When Star Wars: Episode III played at the Cannes Film Festival, European critics interpreted the degeneration of the Galactic Republic into Darth Vader's Empire as an allegory for what has happened to the United States.
For some time, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union has left only one superpower, many Western Europeans have been speaking of the "American Empire." And now, with their resentment of America's war in Iraq, they consider this to be an "Evil Empire."
Ironically, when the first Star Wars movies came out in 1977, 1980, and 1983-at the height of the Cold War-the sinister Galactic Empire was interpreted as symbolic of the Soviet Union. The movie was widely held to be the source of Ronald Reagan's famous 1982 "Evil Empire" speech. And the freedom-loving Jedi fighting for the underground Republic in those movies were seen as emblematic of a Reagan-era revival of American ideology and self-confidence.
But now, in the imagination of many Europeans, everything has been turned upside down. The nation that liberated Europe from the Nazis and that kept the Communists from their door is portrayed as a phantom menace, the new Soviet Union. George W. Bush is seen as Darth Vader, or perhaps as Chancellor Palpatine, the leader of the Republic who uses the pretext of a clone war to make himself Emperor of the Universe, through the power of the Dark Side.
It is not only Europeans who have this fantasy; leftists in America do, too. Michael Medved, in the May Imprimis, quotes filmmaker Oliver Stone, in the speech he gave when he received the Torch of Liberty Award from the American Civil Liberties Union back in 1987. (Savor the irony of that award and note that this rhetoric dates from decades before the war in Iraq and four years before the fall of the Soviet Union.)
"Our own country has become a military industrial monolith, dedicated to the Cold War-in many ways, as rigid and corrupt at the top as our rivals, the Soviets. We have become the enemy with a security state now second to none. Today we have come to live in total hatred, fear, and the desire to destroy. Bravo. Fear and conformity have triumphed. This Darth-Vadian Empire of the United States must pay for its many sins in the future. I think America has to bleed. I think the corpses have to pile up. I think American boys have to die again. Let the mothers weep and mourn."
Colin Powell has given perhaps the best answer to those who think America is trying to conquer the world. Referring to U.S. efforts in World War II, he said, "When all those conflicts were over, what did we do? Did we stay and conquer? Did we say, 'Okay, we defeated Germany. Now Germany belongs to us? We defeated Japan, so Japan belongs to us'? No. What did we do? We built them up. We gave them democratic systems which they have embraced totally to their soul. And did we ask for any land? No, the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead. And that is the kind of nation we are."
Oh, but acquisition of land refers to a Roman style of empire, rejoins French sociologist Emmanuel Todd. America has an Athenian style of empire, created by cultural force, economic power, and military intimidation.
In his book After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order (Columbia University Press), a bestseller in Europe, Mr. Todd says that the American Empire is actually weak, with an economy geared for consumption rather than production and dependent on foreign investment, a democracy that is giving way to an oligarchy of the rich, and a military that can only pick on small countries.
"Only one threat to global stability hangs over the world today," he writes, "the United States itself, which was once a protector and is now a predator." He urges Europe to maintain a nuclear deterrent-targeting America-and to look to a new protector: "A liberal and democratic Russia might one day protect the planet from America's aggressive attempts to regain its global imperial status."
Thinking the Dark Side is good, and the Light Side is bad is the Darth Vader fallacy, the true foundation for an Evil Empire.