Learning Nothing from History– Again

It is in the very nature of empires to overextend themselves.  Just ask the ancient Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Oh yes, and the Ottomans, too.  And uh, Spain, and of course the British.  

One of the signs that Rome had overreached herself was the need to hire foreign mercenaries to fight her wars.  There simply were not enough Italian soldiers.  Another was the ever increasing militarization of the Roman economy– simply more and more resources needed to support an empire collapsing of its own weight or being overrun by “barbarian” tribes pushing westward.

Although the American empire may not be the exact equivalent to, say, the British in terms of the amount of territory ruled directly through its governors, U.S. hegemony spans the globe, as do our military bases, corporate interests, and cash to prop up unpopular regimes. 

There are now more private contractors involved in the war in Afghanistan than military personnel, and we are about to turn Iraq over to them as well (they call it a pull out). 3,100 firms or agencies are involved in the war on terror (that’s 1,200 government agencies and 1,900 private companies), a web so large and intricate that Defense Sec’y Gates admitted it’s difficult to get the information he needs. We’re spending more and more on war and intelligence in the name of national security, while millions of Americans are unemployed, our infrastructure collapsing, teachers laid off, and libraries closing.

There is a well-known native folktale of how monkeys are trapped in the wild. Fruit is placed in a cage allowing only an opening wide enough to fit the monkey’s hand.  Once the creature grasps the fruit, however, its fist becomes too large to extricate.  The monkey becomes enraged and trashes about as it tries to have the fruit and freedom too.  Loosing its grip on the fruit would be the logical solution, but the monkey cannot conceive of something so practical.  In reality, monkeys are quite resourceful creatures, and probably no self-respecting one would allow itself to be caught this way.  It’s only we human beings who are so foolish. 

In today’s blog Salon’s Glenn Greenwald had this to say about signs that America’s empire is collapsing:   

“Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights — or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things in pursuit of imperial priorities and the maintenance of a vast Surveillance and National Security State — that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability?”

As Shakespeare says in Sonnet 129:

   All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
   To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Shame that Hegel was right, and we learn nothing from history. 



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4 responses to “

  1. Thanks Steve. It's quite possible that we have passed the point of no return and are on our way down.

  2. I'm afraid that may be the case.

  3. Ray

    Perhaps so, but I've been to England and Spain, and the people there live pleasant lives. No longer being an empire isn't necessarily as bad as it sounds.

  4. I totally agree, Ray. Losing our empire is just what the doctor ordered. We might even rejoin the list of democratic nations.

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