What happens when the slave and the slave owner are no longer individuals, but rather, entire nations?
Since its abolition throughout most of the Western world in the nineteenth century, slavery has been regarded as a horrific institution of a dark past, alive now only in the pages of history books. Yet, while the legal practice of human trafficking has, for the most part, been outlawed throughout the majority of the world, in its absence has been born a different form of slavery, through the means of globalization and imperialism: the enslavement of nations.
The horrors of illegal invasion and foreign occupation comprise just one form of this modern-day slavery. The US occupation of Iraq sought to “free” the Iraqi people from the rule of a brutal dictator; yet this seemingly altruistic mission came only after the US’s failed attempt to uncover Weapons of Mass Destruction. Several oil wells and 655,000 civilian deaths later, we find ourselves caught in the middle of an illegal and unwanted occupation, while the US continues to force a so-called “democracy” upon an unwillingly governed people. A bogus series of elections and a dramatized execution completed the package of this physical and mental enslavement.
Other nations have responded to this successful formula for enslaving a nation. Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia emulates the US’s formulaic agenda. Much like the Iraqis, the Somalis are protesting the military occupation of their country, but the property’s wants and desires have never been taken into consideration within the institution of slavery. And just as the activists of the abolition movement were told to patiently “wait,” these protestors are told that occupation will end “soon”: in two weeks, in a month, in a year. Whether or not Ethiopia’s reign of tyranny will drone on as long as that of the US occupation of Iraq remains to be seen. But as long as there is political or economic gain to be had, the chains of slavery have never been easily broken. Much like colonial slavery, which was abolished only when it became obvious that feeding and caring for slaves cost more than they were worth, it is highly likely that these military occupations will end only when the enslaving nation ceases to foresee a benefit to its domination.
While foreign occupation is certainly one of the most blatant and brutal forms of nation enslavement, it hardly scratches the surface. The development of under-developed countries has, over the past half century, come at a great price. Throughout Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, Third World countries have taken loans through the World Bank and the IMF which directly funnel back into Western corporations to privatize the services of that country. Roads, schools, public utilities, and the development of technology are fully owned and controlled by the Western corporate mongers who roll into these countries, rape their land, and deplete their natural resources for the financial gain of the corporation. In order to fund these so-called “advancements,” the countries are forced to take out huge loans which they will never be able to pay back, forcing the countries to give up access to their natural resources (such as oil wells or access points) to pay the debts back. This vicious cycle truly embodies the realities of modern-day slavery; and while the citizens of the enslaving nation reap the benefits of luxurious lifestyles, the citizens of the enslaved nation are the ones scrambling at the bottom of the slavery barrel.
Much like nineteenth-century abolition, which was more about political and economic gain than humanitarian concern, foreign aid today is not usually altruistic. Countries who receive genuine aid are, more often than not, countries who serve a grand purpose in the scheme of the imperialistic agenda. So-called “debt forgiveness” comes at a price. Not only is the “debt” itself illegitimate (for it rarely, if ever, benefits the people of the countries for whom it was taken, but rather, benefits the Western corporations contracted into receiving that “loan” money), but it comes with a whole lot of conditionality attached. Often, these conditions include a Third World government agreeing to allow Western corporations to privatize their public services, such as water, electricity, or even public schools; therefore, this so-called “debt forgiveness” is really just a means of the Western corporate world enslaving these nations even further.
Enslaved, too, are the citizens of the enslaving nations. Whether 9-5 laborer or corporate CEO, they all run on the treadmill of this grandiose institution. Much like the lighter skinned house slaves on the plantation, these slaves are treated much better than the toiling field workers. They receive time off the plantation (paid vacation or holiday time) and enjoy better treatment from the master (for they are protected by labor laws). They also receive better medical care through corporate benefits packages and enjoy the thought of some day retiring. Yet the better treatment doesn’t alter the condition, for they, too, are slaves to the cause of globalization and imperialism. Tied to their jobs, chained to their mortgages, whipped by their volumes of bills, they are no freer to leave the corporate world than the cotton-picker in the field. Thus, the institution functions like a well-oiled machine.
The media also plays a great role in the grand scheme of things, for the institution of slavery is nothing without its mental component. With a select few media sources deciding what information gets broadcast to the public, the mental enslavement of citizens comes easily. Much like the master’s wife who chose which slaves could learn to read and write, the mainstream news channels enjoy the liberty of picking and choosing what information the public receives. Keeping slaves ignorant of their condition is one of the key elements in maintaining a successful operation, for it drastically decreases the possibilities of revolt. Today, credit lines which provide the keys to luxury vehicles, big screen TVs, and Sony Playstations replace the few mindless pleasures that plantation slaves were granted in exchange for their complacency.
With the United States as the Master of this global plantation and the World Bank and the IMF working as its cowardly overseers, the institution of slavery is still very much alive, in a terrifying macrocosmic form.