Loading...
 

Don't Panic! July 17 2003

Your war questions answered

Is the United States an empire?

As sure as the sun is hot, the grass is green and vacuum cleaners and Carrot Top suck, the United States of America is an empire.

Because the U.S.'s political discourse is usually about as self-reflective and self-congratulatory as a grade-school pep rally, the concept of American Empire is hard for a lot of people to accept. In reality, we've been an empire pretty much since July 4, 1776.

Imperialism is the extension of rule or influence of one state over outside states or territories. Expanding from an Atlantic coast nation into one that stretches from sea to shining sea was imperialism. All of those cities in the Midwest that have Native American names don't have them because we were being sensitive and multi-cultural when we named them. They have those names because Native Americans used to live there. The first time the U.S. Navy sailed into Los Angeles in 1846, it was a foreign invasion. And before New Mexico was called New Mexico, it was just called Mexico. You get the idea.

Our imperialism hasn't just been confined to the North American continent though. Hawaii wasn't a state when Japan attacked U.S. Naval forces at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. It was a U.S. protectorate. We made Hawaii a protectorate (marketing jargon for "colony") in 1900 so we could do a better job of protectorating our lucrative sugar business there. On the same day (but across the International Date Line so it shows up in history books as Dec. 8, those sneaks!), Japan also attacked the Philippines, an American colony acquired from Spain in 1898. The same war against Spain that nabbed us the Philippines also got us Puerto Rico and Cuba. Even after Cuba went Commie and became allied with the Soviet Union, the largest foreign military presence on the island remained the U.S. Navy's base at Guantanamo Bay.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, we occupied and ruled West Germany and Japan. It wasn't our intention to make Germany and Japan our imperial possessions, but rather it was to mold them into countries that were stable and strong enough to resist the late 20th century's other great imperial power, the Soviet Union, without ever being so strong that they threatened us again. Oh, and we wanted to make a shitload of cash by selling them our stuff. It wasn't imperialism in the British way, which was to conquer a country, send in khaki-clad administrators, put up pictures of the queen and make people drive on the wrong side of the road. American imperialism was mostly hands-off enough that it didn't contradict too harshly our belief in ourselves as freedom lovers.

There were glaring exceptions to that. I doubt that the millions of Vietnamese who died trying to get U.S. forces out of their country would call us hands off. Ditto the Chileans who died when we instigated the overthrow of the democratically elected government there in 1973 because we didn't like it.

The reason American imperialism is being discussed as though it's something new is that the current administration is filled with people who have publicly declared their intention to mess with world politics in such a way that no other country will be allowed to grow powerful enough to challenge American dominance. To fulfill that objective, we've got a bunch of new military bases in the Middle East and Central Asia and several hundred thousand soldiers overseas, on every continent, looking after U.S. political and economic interests. If we can spread a little freedom, peace and prosperity while we're abroad, then good, but altruistic we ain't. If liberating people from tyranny was truly our national objective, we'd have half a million soldiers in Congo right now.

If you're still not convinced that the U.S. is an empire, consider the following. In April, a reporter from Al Jazeera asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld whether the United States was building an empire. Rumsfeld responded, "We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been." If Rumsfeld denying something doesn't make you believe it to be true, I don't know what will.

andisheh@creativeloafing.com



More By This Writer

Article

Monday July 2, 2012 10:14 am EDT
Fourth of July has devolved into a mindless national block party. Here's what we should do about it. | more...

Article

Wednesday September 7, 2011 04:30 am EDT
Ten years later, a TV terrorpalooza rings hollow | more...

Article

Tuesday September 7, 2010 09:11 am EDT
In the last-ever 'Don't Panic' column, we talk foreign policy writing cliches. | more...

Article

Thursday August 26, 2010 02:42 pm EDT
The Iraq war is over in the same way that daytime is over if you close your curtains. | more...

Article

Tuesday August 24, 2010 12:04 am EDT
Maybe Google Translator should add a Slang-to-English option, too? | more...
Search for more by Andisheh Nouraee

[Admin link: Don't Panic! July 17 2003]

Spider for Don't Panic! July 17 2003