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An unscrupulous empire stands for fall

In the Shadows of the American Century. The Rise and Decline of US Global Power
Forfatter: Alfred W. McCoy
Forlag: Ateneo de Manila University Press (Filippinene)
In a new book, Alfred W. McCoy collects his analysis of the United States as an empire. He describes how the violence perpetrated on the periphery will always accompany home.


War always returns home. It is one of the historian Alfred W. McCoy's central points in the description of the United States as a global empire, and he has based that understanding on his own life experiences. He was born in 1945, at the end of World War II, which also marked the beginning of American warfare worldwide. McCoy's own father was in the Army, and so were most of the other fathers he knew. On the outside, it looked nice: “Wherever we settled, our neighbors were much like us — father, war veteran, mother, suburban housewife, two or three children, a dog, a small house, a loan, a car, a local church. , crowded schools, and, of course, the scouts. When I went to elementary school, it all felt just fine. "It seemed as if America had won more than one war." But it turned out that there was a «dark side», hidden under the «glow of prosperity». Drunkenness, violence and suicide due to the psychological damage of the war, which it must not be said that the fathers had incurred, and McCoy soon learned that «Washington's desire for power had great costs». Exactly how big did he get the opportunity to study further when he later trained as a historian.

Distilled analysis. In the Shadows of the American Century is a distilled analysis based on McCoy's historical studies of, among other things, the CIA's involvement in drug production, the establishment of the military-industrial complex, and the use of the former colony of the Philippines as a laboratory for surveillance technologies. The first part of the book introduces the phenomenon of geopolitics and its historical rise, and describes US strategies to secure global domination, which has not infrequently included active support for the establishment of dictatorial states and other questionable activities such as torture, even long before the images of Abu Graib went viral . The second part draws attention to the development of boundless surveillance capabilities and the transformation of US military influence from traditional weapons power to high-tech cyber warfare, while the third sets up scenarios for the perhaps end of the 'American century'.

The war always returns home.

Megalomania. The CIA, the US military and US officials, politicians and diplomats have – for decades, using totally unscrupulous methods – tried for decades to force American interests globally by launching or influencing the outcome of events in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. McCoy convincingly and mercilessly describes the disastrous consequences, both when the project succeeded and when it failed. However, there is something inherently megalomant not only in the United States' struggle for global domination, but also in McCoy's analysis of the same. It can be difficult to be different. Of course, in order to describe the extent of American interference in the course of the world, the emphasis must be on US actions and responsibilities. But precisely that framework of the storytelling momentarily also gives the feeling that McCoy paradoxically – from his admittedly critical vantage point – shares the US state's view of the world as the almost passive object of American interests. It does not change, however, that the vantage point of the analysis of the greatness and possible fall of the United States is insightful, and has demanded courage to build.

In the introduction, McCoy – with the resilience of a well-written crime novel – tells the story of his own first encounter with the intelligence service. As a young history student in the early 1970s, he set out to investigate the background of the massive heroin abuse among American soldiers in Vietnam. He started in the archives with colonial reports on the opium trade in Southeast Asia and ended with a manuscript that caused a CIA leader to – in vain – force the publisher to stop publishing. "After the defeat in the public arena, the CIA retreated into the shadows and took revenge by weaving in every possible thread of a university student's modest life," McCoy writes. The descriptions of the web of militarization and intelligence into which the historian's own life was concretely entangled, and which have since been stretched ever tighter all over the world, are at once sober and unforgiving. The nerve in the introductory chapter, where McCoy describes his upbringing with a father, and the fathers of friends who brought the violence of war home to the living rooms, runs throughout the book. It is the nerve that makes it possible to absorb the book's occasionally endless stacks of cold facts about gun power and opium production.

Well, the US empire is built with military force, but it is backed by global economic infiltration.

The teachings of Vietnam. In the Shadows of the American Century comes only very sparingly around American business interests, including with loose references to Pentagon's alliances with private arms and technology suppliers and the construction of a 'military-industrial complex'. It would have contributed to the explanatory effect if McCoy had pursued relations with American private companies, and perhaps instead saved on the weapon-nosed detail of the armaments descriptions. The US empire is indeed built with military force, but backed by global economic infiltration.

McCoy estimates that the United States is a soon-to-be former global empire. But if anything could save hope for those who continue to believe that the world is better off with American domination, it would, according to McCoy, be the "technological revolution in defense planning" that was put in place under President Obama, namely capacity building to "cyber warfare and full-scale militarization of space": "While America's economic influence is waning, this breakthrough in 'information warfare' may become crucial if its global hegemony somehow survives into the 21st century." However, the historian recalls – with reference to Vietnam – «history offers some pessimistic parallels in terms of the possibility of maintaining regional or global hegemony using militarized technology alone».

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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