JR'S Free Thought Pages
The 500 Year Reich
Subjugation and Conquest in the Americas
From Noam Chomsky, Year 501, 1993
The year 1992 poses a critical moral and cultural challenge for the more privileged sectors of the world dominant societies. The challenge is heightened by the fact that within these societies, notably the first European colony liberated from imperial rule, popular struggle over many centuries has achieved a large measure of freedom, opening many opportunities for independent thought and committed action. How this challenge is addressed in the years to come will have fateful consequences.
October 11, 1992 brings to an end the 500th year of the Old World Order, sometimes called the Colombian era of world history, or the Vasco da Gama era, depending on which adventurers bent on plunder got there first. Or "the 500-year Reich," to borrow the title of a commemorative volume that compares the methods and ideology of the Nazis with those of the European invaders who subjugated most of the world.1 The major theme of this Old World Order was a confrontation between the conquerors and the conquered on a global scale. It has taken various forms, and been given different names: imperialism, neocolonialism, the North-South conflict, core versus periphery, G-7 (the 7 leading state capitalist industrial societies) and their satellites versus the rest. Or, more simply, Europe's conquest of the world.
By the term "Europe," we include the European-settled colonies, one of which now leads the crusade; in accord with South African conventions, the Japanese are admitted as "honorary whites," rich enough to (almost) qualify. Japan was one of the few parts of the South to escape conquest and, perhaps not coincidentally, to join the core, with some of its former colonies in its wake. That there may be more than coincidence in the correlation of independence and development is suggested further by a look at Western Europe, where parts that were colonized followed something like the Third World path. One notable example is Ireland, violently conquered, then barred from development by the "free trade" doctrines selectively applied to ensure subordination of the South -- today called "structural adjustment," "neo-liberalism," or "our noble ideals," from which we, to be sure, are exempt.2
"The discovery of America and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind," Adam Smith wrote in 1776: "What benefits, or what misfortunes to mankind may hereafter result from those great events, no human wisdom can foresee." But it was possible for an honest eye to see what had taken place. "The discovery of America...certainly made a most essential" contribution to the "state of Europe," Smith wrote, "opening up a new and inexhaustible market" that led to vast expansion of "productive powers" and "real revenue and wealth." In theory, the "new set of exchanges...should naturally have proved as advantageous to the new, as it certainly did to the old continent." That was not to be, however.
"The savage injustice of the Europeans rendered an event, which ought to have been beneficial to all, ruinous and destructive to several of those unfortunate countries," Smith wrote, revealing himself to be an early practitioner of the crime of "political correctness," to borrow some rhetoric of contemporary cultural management. "To the natives...both of the East and West Indies," Smith continued, "all the commercial benefits, which can have resulted from those events have been sunk and lost in the dreadful misfortunes which they have occasioned." With "the superiority of force" the Europeans commanded, "they were enabled to commit with impunity every sort of injustice in those remote countries."
Smith does not mention the indigenous inhabitants of North America: "There were but two nations in America, in any respect superior to savages [Peru, Mexico], and these were destroyed almost as soon as discovered. The rest were mere savages" -- a convenient idea for the British conquerors, hence one that was to persist, even in scholarship, until the cultural awakening of the 1960s finally opened many eyes.
Over half a century later, Hegel discoursed authoritatively on the same topics in his lectures on philosophy of history, brimming with confidence as we approach the final "phase of World-History," when Spirit reaches "its full maturity and strength" in "the German world." Speaking from that lofty peak, he relates that native America was "physically and psychically powerless," its culture so limited that it "must expire as soon as Spirit approached it." Hence "the aborigines...gradually vanished at the breath of European activity." "A mild and passionless disposition, want of spirit, and a crouching submissiveness...are the chief characteristics of the native Americans," so "slothful" that, under the kind "authority of the Friars," "at midnight a bell had to remind them even of their matrimonial duties." They were inferior even to the Negro, "the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state," who is beyond any "thought of reverence and morality -- all that we call feeling"; there is "nothing harmonious with humanity...in this type of character." "Among the Negroes moral sentiments are quite weak, or more strictly speaking non-existent." "Parents sell their children, and conversely children their parents, as either has the opportunity," and "The polygamy of the Negroes has frequently for its object the having many children, to be sold, every one of them, into slavery." Creatures at the level of "a mere Thing – an object of no value," they treat "as enemies" those who seek to abolish slavery, which has "been the occasion of the increase of human feeling among the Negroes," enabling them to become "participant in a higher morality and the culture connected with it."
The conquest of the New World set off two vast demographic catastrophes, unparalleled in history: the virtual destruction of the indigenous population of the Western hemisphere, and the devastation of Africa as the slave trade rapidly expanded to serve the needs of the conquerors, and the continent itself was subjugated. Much of Asia too suffered "dreadful misfortunes." While modalities have changed, the fundamental themes of the conquest retain their vitality and resilience, and will continue to do so until the reality and causes of the "savage injustice" are honestly addressed.3
1. "The Savage Injustice of the Europeans"
The Spanish-Portuguese conquests had their domestic counterpart. In 1492, the Jewish community of Spain was expelled or forced to convert. Millions of Moors suffered the same fate. The fall of Granada in 1492, ending eight centuries of Moorish sovereignty, allowed the Spanish Inquisition to extend its barbaric sway. The conquerors destroyed priceless books and manuscripts with their rich record of classical learning, and demolished the civilization that had flourished under the far more tolerant and cultured Moorish rule. The stage was set for the decline of Spain, and also for the racism and savagery of the world conquest -- "the curse of Columbus," in the words of Africa historian Basil Davidson.4
Spain and Portugal were soon displaced from their leading role. The first major competitor was Holland, with more capital than its rivals thanks in large part to the control of the Baltic trade that it had won in the 16th century and was able to maintain by force. The Dutch East India Company (VOC), formed in 1602, was granted virtually the powers of a state, including the right to make war and treaties. Technically, it was an independent enterprise, but that was an illusion. "The apparent autonomy from metropolitan political control that the VOC enjoyed," M.N. Pearson writes, resulted from the fact that "the VOC was identical with the state," itself controlled by Dutch merchants and financiers. In highly simplified form, we see already something of the structure of the modern political economy, dominated by a network of transnational financial and industrial institutions with internally managed investment and trade, their wealth and influence established and maintained by the state power that they mobilize and largely control.
"The VOC integrated the functions of a sovereign power with the functions of a business partnership," a historian of Dutch capitalism writes: "Political decisions and business decisions were made within the same hierarchy of company managers and officials, and failure or success was always in the last instance measured in terms of profit." The Dutch established positions of strength in Indonesia (to remain a Dutch colony until the 1940s), India, Brazil and the Caribbean, took Sri Lanka from Portugal, and reached to the fringes of Japan and China. The Netherlands, however, fell victim to what was later called "the Dutch disease": inadequate central state power, which left the people "rich perhaps, as individuals; but weak, as a State," as Britain's Lord Sheffield observed in the 18th century, warning the British against the same error.5
The Iberian empires suffered further blows as English pirates, marauders and slave traders swept the seas, perhaps the most notorious, Sir Francis Drake. The booty that Drake brought home "may fairly be considered the fountain and origin of British foreign investments," John Maynard Keynes wrote: "Elizabeth paid out of the proceeds the whole of her foreign debt and invested a part of the balance...in the Levant Company; largely out of the profits of the Levant Company there formed the East India Company, the profits of which...were the main foundations of England's foreign connections." In the Atlantic, the entire English operation prior to 1630 was a "predatory drive of armed traders and marauders to win by fair means or foul a share of the Atlantic wealth of the Iberian nations" (Kenneth Andrews). The adventurers who laid the basis for the merchant empires of the 17th-18th centuries "continued a long European tradition of the union of warfare and trade," Thomas Brady adds, as "the European state's growth as a military enterprise" gave rise to "the quintessentially European figure of the warrior-merchant." Later, the newly consolidated English state took over the task of "wars for markets" from "the plunder raids of Elizabethan sea-dogs" (Christopher Hill). The British East India Company was granted its charter in 1600, extended indefinitely in 1609, providing the Company with a monopoly over trade with the East on the authority of the British Crown. There followed brutal wars, frequently conducted with unspeakable barbarism, among the European rivals, drawing in native populations that were often caught up in their own internal struggles. In 1622, Britain drove the Portuguese from the straits of Hormuz, "the key of all India," and ultimately won that great prize. Much of the rest of the world was ultimately parceled out in a manner that is well known.
Rising state power had enabled England to subdue its own Celtic periphery, then to apply the newly honed techniques with even greater savagery to new victims across the Atlantic. Their contempt for "the dirty, cowkeeping Celts on [England's] fringes" also eased the way for "civilised and prosperous Englishmen" to take a commanding position in the slave trade as "the gradient of contempt...spread its shadow from nearby hearts of darkness to those far over the sea," Thomas Brady writes.
From mid-17th century, England was powerful enough to impose the Navigation Acts (1651, 1662), barring foreign traders from its colonies and giving British shipping "the monopoly of the trade of their own country" (imports), either "by absolute prohibitions" or "heavy burdens" on others (Adam Smith, who reviews these measures with mixed reservations and approval). The "twin goals" of these initiatives were "strategic power and economic wealth through shipping and colonial monopoly," the Cambridge Economic History of Europe relates. Britain's goal in the Anglo-Dutch wars from 1652 to 1674 was to restrict or destroy Dutch trade and shipping and gain control over the lucrative slave trade. The focus was the Atlantic, where the colonies of the New World offered enormous riches. The Acts and wars expanded the trading areas dominated by English merchants, who were able to enrich themselves through the slave trade and their "plunder-trade with America, Africa and Asia" (Hill), assisted by "state-sponsored colonial wars" and the various devices of economic management by which state power has forged the way to private wealth and a particular form of development shaped by its requirements.6
As Adam Smith observed, European success was a tribute to its mastery of the means and immersion in the culture of violence. "Warfare in India was still a sport," John Keay observes: "in Europe it had become a science." From a European perspective, the global conquests were "small wars," and were so considered by military authorities, Geoffrey Parker writes, pointing out that "Cortés conquered Mexico with perhaps 500 Spaniards; Pizarro overthrew the Inca empire with less than 200; and the entire Portuguese empire [from Japan to southern Africa] was administered and defended by less than 10,000 Europeans." Robert Clive was outnumbered 10 to 1 at the crucial battle of Plassey in 1757, which opened the way to the takeover of Bengal by the East India Company, then to British rule over India. A few years later the British were able to reduce the numerical odds against them by mobilizing native mercenaries, who constituted 90 percent of the British forces that held India and also formed the core of the British armies that invaded China in the mid-19th century. The failure of the North American colonies to provide "military force towards the support of Empire" was one of Adam Smith's main reasons for advocating that Britain should "free herself" from them.
Europeans "fought to kill," and they had the means to satisfy their blood lust. In the American colonies, the natives were astonished by the savagery of the Spanish and British. "Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the peoples of Indonesia were equally appalled by the all-destructive fury of European warfare," Parker adds. Europeans had put far behind them the days described by a 12th century Spanish pilgrim to Mecca, when "The warriors are engaged in their wars, while the people are at ease." The Europeans may have come to trade, but they stayed to conquer: "trade cannot be maintained without war, or war without trade," one of the Dutch conquerors of the East Indies wrote in 1614. Only China and Japan were able to keep the West out at the time, because "they already knew the rules of the game." European domination of the world "relied critically upon the constant use of force," Parker writes: "It was thanks to their military superiority, rather than to any social, moral or natural advantage, that the white peoples of the world managed to create and control, however briefly, the first global hegemony in History."7 The temporal qualification is open to question.
"Twentieth-century historians can agree that it was usually the Europeans who broke violently into Asian trading systems that had been relatively peaceful before their arrival," James Tracy writes, summarizing the scholarly study of merchant empires that he edited. They brought state trading to a region of relatively free markets, "open to all who came in peace, under terms that were widely known and generally accepted." Their violent entry into this world brought a "combination, characteristically if not uniquely European, of state power and trading interest, whether in the form of an arm of the state that conducts trade, or a trading company that behaves like a state." "The principal feature that differentiates European enterprises from indigenous trade networks in various parts of the globe," he concludes, is that the Europeans "organized their major commercial ventures either as an extension of the state...or as autonomous trading companies...which were endowed with many of the characteristics of a state," and were backed by the centralized power of the home country.
Portugal paved the way by extracting a tribute from Asian trade, "first creating a threat of violence to Asian shipping," then selling protection from the threat they posed while providing no further service in return: "in modern terms," Pearson notes, "this was precisely a protection racket." Portugal's more powerful European adversaries took over, with more effective use of violence and more sophisticated measures of management and control. The Portuguese had not "radically altered the structure of [the] traditional system of trade," but it was "smashed to pieces" by the Dutch. The English and Dutch companies "used force in a much more selective, in fact rational way" than their Portuguese predecessors: "it was used only for commercial ends...the bottom line was always the balance sheet." The force at their command, and its domestic base, was far superior as well. The British, not succumbing to the "Dutch disease," largely displaced their major rivals. The leading role of state power and violence is a notable feature in the "essential" contribution of the colonies to "the state of Europe" that Adam Smith described, as in its internal development.8
Britain has been considered an exception to the crucial role of state power and violence in economic development; the British liberal tradition held this to be the secret of its success. The assumptions are challenged in a valuable reinterpretation of Britain's rise to power by John Brewer. Britain's emergence "as the military Wunderkind of the age" in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, exercising its authority "often brutally and barbarously" over subject peoples in distant lands, he concludes, coincided with an "astonishing transformation in British government, one which put muscle on the bones of the British body politic." Contrary to the liberal tradition, Britain in this period became a "strong state," "a fiscal military state," thanks to "a radical increase in taxation" and "a sizable public administration devoted to organizing the fiscal and military activities of the state." The state became "the largest single actor in the economy," one of Europe's most powerful states "judged by the criteria of the ability to take pounds out of people's pockets and to put soldiers in the field and sailors on the high seas." "Lobbies, trade organizations, groups of merchants and financiers, fought or combined with one another to take advantage of the protection afforded by the greatest of economic creatures, the state."
During this period, the British tax rate reached a level twice as high as France (traditionally considered the over-centralized all-powerful state), and the discrepancy was widening. Public debt grew rapidly as well. By the end of the 18th century, taxes absorbed almost a quarter of per capita income, rising to over a third during the Napoleonic wars. "Judged both absolutely and comparatively, Britain was heavily taxed." The growth of tax receipts was over five times as high as economic growth in the period when the military Wunderkind emerged. Part of the reason was efficiency; to an extent unusual in Europe, tax collection was a central government function. Another factor was the greater legitimacy of the more democratic state. The role of "the largest economic actor in eighteenth-century Britain, namely the state, "was not merely to conquer: rather, it acted to promote exports, limit imports, and in general pursue the protectionist import-substitution policies that have opened the way to industrial "take-off" from England to South Korea.9
Excessive liberalism apparently contributed to the collapse of the Spanish imperial system. It was too open, permitting "merchants, often non-Spanish, to operate in the entrails of its empire" and allowing "the benefits to pass through and out of Spain." The Dutch, in contrast, kept the benefits "very firmly in the country," while "indigenous merchants were the empire and were the state," Pearson concludes. Britain pursued similar policies of economic nationalism, assigning rights to state-chartered monopolies, first (1581) for Turkey and the entire Middle East, then the rest of Asia and North America. In return for the grant of rights, the quasi-state companies provided regular payments to the Crown, an arrangement that would be replaced by more direct engagement of state power. As British trade and profit rapidly increased in the 18th century, government regulation remained important: "Fewer restrictions in the nineteenth century were a result of English dominance, not its cause," Pearson observes.
Adam Smith may have eloquently enumerated the harmful impact on the people of England of "the wretched spirit of monopoly," in his bitter condemnations of the East India Company. But his theoretical analysis was not the cause of its decline. The "honorable Company" fell victim to the confidence of British industrialists, particularly the textile manufacturers who had been protected from the "unfair" competition of Indian textiles, but called for deregulation once they convinced themselves that they could win a "fair competition," having undermined their rivals in the colonies by recourse to state power and violence, and used their new wealth and power for mechanization and improved supply of cotton. In contemporary terms, once they had established a "level playing field" to their incontestable advantage, nothing seemed more high-minded than an "open world" with no irrational and arbitrary interference with the honest entrepreneur, seeking the welfare of all.10
Those who expect to win the game can be counted on to laud the rules of "free competition" -- which, however, they never fail to bend to their interests. To mention only the most obvious lapse, the apostles of economic liberalism have never contemplated permitting the "free circulation of labor...from place to place," one of the foundations of freedom of trade, as Adam Smith stressed.
There is little historical basis for much of the reigning belief on the impact of Adam Smith's doctrines; for example, Chicago economist George Stigler's assertion that Smith "convinced England" from 1850 to 1930 "of the merits of free international trade." What "convinced England" -- more accurately, Englishmen who held the reins -- was the perception that "free international trade" (within limits) would serve their interests; "it was not until 1846, by which time the British manufacturing interests were sufficiently powerful, that Parliament was prepared for the revolution" of free trade, Richard Morris notes. What convinced England of the contrary by 1930 was the realization that those days had passed. Unable to compete with Japan, Britain effectively barred it from trade with the commonwealth, including India; the United States followed suit in its lesser empire, as did the Dutch. These were significant factors leading to the Pacific war, as Japan set forth to emulate its powerful predecessors, having naively adopted their liberal doctrines only to discover that they were a fraud, imposed upon the weak, accepted by the strong only when they are useful. So it has always been.11
Stigler may well be right, however, that Smith "certainly convinced all subsequent economists." If so, that is a comment on the dangers of illegitimate idealization that isolates some inquiry from factors that crucially affect its subject matter, a problem familiar in the sciences; in this case, separation of abstract inquiry into the wealth of nations from questions of power: Who decides, and for whom? We return to the point as Adam Smith himself understood it.
The wealth of the colonies returned to Britain, creating huge fortunes. By 1700, the East India Company accounted for "above half the trade of the nation," one contemporary critic commented. Through the following half-century, Keay writes, its shares became the "equivalent of a gilt-edged security, much sought after by trustees, charities and foreign investors." The rapid growth of wealth and power set the stage for outright conquest and imperial rule. British officials, merchants, and investors "amassed vast fortunes," gaining "wealth beyond the dreams of avarice" (Parker). That was particularly true in Bengal, which, Keay continues, "was destabilized and impoverished by a disastrous experiment in sponsored government" -- one of the many "experiments" in the Third World that have not exactly redounded to the benefit of the experimental subjects. Two English historians of India, Edward Thompson and G.T. Garrett, described the early history of British India as "perhaps the world's high-water mark of graft": "a gold-lust unequalled since the hysteria that took hold of the Spaniards of Cortes' and Pizzaro's age filled the English mind. Bengal in particular was not to know peace again until she has been bled white." It is significant, they remark, that one of the Hindustani words that has become part of the English language is "loot."12
The fate of Bengal brings out essential elements of the global conquest. Calcutta and Bangladesh are now the very symbols of misery and despair. In contrast, European warrior-merchants saw Bengal as one of the richest prizes in the world. An early English visitor described it as "a wonderful land whose richness and abundance neither war, pestilence, nor oppression could destroy." Well before, the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta had described Bengal as "a country of great extent, and one in which rice is extremely abundant. Indeed, I have seen no region of the earth in which provisions are so plentiful." In 1757, the same year as Plassey, Clive described the textile center of Dacca as "extensive, populous, and rich as the city of London"; by 1840 its population had fallen from 150,000 to 30,000, Sir Charles Trevelyan testified before the Select Committee of the House of Lords, "and the jungle and malaria are fast encroaching... Dacca, the Manchester of India, has fallen from a very flourishing town to a very poor and small town." It is now the capital of Bangladesh.
Bengal was known for its fine cotton, now extinct, and for the excellence of its textiles, now imported. After the British takeover, British traders, using "every conceivable form of roguery," "acquired the weavers' cloth for a fraction of its value," English merchant William Bolts wrote in 1772: "Various and innumerable are the methods of oppressing the poor weavers...such as by fines, imprisonments, floggings, forcing bonds from them, etc." "The oppression and monopolies" imposed by the English "have been the causes of the decline of trade, the decrease of the revenues, and the present ruinous condition of affairs in Bengal."
Perhaps relying on Bolts, whose book was in his library, Adam Smith wrote four years later that in the under-populated and "fertile country" of Bengal, "three or four hundred thousand people die of hunger in one year." These are consequences of the "improper regulations" and "injudicious restraints" imposed by the ruling Company upon the rice trade, which turn "dearth into a famine." "It has not been uncommon" for Company officials, "when the chief foresaw that extraordinary profit was likely to be made by opium," to plough up "a rich field of rice or other grain...in order to make room for a plantation of poppies." The miserable state of Bengal "and of some other of the English settlements" is the fault of the policies of "the mercantile company which oppresses and domineers in the East Indies." These should be contrasted, Smith urges, with "the genius of the British constitution which protects and governs North America" -- protects, that is, the English colonists, not the "mere savages," he fails to add.
The protection of the English colonists was actually a rather devious instrument. As Smith notes elsewhere, Britain "imposes an absolute prohibition upon the erection of slit-mills in any of her American plantations," and closely regulates internal commerce "of the produce of America; a regulation which effectually prevents the establishment of any manufacture of [hats, wools, woollen goods] for distant sale, and confines the industry of her colonists in this way to such coarse and household manufactures, as a private family commonly makes for its own use" or for its close neighbors. This is "a manifest violation of the most sacred rights of mankind," standard in the colonial domains.
Under Britain's Permanent Settlement of 1793 in India, land was privatized, yielding wealth to local clients and taxes for the British rulers, while "The settlement fashioned with great care and deliberation has to our painful knowledge subjected almost the whole of the lower classes to most grievous oppression," a British enquiry commission concluded in 1832, commenting on yet another facet of the experiment. Three years later, the director of the Company reported that "The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India." The experiment was not a total failure, however. "If security was wanting against extensive popular tumult or revolution," the Governor-General of India, Lord Bentinck, observed, "I should say that the `Permanent Settlement,' though a failure in many other respects and in most important essentials, has this great advantage, at least, of having created a vast body of rich landed proprietors deeply interested in the continuance of the British Dominion and having complete command over the mass of the people," whose growing misery is therefore less of a problem than it might have been. As local industry declined, Bengal was converted to export agriculture, first indigo, then jute; Bangladesh produced over half the world's crop by 1900, but not a single mill for processing was ever built there under British rule.13
While Bengal was despoiled, Britain's textile industry was protected from Indian competition; a matter of importance, because Indian producers enjoyed a comparative advantage in printed cotton textile fabrics for the expanding market in England. A British Royal Industrial Commission of 1916-1918 recalled that Indian industrial development was "not inferior to that of the more advanced European nations" when "merchant adventurers from the West" arrived; it may even be "that the industries of India were far more advanced than those of the West up to the advent of the industrial revolution," Frederick Clairmonte observes," citing British studies. Parliamentary Acts of 1700 and 1720 forbade the import of printed fabrics from India, Persia, and China; all goods seized in contravention of this edict were to be confiscated, sold by auction, and re-exported. Indian calicoes were barred, including "any garment or apparel whatsoever...in or about any bed, chair cushion, window curtain, or any other sort of household stuff or furniture." Later, British taxes also discriminated against local cloth within India, which was forced to take inferior British textiles.
Such measures were unavoidable, Horace Wilson wrote in his History of British India in 1826: "Had this not been the case, the mills of Paisley and Manchester would have been stopped in their outset, and could scarcely have been again set in motion, even by the power of steam. They were created by the sacrifice of Indian manufacturers." Economic historian J.H. Clapham concluded that "this restrictive act gave an important, and it may be argued a useful, stimulus to textile printing in Britain," a leading sector of the industrial revolution. By the 19th century, India was financing more than two-fifths of Britain's trade deficit, providing a market for British manufactures as well as troops for its colonial conquests and the opium that was the staple of its trade with China.14
"A significant fact which stands out is that those parts of India which have been longest under British rule are the poorest today," Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: "Indeed some kind of chart might be drawn up to indicate the close connection between length of British rule and progressive growth of poverty." In the mid-18th century, India was developed by comparative standards, not only in textiles. "The ship building industry was flourishing and one of the flagships of an English admiral during the Napoleonic wars had been built by an Indian firm in India." Not only textiles, but other well-established industries such as "ship-building, metal working, glass, paper, and many crafts," declined under British rule, as India's development was arrested and the growth of new industry blocked, and India became "an agricultural colony of industrial England." While Europe urbanized, India "became progressively ruralized," with a rapid increase in the proportion of the population dependent on agriculture, "the real, the fundamental cause of the appalling poverty of the Indian people," Nehru writes. In 1840, a British historian testifying before a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee could still say: "India is as much a manufacturing country as an agriculturalist; and he who would seek to reduce her to the position of an agricultural country, seeks to lower her in the scale of civilization," exactly what happened under Britain's "despotic sway," Nehru observes.15
Discussing "colonies as mercantile investments," Brazilian economic historian José J. de A. Arruda, concludes that the investments were indeed highly profitable, for some: the Dutch, French, and particularly the British, who also gained the advantages of Portugal's colonial assets; the slave traders, the merchants, the manufacturers; and the New England colonies whose development was spurred by triangular trade with Britain and the sugar colonies of the West Indies. "The colonial world...fulfilled its chief function as a link providing growth for the early accumulation of capital." It promoted "a transfer of colonial riches to the metropoles, which then fought for the appropriation of colonial surplus," contributing substantially to the economic growth of Europe. "THESE COLONIES DID PAY," he concludes. But, he adds, the calculations miss the main point: "profits went to individuals and costs were socialized." The "essence of the system" is "social losses" along with "the possibility of constant advance for capitalism" and for "the private coffers of the mercantilist bourgeoisie." In short, public subsidy, private profit; the expected thrust of policy when its architects are those who can expect to gain the profit.
As for those who lapsed into underdevelopment, Pearson raises but does not pursue the question whether there was "an alternative path to a status that could meet the European challenge," so that China, India, and others subjected to the European conquest might have been able to avoid "being incorporated as peripheries in the world economy, avoid being underdeveloped, avoid suffering as merchant empires turned into much more ominous territorial empires backed by an economically dominant Western Europe."16
In his classic condemnation of monopoly power and colonization, Adam Smith has useful commentary on Britain's policies, making some of the same points as Arruda. He describes these policies with some ambivalence, arguing finally that despite the great advantages that England gained from the colonies and its monopoly of their trade, in the long run the practices did not pay, either in Asia or North America. The argument is largely theoretical; adequate data were not available.
But however convincing the argument may be, Smith's discussion also explains why it is not to the point. Abandoning the colonies would be "more advantageous to the great body of the people" of England, he concludes, "though less so to the merchants, than the monopoly which she at present enjoys." The monopoly, "though a very grievous tax upon the colonies, and though it may increase the revenue of a particular order of men in Great Britain, diminishes instead of increasing that of the great body of the people." The military costs alone are a severe burden, apart from the distortions of investment and trade.
For the great body of people of England, the East India monopoly and the North American colonies may indeed have been the "absurdity" Smith claims, and "grievous" as well in their impact on the English colonists. But for "the contrivers of this whole mercantile system," they were not absurd at all. "Our merchants and manufacturers have been by far the principal architects," and their interests have "been most peculiarly attended to" by the system, though not the interests of consumers and working people.
The interests of the owners of the gilt-edged securities of the Company, and others who gained wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, were also "most peculiarly attended to." The costs were socialized, the profits poured into the coffers of the "principal architects." The policies they contrived were reasonable enough in terms of narrow self-interest, however others may have been harmed, including the general population of England.17
Smith's conclusion that "Under the present system of management, therefore, Great Britain derives nothing but loss from the dominion which she assumes over her colonies" is highly misleading. From the point of view of policy choices, Great Britain was not an entity. "The wealth of nations" is no concern of the "architects of policy," who, as Smith insists, seek private gain. The fate of the common people is no more their concern than that of the "mere savages" who stand in the way. If an "invisible hand" sometimes provided others with benefits, that is merely incidental. The basic focus on "wealth of nations" and what "Great Britain derives" is faulty from the start, undermined by illegitimate idealization, though at least it is qualified and corrected in Smith's fuller discussion.
The crucial qualifications have commonly been dropped, however, as they enter contemporary ideology in the hands of Smith's latter-day disciples. Thus in introducing the Chicago bicentennial edition of Smith's classic, George Stigler writes that "Americans will find his views on the American colonies especially instructive. He believed that there was, indeed, exploitation -- but of the English by the colonists." What he actually believed was that there was exploitation of the English by the "particular order of men" in England who were the architects of policy in their own interest, and a "grievous tax" upon the colonies as well. By removing Smith's emphasis on the basic class conflict, and its crucial impact on policy, we falsify his views, and grossly misrepresent the facts, though constructing a useful instrument to mislead in the service of wealth and power. These are common features of contemporary discussion of international affairs. And of much else: condemnation of the harmful effects of the Pentagon system on the economy, for example, is at best extremely misleading if it does not emphasize that for the architects of policy and the interests they represent (notably, advanced sectors of industry), the effects have hardly been harmful.
Not surprisingly, social policy regularly turns out to be a welfare project for the rich and powerful. Imperial systems, in particular, are one of the many devices by which the poor at home subsidize their masters. And while studies of the cost effectiveness of empire and domination for "the nation" may have academic interest, they are only marginally relevant to the study of policy formation in societies in which the general public is expected to stand aside -- that is, all existing societies.
The conclusions, however, are far more general. As indicated by the example of the Pentagon system, the same considerations apply to domestic as to international policy. State power has not only been exercised to enable some to reap wealth beyond the dreams of avarice while devastating subject societies abroad, but has also played a critical role in entrenching private privilege at home. In early modern Holland and England, the government provided the infrastructure for capitalist development, protected vulnerable and crucial production (wool, fisheries) and subjected them to close regulation, and used its monopoly of violence to impose wage labor conditions on formerly independent farmers. Centuries ago, "European societies were also colonized and plundered, less catastrophically than the Americas but more so than most of Asia" (Thomas Brady): "The rapid economic development yielded by the English path proved extremely destructive, both of traditional property rights at home and of institutions and cultures throughout the world." A process of "rural pacification" took place in the developing countries of Europe. "The massive expropriation of the peasantry, which happened in the fullest sense only in England," may well have been the basis for its more rapid economic development as peasants were deprived of property rights they managed to retain in France, and forced into the labor market; "it was
precisely the absence of [freedom and property rights] that facilitated the onset of real economic development" in England, Robert Brenner argues in his penetrating inquiry into the origins of European capitalism. The common people had ample reasons to resist "the march of progress," or to seek to deflect it to a different path that sought to preserve and extend other values: "ideas of community, of togetherness, of the whole superseding the parts, and of the common good that transcends ever particular good" (Brady).
Such ideas animated the "vast communal movements" of pre-capitalist Europe, Brady writes, and "brought elements of self-government into the hands of the Common Man," arousing "contempt and sometimes fear in the traditional elites." The common people who sought freedom and the common good were "craftsmen of shit," "rabble" ("canaille") who should "die of starvation." They were condemned by the Emperor Maximilian as "wicked, crude, stupid peasants, in whom there is neither virtue, noble blood, nor proper moderation, but only immoderate display, disloyalty, and hatred for the German nation" – the "anti-Americans" of their day. The democratic upsurge in 17th century England evoked harsh denunciation of the "rascal multitude," "beasts in men's shapes," "depraved and corrupt." Twentieth century democratic theorists advise that "The public must be put in its place," so that the "responsible men" may "live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd," "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders" whose "function" is to be "interested spectators of action," not participants, lending their weight periodically to one or another member of the leadership class (elections), then returning to their private concerns (Walter Lippmann). The great mass of the population, "ignorant and mentally deficient," must be kept in their place for the common good, fed with "necessary illusion" and "emotionally potent oversimplifications" (Wilson's Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Reinhold Niebuhr). Their "conservative" counterparts are only more extreme in their adulation of the Wise Men who are the rightful rulers -- in the service of the rich and powerful, a minor footnote regularly forgotten.18
The rabble must be instructed in the values of subordination and a narrow quest for personal gain within the parameters set by the institutions of the masters; meaningful democracy, with popular association and action, is a threat to be overcome. These too are persistent themes that only take new forms.
Adam Smith's nuanced interpretation of state interference with international trade extended to the domestic scene as well. The praise in his opening remarks for "the division of labor" is well-known: it is the source of "the greatest improvement in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied," and the foundation of "the wealth of nations." The great merit of free trade, he argued, is that it contributes to these tendencies. Less familiar is his denunciation of the inhuman consequences of the division of labor as it approaches its natural limits. "The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments," he wrote. That being so, "the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding...and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be... But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the laboring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it." Society must find some way to overcome the devilish impact of the "invisible hand." Other major contributors to the classical liberal canon go much further. Wilhelm von Humboldt, who inspired John Stuart Mill, described the "leading principle" of his thought as "the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity," a principle that is not only undermined by the narrow search for efficiency through division of labor, but by wage labor itself: "Whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness"; when the laborer works under external control, "we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is."19
Smith's admiration for individual enterprise was tempered still further by his contempt for "the vile maxim of the masters of mankind": "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people." While the "mean" and "sordid" pursuits of the masters might yield incidental benefit, faith in this consequence is mere mysticism, quite apart from the more fundamental failure to comprehend the "leading principle" of classical liberal thought that Humboldt stressed. What survives of these doctrines in contemporary ideology is an ugly and distorted image, contrived in the interests of the masters.20
Centralized state power dedicated to private privilege and authority and the rational and organized use of savage violence are two of the enduring features of the European conquest. Others are the domestic colonization by which the poor subsidize the rich, and the contempt for democracy and freedom. Yet another enduring theme is the self-righteousness in which plunder, slaughter, and oppression are clothed.
A leading liberal figure lecturing at Oxford in 1840, with the spectacle of Bengal and the rest of India before him, lauded the "British policy of colonial enlightenment," which "stands in contrast to that of our ancestors," who kept their colonies "in subjection in order to derive certain supposed commercial advantages from them," whereas we "give them commercial advantages, and tax ourselves for their benefit, in order to give them an interest in remaining under our supremacy, that we may have the pleasure of governing them." We "govern them by sheer weight of character and without use of force," the virtual ruler of Egypt from 1883 to 1906, Lord Cromer, explained: this we can do because the British "possess in a very high degree the power of acquiring the sympathy and confidence of any primitive races with which they are brought into contact." His colleague Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, proclaimed that "In the Empire we have found not merely the key to glory and wealth, but the call to duty, and the means of service to mankind." The early Dutch conquerors were sure that traders of all nations would flock to the VOC because "the good old free manner of our nation is highly praised." The Seal of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in 1629 depicts an Indian pleading "Come over and help us." The record to this day is replete with appeals to the divine will, civilizing missions, partnerships in beneficence, noble causes, and the like. Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.21
Their labors are not unavailing. Among the educated classes, fairy tales of righteous mission and benevolence have long risen to the level of doctrinal truths, and much of the general public seems to believe them as well. In 1989, half the US public believed that foreign aid is the largest element in the federal budget of the country that had, by then, sunk to last place among the industrial countries, with foreign aid barely detectable in the budget and a niggardly 0.21 percent of GNP. Those who harken to their tutors may even believe that the next highest item is Cadillacs for welfare mothers.22
The subject peoples find odd ways to express their gratitude. To the leading figure of modern Indian nationalism, "the only possible parallel" to the Viceroy "would be that of Hitler." The ideology of British rule "was that of the herrenvolk and the master race," an idea "inherent in imperialism" that "was proclaimed in unambiguous language by those in authority" and manifested in practice, as Indians "were subjected to insult, humiliation, and contemptuous treatment." Writing from a British prison in 1944, Nehru was not unmindful of the benevolent intent of the rulers:
“The solicitude which British industrialists and economists have shown for the Indian peasant has been truly gratifying. In view of this, as well as of the tender care lavished upon him by the British Government in India, one can only conclude that some all-powerful and malign fate, some supernatural agency, has countered their intentions and measures and made that peasant one of the poorest and most miserable beings on earth.”23
Nehru was something of an Anglophile. Others have been less genteel about the matter, though Western culture, having the guns and wealth, remains largely immune.
It would not be fair to charge that atrocities pass unmentioned. One of the most notorious slaughterers was King Leopold of Belgium, responsible for the death of perhaps 10 million people in the Congo. His contributions and defects were duly recorded in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which describes the "enormous fortune" that he gained by "exploitation of this vast territory." The last line of the lengthy entry reads: "but he had a hard heart towards the natives of his distant possession." Half a century later, Alfred Cobban, in his History of Modern France, castigates Louis XVI for failing to protect France's interests in the West Indies. The slave trade on which these interests rested merits a parenthetical comment: "its morality as yet is barely the subject of discussion." True enough.24
Illustrations are not hard to find.
2. "Felling Trees and Indians"
The English colonists in North America pursued the course laid out by their forerunners in the home country. From the earliest days of colonization, Virginia was a center of piracy and pillage, a base to raid Spanish commerce and plunder French settlements on the coast of Maine -- and to exterminate the "devil worshippers" and "cruel beasts" whose generosity had enabled the colonists to survive, hunting them down with savage dogs, massacring women and children, destroying crops, spreading smallpox with infected blankets, and other measures that readily came to the minds of barbarians fresh from their Irish exploits. North American pirates reached as far as the Arabian Sea in the late 17th century. By then "New York had become a thieve's market where pirates disposed of loot taken on the high seas," Nathan Miller observes, while "corruption...was the lubricant that greased the wheels of the nation's administrative machinery"; "graft and corruption played a vital role in the development of modern American society and in the creation of the complex, interlocking machinery of government and business that presently determines the course of our affairs," Miller writes, ridiculing the great shock expressed at Watergate.25
As state power consolidated, private-sector violence was suppressed in favor of the more organized state form, though the US would not permit American citizens apprehended for slave trading to be judged by foreign courts. That was no small matter; the British navy was refused permission to search any American slaver, "and American naval vessels were almost never there to search her, with the result that most of the slave ships, in the 1850s, not only flew the American flag but were owned by American citizens." The US would not accept the standards proposed by Muammar Qaddafi, who urged in 1992 that charges concerning Libya's alleged terrorism be brought to the World Court or some other neutral tribunal, a proposal dismissed with disdain by Washington and the press, which have little use for instruments that might lapse into excessive independence.26
After the colonies gained their independence in the course of the great international conflict that pitted England against France, Spain, and Holland, state power was used to protect domestic industry, foster agricultural production, manipulate trade, monopolize raw materials, and take the land from its inhabitants. Americans "concentrated on the task of felling trees and Indians and of rounding out their natural boundaries," as diplomatic historian Thomas Bailey described the project in 1969.27
These tasks, and the rhetorical accompaniment, have been eminently reasonable by reigning standards of Political Correctness; the challenge to them in the past few years has, not surprisingly, elicited much outrage among guardians of doctrinal purity. Hugo Grotius, a leading 17th century humanist and the founder of modern international law, determined that the "most just war is against savage beasts, the next against men who are like beasts." George Washington wrote in 1783 that "the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape." What is called in official PC rhetoric "a pragmatist," Washington regarded purchase of Indian lands (typically, by fraud and threat) as a more cost-effective tactic than violence. Thomas Jefferson predicted to John Adams that the "backward" tribes at the borders "will relapse into barbarism and misery, lose numbers by war and want, and we shall be obliged to drive them, with the beasts of the forests into the Stony mountains"; the same would be true of Canada after the conquest he envisioned, while all blacks would be removed to Africa or the Caribbean, leaving the country without "blot or mixture." A year after the Monroe Doctrine, the President called for helping the Indians "to surmount all their prejudices in favor of the soil of their nativity," so that "we become in reality their benefactors" by transferring them West. When consent was not given, they were forcibly removed. Consciences were eased further by the legal doctrine devised by Chief Justice John Marshall: "discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian right of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest"; "that law which regulates, and ought to regulate in general, the relations between the conqueror and conquered was incapable of application to...the tribes of Indians, ...fierce savages whose occupation was war, and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest."
The colonists, to be sure, knew better. Their survival depended on the agricultural sophistication and generosity of the "fierce savages," and they were familiar with the prevailing norms of violence on all sides. Observing the Narragansett-Pequot wars, Roger Williams remarked that their fighting was "farre less bloudy and devouring than the cruell Warres of Europe," from which the colonists had learned their trade. John Underhill sneered at the "feeble Manner" of the Indian warriors, which "did hardly deserve the Name of fighting," and their laughable protests against the "furious" style of the English that "slays too many men" -- not to speak of women and children in undefended villages, a European tactic that had to be taught to the backward natives. These were common features of the world conquest, as noted earlier.
The useful doctrines of Justice Marshall and others remained in place through modern scholarship. The highly regarded authority A.L. Kroeber attributed to the East Coast Indians a kind of "warfare that was insane, unending," inexplicable "from our point of view" and so "dominantly emphasized within [their culture] that escape was well-nigh impossible," for any group that would depart from these hideous norms "was almost certainly doomed to early extinction" -- a "harsh indictment [that] would carry more weight," Francis Jennings observes, "if its rhetoric were supported by either example or reference," in this influential scholarly study. The Indians were hardly pacifists, but they had to learn the techniques of "total war" and true savagery from the European conquerors, with their ample experience in the Celtic regions and elsewhere.28
Respected statesmen continued to uphold the same values. To Theodore Roosevelt, the hero of George Bush and the liberal commentators who gushed over Bush's sense of "righteous mission" during the 1991 Gulf slaughter, "the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages," establishing the rule of "the dominant world races." The hideous and cowardly Sand Creek massacre in Colorado in 1864, Nazi like in its bestiality, was "as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier." This "noble minded missionary," as contemporary ideologues term him, did not limit his vision to the "beasts of prey" who were being swept from their lairs within the "natural boundaries" of the American nation. The ranks of savages included the "dagos" to the south, and the "Malay bandits" and "Chinese half breeds" who were resisting the American conquest of the Philippines, all "savages, barbarians, a wild and ignorant people, Apaches, Sioux, Chinese boxers," as their resistance amply demonstrated. Winston Churchill felt that poison gas was just right for use against "uncivilized tribes" (Kurds and Afghans, particularly). Noting approvingly that British diplomacy had prevented the 1932 disarmament convention from banning bombardment of civilians, the equally respected statesman Lloyd George observed that "we insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers," capturing the basic point succinctly. The metaphors of "Indian fighting" were carried right through the Indochina wars. The conventions retain their vibrancy, as we saw in early 1991 and may again, before too long.29
The extraordinary potential of the United States was evident from the earliest days, and of no small concern to the guardians of established order. The Czar and his diplomats were concerned over "the contagion of revolutionary principles," which "is arrested by neither distance nor physical obstacles," the "vicious principles" of republicanism and popular self-rule already established in a part of North America. Metternich too warned of the "flood of evil doctrines and pernicious examples" that might "lend new strength to the apostles of sedition," asking "what would become of our religious institutions, of the moral force of our governments, and of that conservative system which has saved Europe from complete dissolution" if the flood is not stemmed. The rot might spread, to adopt the rhetoric of their heirs as they switched roles and took over the leadership of the conservative system in the mid-20th century.30
Flawed as they were, these doctrines and examples constituted a dramatic advance in the endless struggle for freedom and justice; the Wise Men of the time were right to fear their spread. Their 18th century advocates, however, were hardly apostles of sedition and did not delay in imposing their vision of "a political democracy manipulated by an elite" (Richard Morris), the old aristocracy and, in later years, the rising business classes: a "solid and responsible leadership seized the helm," as Morris puts it approvingly. The most dread fears were therefore quickly put to rest. The ex-revolutionaries were also not lacking in ambition. And like Metternich and the Czar, they feared the "pernicious examples" at their borders. Florida was conquered to remove the threat of "mingled hordes of lawless Indians and negroes," John Quincy Adams wrote with the enthusiastic approval of Thomas Jefferson, referring to runaway slaves and indigenous people who sought freedom from the tyrants and conquerors, setting a bad example. Jefferson and others advocated the conquest of Canada to cut off support for the native population by "base Canadian fiends," as the president of Yale University called them. Expansion to north and south was blocked by British power, but the annexation of the West proceeded inexorably, as its inhabitants were destroyed, cynically cheated, and expelled.31
"The task of felling trees and Indians and of rounding out their natural boundaries" required that the New World be rid of alien interlopers. The main enemy was England, a powerful deterrent, and the target of frenzied hatred in broad circles. The War for Independence itself had been a fierce civil war enmeshed in an international conflict; relative to population, it was not greatly different from the Civil War almost a century later, and it caused a huge exodus of refugees fleeing from the richest country in the world to escape the retribution of the victors. US-British conflict continued, including war in 1812. In 1837, after some Americans supported a rebellion in Canada, British forces crossed the border and set fire to the US vessel Caroline, eliciting from Secretary of State Daniel Webster a doctrine that has become the bedrock of modern international law: "respect for the inviolable character of the territory of independent states is the most essential foundation of civilization," and force may be used only in self-defense, when the necessity "is instant, overwhelming and leaving no other choice of means, and no moment of deliberation." The doctrine was invoked at the Nuremberg tribunal, for example, in rejecting the claim of the Nazi leaders that their invasion of Norway was justified to forestall Allied moves. We need waste no words on how the US has observed the principle since 1837.32
The US-British conflict was based on real interests: for the US, its desire to expand on the continent and in the Caribbean; for the dominant world power of the day, concern that the maverick across the seas was a threat to its wealth and power.
Though there was considerable sympathy in England for the rebel cause, the leaders of the newly independent country tended to see a different picture. Great Britain "hated and despised us beyond every earthly object," Thomas Jefferson wrote to Monroe in 1816, giving Americans "more reason to hate her than any nation on earth." Britain was not only an enemy of the United States, but "truly hostis humani generis," an enemy of the human race, he wrote to John Adams a few weeks later. "Taught from the cradles to scorn, insult and abuse us," Adams responded, "Britain will never be our friend till we are her master." Jefferson had proposed a different solution to Abigail Adams in 1785: "I fancy it must be the quantity of animal food eaten by the English," he speculated, "which renders their character insusceptible to civilization. I suspect it is in their kitchens and not their churches that their reformation must be worked." Ten years later, he expressed his fervent hope that French armies would liberate Great Britain, improving both its character and cuisine.33
The dislike was reciprocated, interlaced with no little contempt. In 1865 a progressive English gentleman offered to endow a lectureship at Cambridge University for American studies, to be filled every other year by a visitor from Harvard. Cambridge dons protested against what one called, with admirable literary flair, "a biennial flash of Trans-Atlantic darkness." Some found the concerns exaggerated, recognizing that the lecturers would come from the class that felt itself "increasingly in danger of being swamped by the lower elements of a vast democracy." But most feared that the lectures would spread "discontent and dangerous ideas" among defenseless students. The threat was beaten back in a show of the kind of political correctness that continues to predominate in the academic world, as wary as ever of the lower elements and their strange ideas.34
Recognizing that England's military force was too powerful to confront, Jacksonian Democrats called for annexation of Texas to gain a world monopoly of cotton. The US would then be able to paralyze England and intimidate Europe. "By securing the virtual monopoly of the cotton plant" the US had acquired "a greater influence over the affairs of the world than would be found in armies however strong, or navies however numerous," President Tyler observed after the annexation and the conquest of a third of Mexico. "That monopoly, now secured, places all other nations at our feet," he wrote: "An embargo of a single year would produce in Europe a greater amount of suffering than a fifty years' war. I doubt whether Great Britain could avoid convulsions." The same monopoly power neutralized British opposition to the conquest of the Oregon territory.
The editor of the New York Herald, the country's largest-selling newspaper, exulted that Britain was "completely bound and manacled with the cotton cords" of the United States, "a lever with which we can successfully control" this dangerous rival. Thanks to the conquests that provided a monopoly of the most important commodity in world trade, the Polk Administration boasted, the US could now "control the commerce of the world and secure thereby to the American Union inappreciable political and commercial advantages." "Fifty years will not elapse ere the destinies of the human race will be in our hands," a Louisiana congressman proclaimed, as he and others looked to "mastery of the Pacific" and control over the resources on which Europe was dependent. Polk's Secretary of Treasury reported to Congress that the conquests of the Democrats would guarantee "the command of the trade of the world."
The national poet, Walt Whitman, wrote that our conquests "take off the shackles that prevent men the even chance of being happy and good." Mexico's lands were taken over for the good of mankind: "What has miserable, inefficient Mexico...to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?" Others recognized the difficulty of taking Mexico's resources without burdening themselves with its "imbecile" population, "degraded" by "the amalgamation of races," though the New York press was hopeful that their fate would be "similar to that of the Indians of this country -- the race, before a century rolls over us, will become extinct." Articulating the common themes of manifest destiny, Ralph Waldo Emerson had written that the annexation of Texas was simply a matter of course: "It is very certain that the strong British race which has now overrun much of this continent, must also overrun that trace, and Mexico and Oregon also, and it will in the course of ages be of small import by what particular occasions and methods it was done." In 1829, Minister to Mexico Joel Poinsett, later Secretary of War responsible for driving the Cherokees to death and destruction on their Trail of Tears, had informed Mexico that "the United States are in a state of progressive aggrandizement, which has no example in the history of the world"; and rightly so, the slave-owner from South Carolina explained, because "the mass of its population is better educated, and more elevated in its moral and intellectual character, than that of any other. If such is its political condition, is it possible that its progress can be retarded, or its aggrandizement curtailed, by the rising prosperity of Mexico?"
The concerns of the expansionists went beyond their fear that an independent Texas would break the US resource monopoly and become a rival; it might also abolish slavery, igniting dangerous sparks of egalitarianism. Andrew Jackson thought that an independent Texas, with a mixture of Indians and fleeing slaves, might be manipulated by Britain to "throw the whole west into flames." Once again, the British might launch "mingled hordes of lawless Indians and negroes" in a "savage war" against the "peaceful inhabitants" of the United States. In 1827, Poinsett had reported to Washington that the "half-breed" Cherokee chief Richard Fields and the "notorious" John Hunter had "hoisted a red and white banner," seeking to establish a "union of whites and Indians" in Texas; Hunter was a white man raised by the Indians who returned to the West to try to prevent genocide. The British also noted with interest their "Republic of Fredonia." Stephen Austin, head of a nearby white colony, warned Hunter that his plans were folly; if the Republic were established, Mexico and the US would join in "annihilating so dangerous and troublesome a neighbor," and would be satisfied with "nothing short of extermination or expulsion.""The U.S. would soon sweep the country of Indians and drive them as they always have driven them to ruin and extermination." Washington would, in short, continue in its policies of genocide (in contemporary terminology), putting an end to "this madness" of a free Red-White society. Austin had successfully cleared out the "natives of the forest" from his own colony before moving on to put down the uprising, with Hunter and Fields assassinated.35
The logic of the annexation of Texas was essentially that attributed to Saddam Hussein by US propaganda after his conquest of Kuwait. But the comparisons should not be pressed too far. Unlike his 19th century American precursors, Saddam Hussein is not known to have feared that slavery in Iraq would be threatened by independent states nearby, or to have publicly called for their "imbecile" inhabitants to "become extinct" so that the "great mission of peopling the Middle East with a noble race" of Iraqis might be carried forward, placing "the destinies of the human race in the hands" of the conquerors. And even the wildest fantasies did not accord Saddam potential control over oil of the kind the American expansionists of the 1840s sought over the major resource of the day. There are many interesting lessons to learn from the history so extolled by enraptured intellectuals.
3. Showers of Benevolence
After the mid-19th century conquests, New York editors proudly observed that the US was "the only power which has never sought and never seeks to acquire a foot of territory by force of arms"; "Of all the vast domains of our great confederacy over which the star spangled banner waves, not one foot of it is the acquirement of force or bloodshed"; the remnants of the native population, among others, were not asked to confirm this judgment. The US is unique among nations in that "By its own merits it extends
itself." That is only natural, since "all other races...must bow and fade" before "the great work of subjugation and conquest to be achieved by the Anglo-Saxon race," conquest without force. Leading contemporary historians accept this flattering self-image. Samuel Flagg Bemis wrote in 1965 that "American expansion across a practically empty continent despoiled no nation unjustly"; no one could think it unjust if Indians were "felled" along with trees. Arthur M. Schlesinger had earlier described Polk as "undeservedly one of the forgotten men of American history": "By carrying the flag to the Pacific he gave America her continental breadth and ensured her future significance in the world," a realistic assessment, if not, perhaps, exactly in the intended sense.36
Such doctrine could not easily survive the cultural awakening of the 1960s, at least outside the intellectual class, where we are regularly regaled by orations on how "for 200 years the United States has preserved almost unsullied the original ideals of the Enlightenment...and, above all, the universality of these values" (Michael Howard, among many others). "Although we are reaching for the stars and have showered less favored peoples with our benevolence in unmatched flow, our motives are profoundly misunderstood and our military intentions widely mistrusted," another distinguished historian, Richard Morris, wrote in 1967, contemplating the "unhappy" fact that others fail to understand the nobility of our cause in Vietnam, a country "beset by internal subversion and foreign aggression" (by Vietnamese, that is). Writing in 1992 on "the self-image of Americans," New York Times correspondent Richard Bernstein notes with alarm that "many who came of age during the 1960s protest years have never regained the confidence in the essential goodness of America and the American government that prevailed in earlier periods," a matter of much concern to cultural managers since.37
The basic patterns established in the early conquest persist to the current era. As the slaughter of the indigenous population by the Guatemalan military approached virtual genocide, Ronald Reagan and his officials, while lauding the assassins as forward-looking democrats, informed Congress that the US would provide arms "to reinforce the improvement in the human rights situation following the 1982 coup" that installed Ríos Montt, perhaps the greatest killer of them all. The primary means by which Guatemala obtained US military equipment, however, was commercial sales licensed by the Department of Commerce, the General Accounting Office of Congress observed, putting aside the international network that is always ready to exterminate the beasts of the field and forest if there are profits to be made. The Reaganites were also instrumental in maintaining slaughter and terror from Mozambique to Angola, while gaining much respect in left-liberal circles by the "quiet diplomacy" that helped their South African friends cause over $60 billion in damage and 1.5 million deaths from 1980 to 1988 in the neighboring states. The most devastating effects of the general catastrophe of capitalism through the 1980s were in the same two continents: Africa and Latin America.38
One of the grandest of the Guatemalan killers, General Héctor Gramajo, was rewarded for his contributions to genocide in the highlands with a fellowship to Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government -- not unreasonably, given Kennedy's decisive contributions to the vocation of counterinsurgency (one of the technical terms for international terrorism conducted by the powerful). Cambridge dons will be relieved to learn that Harvard is no longer a dangerous center of subversion.
While earning his degree at Harvard, Gramajo gave an interview to the Harvard International Review in which he offered a more nuanced view of his own role. He took personal credit for the "70 percent-30 percent civil affairs program, used by the Guatemalan government during the 1980s to control people or organizations who disagreed with the government," outlining the doctrinal innovations he had introduced: "We have created a more humanitarian, less costly strategy, to be more compatible with the democratic system. We instituted civil affairs [in 1982] which provides development for 70 percent of the population, while we kill 30 percent. Before, the strategy was to kill 100 percent." This is a "more sophisticated means" than the previous crude assumption that you must "kill everyone to complete the job" of controlling dissent, he explained.
It is unfair, then, for journalist Alan Nairn, who had exposed the US origins of the Central American death squads, to describe Gramajo as "one of the most significant mass-murderers in the Western Hemisphere" as Gramajo was sued for horrendous crimes. We can also now appreciate why former CIA director William Colby, who had some firsthand experience with such matters in Vietnam, sent Gramajo a copy of his memoirs with the inscription: "To a colleague in the effort to find a strategy of counterinsurgency with decency and democracy," Washington-style.
Given his understanding of humanitarianism, decency, and democracy, it is not surprising that Gramajo appears to be the State Department's choice for the 1995 elections, according to the Guatemala Central America Report, citing Americas Watch on the Harvard fellowship as "the State Department's way of grooming Gramajo" for the job, and quoting a US Senate staffer who says: "He's definitely their boy down there." A "senior commander in the early 1980s, when the Guatemalan military was blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, largely civilians," Gramajo "is seen as a moderate by the U.S. Embassy," Kenneth Freed reports, quoting a Western diplomat, and assuring us of Washington's "repugnance" at the actions of the security forces it supports and applauds. The Washington Post reports that many Guatemalan politicians expect Gramajo to win the elections, not an unlikely prospect if he's the State Department's boy down there. Gramajo's image is also being prettified. He offered the Post a sanitized version of his interview on the 70 percent-30 percent program: "The effort of the government was to be 70 percent in development and 30 percent in the war effort. I was not referring to the people, just the effort." Too bad he expressed himself so badly -- or better, so honestly -- before the Harvard grooming took effect.39
It is not unlikely that the rulers of the world, meeting in G-7 conferences, have written off large parts of Africa and Latin America, superfluous people who have no place in the New World Order, to be joined by many others, in the home societies as well.
Diplomacy has perceived Latin America and Africa in a similar light. Planning documents stress that the role of Latin America is to provide resources and a favorable business and investment climate. If that can be achieved with formal elections under conditions that safeguard business interests, then it’s all well and good. If it requires state terror "to destroy permanently a perceived threat to the existing structure of socioeconomic privilege by eliminating the political participation of the numerical majority...," that's too bad, but preferable to the alternative of independence; the words are those of Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz, describing the goals pursued by the National Security States that had their roots in Kennedy Administration policies. As for Africa, State Department Policy Planning chief George Kennan, assigning to each part of the South its special function in the New World Order of the post-World War II era, recommended that it be "exploited" for the reconstruction of Europe, adding that the opportunity to exploit Africa should afford the Europeans "that tangible objective for which everyone has been rather unsuccessfully groping...," a badly needed psychological lift, in their difficult postwar straits. Such recommendations are too uncontroversial to elicit comment, or even notice.40
The genocidal episodes of the Colombian-Vasco da Gama era are by no means limited to the conquered regions of the South, as is sufficiently attested by the exploits of the leading center of Western civilization 50 years ago. Throughout the era, there have been savage conflicts among the core societies of the North, sometimes spreading far beyond, particularly in this terrible century. For most of the world's population, these are much like shoot-outs between rival drug gangs or mafia dons. The only question is who will gain the right to rob and kill. In the post-World War II era, the US has been the global enforcer, guaranteeing the interests of privilege. It has, therefore, compiled an impressive record of aggression, international terrorism, slaughter, torture, chemical and bacteriological warfare, human rights abuses of every imaginable variety. That is not surprising; it goes with the turf. Nor is it surprising that the occasional documentation of these facts far from the mainstream elicits tantrums among the commissars.
One might note that there are few novelties here either. From Biblical days, there has rarely been a welcome mat for the bearers of unwanted messages; the "responsible men" are the false prophets, who tell more comforting tales. Las Casas's eyewitness description of "the Destruction of the Indies" has been available, in theory, since 1552. It has hardly been a literary staple since. In 1880, Helen Jackson wrote a remarkable account of "A Century of Dishonor," a "sad revelation of broken faith, of violated treaties, and of inhuman acts of violence [that] will bring a flush of shame to the cheeks of those who love their country," Bishop H.B. Whipple of Minnesota wrote in his preface. Flushes of shame were few, even when it was reprinted in 1964 ("Limited to 2,000 copies"). The abolitionists are honored mostly in retrospect. They were "despised and ostracized, and insulted," Mark Twain wrote -- "by the `patriots'": "None but the dead are permitted to speak truth." His own anti-imperialist essays are scarcely known. The first collection appeared in 1992; its editor notes that his prominent role in the Anti-Imperialist League, a major preoccupation in the last ten years of his life, "seems to have remained unmentioned in all biographies." The murder of six Jesuit intellectuals by the US-trained Atlacatl Brigade in November 1989 elicited much outrage. They were murdered, John Hassett and Hugh Lacey write in introducing their work, "because of the role they played as intellectuals, researchers, writers, and teachers in expressing their solidarity with the poor" (their emphasis). There is no surer way to annihilate them forever than to suppress their words -- virtually unknown, unmentioned, though problems they addressed are at the heart of the major foreign policy issue of the decade framed by their murder and the assassination of Archbishop Romero, also ignored and forgotten. Soviet dissidents may have been honored in the West, but at home it was those who upheld official verities and berated the "apologists for imperialism" who were the respectable moderates.
True, such figures as Las Casas may be trotted out occasionally to prove our essential goodness. Explaining that "the demographic catastrophe which befell early Latin America was...caused not by wickedness but by human failing and by a form of fate: the grinding wheels of long-term historical change," the London Economist writes that "Where cruelties and atrocities occurred, historians know of them precisely because of the 16th century Spanish passion for justice, for they were condemned by moralists or recorded and punished in the courts." Most important, the conquerors "meant well, sincerely believing" they were offering their victims "a divinely approved order" as they slaughtered, tortured, and enslaved them, which shows the silliness of the "politically correct" loonies who rant about "the savage injustice of the Europeans" (Adam Smith). Columbus himself wanted nothing more than "to care for the Indians and let no harm or hurt be done to them" -- his own words, settling the issue. What better proof could there be of the nobility of our cultural heritage than Columbus's tender solicitude and the Spanish passion for justice?
How curious that the leading chronicler, Las Casas, should have written at the end of his life, in his will: "I believe that because of these impious, criminal and ignominious deeds perpetrated so unjustly, tyrannically and barbarously, God will vent upon Spain His wrath and His fury, for nearly all of Spain has shared in the bloody wealth usurped at the cost of so much ruin and slaughter."41
The horrifying record of what actually occurred, if noticed at all, is considered insignificant, even a proof of our nobility. Again, that goes with the turf. The most powerful mafia don is also likely to dominate the doctrinal system. One of the great advantages of being rich and powerful is that you never have to say: "I'm sorry." It is here that the moral and cultural challenge arises, at the end of the first 500 years.
1 Höfer, Fünfhundert-jährige Reich. See Stannard, American Holocaust.
2 Stavrianos, Global Rift, 276.
3 Smith, Wealth of Nations, Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Pt. III (ii, 141); Bk. IV, Ch. I (i, 470). Hegel, Philosophy,108-9, 81-2, 93-6; "the German world" presumably takes in Northwest Europe. On the fate of the mere savages lacking in Spirit, and the evasion of it, see Jennings, Invasion; Lenore Stiffarm with Phil Lane in Jaimes, State; Stannard, American Holocaust.
4 Jan Carew, Davidson, Race & Class, Jan.-March 1992.
5 Pearson, in Tracy, Merchant Empires, citing Niels Steensgaard. Brewer, Sinews, xv, 64.
6 Keynes, A Treatise on Money, cited by Hewlett, Cruel Dilemmas. Pearson, Brady, in Tracy, Merchant Empires (Andrews and Angus Calder (on Celts) cited by Brady); Brewer, Sinews, 11, 169 (Anglo-Dutch wars). Hill, Nation. Smith, Wealth, Bk. IV, Ch. II (i, 484f.); Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Pt. III (ii, 110ff.). On the transfer to North America of skills developed in the Celtic fringe, see Jennings, Invasion, Empire. For a graphic account of the British-Dutch-Portuguese wars, see Keay, Honorable Company.
7 Ibid., 281; Parker, K.N. Chaudhuri (quoting Ibn Jubayr), in Tracy, Merchant Empires. Smith, Wealth,Bk. V, Ch. III (ii, 486). See ch. 1.2.
8 Tracy, Pearson, in Tracy, Merchant Empires.
9 Brewer, Sinews, xiiif., 186, 89f. 100, 127, 167.
10 Pearson, op. cit. Smith, Wealth, Ch. VII, Pt. III (ii, 110ff.); Bk. IV, Ch. II (i, 483).
11 Ibid., Bk. I, Ch. X, Pt. II (i, 150). Stigler, preface. Morris, American Revolution, 34. On the Pacific War, see ch. 10, below.
12 Keay, Honorable Company, 170, 220-1, 321; Parker, op. cit. Thompson and Garrett, Rise and Fulfillment of British Rule in India, 1935, cited by Nehru, Discovery, 297.
13 Hartman and Boyce, Quiet Violence, ch. 1. Bolts, Considerations on Indian Affairs, 1772, cited by Hartman and Boyce and by the editor of Smith, Wealth, ii, 156n. Ibid., Bk. I, Ch. VIII (i, 82); Bk. IV, Ch. V (ii, 33); Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Pt. III (ii, 153); Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Pt. II (ii, 94-5). Trevelyan, Bentinck, cited by Clairmonte, Economic Liberalism, 86n., 98. Nehru, Discovery, 285, 299, 304.
14 De Schweinitz, Rise and Fall, 120-1, citing economic historian Paul Mantoux (on the Acts) and Clapham's "cautious" economic history of Britain. Clairmonte, Economic Liberalism, 73, 87 (Wilson). Jeremy Seabrook, Race & Class, July-Sept. 1992. Hewlett, Cruel Dilemmas, 7.
15 Nehru, Discovery, 296-9, 284. See Clairmonte, Economic Liberalism, ch. 2, for much confirming evidence.
16 Arruda, Pearson, in Tracy, Merchant Empires.
17 Smith, Wealth, Bk. IV, Ch. VII, Pt. III (ii, 131-3, 147); Bk. IV, Ch. VIII (ii, 180-1).
18 Brady, in Tracy, Merchant Empires. Brenner, in Aston and Philpin, Brenner Debate, 62; see particularly ch. 10. DD, ch. 12.
19 Smith, Wealth, Bk. I, Ch. I (i, 7); Bk. V, Ch. I, Pt. III, Art. II (ii, 302-3). In the detailed index, the entry for "division of labor" does not list Smith's condemnation of its consequences. Humboldt, see FRS.
20 Smith, Wealth, Bk. III, Ch. IV (i, 437).
21 Herman Merivale, cited by Clairmonte, Economic Liberalism, 92. Cromer, Curzon, cited by de Schweinitz, Rise and Fall, 16. Dutch Governor-General J. P. Coen cited by Tracy, in Tracy, Merchant Empires, 10-11. Seal, Jenning, Invasion, 228.
22 David Gergen, Foreign Affairs, America and the World, 1991-92.
23 Nehru, Discovery, 293, 326, 301.
24 Britannica, 9th edition, 1910; Cobban's 1963 History (vol. 1, 74), cited by Edward Herman, Z magazine, April 1992.
25 Miller, Founding Finaglers; Keay, Honorable Company, 185. Virginia, Jennings, Invasion, Empire (447 on germ warfare, ordered by "their highest authority in America, Commander in Chief Amherst" at Fort Pitt; also Stannard, American Holocaust, 335n).
26 Saxton, Rise and Fall, 41. Mannix and Cowley, Black Cargoes, 274. Alfred Rubin, "Who Isn't Cooperating on Libyan Terrorists?," CSM, Feb. 5, 1992.
27 Bailey, Diplomatic History, 163.
28 Drinnon, Facing West, 65, 43; White Savage, 157, 169-71; also his "The Metaphysics of Empire-Building," ms, Bucknell, 1972. Jennings, Invasion, 60, 149ff.
29 TTT, 87 (Theodore Roosevelt), 126 (Churchill; for further details, DD, 182f., Omissi, Air Power, 160). Stannard, American Holocaust, 134 (Theodore Roosevelt). Kiernan, European Empires, 200 (Lloyd George). On Bush as the inheritor of Theodore Roosevelt, see John Aloysius Farrell, BG Magazine, March 31, 1991, and much other fascist-racist rhetoric of the moment. For a sample from the liberal press, see my articles in Z magazine, May 1991, and Peters, Collateral Damage. Indochina, APNM, chap. 3, n. 42.
30 Perkins, Monroe Doctrine, I, 131, 167, 176f. See TTT, 69.
31 Morris, American Revolution, 57, 47. DD, ch. 1.3. See also Jan Carew, Monthly Review, July-August 1992. 32 On the civil conflict and the flight of refugees, see PEHR, II, 2.2; Morris, Forging, 12ff. Caroline test, commonly adduced in discussion of the UN Charter, cited by law professor Detlev Vagts, "Reconsidering the Invasion of Panama," Reconstruction, I.2 1990.
33 Lawrence Kaplan, Diplomatic History, Summer 1992.
34 Appleby, Capitalism, 1f.
35 Hietala, Manifest Design; Horsman, Race. Fredonia, Drinnon, White Savage, 192, 201-21; emphasis in original. Emerson, cited by Clarence Karier, "The Educational Legacy of War," ms., U. of Illinois, July 1992.
36 Hietala, Manifest Design, 193, 170, 259, 266.
37 Howard, Harper's, March 1985; Morris, American Revolution, 4, 124; Bernstein, NYT, Feb. 2, 1992.
38 Military Sales: the United States Continuing Munition Supply Relationship with Guatemala, US General Accounting office, Jan. 1986, report to Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, 4. "Inter-Agency Task Force, Africa Recovery Program/Economic Commission," South African Destabilization: the Economic Cost of Frontline Resistance to Apartheid, NY, UN, 1989, 13, cited by Merle Bowen, Fletcher Forum, Winter 1991.
39 CAR, Nov. 22, 1991; Economist, July 20, 1991; Freed, LAT, May 7, 1990. Shelley Emling, WP, Jan. 6, 1992. Gramajo refused to respond to the Court charges and was found guilty by default of massive human rights violations; the plaintiffs were awarded over $10 million in damages-symbolic, doubtless.
40 See PI, Lect. I; DD, ch. 1. Generally, see Kolko, Confronting. Schoultz, Human Rights, 7.
41 Jackson, Century. Zwick, Mark Twain's Weapons; 190, 162. Hassett and Lacey, Towards a Society; DD, ch. 12. Economist, Dec. 21, 1991. Las Casas, cited by Todorov, Conquest, 245.