Crises and Power
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About the book Crisis and Leviathan

Center on Peace & Liberty Asia



U.S. government interest in the Pacific goes back to the nineteenth century. Its first colonial acquisitions—the Philippines and Guam—were obtained as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898. This set the stage for the brutal U.S. suppression of the Filipino revolt, which ended in 1902 and took the lives of more than 220,000 Filipinos and some 4,000 Americans. All of this coincided with a public-relations campaign to convert Americans to the view that a great country must be an imperial nation with a large navy and many colonies. With a foothold in the Pacific and laboring under serious economic fallacies about overproduction, U.S. policymakers and special interests were determined to secure China as a future market for American products (the Open Door Policy and Gunboat Diplomacy). This would bring the U.S. into rivalry with Japan (as well as other Western powers), eventuating in conflict in World War II. In the meanwhile, Chinese nationalists resentful of the heavy hand of foreigners violently resisted this influence. The Boxer Rebellion was put down by American and other foreign troops, which proceeded also to loot and pillage peaceful Chinese peasants.

Since World War II, Asia has been the most dramatic example of intervention begetting intervention. As the war wound down, the world’s colonies demanded independence. The old colonial powers, Great Britain, France, and others, gave up many of their possessions reluctantly and only as a last resort. The rising dominant power, the United States, paid lip service to independence, but actions often betrayed the words, with policies constituting an indirect form of colonialism. When France battled indigenous forces to maintain its hold on Indochina (Vietnam), the United States came to the assistance of the French. When a beaten France finally departed in 1954, leaving a divided and turbulent country behind, the United States took sides in the civil war and ended up as a full participant in a long and bloody conflict. Earlier, when a divided Korea erupted in war, the United States also took sides and came into conflict with China. In both cases, it opposed nationalist-communist forces, but sided with corrupt and repressive regimes nonetheless.

Thus the “need” to fight costly hot wars grew out of an ambition to wield influence in regions far from home. One begets another to “save the invstment” in earlier interventions. For example, the U.S. military intervention in Vietnam led to further interventions in Laos and Cambodia.

The age of overt colonialism eventually ended, but the U.S. has worked nonetheless to maintain its dominance in the region. More than half a century after World War II and the Korean War, the U.S. continues to keep tens of thousands of troops in Japan (the U.S. ran the Japanese island of Okinawa until 1972) and South Korea, where anti-Americanism periodically flares up. The U.S. has also striven to manage events surrounding Taiwan and Indonesia, supporting dictators while proclaiming the virtues of democracy.

Such military and diplomatic policies required greater government power over the home population and great command of private resources. Once again, policies spawned crises that in turn stimulated growth of the state.

As Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations, empire is costly to the home population. So it has been with American imperial activities in the Pacific, both in terms of resources and liberty.

Also, click here for Bibliography for Crisis and Leviathan.


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World War II:

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