By Eric A Blair
When the word empire is used in the United States it is generally used to describe things like the Roman Empire, or the 19th Century European empires, or the Galactic Empire in the movie Star Wars. The idea that the U.S. might be an empire is a foreign concept. Empire is a term that is derived from the Latin, Imperium.
And that is why we hear political scientists using the term imperialist, or imperialism when speaking about empires. Imperialism is what empires do. The most basic examples of imperialism that are currently taught in U.S. history and political science classes is what has become known as the “Age of Imperialism” in which nineteenth century empires would dominate and exploit weaker states, generally in the underdeveloped world, and would set up colonies in them to maintain control of their resources.
One thing that is clear is that the old way of empires engaging in colonial imperialism is no longer in existence. But does that mean that imperialism simply ended after World War II? Some experts who have studied and written about imperialism argue that the amassing of colonies by the stronger state is the only way the term imperialism can be applied. Therefore, the U.S. cannot be considered as a genuine empire that engages in imperialism. Chalmers Johnson, professor emeritus at the University of California, argued persuasively that those who suggest imperialism is no longer in existence are using an “historically circumscribed view” and that “today imperialism manifests itself in several different and evolving forms and no particular institution – except for militarism – defines the larger phenomenon.” Professor Johnson defines imperialism when he wrote, “The simplest definition of imperialism is the domination and exploitation of weaker states by stronger ones” (Johnson 2).
So what exactly is the United States? What definition should we give to a country that has more than one thousand military bases (or lily pads), located in over one hundred fifty countries, spends more money per year on military expenditures than the top twenty other countries combined, and is actively dropping bombs in at least five different countries (Vine)? Sheldon Wolin, professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University, writes:
While all empires aim at exploitation of the peoples and territories they control, the United States is an Empire of a novel kind. Unlike other empires it rarely rules directly or occupies foreign territory for long, although it may retain bases or “lily pads.” Its power is “projected” at irregular intervals over other societies rather than institutionalized in them. Its rule tends to be indirect, to take the form of “influence,” bribes, or “pressure.” Its principal concerns are military and economic (i.e., access to bases, markets, and oil) (191).
Think about that. One of the most brilliant political theorists in this country, supported by one of the more prestigious universities in this world, is openly writing about the U.S. as being an “empire of a novel kind.” So why isn’t President Obama and Mitt Romney, or the Democrats and Republicans, or any of the mainstream media sources, talking about the American Empire? The word empire is rarely ever mentioned by politicians or media pundits even though they do speak about it. However, the language they use to describe the American Empire consists of euphemisms like, “the lone superpower,” or “indispensable nation,” or “reluctant sheriff.” And the euphemisms used to describe imperialism are “spreading democracy and freedom,” or “humanitarian intervention,” or “globalization.” Regardless of these euphemisms, the U.S. has become an empire that engages in imperialism, and the creation of terrorism, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, and the country’s bankruptcy issues are all consequences of empire.
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