Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2 Summer 1981

murder Castro, and he deployed between 15,000 and 20,000 American troops (many of them in the field as advisers) to intervene in the revolutionary civil war in Vietnam. Those frontiers on every continent were going to remain frontiers in the traditional American meaning of a frontier— a region to penetrate and control and police and civilize. Empire at Home This essay, an effort to review our development as an empire and to encourage a searching dialogue among ourselves about the character of our culture, does not attempt to offer a detailed reconstruction of American foreign policy. Hence it would be a contradiction in terms to wander off into a blow-by-blow account of recent events. But it does seem useful to explore some of the contemporary aspects of our imperial way of life. Let us begin with the relationship between NSC-68 and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s; and let us assume that American leaders, whatever their prejudices or racism, believed that the empire would provide blacks and other disadvantaged groups (including poor whites) with greater opportunities and rewards. Their most popular euphemism for empire—growth—was invoked on the ground that even the same share of an ever larger pie would produce improvement for everyone. And elitists like Acheson had reason to believe that the minorities and other poor would continue to be patient until the fruits of empire were harvested. But the war in Korea, and the related increase in military spending, revealed the true priorities of the empire and hence dramatized the discrepancy involved in talking about empire in terms of liberty, freedom, equality and welfare while denying those benefits to large numbers of people at home. That contradiction was further highlighted by the nonviolent nature of black protest against being denied elementary equity on the buses of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 and in the eating places of Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. Some white Americans recognized and became upset about that contrast, but neither Eisenhower nor Kennedy devised an effective response. The former was socially and politically too conservative and cautious, and the latter was more concerned with standing up to the Russians all along America’s global frontier. LB.J.S Tragedy But Lyndon Baines Johnson did make a brave—and in the end tragic—effort to resolve that visceral contradiction in the imperial way of life. He tried to make major improvements in the quality of life for the poor and disadvantaged of all colors (and therefore for all other Americans) and at the same time secure the frontier in Indochina. That proved to be impossible because by 1964-65 the dynamics of empire as a way of life left him no room to maneuver. Given the legacy of prejudice and racism, and the global definition of America’s political economy and its security as formulated in NSC-68, Johnson was trying to swim in the sky. But at least he tried. Stated bluntly, the President could not muster the votes to help the poor at home unless he honored the imperial ethic in Vietnam. He simply did not enjoy the personal and political advantages that enabled Eisenhower to move quietly toward a less grandiose foreign policy. That meant that any effort to make structural reforms at home would provoke a militant reaction around the classic imperial theme of “Who Lost Whatever Wherever?” Johnson first tried to finesse the war issue. Therein lies the stuff of great drama. A modern Shakespeare might well do it this way: If only Johnson had gone with his instinct as a Southerner to recognize in the Vietcong the American blacks driven to violenc, then he might—just might—have begun the process whereby Americans said no to empire and yes to the vision of community. But the imperial North had forever scarred the South. Left it resentful and determined to prove its valor and its equality. There is a great play in that old fear of the South transformed into a recognition of the truth that one either frees the slaves or confronts a rebellion. But the North had failed to learn that lesson during Reconstruction after the Civil War, and so Johnson had no allies to help him redefine the truth of America. So from finessing the war Johnson moved to lying about the war. His efforts to stand firm on the frontier while effecting reforms at home led him to create enormous inflationary pressures within the economy and to engage in ever more serious self-deception and public dissembling to sustain popular support for the imperial war. In the end, that is to say, Johnson was the victim of the basic fear, so candidly expressed in NSC-68, that America was fundamentally threatened by any disorder in the world (a fear also revealed in the President’s intervention ni Santo Domingo). That fog of trepidation and dread continued to influence the conduct of foreign affairs by President Richard Milhous Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Their bone-marrow anxiety provides the key to resolving the apparent paradox in a diplomacy that sought to stabilize relations with the Russians while simultaneously recognizing the Communist Government of China, falsifying official records to hide an illegal and devastating expansion of. the Vietnamese war into Cambodia, launching an effort to subvert an elected socialist government in Chile and supporting a dictatorship in Iran that was instrumental in raising oil prices. Kissinger’s Justice No one yet knows the precise nature of the relationship between Nixon and Kissinger. But Kissinger could not have functioned as he did without the support of the President. The Secretary of State has provided the most information about the assumptions that underlay their policies, and it seems apparent that they recognized that the grand objective of NSC-68—the subversion of the Soviet Union—was no longer realistic. Kissinger had long agreed with Churchill, for example, that the United States should have negotiated a broad settlement with the Russians in 1947-48, and concluded during the 1950s that American policy had “reached an impasse.” Kissinger said it all in one sentence: The United States must somehow “shape events in the light of our own purposes. ” A marvelously subtle definition of empire Thus is was necessary to stabilize the existing balance between the two superpowers. The first step on that road, at least in their view, was to assert their ANTIQUES & VINTAGE CLOTHING Orders To Go & Catering 1402 S.W. Morrison 241-1059 Fine Desserts Humble Bagels to go 807 NW 21st Portland, Oregon 295-2779 Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 Traditional & Provocative Cards at: CROISSANT FOR ALL From the Helen Bernhard Bakery, a simple and “ straightforward offer to introduce you to our new- a est bakery item. Until August 1, 1981, we will give •= you one free croissant with a purchase of any of our other fine baked goods. So enjoy an eclair, a loaf of sourdough bread, some cookies or a cake and we will give you a croissant free. It’s that simple. cl pi & use 1717 N.E. Broadway BA K E FtY phone 287-1251 — ———— —■^—■■^MClip&USS——————— M B M B — B B J Clinton St. Quarterly 27