The Anti-American American Empire

By Tony Pivetta.
Exclusive to STR
The Roman Empire produced few exportable goods. Material innovation, whether through entrepreneurialism or technological advancement, all but ended long before the final dissolution of the Empire. Meanwhile, the costs of military defense and the pomp of Emperors continued. Financial needs continued to increase, but the means of meeting them steadily eroded. [ . . . ] The decrepit social order offered so little to its subjects that many saw the barbarian invasion as liberation from onerous obligations to the ruling class.
~Arnold J. Toynbee and James Burke, as paraphrased by Wikipedia
The myth dies hard. Thomas E. Woods of the Mises Institute appeared last summer on Scott Horton’s radio program to try to kill it, as quite possibly only he can, but even his deft hands are full. He’s up against a fallacy, wrapped in a half-truth, inside a pseudo-patriotic shibboleth. It may well be that nothing’s more powerful than an idea whose time has come, but a carefully cultivated Big Lie will invariably give that timely idea a run for the money. People know what they know. They know war brings prosperity. They know because “World War II got the U.S. out of the Depression.” They know because the government schools told them “World War II got the U.S. out of the Depression.” Beyond that, they know because of what they see. They see the manufacturing might of the military-industrial complex (MIC). They see it employing land, labor and capital. They see its technological sophistication. They see the high-paying jobs.   
They don’t know what they don’t see. They don’t see war socialism. They don’t see resources redirected from the civilian economy to the MIC. They don’t see the capital formation foregone, the technological improvements precluded for lack of capital formation, or the jobs lost to more capitalized and efficient firms abroad. They don’t see consumer wants not met. What consumer wants are met by the MIC? Are American consumers’ appetite for automobiles, vacation homes and flatscreen TVs so sated they freely choose to drop their hard-earned dollars on aircraft carriers, nuclear missiles and helicopter gunships? Are those the kinds of goods they value?   
“To see what is in front of one’s nose,” wrote George Orwell, “requires a constant struggle.” Prof. Woods does well to bring the Broken Window Fallacy into his discussion: Frederick Bastiat’s classic parable illustrates the seen and unseen consequences of human action. We can only hope Prof. Woods and Monsieur Bastiat help Americans see what they don’t see, even as it dangles before their noses.           

Hardcore libertarians may well strike the root in protest: “Never mind the Broken Window! When you enlist a monopolist of violence, i.e., the State, to provide for a ‘public’ good or service, you’re bound to get a monopolist’s shoddy service at a monopolist’s dear price. Indeed, as time goes on, you’re bound to get precisely what the MIC has delivered: shoddier and shoddier service at a dearer and dearer price. The MIC, after all, is a creature of the State. You will bring it to heel only when all defense and security arrangements—local, state and national—are subject to the discipline of the market.”     
The debate between the anarcho-capitalists and minarchists will have to wait another day. For now, it will do to focus on the one issue that ought to unite libertarians of every stripe. This is not to say the entire libertarian platform isn’t compelling enough. The Fed does run a counterfeiting racket; putting dangerous substances into your body is no less natural a right than putting dangerous ideas into your mind; and welfare programs—whether intended for the “too big to fail” or the "truly needy”—are immoral (q.v., “Thou Shalt Not Steal”), decivilizing, unconstitutional, incentive-sapping and probably fattening. But not even the wickedness, futility and unmitigated imbecility of fiat currency, drug prohibition and forcible wealth transfers can compare with the wickedness, futility and unmitigated imbecility of empire. 
Alas, you’d never guess it from the edifice of responsible opinion positioned atop the culture. Establishment views rarely stray from that narrow range separating war liberals’ “muscular internationalism” from neocons’ “full spectrum dominance.” Liberals cheer on their peace president’s humanitarian bombing campaign—even as it succeeds not so much in liberating its presumed beneficiaries from their burqas as from their lives and limbs. Conservatives scoff at the notion government can run a daycare center—even as they insist it is fully qualified to run a global empire. The Globocop meme has done nothing to make Americans free or prosperous or secure. On the contrary, it has saddled Americans with the high taxes, surveillance and controls. It has fomented anti-Americanism abroad. It has incited terrorists to attack Americans. It has drained wealth from the American economy.  
Of course, none of the risk or expense of empire matters to the foreign policy elites and vested interests of the MIC. Nor, apparently, does it matter to grassroots superpatriots clinging to the Globocop meme. War is a force that gives their lives meaning. The superpatriots tell themselves, and anyone who will listen, that U.S. military intervention represents the greatest act of benevolence ever bestowed on one country by another. And they do so hate it when the wogs object! Where do these foreigners get off demonstrating against U.S. bombing and occupation? What ingrates! Don't they know it's only thanks to previous U.S. military interventions that they live in a free country in the first place? But there they go protesting! Just as if they live in a free country! 
All of which betrays the protesters’ "anti-Americanism." Never mind that the protesters would be doing Americans a big favor if they were to prevail. Never mind the money funding that U.S. military intervention might then stay in Americans’ pockets for Americans to spend on higher-valued goods. Never mind “higher-valued goods” in this case means just about anything, e.g., eight-track tapes, tarnished brass doorknobs and fetid heaps of llama droppings. Never mind American employers, employees, investors, inventors, entrepreneurs and consumers would see an increase in their disposable income. Never mind the entire American civilian economy would benefit from that increase in disposable income.

The superpatriots will hasten to remind us the protesters don't know what's good for them, that they’ll eventually be overrun by the Hitler du jour if the U.S. leaves them to their own devices. In the superpatriots’ view, the U.S. defense umbrella means no-cost security for the protesters. But even if we concede this strikingly dubious premise, who cares? Who cares if foreigners are passing up a bang-up security deal at American taxpayer expense? What devil drives the superpatriots to insist we pony up billions of dollars to pay for military protection for presumed ingrates living halfway around the world? What’s so pro-American about that? 

According to Congressman Ron Paul, Americans spend one trillion (yes, trillion) dollars a year (yes, per year) funding the U.S. military empire. That’s one trillion dollars that has nothing to do with the actual defense of actual Americans living on actual American soil. That’s $3,300 from every man, woman and child to defend foreigners who don’t want us defending them. You want more money in your pocket? You want more freedom and less government? Throw your lot behind the “anti-Americans” demanding your government mind its own business. Petition your government for a redress of grievances—a trillion dollar military subsidy for foreigners who hate us certainly qualifies! Come to the common sense realization that it's no more patriotic to support your government's warfare-state profligacy than its welfare-state profligacy.

"Yankee, go home"? Yes, Yankee, go home. Go home, stay home, and never stray from home again. Take the Yankee empire. Please take the Yankee empire. Roll it back. Roll it back from Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Roll it back from South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Columbia and Brazil. Roll it back from the Confederate States of America. Roll it back from Alaska, Hawaii and Michigan. Roll it all the way back to that cesspool on the Potomac. Collapse it into the Washington, D.C., municipal Sludge Hauling Department. You can't possibly enact a more pro-American foreign and economic policy than that.

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Tony Pivetta's picture
Columns on STR: 3

Tony Pivetta toils as a pension consultant in the greater Detroit area. As such he promotes retirement income security for the defined benefit plan participants of various and sundry woefully overtaxed, welfare-warfare burdened clients across the fruited plains of this increasingly crypto-fascist (well, increasingly fascist if decreasingly cryptic about it) land of ours. His fun-filled, action-packed career demands precision of thought, mathematical wizardry and fluency of expression. Tony lives with his wife and daughter in retro-hip, foreclosure-ridden Royal Oak, Michigan, where he pines for a bygone era in which baseball actively strove to maintain its integrity and continuity with the past. In his spare time he writes for libertarian websites, drawing dark parallels between the rise of publicly financed stadiums and the demise of both the Grand Old Game and the cause of American liberty.


Jim Davies's picture

"Conservatives scoff at the notion government can run a daycare center—even as they insist it is fully qualified to run a global empire."


B.R. Merrick's picture

Extraordinarily well written. I was thinking some of the very same thoughts this morning while working on my tiny, pathetic pecs, but not so much in economic terms, more politically.

There may very well be laws that have been passed that have benefitted my life in some way, but what was lost? What was the economic/emotional/political/social expense? In my mind, not a single "beneficial" law passed by a war-making government excuses the enormous hurt of this death-oriented machine. How have I truly benefited, and at whose expense? Since so many have been incinerated and their lives lost to history, I will never know, and that is far more serious to my mind than any perceived benefit from political solutions.

And I think the author's call for people to "[t]hrow your lot behind the 'anti-Americans' demanding your government mind its own business" is sage advice, but sadly that is not what was sold, which is still one of the reasons this war goes on. The effort was successully made to convince the populace that their very lives were dependent on stamping out terrorism, because 19 people who hailed from within the same geographic area allegedly pulled off the worst terrorist attack of all time live on television. I'm pretty sure that although it has diminished over 9 years, that one is still selling.

golefevre's picture

I think the largest fallacies that have to be overcome when dissuading Americans against war and empire are: 1. destruction of wealth through misallocation of capital is NOT paradoxical and 2. "supporting the troops" is NOT necessary to protect freedom. You've argued very well against both of these fallacies. How apt to your argument is the Georg Cantor quote at the top of the page today? Logic and clarity so easily confounds misconception (and I don't think Libertarian-minded folks like us are conceited to correctly identify fallacies where they exist) that the mind is naturally put into a defensive stance. Many times new ideas need time to permeate a thoughtful mind and although I'd be unlikely to get some of my friends to read Bastiat I am sure that I could very easily help them paint mental pictures of what they might use $3300 for if given the opportunity to decide rather than have it taken from them at the point of a gun for the MIC. Well done essay!

jd-in-georgia's picture

One can take a steak, season it and cook it to perfection and it would still be a steak. Now let's replace the steak with cow manure. Perhaps it can be seasoned to the point of palatability, but again it would still be just cow manure. Our big government chefs are convinced that this manure is good eating. They have been sampling out of the pot for so long that they are unaware that eating manure is just plain wrong.

Seriously, very good writing. Now if we can only hope that America is ready to brush their teeth and seek something else to eat besides manure.

Tony Pivetta's picture

I want to thank the posters for their kind words. This is a subject that has been eating at me for a long time. I don't understand it. What devil drives so many otherwise decent and intelligent human beings to embrace the homicidal humanitarianism of the American empire?

I blame Good War mythology. After all, Hitler was the very incarnation of evil! And without the American war machine, Hitler would have prevailed--not only in Europe but in North America! We'd all be speaking German were it not for FDR's far-sighted vision to suck the U.S. into World War II! (Thank God we didn't listen to that crypto-fascist Lindbergh!)

Never mind that Stalin was the one who took out 80 percent of the Wehrmacht. Never mind that "Uncle Joe's" Holodomor made Hitler's Holocaust look like a picnic! Never mind that Churchill and FDR directly targeted civilians for firebombing in Germany. Never mind Hiroshima and Nagasaki! All that, and World War II got the U.S. out of the Great Depression! What a deal! Let do it again and again and again!

How many goodly Military Keynesians are there here! How beauteous Globocop humanity is! Oh brave new world, that hath such benevolent butchers in it!

golefevre's picture

I recently spent some time driving through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming last week. As we meandered down various highways into small towns, we found various signs that proclaimed, "WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!!" Certainly similar signs can be found throughout small-town America (and no doubt in places like NYC). The prospect of educating each other about economics is daunting, particularly given that the current system is built on Keynes models and the welfare state. I want to have more faith in my fellow Americans and wish that they could understand that they have infinitely better ideas about how to spend the fruits of their labor than do central "economic" planners. Despite my conviction that our axioms are irrefutable as well as consistent with morality, persuading others to our point of view remains extremely difficult. We are inclined toward peaceful, voluntary solutions and the other side is determined to maintain the status quo of coercion (or death, as I now correctly understand it from B.R. Merrick's argument), force and an increased dearth of free will. I don't want to be Don Quixote, I simply want to enjoy my property as I see fit in a manner that also makes me a good neighbor. At best, we can persuade one another. At worst, we can kill each other. The choice seems clear to me. Let us not get too glum on the subject and try to adopt some of Jim Davies' positive attitude. As my 6-year old points out so often, "YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!" Well, despite all of the force that can be brought to bear upon the individual in this world of ours, THEY are not the "boss" of me!

I like your "homicidal humanitarianism" phrase too. I'm totally using that with my self-proclaimed "secular humanist" (i.e. liberal) friends the next time we're gathered at the local watering hole!

Tony Pivetta's picture

I like the term "homicidal humanitarianism," too. I got it from the writers at The Last Ditch. I like to use it as a comeback with the neocons who refuse to dignify Muslim terrorists with the term "suicide bombing." No, that's really "homicide bombing," they tell me. Yes, I parry, these extremists' tactics stand in sharp contrast to what our brave boys do dropping bombs on villages and wedding parties from their fighter jets. That's what we call "humanitarian bombing."

tzo's picture

Isabel Paterson named a chapter "The Humanitarian With the Guillotine" in her "The God of the Machine" book to describe how helping and killing somehow can reside in some people's heads without any apparent conflict.

Steve's picture

The article would benefit from some more numbers, e.g. looking at US military expenditures over time, and comparing them with other countries:

Paul's picture

"Support our troops" is just a euphemism for "Support our empire" (and where would government be without euphemism?). Of course, it has nothing to do with supporting our troops, most of whom probably just want to come home and stop occupying the countries of others. I made a bumpersticker that says, "Support our troops by bringing them home", and have got a lot of compliments on it.

Suverans2's picture

Maintaining the world political feudal system is necessary for the preservation of the state.
The business of warmongering is not only profitable to the military and its merchants of death but it also creates a world where rule and presumed legitimacy comes from violent force. Much of the warfare-states power to regulate and tax comes from their extorting money from people by using the fraud of national defense. These mercenary terrorists are not defending any individuals rights, they are defending the criminal cartel of the state. They're defending their power and their license to continue committing crimes and waging war against freedom to gain more political and economic dominance over their subjects. ~ The Case Against the World System of Political States

trajanslovechild's picture

Dear Tony,
A very thought provoking and interesting article. I served in the Army as an airborne infantryman (paratrooper) for 8 years and I served in countries all over the globe. I do agree with your premise that we should not be the world police force. I did not enjoy spending a year on the DMZ in South Korea, having a staring contest with North Korea's drooling automatons.
While in the military, I did not care if people "supported the troops" back home or not. The military is a segregated society, and we were our own family, who do not need the compassion or sympathies of others...especially from civilians. Today, the military is a volunteer force, and we knew what we were getting into. Although, it was nice to get cookies from my mother once in a while.

I do differ in that I believe some of the missions I supported were very beneficial to the host countries, and actually helped them get back on their feet. I was in Colombia (the country is spelled with an 'O') for several years, while working for the School of the America's (now called WHINSEC), and we did some great things there. I know, I know, the SOA does not have a great reputation because of a lot of false propaganda that was spread by the Cubans. No, we did not teach other countries soldiers how to assassinate their foes. Others say, "Dictators like Noriega went to the SOA." Well, I went to Northern Illinois University for my B.A., does that mean I am going to go on a shooting rampage, like the guy did three years ago...of course not. There are crazy people everywhere. We taught American fighting techniques, like the Army Infantry Manual (FM 7-8), and we taught them to employ the Geneva Convention on captured guerrillas and not throw them out of helicopters as they did in the past. Through, 'Plan Colombia,' we were able to stabilize the Colombian government, and they have free elections, with fewer assassinations and kidnappings as in the past. Is the Colombian government the best in the world, no, but the Marxist guerrillas (FARC), are much worse. Believe me, I saw their handy-work with my own eyes. We did not 'invade' Colombia, it was a mutual cooperation. I was alone with a platoon of Colombian Rangers (Lanceros) in the middle of the jungle as an adviser, and I felt safe since I had helped train those men.
Is military spending high? Yes, but remember that European countries that have minuscule military forces, like Iceland and Norway, have astronomical taxes and spending for social programs. In fact, Iceland's economy collapsed under such financial forces. So, it does not matter if it is military spending or not, governments will find a way to waste our money. For example, the total US military budget for 2010 is $663.8 Billion, but the total US government budget is $2.381 Trillion. So, the military budget is much less than a quarter of the total federal budget. Only 18% of the federal budget actually goes to the military. A majority of the budget goes to health and human services.
Also, I am a military historian, and the opening quote about the Roman Empire is quite a bit misleading. The Romans went through many different stages of governance through their hundreds of years of existence, as it was once a Republic. Also, the Romans did produce many goods to export, especially ideals. I do not believe that we technically are in the "Empire" stage yet, since we do not have a totalitarian leader that is unelected, but we are not far from something major happening, I do admit that. I am an optimist, and I do believe that we are still in the republican phase of governance, and there is a good chance that things can change for the better. But, Julius Caesar can cross the Rubicon again, and we will become a true empire. Thank you for the article.

Suverans2's picture

Hello Steve,

A very thoughtful, polite and articulate reply.

However, you may want to look up the word "totalitarian", since it really has nothing to do with a single "leader", nor whether or not there appear to be elections.

Here is a great reference site:

"Of, relating to, being, or imposing a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life, the individual is subordinated to the state, and opposing political and cultural expression is suppressed." ~ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

"of or being a political system in which those in power have complete control and do not allow people freely to oppose them" ~ Merriam-Webster 2010 Online Dictionary

Suverans2's picture

Here's a couple of fun ones we've used for years now.



According to Wiktionary a nonperson (plural nonpersons or nonpeople) [can mean] Not a legal entity.

unpersonnoun: a person regarded as nonexistent and having no [civil] rights; a person whose existence is systematically ignored (especially for ideological or political reasons) ("George Orwell predicted that political dissidents would be treated as unpersons") [syn: nonperson, unperson] ~

Tony Pivetta's picture

Dear Steve,

Thanks for the kind words and even-handed response to my column. As an American soldier, you have much to bring to the discussion I'm trying to advance.

I'm glad you don't think the U.S. should be a world police force. As long as it is a world police force, I can accept the possibility the U.S. may actually do some good for portions of the host countries "inviting" U.S. intervention. I can believe, for example, most Kurds welcome the American military presence in Iraq. Of course, the Kurds aren't the ones bearing the brunt of the collateral damage inflicted on Iraq.

Your experiences in Colombia notwithstanding, I still find it hard to believe the majority of the populace of the typical country on the receiving end of U.S. intervention feels that way. (Check out my article at my Italian parents' view of their "liberation" in World War II, aka, The Good War.) At any rate, the upshot of my article is that the U.S. military empire is anti-American, inflicting great harm on the domestic economy, not that it is necessarily anti-foreigner.

I agree with your assessment of the European welfare states: they are indeed going bankrupt on account of lavish social spending. As a libertarian, I object to both the welfare state and the warfare state, because both are funded via legalized extortion (read: taxation). I oppose all extortion, whether organized or freelance, whether legal or illegal. But if someone holds a gun to my head and tells me to fund one or the other, I'm definitely funding the welfare state. Better the country go bankrupt keeping my fellow Americans fat and psuedo-secure through lavish social spending than "protecting" ingrates halfway around the world through lavish military spending. In my opinion, the American welfare state is less anti-American than the American warfare state.

More fundamentally, I must take issue with your view regarding the inevitability of government wasting our money on one or the other. Ideas matter. If ideas don't matter, then English noblemen were wasting their time presenting their grievances to King John at Runnysmede in 1215. If ideas don't matter, totalitarian states waste precious police and prison resources enacting controls on speech and press. If ideas don't matter, then I don't know why you're wasting your time, and mine, engaging in this impressive exchange of views here at Strike-the-Root.

No, ideas matter. They matter very much.

Suverans2's picture

"...if someone holds a gun to my head and tells me to fund one or the other, I'm definitely funding the welfare state." ~ Tony Pivetta

Certainly no man can rightfully be required to join, or support, an association whose protection he does not desire. Nor can any man be reasonably or rightfully expected to join, or support, any association whose plans, or method of proceeding, he does not approve, as likely to accomplish its professed purpose of maintaining justice, and at the same time itself avoid doing injustice. To join, or support, one that would, in his opinion, be inefficient, would be absurd. To join or support one that, in his opinion, would itself do injustice, would be criminal. He must, therefore, be left at the same liberty to join, or not to join, an association for this purpose, as for any other, according as his own interest, discretion, or conscience shall dictate. ~ Lysander Spooner

Tony Pivetta's picture

No man can *rightfully* be required, under pain of death or great bodily injury, to do anything. But if someone holds a gun to my head, I'm probably doing what he tells me, and the righteousness of his holding a gun to my head becomes academic.

This is the case whether the gunman is a freelance criminal or a criminal on the government's payroll. One does not endorse a gunman's code of ethics (such as it is) by yielding to his demands. I pay my taxes for the same reason I hand my wallet over to any armed bandit demanding it: to preserve my life and (other) property.

Suverans2's picture

"Fear is the foundation of most governments..." ~ John Adams

Tony Pivetta's picture

Yes, fear is the *real* foundation of governments, but they deflect attention from that stark fact with propaganda. Thus, the average American believes his democratic State, whatever its imperfections, actually enjoys the consent of the governed. His Soviet, Nazi and monarchist counterparts believed the same about their States. The libertarian is able to cut through the mythology. Government is force.

trajanslovechild's picture

Hi Guys,
Thank you for the response. I agree with you Tony, that I do not want to waste one red cent on protecting places like South Korea, Japan, Germany, or any other country that can support their own military. I think our nation finds itself in this position because of the Cold War. After WW II, England and other nations did not have the economy or material to compete with the Soviet Union once they started seizing territory in Eastern Europe. The Soviets, and other Communist/Marxist nations did not make it secret that their intentions were to rule the world and make the globe into a "workers paradise" (a.k.a. everyone is poor). The US stood up to the Soviets, and our military spending is one of the reasons why the Soviet economy and empire collapsed. We were left at the top of the mountain, and Europe was able to build up their non-producing welfare states because they relied on the US to protect them. Those in Europe that were not happy about the situation were actually the ones to blame. If it were not for Europe's tribal wars of the 20th century, I do not think we would be in the position we are in today. On a side note: I have been to Normandy, and those people did enjoy that we "liberated" them from a true totalitarian government. Since our nation decided to involve it's citizens in WW II, we were thrust to the top of the heap. If I had to choose between a US or Soviet empire winning, I would choose the US for of empire. I think history propelled our nation to where we are today.

I guess totalitarianism was a poor word to choose describing the Roman Empire, since the word is a 20th century invention. My point was to say that the Roman period of history was too diverse to compare to the US. Thank you for the definitions, but you will have to admit that totalitarian governments usually have a "strong man" that rules over a group of false senators. The word was invented to describe men like Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin.

I am not sure that the military destroys the US economy. The military is expensive, but pork barrel spending, bail outs, and corruption makes military spending seem inconsequential. It takes many men and women with minimal education, gives them training and skills that they can use in civilian life, and pays for an education afterward. Many well disciplined, ward working, and educated people leave the military and enter civilian life. These people substantially contribute to the American economy. When you compare veterans to civilians, we are better educated, more productive, and have a much lower crime rate.

If you read the last part of my original response, you will see that I am not that cynical. I do believe that there is a chance that our government can change, but I do not see any examples of this today. If there is an example of a truly "libertarian" country that exists today, I would like to know where it is. But, there is not one as far as I can see, and that is why I do think it is inevitable for governments to waste money. I am just looking at the evidence available today. Everyone promises great things, just look at our last election. But, once a certain party gets in power (no matter who), the promises are forgotten. I do not believe that any exchange of ideas is useless since it exercises our mental abilities, but our discussion is purely academic since we do not hold sway over policies as individuals.

If there was a concealed-carry law in every state and city, you would not have to worry about someone (already on welfare) holding you up. Welfare makes slaves out of those that depend on the state, which is a bigger strain on the state than the military.

I think the biggest problem in the US is our education system that does not really "teach" anything. Our high school graduates leave with a diploma at the age of 18, and do not have anything in the way of skills to compete in the workforce. Most students do not know their history or rights and not everyone was meant to go to college. So, our trades are being lost. I wonder how the education system would work under a truly "libertarian" government? I do not see a change, since those with the means will get the better education in the end. Talk to you later!

Suverans2's picture