Talk of the Town - May the force be with us June 02 2005

So I haven't yet seen Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. I gave this dude in black-and-red face paint a fiver to hold my spot in the ticket line while I got a refill on my Big Gulp. But when I returned, the dude and my R2-D2 sleeping bag were gone. (May the Force forever forsake him.)

But I hear that Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) says something like, "So this is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause."

And so begins the Empire.

The Panglossian Scottish Marxist historian V.G. Kiernan published the original edition of America: The New Imperialism (From White Settlement to World Hegemony) in 1978, just a year after the first release of Star Wars. Now, British publisher Verso offers up a new edition, with extensive additional material from historians Eric Hobsbawm (once the leading intellectual of Great Britain's Communist Party) and John Trumpbour to get us up to speed on al-Qaeda and the Iraq conflict.

The book comes out just a few weeks after George Lucas wraps up his epic series on an intergalactic empire created and defeated. Coincidence, I say, this is not.

Kiernan is one of those intellectuals who can make the second-smartest thinker in the room feel like an academic hack. He has written on European dueling, the history of tobacco, Shakespeare, the Spanish Revolution, Urdu poetry ... and he co-edited the Dictionary of Marxist Thought.

As I read through Kiernan's expansive multidisciplinary history of the American imperium from colonial days forward, I found myself thinking that his analysis of the present neo-con emperors sending their stormtroopers into the lands of Saladin was accurate, but surely nothing new.

Then I remembered that Kiernan saw most of this coming 23 years ago.

Despite a fairly damning analysis, Kiernan writes quite admiringly and optimistically about America: "America has been an essential part of the modern world's progress. ... Its vital spark, its ability to find a way forward, cannot be exhausted yet." Which I think can be fairly translated as: "May the Force be with you ... but don't give in to the Dark Side, OK?"

thomas.bell@creativeloafing.comAmerica: The New Imperialism by V.G. Kiernan. $18. Verso. 440 pages.??