Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Is McDonald's an Imperial Power

Classic imperialism is defined as a policy of extending control or authority over foreign entities or countries as a means of acquisition and maintenance of empires. Usually this applied to the direct territorial conquest of these entities or countries. This form of imperialism describes the Roman and Persian Empires as well as the European Empires of the 19th Century. These empires were essentially the expansionist adventures by stronger nations over weaker ones primarily for the purpose of monetary gain via taxes or enslavement. None of these empires proved stable or enduring although to some extent they did have a residual cultural influence.

The term “Imperialism” was actually coined in the mid-1800’s to reflect the expansionist policies of the European countries – primarily France and England. It was argued by Lenin as well as other anti-capitalists that capitalism induced imperialism because these capitalist countries had to find new markets for their goods and new sources for the needed raw materials. However, this argument rings hollow because no demonstration is offered showing that capitalism is the root cause of expansionist policies. Even if these countries had not been capitalist but instead socialist, communist, or even some other alternative, could they have grown and prospered without looking externally for resources and markets? The historical fact is that the greatest of the Communist Regimes, founded by Lenin was imperialistic and became the USSR, so the logical conclusion is that capitalism is not the driver of imperialism or expansionist policies.

More recently it has been argued by Marxist scholars who are unwilling or incapable of abandoning their view that capitalism is the root of all evil, that capitalistic international trade and banking is the driver of Imperialism. This argument seems to be mounted in order to forgive the USSR its demonstrated imperialism. Unfortunately it seems the USSR fragmented but prospered once it abandoned the Marxist policies of central planning and government control and introduced capitalism. Now it can be argued that it is capitalism that drives political freedom as well as economic vitality. This has been illustrated more recently as the Peoples Republic of China moves increasingly to a capital orientation. In fact the current PRC more closely resembles the old Imperial China than it does the People’s Paradise that the Marxist apologists would have you believe.

Furthermore, if international trade is an indicator of imperialism then the most imperialistic nation on the planet is the PRC. They manufacture and export more goods than they import and they dominate the world markets. This view of international market expansion is true of other nations as well so international trade per se does not seem to be a good indicator of either imperialism or expansionism. So this brings us to the issue of the World Trade Organization and the impact open markets have on the international community. Products are financed by country A, manufactured in country B, and sold in countries C and D, by country A. The implication is that country A is exploiting the workers in country B by paying wages lower than they would have paid in Country A and that by selling their products in countries C and D they are denying work to the people in those countries. Obviously the inference is that had not country A sold their products in these countries someone would have produced the same product locally. Unfortunately this isn’t quite how it works. Work is being generated in all of these countries because people must organize and distribute these products. The focus is on the manufacturing rather than on the selling, distribution, or the law of supply and demand. It is also worth noting that the greatest beneficiary of these trade policies has been the PRC and third world countries whose revenues have increased while the trade deficit of the most capitalist country in the world has increased. And this brings us to the nub of the problem and that is the growing Americanization of the world. Those who feel that America is to blame for the world’s ills, have now coined a new version of imperialism and that is “Cultural Imperialism”

This form of imperialism is associated with America primarily although both Russia and China have not only practiced classic imperialism but have also forced their culture onto other countries who they have occupied. However, even though these countries have received some condemnation for these actions, they have largely been ignored by the international community while the United States is viewed as the epitome of an imperialistic nation. France in particular has adopted strong measures against “Americanization” and much of the Islamic violence is being justified on the basis of resisting the erosion of Islamic values by America’s cultural imperialism.

Clearly the US is not a classic imperialist nation and this is evidenced by the withdrawal of American forces from every country they have had to liberate from invaders and this includes France as well as Haiti and it can be argued that the Haitians would be a great deal better off under American control. Instead this charge against the US rests on the spread of American culture through the internet, Television, Cinema, and of course food, with McDonalds being the visible manifestation of American domination. American English has become the lingua franca of the world. Virtually everyone in the world speaks English and protesters write their signs of protest in English so when their protests are broadcast via satellite television everyone will be able to read them. After all not many people can read Chinese, Swahili, or Urdu, but virtually everyone can read English. Because American television and movies are seen worldwide, American customs and styles are in great demand. Hence you see people in some very remote places wearing sweatshirts and T-shirts carrying the names of American Universities and wearing baseball caps. Usually these products are not manufactured in the United States and may not even be sold by an American company, but they represent America and the desire by others to be “American”, which is actually a state-of-mind”.

Then of course we have McDonalds and Coca Cola who represent the physical imperialism of America. These products are in great demand and the largest McDonalds in the world is in Russia. Obviously the local people want these products or these companies would simply close up shop and leave, but these companies are growing and expanding everywhere. What is not noted is that they also create jobs in the host country and generate revenues via taxes. Since these companies as well as Burger King, Starbucks, Microsoft, and others are in great demand and expanding with demand we can conclude that the people do not view America as either evil or imperialistic, so who does? Certainly the French government sees America as imperialist and is fighting a losing battle against the “Americanization” of the French Language. American English – like America itself is a polyglot – where words from virtually every language in the world are simply adopted and used which has made English the most subtle and expressive language in the world. The French government wants to keep French “pure” but that is impossible because they cannot compete with the sheer volume of new words. But the French are rather silly and don’t really represent any serious threat to the US.

The greatest threat to America comes from Islam and it is the spread of American culture and ideals which drive their violence toward America. America is called the “Great Satan” which is a term generally misunderstood by the West. Satan is the tempter – the evil one who corrupts and leads souls astray and in this context it is easy to see how America can be viewed as the Great Satan. We have freedoms unheard of in other parts of the world and these are viewed and demonstrated in television and movies everyday. We have great wealth and this is demonstrated as well and it is these things that motivate others who covet a better life. Virtually everything – good and bad – is available in America and it is freedom to pursue individual happiness that sets America apart and drives the man-in-the-street to be more “American”. So it isn’t the average citizen who sees America as Imperialistic but rather it is the power elite and the religious leaders who oppose America and who accuse America of being imperialistic. The people want what they see America has and it is this demand that drives the demand for American culture, not some deliberate effort by America to obliterate the local culture. In fact, this resistance to Americanization is simply an example of Cultural Fascism where the local governments are using force both directly and indirectly to thwart the desires of their people.

So while Russia and China practiced forced cultural imperialism, America’s cultural domination is not via any government policy of the United States but is the result of the desires of the local populace to have the freedoms and wealth they see in the US. So is Ronald McDonald an imperialist? It seems a better question is “can imperialism be self-induced”? If people are voluntarily seeking to adopt American products and culture that hardly qualifies as imperialistic while the active resistance of their governments to their desire to be more American is cultural fascism.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Reflections on Life

My father passed away recently and this has caused me to reflect not only on his life but my life and how does anyone evaluate a life. How do you determine what constitutes a successful person or fulfilled life? How do you know that you have been successful? In fact what should you be successful at in order to be viewed as a success. My wife has pointed out that everyone is given roles to play in their life. They are called upon to be son or daughter, friend, aunt or uncle, husband or wife niece or nephew, father or mother, grandparent, student, teacher, wage earner, and the list is virtually endless. Everyone has roles they are offered to play and some are taken and some are not. Of those roles taken some are performed well, some not so well, and others may be total failures. For example it is possible to a brilliant executive but poor husband, and failure as a parent or conversely a person can be a great parent but a failure in business or marriage.

We see statues of great men astride their horses and in heroic poses but is greatness or heroism a sign of success? Should we emulate these men? Should we teach our children to be like them? All of these questions lead to the same point and that is the definition of success and how do you evaluate a life. If you equate success to material possessions, heroic deeds, public acclaim, fame, awards, or similar public acknowledgements then only a small percentage of people in the world are successful. Therefore, these cannot be the marks of a successful life but if not then what can be viewed as the basis for a success?

First, I think most people are not capable of evaluating themselves because many people would see themselves as failures even though those about them would view them as wildly successful. Therefore, the evaluation must be done by others and the very basis of the evaluation must be the level of love and respect a person has from those around him. Has the person been committed to another person for a long period of time? Anyone who has been married for any period knows that every relationship has its ups and downs and that it requires commitment and work to maintain. Therefore, anyone who has been able to enter into a marriage and keep it intact for any length of time can be viewed as being successful in marriage. Of course this opens the door to the question regarding same sex “marriages”, which are legally disallowed. Well it seems to me that if any two people establish a long term relationship then they can be viewed as having been successful in a committed relationship.

What about those people who elect to never enter into a marriage or committed relationship – are they automatically failures? Suppose they have some defect, either physical or psychological that prevents them from entering into a committed relationship – does that automatically disqualify them from being recognized as a respected and loving individual? Are they automatically deemed failures in life? I think not, so the fact that an individual can point to a committed relationship over a long period does not automatically deem this person to have had a successful life or worthy of any more or less respect than some one who has not had this kind of a life.

Certainly respect must be earned but is it by itself enough to qualify a person as having had a successful life? I think this might be the least important criteria for evaluating a life because there are many people who have earned great respect but have failed as parents or spouses. I think Albert Einstein falls into this category as does Winston Churchill, but I suspect many business executives and community leaders might fall into this category as well. And this brings us back to the original point – how can you evaluate a life lived? I don’t have an answer to this question and I don’t think anyone else does either. I believe that no one can evaluate a life and conclude that it has been successful or unsuccessful. Of course at this point some will point out that Hitler could not possibly be viewed as having led a successful life, but then that is that person’s opinion and it might be shared by many but it certainly may not have been Hitler’s opinion of himself. There is no doubt that history renders a judgment on some of the prominent, but even there the evaluation of history ultimately is an opinion. Julius Caesar is one of those historical figures about whom history has shown a great deal of ambivalence. Napoleon is probably another who is viewed as monster by some and hero by others.

I think that it is only those people who have been closely associated with another person are qualified to evaluate that person’s life. Certainly, for some of the prominent and famous history may judge them to have been successful or not, but that is an outsider’s opinion and may not be the opinion shared by their families or even those who knew them well. So each of us, in the final analysis, can only be judged by those closest to us. It is our friends and family that ultimately determine if we have been successful. Are your children happy, successful, and independent? Do others speak of you with love and respect? Do others see you as a positive role model or as a negative one?

In reference to my father, I can only say that when I was married I felt that being a husband and father would be easy, all I had to do was to do the opposite of my father. Very quickly I found myself in situations where I thought well I will do what my dad did but I will simply do it better. This turned out to be a good plan but it wasn’t very long before I found myself struggling to do the things my dad did as well as he did them. Finally, I found myself hoping to attain his standard of conduct and falling short. So did my dad have a successful life – in my opinion he did and not only that, he provided a role model for conduct that few can attain and I certainly haven’t, although I try. I think my father was a very successful man and someone who had the love and respect of all who knew him. In the final analysis success is very elusive and may only be determined by the echo’s left behind.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How The World Turns

I am not a political analyst nor am I a military strategist, but I do read a great deal of history in terms of both subjects. Therefore, as I observe global events over the past several years I am beginning to wonder how much most Americans understand what is behind these events and their headlines. It seems to me that most Americans, like most Westerners, tend to think in terms of their culture and experience rather than historical perspectives, so I thought some insight might be in order.

Africa is a mess and it has always been a mess. The African Natives are tribal, they have always been tribal and continue as tribes even today. When a Westerner looks at Africa he sees a continent made up of various countries, but these countries are creations of the European Imperial Powers and bear no relationship whatsoever to the historical tribal boundaries. The result has been off and on again conflict between tribes and countries dominated by various tribal strongmen. It is also worthwhile noting that while the Europeans capitalized on the slave trade, the reality is that trade was going on between various African Tribes and the Arab Muslims to the East before the Europeans came on to the scene. Furthermore this trade continued up until the 1960’s when it was “officially” banned by the Saudi Government but there is every reason to believe it continues even today.

The countries across North Africa, with the exception of Egypt and possibly Ethiopia are creations of the Imperial Powers. Most of these countries as well as those of the Middle East didn’t exist until France and England carved up the Ottoman Empire. It is worth noting that the Ottomans controlled all of what is now known as the Middle East, all of North Africa, Spain, (until the 15th Century), much of the Balkans, Turkey, and Persia. This Empire was larger than the Roman Empire and was Muslim, although Christians and Jews were permitted to live within the Empire. Although the Ottoman Empire was viewed as a political entity by the West, in reality it was a Theocracy dominated by various Emirs, Aga’s, and other Religious leaders, it was never a political organization as experienced in the West.

Then we have the problems associated with the Pacific Rim. China is technically a “communist” nation but in reality it is simply following the historical pattern of a strong central government. It used to be an Imperial Nation but the strength of the central government has always ebbed and flowed dominated now by warlords and then by a strongman. The difference between the old imperial system and the current “communist” system is virtually invisible. The same is true of India, which has historically been fragmented into small states until the British came. Since that time they have more or less been forged into a nation but they continue to teeter on the brink of re-fragmentation. The more interesting point here is that both China and Japan have considered Korea to be source of slaves, to be exploited by first one then the other. Koreans are looked down upon by both the Chinese and Japanese. Until the 1950’s Korea was an insignificant backwater and the incursion of the Chinese Communists have left us with North Korea, which is led by a central figure Kim Il Jong, who is bent and determined to establish himself as a major political figure. All of these are historical perspectives that seem to be lost on the public at large.

In this context Christendom includes Christians, Jews, Atheists, and all others who are not Muslim. Christendom is characterized by a series of nation states, some democratic and some not, but all easily distinguished by borders and some sense of national identity. With some minor exceptions these nation states fight each other over various issues, usually regarding territory or economics, but rarely over religion. While it is true that when the West was emerging from the dark ages religion and religious wars were fought,but these largely disappeared by the 1600”s. The result is that today the West is comprised of nation states whose governments have authority and can be relied upon to act with authority.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the flaw in how the West is approaching the war on terror. For the typical Westerner, wars are fought between nation states over territory, economics, or resources, but never over an abstraction like freedom or religion. Because of this ingrained idea, the West continues to perceive Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and virtually all of the “nations” of the Middle East and Africa as “nations” run by a central government. They attempt to negotiate with these entities and to sign treaties without recognizing that these governments are inherently weak and are not viewed by the Muslim population as being independent of Islam or speaking for them.

The reality is that the Muslims have been dedicated to erasing all people and religions and are not interested in establishing any government other than an Islamic one based on Shar’ia Law. They are not interested in educating their people other than in Islam so they have no interest in technology, economics, education, or any culture other than Islamic. They do not believe in freedom of any kind and are dedicated to enforcing their view of the world. Most recently Israel gave up land to the Palestinians in a futile effort to buy peace and left behind green houses, buildings, and infrastructure. The Muslims came in and promptly destroyed all of it and continued to use the land to attack Israel. The strategy of “Land for Peace” failed and it will continue to fail because the Muslims do not want to create a modern state but want to destroy everything that is not Islamic. They want to return to the seventh century and “pure Islam”.

It is widely recognized that Iran is behind most – if not all – of the terrorism today, but rather than taking the battle to the Iranians, the West continues to focus on the offending “countries” as if the government of these “countries” had any authority over the people.

Iraq has historically been the seat of the Caliphate and thus the heart of Islam. It has been the seat of Muslim art and culture and has historically had a highly educated population. However, Muslims in general are not a highly educated people but that seems to be more of a symptom than a root cause of the anger and instability that characterizes Islam today. In fact there are two sides to the Islamic issue. On the external side there is the anger aimed at the West that is being channeled through religious activism. On the surface this appears to be the continuing effort by Islam to convert the world and stamp out all other religions. But to a large extent, this is really a ploy being used by Islamic leaders to distract their people from the gross mismanagement of their only revenue source which is oil. In the classic strategy of demagogues these religious leaders are using the West and Christendom as scapegoats for the appalling conditions that exist in most Muslim countries and this represents the internal conflict that is raging throughout Islam.

Islam is actually divided into the Sunni and the Shi’ia and this schism goes back to the 8th Century and rests on the dispute over who was (is) the true successor to Mohammed. Throughout history the Sunni’s have been the minority, but also the dominant sect who have exploited and abused the Shi’ia. With the overthrow of Shah the Shi’ia became the dominant sect in Iran. Iraq was a Sunni nation and Hussein attacked Iran for many reasons, but certainly one was to re-establish the Sunni dominance. When Saddam was overthrown that unleashed the Shi’ia who are out for revenge. But beyond this mundane seeking of revenge, behind the scenes is a power struggle that is raging over the leadership of Islam – the Caliphate. Osama bin Laden was well on the way to becoming the Caliph but when he was forced into hiding his power began to wane and others are attempting to establish their right to the Caliphate by attacking the West and indirectly the Sunni’s or the Shi’ia depending on which sect they belong to. The West is caught in the middle of this power struggle and until that is resolved it is unlikely the Muslims will stablize.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


  • I continue to be amazed how various pundits, politicians, reporters, and other military amateurs continue their relentless criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld and his conduct of the War on Terror. These people are no more qualified to critique the actions of the SecDef than I am and in fact being a student of military history, I might actually be more qualified. The latest attack(s) have been launched by the left through a number of Generals including Wesley Clark and Colin Powell. It is worth noting that both of these Generals are actually Pentagon Generals with little experience in Battle. Frontline Generals in the mode of Field Marshal Rommel and General Patton are hard to find today. In fairness General Powell did support and assist General Schwarzkopf in conducting the Gulf War. However, that was a classic war in the sense it was a war between nation states and conducted in the grand manner. We saw movements of air and sea forces, feints, flanking maneuvers, and everything conducted at the Division and Corps level. It was truly marvelous and perhaps the last war of this type ever to be fought. The War on Terror is much more intimate and the battles – such as they are – tend to be fought at the platoon or company level and sometimes at the Battalion level but for the most part the battles are intimate affairs. The generals who are being paraded about as experts are in reality not experts at all. They might be experts in classic warfare and capable of integrating air and sea with ground forces across a theater but that really isn’t what is going on today. We are being subjected to this avalanche of criticism by a group of arm chair wannabe generals and a gaggle of real generals who want to fight the only war they know how to fight, which unfortunately isn’t the current one. I offer some relevant quotes.

    I feel that retired generals should never miss an opportunity to remain silent concerning matters for which they are no longer responsible.
    General Norman Schwartzkopf

    Dead battles and dead generals are traps for the military mind

    If men make war in slavish obedience to rules, they will fail.
    General Ulysses S. Grant

    So what we are being subjected to is a gaggle of people who do not have any responsibility for the conduct of or the outcome of, the current conflict. On the one hand we have civilians who choose to view those captured on the battle field, not as prisoners of war but as some sort of oppressed person alleged to have committed a crime. These people are being held illegally and in violation of the American Constitution. How the American Constitution applies to people who are not citizens is unclear to me but apparently not unclear to others. What crime should these people be charged with? What kind of evidence can be supplied? The illogic of this position seems lost because it would virtually guarantee that most if not all of those being held would have to be relesed for lack of evidence. Under this contorted thinking all of the soldiers captured in WW II, Korea, and Viet Nam would have been released and sent back to their units.

    But these people were soldiers and under the rules of war they could be held without charges until the end of hostilities, but those people being held by the US today are not soldiers. If they aren’t soldiers what are they? Some describe them as “insurgents”, “militants”, and “freedom fighters”, but these are not soldiers because they don’t wear uniforms. Under the rules of war people engaged in actions against one of the combatants who are captured without a uniform can be treated as spies or saboteurs and summarily executed. So the reality is that the United States is treating these people more humanely than they deserve under the rules of war.

    As serious as this problem is and as much as it acts as a distraction to the military, the more serious problem is the constant criticism of how the war is being conducted. The reality is there are actually two wars under way and perhaps more depending on your view point. There is the War of Terror, which is really a misnomer for a general conflict between radical Muslims and the West. This is actually a global conflict being waged by Muslims against Christendom. This war was declared by Osama bin Laden and its objective is world domination by Islam and the installation of Shar’ia Law world wide. This is a war against all infidels and no quarter is asked or given. The result of this policy is attacks of civilians and the torture and murder of any captives. This war is being confused with the Iraqi War and the War in Afghanistan.

    These Wars are actually theaters in the War on Terror. There objective is to focus the conflict into a more controllable situation. The War in Afghanistan was intended to deny Islam a permanent base of operations and a training ground for their military who do not wear uniforms and who are trained to use the civilian population as shields. Operations in this theater are continuing with mixed success due to the tribal nature of the natives and the inability of the government to establish control. Unfortunately, the Islamic world is primarily composed of tribes and clans who give only limited notice to any central government. Their primary loyalty is to Islam and this makes establishing any kind of permanent government in Afghanistan problematic. The near term objective appears to be to deny the militant Muslims a base of operations and this appears to be successful, but the fighting goes on. It is worth noting that the Afghans historically fight each other and only band together to fight an outsider.

    The reality is that even if Afghanistan was totally pacified and a stable government in place, it is unsuitable militarily as a base of operations for the larger global conflict. Strategically Iraq is much more desirable because it has access to the sea, a large educated population, and most importantly it provides a buffer between Iran and Syria, the primary bases for the radical terrorists. Iraq has historically acted as the very heart of Islam and Baghdad has historically been the capital of the Caliphate. Iraq has a strong military and once this is restored it will keep Iran and Syria off balance, but that brings us to the other war which is being viewed as the Iraqi Civil War.

    Whether or not this is truly a civil war is not quite clear, but regardless of what it is it certainly represents a strategic problem if not a failure. Although the Iraqi’s generally are better educated than most of the Islamic World there is still a large population of less educated people, who are under the sway of the various religious leaders. These leaders have their own militias which are bad enough but these leaders are themselves divided into Sunni and Shi’ia. This division has split Islam since the 7th Century and although the Sunni’s represent the minority they have historically dominated the Shi’ia.

    Although this fact is well known it appears that the depth of this division was misjudged so with the fall of Hussein, the Sunni’s lost control and the Shi’ia are out for revenge. So the Americans are caught in the middle and the result is a three way battle. The Sunni’s and Shi’ites are merrily killing each other along with any “Crusaders” they find. While the majority of the Iraqi population are not really committed to any of these conflicts they remain in the background for fear of reprisals. The result is what appears to be a Civil War where the Americans are attempting to keep the combatants apart. The result is that there are calls for more troops and criticisms about the conduct of the conflicts. This situation cannot be won with more troops, because the best that could be achieved would be a cessation of the murder and mayhem only until the Americans withdraw which would be the signal for a real civil war that would be won by Iran.

    Clearly the strategic objective of a stable and secular Iraq is not beyond our grasp but the success of that strategy rests squarely on our ability to train a RELIABLE army composed of troops loyal to the government and not the Islamic Leaders. This does not require more troops but it does require commitment to see it through.

    The time has long past for the West in general and the American public in particular to wake up to the fact that we are engaged in a global conflict, not of our making and not of our choice, but it real and we are involved. We need to step back and view this with a broader view and stop carping about individual issues and second guessing those people trying to fight it.