Chris Hedges declares in a speech that the US ruling elites are willing to sacrifice human populations for their benefit. In fact, according to Hedges they are perfectly willing to sacrifice fellow US citizens. We have always known, he says, they were willing to dispose of the people of the developing world.(andrewnef, 2021)
My only hesitation with Hedges’ analysis is that he uses ‘human sacrifice’ in only one dimension. For Hedges human sacrifice takes place when for economic reasons the bodies of the unprivileged are sacrificed for a greater good, for the benefit of the ruling elites. Given Hedges’ religious background, one wonders why he draws back from the conclusions of his own words?
Human sacrifice works on many different levels and where it has sustained itself it has done so because it has satisfied multiple interest groups. If one takes the Inquisition as an example: this was neither solely religious nor solely political nor solely economic but ‘all of the above’. Beneficiaries can be found ranging from those who profited from expropriating the wealth of the Jews, to those who benefitted from the political terror and increased subordination of the population, to those who enforced doctrinal uniformity not only over the Jewish population but also over other dissident religious groups and by its terror over the general population. Most importantly, those from the religious side believed that the more souls were burnt the greater the favor that the Lord would show to the state. Tolerating heresies would bring divine wrath upon the people such that scenes of public human sacrifice following an auto de fe, were signs of propitiating the Lord, excising or exorcising evil from the midst of the people.
From lynching Black US veterans returning from WW1 to evaporating Japanese civilians by nuclear means in WW2 for no military purpose, the US has regularly practised human sacrifice. It is well known that killing civilians has little to no effect on the outcome of wars as Niall Ferguson has shown.(Ferguson, 2004). In the case of Hiroshima, the US Air Force launched a conventional air raid at roughly the same time that killed even more people than the nuclear bomb.
On a more mundane level we have seen how the US foreign policy uses identical defences as used by US police when killing unarmed Black males. ‘We thought he was armed/ had weapons of mass destruction’, ‘ we thought our lives were in imminent danger/ we thought they were about to attack the US’ and unless I shot him he was about to kill me/ unless we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan the terrorists would arrive on our shores’.
How does this analysis play out on the US-China conflict in general and the trade war in particular?
Kevin Rudd seeks to set out a way to create a platform for peaceful competition between China and US.
(Rudd, 2021) Dan Wang, while deploring the effect of Trump’s excessive sanctions in uniting China against US and enforcing a corporate need for self reliance, concludes:’At this point, no effort on behalf of the U.S. government can deter China’s state from its end goal of industrial self-sufficiency. ‘(Wang, 2021) Wang then recommends:’ The United States should therefore roll back its most punitive restrictions on the Chinese technology sector, lest it force some of the most innovative companies in the world to work within their domestic tech ecosystem. At stake is the future global center of technological innovation: Washington should know better than to fuel its greatest competitor.’
One key weakness of Wang’s analysis is that it only touches on the most recent events. If we go back to the US banning China from access to the International Space Station we can see that this was an act of sheer spite (since the space station was a Russian exercise what US national security interest was at stake?). But the consequence was China setting up its own space station and landing its own unmanned vehicle on Mars becoming the third country to do so. Was banning China from the international space station either wise or effective?
Neither Rudd nor Wang face up to the two most critical questions:
Trust: given the US gross breaches of solemn undertakings with the former Soviet Union that NATO would not extend beyond its borders, why should any country trust the US with its own security interests? It is somewhat implausible to say ‘we only lie to the Russians you understand.’
Competition: it is all well and good to design platforms for peaceful competition, but is it the case that the US tolerates competition so long as it never loses? In the event that the US begins to lose, will it seek to unilaterally change the rules or throw its toys out of the pram as it has done in the past?
If we apply our analysis of the US commitment to human sacrifice in the past then the likelihood of a peaceful resolution to the current global impasse is unlikely. An important inflection here is that the human sacrifice by the US need not occur in China or be of Chinese people. As the US declines it may seek to increase its resort to human sacrifice, on a greater scale and with regular cycles, to appease the gods or seek their favor. But this could occur on any continent.
Ferguson, N. (2004). Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat. War in History, 11(2), 148–192. https://doi.org/10.1191/0968344504wh291oa