On February 16, the same day Trump held his first in-person presidential press abuse session (Rolling Stone called it “unhinged“), the Washington Post ran a story about how the Pentagon admitted to using depleted uranium rounds against ISIS as recently as November 2015. This was months after the Pentagon said it would stop using these on the battlefield. They just did it anyway. It’s what you do when you’re the empire.
When you’re the empire, you can install dictators in foreign countries, you can start wars that kill millions based on bad intelligence and commercial interest, and you can be the only nation in the world to have dropped an atomic bomb, twice, and then say that nobody else is allowed. This was the United States in the 20th century and this is the America, the Empire, the world knows.
On the other hand, there’s the U.S. Republic — the states, cities and communities where we live. This is the version of America people believe in; the one immigrants see as opportunity, the one we all vote, march, shoot fireworks and name beers for. The Republic stands while the Empire expands.
But when you hear about the U.S. military breaking its promises in the divine name of “defense,” you remember, again, that the Republic was built on Empire. And then you wonder that maybe, just maybe, that the threat of totalitarianism hovering over D.C. right now has been lingering on our horizon since we dropped the bomb, or bought and sold humans as slaves, or murdered Native Americans, or built Jamestown. That’s the core idea of The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What?, the fifth book in an ongoing “peace and conflict studies” series about by Johan Galtung, a veteran professor, sociologist, mathematician, Nobel nominee and founder of TRANSCEND University Press, the book’s publisher.
“To ask for the cause of the decline is a little like asking for the cause of death of old human beings,” Galtung writes. “The cause of the decline and fall of western imperialism is western imperialism itself.”
We’re reminded of our Empire when we hear words like “depleted uranium bullets,” and the fact that their radioactive residue can have long-lasting health effects on local people and ecologies. DU bullets are dangerous, they tow a thin line between war and warcrime, and they’ve been strictly banned or forced into moratoria by several foreign nations and international coalitions. But there’re also a perfect analog for the state of American Empire, leaving geographical melanoma from the American Sun.
“Hand on heart,” Galtung says, in one of his frequent flourishes. “I love the U.S. Republic where I have lived much of my life, as much as I hate the U.S. Empire for its violence of all kinds in so many places around the world.” He goes on say that the first thing that will blossom when the U.S. Empire falls might actually be the U.S. Republic. It was 2009 when he wrote this, so he was feeling optimistic.
I first learned about this book when, shortly after Trump’s election, I started to wonder if this is what the end looks like. It turns out, Galtung — combining both mathematical and sociological sciences — has wagered a pretty good system to suss out these questions. As VICE reports, it turns out that the guy, who in this book is talking about the end of U.S. Empire, has also predicted:
“…the collapse of the Soviet Union; […] the 1978 Iranian revolution; the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989 in China; the economic crises of 1987, 2008 and 2011; and even the 9/11 attacks” — among other things.
Back in 2000, Galtung suggested that the end of U.S. Empire would come around 2025. (Though if he was paying attention to the portents of 1980s cinema, he would have known the end was closer to 2016, with Trump as the Biff of our Millennial dystopia:)
By the time he published The Fall, Galtung bumped up the timeline of his original 25-year timeline to 2020, based on the “contradictions” of Empire that manifested when Bush invaded Iraq (with no intelligence or exit strategy) and, separately, when the housing market fell apart in 2008. The Empire, he says, will end as a result of several (15) interwoven contradictions, such as:
- economic contradictions such as ‘overproduction relative to demand’, unemployment and the increasing costs of climate change;
- military contradictions including rising tensions between the US, NATO, and its military allies, along with the increasing economic unsustainability of war;
- political contradictions including the conflicting roles of the US, UN and EU;
This probably looks familiar right now — and right on time — because we’re about four years out from the end date on Galtung’s prediction. Based on the structure and trajectory of our Empire, we had already set ourselves up for fascism because, frankly, we’ve been pulling fascist bullshit on the world for more than half a century.
“The basic element in fascism is massive killing by the state, for economic, political and cultural purposes.” Galtung says, adding:
“This means wars — violent encounters between [military] forces for winning and showing prowess — and state terrorism, with massive killing of civilians, such as of German and Japanese [civilians] during WWII. The U.S. has been engaged in this of killing through numerous interventions since the early 1800s, with a more global range than any other actor in history.”
With all of this killing and history of might over right, fascism would eventually come to the Republic for which it stands. This goes hand-in-hand with the moment we lose our spot as Global King of the Hill — especially when you consider this metric from Galtung; that for every one person killed by a U.S. military-imperial effort, 10 are left “glowing hatred in their hearts and minds.” Empire makes a lot of enemies who want nothing more than to see it fall. (Thus we can only watch as Russia takes advantage of our weakened ideas, easily outmaneuvers our security and intelligence, and does unto us what we’ve done unto others.)
So what does the end of U.S. Empire actually look like?
TBD, Galtung says.
Just like nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expected that Donald Trump would be the one filling the fascist void in Washington, giving nuclear might to incarnated fury, unpredictability and male insecurity. But even though our fascist might not have a precedent, our fascism is ordinary. The fascist always gains power, Galtung writes, through “the triumph of the Executive branch over the Legislative, through faked elections — and over the Judiciary, by stuffing the courts with ideologues.”
“People are scared,” he continues. “The media are timid. [Modern] wars worse than Vietnam elicit less protest. One day, people and media may both be silenced.”
We’re watching the war on the latter right now, with Trump recently tweeting, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” — drawing obvious comparisons to Mao, Stalin and other State Media Holy Men.
Now that we have a Holy Man of our own in the Oval Office (thanks Evangelicals, way to be Christlike!), we’re seeing a thousand red-hot historical flares telling us why we’re going this way. But what happens when the Empire falls? Who steps in?
Galtung suggests that a successor system, not a successor state, will fill the void left by the U.S. “[The system] will neither be an empire run by a big state like China, nor globalization run by Big Powers, but a world of regions — such as the EU — with their own currencies, armies, foreign policies, and culture.”
While this forecast presents its own political complications, it also holds a lot of promise, especially for the U.S. Republic which, after the collapse of U.S. Empire, will have the difficult choice of increased fascism or what Galtung calls “regionalization.” The focus for regionalization isn’t unbound expansion and missionary exceptionalism, but on a way forward, together. It sounds nice, like recess in Candyland. And maybe just as fantastical. But when U.S. Empire falls, our Republic will have a choice — get stuck in the Gumdrop Mountains, head up to Candy Castle, or take this analogy one step too far?
“To learn from history should mean not only to learn how to preserve something old, but also how to give birth to something new,” Galtung says. For any way forward, at this moment, we first need to recognized and admit exactly where are. We’re a country that broke our promise and shot 5,265 armor-piercing 30mm rounds to destroy 350 vehicles in Syria, leaving a permanent radioactive trace — and this is when Obama was president. We’re a country building an oil pipeline through sacred native lands. We’re one of the worst climate villains on the planet. We’re a country that has a goddamned reality TV character building the Fourth Reich.
Once we’ve figured that out, we need to look at our institutions, allies and communities for where we can step in and keep it strong. We’ll need to work hard, long hours and make sacrifices if we want to come out alive on the other side. But most importantly, we must commit. The Empire only wants bystanders.