The story of how America became a global superpower is one in which a group of ambitious and egotistical men rationalized the implementation of a governing model that would lead to massive death and suffering. The main forerunner of this drive to superpower status was Theodore Roosevelt, a late-19th/early 20th-century narcissistic politician from an upper-class household who was determined to turn his childhood obsession with war into a foreign policy model which would make the United States into even more of a conquering nation than it already had been (with its near extermination of the native population of the North American continent) up to that point in its history.
He and the other political elites who supported the 1898 Spanish-American War—and the subsequent rush to empire through the seizing of Caribbean islands and the brutal takeover of the Philippines, which killed roughly 200,000 people (about 2.5% of the population at that time)—received support from business elites as well, such as William Randolph Hearst, who used his vast newspaper network to manufacture public opinion for war because war stories helped him sell papers better than the lurid gossip he otherwise used to gain the public’s attention.
As documented in historian Stephen Kinzer’s book The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire, these political and business figures developed an ideology of social and historical myopia in order to sell their imperial ambitions to the public. They ridiculed the idea that the American imperialist project was based on greed. They dismissed warnings from the opponents of intervention, like Twain, that the U.S. empire would follow in the same path as Rome and all of history’s other empires. They promoted news stories designed to incite war hysteria, along with racist theories about the need to complete manifest destiny, while embracing the business interests that would benefit from the ensuing wars and land grabs.
Since then, the U.S. and the world’s other core imperialist nations have continued to function within the same paradigm of violently exploiting weaker countries. This situation has continued for over a century, and has been allowed to develop into the formation of the largest empire in history.
Overall, the “first world” has never truly addressed that its economic and political model is inextricably related to genocide.
By varying definitions, genocide is the natural result of capitalism and empire. Within the core imperialist nations, there’s the genocidal violence that poor people, LGBT people, and marginalized races endure, wherein these groups are subjected to police repression, mass incarceration, and the deprivation of essential resources. These types of violence, which are inherent to capitalism, find even larger-scale parallels abroad when capitalism is engaged in imperial projects.
In his book Capitalism: A Structural Genocide, Garry Leeche examines the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the people of Mexico (wherein the country’s economy was ruined and much of the population was pushed into poverty), the fact that trade liberalization and genetically-modified seeds have led to increased suicides among Indian agriculturalists, the malnourishment and deaths from preventable diseases that have been caused by the artificial impoverishment of the global south, and the humanitarian consequences of the ever-worsening climatic and environment crises. As Javier Sethness writes in a review of the book, Leech concludes by “recommending the socialist alternative as a concrete means of abolishing genocide.”
Such examples of how capitalism and empire create genocide represent just a few of the ways that these systems entail the mass killing and collective traumatization of the people who the power structure sees as disposable. This death machine works in cycles, with the atrocities that Leeche listed being only a few of the steps that the cycles include.
NAFTA and the American corporatocracy’s other moves to exploit the third world have resulted in refugee crises wherein the victim populations seek out new lives in the wealthier countries, as has been the case with the movement towards immigration or migration to America from Mexico. This results in racist immigration laws and xenophobic sentiments within the imperialist nation’s population, as we’re now seeing throughout North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia amidst the global influx of refugees. These trends end in capitalist governments meeting the desperate pleas for help from the victims of capitalism with ethnically motivated state violence, a horror that the Trump administration has been escalating through its inhumane and often deadly treatment of children in U.S. migrant detention centers.
The proliferation of neoliberal policies throughout the so-called third world, as well as the imposition of neocolonial systems that keep the colonized nations poor, have been imposed through wars, both military and economic, that the imperialist nations have waged against the victim populations. For instance, the destructive neoliberalism that’s afflicted south Korea, as well as the U.S. empire’s deadly campaign to economically strangulate north Korea (DPRK), are both historically intertwined with the genocidal war that the U.S. and south Korea waged against the DPRK seventy years ago. A further example, the 2003 invasion of Iraq has caused not just hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Middle East and spawned terrorist groups like ISIS, but also created the opportunity for the U.S. to impose neoliberal hyper-capitalism onto the post-Hussein government. Indeed, the effort from the U.S. to depose Venezuela’s current Chavista government and install a neoliberal regime in the country is being carried out not through overt warfare, but through economic sanctions which have so far killed around 40,000 Venezuelans.
These methods of violently enforcing global capitalism around the world, whether the method is economic sanctions or direct warfare, are done with the goal of causing bodily and mental harm to the people of the disobedient countries. This is how Israel operates in its campaign to terrorize the Palestinian people into ceding their land to the Zionist project; deliberately killing Palestinian children and civilians, tightly policing Palestinian political speech, demolishing Palestinian homes, and keeping Palestinians within Israel’s territory under apartheid are Israel’s tools for trying to make the Palestinian people accept being colonized and their land monetized for the benefit of the more powerful nation.
As the collapse of capitalism and the U.S. empire continues, it will become increasingly apparent that Gaza may be functioning as an experimenting ground for the more extreme measures that the global oligarchs will likely use to maintain their control over the system.
Following in the pattern of past empires, the tyranny that the U.S. has imposed abroad is also now manifesting closer to or within the heart of the empire itself. The torture that the U.S. used against prisoners in the Vietnam War, for instance, has been used in America’s secret prisons throughout the War on Terror. The covert government propaganda that the U.S. has long flooded the world with has in recent years come to be used on the American people in the same proportions. Excess army equipment from America’s recent wars have been imported to the U.S. so that the country’s police departments can use it to inflict violence against poor people. The decline of American power and the continuation of the climate crisis will take these trends to greater extremes, making capitalism’s cycle of violence conclude in a potentially unprecedented catastrophe.
The most brutal policies that the U.S. empire has imposed abroad—like the wholesale suppression of dissent and support for extermination policies against disfavored ethnic groups—will move closer towards realization within America. Climate change will continue to exacerbate the global refugee crisis, leading to rising ethnic nationalism and additional concentration camps. Climate change-created destabilization and the destructive effects of neoliberalism will drive more and more people into poverty, prompting the government to impose militarized police control to mitigate the resulting unrest. Corporations will facilitate these moves towards border militarization, increased migrant detention, and expanded private security systems in order to profit from the crisis.
The people at the center of the system have admitted that this is essentially the direction American society will go in as imperial collapse and the climate crisis threaten the empire’s power. In June of 2017, the Pentagon put out a study which stated that American power is “fraying” and may in fact be “collapsing,” and it recommended the following measures for defending what it calls the “status quo” of global power: using war campaigns to subdue worldwide “revolutionary forces” like China, Russia, Iran and north Korea, which are collectively threatening to edge out America on the world stage; increased government propaganda and more thorough utilization of America’s surveillance system to combat civil unrest; and military expansionism whose aggressive nature is articulated as follows:
While as a rule, U.S. leaders of both political parties have consistently committed to the maintenance of U.S. military superiority over all potential state rivals, the post-primacy reality demands a wider and more flexible military force that can generate advantage and options across the broadest possible range of military demands. To U.S. political leadership, maintenance of military advantage preserves maximum freedom of action… Finally, it allows U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes in the shadow of significant U.S. military capability and the implied promise of unacceptable consequences in the event that capability is unleashed.
This declaration of intent to use military force to cajole nations and movements which are disobedient to the empire’s agenda is further clarified in the part from the report which frames the “Persistent Conflict 2.0” of our era as a confrontation between global capitalism and its opponents, saying:
“some are fighting globalization and globalization is also actively fighting back. Combined, all of these forces are rending at the fabric of security and stable governance that all states aspire to and rely on for survival.”
This is the language that the purveyors of capitalism and empire are using as their more-than-a-century-old power establishment shows signs of disarray. The founders of the project of American imperialism, blinded by their ambition and hubris, promised that there was no way the U.S. would fall into tyranny or lose its dominance, like all past empires have. It’s a grotesque spectacle to see the modern day Roosevelts and Hearsts handle the collapse of the empire by applying the same violent and uncompromising logic that was used by their late 19th century forebears.
In a near future where imperial collapse may cripple the very foundations of global capitalism, and where a deteriorating climate will make it impossible for civilization as we know it to function as it has (or function at all), the genocidal aspects of capitalism will become much more brazen. Refugees, the people who are driven into poverty, and the groups deemed to represent “terrorism” and “subversion” will be targeted with state violence. The bulk of humanity that will be endangered by the climate crisis won’t receive help from a billionaire class that’s preparing to retreat into private luxury doomsday shelters, while leaving the rest of us behind. As Naomi Klein has written about these implications of climate change on class relations:
“In an age of ever-widening income inequality, a significant cohort of our elites are walling themselves off not just physically but also psychologically, mentally detaching themselves from the collective fate of the rest of humanity. This secessionism from the human species (if only in their own minds) liberates the rich not only to shrug off the urgent need for climate action but also to devise ever more predatory ways to profit from current and future disasters and instability.”
While we fight against this global corporate military machine, it’s crucial for us to understand that the people at the top of the system are going to increasingly see us as disposable. Capitalism has always been a system that treats large numbers of the population like expendable resources, and this is how it will treat more and more people throughout the coming decades.
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