Today we live under an invisible empire that is obvious only if you open your eyes. Just look around. What else do you call something that has over 800 military bases, wages constant wars, and maintains financial control of much of the world? The crazy thing is that we call this nothing, the greatest (and worst) empire the world has ever known. This is the invisible White Empire. Like white paint, it just fades into the background.
In his loose, baggy, definition of empire, Stephen Howe says, “The central power has ultimate sovereignty, and exercises some direct control, especially over military force and money-raising powers, in all parts of its domain.” By all historical definitions, America absolutely is an empire, but we in the moment somehow don’t know it. We’re like bugs in a rug, ignorant of the greater tapestry. We’re like bugs in a rug, getting squashed.
The Inheritance Of World War II
The British Empire was a clearly defined empire, and that was literally handed over after World War II. Britain handed over access to most of its military bases and—through Lend-Lease and then Bretton-Woods—global financial control. As Howe said, military and money are the two legs empire stands on, and the British White Empire just changed heads. The capitol of capital simply moved to America.
Aw shucks Americans don’t call themselves an empire though. People today will honestly ask what America has ever colonized, ignoring America. Not to mention Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Phillippines, and those are just the obvious ones. Less obviously to us (but not history) are the huge military bases in South Korea, Japan, Germany, the Middle East, all effectively conquered territory in the eyes of any ancient satrap, obvious boots on the ground that we are somehow blind to in the moment.
World War II is the important moment when this all really happened. It’s when White Empire got handed over from the British to the American, legally, physically, and somehow invisibly. It was literally a war for the world and we act like the Americans just came in, helped out, and went home. But just look around. They’re still everywhere. It was a war of world conquest, and we remain conquered. While the USSR killed the most Nazis by far, America effectively won WWII against its allies most of all.
After World War II America physically occupied much of the Pacific, Germany, Japan, and took over the British military outposts that encircle the globe. This all sits there in plain sight, and is just as plainly ignored. While the USSR ground up 80% of the Nazi army (what Clausewitz called the only point of war), America ran around largely pointless theatres like North Africa and the Middle East collecting territory. The USSR did the most to win WWII, but the Americans won the greatest spoils.
As Andrei Martyanov says in his book Losing Military Supremacy, “Preserving its Empire superseded Britain’s concern with bearing a fair share of the Allied war effort, and seeing the Nazis, with whom many in the British elite had sympathy, bleed the USSR, was not an anathema.”
Many people within the US military establishment (which was not so established then) resisted this. Churchill’s insistence on campaigns in the Balkans and North Africa were well-nigh useless in terms of destroying Nazis, but were very useful in terms of securing oil wealth, the root of modern imperial power. As Martyanov quotes:
Memorandums aside, nobody remembered the fate of all empires. The spoils were just too good. All of the land, all of the territory, all of the power of the previous white empires, that was the inheritance of World War II. America physically occupied much of the world. We act like we’re in a post-war era, but the truth is that the Americans never drew down. It’s not that they briefly occupied the world 80 years ago. They still do.
Don’t take my word for it. Just imagine you’re some ancient satrap dropped into the present and shown this map of military occupation, below. After you figure out where the fuck you are, what else would you even call this? The American empire literally looks like it’s centered around Mesopotamia. They happen to keep Marduk protected by oceans on another continent, but to any objective eye, this is what it obviously is. It’s just empire, unless you’re in it, in which case it’s somehow invisible.
Whereas ancient empires made a big deal out of proclaiming their greatness, the White Empire has figured out the greatest trick of all. The devil’s trick. Convincing the world you don’t exist at all.
The Conquest Of Capitalism
We have been talking about one leg of empire—the military one. Now let me kick the other one out. To get to the tootsie-roll center of empire just follow the money. The greatest power of White Empire under the Americans is that everyone—including its enemies—has to hold dollars, especially to trade in the oil that they militarily secured. This purchasing of American currency is just imperial tribute by another name, enabling it to fund its military and occasionally bail out its population.
Michael Hudson documents American financial power throughly in his book Super Imperialism, which I’ll briefly excerpt here. He said:
When President Truman insisted, on March 23, 1946, that “World trade must be restored — and it must be restored to private enterprise,” this was a way of saying that its regulation must be taken away from foreign governments that might be tempted to try to recover their prewar power at the expense of U.S. exporters and investors. America’s laissez-faire stance promoted the United States as the center of a world system vastly more extensive and centralized, yet also more flexible, less costly and less bureaucratic than Europe’s imperial systems had been.
What America calls a ‘rules-based order’ and ‘laissez faire’ economics is really their rule and letting them faire. The United States literally does not subscribe to the international criminal court or the law of the sea. ‘Rules-based order’ just means whatever the fuck they want to do. ‘Free and open markets’ are for other countries to open up for them. America imposes tons of sanctions and tariffs on whoever it feels like, and heavily subsidizes local industries, including agriculture, arms dealers, and technology.
Their well-funded economic priesthood is just doing what imperial priests throughout history have always done. Waving some incense, making some incantations, and coming up with some inscrutable reasons why an invisible hand is taking your shit, and how it’s for your own good. As my upcoming history book would be called, Same Shit, Different Day. There’s nothing new under the sun.
What the US couldn’t do by corrupting local capitalist elites in the ‘post’ war era, it did by simply couping socialist governments that tried to take financial control. When oil-producing countries nationalized those resources in the 1970s, the US used financial rather than military power, letting them earn dollars but having them invest that money right back into imperial countries.
As William Glenn Gray wrote, “when the oil exporters began to shift from short-term bank deposits to medium-term bond purchases, they favoured the industrial nations by a huge margin: France, Japan, the US and even (unwisely) Britain.”
As I wrote, “of the original five OPEC members (Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela), two are sanctioned, one has been invaded, and the others are occupied with American military bases. Hell, the headquarters of OPEC is in Austria now.”
After the brief resource rebellion of the 1970s, the Empire struck back hard. It used both legs of empire to stomp the rest of the world down. If you want a picture of the present, imagine both military boots and banker brogues stamping on a human face, seemingly forever.
Cracks In The Invisible Empire
But as Nas said, nothing ever lasts forever. America should have learned from the overextension of previous incarnations of White Empire, but the money, the power, it was just too good. There was significant American resistance to getting involved with external European shit (after having profitably genocided their own continent) in World War I, but then those fuckers started World War II and America just couldn’t resist. As Sil said in The Sopranos (imitating Al Pacino), “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”
America’s inheritance of White Empire was the ultimate, inexorable inheritance of loss. Only a fool would say when the reigning empire will fall, but only a greater fool would say never. Every empire over-extends itself militarily, financially, and then collapses under its own weight. America has lost every war for decades, is mired in debt, and could not resist even an uncommon cold.
IMHO, historians will date the fall of the American empire to 9/11, when its symbolic military and financial centers were defiled (the Pentagon and the World Trade Center). This historical period will be bookended by January 6th, 2021, when a mob of barbarians sacked The Capitol, the one target that Bin Laden missed.
But I’m not historian, I’m just a poor schmuck on the edges of empire. My country Sri Lanka followed the White Empire earnestly after the 1970s, floating on ‘aid’ and then imperial bank loans. We died in a western debt trap, not a Chinese one. Now it has all collapsed and, as I’ve written, we’re just the canaries in the coal mine. The whole invisible empire that we all live under is collapsing. Sri Lanka was just the first to go. So many countries are in western, capitalist debt traps. Including America itself.
Like the black hole at the center of our universe, the American empire is invisible unless you actually measure anything, in which case it’s suddenly obvious. All of the bases, all of the blood, all of the money. Follow it all back to the source and you cannot unsee the invisible White Empire, sucking everything in, before it finally explodes.