Empire of liberty
by M. Rajivlochan
Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire.
by Niall Ferguson. Penguin, New York. Pages 386. £ 6.30.

FERGUSON says that the Americans have never hesitated in creating an empire even when they always denied its existence. First they did away with the autochthonous people to colonise a new land. Then they controlled a huge population of slaves to run their economy. In the interim, they scared away the Europeans from eyeing an empire towards the South; that area along with its banana republics being claimed as a preserve for the US.

Through the World Wars, they managed to increase their economic clout over European nations to such an extent that increasingly the Europeans had to accede to the American wishes, form various military and economic alliances and assist the Americans in various political and military ways. The fin de si`E8cle (end of the century) saw Americans moving into other countries, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, in the name of saving liberty and bringing about a change for the better.

There were some misadventures on the way, as in Vietnam (1965-73), where over 1.25 million Vietnamese and .05 million Americans were killed without any direct benefit. The people of the world, Ferguson argues, were already with America, even when they had suffered as a result of the American activities.

The rapid spread of American culture all over the world, including in lands that had been decimated by American soldiers and government, is seen by Ferguson as a clear indication of popular acceptance of Americans, their wealth, power and ideals across the world. This is Americaís empire of liberty.

The only hitch here is that even while being so overwhelmingly powerful, the Americans are shy of admitting that they control the global mind, commerce and military action. Many times directly, but more often indirectly.

Ferguson says that such an empire of liberty exists in reality. It currently possesses 752 military installations in more than 130 countries. Its military budget is greater than the combined totals of the next 12 to 15 nations. Yet the American public and policy makers continue to deny imperium even when actually practicing it.

They criticise the actions of their military, rant against the government for violating the rights of other people who did not have any in the first place. This, Ferguson argues, has to change. One way could be to become realistic instead of idealistic.

One in every 142 Americans is in prison. There are many who are jobless and hungry. These could be used to run a huge army, which then could help consolidate an American empire over the world without attracting undue criticism of military deaths and alleged human rights violations by the military.

The American people, he says, prefer commerce. Most of them can indulge in commerce while their armies, made up of the marginal people, establish control over the world. Such an empire will do only good, Ferguson says, much as other empires, including the British Empire over India, helped improve the subjugated people.

While advocating and end to hesitation in imperium, Ferguson points out that the weakest spot in Americaís consolidation of its greatness is the absence of social benefits to its citizens. He examines the history of the British Empire and argues that the benefits of social security, healthcare, housing, education, etc. need to be made available to all the people lest they begin to rebel against their own state.

The American empire may be able to withstand external pressures but, a rebellion by its own people, their desire to move away from imperium, would quickly bring it down. They would, unknowingly, put an end to the American way of life as it exists today. That is when the barbarians would take over.

At a time when people, including our PM, are willing to forget the immorality of empire and praise it for bringing in technological, social and economic changes that might have happened even without imperialism, Fergusonís book gives much support to the apologists for the immorally powerful.

He is a historian by training and good, like others of his ilk, in the craft of suppressio veri suggestio falsi (the suppression of the truth is the suggestion of a falsehood). So we accept his dicta at our own risk. Some of Fergusonís critical data is incorrect, but his arguments are persuasive.