Today's date:
Spring 2003


World Empire: The Subtext of War With Iraq

Norman Mailer, the American novelist and essayist, has just published his latest book, The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing. His comments are adapted from remarks on February 22 to the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities.

Los Angeles—There is a subtext to what the “Bushites” are doing with their war. My hypothesis is that President Bush and many conservatives have come to the conclusion that the only way they can save America and get it off its present down slope is to become a regime with a greater military presence and drive toward empire. My fear is that we might lose our democracy in the process.

By down slope I’m referring not only to the corporate scandals, the church scandals and the FBI scandals. The country has gone kind of crazy in the Bushites’ eyes. Also, kids can’t read anymore. Especially for conservatives, the culture has become too sexual.

Iraq is the excuse for moving in this direction. War with Iraq, as they originally conceived it, would be a quick, dramatic step that would enable them to control the Near East as a powerful base—not least because of the oil there as well as the water supplies from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers—to build a world empire.

They also expect to bring democracy to the region and believe that in itself will help to diminish terrorism. But I expect the opposite will happen: Terrorists are not impressed by democracy. They loathe it. They are fundamentalists of the most basic kind. The more successful democracy is in the Near East (not likely in my view), the more terrorism it will generate. It will only make the terrorists more desperate to defeat it.

The only outstanding obstacle to the drive toward empire in the Bushite minds is China. Indeed, one of the great fears in the Bush administration about America’s down slope is that the “stem studies” such as science, technology and engineering are all faring poorly in our universities. The number of American PhDs is going down and down. But the number of Asians obtaining doctorates in those same stem studies is increasing at a great rate.

Looking 20 years ahead, the administration perceives that there will come a time when China will have technology superior to ours. When that time comes, America might well say to China that “we can work together,” we will be as the Romans to you Greeks. You will be our extraordinary, well-cultivated slaves. But don’t try to dominate us. That would be your disaster. This is the scenario that some of the brightest neo-conservatives are thinking about. (I use Rome as a metaphor, because metaphors are usually much closer to the truth than facts.)

The dire prospect this war opens, therefore, is that America is going to become a mega-banana republic where the army will have more and more importance in our lives. It will be an ever greater and greater overlay on the American system. And before it is all over democracy, noble and delicate as it is, may give way. My long experience with human nature—I’m 80 years old now—suggests that it is possible that fascism, not democracy, is the natural state.

Indeed, democracy is the special condition—a condition we will be called upon to defend in the coming years. That will be enormously difficult because the combination of the corporation, the military and the complete investiture of the flag with mass spectator sports has set up a pre-Fascist atmosphere in America already.