Peace Matters Index

Two Empires Gone and No Kipling Yet

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- oppressed and vilified
- corruption unlimited
- falklands action
- development and security
- problems with powers
- resisting the falklands war
  a retrospective
- Two Empires Gone and No Kipling Yet

- compled issue pdf

Exodus From Empire: The Fall of America's Empire and the Rise of the Global Community Terrence E. Paupp Pluto Press, 2007.

Terrence Paupp begins his analysis of the passing of the US Empire by quoting Rudyard Kipling's 1897 Recessional ‘the tumult and the shouting dies/The Captains and the Kings depart/Lo, all our pomp of yesterday/Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.’ As Paupp notes ‘All empires have two elements in common, first their shared reliance upon oppression through militarism and, second, their shared capacity to inspire wide-spread resistance among those whom they seek to conquer, control, and exploit.’ What Paupp does not stress is that empires require empire-builders, people who believe that an empire is a necessary stage in world civilization and who are willing to sacrifice as called for in Kipling's The White Man's Burden (1899). In the 70 pages of notes to this rise and decline of the American Empire, there is no mention of Philip Woodruff The Men Who Ruled India which, I think, is the best evocation of those who built and maintained British rule in India. Whatever else Paul Bremer, the first US Viceroy of Iraq, may have been, he was no Lord Curzon.

The Soviet and US Empires that arose from the ashes of World War II were unsung empires, and their disappearance has left no Kipling. There are no Soviet poets to glorify the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Even the least talented of the Socialist Realists kept away from justifying Soviet control over Poland or the failing decade-long efforts to bring enlightenment to Afghanistan. See the useful overview: Deming Brown The Last Years of Soviet Russian Literature: 1975-1991. The unofficial poetic voices were all hostile to the Soviet Empire. See Natalia Gorbanevskaya Red Square at Noon. It did not take a very subtle mind to see that the Soviet Empire of Central Europe was hardly a continuation of the spirit of the 1917 Revolution. The Westward march of Socialism produced long speeches but no literature, and the recessional from Central Europe has been unsung by Russians.

Likewise the 1945 - 2008 US Empire had few prophets and produced little lyrical justifications of its policies; Henry Luce of Time, Life, Fortune fame did think in the early 1940s of An American Century, but Luce was China-born, of missionary background and more willing than most Americans to see an international role for the USA. Except for the early 1960s when the Peace Corps sent the young and educated abroad, the US elite educational system produced no corps of empire-builders. Even the military academies could think of full spectrum dominance (domination over land, air, sea, and space) but not a functioning empire. Paupp writes of the hidden politics of empire. ‘Networks of Western financial, corporate, banking, military and political elites have actively worked for generations to subordinate their own national citizenry while making the citizens of Third World nations mere subjects to their imperial reign.’ Hidden is the key word because few Americans were willing to consider the defence of the Free World as the defence of an empire.

One finds with ease US poems against the war in Vietnam and criticisms of US life. See Paul Breslin The Psycho-Political Muse: American Poetry since the Fifties. There are few US imperial writers of talent, and right-wing radio programmes, though endless, are forgotten as soon as they are heard. Thus as the US Empire sinks in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, we are left with no Kim.

What will replace the Soviet and US Empires? Russia and the USA will continue as great powers with limited ambitions, much as the disappearance of the French and British Empires have not provoked the disappearance of France or the UK. Paupp fears that the US Empire will transform itself into a Global Empire with globalization as its motto and the US ‘and its allies (within international corporate networks and within collaborator states)’ as the motor. He hopes however that there can be a global community with global governance. He places his hope in the capacity of social movements and civil society. ‘For if social movements succeed in their radical opposition, there will not be a reform of the system, but rather a replacement of it. The growing democratic social forces of a global army of poor, excluded, and oppressed multitudes is a rising force throughout the Global Community.’

Kipling wrote the Recessional for the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign. It was another 50 years before the independence of India-Pakistan signalled the last phase of the Empire. There had been time from 1900 to 1945 to think of alternatives to empires for the structuring of the world society. There was an effort by creating nationality-based states in Central Europe and Arab Kingdoms in the Middle East - all held together by the League of Nations. The post Soviet, post American Empire period has not yet led to creative thinking on the building blocks of a world society.

I give 2008 as the end of the US Empire. The end will be symbolized by the departure of George W. Bush, but the root causes of the exodus of empire go deeper. Thus, it leaves us little time to plan for a post-empire future. Paupp's book is stronger on the causes of the passing of the US Empire than on the ways the future will be shaped, but he does give some useful lines for action on the rise of a global community.

Rene Wadlow


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