The Dark Empire? We're it

If you've read any pulp science fiction and fantasy — and I have, though not for decades — you know all about the Dark Empire.

The Dark Empire is that distant but mighty star empire which swoops down on the peaceful settlers of the planet Zipperdork 3 and suborns them to its plans for galaxy-wide conquest.

Or, in heroic fantasies, the Dark Empire inhabits the chaotic land of Dystopia from which it dispatches hordes of spell-flinging calvary to overrun the peaceful kingdom of Dragonsbane and enslave the heir to the throne inside a tower well secured by charms, demons, and bureaucrats.

The variations are endless. What's inevitable, though it may take several thousand pages, is that a few plucky starship captains will discover the lost super weapons of the ancient Vleen race and char-broil the empire's neutronium-plated space fleet.

Or, a ragged slave boy will find the magic sword Phallusia in the lost city of Oxnard and fulfill an ancient prophecy by slicing the Dark Empire's cavalry into flank steaks. And acquire the throne of Dragonsbane in the meantime, plus an interesting scar.

Whatever. If you've seen a Star Wars movie, or a Lord of the Rings flick, or a barbarian movie starring a professional bodybuilder, you've pretty much got it.

The thing is, the thing that really bothers me, is that nobody ever fills in the back-story for the Dark Empire.

Sure, the Dark Empire can field fleets of star destroyers and hordes of well-equipped warriors. But who builds the starships? Who joins the army? Where did these people go to school? Who raises the food? You can't conquer the galaxy, or even the trackless wastes of Dragsonbane, without a complete civilization to support you.

So, somewhere there must be a Dark Empire homeland. And no doubt you will find there the Dark Empire Missiles and Space Corporation, the First Bank of the Dark Empire, the Dark Empire Unified School District, Dark Empire Mall, and the Dark Empire Parks and Recreation Ministry. There are festivals and patriotic holidays, a Dark Empire Football League, and certified public accountants.

And millions of people who lead normal lives, go to work every day, raise children, and wave the flag. It doesn't take much to keep them in line; the Dark Emperor just need to use the right words:

The emperor doesn't "invade," he "defends the Dark Empire's strategic interests." He doesn't "blackmail" the tiny Kingdom of Twee into giving him their gold and treasure, he "welcomes them into the galactic economy." It goes without saying that the Dark Empire troops never rape, torture, or pillage. But if someone does say it, the Dark Emperor talks solemnly about "human rights violations," and finds a low-ranking scapegoat.

And so the Dark Empire's citizens are reassured and go back to sleep, and to their jobs making Hyperspace Deathbots or poisoned daggers for the Dark Empire's fighting men.

And that's why, from now on, I will refer to the United States' armed drones as "flying robot assassins." Which is, up till now, a term used mainly in the Middle East. Where they see drones in action.

So what's the different between an armed drone and a flying robot assassin? Just semantics. Otherwise, they're both robots, they both fly, and they can both seek out and kill particular people who may or may not be engaged in combat. Which is the definition of assassination.

But if President Obama were to casually mention the need for flying robot assassins to protect U.S. interests abroad — questions would be asked. Those words are dangerous. People might begin to wonder why the world's leading democracy, its beacon of freedom, needs an ever-growing force of flying robot assassins.

The famous cynic George Orwell wrote that a nation's gone completely corrupt when nobody dares call anything by its real name. Bribes become "campaign contributions." Domestic spying is called "anti-terrorist activity." And flying robot assassins are just, you know, unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones.

Inside the Armed Services, of course, they don't mince words. The armed drones have model names like "Predator" and "Reaper," and the military glories in the bloody imagery. Air Force basic training squadrons even have nicknames like "The Predators" and "The Reapers." You should see the t-shirts that they issue the recruits: here's one, below, courtesy of my local Goodwill Industries thrift store.

Whatever America does in the world, wherever, it leaves behind a trail of t-shirts. I collect them; they show up in thrift stores regularly. Here is a tee for the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa that is all about flying robot assassins, even if it's not so obvious at first.
The CJTF-HOA is the future of anti-terrorism in the Middle East. In large part, it's also a grim base and airfield called Camp Lemonnier in the baking-hot desert nation of Djibouti, on the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti's resources consist of dirt, rock, salt, lizards, pastoral animals, and a free trade zone. It is one of the poorer nations you've never heard of.

And thus Djibouti was happy to let the U.S. do anything it wanted with Camp Lemonnier, a derelict French Foreign Legion base. Conveniently located near Yemen, Somalia and the underbelly of the Middle East.

Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Camp Lemonnier is something of a pit: hot, dry, dusty, drab, desolate. Mind you, it's a pit with a giant weight room and fitness center. And the Bob Hope Chow Hall where, on Thanksgiving, low-paid Asian contract workers dress up as Indians and Pilgrims to serve turkey, steak, and crab to beefy men and women in green uniforms. And there are volleyball tournaments and parades and visiting rock bands, and a coffee house called the Green Bean Cafe (two locations). With
Wifi. Pictures aren't easy to find -- but they're out there.

Camp Lemonnier is also home to 400 to 800 Navy Seals, Army Delta Force special ops troops, and intelligence agents; five F-15 fighter-bombers; several spy planes; and a goodly flock of flying robot assassins. I can find very few pictures of all that, though base administration let one of the visiting rock bands have their picture taken in a spy plane.

So when anyone judged to be a terrorist or sympathizer dies in Yemen or Somalia or anywhere nearby, their cause of death likely flew in from Camp Lemonnier. From a flying robot assassin, or from real live assassins working beyond the bounds of law and constitution as we know it. But who believe, or at least are told, that they're defending their country from terrorism. And they're going to keep doing it for years to come; Washington is spending over a billion to make Camp Lemonnier a permanent base. The war on terrorism will never end.

And there's the ghost of George Orwell in the back of the room, waving a finger in the air: if we can't call things by their real name anymore, what's the real name of terrorism?

© U.S. Navy
Camp Lemonnier expansion

I hate to tell you: it's "resistance."Resistance by people who aren't really awfully wonderful in any way, shape or form. Resistance led, often, by fanatical, hateful religious zealots. But zealots with one valid point, or they'd have no support at all: that U.S. and the West have been trampling the region's sovereignty for the last 70 years in the name of oil and big corporate interests. (Name one other reason we'd care so much about the Middle East.) And they'd like us to leave.

They've chosen terror as their weapon, because it's what you can use when the other guy has all the guns and bombs and planes and body armor. And when your anger and hatred, perhaps, has grown past the edge of madness. So you try to break the will of the enemy nation, because you can't break their troops. Ramming airliners into the World Trade Center is one way to do that. Especially when some people interpret "World Trade" as a code name for the Dark Empire.

The wiggly thing about a Dark Empire is that it never looks dark from the inside. It can't, or its own people would begin to disavow it. So the gentle control words are used: "defense against terrorism," "support our troops," "spreading democracy."

And since it's actually done none of those things in recent years, from the outside our Dark Empire just seems darker and darker. As it fights not the War on Terror, but the War on Resistance: resistance to a world-girdling oligarchy of power, money, and greed that is based right here in America.

Might be a hell of a pulp novel in it, eventually. Though maybe not one you'd want to be a character in.

As if you had a choice.

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