“Important Tasks” Worth Achieving

Liberal Empire Denial and the Civilian-Military Disconnect

A number of “progressives” I know think that New York Times columnist Bob Herbert is a Left writer. But, as I’ve been saying for some time (Street 2006a, Street 2006b), Herbert is a liberal imperial militarist who is noxiously nostalgic for a simpler time when the American nation got behind its good wars.

Like the Democratic Party’s leadership and top presidential candidates, Herbert takes seriously — as no serious Left commentator would — the Bush administration’s claims to have invaded Iraq out of an interest in exporting “freedom” and “democracy.”

His often eloquent reflections on the human costs of Bush’s terrible war on Iraq are practically always about U.S. soldiers. They rarely mention Iraqis, whose body count from “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (OIF) is likely well over 700,000 by now.

And Herbert harkens back in disturbingly positive terms to the supposedly noble foreign polices of past Democratic presidents Harry Truman and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, both of whom inflicted massive racist and imperial mayhem abroad.1

“Once you launch [an illegal] war … you need the collective effort of a nation … to achieve an objective”

Herbert’s military nationalism was on special display during a question and answer session that took place two years ago at (appropriately enough) the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (Herbert 2005). Explaining why he was angrier about the Bush administration’s Iraq War in 2005 than he had been in 2003, Herbert made a curious argument. “Once you launch a war, once you you’re in a war,” Herbert told his audience, “you have to win the war. I mean, I don’t want the United States out there losing wars, that’s insane.”

Herbert followed this “patriotic” statement with some rambling reflections on the virtues of “the [Colin] Powell Doctrine.” “If you’re going to go to war,” he said, “you’ve got to win the war… you need an overwhelming force going in.”

Speaking of the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s Iraq fiasco, Herbert expressed anger at the irony of “the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the history of the world” going “to war with not enough troops.”

“This is not a left or right issue,” Herbert said. “If the country is at war, it really is a collective effort and you need to prosecute this war in the best, most efficient way possible.”

Part of the problem, Herbert complained, was that everyday Americans were living self-absorbed lives of consumerism and entertainment. They were engaged in “trivial” personal and cultural pursuits “rather than [embracing] the idea of a collective effort of a nation at war trying to achieve an objective.”

Who’s “Insane?”

I wonder if anybody in Herbert’s Kennedy Library audience grasped how truly disturbing and, well, “insane” this argument was. Once you start an illegal, immoral, and mass-murderous war, then you need to “win” the resulting conflict and the whole nation needs to rally behind that war in a “collective effort” to “achieve an objective?”

It would have been interesting to ask Herbert how Germans were supposed to react to that argument being made in connection with the Third Reich’s invasion of Poland. Is that how the people of China should be expected to react if their government were to invade Canada or California?

Herbert made this argument well after some of the worst U.S. atrocities in Iraq (the bloody siege of Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib torture operations) had come to light and long after the administration’s case for the war had been exposed as thoroughly fraudulent (de la Vega 2006). It was clear to most of the actual (and therefore officially irrelevant) Left from the beginning of course that the occupation of Iraq was a brazenly imperialist effort to deepen U.S. control over Middle Eastern oil and hence over the world economic and political system.

“Everybody else is watching ‘American Idol'”

Two years after his disgraceful performance at the Kennedy Library, Herbert is still significantly stuck in the moral quagmire of liberal-militarist empire-denial. In a May 3rd column titled “An Invisible War,” he seconded Iraq War veteran’s activist Paul Rieckhoff’s complaint that the military is at war without the American people behind them.

As quoted in Herbert’s flattering column, Rieckhoff wishes the Iraq War was more like World War II, when “we could be in this place and there would be a guy sitting at the table who was in the war, or the bartender had been in the war. Everybody you saw would have had a stake in the war.”

“Right now,” Rieckhoff tells an approving Herbert, “you could walk around New York for blocks and not find anybody who has been in Iraq. The president can say we’re a country at war all he wants. We’re not. The military is at war. And the military families are at war. Everybody else is shopping.”

By Rieckhoff’s account, “one of the key things” Iraq war veterans “have in common is this frustration with the detachment we all see around us, this idea that we’re at war and everybody else is watching ‘American Idol.’”

According to Rieckhoff, some returning soldiers are so alienated by the triviality they perceive at home that they end up volunteering to go back to Iraq. Life seems at least seems real on the imperial front.

One of the problems that most troubles Rieckhoff and Herbert is the difficulty Iraq War veterans have dealing with the fact that they have killed people in Iraq. Large numbers of troops come back to the land of “American Idol” and “Deal or No Deal” carrying the psychological and spiritual burden of having carried out orders to murder Iraqis. Some soldiers are concerned that their “service” in Bush’s war has cost them the right to enter heaven.

Rieckhoff blames George W. Bush for the “detachment” because “he hasn’t asked the American people to do anything.” Herbert agrees, adding that American GIs sent to Iraq “have felt that they were carrying out an important task on behalf of the nation.” After lunching with Rieckhoff in Manhattan, Herbert notes, “I signaled for the check and we left the restaurant. It was a beautiful, sunlit afternoon. New Yorkers were smiling and enjoying the spring weather. There was no sign of war anywhere.” (Herbert 2007).

Criminal and Imperial War

Herbert and Rieckhoff are right to note what Herbert calls “the gigantic and extremely disturbing disconnect between the experiences of the men and women in uniform and the perspectives of people here at home.”

They are correct to observe the unsettling contrast between the murderous misery of the Iraq War and the American “homeland’s” frivolous mass culture. They are right to argue that American war veterans are being given “short shrift” by government agencies.

They are correct to suggest the chilling contradiction between (1) Bush and Cheney’s claim that the soldiers are engaged in a life or death war to save civilization and (2) the administration’s refusal to ask for serious sacrifice on the part of all but a relatively small section of the population — the mostly working-class households who provide most of the members of the nation’s “volunteer” (non-draft) armed forces.

Herbert loses moral credibility and substance, however, when he fails to note the obvious — that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have NOT in fact been involved in “an important task on behalf of the nation.” Rieckhoff and Herbert can pine all they want for the lost national solidarities aroused by the good U.S. war against fascism (1941-1945), but these troops have been deployed in a spectacularly criminal, mass murderous invasion that has always been and remains fundamentally about imperial control of global energy resources (Arnove 2006; Schwartz 2007; Street 2007b). The costs of this expensive and disastrous occupation are spread across American society, falling with special harshness on military families. The profits go to select privileged elites atop the nation’s leading “defense,” “reconstruction” and petroleum corporations.

That’s how imperialism has always played out in the imperial “homeland.”2 And it’s why the Bush administration has not asked for serious sacrifice from the American people beyond the military. Its planners know very well that they exploited 9/11 and built a fraudulent (de la Vega 2006) case to justify a vicious oil invasion based on cynical imperial and political calculations most Americans would find deeply offensive. They thought they could pull the whole thing off with relative ease.

Thanks to the Iraqi resistance, however, things have not played out as Cheney and Bush hoped. “If there had been no resistance,” Tariq Ali has observed, “the [White House] warmongers would have claimed that that the occupation was a triumph, established a collaborationist regime and moved on to change the regime in Syria and, possibly, Iran. Dissent in the U.S. and Britain would have been neutered, the media would have remained friendly and the lies to justify the war would have been happily forgotten. The means, we would have been told, justify the ends. And the snapshots of Iraqis being tortured would have remained a family secret” (Ali and Barsamian 2005, p. 220).

Because Iraqis fought back, Americans were able to learn that the administration’s case for war was based on deception. And with the original impeachment-worthy (de la Vega 2006) lies behind the criminal invasion exposed (the subsequent false administration claim that the U.S. invaded to export “democracy” has yet to be adequately exposed) it is not politically recommended for the Bush administration to lecture U.S. citizens on their need to sacrifice for the supposedly great war to save civilization and against terrorism.

The obvious response of fully informed and self-respecting citizens to such lectures would run something like this: “What great war to save civilization, you vicious war criminals? Do you mean this grand petro-imperial and state-terrorist transgression you have been committing under brazenly bogus pretexts in Iraq — the terrible operation you tell us to endorse when you say that we must ‘support the troops’? No, sorry ‘Mr. President,’ the real way to ‘support the troops’ is get them out of that bloody nightmare you created. Then we need to get you and Cheney and Rice and the rest out of public office and before an international tribunal.”

Choosing a “Distraction” over the “Alternative of Constant Weeping”

The really existing response of most generally less than fully informed U.S. citizens to the Iraq War may not be framed at this level of sophisticated vitriol. But that response is not all or mainly about mass-consumerist Paris Hiltonian narcissism either.

New York Times reader Lisa Hamilton suggests some of the more complex and muddled middle ground inhabited by real-life Americans on the Iraq War in an interesting letter to the editor responding to Herbert’s “Invisible War” column:

“While I feel terrible for Mr. Rieckhoff and his fellow soldiers and the sacrifices they have made, I and almost everyone I know opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. I marched, I protested, I wrote my Congressional representatives, I voted in 2004 and 2006 with the intent to signal my discontent with the direction the country had taken on the war. Since nothing I did and nothing I felt, wrote or signaled has made the least amount of difference, I have indeed detached from the situation.”

“While I honor the good intentions behind the military service of Mr. Rieckhoff and others in Iraq, I disagree that they’re carrying out ‘an important task.’ The reason that Americans are distracting themselves is that the importance of the Iraq war is no longer (and perhaps has never been) apparent to many, and it’s too painful to watch the unnecessary killings of so many Americans and Iraqis. Of course we’d rather watch the fake conflict of ‘American Idol.’ Or Buy shoes” (Letter to the Editor, NYT, 7 May 2007).

For Ms. Hamilton, the problem is that the war, which she and her cohorts opposed without (she thinks) impact, is just too painful.

A different Times reader, “T. Roman,” expressed similar sentiments. He or she wrote to the Times to criticize Rieckhoff and Herbert’s idea that “the majority of Americans are happily ignoring this war.” The real problem, Roman argued, is that “many nonmilitary citizens feel absolutely powerless to do anything in the face of a president and an administration that don’t seem to answer to the people, and so use ‘American Idol’ and other forms of distraction as a balm against the alternative of constant weeping. Americans — even Americans who did not support this war from the start — do want to support the troops, but are at a loss as to how to go about doing so.” (Letter to Editor from T. Roman, NYT, 7 May 2007).

By “T. Roman’s” account, the problem isn’t so much mass U.S. ignorance of U.S. soldiers’ terrible reality as a sense of inability to do anything about the horrors of the war.

Consistent with Hamilton and Roman’s reflections, there is a deep and potentially radicalizing disconnect between public opinion and state behavior when it comes to United States foreign policy. Considerable U.S. majorities reject “their” government’s imperial militarism, unilateralism and interventionism (Chomsky 2006, pp. 228-230; Chicago Council on Foreign Relations 2004; Street 2004). They are badly misinformed by dominant media about the degree and impact of U.S. imperial criminality, however, and they feel (as “T. Roman” says) powerless to stop the criminality and incompetence they are still able to perceive.

It doesn’t help that the Democratic non-“opposition” Party refuses to act in meaningful accord with the majority antiwar sentiment it rode to a Congressional majority last November. That predictable failure is intimately related to the party’s unwillingness and/or inability to acknowledge that the occupation of Iraq is a great imperial crime, not merely (to use Barack Obama’s language) a “strategic blunder” (Brecher and Smith 2007; Street 2007c).

Why the Warmongers Prefer a Mercenary Army

There’s something else significant missing from Herbert and Rieckhoff’s take on the civilian-military disconnect. The American majority’s underlying opposition to imperialism and militarism — widely evident in the relevant opinion data — is also part of why the U.S. military prefers to rely on a mercenary (volunteer) army of mostly working-class soldiers and not on a compulsory national draft. As Noam Chomsky observed in explaining why he doubted that Bush administration planners would call for a draft in response to the deepening quagmire in Iraq in December 2004:

“The military command, and the civilian leadership, learned an important lesson in Vietnam: you can’t expect a citizen’s army to fight a vicious, brutal colonial war. Their predecessors knew that. The British, French, etc., provided the officer corps, special forces, and professional military, but relied on the Foreign Legion, Ghurkas, Indian troops, and other mercenaries. That’s standard. The US made a serious tactical error in this regard in Vietnam — though it had plenty of mercenaries too: South Korean, Thai, and others. In Iraq, the US is using what amounts to a mercenary army of the disadvantaged, and the second largest military force is the ‘private’ companies made up of ex-military officers, South African killers, etc.”

“In Vietnam, the army collapsed from within: drugs, killing officers, etc. Citizens are not trained killers, and they are not sufficiently dissociated from the civilian culture at home to fight colonial wars properly. The top brass wanted the army out, before it fell apart. And the civilian leadership agreed.” (Chomsky 2004).

Chomsky elaborated on these comments in his 2005 interview book Imperial Ambitions (Chomsky and Barsamian 2005. p. 133-134):

“A citizens’ army has ties to the civilian culture. In the late 1960s, for example, during the Vietnam War, a kind of rebellious culture in many respects and civilizing culture in many respects spilled over into the military, and it helped undermine the military, which is a very good thing. That’s why no imperial power has used the citizens’ army to fight an imperial war. If you take a look at the British in India, the French in West Africa, or South Africans in Angola, they essentially relied on mercenaries,which makes sense. Mercenaries are trained killers, but people who are too close to civilian society are not really going to be good at killing people.”

Chomsky’s comments provide some useful background for Herbert and Rieckhoff’s concern about soldiers’ struggling with having killed. If even “trained killers” are haunted by their actions (ordered from above), then we can imagine the greater difficulties people more strongly tied to “the civilian culture” would have fighting an inherently murderous imperial war like Occupation Iraqi Freedom.

Ruling class preference for the use of professional, non- citizen soldiers (both public and private) to enforce global empire lay behind the fact that so many ordinary Americans are experientially removed from the realities of the Iraq invasion. That preference gives rise to the emergence of a de facto mercenary army, composed of a separate class or stratum of people for whom preparation for and execution of war is a distinct way of life and a source of material support.

If we must have a military, it would be better for it be based on a citizen’s draft, something that would make it much more difficult for warmongers (and Chicken Hawks) like Bush and Cheney to launch criminal adventures like the invasion of Iraq.

U.S. reliance on a mercenary army helps explain the civilian-military chasm that Rieckhoff and Herbert bemoan. As it turns out, this reliance is intimately related to something else Herbert fails to register: the imperialist nature of the Iraq War and indeed of U.S. foreign policy in general.

For what it’s worth, 72 percent of Americans surveyed by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in the fall of 2004 said that the U.S. should remove its military from Iraq if that’s what a clear majority of Iraqis want (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations 2004, p. 17). Interestingly enough, a poll conducted for the British Ministry of Defence in 2005 found that fully 82 percent of Iraqis were “‘strongly opposed’ to the presence of foreign troops in their country and less than 1 percent believed the troops were responsible for improvement in security” (Taylor 2005). This is more context for understanding why Washington prefers to use a mercenary, not a citizens’ army abroad.

Embrace Defeat: It’s Patriotic

Most of the morally cognizant human race and certainly all serious Left thinkers reject Herbert’s 2005 contention that it would be “insane” to ever wish military defeat on Uncle Sam. The U.S. is widely and all-too understandably seen around the world as a rogue imperial superpower (for reasons that are readily discernible in a large number of monographs, articles, and documentaries that are routinely dismissed by news and book review editors at Herbert’s conservative newspaper), a gross violator of human rights, an agent of global inequality, and the greatest threat to peace on earth.

Hoping that resistance forces in U.S.-targeted states might educate the U.S. on the limits of empire is hardly a sign of madness or even of anti-Americanism. The carnage inflicted by the insufficiently checked U.S. empire includes the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (criminally butchered by “Give’Em Hell Harry” Truman in atomic assaults that occurred after Japan had been defeated and were meant mainly to preemptively discipline Soviet foreign policy in the emerging post-WWII world order), 2-3 million dead Indochinese, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed by Desert Storm (conducted in accord with Powell’s doctrine of “overwhelming force”) and perhaps close to 2 million Iraqis (with “economic sanctions” fatalities included) from Bush I to Bush II (Blum 2000; Blum 2004; Barnett 1972; Chomsky 1992; Chomsky 2006).

At the same time, the massive taxpayer fortune that is spent from year to year on real and potential U.S. war-making comes at a spectacular domestic social “opportunity cost” in the industrialized world’s most unequal and wealth-top-heavy society, where tens of millions of children live in poverty while “defense” executives and other captains of industry and finance enjoy lives of richly parasitic hyper-opulence. Imperial conflict and the militarism it feeds and reflects also tend to deeply encourage the erosion of liberty and democracy and the advance of fear and repression at home (Street 2004a).

Collective Action for Things Worth Achieving

Complaints about “irrelevant” past protest aside, it is still the responsibility of citizens like Ms. Hamilton and T. Roman to turn off “American Idol” and engage policy from the bottom up. They should in fact unite in a “collective effort” to “achieve an objective.”

In doing so, however, they would do well to remember that such actions as the invasion of Iraq do in fact carry out “important tasks.” Imperial wars like O.I.F. work to distribute wealth and power upward for the benefit of privileged elites, not for American society as a whole, and certainly not for the mostly working-class soldiers ordered to die and kill in the name of “freedom” (Street 2007d).

What the “collective effort” most needs to achieve is a meaningful democratic counter to the vicious, mutually reinforcing imperatives of Empire and Inequality at home and abroad.

Many GI and veterans’ organizations (including Military Families Speak Out, Courage to Resist, GI Rights Hotline, Different Drummer, Citizen Soldier, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace, Veterans for Peace, Bring Them Home Now, Veterans Against the Iraq War, and others) are calling for the de-funding of the occupation of Iraq and bringing the troops home now. This is not the position of Rieckhoff’s comparatively “mainstream” group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), which mouths imperial rhetoric about maintaining a large and strong U.S. military and restricts its activism mainly to veterans’ issues. “The mission of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America,” IAVA’s web site says, “is to ensure the enactment of policies that properly provide for our Troops & Veterans, keep our military strong, and guarantee our national security for the purpose of a stronger America.”

Citizens should remember that they are far from powerless in the face of the war. Through protest and resistance, they can force de-funding of the Iraq occupation and bring the troops home. They can bring about the impeachment and removal of Bush and Cheney et al. Along the way they could form a powerful movement to change the nation’s “perverted priorities” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) from war, empire and corporate plutocracy to peace, justice, and democracy.

Popular pressure and activism inside the homeland has tempered and helped end imperial violence in the past. It will continue to do so until the welcome day when the “Masters of War” are “lowered down to their death beds” (Bob Dylan 1963) once and for all. It will, that is, unless the people give up.

Liberals like Herbert need to think more deeply and critically about the meaning of U.S. behavior in the world, past and present. At the same time, less strategically placed and more ordinary citizens like Lisa Hamilton make a terrible mistake if they think that the wrongness of Bush’s war means that the invasion of Iraq is “not important.” The occupation is a remarkable expression of the American Empire’s determination to act in defiance of civilized norms, democratic principles and national and international law. There’s little justification for being “at a loss” about what can and should be done. And “detach[ing] from the situation” is not a respectable response, to say the least.

Silence in the face of Washington’s continuing imperial criminality is complicity, regardless of whether or not one resisted the Iraq war in the past.

SOURCES

Tariq Ali and Davis Barsamian 2005. Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali (New York: The New Press, 2005).

Antony Arnove 2006. Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (New York: New Press, 2006).

Richard J. Barnett 1972. Intervention and Revolution: America’s Confrontation With Insurgent Movements Around the World (New York: Meridian, 1972).

William Blum 2000. Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Common Courage 2000).

William Blum 2004. Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage 2004).

Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith 2007. “The Stab in the Back Trap,” ZNet (April 28, 2007), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/ showarticle.cfm?SectionID=51&ItemID=12689.

Chicago Council on Foreign Relations 2004. Global Views 2004: American Foreign Policy and Public Opinion (October 2004).

Noam Chomsky 1970. For Reasons of State (New York: New Press, 1970).

Noam Chomsky 1992. Deterring Democracy (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992).

Noam Chomsky 2004. “The Draft,” ZNet (December 17 2004), available online at http://blog.zmag.org/ee_links/the_draft.

Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian 2005. Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World (New York: Metropolitan, 2005).

Noam Chomsky 2006. Failed States: The abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan 2006).

Bob Dylan 1963. “Masters of War,” lyrics available online.

Bob Herbert 2005. “A Conversation With Bob Herbert,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum” (May 9, 2005), accessed online on October 25 2006.

Bob Herbert 2007. “An Invisible War,” New York Times, 3 May 2007.

Bruce Miroff 1976. Pragmatic Illusions: The Presidential Politics of John F. Kennedy (New York: Longman, 1976).

Michael Schwartz 2007. “The Prize of Iraqi Oil,” TomDispatch.com (May 6, 2007).

Paul Street 2004. “Dear Europe,” Dissident Voice (November 18, 2004).

Paul Street 2004a. Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004).

Paul Street 2006a. “Bob Herbert Doesn’t Get it: it’s About Empire, Not Democracy,” ZNet (March 18, 2006).

Paul Street 2006b. “What About Bob (Herbert)? Reflections on History, Policy and the Progressive Illusions of a Times Liberal,” ZNet (November 26 2006).

Paul Street 2007a. “‘We’ve Done A Lot More Than Talk’ The Democratic Party Line on the United States’ Commitment to Peace and Democracy Within and Beyond Iraq,” Empire and Inequality Report, ZNet (March 27, 2007).

Paul Street 2007b. “Blood for Oil Control,” Empire and Inequality Report No. 16, CounterCurrents.org (April 17, 2007).

Paul Street 2007c. “Strategizing in the Face of Crimes: Reject the Democrats’ Call for Calm,” Empire and Inequality Report No. 17, ZNet (May 4, 2007, available online at

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=12746.

Paul Street 2007 d. “Profit Surge,” Empire and Inequality Report No. 10, ZNet (February 10, 2007).

Richard Norton Taylor 2005. “British Forces Arrest Nine Iraqis As Poll Shows Hostility to Troops,” The Guardian (October 24, 2005), accessed online January 10 2006).

Elizabeth de la Vega 2006. United States V. George Bush (New York: Seven Stories, 2006).

  1. After ordering the two most heinous single-moment war crimes in history — the atom bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in announcing the attack on the first city Truman proclaimed the atom bomb “the greatest thing in history”) — the Truman administration concocted a Soviet “communist” threat in Greece to justify a massive permanent imperial militarization campaign called the Cold War. Millions died in the execution of that policy, which assaulted civil liberties, diverted billions of dollars away from attacking poverty and racism and checked the positive, social-democratic impulses of the New Deal. The super-hawk JFK used false claims of a Soviet missile advantage to attain a presidency that sparked a deadly and expensive arms race, initiated the giant and prolonged U.S. military assault on the peasant nation of Vietnam, attempted repeatedly to undermine the sovereign government of Cuba, and helped bring the human race as close to nuclear annihilation as it ever came. Domestic needs suffered accordingly in a time when more than a fifth of the U.S. population lived below the poverty line. Kennedy intervened against the racist U.S. South only reluctantly and mostly on the basis of the imperial calculation that his aggressive foreign policy was harmed when Third World people saw racist violence occurring within the supposed homeland and headquarters of world freedom. The beneficiaries of his overseas policy included the corrupt ruling-class of South Vietnam and the authoritarian military states of Latin America (See Barnett 1972, Chomsky 1992, Miroff, 1976, and Blum 2000). []
  2. “Perhaps,” Noam Chomsky wrote in 1970, “a word might be added with regard to the commonly heard argument that the costs of the Vietnam War prove that United States has no imperial motives… The costs, of course, are profits for selected segments of the American economy, in large measure. It is senseless to describe government expenditures for petroleum, jet planes, cluster bombs or computers for the automated air war simply as ‘costs of intervention.’ There are, to be sure, costs of empire that benefit no one: 50,000 American corpses or the deterioration of the strength of the United States economy relative to its industrial rivals. The costs of empire to the imperial society as a whole may be considerable. These costs, however, are social costs, whereas, say, the profits from overseas investment guaranteed by military success are again highly concentrated in certain special segments of society. The costs of empire are in general distributed over the society as a whole, while its profits revert to a few within. In this respect, the empire serves as a device for internal consolidation of power and privilege, and it is quite irrelevant to observe that its social costs are often great or that as costs rise, differences may also emerge among those who are in positions of power and influence.” (Chomsky 1970, p. 47). []

Paul Street (paulstreet99@yahoo.com) is a veteran radical historian and independent author, activist, researcher, and journalist in Iowa City, IA. He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm 2005); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge 2005): and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman&Littlefied 2007). Street's new book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics can now be ordered. Read other articles by Paul.