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Imperialism Is Not Just Immoral, Either

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Message David Weiner

In response to a recent essay "Imperialism Is Not Merely Irritating" (see a friend observed,  

"Obviously we don't empathize sufficiently but that is something one cannot just turn around abruptly. But what the hell, we can try?"


I answered,

"I think when we begin to understand what's at stake we may figure it out.  For all of our power we can no longer sit back as the world dies around us and feel sad at best, indifferent at worst. Their fate is our fate."

Unfortunately, some of our most revered op pundits are making it difficult for the public to achieve this understanding.  Note Howard Zinn's newest piece, published first in The Progressive and then on AlterNet, titled "Changing Obama's Military Mindset"'s_military_mindset/?comments=view&cID=1215451&pID=1215137#c1215451 He says: 

"What is the mindset that got us into Iraq? It's the mindset that says force will do the trick. Violence, war, bombers-that they will bring democracy and liberty to the people....Obama has not gotten out of this militaristic missionary mindset. He talks about sending tens of thousands of more troops to Afghanistan....Obama has talked about a vision for this country. You have to have a vision, and now I want to tell Obama what his vision should be....The vision should be of a nation that becomes liked all over the world. I won't even say loved-it'll take a while to build up to that. A nation that is not feared, not disliked, not hated, as too often we are, but a nation that is looked upon as peaceful, because we've withdrawn our military bases from all these countries...What's required is a total turn­around. We want a country that uses its resources, its wealth, and its power to help people, not to hurt them. That's what we need."


This is a powerful message.  It urges us to understand how pathologically our imperial state operates; how immorally, unethically and destructively it oppresses peoples striving only for reasonable social mobility.  We The People must rise to the occasion.  We must organize and force change.  What happens if we don't do this? Prof.  Zinn implies here, and affirmed explicitly following his keynote address at a 2006 Historians Against the War conference, in response to a question posed from the audience, that U.S. power is so great that We-The-People's failure to restrain our leaders' ruthless behavior will cause Third World masses  to suffer ever more terribly -- while we ourselves remain physically secure but morally bankrupt.  Our nation can indeed prevail as King of the Hill, but at a terrible moral cost.  This fact, he insisted, should be sufficient to motivate the activism he advocates.  Chris Hedges shares this perspective,  most recently in "The Disease of Permanent War," published May 19 at

He begins: The embrace by any society of permanent war is a parasite that devours the heart and soul of a nation. Permanent war extinguishes liberal, democratic movements. It turns culture into nationalist cant. It degrades and corrupts education and the media, and wrecks the economy. The liberal, democratic forces, tasked with maintaining an open society, become impotent. The collapse of liberalism, whether in imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Weimar Germany, ushers in an age of moral nihilism. A  number of us at the 2006 conference perceived Zinn's assumption of inevitable U.S. dominance to require debate: (1) The postulate that "Our Gang" can beat up on others while keeping its own turf physically secure rests on thinner and thinner ice.  Thin enough, certainly, to indicate the need for serious scrutiny. 

See "We Must Not Deny the Threat of Blowback" at  for reference to relevant articles and reports in journals such as Scientific American  and The New York Times; and, of course, Chalmers Johnson's Blowback.

(2)  Common sense, and solid social science data tell us that activism thrives when survival is at stake.   This may occur when leaders disdain powerful, hardwired norms of in-group morality.  Global compassion, however, is not part of our genetic conditioning.  This must become a cognitive commitment before it can become emotional equipment, and this has yet to occur.  Thus,  Noam Chomsky's recent article  "American Atrocities: We Forget Our Atrocities Almost as Soon as We Commit Them,"  posted at (, indicates  the public's complicity in denial of U.S. torture throughout our history.  During a late workshop at the 2006 conference, a well respected Middle Eastern scholar, he had presented at an earlier workshop, finally challenged the constantly repeated, almost mantra-like assertion  that the public largely opposed the war.  From the audience he cited evidence to precisely opposite effect.  No one debated him.  His comment was simply ignored. Privately, a conference official found my concerns to be rational but rejected them on pragmatic grounds.  He told me what I surmise was consensual among his group, and probably among most participants.  The public dialogue I sought would reinforce Neocon characterizations of U.S. imperialism's victims as dangerous terrorists rather than as helpless objects, thus reinforcing Bush-Cheney's police-state agenda.  Even if evidence indicated the capability of  the victimized to wreak havoc upon the societies  of their oppressors, this evidence should be suppressed on grounds that the public would respond to it by moving further to the right. From scholars on the left such mistrust of the public alarms me.  Lying by omission in service even of democratic goals only serves a fascist agenda., I perceive.   

The Left I grew up in assumed that people have the capacity, eventually, to grasp when ruling class policies jeopardize their survival, and to mobilize in pursuit of change.  John Locke's and Karl Marx's view of people, versus Thomas Hobbes' and Herbert Spencer's defined left versus right ideological  battle lines  for two hundred years.  Now those lines seem blurred. Until a few decades ago, left intellectuals took responsibility for evaluating social reality and informing the public with minimal contrivance or manipulation.  If there were axes to grind, these were brandished openly. No one better exemplified left scholarship than Howard Zinn. Now, however, his untested assumption that imperial dominance shall prevail no matter the horror it visits upon others unless imperial citizens rise up and reverse such policy out of moral outrage, should be downgraded to tentative hypothesis.  Any Left activist strategy involving withholding information from the public on grounds that it might not be able to handle this information appropriately should be rejected out of hand.  

Finally, the following question should be asked and publicly debated, trusting the public to respond constructively to the outcome: If  our nation persists  at imperial oppression, as seem highly likely,  should we anticipate a world of stable fascism, which many in this nation would probably accept, or a world of chaos, which the vast majority would not? I have been accused of anti-humanism for making this argument, but not by a single social science colleague on the Left.  While we all agree that fascism constitutes a social evil,  we  perceive that many in our nation don't share our view – including  more than a few who call themselves liberal.  While a tiny fraction of U.S. citizens consciously embrace fascism, many  perceive  that a business oligarchy  has always run their  country --not only for profit but also for power and control..

The Patriot Act creates less alarm than the financial crisis, and this largely in individual terms.  A mass survey would surely confirm C.Wright Mill's pessimistic conclusion in The Power Elite, that  ruling class immorality appears normal to most  people.  Nor are they much alarmed by it, especially when  applied  to "others."  In fact, all of these conjectures could easily be tested through mass social surveys. Psychology and anthropology support Locke, not Hobbes. Universal decency constitutes the best survival strategy for our species.  With solid, survival relevant information we might achieve this goal – hopefully sooner rather than later. Attempts to manipulate people to this end, however, are likely to backfire with terrible consequences. The public must be able to trust Left scholarship to provide facts and reasonable humanist strategies. These achievements emerge from argument and debate among disciplined thinkers fully engaged in human society.  This is what Marx called Praxis. 

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David Weiner has been a sociology professor, high school teacher, community organizer, and anti-racism activist for more than half a century. Nowadays he teaches sociology and social psychology at a community college.
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