. It would have to be an empire of freedom in support of the emergent transnational institutions of global civil society. Since such a development is highly unlikely, we would do better to explore the alternative. After all, there actually are other ways of securing international order. And there is no reason why the internationalist legacy, rather than the legacy of the briefly dominant new imperialism, should not serve humankind today.

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This article was first published in Dædalus (Spring 2005) and is reprinted with permission of MIT Press Journals.

© 2005 by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences


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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Seldom in history has a powerful nation been, as is the USA of President Bush and the neoco/Zionist alliance, LESS QUALIFIED to:

"...provide the chaotic world, especially in the wake of the Cold War, with some semblance of law and order, it has been asserted, the international community needs a new world order, a global empire, a superpower that can speak on behalf of all countries and all peoples, a power willing to use its military and economic resources to protect all against the forces of violence and anarchy. There is only one nation that can fulfill the task: the United States."

That the USA is the sole mega power, the hyper power, in the world today did not only remove the relative restraints that usually constrained the empires of yore but has equally amplified its already abundant arrogance ,contempt for justice and general "heartlessness" to the nations of the world and to its own American people.!

The empires of yore were mainly driven by a mixture of interests and "mission", in unequal proportions!

With the USA of the neocons & President Bush it is not only the blatant absence of any "universal" mission but equally the predominance of the "interests " of a minority segment of the American nation that mainly stand out as its prime mover!.

Neocon conservatism in close alliance with political Zionism and conservative Judaism world outlook is much more of an anti-universal, rapacious "anti"-mission to the majority of humankind including major, the liberal, segments of Christendom and Jewry together with the totality of the worlds of Islam, Hinduism and Confucius etc!

This universal rejection of Bush's "imperial" America, by the overwhelming majority of humankind, was uncontestably demonstrated at the outset of the AIPAC inspired, neocon executed wanton conquest of Iraq!

The majority of the American nation did not fare better under this regime with lesser taxes on the rich, rampant plans for a privatized social security system and diminishing health and education services for the poor and less affluent.

With a Bush, or equivalent, Administration in power an imperial USA would turn to be the plutocracy of the neocon/Zionist oligarchy in utter contradiction to the world at large and, eventually, to the American people!



omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Thomas
Out of a post that says much more than is plainly enunciated, I chose to comment only on the following two points. (Not that I concede the others):


1-"Indeed much injustice has been done, not that that is really new."

Which makes it OK with you, I presume?

Injustice has been in the past, can and will be, undone!
Aggression has been in the past, can and will be repulsed: remember Viet Nam, witness Iraq!

2-In essence there is very little difference, as far as the USA is concerned, between "imperial" and "Hegemonistic" if due consideration is made to the time lapse between the 18th and 21st centuries!

Humanistically and economically both share: domination by an alien, usually hostile , power, curtailment of sovereignty ,imposition of self-serving policies, disregard of indigenous interests, insensitivity to native mores and heritage, an arrogant cultural outlook and a general condescending attitude which, man being what he is, leads to de facto discrimination that inevitably leads to a racist stance!

The whites and blacks USA syndrome on a universal scale!

Power wise i.e. the other modes of "imperial" or "hegemonistic" control that has been enumerated (1 to 7), we, and presumably you, are familiar with their "modern" equivalents that range from globalization to the imposition of "friendly" regimes and the revision of school curicula!

Whether "imperial" or "hegemonistic" the domination of a nation by another nation is universally rejected and is liable to be resisted with all means available to the nation under domination!


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Thomas
I truly fail to see any relation between what I had to say in my post #66421 and your post # 66427!
Are we talking about the same thing in the same language?
I would rather not go into a Q&A sort of dialogue emanating from your , not so naive, presumption that I equate Iraq with Saddam...a PR ploy then successfully used by both the USA and AIPAC to deceive and mislead American public opinion...
Have you not noticed that this ploy is suffering from a diminishing return syndrome?
In my two earlier posts on the subject of a USA "empire" I have made two basic points:
1-That a neocon/Zionist American "empire", which it is bound to be if present trends in American politics continue,would be rejected and resisted by the world at large and enemical to the interests of the majority of the American public.(Not that any other type of American , or any other, empire would be welcomed!)
2-Whether "imperial" or "hegemonistic" the very state of a nation dominating another nation ,for all that it means and all that it entails, is unacceptable to humankind in modern times .

To the best of my understanding you have failed to address both points.


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr. Thomas
Your question:
"I would ask you again whether you believe that the fractious hodge-podge of nationalities created by the brits, which even Churchill called a "disaster", was not an "empire", as you describe it, or at least the cause of much present unhappiness. Iraq per se is a fiction."

For one thing, I would like to point out and remind you that there are only TWO nationalities in Iraq; the Arab and the Kurdish.

So your reference to a "hodge-podge of nationalities" is more of a sensation seeking phrase than an objective description of the situation.

Equally note worthy in this respect is that to us "nationality" neither indicates nor implies a specific "ethnicity" nor a predetermined ( inborn or acquired)"confessional allegiance"; unlike ,say ,Judaism/Zionism!

I unreservedly believe that the Kurdish community in Iraq is entitled to the right of self determination and whatever is their choice it should be respected and implemented!
As things stand now, with more Kurds in Turkey and Iran than in Iraq, their choice is not as straight forward a matter as one would wish it to be. Still it is solely their choice that matters and should be respected and implemented as far as Arab Iraq is concerned!

Post WW I Iraq ,as is the Levant , was the outcome of the agreement between two soon to decline "empires", the British and the French, and the acquiescence of a rising empire; the USA!
In essence and intent it ran contrary to the aspirations of the people and , as such, was specifically and consciously designed by the three "empires" to hamper and frustrate the expressed will of the people for unity of the Levant.

With the implantation of the alien, aggressive and racist state of Israel in Palestine, by the three "empires", an additional major obstacle was added to the unity of the Levant that served the equally major plan to severe the "Mashreq" from the "Maghreb"!
That is all I know about "empires" in modern Arab history.
The nascent American endowed and supported Israeli "empire" is the latest chapter in the never ending saga of Arab-Moslem first European West now American "relations"!


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

No one here is speaking in favor of empire, Mr. Baker, so there is no need for anyone to "address" general pronouncments against it.

You wander far from history and basic human nature, however, if you think that opposition to injustice is perforce just, or that the repulsion of aggression must always be preferable to the aggression itself. There is such a thing as two wrongs in opposition to each other. And two wrongs rarely add up to one right.

In Southeast Asia, families of victims of the Khmer Rouge's genocide in the late 1970s probably do not feel there was any great defeat of an empire in the mid 1970s.

Concerning Iraq, there are several important point to note:

1. The prospects for "justice" or "repulsing aggression" there are dismal at best for the foreseeable future.

2. A large majority of the world's population dislikes and distrusts G.W. Bush and is unhappy with his administration's actions in Iraq. There are many very understandable reasons for this, some of them discussed in previous posts I have made over many months here.

3. A near unanimous majority of the world's population utterly despises Zarqawi and his ilk. In Iraq, in 2003, Bush and his hubristic yet cowardly advisors launched a premeditated, unprovoked aggressive invasion of a sovereign country (which whether you realize it or not, is an outrage without parallel in U.S. history) AND have committed blunder after blunder in doing so, and YET there is almost NO support, even within Iraq, for the so-called "insurgency" against Bush's so-called "coalition". And the reasons for this are obvious. American troops have not slit throats of innocent captives on TV, nor has Bush bombed the Red Cross, the UN, and mosques filled only with peaceful worshippers.

Bush's Iraq fiasco was not about "empire" it was about getting elected (not re-elected) president.
It is not about "empire" now, it is about finding suitable cover for cutting-and-running from one of the greatest all-teim disasters of American foreign policy. People outside the U.S. have trouble understanding this because they don't understand the intricate maneuverings of American domestic politics. American historians who should know better often don't or pretend not to, because it is flashier to speak in grand, sweeping, vacuous terms about "empire".


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I think you misread this one, Arnold. Although the "internationalism" vaguely argued for here would no doubt include more than a light dose of "U.S. hegemony", neither the historic examples, nor the current examples, nor the geopolitical logic require that such hegemony be the dominant element of a "modern internationalism". The U.S was not in the League of Nations and is not in World Court nor part of the Kyoto Treaty. While uselessly weak, confused, and disorganized, the worldwide protests against Bush's Iraq invasion two years ago were another case of internationalism not seeking to support "U.S. hegemony". Nor is there any call here for an "umbrella of democracy and freedom". The possibility or even the likelihood of "internationalism" being co-opted to some degree by U.S. corporate or political interests does not automatically mean that any form of such "internationalism" is necessarily a mere tool of U.S. hegemony per definition and at the outset. Ultimately, the author is arguing against G.W. Bush's radical, hypocritical, deceptive, unworkable and failed unilateralism (as cloaked in the rhetoric of a "benevolent empire") which is a position I think you actually support.


E. Simon - 8/17/2005

Your comments imply that you do not support the concept of such a thing as a recessive genetic trait, nevermind the many other patterns of penetrance that go far beyond the simple "dominant" pattern of phenotypic expression. I dare not even bring up the highly likely contribution of epigenetic or other multi-gene expression patterns to this discussion, wherein the genetic concepts thus employed are on a level far too simplistic for any realistic application to the historical arguments offered, (particularly by Mr. Thomas, as the participant in this discussion more given to premature conclusions based on them).


Frederick Thomas - 8/15/2005

Mr. Adams:

Thank you for your comments.

I hope we will not keep talking past each other. You are very intelligent and it would be a shame not to find some common ground in this. So, "Once more into the breech, my friends..."

I used the expression "fairly permently," you used the expression "never regained." I say "fairly permenently", and you say "permanently." These two expressions are quite different. Perhaps that is why you consider your revision of my assessment as unacceptable.

I believe that you have a (religious? egalitarian?) belief that all questions involving loss of inherited mental ability must be resolved in favor of the previous mental levels always being naturally recovered after generations, following a loss. I agree, partly. If the loss is small, and the surviving females retain sufficient of the trait to repopulate it, and if that trait is dominent, then what you assert can happen.

However, if the loss if catastrophically large, then it will not. Such a loss was apparently uniquely born by the (mostly semetic) groups populating Mesopotamia at the hands of the Mongols, in the mid-13th century.

I believe that you have a belief that European nobility is stupid, based upon perhaps the british example. If however, you were to take a cross section of the Frankish nobility of Europe during the 11th century, I believe, in the absence of IQ testing, that their traits as a group showed a pretty high IQ, such as thier patriarchs Clovis and Charlemagne surely displayed.

Remember that when Charlegmagne conquered the Saxons he had all Saxon knights taller than his four foot sword put to death, thus denying the Saxons a full generation of thier best men. This was openly described as part of his subjugating of the Saxons. This was mild compared to what the Mongols did 400 years later.

Richard Coeur de Leon is often depicted as "a little slow" (thanks to Sir Walter Scott and Hollywood) but his battle plan at Acre dealt Saladin a terrible blow, wiping out his cavalrymen and their horses at the same time. This was done through some of the most innovative (if cruel) tactics imaginable. One does not get such things done without talent beyond mere cleverness.

By the way, it seems de rigeur to say offensive things about George Bush' intelligence, but let's face it, he has gotten his legislative agenda, war plans, personal agenda and appointments through and recovered the economy. As Gump said ...

I am no fan of IQ determinism or any other single factor analysis. But inherited intellect is the most important determinant of success in life. When that trait is systematically killed off, it has an impact!

Thank you again for your comments.


Don Adams - 8/11/2005

Mr. Thomas, calling this discussion a non-sequitur is itself a non-sequitur. You intiated the idea to which I have responded, and in any case discussions are not limited to a single line of thought.

I have not mis-stated your argument in the slightest. If anything, I have understated the extent to which you see history as the mechanical unfolding of genetic destiny.

1) Your words:

“please refer to Europe systematically deprived of its bright young men in WW I, and look what happened afterward. WW II was a sure thing.”

“Remember that the plague was an equal opportunity destroyer, and did not concentrate on the best and the brightest only. The Mongols sought them out. Track the development of Arabic mathematics, poetry and literature before and after 1250, and you may see my point.”

My paraphrase:
“Large-scale, complex phenomenon such as war and scientific advancement are functions of the genetic makeup of the societies which give rise to them.”

2) Your words:

“...so many of the bright and brave young men of middle eastern societies were simply killed off, and their genes died with them.

Formerly communist countries face a variation of this same problem today, with so many bright kids “liquidated”.”

My paraphrase:

“If a given society should lose its "best and brightest" to war, disease, or other causes, the genetic potential they represent dies with them.”

3. Your words:
“...if you think that killing off most of the brightest kids does not hurt societies fairly permanently, you are simply living in fantasyland.”

My paraphrase:
“Once lost, this genetic potential is never regained...”

As if these weren’t enough, you have now also managed to suggest that “nobles” – that is, those who have hereditary rank – are tantamount to the “best and brightest” whose loss represents a permanent, crippling blow to society. Please be sure to let me know how the Crusader kingdoms managed merge their intelligentsia with their ruling classes. Modern America, whose nobles (e.g., George Bush) make up something less than its brightest lights, could benefit from such knowledge.


Frederick Thomas - 8/11/2005


Mr. Baker:

On another subject, I note with appreciation the nobility of your ancient forenames. Rarely has a brilliant astronomer, mathematician and scientist been combined with a brilliant poet as Ghiyath al-Din Abul Fateh Omar Ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyam was.

Your namesake's level of scholarship surpassed anything in Europe of that day, which was more concerned with Norman invasions and other uncultured matters. Your parents (or you?) chose well.

Regarding your questions:

"1-That a neocon/Zionist American "empire", which it is bound to be if present trends in American politics continue,would be rejected and resisted by the world at large and enemical to the interests of the majority of the American public..."

I believe that a realistic analysis must go deeper than you are willing to go so far.

I would ask you again whether you believe that the fractious hodge-podge of nationalities created by the brits, which even Churchill called a "disaster", was not an "empire", as you describe it, or at least the cause of much present unhappiness. Iraq per se is a fiction.

I ask you to consider whether racist bombings of Sunni Iraqi women and children by Zarquari and his ilk is not "imperialistic", and ask whether you can openly condemn it. Do you support Iraq or Arab Sunni Iraq only?

Do you despise the Kurds who welcomed the liberation they have found? The Shi'a? I ask you to employ the superb ice-cold logic of your ancient Iranian namesake to try to see this all as it is, messy and complex, your emotional anguish notwithstanding.

"2-Whether "imperial" or "hegemonistic" the very state of a nation dominating another nation ,for all that it means and all that it entails, is unacceptable to humankind in modern times..."

To the contrary, hegemonistic relationships between countries have always existed and always will, and is a function of relative size and power, not evil intent.

Historically, hegemons have always been resented, from Egypt, Ch'in and Ur forward. The present day hatred of the Chinese by the Vietnamese, based upon mideaval memories, is an example. So is the hatred of Shia Iranians by Sunni Arabs and vice-versa.

Mr. Baker, I do not support most war or even large governments generally, but I see so much injustice in the "imperialistic" Sunni government which was there before, that I must be of two minds on this one.

Thank you again for your comments.


Frederick Thomas - 8/10/2005

Mr. Adams, you are apparently determined to pursue your little non-sequitur.

No, of course neither I nor any other person with an IQ over room temperature believes in the mis-stated case which you posit. Intelligence is largely inherited, sorry, or think you not?

However, if you think that killing off most of the brightest kids does not hurt societies fairly permanently, you are simply living in fantasyland. Ask your favorite high school teacher what he or she thinks of your concept.

To cite another instance which is perhaps even closer to home than those already cited, consider what happened to Crusader Jerusalem when al Salah al Din won the battle of the Horns of Hattin and systematically killed every noble prisoner. Guess what happened to the Crusader kingdom?

I would hope that any nascent historian understands that historical instance and the many others in history and is at least as understanding as was al Salah al Din as to the rationale for the great Kurd's murderous policy.

Thank you nonetheless for your comments.


Don Adams - 8/10/2005

So your theory, then, is based on the following notions:

1. Large-scale, complex phenomenon such as war and scientific advancement are functions of the genetic makeup of the societies which give rise to them.

2. If a given society should lose its "best and brightest" to war, disease, or other causes, the gentetic potential they represent dies with them.

3. Once lost, this genetic potential is never regained, not even after 800 years of mutation, recombination, and plain old genetic "mixing" with other societies.

I am sorry you believe such things. Never mind the mangled view of biology, sociology, history, and other fields they represent. They are sad and deterministic views of humanity which are too easily turned into justifications for supremacist beliefs. If one believes that certain societies lag behind others because genetic attrition has robbed them of useful traits or capabilities, then it is but a short trip to preaching a gospel of racial or national superiority.


Frederick Thomas - 8/10/2005


Mr. Baker:

Thank you for your comments.

I had meant to reinforce your otherwise vialble arguments by strengthening a couple of logical weak points, but it appears that you are predisposed to another approach.

Regretfully, you seem to say that all wars represent imperialism, that the US is racist, that Iraq will triumph, etc.

I have some questions for you:

Was the Iran-Iraq war, with its 3-5 million dead, gassing of warrior and civilian alike, etc. an example of imperialism?

Were the Shia Aryans-Iranians racially animated against the Iraqi Arab-Sunni?

Was Saddam's genocidal war against the Kurds imperialism? Was his war against the Iraqi Shia imperialism?

Was the foolish British division of Iraq with nationalities all jumbled together a good idea? You seem to think so, since you believe that all Iraqis are against the "imperialist" US, and that sir, is plainly untrue. Or are you saying that the Sunni thugs (from Saudi Arabia and Syria, not Iraq) should again be unleashed on their Iraq neighbors to butcher them?

Mr. Baker, I again reiterate my sympathy for your deeply and emotionally held beliefs, but those beliefs must be reconciled with the nuanced and complex reality before they can lead to effective advocacy.

Thank you again.


Frederick Thomas - 8/10/2005

Mr. Adams:

Thank you for your comments.

For another parallel to the Mongol (and later communist, re: Katyn woods, etc.)policy of systematically killing the enemy's intelligencia to reduce the threat to themselves, please refer to Europe systematically deprived of its bright young men in WW I, and look what happened afterward. WW II was a sure thing. The “flight of the wild geese” from Ireland in 1688 was similar, and had similar effects.

I note that the relative impact of the Mongols was more devastating on Mesopotamia than WW I or the Plague was on Europe. Remember that the plague was an equal opportunity destroyer, and did not concentrate on the best and the brightest only. The Mongols sought them out. Track the development of Arabic mathematics, poetry and literature before and after 1250, and you may see my point.

By the way, “The Boys from Brazil” was fiction.

Thank you again for your comments.


Don Adams - 8/10/2005

This is your big thesis on the dynamic of history? Genetics? You'll have to help me out here -- which problem or condition is explained by this thesis, and which historians think so?

I will admit, the unorthodox approach of the "Thomas Model" of history has some real dash and daring to it. Enough, I suspect, to appeal to supremacists of all sorts. Still, like any good theory, it must be able to explain multiple instances of a given phenomenon. Thus, I look forward to the next installment of the Thomas Model, in which Europe's rise to global power in the aftermath of the plague is explained.


Frederick Thomas - 8/9/2005

Mr. Baker:

I sympathize with the pain you feel for those with whom you identify in today's world scene. Indeed much injustice has been done, not that that is really new.

But I must take brief issue with the characterization of "empire" as discussed in the article, and as you elaborated. Empires from Ch'in to Egypt to Rome to Mongol all have certain characteristics:

1. Conquest
2. Permanent occupation
3. Recruitment of soldiers for empire
4. Permanent heavy taxes
5. Mercantilist economic control
6. Often imposed religion
7. Often imposed language and culture

Respectfully, the current US situation you are concerned about is not imperial, by these standards, and it does not serve the cause of understanding to call it anything but what it is. Certainly, a permanent occupation is not in the cards, etc.

"Hegemonistic" is probably more correct.

You do not have to go very far to discern the logic which is guiding the Iraq situation. Bush came into office as strongly anti-Iraq, given that the foolish Saddam had tried to have his father assassinated and defied Clinton among other things.

9/11 happens, at about the same time that Bush was also trying to cajole or force Israel to actually give up the West Bank and Gaza, and having little luck. Sharon finally agreed to it, at some risk to his life from his own extremely violent countrymen, if Bush removed his greatest military threat, which Bush wanted to do anyway.

Bush has come through, and Sharon has begun to come through (notice what is happening in Gaza) a confluence of interests, as you say. As Bismark said, the public should see neither public policy nor sausage being made. How true.

Could it be that the solution to the Palestinians’ long agony is a byproduct of the Baathists’ loss of power? We shall see.

I look at much of the history of Iraq as stemming from the horrors of the Mongolian invasion, followed by the Turkish. I believe that some historians conclude that so many of the bright and brave young men of middle eastern societies were simply killed off, and their genes died with them.

Formerly communist countries face a variation of this same problem today, with so many bright kids “liquidated”. I wish you well and hope that there is more reason for hope in this situation than you presently see.



Edward Siegler - 8/9/2005

The endless, distorted use of the term "imperialism" has become an inflamatory charge on par with "racism", and just as overused. This article does something I've never seen before on HNN: It accurately and objectively describes imperialism and places it in its historical context. If only more articles on this site were guided by the level-headedness on disply here. But I wonder - does the author's refusal to label US foreign policy as "imperialist", like a press release from Pyongyang or any western left-wing organization, make him a "right-winger"? Say it ain't so...


Mary Jane VanEsselsttyn - 8/8/2005

this review simply confirms the plan for a New World Order that has been known for years but has been denied by the experts who have portrayed the truth as a wild eyed conspiracy theory dreamed up by deranged individuals.The imperialists have deceived niave Americans through their promises of Utopia that never materialize except though the illusions created by the media who keep us in the dark.The truth is not about freedom and justice for all humanity but about slavery to a global economic system thatis too late to change.


Arnold Shcherban - 8/7/2005

One more attempt to make people around the world to get in peace with the idea and actuality of the US hegemony
under the torn-out (but ever fresh for imperialists of all kinds) umbrella of "democracy and freedom".

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