Paul Atwood‘s new book War and Empire: The American Way of Life is well worth reading by everyone interested in American foreign policy and everyone on Earth should be interested in that – both policy insiders and outsiders. This book is written by a man who could classify himself in either of those camps. Being a longtime professor in an American university he is obviously a successful American but his viewpoint is from the tradition of a subjugated working class person. Furthermore, he writes as identifying with the working class of the world and not just American workers, so the book sometimes seems anti-American but it isn’t. It’s the anti-American policy as foisted upon the world by its wealthy corporations which he condemns.
I heard Professor Atwood, author of War and Empire: The American Way of Life speak to the Center for the Study of Social Change last week about what he termed The American Empire and the Future and immediately I got his book. It is about the dark side of American expansionist ideology and behavior since pre-colonial times. It’s a history as filled with disgusting hypocrisy of talk and murderous actions toward others as any other major player on the world stage. But with a difference. “Americans possess a highly adaptive ideology that provides ready-made justifications for our actions, and reproaches for those who oppose us. At bottom the American ideology claims to adhere to a morality that defends self-determination universally for all.” (p. 4) The freedoms which the American Founding Fathers based our Constitution and country upon are to be sought by every conscious human being, even every animal. Who wouldn’t want the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness as they saw fit? That is ultimately a stronger message to most people than the equal distribution of personal property as offered by the socialists. So, according to Atwood, people are more easily duped by the American dream than by other idealistic ideologies. People born outside of the US try very hard to come here and participate in the wealth and freedoms which we possess. But, he contends we have taken more than our fair share of what the world has to provide. That we presently have more certainly isn’t to be contested.
The really big problem and one that has been recognized for a hundred years now is the finite supply of oil needed by the hungry machines powering the economies of the world. Foreign policy of the major players on the world stage has been to grab as much of this limited energy source for themselves as possible. The problem has always been that some people have it and other people want it. At the moment most of the remaining oil is in the Middle East and most of the conspicuous consumption is in the United States. The oil won’t go around to all the people of the world who want it for very much longer so major conflict is inevitable in the not distant future.
There were many moments when this book perked up my attention with a bit of information which I wasn’t aware of, for instance this quote: “What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms..?” Andrew Jackson, Second Inaugural Address, 1830. (p. 59) Setting aside the morality of the conquest for a moment, there are many people these days who would side with the Indians and would be willing to give Manhattan, filled with millions of prosperous Americans, back to a handful of hungry savages. With my current philosophy of maximizing human life and happiness I would side with Jackson and Atwood probably would too. He wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice New York but he would still have serious qualms.
His analysis of why America got into various wars is probably as accurate as any you are likely to find, but Atwood’s confronting the real-politic of the world is loaded with the morality of a descent man as opposed to the amorality even pathological immorality of the politicians actually making the decisions he finds so hideous. Atwood would find Winwood Reade’s philosophy as espoused in The Martyrdom of Man, and by blog Striving toward a new meaning for human existence, from last week as odious in the extreme and yet it probably gives a clearer picture of political progress – which is agonizing!
The human condition is ultimately an endless series of genocidal disasters.