Book Review: The Secret History of the American Empire
July 9, 2007

The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption, by John Perkins. Dutton Adult (2007).

In the post-9/11 era, a cottage industry of progressives-turned-foreign-policy-hawks has emerged, in Britain and the United States especially. The inimitable Christopher Hitchens, for instance – though he professes militant atheism in his latest book (God Is Not Great) – has evangelized prolifically in favour of the Bush’s administration’s war in Iraq, with the zeal that only a new convert can exude. “I used to be anti-war too, but now…” has become the refrain of Hitchens and a number of his fellow travelers.

John Perkins is another bestselling author writing with the aim of undoing past misdeeds, except that he’s traveling in a decidedly different direction. In 2004, Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man struck a chord with Americans increasingly wary of the war machine. The memoir tells of Perkins’s time serving “the Empire”, engaging in all manner of skullduggery against Third World countries while in the pay of the National Security Agency (NSA) and multi-national corporations.

The Secret History of the American Empire picks up where Confessions left off, and it’s clear Perkins still has a lot to get off his conscience. He details more of his own sordid activities, and publishes accounts from other mercenaries and “jackals” whose behind-the-scenes activities helped implement U.S. foreign policy in Indonesia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

One could legitimately call into question some of the “secrets” revealed. After all, many of his sources speak on the condition of anonymity, and many of their allegations are not (and indeed can not) be confirmed by the author. In parts, too, Perkins tells prolonged personal tales of dubious relevance to the overall narrative. So, for instance, we hear all about the time Perkins, while attending the World Social Forum in Brazil to speak about his first book, turned down the advances of an attractive journalist because of his suspicions that he was being entrapped.

If Perkins provides us too much information in parts, he leaves us wanting more in terms of solutions to the predations of what he calls the “corporatocracy”. After spelling out in no uncertain terms his belief in the utter destruction being wrought by global capitalism, his vague prescriptions for activism and his copious anecdotes about the spiritual and ecological wisdom of the Dalai Lama make for an underwhelming punch line. Perkins brings important hidden history to light, but it will remain for others to enlighten us as to the secrets of undoing the domination of the American Empire.


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