Pope John Paul II Doesn't Sound Like A Reaganite

Saturday, July 11, AD 2009

Here is a good portion of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis written in 1987 and is followed up by Pope Benedict’s most recent. It is a relevant passage because it deals directly with the subjects dealt with in the ongoing discussion on “Guatemala” et al, on the debated need for apology/examination of our American conscience for abuses- or some would argue not- by our American leadership and elite interests, in regard to other nations- particularly poorer, weaker ones. There seems to be the idea floating around in conservative political circles that Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were cut from the same cloth. I do not believe the approach to foreign relations by those who praise the Reagan/Bush years, holds up to Catholic scrutiny. But here are the words of our previous Holy Father- and no I do not accept the argument that we can distinguish where the Peace and Justice crowd at the Vatican is speaking and where the Pope is- that sort of treatment of these official Encyclicals is beneath my contempt. I will offer commentary on the latest encyclical after I have time to digest it, I refuse to rush my judgment on such important Church offerings. :

Continue reading...

4 Responses to Pope John Paul II Doesn't Sound Like A Reaganite

  • A letter from a “sandalista” (a non-Nicaraguan supporter of the Sandinistas) on her reaction to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nicaragua in March 1983:

    “Katherine Hoyt
    National Co-Coordinator
    Nicaragua Network Education Fund

    Matagalpa
    March 16, 1983

    Dear Folks–

    Well, I promised to write about the Pope’s visit and so I guess I must even though I would rather not even think about it much less write about it! I feel that the visit to Central America as a whole has meant a return to a pre-1967 Church: before Paul VI’s encyclical “Popularum Progressio”–which specified the cases in which insurrection and rebellion would be justified–and the 1968 Latin American Bishops Conference at Medellin, Colombia, which gave the big push to liberation theology.

    On this recent visit John Paul II spoke in words easily understood by the Right as support for its cause: You peasants live in unjust and inhuman conditions but don’t be tempted to rise up in arms against your oppressors; and Archbishop Romero was a martyr but we must not allow his memory to be manipulated politically, etc., etc. But this I’m sure you know. What you’d like to know is our experience of his visit here.

    Well, the government and the Church working together made a tremendous effort to mobilize all means of transportation available in the country so that 800,000 people, approximately 36% of the total population, saw the Pope, either in Leon or in Managua. (Older people, children under 12 and pregnant women were asked not to brave the heat.) Everyone who wanted to go had the chance.

    Victoria [my 13 year old daughter] and I went on the bus to Managua two days ahead. We saw on television his arrival at the airport with Daniel Ortega’s very appropriate (but, I hear, badly received by the U.S. press) quotation from a 1921 letter from Bishop Pereira of Leon to U.S. Cardinal Simpson protesting U.S. intervention in his country. The Pope was even then quite cool and we could see that he lectured Father Ernesto Cardenal, but his airport speech was pretty good. The service in Leon went off quite well. The only objectionable thing that he said in his homily was about the “strict right of believing parents” to not see their children submitted in the schools to “programs inspired in atheism,” something that has never been contemplated here.

    Well, after watching all this on TV, we ate lunch, I put on my sunscreen and we (Victoria and I) took off walking on the prescribed route to the Plaza [19 of July]. It took us almost an hour, from 1:40 to 2:30, to get there. (Access to the Plaza was completely open, by the way.) First we got behind some people who had brought ice chests and stools so because they stood on the stools and blocked our view, we moved over to the right among simpler folk. (It turned out that that first group was composed of Archbishop Obando supporters–there were maybe 40 or 50 thousand of them all together right up in front.) Most of the crowd where we were was composed of simple Christian revolutionaries, women of AMNLAE [the women’s association], peasants of the ATC [farmworkers association] who had had their hopes falsely raised by all sides, church and state, that the Pope was going to say some words of consolation to the families which daily lose loved ones to the counterrevolution, especially since just the day before 17 outstanding members of the Sandinista Youth Organization, killed in an ambush, had been buried after a memorial program in this very same plaza. Certainly if the head of a foreign state visits a country the day after a busload of teen-agers killed in an accident have been buried, he is expected to make SOME sympathetic remarks. However, the Pope studiously avoided making ANY sympathetic words either publicly or privately to the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs who gave him their petition for peace. He could have said a few words of sympathy and won over that crowd easily and satisfied the Sandinista leaders who weren’t expecting more than a crumb. Then it wouldn’t have mattered how strongly he spoke about Church unity under the bishops. Both sides would have been both satisfied and disappointed. But he was extremely careful not to give even a crumb to the revolution and I think no one expected this unrelieved bleakness.

    The Mass began at 5:00 and as the revolutionaries in the crowd began to get the idea of the way things were going, they began to demand “A prayer for our dead,” “We want peace,” and “We want a church on the side of the poor.”

    When that terrible sermon (which demanded that we abandon our “unacceptable ideological commitments” for the faith) was half over I began to feel sick as a result of two and one half hours standing in the sun in the crowd and extreme distress at the direction the Pope was taking. Victoria insisted that we move back to a place where the crowd was less dense and we could sit down and buy some water in plastic bags. By this time the sun had gone down, the horizon was red from so much dust raised on the outer edges of the Plaza, people were chanting “people power, people power” now, too, along with “We want peace,” and the Pope was having a hard time moving along with the Mass. At the silence between the consecration of the bread and that of the wine, a women broke in with a megaphone to say (in respectful tones, actually), “Holy Father, we beg you for a prayer for our loved ones who have been murdered,” or something very similar. The Lord’s Prayer somehow never got said and only a few people were given communion (one was the mother of Daniel and Humberto Ortega who was with the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs, having lost another son, Camilo, in 1978). Finally at 8:00 p.m., the Pope gave the last blessing and was off while the vast majority of the crowd stayed at attention to hear the Sandinista Anthem.

    Daniel Ortega’s impromptu speech at the airport as the Pope left was enough to make one cry. He almost begged the Pope to make one solid proposal for peace in Nicaragua, to say one word, to give that one crumb that he was not willing to give. We heard only part of it as we were walking back to Toyita’s house, dirty exhausted and I, of course very distressed by the whole visit and certain we were headed for schism. One of the last slogans somebody had cried out as the Mass was ending was one of anguished defiance: “Because of Christ and His Gospels, we are revolutionaries.” That seemed to just about sum things up.

    While I showered, I turned the radio on to the BBC 9:00p.m. news. The British announcer, in typical understatement, said that the Pope had just finished saying the “most unusual Mass of his career in Managua, Nicaragua.”

    Of course it was a boost for the counter-revolutionaries and we are seeing an increase in the number of battles right now, some close to Matagalpa–near San Ramon and San Dionisio–and all anybody talks about is war. This has had serious repercussions in our Paulita who has developed a terrible fear of war and what might happen to us all. She starts crying when anyone talks about battles or civil defense measures in school.

    Write soon.

    Love, Kathy”

    http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/47/030.html

    John Paul II was a complicated man and he was often critical of the West, but in the confrontation between Democracy and Communism John Paul II was much closer to the position of Reagan than the Catholic Left of the time.

  • Here is a good portion of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis written in 1987 and is followed up by Pope Benedict’s most recent. It is a relevant passage because it deals directly with the subjects dealt with in the ongoing discussion on “Guatemala” et al, on the debated need for apology/examination of our American conscience for abuses- or some would argue not- by our American leadership and elite interests, in regard to other nations- particularly poorer, weaker ones.

    How does this stratospheric complaint about global political economy ca. 1987 have much to say about the parsing of responsibility between the U.S. Government and Guatemala’s political class?

    There seems to be the idea floating around in conservative political circles that Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were cut from the same cloth. I do not believe the approach to foreign relations by those who praise the Reagan/Bush years, holds up to Catholic scrutiny.

    Just out of curiosity, what aspects of that ‘approach’ do not? While you answer that, consider what discontinuities existed between the Reagan Administration and its predecessor. Increased military expenditure, promotion of democracy abroad, modernization of nuclear arsenals, confrontation with foreign reds (in El Salvador, &c.), and subsidy and training of insurgencies challenging communist governments were all policies that had been adopted by his predecessor, albeit more tentatively, by 1980.

    But here are the words of our previous Holy Father- and no I do not accept the argument that we can distinguish where the Peace and Justice crowd at the Vatican is speaking and where the Pope is- that sort of treatment of these official Encyclicals is beneath my contempt. I will offer commentary on the latest encyclical after I have time to digest it, I refuse to rush my judgment on such important Church offerings. :

    You quote an introductory paragraph, three paragraphs which are drily descriptive, one which locates the antagonism of the West and the East bloc in their dissimilar political economy (though blocs and mutual antagonisms are the rule with or without such dissimilarity). The equivalence drawn between Western media and that of the Communist bloc is foolish. The succeeding paragraph (“International relations, in turn,…” is again uncontroversially descriptive. The next (“Although at the present time”) is not much more so.

    Then…

    two concepts of the development of individuals and peoples both concepts being imperfect and in need of radical correction. This opposition is transferred to the developing countries themselves, and thus helps to widen the gap already existing on the economic level between North and South and which results from the distance between the two worlds: the more developed one and the less developed one.

    This is one of the reasons why the Church’s social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism. For from the point of view of development the question naturally arises: in what way and to what extent are these two systems capable of changes and updatings such as to favor or promote a true and integral development of individuals and peoples in modern society? In fact, these changes and updatings are urgent and essential for the cause of a development common to all.

    Whether it be the Holy Father speaking or krill suspended in some Vatican dicastery, passages such as this do not provide even minimal guidance for the faithful policy-maker. What does ‘true and integral development’ mean? N.B. by 1987, ‘liberal capitalism’ was a fair description of the political economy of … Hong Kong. The occidental countries had with scant exception adopted some variation of what Paul Samuelson called the ‘mixed economy’, featuring considerable income redistribution, collective consumption, and ratios of public expenditure to domestic product north of a third.

    Countries which have recently achieved independence, and which are trying to establish a cultural and political identity of their own, and need effective and impartial aid from all the richer and more developed countries, find themselves involved in, and sometimes overwhelmed by, ideological conflicts, which inevitably create internal divisions, to the extent in some cases of provoking full civil war. This is also because investments and aid for development are often diverted from their proper purpose and used to sustain conflicts, apart from and in opposition to the interests of the countries which ought to benefit from them. Many of these countries are becoming more and more aware of the danger of falling victim to a form of neocolonialism and are trying to escape from it. It is this awareness which in spite of difficulties, uncertainties and at times contradictions gave rise to the International Movement of Non-Aligned Nations, which, in its positive aspect, would like to affirm in an effective way the right of every people to its own identity, independence and security, as well as the right to share, on a basis of equality and solidarity, in the goods intended for all.

    The first portion of this paragraph is again descriptive. The terminal portion, an endorsement of the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, actually was likely at a variance with the views of the Reagan Administration. It was incumbent upon the Holy Father to explain why he thought the Conference of Non-aligned Nations, that international gathering where Togo could weigh in on Timor, was significant to those not on the payroll of its secretariat. Now, if my memory serves me, one of the Conferences in this era (in 1983 or 1984) passed 11 separate resolutions attacking the United States and not a one attacking Soviet Russia, so it would not be surprising for anyone in American politics this side of Ron Dellums to find the Conference repellant. How does this jibe with the Holy Father’s carefully balanced complaints?

    22. In the light of these considerations, we easily arrive at a clearer picture of the last twenty years and a better understanding of the conflicts in the northern hemisphere, namely between East and West, as an important cause of the retardation or stagnation of the South.

    This is not a statement of discrete empirical fact, but it does presume a settled understanding of the dynamics of economic development that was not in fact the case in 1987 – or now.

    The developing countries, instead of becoming autonomous nations concerned with their own progress towards a just sharing in the goods and services meant for all, become parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel.

    The best sense that can be made out of this passage is that it is an endorsement of conceptions of the international economic order associated with characters like Immanual Wallerstein. That also would be at a variation with the Reagan Administration. It is also controversial quite apart from that; Efforts to empirically verify through statistical method the conceptions of this school of thought were not notably successful.

    This is often true also in the field of social communications, which, being run by centers mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural make-up. They frequently impose a distorted vision of life and of man and thus fail to respond to the demands of true development.

    The referent here was contemporary efforts by UNESCO to erect a ‘New World Information Order’ incorporating controls on the Western press. The Reagan Administration withdrew from UNESCO at the close of 1984, in part for this reason and in part because the agency was internally mismanaged (“a third world kleptocracy” in the words of one critic). So, yes, this is at variation with the Reagan Administration, but with a great many others. Michael Kinsley had this to say about his colleagues in the press: “[UNESCO’s behavior] caused them to lose some of their cultural relativism, and their patience.”

    Each of the two blocs harbors in its own way a tendency towards imperialism, as it is usually called, or towards forms of new- colonialism: an easy temptation to which they frequently succumb, as history, including recent history, teaches.

    That is more Cyrus Vance than the Reagan Administration, ’tis true. It could use some elaboration.

    It is this abnormal situation, the result of a war and of an unacceptably exaggerated concern for security, which deadens the impulse towards united cooperation by all for the common good of the human race, to the detriment especially of peaceful peoples who are impeded from their rightful access to the goods meant for all.

    Bipolarity and the presence of weapons of mass destruction were certainly unusual, as was the ideological dimension of internationial conflict. We do need to ask the question as to whether ‘united cooperation by all for the common good of the human race’ really characterized previous historical era, as this comment seems to suggest.

    Seen in this way, the present division of the world is a direct obstacle to the real transformation of the conditions of underdevelopment in the developing and less advanced countries. However, peoples do not always resign themselves to their fate. Furthermore, the very needs of an economy stifled by military expenditure and by bureaucracy and intrinsic inefficiency now seem to favor processes which might mitigate the existing opposition and make it easier to begin a fruitful dialogue and genuine collaboration for peace.

    23. The statement in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio that the resources and investments devoted to arms production ought to be used to alleviate the misery of impoverished peoples41 makes more urgent the appeal to overcome the opposition between the two blocs.

    This is also at a variance with the Reagan Administration. The thing is, I doubt you will find many third world countries in 1987 who had a ratio of military expenditure to domestic product exceeding .03, bar those in the midst of internal insurrections or wars of national mobilization. IIRC statistics I was scanning at that time, such was particularly true in Latin America.

    Today, the reality is that these resources are used to enable each of the two blocs to overtake the other and thus guarantee its own security. Nations which historically, economically and politically have the possibility of playing a leadership role are prevented by this fundamentally flawed distortion from adequately fulfilling their duty of solidarity for the benefit of peoples which aspire to full development.

    It is timely to mention – and it is no exaggeration – the a leadership role among nations can only be justified by the possibility and willingness to contribute widely and generously to the common good.

    There are several problems with this statement. One, is there a well established means by which international transfers of public capital induce sustainable local development?; two, to what extent are such transfers inhibited by specifically military expenditures?; three, how is it that ‘global leadership’ can be said to be conferred by virtue rather than merely being the artifact of power politics – something that exists rather than something that is ‘justified’?

    If a nation were to succumb more or less deliberately to the temptation to close in upon itself and failed to meet the responsibilities following from its superior position in the community of nations, it would fall seriously short of its clear ethical duty. This is readily apparent in the circumstances of history, where believers discern the dispositions of Divine Providence, ready to make use of the nations for the realization of its plans, so as to render “vain the designs of the peoples” (cf. Ps 33[32]: 10).

    What exactly is its ‘clear ethical duty’ in the realm of international relation?

    24. If arms production is a serious disorder in the present world with regard to true human needs and the employment of the means capable of satisfying those needs, the arms trade is equally to blame. Indeed, with reference to the latter it must be added that the moral judgment is even more severe. As we all know, this is a trade without frontiers capable of crossing even the barriers of the blocs. It knows how to overcome the division between East and West, and above all the one between North and South, to the point – and this is more serious – of pushing its way into the different sections which make up the southern hemisphere. We are thus confronted with a strange phenomenon: while economic aid and development plans meet with the obstacle of insuperable ideological barriers, and with tariff and trade barriers, arms of whatever origin circulate with almost total freedom all over the world And as the recent document of the Pontifical Commission Iustitia et Pax on the international debt points out,42 everyone knows that in certain cases the capital lent by the developed world has been used in the underdeveloped world to buy weapons.

    See above on the ratio of military expenditure to domestic product. Here are some figures from 2004, courtesy Global Security. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spending.htm. I believe that global product is now about $60 tn, so the $1.1 tn devoted to military expenditure is less than 2% of the total.

    If to all this we add the tremendous and universally acknowledged danger represented by atomic weapons stockpiled on an incredible scale, the logical conclusion seems to be this: in today’s world, including the world of economics, the prevailing picture is one destined to lead us more quickly towards death rather than one of concern for true development which would lead all towards a “more human” life, as envisaged by the Encyclical Populorum Progressio.43

    Here we pose the question: in 1987, had median life expectancies been increasing, or decreasing? Was global food production per capita improving, or not?

    Tim, we have to regard the statements of our bishops on matters outside of faith and morals with the antecedent assumption that they understand of what they speak, and we should be taught by them. The thing of it is, they can and do adhere to conceptions of their social world the empirical reality of which is controversial and so for a reason so we are in conversation with them on these matters. That applies to the late Holy Father as well.

  • I don’t know if you are familiar with our site, the Catholic World Report, but we have a “Round-Table” wherein J. Brian Benestad, Francis J. Beckwith, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., Richard Garnett, Thomas S. Hibbs, Paul Kengor, George Neumayr, Joseph Pearce, Tracey Rowland, Father James V. Schall, and Rev. Robert A. Sirico share their thoughts on Caritas in Veritate.

    It’s located at:
    (http://www.catholicworldreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=121:cwr-round-table-caritas-in-veritate&catid=36:cwr2009&Itemid=53).

"Guatemala: Never Again!"at

Friday, July 10, AD 2009

There has been an interesting discussion going on that began with a little mockery of Obama’s propensity for offering collective apologies around the world for various things out of the American past or present. I am a big proponent of apologies- but they must be prudent and truly repentant- not some mixed-motive posturing like former President Clinton seemed inclined. A great Catholic example of what I am seeking is found in a great book  entitled “Guatemala Never Again!”. This is no Leftist diatribe, this is (REMHI) the Recovery of Historical Memory Project. This is the Official Report of the Human Rights Office, Archdiocese of Guatemala. Let me quote from the back cover:

Continue reading...

22 Responses to "Guatemala: Never Again!"at

  • But it is a “leftist diatribe”…. or else so naive as to pass as one. We’re being overrun by Obama’s soft-Bolshevism and now asked to act like European-style intellectuals indulging in poseur hand-wringing and moral equivalency. Cut to the chase. The only meaningful point is that about Planned Parenthood. One doesn’t have to be a GOP hawk (I’m not) to think: what a waste of this blog’s space.

  • Tim,

    I agree with you, and I have no respect for anyone – whether they call themselves a Catholic or not – who cannot acknowledge historical truth and apologize for it when it reveals evil acts.

    Moreover, any “Catholic” who puts the word of right-wing propagandists above the testimony of bishops and priests and nuns and lay Catholics in the country in question is really doing a disservice to his own Church. I’ll stand with Oscar Romero before I’ll stand with the butchers who filled mass graves in Guatemala or the nun-raping contras in Nicaragua.

  • The Contras raped nuns Joe? Could you cite the incident you are referring to? My guess is that you are thinking of this incident in El Salvador:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Donovan

    As for the Contras and the Sandanistas, the Pope seemed rather pleased after the Sandanistas were voted out.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=56mgGxguT4EC&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=john+paul+violeta+chamorro&source=bl&ots=JQWYvaiSfJ&sig=hQQXVaja6EcDAsZf2hsl1FBitfE&hl=en&ei=on9XSrmkFo_gMY7kpZ0I&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5

  • The problem with your post is that is presumes the US is not now and has not been engaged in precisely the kind of inward looking self analysis for many years.

    We have beaten the subjects of Cold War drug experimentation to death. We have beaten up on the CIA, the NSA, and our military. Following Vietnam, we entered a generational orgy of self-loathing and doubt. There have been thousands of books, tens of thousands of articles, and hundreds of thousands of internet posts about every manner of evil the US did or is supposed to have done. We have granted Doctorates to thousands and thousands of professors who only too happily trot out America’s evils without ever mentioning her greatness. We produce text book after text book suggesting that early colonists were nothing less than thieves and murderers who drove noble, peace-loving, agrarian peoples from thier homes so that they could set up theocracies.

    Enough!!!

    Were America a person and were that “person” in therapy, she would be heavily sedated so that she didn’t do violence to herself.

    Anyone who wants to use America as an escape-goat for the sins of the world, rather than acknowledging that international affairs is a brutal, ugly game that requires walking a thin line between right and wrong to survive, is either naive or ignorant.

  • I don’t see America thriving as a nation or as a people for the long-run, because I don’t see how we are so very different from the Great Empires of the past

    I realize this is perhaps a characteristic hobby horse, but it’s worth noting that the great empires of the past did pretty well in many ways, and indeed the Church found itself much involved with them. Rome around 1000 in its Western form, and another 1000 in Constantinople. And the Church was very much connected with both the Christian empire and with later European empires that aspired to be successors: Hapsburgs, French, Spanish, etc. There’s an American mythology that all great empires immediately became corrupt and fell apart, but it’s not fully accurate.

    On your general point: I think there is at the same time a danger in spending too much time on other people’s sins. Sure, I would wax wroth all day about racism, eugenics, treatment of the Indians, or what have you, but it worries me that when we spend a lot of time on sins committed by other people that we feel no personal affinity to, we make ourselves feel good at others expense while doing very little to actually make ourselves better. Yes, it’s important to recognize evil for what it is, but if we spend too much time talking about evils that other people did in the past (especially when we do so in an un-nuanced and accusatory way) we end up unnecessarily pumping ourselves up.

    So for instance, I could write some scorchers about eugenics and the forced sterilization programs that many states (my home state of California most of all) had in the 20s and 30s, but since that’s basically going on about “bad things other people did” and to an extent also the connections I see between the eugenics of the 20s and the birth control and abortion movements of today — I think a lot of the people most tempted by those evils would simply be put off by my writing and feel that I’m unnecessarily characterizing them as participating in past horrors. And given the distance (and the fact I already recognize it as wrong) I’m not sure I’d be undergoing any moral development myself either.

    So while we shouldn’t sugar-coat the past, I think we also need to be wary about getting too involved in apologizing for wrongs that other people committed. It can become more a weapon and a tool for pride than an actual process of humility.

  • I have travelled and lived in several places abroad for extended periods of time- and there is a very real sense of being an ambassador for your country, at a deeper level we are ambassadors for Christ in every land. I lived and taught in the Czech Republic just months after the Velvet Revolution there and encountered many who had never met an American, and my views as an American carried a lot of weight as a consequence. I felt a certain burden to present opinions that were thoughtful and even diplomatic at times- on religious and political topics- as a Catholic I ran into many Czech protestants and agnostics, so I wanted to represent an American Catholic perspective as best I could.

    As for apologizing for the sins of other people- it depends- if people presently associate you with the actions of your government or elite interests past or present, then it may not be enough to say- “not my sins”. You may need to clarify that these abuses are part of your memory and you are committed to do better. That may be the way to move forward in the complicated relations of differing peoples of different national backgrounds. To confess and repent is freeing for good reason- if I limit my confessions to my nation’s past and present wrong doings, and bypass a careful examination of my own actions and lack of action- then you are right to criticize my preoccupation with past and present social sins. I can only give you my word that I am really trying to be humble in assessing my own spiritual state, and it is actually part of that process that inspires me to take on a more public role in speaking out for life and social justice as a very overt Catholic- shouting out from the rooftops as it were.

    I don’t broadcast my own past and present sins to the general public- I don’t think that is prudent- but for social sins I believe there is a social call to be public in discussing such things- Scripture seems to indicate that nations are judged in some capacity, and individuals are definitely judged- so I am trying to be both/and in my approach- and I find inspiration in the example of the church in Guatemala that I feel has application here in the U.S.

  • As for the Contras and the Sandanistas, the Pope seemed rather pleased after the Sandanistas were voted out.

    Presumably it’s possible to be pleased that the Sandanistas were voted out without necessarily being pro-Contras.

  • I have travelled and lived in several places abroad for extended periods of time- and there is a very real sense of being an ambassador for your country, at a deeper level we are ambassadors for Christ in every land. I lived and taught in the Czech Republic just months after the Velvet Revolution there and encountered many who had never met an American, and my views as an American carried a lot of weight as a consequence. I felt a certain burden to present opinions that were thoughtful and even diplomatic at times- on religious and political topics- as a Catholic I ran into many Czech protestants and agnostics, so I wanted to represent an American Catholic perspective as best I could.

    Good point, and I think certainly when someone is asked, “So why is it that you Americans did XYZ,” one’s duty is to answer in honesty and humility.

    And I don’t want to come off as saying that we should never talk about the evils of the past. It’s just that I think there is a frequently indulged in temptation to make a big show of denouncing the evils of the past (which one was never tempted to in the first place) and thus acquire a glow which allows one to ignore the evils of the present because “we’re not those kind of people.”

    A classic example of this would be the many young (and not so young) people who loudly denounce the racism and sexism of the past, but can’t see how abortion could actually be all that bad because, “Lot’s of women who get abortions are just ordinary, good people in bad situations.” Well, come to that lots of racists were ordinary good people in bad situations.

    Anyway.

    I’m not wanting to accuse you of these kind of sentiments, but I am wanting to outline why I’m leary of big apology projects for things in the more distant past, or things taken out of their fuller historical context. I’m not familiar with this book put out by the Guatemalan bishops, but they’re dealing with a situation which is very recently in the past — just 20 years before the book’s writing.

    I am very much in favor of looking unblinking at the truth, good and bad, of the past. But I’m hesitant about big apology projects — especially when they go far into the past and also when they’re taken outside of their original context to become a parade of horribles.

  • “Presumably it’s possible to be pleased that the Sandanistas were voted out without necessarily being pro-Contras.”

    It’s possible BA, although one would then have to ignore the fact that without the pressure of the Contras and the US the Sandanistas would probably have held a free election about the same time their hero Fidel did.

  • I would like to point out that the mass slaughter which occurred in the course of suppressing the communist insurrection in Guatemala occurred during a 32 month period in 1982, 1983, and 1984. There had also been a lot of killing in Army massacres in the four years previous to that. The thing is, the U.S. Government cut off aid to the Government of Guatemala at the end of 1977 and it remained in abeyance for eight years.

    There was a successful counterinsurgency conducted in 1966-70 which had a much smaller death toll. The insurgency, which had commenced in 1960, was dormant for the next eight years. IIRC, the Guatemalan government had offered in 1966 a window of amnesty for the insurrectionists before beginning the campaign.

    Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in 1954. It is rather de trop to argue that the course of the country’s political history over the next thirty years followed deterministically. The Guatemalan military, without the assistance of the United States, killed about 150,000 people in 1982-84. That is nothing for which the U.S. government should apologize.

  • Pingback: Inside Information
  • Well- after reading the Church’s Memory Project and the details of the U.S. involvement in the book – Bitter Fruit- and in other accounts like Tim Weiner’s history of the CIA- I would say there is a lot to be ashamed from a Catholic American point-of-view- I can’t be anyone else’s conscience, but I think the more complete story is one where we can’t just wash our hands a la Pontius Pilate. To be so neck-deep in coups and backstage manipulations of other sovereign nations is a terrible abuse of global solidarity, subsidiarity, and a host of other ills. Even if the ends sought were mostly good ones- and I’m not convinced our leaders were primarily concerned for the well-being of the world’s poor so much as they were looking out for #1- power politics and economic interests- it is still illict to do evil that good would come from it- that is bedrock Catholic principle and one we had better promote here in the U.S. if we are to represent our true faith. We have to be very wary of the philosophy of power that includes RealPolitick, Pragmatism, “The Great Game” and other moral compromising strategies and ways of thinking and acting on the world stage- we must be truthful, clear, and dedicated in word and deed to the Christian commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the only worthy American foreign policy objective which I will accept. The war I am fighting is the one for my soul primarily, and secondarily I want to help build a civilization of love for my children and grandchildren- I don’t want God to have to shut down the human project before my great grandchildren are born- my greatest weapon is my integrity and my righteousness, I won’t allow my patriotism to be false or misleading and ultimately a detriment to my larger goals of sainthood.

    Certain Guatemalan individuals over time are the ones most culpable for the crimes against the many average Guatemalan people- that is for sure- just as certain American individuals are the most culpable for the crimes of abortion carried out against the unborn- but there is a measure of culpability that goes far and wide for many such things- perhaps if I try to deny what I have learned about the role of the U.S. in Guatemala, and refuse to allow myself pangs of disgust, and refuse to offer up my testimony, then I am also a little bit guilty of something here. And perhaps I am a bit guilty for the state of affairs here in America with rampant abortion- not just for my past where I can plead some or a lot of ignorance, but even today, with all that I know- maybe I am not doing enough, maybe I am not expressing myself as well as I could if I took more time, more effort, and above all, more prayer. The thing is that I am trying very, very hard to not become a minimalist when it comes to the moral questions- I take the state of the nation and the world personally to the degree that I can or should. There is always that open question for Confession- am I doing all I can? Help me Lord to know, to grow, to do what you will me to do.

  • Tim,

    What you are saying now sounds different from the characterization of your post in the thread above. Might I suggest that we have entwined two different threads: that individuals and institutions must study and learn from the past and that individuals and institutions should apologize to those who perceive themselves to have suffered?

    In your latest addition to the thread, you speak eloquently of the need to learn from the past. I do not dispute the necessity of doing so and I doubt many who opposed the original post for various reasons would. Indeed, learning from other than one’s own past has a noble heritage in human experience. It is the backbone and, arguably, the purpose of much education and training. I don’t think there is a dispute as to its utility and the proposition that it is also part of one’s duty as a person and a Christian would receive a negative response.

    However, apologies are different.

    Apologies have meaning ONLY when proffered by the one responsible for the injury and only when received by one who was actually injured. The more remote either party is, the more likely it is that a new abuse is being perpetrated – by which I mean that either the one apologizing or the one apologized to is manipulating others by the interaction.

    In the instant case, it undoubtably true that the US used Central and South America as one of several battle-grounds for our proxy war with the Soviet Union. Since the alternative was a direct war with the Soviet Union and, potentially, the destruction of all life on our planet, I hope you will forgive my conclusion that, whatever the injury on the Korean Peninsula, in the Congo, or in Guatemala, the world is better off with the way that history played out.

    Where the US causes injury and that injury can be made right, we should do so. However, as time passes and intervening causes confuse the culpability, an apology and remedy becomes less and less desireable.

    I am not reaching for the complicated here. When it comes to learning from the past and applying those principles to future action, I am solidly with you. However, when it comes to offering apologies and providing remedies, we simply MUST apply a case-by-case analysis.

  • Tim,

    Twenty-eight years separated the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz and the series of offensives in 1982-84 which cost so many lives. What is the point of conjoining a discussion of John Foster Dulles and the United Fruit Company with discussion of a counter-insurgency program which occurred a generation later?

  • The Memory Project goes into the history of connections- the abuse of human rights didn’t simply begin in 1982- the Memory project deals with what happened prior to 1982 as well as the period you are talking about- the historical links are there- you will have to read the report to see for yourself- the mass arrests, the lists of anyone who had even a remote connection to anything “communist”, the loss of habeus corpus- this all started up immediately after the coup- and no doubt was supported by our own leadership- even if the distancing took place much later- the unraveling of democratic rule of law really took off after United Fruit et al took matters into their own hands- there was a similar process in Iran which led to a chain of negative events- we can’t say that these coups and support for greater breakdowns in the rule of law and solidarity/subsidiarity had no lasting effect or damages which we need to take some ownershop of. Please read the books I recommended to fill in the necessary record- Wiener and Kinzer are solid investigative reporters, and the Church’s Memory Project is really above reproach.

  • I would add that according to the Memory documents the coup of 1963 either began after a meeting with president Kennedy and his political advisors, CIA director and ambassador to Guatemala- or it was something that had at minimum no objections from Washington and for the first time the military as an institution took over the government. The Paramilitary groups came soon after and developed into death squads operating usually with hidden hand control from official military leadership- it is estimated that upwards to 20,000 were killed in just a few years by these paramilitary- and the law was quite arbitrary and abusive leading to even worse conditions to come. So, the connections to the first overthrow and with American support overt/covert is to be considered as significant in my opinion.

  • There is significant problem with the left’s view of these issues, and it is quite apparent when they put scare quotes around the word “communist”, marginalizing the truly evil and powerful force that the US was trying to defeat. Just give “Uncle Joe” a big wink, and all will be fine, right? Well, it wouldn’t have been. If Communism had not been opposed at every turn, then the fate of the the millions upon millions who died at the hand Stalin and Mao would have been shared by countless hundreds of millions more…. many times worse than the often exaggerated numbers that the left puts out for every situation where the US might have been culpable.

    Now, that’s just the dead, what about those souls which would be lost being raised in a godless society which is the goal of the left? Don’t forget that a key goal of communism was to destroy the Church in every country that it conquers. Look at your cuddly Chavez and Castro! They do all that they can to suppress the source of salvation.

    “Communism”? Hell,yes.

  • I know I’m drifting away from the subject but I’m here addressing myself directly to Tim Shipe…I am MarkL of Inside Catholic. Have just read that 19 Dems Reps are trying to block abortion coverage in the Health Care reform bill. Now I don’t know if these guys are associated with Dems for Life; but anyway kudos for the good work in this case…I am not reluctant to praise people when praise is due, BUT however I will insist upon calling a spade a spade when necessary and “a bunch of teetotallers in an assembly of drunkards has never turned the lot into temperance activists”.

  • Tim,

    I do not care to be repetitious, but again….

    I am perfectly aware that the abuse of the population did not begin in 1982 and made explicit reference to what occurred in 1978-82 and 1966-70. Since the U.S. Government had cut off aid to the Government of Guatemala at the end of 1977, it is rather inventive to attribute the former to credit the goings on during that period running from 1978 through 1985 to the U.S. Government. You would have a better argument with regard to the former period, but it is complicated by the following: Communist groups elected to start an insurgency in 1960, Communist groups ignored a proffered amnesty in 1966, and any government has the responsibility to suppress insurrections. If you think it could have been done with less loss of life, you are probably right. If you think the U.S. Government was in a position to micromanage the Guatemalan military’s conduct in 1966-70, you may or may not be.

    You can argue that the U.S. Government should have intervened to prevent the overthrow of Pres. Miguel Ydigoras in 1963. One should recall that such interventions were not uniformly successful and a rash of elected governmnts were deposed in 1962 and 1963 to the Kennedy Administration’s dismay. One should also not advance such an argument while offering complaints about American intervention per se.

    It is not very credible that parliamentary government would have, absent the machinations of the CIA, continued merrily along in Iran after 1953. Mohammed Mossadegh had already instituted authoritarian measures and an ethnically heterogenous country with a literacy rate under 20% is a poor prospect for democratic institutions, most particularly in a region of the globe where parliamentary government failed in one country after another between 1949 and 1963. You have a better argument with regard to Guatemala, which had something resembling competitive electoral politics about a third of the time between 1838 and 1954. You should recall, however, that the only Latin American countries not experiencing a breach of constitutional order between 1954 and 1986 were Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. Colombia has suffered interminable political violence since 1948 and Mexico was a pluralistic party-machine state, not a democratic state in the European sense. Had the Marxism and praetorian populism of the Arevalo-Arbenz period morphed into a stable and well-rooted democratic order, that would have been unusual, but strange things do happen from time to time.

  • I live in Guatemala and I’m tired of all the navel-gazing guilt that American and European people seem so desirous of engaging in. I don’t feel guilty for things that I didn’t engage in and don’t support.

    More importantly, it seems to me Catholics have a great deal more to be concerned with than the social activism (and consequences thereof) of her episcopacy. The Church is in worse shape than it has been since the reformation-possibly the days of Arius-and everywhere in this region all I hear about is social justice. I have yet to enter a diocesan Church and hear about sin or the sacraments.

    We don’t need so much to open up our eyes to offenses of previous generations of American misbehavior as we need to remember our primary obligation-to God-and reorient our lives in that direction. The suffering all around us is a direct reflection of sin and a refusal to deal with that.

  • Liberation Theology was flawed by the failure to ensure that it was to be understood that the primary liberation offered by Jesus Christ was one of freedom from sin and death. It is always easy enough to fall into a Zealotry of the Left or Right- making politics the whole deal of one’s religiousity. Of course the reasons for this abuse are varied according to the individual- if one’s village was part of a government or rebel massacre, and my female loved ones were raped or killed- well I might be sorely tempted to spend my remaining time on a political or militant quest- there but for the grace of God go I. I do not want to judge the individuals who fall into zealotry too harshly- many well-meaning pro-lifers seem to be making similar decisions to those social justice leftists. But having said this, I think that when Christ commanded that we love God fully, and love our neighbor as our self, and offered the kingdom of God parables about what we do to the least among us, we are doing to Him. These are compelling items for me, and the fact of the Church’s social doctrine and all the ink the popes and VAtican produces over social and political sins and conditions- I feel it is an important part of being Catholic. We must be both/and- we must be prayerful, devoted to the Sacraments, and also taking those graces out into the street, marketplaces, and political gatherings, not just holding them inside of us. The social doctrine is an essential part of the Christian evangelization- so it is not a bad thing to have a social conscience, to have a memory of the past abuses, and to learn from those abuses of history to never again repeat them- to repent as a man and as a nation- we are meant to be social, we have social responsibilities coinciding with our personal life responsibilities- this is where the left and right tend to get divisive, but the Church stays with Christ, and I shall try to stay with Her.

  • @Dr. J:
    No we are nothing like European Intellectuals-we have learned nothing from 2 World Wars and still like to push our interests forward by means of war.
    You really sound like a big McCarthy fan. Obama and Bolshevism? Don’t make me laugh. I think the author of this blog did a good job in giving us access to important knowledge (which of course you would rather have hidden away because it is not patriotic).

The US of Empire

Thursday, January 15, AD 2009

This is a thesis that could use far more development than I can give it at the moment, but I hope I can lay it out clearly enough that to generate some interesting discussion and perhaps revisit it later.

It’s frequently complained that the US is in danger of becoming a global empire. Traditionally one elaborates on this by quoting Washington’s farewell address if one is of the right, and by citing the evils of colonialism if one is of the left.

I’d like to suggest that the imperial horse has pretty much left the stable a long time ago. The US has been a global empire since World War II, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the sole global power. Although, like the later Roman Republic, the US has not actually taken direct political control over countries beyond its traditional borders (nor does it collect tribute from abroad) it has a sphere of influence covering much of the known world and is repeatedly involved in exerting pressure or deploying force to ensure regional conflicts do not spin out of control.

This in itself is perhaps not a terribly unusual thesis.

Continue reading...

29 Responses to The US of Empire

  • What of — not only lefty americans but — the countless peoples throughout the world who do not see u.s. imperialism(s) as “generally a good thing.” Do their voices matter?

    Are global empire and “isolationism” the only alternatives?

  • Also:

    Empires are obviously not the only means of “keeping the peace” and spreading “culture and technology.” What of those who see the u.s. not as a force for peace but of destabalization? The Iraq experience should at least clue you in to this possibility. Do the views of these people not count?

    Does the u.s. “keep a lid on nationalistic conflicts”? Really? Has it done so in the Middle East? Elsewhere? What of the u.s.’s own nationalism?

    I could go on. But these questions are glaringly absent in your brief reflection.

  • Its okay for me for the US to step back and let other nations resolve international issues. France has attempted to do so in Georgia and the EU has attempted in Iran.

    The problem is that these countries also have to be willing to do the heavy lifting (financial aid, military intervention etc.) when called to do so.

    As my dad says, “You drive the car, you gotta pay for the gas.”

  • One other thought. As Mr. Obama is about to find out, its one thing to make pronoucements from the grandstands, its another to actually try to call the plays on the field. I look forward to the efforts of other countries.

  • Michael,

    What of — not only lefty americans but — the countless peoples throughout the world who do not see u.s. imperialism(s) as “generally a good thing.”

    Certainly everyone “matters”, but when there is disagreement among people as to which of two alternatives should be followed the supporting of one side over the other does not mean a rejection of the worth or human dignity of those one opposes.

    The question I would ask in this regards is: Overall, do people _want_ the US to withdraw back within its own boarders and keep to itself, or do they sometimes find their pride offended by the US’s power, and yet actually appreciate the results of having it be a global power.

    I’m reminded, tangentially, of the interview I read some years ago with an Iraqi man who’d been wrongly jailed (they got the wrong guy) and suffered some of the abuse at Abu Graib. At the end of the interview he was asked, “What can the US ever do to make up for what it’s done to you and your country.” He answered immediately, “I would really like a green card.”

    Also instructive is the experience of many former British colonies. They pretty universally wanted Britain out, and yet increasingly people in places like Singapore and India are realizing they are actually much better off as a result of their colonial experience. Historical evidence would similarly suggest that most peoples brought into the Roman sphere of influence at first resented Rome’s presence, and yet the world still benefits from the legacy of Rome’s empire.

    What of those who see the u.s. not as a force for peace but of destabalization? The Iraq experience should at least clue you in to this possibility. Do the views of these people not count?

    I would tend to think that their analysis is wrong. Remember, the reason the US was even in the area in the first place is that Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, with the result that the US stepped in and pushed them out again.

    It’s certainly a subject that could be debated, but my current impression is that the US is more stablizing than destablizing.

    What of the u.s.’s own nationalism?

    As I wrote recently, I think the modern US is actually pretty free of nationalism properly definied. In that sense, it’s well placed to act on the global scene in a way that more nationalistic powers (such as China) are not.

  • Philip,

    Its okay for me for the US to step back and let other nations resolve international issues. France has attempted to do so in Georgia and the EU has attempted in Iran.

    The problem is that these countries also have to be willing to do the heavy lifting (financial aid, military intervention etc.) when called to do so.

    Agreed. I guess my contention is: I think we and the rest of the world have got used to the benefits of having some sort of global power keeping order — and none of the other candidates (as shown by the failures of the UN, EU, France, etc.) are really cut out to do the work.

    I’m not at all sure that I like that we’ve got to this position, but it strikes me that it may be a situation we need to recognize and live with.

  • What of — not only lefty americans but — the countless peoples throughout the world who do not see u.s. imperialism(s) as “generally a good thing.” Do their voices matter?

    Of course they matter, but keep in mind that neither their disapproval nor the general approval of the right makes or breaks the argument. As I note, I only bother saying this because too often I’ve encountered relativistic discourse in which “feelings” alone are the guide to anything. Arguments for or against American imperialism need to consider a number of prospects like the question you asked at the end of your first comment:

    Are global empire and “isolationism” the only alternatives?

    I like this question, because it is probably one of the most serious questions we can ask. As a global power, can we only either hide away from the world or be overbearing in the world? I would argue that global empire and isolationism are not the best way to set up the question as either-or. I would say that the first either-or is either we can interact with the world, or we can isolate ourselves. After that, if we choose interaction, we then have to ask to what degree and in what realms.

    Economic interactions seems quite sensible, since trade typically benefits both parties involved (unless one partner runs up a huge deficit importing and does very little exporting). But once economics are involved, politics have to become involved in order to protect trade investments. (I know this may be a point of contention, but simply put, do we really believe, given fallen human nature, that without political involvement trade will always proceed peacefully and justly?) And once politics are involved, then the military necessarily becomes involved, at the very least as a means of last resort.

    This does not mean that a global power must needs be overbearing in dealing with other nations. Hubris is always a problem when power is involved. But here there are also important questions to ask. Why is a particular nation a global power? If it is because it is doing things right, one could make an argument for having a stronger influence on neighbors, allies, and others. If it is because it is doing things wrong, then one could make the argument that national influence should be kept to a minimum. But then, who thinks it is going to be one way or another?

    Let’s look, for example, at the case of “exporting” democracy to the world. Now, we know that–for quite a while, anyway–that the American experiment of a democratic republic has worked with amazing results. Because we’re doing something right in here, it makes sense that we’d want to encourage others to do the same. What many–Bush included–got wrong was that they supposed some sort of “immaculate conception” of democracy, that anyone with a democracy will automatically find themselves in a better society. Yet underpinning the success of our democratic experience is the strong Christian principles that we are rapidly sloughing away. Without any firm grounding of moral, social, political, and even theological truths, democracy is nothing more than the “tyranny of the majority”. Anything goes, as long as a majority of people agree with it. Thus we have democracies that we’ve backed immediately elect terrorists into office, or at least people who hate Western values and would revert the newly democratic state back to a dictatorship.

    Back to the question of how influential a global power should be. This question essentially boils down to: what are the power’s legitimate needs, and how threatened is that power by other powers in the world? For example, how important was it to the United States to keep Hitler from conquering Europe? How important was it to the United States to keep Europe from falling under the Iron Curtain? How important is it to the United States to protect Europe from a) itself b) secularism and c) Islamic radicals? How important is it that United States deals with terrorism abroad? I’ll concur that Iraq wasn’t really necessary, by the way, but what about Afghanistan and the Taliban?

    Frankly, I think the United States could step back a ways from the national scene and let others shoulder some of the burdens, but we can’t forget that because of her power, the United States has grave responsibilities to the rest of the world. The degree of influence, I believe, is what we’re talking about, and let more learned men than myself haggle over the details.

  • “Agreed. I guess my contention is: I think we and the rest of the world have got used to the benefits of having some sort of global power keeping order — and none of the other candidates (as shown by the failures of the UN, EU, France, etc.) are really cut out to do the work.”

    Yup, I think they’ve gotten pretty used to having the military (and a large part the financial side) taken care of by the US. I just think there won’t be a desire by most countries to shoulder the responsibility their decisions will entail. At least not till we’ve refused to follow their lead and they’ve had to pay for the gas.

  • “Frankly, I think the United States could step back a ways from the national scene and let others shoulder some of the burdens, but we can’t forget that because of her power, the United States has grave responsibilities to the rest of the world.”

    I would agree. But I would also say the rest of the world has responsibilities towards the US in the use of its power. I think the debacle in diplomacy leading up to the Iraq war was fueled in large part by international powers not addressing legitimate US concerns. Also the occasionally hinted at hope for an Athens/Rome nature of a future European/American relationship smacks of European intellectual arrogance not to mention historical amnesia.

  • Ryan,

    a sphere of influence covering much of the known world and is repeatedly involved in exerting pressure or deploying force to ensure regional conflicts do not spin out of control

    I think you’ve done a great job of defending the notion that this interaction is largely good for the world.

    US of Empire…evils of colonialism

    I would suggest that opposition to the use of “empire” and “colonialism” to describe this interaction is in order as well. While it’s common in left-wing and certain right-wing rhetoric to use such language, I think that America’s world position is decidedly different from one of colonialism or empire. All of the nations in the US sphere of influence are completely free to leave that sphere and many have. They do not need to fear military reprisal, or even, in most cases economic reprisal. The use of force or sanctions against any country by the US has not been a result simply of departing the “empire” but due to other obvious reasons.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • All of the nations in the US sphere of influence are completely free to leave that sphere and many have. They do not need to fear military reprisal, or even, in most cases economic reprisal.

    You ARE aware of the history of u.s. military interventions since WWII, right? A good overview is William Blum’s book Killing Hope. It may open your eyes just a little bit.

  • How about the Friedman-ites’ economic meddling in Central and South America, oftentimes complemented by U.S. military power…

  • Michael,

    I am aware of the history of u.s. military interventions since WWII. Why don’t you tell me which ones involve a state that tries to leave the US sphere of influence and is met with reprisals? Of course, the example could not involve cases where US citizens are kidnapped or killed, US embassies are bombed, genocide or massive human rights violations are involved, as those circumstances would at least arguably be the principle reason for the US reprisal.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Mark,

    perhaps it would be best to discuss a particular instance rather than vague generalities?

    To be clear, US foreign policy has not always been ethical, and benevolent to a particular country. I’m simply on the one hand agreeing with DarwinCatholic’s assertion that US interactions have on the whole been beneficial, and on the other hand that the US sphere of influence can not be reasonably called an “empire”.

    When Ceasar puts down a rebellion he doesn’t do it with economic meddling or low-level covert operations….

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Interesting post, DC… it reminds me of a a couple books that I’d started back in November but had to return to the library before I could finish (all in good time, I guess), both by Andrew Bacevich, a conservative who came to see US policy and culture as overly militarized. (It’s one of those unfortunate realities of human nature that I was more willing to give this thesis a hearing from someone like Bacevich precisely b/c of our broader agreements… I need to keep working on that. 🙂

    He did prompt me to reexamine some of the premises which serve as the foundation for my own views on US foreign policy, among them my somewhat reflexive assumption that a foreign policy which has (military) power projection as a key component is an absolute. As he notes, this is a view which is taken for granted on both sides of the aisle in Washington, but which *needs* to be reconsidered.

    More apropos to DC’s post, I think we need to look again at the idea that if we don’t do “it”, no one else will… perhaps that’s true, but perhaps rather than simply going it alone, we might make new, differing attempts to rally others to the cause (advancing the common good of humanity). People who’ve known me for years will be shocked that I’m saying this, but wouldn’t it be great if we could redirect a significant portion of our defense budget in another manner, whether by giving it back (tax cuts), paying down the debt, or other domestic programs?

    Okay, time to shut down the rambling. As I said, DC, nice post.

    (Sorry for the absence of late, btw… between work, holidays, impending birth, and sickness, it’s been a crazy couple months.)

  • Matt,
    Read about Guatamala in 1954. The coup backed/initiated by the Eisenhower administration against the socialist government.

  • How do you see the principle of subsidiarity coming into play, in the situation of a U.S “empire” generally, but especially in those countries that experience the influence of the U.S.?

  • Zak,

    I won’t defend the CIA backed coup in 1954. However, let’s be honest about the facts around it and the concerns that led to US support for it.

    Unlike you I will actually make a case instead of telling you to read a book. In my point that this was not empire-building it is necessary to consider the point of view of American leadership, and not 20/20 hindsight.

    1. Arevalo the overthrown leader’s predecessor had greatly expanded freedoms and was moving Guatemala towards stable democracy while preserving a free-market economy. At the same time, there was a degree of communist penetration into his administration.

    2. The key opponent of Arbenz to succeed Arevalo, Franciso Arana was killed in a gunfight. While it appears this was the result of a failed coup on his part, Arbenz and Arevalo concealed this and reported that he was killed by unknown assassins. This led CIA to conclude that Arbenz had done away with his opponent to ensure his subsequent electoral victory.

    3. The US initially had hoped to work with Arbenz and considered him a moderate. He received US military aid early in his regime.

    4. Communism was becoming stronger under Arbenz. Given the the Cold War, a strong communist presence in Central America was seen as a serious threat to US security.

    5. As Arbenz electoral coalition began to fold, he relied heavily on his close friends in the PGT (communist party), this was particularly concerning to the US.

    6. A “land reform” law (read confiscation of private property, which was ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court untel Arbenz fired all the justices) that was believed to be initiated by PGT began to radicalize the moderate revolution which had been occurring in Guatemala. This radicalization would empower the PGT, and was thought to be under the influence of the Soviet Union. This radicalization was criticized by the Catholic Church.

    Subsequent investigations have mostly proven that the action taken by the US was not justified, and was unduly influenced by private concerns (US Fruit), that doesn’t change the fact that at the time the US was deeply afraid of communist expansion. Bear in mind that this was during the Korean War, which we suspected then, but now know involved participation of the Soviet Union in attempting to expand communism by force in a region that it was able to establish a foothold.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Kyle,

    US foreign policy does not well respect the principles of subsidiarity, buy then again neither does the federal government’s domestic policy, at least since FDR.

    On another note, if the US “sphere of influence” is an “empire” it seems to be a particularly ineffective one because we can’t even get our “colonies” to vote with us in the United Nations.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Matt,

    I think that you’re right generally speaking “sphere of influence” is a more accurate term than “empire” for what the US currently has. The reasons I chose to use the more inflammatory terms were basically:

    1) A case of adopting the terminology of those who advocate a much smaller global role for the US while arguing challenging their assumptions as to whether those terms necessarily connote something negative.

    2) Trying to work towards awareness. It strikes me that in many ways the US right now is in the position of the Roman Republic circa 200-150 BC, post Carthage but prior to actually taking control of any lands outside of Italy. At that point, it did not have an “empire” but was behaving increasingly imperial in the sense of enforcing order outside Roman territory, and then retreating back to Italy once they’d secured a friendly power in charge.

    It strikes me that if this way of looking at the US position in the world is accurate, it’s important to realize it so that we can make the right kind of decisions for ourselves and for others. In many ways, it was the Romans’ refusal to admit that they were running an empire of influence that led to some of their decisions which resulted in running an empire of direct authority instead.

  • Kyle,

    From a subsidiarity point of view, I don’t really like the situation, though as I said: One of my fears is that since we’ve effectively been doing this for the last 60 years, we can’t really back out now without either passing power pretty obviously to another power (as the Brits did to us after WW2) or creating a lot of chaos.

    However, I think the right course of action would be to maximize subsidiarity within the existing order in the sense of being clear about what sort of things we _should_ push for in order to maintain international order and otherwise knowing to back the heck off and let people do their own thing.

  • Michael & Mark,

    I’m not trying to argue by any means that every time the US has intervened in international situations in the last 60 years, it necessarily made things better or did the right thing. More that the benefits of the US being an empire of sorts outweight the negatives — and that since this seems to be the situation it should perhaps be acknowledged more clearly in order to maximize benefit and minimize harm.

    Nor would I necessarily say that the US has some sort of innate right to hold this role, or is ordained by God to do so or some such nonsense. Clearly, other nations have done similar things before, with varying results. The Soviet empire was pretty appalling. The British empire a mixed bag but certainly seems to have done the “anglosphere” a lot of good in the long term. The Hellenistic Greeks and the Romans both ran empires that were are times cruel and clumsy and oppressive in their actions, and yet in the long run did the world great benefit.

    I’m mostly arguing that we should both recognize what we are for what we are, and following from that seek both to do the best that we can at the position that we have taken upon ourselves and also think to the future and make sure that we work well with our potential successors (at the moment, India springs to mind) since no nation holds international hegemony forever.

  • Darwin/Brendan,

    a fair point, I guess I’m a little leery of surrendering the language on this. Your concern about crossing a threshold to true empire is valid, and something that is important to discuss while attempting to avoid the blind rhetoric.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Matt,
    My principle goal was to point out to you a case where a state tried to leave the US sphere and was met with reprisals. Your description of the events makes clear that you recognize that it happened, so your scepticism about it in your comment to Michael seems unwarrented. I will not defend Arbenz, but I will say that “fear of Communism” is the position used to justify a multitude of sins in US foreign policy, just as fear of Islamic extremism has been used to justify torture, preventive war, and a foreign policy that has diminished our ability to secure allies to achieve our goals.

  • principal, not principle, althoughI think my goal was principled.

  • DC,
    Are you familiar with the work done on Empire as an alternative model of international relations (as opposed to anarchy, unipolarity); not as a pejorative criticism? One of my professors at Georgetown, Daniel Nexon, has been exploring this subject at length.

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=F0168951CF6824F3DB911A28D402F80E.tomcat1?fromPage=online&aid=1028252

    He argues that since WWII, the structure of international relations has definitely been imperial, and that understanding US relations with Pakistan, for example, is best done using this framework (like understanding Roman relations in the Near East from 50BC through 100AD).

  • Zak,

    My principle goal was to point out to you a case where a state tried to leave the US sphere and was met with reprisals. Your description of the events makes clear that you recognize that it happened, so your scepticism about it in your comment to Michael seems unwarrented.

    I guess I should have been more clear in my post and that is my fault. Referring back to my original post:
    The use of force or sanctions against any country by the US has not been a result simply of departing the “empire” but due to other obvious reasons.

    The other obvious reasons are fear of Communist take-over followed by aggression which would ultimately lead to the destruction of the USA and her allies.

    I will not defend Arbenz, but I will say that “fear of Communism” is the position used to justify a multitude of sins in US foreign policy,

    It was expressly not my intent to defend this, or any other particular US action, but to demonstrate that it was not aimed at building or maintaining an empire, but at protecting itself from Communism (justifiably or not).

    just as fear of Islamic extremism has been used to justify torture, preventive war, and a foreign policy that has diminished our ability to secure allies to achieve our goals.

    Are you saying that the fear of communism or Islamo-fascism are not legitimate and grave enough to take extraordinary measures?

    In any event, there is no justification for torture, nor has their been any significant defense of it. Only an important argument about what torture is.

    God Bless,

    Matt
    ps. on a side note, I think the people of Guatemala today are doing much better than those still imprisoned under Castro…The ensuing events in Cuba suggest that the dangers of a communist takeover were serious and long-lasting to the inhabitants and to the USA.

  • I’m mostly arguing that we should both recognize what we are for what we are, and following from that seek both to do the best that we can at the position that we have taken upon ourselves and also think to the future and make sure that we work well with our potential successors (at the moment, India springs to mind) since no nation holds international hegemony forever.

    On the contrary, rather than simply “recognizing what we are,” perhaps we can think of what we are called to do christologically (as we are supposed to do in ethics, right?). The united states, rather than “recognizing what we are” needs to engage in a little bit of political kenosis or self-emptying, as Paul talks about. If Jesus is really Lord, and if we are really supposed to follow him, then we can’t isolate our foreign policy from his influence.

  • Pingback: Empire, What’s it Good For? « The American Catholic: Politics and Culture from a Catholic perspective