Peace, that elusive state of tranquility and equanimity so widely desired, comes in various imaginal packages. The demand of empires has always been "order" as a precondition to peace. The rule of law must prevail. The gift of the Macedonian Alexander and Rome’s Caesars was that, after conquest of a territory, the victors turned around and hand back the reins of power to the locals who then willingly submit allegiance and obeisance to the distant rule of the conqueror.
American military presence around the world to maintain global order has been a feature of our world since after World War II.
The peace of the Holy Roman Empire that accompanied the reign of the Holy Roman Catholic Church was supposed to be the "peace that passeth all understanding" in the salvific act of the messianic Christ and the sacrificial style of the crucified Jesus. In reality, the understanding was clear; the taxes belonged to the ruler’s coffers while one’s soul and real estate belonged to the Church. There was no question that in all the roads that led to Rome were seen the regular and profitable traffic of silver and silk.
As Edward Gibbons commented in his monumental The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, "The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people." It appears from current actuations of the Vatican, nothing much has changed.
Gibbon’ Pax Romana gave way to Pax Britannia. Much earlier, Pax Mongolia knocked at Vienna’s door. After WWII, we saw the Bear east of the Rhine assert what was prior to the fall of the Berlin wall, Pax Sovietica, often written during the Cold War as Pax Sovietika. In that same period, we saw the resurgence of the notion of "American exceptionalism," the Puritan’s "light upon the hill" that was later translated in the Methodists’ missional "manifest destiny" that saw an outpouring of social activism around the world.
Christian disciples of the Latter-day Saints ironically experienced themselves as the newly persecuted but they latched on to the image of a New Israel of the chosen people in a new Covenant. Pax America found its mission. The Mormons settled for Utah.
In a rare strain of skepticism, Gibbons mused: "History...is ... little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortune of mankind. ...If we contrast the rapid progress of [the] mischievous discovery [of gunpowder] with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind."
We are not laughing. It was a t-shirt emblazoned with "Pax Amerika" we saw in Dallas, Texas (of all places) in the '60s that mocked and tarnished what it took us a long time to recognize as America’s liberal social activism expressed in the ways of imperial political (decision making) and military (coercive imposition of order) rule.
Gibbons' work was published just when American independence was birthed. With Alex Tocqueville’s favorable take on the new land of freedom, it was not difficult to see the country flourish as the land of the free and the brave.
Here lies our split personality, for while it is the Statue of Liberty’s self-story articulated by Emma Lazarus’ sonnet that claims our allegiance:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door,"
we also tend to pull the trigger on the advance technology that arose with the discovery of the gunpowder. It is from Tinian that we assembled and delivered the only instances of atomic fusion used on a civilian population over the skies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The American Empire is fast receding. Its financial base once preeminent in the global economy is under serious scrutiny at home and abroad. Its military might used to protect that base has become a fat puppy whose Spartan leanness, though still effective in such maneuvers as the elimination of Osama bin Laden, has become not only too expensive in the use of drones, and the cumbersome military base dependence on other people’s real estate. The military-industrial complex Ike warned us about who presides over the earth.
But the U.S. political gridlock and economic shaking of foundations are child's play compared to the dark night of the soul of the American spirit. Only last week, the U.S. assisted in the legal but questionable deposing of Paraguay’s duly elected president because he was too much on the left, reminiscent though not as gory as the summary silencing of Chile’s Allende in the '60s.
Obama, vilified as a socialist (Marx is turning over in his grave) and Muslim (salaam malaikum), suddenly finds his presidency on a tenuous grip of the popular hope for change that characterized his election to the office.
We are in the American dark night of the soul. Some have taken the "black hole" energy that comes with authentically recognizing the state, and begin the work on Pax Gaia.
Meanwhile, Pax Amerikana is dead! You are invited to the funeral.