THE NATURE OF MODERN IMPERIALISM
Roland G. Simbulan
University of the Philippines, Manila
A Book Review of UNMASKING THE U.S. WAR ON TERROR: U.S. Imperialist Hegemony and Crisis by Dr. Edberto Villegas, et al. Quezon City: Center for Anti-Imperialist Studies, 2002. Read during the book launching on Nov. 8, 2002, Bahay Kalinaw, U.P. Diliman, Quezon City.
State terror has long been used in the Third World to fight what governments have unilaterally declared as “terror.” Wars and counter-insurgency have long been pursued as a strategy against “terrorism” in the Third World, and the war against “terrorism” has always been made as an excuse by states to promote militarist and authoritarian dictatorships supporting Western expansionist, strategic and economic objectives.
Today, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the subsequent declaration by the United States of a global war on terrorism has created a pretext for governments to extend and justify the use of draconian national security laws and measures to suppress movements for democracy and human rights. These attacks that have hit the U.S. heartland and the very symbols and headquarters of capitalism and U.S. military might have created events that threaten to roll back the gains of people’s movements all over the world.
In responding to perceived threats to “national security,” the security of individuals, communities and societies are often neglected by the state. There is no mention of the “terrorism of poverty,” which in fact kills more people than any war. It is a form of terrorism that is often neglected, especially in the present era where neo-liberal globalization has worsened the conditions of the already marginalized peoples of the world.
Neo-liberal economic policies have resulted in the increased erosion of Third World people’s standards of living and created structural inequality, insecurity, tensions and conflict. Social injustice and inequities, including state policies that exacerbate poverty, unemployment, landlessness and lack of social services, are the No. 1 recruiters and breeding ground for so-called “terrorists.” Thus, when people face severe threats to livelihood, rights and living standards that have been greatly eroded by neo-liberal globalization (it used to be colonialism and feudal oppression), their protests and demands, particularly when voiced by people’s movements, are treated as security threats by the state. The state increases its reliance on the use of force through police/armies that inflict violence on the people.
The exercise of state violence is even legalized and justified through national security laws that are meant to “establish order.” As more and more people resist and seek alternatives to the dehumanizing world order resulting from the policies and practices of neo-liberal globalization, there is a need to widen the democratic space, not restrict it or shrink it further. More democratic space is, in fact, needed for the expression of grievances. Often, however, the people’s mass organizations, social movements, labor unions, grassroots citizens’ groups and non-government organizations that articulate people’s demands and alternatives, become the targets of “anti-terrorist” measures. Militarism and the adoption of draconian laws and measures as a reaction to people’s demands have often been resorted to by states under the garb of curbing “terrorism.”
In recent years, we have seen peoples’ movements across the globe articulate the possibility and desire for human security and genuine development through the common opposition to neo-liberal globalization. In fact, many civil society movements all over the world are now building transnational solidarity alliances. The “war on terrorism” threatens to label any form of dissent to neo-liberal globalization–whether local or international–as terrorism and is, in part, an attempt to destroy the capacity of peoples’ movements to achieve social, economic and political reforms.
This book, UNMASKING THE U.S. WAR ON TERROR, has a devastating array of information on the current U.S. role in the contemporary world. But it also puts this hegemony in the long historical context of the emergence of modern-day U.S. imperialism that was built on the foundations of genocide, murder and exploitation. It is studded with telling facts and figures and written by an emerging crop of progressive scholars (Edberto Villegas, Bobby Tuazon, Jose Enrique Africa, Paul Quintos, Ramon Guillermo, Jayson Lamchek and Edwin Licaros) who write from the point of view of those who have been politically and economically exploited by imperialism.
The Asia-Pacific region is rich with the struggles of Asian peoples fighting colonialism and feudalism and who are being met with this kind of reaction from colonial and post-colonial regimes. Historically, Western powers and sections of the local elites who have been coopted relied on national security laws to suppress the democratic aspirations of the people. Many of the region’s national security laws have their origins in colonial emergency powers but these continue to evolve and have been adopted by local elites to perpetuate their rule.
These laws, like those enforced in the Philippines during the American colonial period (1900-1940), included the Brigandage Act and Sedition Law that targeted Filipino freedom fighters and those advocating independence. These pieces of colonial legislation paved the way for the intensified pacification of “insurgents,” resulting in genocide, massacres, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, detention without trial and sham trials. These national security laws were further refined during the neo-colonial era where under the Republic of the Philippines, the Anti-Subversion Law (Republic Act 1700) was enacted by the Philippine Congress to deal with subversion and rebellion that prosecuted countless nationalists and organizations of the poor, i.e. peasant movements and trade unions.
This book analyzes the various forms of modern imperialism today at a general and theoretical level. The various eye-opening accounts of U.S. imperialism’s designs are stunning, disturbing and very important. It shows why past and current U.S. actions in the world are in fact mobilizing more enemies against the United States around the world, especially from the South countries. It is a powerful, hard-hitting dissection of the political, economic and military instruments of modern-day imperialism. More so, the essays in the book make significant theoretical contributions to the central question of the relationship between economic globalization and U.S. militarism.
We should note that the United States now resorts not only to the hegemony of its transnational capital and U.S. military forces globally. It also is engaged, thru the global media that it controls, in a hegemony of definitions, as in the case of “the war against terror,” where the enemy is defined as all those opposed to or are critical of U.S. imperialist globalization. Like it did against people’s movements, socialist states and national liberation movements during the Cold War, it now resorts to the hegemony of defining the new enemy: “international terrorism”– no matter how vague and broad the definition.
The title of this book draws attention to the fact that U.S. imperialism today is not only in a stage of hegemony but in a state of crisis. The multiple crises of global capitalism are so acute that it suffers from a combination of crises in legitimacy, overproduction, and overextension. Liberal democracy itself is in a crisis so that even its best ideologues are beginning to abandon neo-liberalism. The disillusionment toward the neo-liberal model has been compounded by instances such as the collapse of Argentina’s economy after following the International Monetary Fund’s neo-liberal prescriptions to the hilt. So that now, imperialism must seek a new “terrorist” threat to deflect and distract attention from this crisis especially after the end of the Cold War. There is now a need to justify a more aggressive assertion of global power under the banner of “a war against international terrorism.” Maybe this explains the offensive rampage of U.S. President George W. Bush and his oil tycoons in the White House cabinet.
The cultural hegemony of modern imperialism is not neglected by this book. The use of the so-called “soft power” — winning hearts and minds of the world — thru McDonalds, Levis, Hollywood, Microsoft and other U.S. commercial icons have effectively captivated hearts and minds in a globalized environment already dominated by the military (or hard power) and economic terms of a single superpower. This is not just about the Americanization of our eating habits. We must not underestimate this “soft power” being effectively mobilized and used as an asset by this hegemonic hyperpower that is fast replacing multilateralism with its own active brand of unilateralism in international politics, i.e. “the rule of force ” instead of the multilaterally-defined “rule of law” in United Nations conventions.
Also, on the ideological battleground, is U.S. imperialism’s methodical efforts to secure effective legitimacy for American policy in other countries such as Henry Kissinger’s invocation of European-style raison d’etat or Samuel Huntington and Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s glorification of authoritarian rule and U.S. imperialism’s support for it. I am glad that an entire chapter was devoted to a critique of Francis Fukuyama and Huntington, two of imperialism’s foremost contemporary rightwing ideologues today. This has been a serious arena for U.S. hegemonic winning of hearts and minds both in the American heartland as well as the educated elites in other countries.
The so-called “conservative revolution” waged by the most influential intellectual institutions or think-tanks in the United States like Kissinger’s Harvard Center for International Affairs, American Enterprise Institute, and Heritage Foundation, among other institutions, have been well-endowed with hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government and corporate funds to specialize in the critique of government income-redistribution programs, and rationalizing the conservative Right’s domestic and foreign policy. These ideas-producing conservative institutions have produced and disseminated their ideas through books, journals and even subtly, through Hollywood.
The biggest U.S. transnational corporations and the Pentagon have also offered to finance Professorial Chairs in most of America’s prestigious universities to support scholars like Huntington and Fukuyama who peddle quality conservative thought. It would be just quite simplistic for us to dismiss their intellectual initiative that still dominates the thinking of mainstream as well as most American and Filipino policy makers. It is both a lesson and challenge to progressive scholars who must seriously learn how to counter this intellectual aggression and onslaught with their own original and distinguished intellectual work.
As a whole, this book is an indictment of the muddled rabble-rousing and sabre-rattling (as well as flag-waving) thinking surrounding the contemporary events after Sept. 11. It is a comprehensive guide to modern imperialism that unmasks the real motivations behind the so-called “war against terror.” It is a devastating critique of modern-day U.S. imperialism and its litany of past and present actions of murder and lawlessness around the world that would chill the bones of anyone who cares about justice, liberty and human rights. It is scathing and effective in not only exposing but undressing U.S. foreign policy which continues to operate within a framework designed for a bipolar world that no longer exists now that the monolithic myth of its old enemy “International Communism” has been replaced by a new myth of a monolithic “International Terrorism.”
This book should be required reading for a new generation of students and young people now facing the prospect of being used as canon fodders in a war where there are no borders, and where every free-thinker amongst us becomes a suspected enemy.