Anniversary Post: Second Opium War

Second Opium WarOn this day in 1857, England and France started the Second Opium War. Reading Wikipedia, you would think it was complicated. And I suppose in a sense, it was complicated. Everything is. But I think it is one of the most honest wars we’ve ever seen. Basically, it was about trade. The west wanted to keep that sweet sweet trade going because England and France were making a fortune. Forget that it was largely made selling opium. The vilification of that drug is the only reason that the two opium wars today are thought of negatively.

But wars are almost always about economics. It’s not like the Chinese government was the good guys in the Second Opium War trying to keep opium out. They were trying to keep Indian opium out of their country. And that was their right! If countries don’t have the right to control their borders, then they aren’t really countries. And that’s pretty much the way the world has gone since then. We aren’t a world of nations anymore; we are a world of corporations. We are living in a William Gibson dystopia, but no one is willing to admit it for what it is.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not keen on borders and countries. But the Second Opium War was just a matter of might makes right. And it is absolutely what the United States is all about. I still find it extremely frustrating that people don’t think we have an empire just because it doesn’t look like empires of old. Would we have gone to war in the Middle East if it wasn’t for oil? I think I’ve made this analogy before, but the American empire is like the hypermodern chess openings. In the old days, in order to win you needed to occupy and control the center. In hypermodern openings, you only need to control — you don’t need to be there.

In a William Gibson novel, corporations would have their own armies. In the modern world, they don’t need them; the government provides that service for free.

4 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Second Opium War

  1. It’s actually surprising how often these things are done in broad daylight — if one cares to look. As when the Bush gang rushed to secure Iraq’s oil facilities while ignoring those oh-so-dangerous hypothetical WMD sites.

    • And ignoring the museums — a loss of invaluable artifacts that Rumsfeld described as “stuff happens.”

    • Oh yeah. I’ve become convinced that “American exceptionalism” is for most Americans, just the idea that all other nations should bow down before us because we are so great. This empire will fall just as spectacularly as it arose.

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