Shuck and Jive

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Sixth “E”: Empire

Several posts ago, I made the claim that three issues (ecology, energy, and economy) need attention. I stated that our nation is failing at all three. Industrialized nations, (including the U.S.) cannot sustain their current standards of living. We will face either an ecological collapse or an economic one due to Peak Oil.

Part of our failure in dealing with this globally threatening issue is that we have grown accustomed and even feel entitled to our current standard of living. As George H. W. Bush said in 1992: Our American way of life is non-negotiable.”

Not only do we feel entitled we also think we are exceptional. No nation is better or more god-blessed than America. Christian Fundamentalism links itself with American Exceptionalism. The missionary emphasis of Christian Fundamentalism often connects with American Imperialism. An evangelical in the White House (or at least one who speaks the language) really packs a one-two punch.

In a sermon I preached during Lent entitled, Tempted by Empire, I quoted a former United States Senator from Tennessee:

We’re the strongest nation on Earth militarily. We’re the most moral nation on Earth. We are an example to the rest of the world, even that part of the world that doesn’t like us much. …You realize that even our most vocal adversaries really in a way are expressing an envy for America, for our ability to create wealth and distribute it as equitably as has ever been known in history….We are the greatest nation on Earth, but we have the greatest obligations of Earth.”

(Former U.S. senator Howard Baker. Net News service, Johnson City Press, Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, p. 1.)

“The most moral nation on Earth.” That is American Exceptionalism.

I wonder if our friends in Spain would agree? Or Canada? Or Egypt? It is an absurdly arrogant statement, really. That statement is not meant for people in other countries. It is for us to believe about ourselves. We are not like any other nation or empire or military power. We engage in preventive-preemptive wars in order to spread morality.

Baker is correct to say that we have the strongest military. We spend more on our military than the next 20 nations combined. We have over 700 military bases in 130 countries. Why? To spread morality?

There could be another reason. We make up four percent of the world’s population yet consume 25% of the world’s oil. If Peak Oil has arrived or will arrive shortly, and the global supply of oil will rapidly diminish, then we will need more than 25% of the world’s oil if we wish to continue our non-negotiable American way of life. We will need 30% then 40%, 50%, 75%, even 100% just to maintain our standard of living.

Other nations might want some of that oil, too.

So…we need to secure it for ourselves.

Enter the Project for the New American Century (whose membership includes Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz, among others. This is their mission statement:

The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.

There is that “moral principle” again. You see, Americans don’t like to think that their government is simply so rude as to go to war over worldly things like oil. After all, we put Native Americans on reservations and enslaved Africans in order to civilize and Christianize them. You know, make them moral.

But the hard truth is that economy drives war. We are engaged in a long-lasting war for the world’s remaining oil reserves. This will not be good for America or the world. It could end in a nuclear war. No one will win this war including most higher forms of life.

But Americans do not like to think that, especially an America that has a Bible-believing good Christian man in the White House. If we admitted the truth, we would lose the self-perception of our innocence. We are exceptional, right?

So our leaders (and we let them do it) are engaging us (on our behalf—the American way of life—our standard of living) in a war for the remaining oil reserves while at the same time we let them convince us that we are “spreading democracy” and fighting evil-doers.

American Empire is the short-term answer. It is not a good answer. What we need is global cooperation. That means every head of state recognizing the problem and working together to power down and to focus on the basic needs of all people as we face the coming energy crisis.

We can do this. The people when we wake up can demand it.

I will offer alternatives to Empire next time.



  1. That was very well written and well stated.

    I think Howard Baker was expressing one of the dominant myths about American Empire that Americans are taught to believe, and that politicians tell Americans all the time. We always hear about how we are the greatest country in the world. This hyper-nationalism has always made me uncomfortable, and it is embarassing to hear and it must really annoy people in other countries when they see it. It makes us feel good about ourselves, but it is not grounded in reality.

    Are we the most moral nation in the world? Every nation has its moral people and its immoral people, so if we are talking about the people and not the government, then expressions like "most moral" are just meaningless. What about our government? Is it the most moral? Not by a long shot. A nation that commits torture, as ours has, or that places prisoners in secret prisons, as our President admits to having done, or that engages in unnecessary wars of aggression and then follows that up with a military occupation--that is not a moral nation.

    I believe that one of Jesus's messages was that of resistence to the dominant Empire of his time. Today we have a new Empire that imposes its will on the world, or at least tries to, through military occupation (in the case of Iraq), imposed coups (Haiti), or other forms of pressure (Venezuela).

    Regardless of the limits of Empire--and what is happening in Iraq (and what happened before in Vietnam) highlights the limits of Empire--the attempts by the dominant Empire at exercising Imperial control still have enormous consequences.

    Given that Jesus resisted the Empire of his time, how do we follow in his footsteps and resist the Empire of the present era?

    I believe that Jesus was a radical egalitarian, and one thing that Empires tend to be is anything but egalitarian. They are generally hierarchical, and they support and represent the interests of the dominant economic classes. This is what is happening today, in a country where the rich are getting richer while the rest of us continue to struggle.

    This is obviously, from the length of this comment, a big issue for me. :)

  2. Thank you, Mystical Seeker!

    Thank you for your generous comments to my post and for your insight. This matters very much to me as well!

    I will get back to Jesus and what I think it means to follow his teachings and example, and to what I think the early church thought about him when they exalted him as Risen and Lord in future posts.

    I would most appreciate your thoughts about this and those of others.


  3. Great post…again. It’s true that the economy drives war, and I think it’s even more complicated than that, because war also drives the economy. Truman began the massive U.S. military buildup, and some historians have speculated that Truman realized that war was good for the economy; WWII brought us out of recession more than FDR’s New Deal. Eisenhower warned us about the military industrial complex; in 1961 he said this:

    “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

    See his full speech at

    And look where we’re at now.

  4. Bobby,

    Thank you for the great quote from Ike! I will check out that speech. You are right. We are reaping what we have sown.

    War is good business. I am trying to think of the name of a film that came out last year about an arms salesman. I think it starred Nicholas Cage.

    An incredible film about the total loss of ethics not only for him but for all of us.

    Good job on walking your daughter!


  5. "I wonder if our friends in Spain would agree?" Spoken like a highschool candidate for the most popular guy. Empires do not stoop to such juvenility.