US is an empire. Yet few Americans know it or will admit to it.
We are unique in history. Previous empires proudly declared their status as empires, sometimes making it a part of their official titles. But I suspect most Americans would be ashamed if they discovered or were forced to face the truth.
When you call the US an empire, most Americans get defensive. We can’t even publicly acknowledge that the US is a corporatist police state.
For our entire history, the American people haven’t been able to decide whether we should be an empire or not. That was a major argument during the country’s founding and in the early decades of national politics. It became an even more central debate following the Civil War when expansionism went into full gear. The Native Americans had no doubts about America being an empire.
I’m not sure any other country has struggled so much with their collective desire for imperialism. It doesn’t just bother us that we are an empire, but the fact that we like being an empire. It comes with great benefits and it just plain feels good to be part of something so powerful.
So, why all the guilt and shame about what we are? Why not just admit it and embrace it? Maybe some public honesty would be a good thing.
It’s a strange thing living in an empire. I didn’t grow up knowing this fact. It never occurred to me until I was an adult. Empires were something one learned about in history class. They were in the past. The US was a democracy or, if you prefer, a republic.
It is hard to come to terms with this. What is an imperial subject to do? No one asked me if I wanted an empire, but here we all are.
I was thinking about it because of an article I read about another empire.
We had our Native American genocide and slavery. The Belgians aren’t as famous for imperialism, but they had their own imperial project in Congo. King Leopold II of Belgium created a slave society where millions were killed. He gets forgotten by Western history because he only killed dark-skinned people. If you want to be a truly great evil leader in the minds of Westerners, you have to kill white people like Hitler did. Only white people count and are counted.
“When we learn about Africa, we learn about a caricatured Egypt, about the HIV epidemic (but never its causes), about the surface level effects of the slave trade, and maybe about South African Apartheid (the effects of which, we are taught, are now long, long over). We also see lots of pictures of starving children on Christian Ministry commercials, we see safaris on animal shows, and we see pictures of deserts in films and movies. But we don’t learn about the Great African War or Leopold’s Reign of Terror during the Congolese Genocide. Nor do we learn about what the United States has done in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions of people through bombs, sanctions, disease, and starvation. Body counts are important. And the United States Government doesn’t count Afghan, Iraqi, or Congolese people.”
It was the part thrown in about the US that I wanted to share. I knew our actions were horrific, but I hadn’t realized they were that horrific. If killing millions of innocent foreigners around the world through invasions, occupations, bombings, etc doesn’t an empire make, then what does?
I doubt most people know such basic facts as these. One of the privileges of being an imperial subject is that you can choose to remain ignorant of the consequences. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t so lucky. It will take generations for them to forget the trauma of being the target of US imperialism.