How The Empire Works

Mapping US Imperialism


US imperialism is the greatest threat to life on the planet, a force of ecological devastation and disaster impacting not only human beings, but also our non-human relatives. How can we organize to dismantle the vast and complicated network of US imperialism which includes US war and militarism, CIA intervention, US weapons/technology/surveillance corporations, political and economic support for dictatorships, military juntas, death squads and US trained global police forces favorable to US geopolitical interests, US imposed sanctions, so-called “humanitarian interventions,” genetically modified grassroots organizations, corporate media’s manipulation of spontaneous protest, and US corporate sponsorship of political repression and regime change favorable to US corporate interests?

This article deals with US imperialism since World War 2. It is critical to acknowledge that US imperialism emanates both ideologically and materially from the crime of colonialism on this continent which has killed over 100 million indigenous people and approximately 150 million African people over the past 500 years.

The exact death toll of US imperialism is both staggering and impossible to know. What people know is that since World War 2, US imperialism has killed at least 36 million people globally in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, the Congo, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Chad, Libya, East Timor, Grenada, Honduras, Iran, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Sudan, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Somalia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Palestine.

This list does not include other aspects of US imperialist aggression which have had a devastating and lasting impact on communities worldwide, including torture, imprisonment, rape, and the ecological devastation wrought by the US military through atomic bombs, toxic waste and untreated sewage dumping by over 750 military bases in over 80 countries. The US Department of Defense consumes more petroleum than any institution in the world. In the year of 2017 alone, the US military emitted 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, a carbon footprint greater than that of most nations worldwide. This list also does not include the impact of US fossil fuel consumption and US corporate fossil fuel extraction, fracking, agribusiness, mining, and mono-cropping, all of which are part and parcel of the extractive economy of US imperialism.

One central mechanism of US imperialism is “dollar hegemony” which forces countries around the world to conduct international trade in US dollars. Dollars are backed by US bonds (instead of gold or industrial stocks) which means a country can only cash in one American IOU for another. When the US offers military aid to friendly nations, this aid is circulated back to US weapons corporations and returns to US banks. In addition, US dollars are also backed by US bombs: any nation that threatens to nationalise resources or go off the dollar (i.e. Iraq or Libya) is threatened with a military invasion and/or a US backed coup.

US imperialism has also been built through “soft power” organisations like USAID, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organization of American States (OAS). These nominally international bodies are practically unilateral in their subservience to the interests of the US state and US corporations. In the 1950s and ‘60s, USAID (and its precursor organizations) made “development aid” to Asian, African, and South American countries conditional on those countries’ legal formalization of capitalist property relations, and reorganization of their economies around homeownership debt. The goal was to enclose Indigenous land, and land shared through alternate economic systems, as a method of “combating Communism with homeownership” and creating dependency and buy-in to US capitalist hegemony.

The US also uses USAID and other similarly functioning international bodies to suppress and to undermine anti-imperialist struggle inside “friendly” countries. Starting in the 1960s, USAID funded police training programmes across the globe under a counterinsurgency model, training foreign police as a “first line of defense against subversion and insurgency.”

US imperialism intentionally fosters divisions between different peoples and nations, offering (relative) rewards to those who choose to cooperate with US dictates (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Colombia), while brutally punishing those who do not (e.g. Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela).

The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) of Government and its historical precursors have hosted some of the most infamous war criminals and architects of empire: Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, Susan Rice (an HKS fellow), Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and Larry Summers. HKS also currently hosts Ricardo Hausmann, founder and director of Harvard’s Growth Lab , the academic laboratory of the US backed Venezuelan coup.

In How Harvard Rules, John Trumpbour documents the central role Harvard played in the establishment of the Cold War academic-military-industrial complex and US imperialism post-WWII.

Harvard Kennedy School, because of its mission to train public leaders and its depth of expertise in the study of defense and international security, has always had a particularly strong relationship with the US Armed Forces. This relationship is mutually beneficial. The School has provided its expertise to branches of the US military, and it has given military personnel (active and veteran) access to Harvard’s education and training.

In particular, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs provides broad support to the US military and the objectives of US Empire. As noted above, the Harvard Kennedy School serves as an institutional training ground for future servants of US Empire and the US national security state. HKS also maintains a close relationship with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In addition to the CIA, HKS has direct relationships with the FBI, the US.Pentagon, US Department of Homeland Security, NERAC, and numerous branches of the US Armed Forces.

The Harvard Kennedy School and the War Economy

HKS’s direct support of US imperialism does not limit itself to ideological and educational support. It is deeply enmeshed in the war economy driven by the interests of the US weapons industry.

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, L3 Harris, General Dynamics, and Northrup Grumman are global corporations who supply the United States government with broad scale military weaponry and war and surveillance technologies. All these companies have corporate leadership who are either alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS), who are currently contributing to HKS as lecturers/professors, and/or who have held leadership positions in US federal government.

The largest US oil firms are also closely interlocked with these top weapons companies, which have also diversified their technological production for the security industry–providing services for pipeline and energy facility security, as well as border security. This means that the same companies are profiting at every stage in the cycle of climate devastation: they profit from wars for extraction; from extraction; and from the militarized policing of people forced to migrate by climate disaster. Exxon Mobil (the 4th largest fossil fuel firm) contracts with General Dynamics, L3 Harris, and Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin, the top weapons company in the world, shares board members with Chevron, and other global fossil fuel companies. (See Global Climate Wall: How the world’s wealthiest nations prioritise borders over climate action.)

The Death Toll of US Imperialism since World War 2

Figures relating to the death toll of US Imperialism are often grossly underestimated due to the US government’s lack of transparency and often purposeful cover-up and miscounts of death tolls. In some cases, this can lead to ranges of figures that include millions of human lives–as in the figure for Indonesia below with estimates of 500,000 to 3 million people. These figures were obtained from multiple sources.

l    Afghanistan: at least 176,000 people
l    Bosnia: 20,000 to 30,000 people
l    Bosnia and Krajina: 250,000 people
l    Cambodia: 2-3 million people
l    Chad: 40,000 people and as many as 200,000 tortured
l    Chile: 10,000 people (the US sponsored Pinochet coup in Chile)
l    Colombia: 60,000 people
l    Congo: 10 million people (Belgian imperialism supported by US corporations and the US sponsored assassination of Patrice Lumumba)
l    Croatia: 15,000 people
l    Cuba: 1,800 people
l    Dominican Republic: at least 3,000 people
l    East Timor: 200,000 people
l    El Salvador: More than 75,000 people (US support of the Salvadoran oligarchy and death squads)
l    Greece: More than 50,000 people
l    Grenada: 277 people
l    Guatemala: 140,000 to 200,000 people killed or forcefully disappeared (US support of the Guatemalan junta)
l    Haiti: 100,000 people
l    Honduras: hundreds of people (CIA supported Battalion kidnapped, tortured and killed at least 316 people)
l    Indonesia: Estimates of 500,000 to 3 million people
l    Iran: 262,000 people
l    Iraq: 2.4 million people in Iraq war, 576, 000 Iraqi children by US sanctions, and over 100,000 people in Gulf War
l    Japan: 2.6-3.1 million people
l    Korea: 5 million people
l    Kosovo: 500 to 5,000
l    Laos: 50,000 people
l    Libya: at least 2500 people
l    Nicaragua: at least 30,000 people (US backed Contras’ destabilization of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua)
l    Operation Condor: at least 10,000 people (By governments of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. US Govt/CIA coordinated training on torture, technical support, and supplied military aid to the Juntas)
l    Pakistan: at least 1.5 million people
l    Palestine: estimated more than 200,000 people killed by military but this does not include death from blockade/siege/settler violence
l    Panama: between 500 and 4000 people
l    Philippines: over 100,000 people executed or disappeared
l    Puerto Rico: 4,645-8,000 people
l    Somalia: at least 2,000 people
l    Sudan: 2 million people
l    Syria: at least 350,000 people
l    Vietnam: 3 million people
l    Yemen: over 377,000 people
l    Yugoslavia: 107,000 people

[Courtesy: MR Online, a forum for collaboration and communication between radical activists, writers, and scholars around the world, started by Monthly Review, the famed socialist magazine published from New York]

Back to Home Page

Vol 55, No. 6, Aug 7 - 13, 2022