Building an empire

On March 5, 1770 a British sentry guarding the Customs House in Boston was being harassed by a group of boys and men. The taunting group quickly grew more numerous and more aggressive. The guard was reinforced by eight more soldiers and their captain. The Bostonians began throwing things, and suddenly the British opened fire, killing five Bostonians. The incident was quickly dubbed the Boston Massacre.

Thirty-four year old lawyer John Adams was asked to defend the soldiers, as no one else would take the case. Knowing it would be a very unpopular thing to do, but caring more that justice be served, he mounted a defense that resulted in six acquittals and two convictions of manslaughter, punished with a branding on the thumb. One of the great lines to come from the dialogue of his defense was, “Soldiers quartered in a populous town will always occasion two mobs where they prevent one. They are wretched conservators of the peace.”

Today the American military has been “quartered” in Iraq for more than five years. Recently, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the Iraq government and the U.S. government are deadlocked on discussions of a long-term security pact. Maliki said, “”We have reached a deadlock, because when we started the talks, we found that the U.S. demands hugely infringe on the sovereignty of Iraq, and this we can never accept.” The talks pact includes such items as how long American troops can stay, whether Iraqis captured by Americans must be turned over to the Iraqi authorities, how long (and how many) U.S. bases can remain in Iraq.

If the administration’s objective were really Iraqi sovereignty, there would be no argument. As we now know, the purpose of the war was never to liberate the Iraqi people; it was to establish more U.S. bases in the Middle East and keep a claim to the oil there.

We curse the 18th century British empire for its quartering, exploitation, taxation without representation, and heavy-handedness; but because of the beam in our own eye, we can’t see our own empire-building techniques. Was the Boston mob justified in attacking the “lobsterbacks”? Were the guards justified in firing on the crowd? Or was the whole situation the creation of bad policy and hot tempers?

Let’s not allow jingoism to blind us to the exploitation our government often imposes on countries who haven’t the wisdom, wherewithal, or will to stand their ground against this 21st century empire.


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