Joseph E. Fallon’s article “The American Myth of World War I” (Vital Signs, January) contained a statement suggesting that the United States, in displacing Spain as an imperial power, had taken on some of Spain’s characteristics.

In one respect, there is a striking similarity between Spain’s century of imperialism (the 16th) and America’s (the 20th).  Each country suddenly found a source of wealth to finance her wars.  In Spain’s case, it was the gold of Mexico and Peru.  The money did nothing for the economic development of Spain, and, when it was spent, Spain’s days of glory ended.

In the case of the United States, it was the world’s adoption of the dollar as the global currency, which began with the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, at which foreign governments agreed to accept dollars with the assurance that they could redeem them at any time for gold.  This set the stage for the greatest governmental spending spree in history, one that continues to this day.

When President Nixon refused to allow foreign governments to exchange their dollars for gold in 1971, the party should have ended.  Foreign central banks, however, continued to support our currency in order to protect their exports to the United States, thus feeding America’s addiction to their underpriced products and supporting the U.S. government’s deficit spending.

In the last few years, two trends have developed that are bringing this to an end.  The establishment of the euro as the new central currency for Europe is not accompanied by a willingness of the European central bank to debase its own currency in order to support the dollar.  To the contrary, that bank may wish to see the euro supplant the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  At the same time, the sheer size of our trade deficit is forcing the dollar down against all other major currencies except that of China, which continues to support the dollar so that our industries may continue to be exported there.  That support presumably will end when most of our capital has been exported.  The result will be the opposite of what happened to Spain, which relapsed into her former poverty when the gold of the Americas was gone.  The United States was the richest country in the world in 1944, but she is now the greatest debtor in history and is sliding into bankruptcy even as Wall Street heralds a new bull market.

There is another important difference between the two empires: Spain gave more to the Americas than she took.  She ended the Aztec practice of human sacrifice and established a Christian civilization in the Americas.  She did not exterminate the Indians as our forebears did.

America, on the other hand, has crowned her empire with an invasion of Iraq, a country that posed no threat to us or to her neighbors.  The excuses for the invasion were lies, and the world knows it.  And now we talk of bringing the Iraqis freedom and democracy—all at gunpoint, of course.  We are sowing bitterness and hatred against us throughout the Middle East, even as the eclipse of our power approaches.

As for human sacrifice, we are not imitating the Spaniards here, either.  Planned Parenthood and its abortion facilities are headed to Iraq, if they are not already there.

        —Juan J. Ryan
New Providence, NJ

Mr. Fallon Replies:

Mr. Ryan offers an excellent overview of the evolution of the American economy since 1944, from world supremacy in the aftermath of World War II, to government “smoke and mirrors” over gold in the 1970’s to preserve that position, to our impending bankruptcy.  Validating Mr. Ryan’s thesis is the warning issued by the IMF on January 4.  As reported by Dow Jones, “the government faces a $45 trillion dollar shortfall in its ability to pay for [Social Security and Medicare] and all other long-term obligations.  Closing that gap would require ‘an immediate and permanent’ federal tax increase of 60% or a 50% cut in Social Security and Medicare benefits.”

I have to disagree with Mr. Ryan’s other thesis, however.  Contrary to his assertion, the Spanish did exterminate Indians and in greater numbers than the British or the Americans did.  Between 1492 and 1776, the Indian population in Mexico was reduced from 11 million to 1.5 million, while the eight million Arawak and Carib Indians of the West Indies were completely annihilated.

Nor do I see any evidence that Spain established a “Christian civilization.”  With endemic violence and corruption and illegitimacy rates among the highest in the world, Latin America is many things—but it is not a Christian civilization.