When most foreigners think of the United States, particularly those in the Third World, they think not of hamburgers, baseball, and apple pie, but of constant bombings, destruction of infrastructure, and sanctions. This perception is not unfounded. On September 16, 2007, members of the American private security contractor Blackwater shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square. Known as Baghdad’s “Bloody Sunday”, this horrific massacre violated the Geneva Conventions, making it unlawful. Given that terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”, the events of that September day, without a doubt, constitute an act of terror. I argue that because imperialism is inherent to capitalism and that imperialism is inherently terroristic, the status of the United States as the biggest empire in the world makes its government, in turn, the biggest terrorist organization in the world.
Capitalism necessarily gives rise to imperialism
In general, capitalism starts its development as a progressive force, both socially and economically. However, as time passes, it must become more parasitic as labor is wasted in nonproductive sectors such as speculation. This as well as capitalism’s upholding of the sanctity of private property causes society’s productive forces to be held back. In addition, the primary measure of the success of capitalism is its ability to generate profits for the capitalist, which cannot be generated except through the exploitation of the worker. Each individual worker must produce a higher value than the value that is compensated to them via a wage. Because the worker is getting paid lower than the value that they produce, this is exploitation.
That being said, wages, or variable capital, are not the only cost of production under capitalism. The rest of the costs include raw materials, wear and tear on machines, and others. These other costs constitute constant capital, which, when combined with variable capital, form the total capital advanced. When combined with surplus value — what is left after wages are subtracted from the total value produced by a worker — the value of the final product is derived. Therefore, the rate of profit can be found by dividing surplus value by the total costs, or total capital advanced. The higher the proportion of constant capital in total capital, the lower the rate of profit. Thus, capitalism results in the rate of profit inevitably falling over time, necessitating aggressive expansion and the extraction of super-profits at home and abroad to sustain itself. In short, imperialism.
For this reason, imperialism is considered the highest stage of capitalism. Defined by Lenin as “the monopoly stage of capitalism”, cyclical economic crises combined with the advantages held by large companies over smaller firms lead to the swallowing up of these businesses by large firms. The number of businesses, therefore, get smaller and smaller, producing monopolies, first within a country via colonies and neo-colonies, then across the global market. At the same time, the race between advanced capitalist countries to establish “spheres of influence” begins. Because uneven economic development of these colonies exists, there is no possibility of the redistribution of resources and markets, leading to inter-imperialist rivalry.
How the military preserves corporate interests abroad
So what role does the military play? For starters, transnational corporations use political and military capital to protect their investments. As the enforcement arm of the state, the military is “progressively subordinated to the interests of one section of the capitalist class while the system’s growing contradictions lead to increasing state intervention”. Today, transnational corporations have a tremendous amount of economic power, made possible by the military and political power of advanced capitalist nations. The military ensures that these corporations have access to raw materials and markets world wide, causing a state of constant warfare and conflict that continues to this day.
Being a capitalist nation, the interests of the American working class and the interests of the capitalist are necessarily at odds with one another. Because the US Armed forces is one of a capitalist nation, an advanced capitalist nation at that, it cannot be anything other than a means to protect the profit margins of private corporations. How else could it prop up some repressive regimes while subjecting other, equally repressive regimes, to sanctions, coups, and other forms of sabotage?
According to a study by Lars Schoultz, the US has given aid “distributed disproportionately to repressive governments”. The study was done over a 5-year period, sending questionnaires to 91 people, all of whom had done work on the subject or were associated with human rights organizations. The response rate was 42%. Of the 38 respondents, all were associated with NGOs in some capacity. The study found that there was a strong positive correlation between aid distributed to Latin American countries and the number of human rights violations by said countries.
Chile’s 9/11: the overthrow of Salvadore Allende
In 1958, Salvadore Allende, a committed Marxist, came within 3% of winning the Chilean presidency. Panicked by this, they decided to back Eduardo Frei in the 1964 election. More than half of the funding for the campaign came from the CIA, even reducing the capacity of the US Treasury. The Agency started a massive fear campaign, warning the relatively more religious women of the “godless, atheistic commies”, of Russian control, and of the left’s inclination to confiscate everything “near, dear, and holy”. The propaganda worked. Allende was obliterated by Frei, who received 56% of the vote to Allende’s 39%. 6 years later, Allende beat Jorge Allegrini. After attempting to bribe the Chilean Congress to select Allegrini instead of Allende, the US threatened economic sanctions against Chile if Allende was made president. They did not work. On November 3, 1970, Salvadore Allende took office, attempting to “lift Chile from the mire of underdevelopment and dependency and the poor from deprivation” (Blum). Overnight, economic aid disappeared, causing massive shortages.
For three years, a destabilization process took place, wearing down the patience of the public. Finally, on September 11, 1973, Allende was overthrown by the US government and Augusto Pinochet was installed. During his regime, over 40,000 people were killed, forcibly disappeared, kidnapped, tortured, or exiled. Despite American sabotage, Allende’s government managed to eke out a respectable rate of economic growth. Under Pinochet, growth rates were “well below the Chilean average established over the 1950-1972 period”. Unemployment rose significantly, creating a significant increase in corruption.
US intervention in Chile turned the Latin American country from a rising power to a terrifying hellscape. This could only have been possible due to the disproportionate amount of influence transnational corporations, especially the oil industry, had on the creation of American foreign policy in Latin America.
Libya: From the richest country in Africa to open-air slave markets
Oil has turned out to be a major driving force in the United States’ operations in the Middle East as well. Fought under the pretext of “ending terror”, its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have recorded casualties that total over 800,000 people. This does not include “indirect deaths” — deaths caused by displacement and destruction of infrastructure. Nor does it likely capture the actual number of Iraqis, Afghans, and other Middle Easterners killed by US soldiers since 9/11. According to a 2017 report by the New York Times, the actual number of civilian casualties perpetrated by forces in the Middle East is “more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition… this may be the least transparent war in recent American history”. When taken into consideration, the fact that the official number is off by such a large factor from the actual number is too statistically significant to be a mere innocent error. As of 2019, “more civilians have been killed by American forces than by the Taliban”. The United States, in short, kills more civilians than the terrorists they are supposedly there to fight.
Concurrent with the wars in the Middle East, the United States also destabilized the state of Libya, undoing years of economic growth and development.
By 2011, Libya under the leadership of Muammar Gadaffi was the richest country in Africa. Libyan citizens had control over major decisions regarding the economy, education, budgets, and more. Social welfare programs guaranteed all citizens’ basic needs, resulting in a 0% homelessness rate. Along with free education and healthcare, mothers were subsidized to the tune of thousands of dollars, which allowed them to take care of their children, buy a home, or put it back in the economy as disposable income. Gaddafi’s irrigation project ensured all Libyans had access to clean water, including those in remote areas.
Supported by poor Libyans and minorities, Gaddafi advocated the nationalization of Libya’s oil and the creation of an African currency that would make the US dollar and Euro obsolete. This threatened American interests in the region. The media, egged on by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton manufactured consent for an American intervention in Libya, calling the faux uprising against Gadaffi a movement of “people fighting for freedom” and comparing the Libyan leader to Hitler. In March of 2011, the US began bombing Libya, providing military support to al-Qaeda in an attempt to topple Gadaffi. Although this aid was left over from America’s aid to the mujahideen in the 1979 Soviet-Afghan War, this aid was used against the Libyan regime. Because the mujahideen eventually split into Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), this amounts to the United States funding these terrorist groups.
Terror was unleashed on the minorities of the once-rich country, but this would be nothing compared to what befell those Libyans in the aftermath. No stable government. Rampant human trafficking. No access to school. Destroyed water supplies. Infrastructure crumbling mess. In short, a humanitarian crisis caused solely by the United States government. The US chose the destruction of a country over having to deal with slightly less influence in Africa.
So the question is not whether the American government has and continues to commit war crimes, but whether individual soldiers should collectively be held accountable for war crimes committed under the American flag.
One response apologists for American imperialism like to give is that interventions such as those described above were necessary to protect our freedoms. Freedoms of whom? No American intervention since the Second World War has been triggered by an attack by another sovereign nation on American soil.
Nevertheless, the military has been involved in hundreds of interventions around the globe. So who benefits from this constant state of warfare? Boeing. Northrop-Grumman. Raytheon. Lockheed-Martin. In short, the military-industrial complex. Trillions of dollars spent on wars, military equipment, and mass incarceration at the expense of improved infrastructure, affordable healthcare, and solutions to climate change.
“They just wanted to pay for college!”
Apologists like to argue that most soldiers are poor, and therefore have no choice but to join the military. Firstly, this makes them nothing more than mercenaries. As Niccolo Machiavelli said, “mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of god nor fidelity to men.”
Murdering innocent people under the altar of empire is never the only option; it is merely the easiest. In addition, most soldiers come from middle-class or military families — hardly scraping the bottom of the barrel. According to an article by the Economist, recruits have a median income of $73,000 ($66,000 for civilians) and a median wealth of $87,000 ($10,000 more than civilians). Recruiters tend to target “the upwardly mobile offspring of serving personnel and their communities.”
In other words, military personnel, in most cases, would be no worse off if they did not serve in the Armed Forces than if they did. They choose to murder innocents and become war criminals. Treating them as if they have no agency whatsoever is an affront to the victims of American imperialism.
Aside from being yet another iteration of determinism – the philosophy that all events are determined in whole by previous events – this excuse is completely hypocritical. No person worth their salt would suggest that history forgive the members of the Wehrmacht even though a third of them were drafted. How, then, can history forgive soldiers, all of whom choose to join the army, all of whom choose to occupy lands that are not theirs, who violate the Geneva Conventions with respect to the treatment of prisoners of war? The world today is vastly different from the world of the 1940s, especially with the pervasiveness of the internet. In the 1940s, the judges ruled at the Nuremberg Trials that “just following orders” was no excuse for the war crimes perpetrated by Nazi soldiers, even though they presumably had no knowledge of the horrific war crimes committed. How then can the American soldier, with the wealth of knowledge available today via the Internet, be allowed to hide behind the excuse of “getting duped by propaganda”?
The only “freedom and democracy” imperialist soldiers protect is the freedom of the military industrial complex to line its pockets, and democracy for the ruling capitalist class. To humanize American and other imperialist soldiers is to dehumanize their victims. When we lay down wreaths for fallen soldiers, not a word is said about the oppressive systems they protect. Not a thought devoted to the fact that these same soldiers are not “defending freedom and democracy” at all, but occupying foreign lands, butchering innocents in their own homes. Not even a thought to the victims of the soldier’s actions in their country of death. Imperialist soldiers are nothing more than colonizers, and deserve nothing more than to be cast aside and treated as the war criminals that they are.