This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Pax Americana

(April 2007)


Imagine an empire that spans the known world, or at least what is important in the known world. Imagine an empire with armed forces so strong, well armed and trained, that it can, in battle, vanquish perhaps any other army or combination of armies. Imagine that same empire subjugating other nations to provide raw materials, cheap labour, and captive markets, and saying that it does so in order to bring "peace" and "development." Imagine that empire laying waste to cities and cultures called "inferior" and "barbarian" as it goes about its swathe of destruction. Imagine that the empire outsources so much of its manufacturing capacity to outside and cheaper nations that it becomes wholly dependent on them to provide its wherewithal of survival; and therefore needs to keep those nations in thrall in order to protect itself.

Imagine, furthermore, that this empire is built on a foundation of slavery and underpaid "free workers"; that part of its raison d'etre is to protect the people from a wholly illusory threat from the members of a new religion which is fast gaining in popularity; that highly publicised trials and executions of those people - along with public entertainment and bloody "sports" - are among the methods used to distract the populace from their own very real problems.

Now imagine further that as this empire expands, as it must to keep creating new markets and to find more raw materials to control and exploit, it comes up against people who, let's say, are not exactly overjoyed at the prospect of being conquered and enslaved, er, "liberated". So they react violently, and in particular situations, successfully. In order that these successes may not turn out to be beacons to others, the perpetrators of the violence have to be ruthlessly crushed. This ends up in absorbing further raft loads of disaffected people to be controlled and further pushes forwards the empire's frontiers - so it intrudes into the territory of even more distant people. It all becomes a vicious circle.

Of course all this absorbing of territory means that all of it needs to be controlled. And that means you need to raise, pay, clothe, train, deploy, supply, and support enough troops to do it. You need to construct the infrastructure to do all this, including ships, roads, fortifications; and you need to find the funds to pay for all of this.

And - oh yes - don't forget the fear that someday you may come up against a power capable of fighting you on equal terms, so you need to also maintain a sufficiently large strategic reserve. Also if the people you control (whether slaves, disaffected citizens, ambitious politicians, or whatever) decide to rebel or strike in your own homeland, your cities, you need to insure against that and so you need even more troops, more control, and more funds to distract the hoi polloi and to pay for the whole thing.

While we're about it, this empire also consumes far more than its share of raw materials, based on population or earning power. Much of its consumption is by a small elite of super rich, and is so conspicuous as to rouse the opposition of virtually the entire people unless they can still be kept frightened and distracted by the threat of the outsider, the barbarian at the gates, and satisfied by mindless and decadent public entertainment.

Now imagine a new Emperor; a man who, led astray by delusions of grandeur, sends his troops into a war of choice that simply cannot be won because they are too far away, too isolated, and up against an enemy who will not quit. Imagine that this emperor refuses to recognise reality and withdraw his forces, but instead pours more funds and more soldiers into what is becoming a meat grinder.


Obviously, you can't keep this edifice going forever. Once the empire begins spreading so far that it can no longer find the troops to keep its possessions abroad secure, it begins employing proxies and mercenaries to do its fighting for it; its expenditure on them will keep increasing because they are not reliable; it can no longer manage to pay to maintain the infrastructure required to maintain its forces, who perforce become vulnerable and must either be lost or withdrawn. However long the process is resisted, it becomes inevitable in the long run.

But can the empire withdraw to its earlier borders, maintain a core of colonies, and at least salvage something from the ruins?


By this time, in order to find cheaper and cheaper manufacturing centres, and more and more distant markets, this empire has become so overstretched that once it begins withdrawing there is no way it can stop. You can't dismantle and take away entire systems set up over many decades with you; you can't put them up again, recreate them overnight; and without the troops necessary to keep order, your retreat will rapidly become a rout. As you leave, vengeful ex-colonies will follow, intent both on loot and revenge. Local satraps will - seeing which way the wind is blowing - promptly declare independence. The empire's economy will suddenly collapse like a burst balloon, and there is no way the populace can be distracted any further. When people have no work and no food, it's tough to keep them quiet, whatever you do. The barbarians are now truly at the gates; but there is no way to keep them there.

Bang goes empire.

I am not surprised the Roman Empire collapsed; I am, though, surprised that the American Empire did not learn the lesson, and I am even more surprised that it's collapsing quite so soon. After all, the Roman Empire did manage to cling on for several hundred years, but the American Empire seems to be in its death throes already.

Maybe it's because of the American conviction that what others can do, they can do better and faster.

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