Book Review: How To Hide An Empire

How To Hide An Empire:  A History Of The Greater United States, by Daniel Immerwahr

I have to admit that the subject of American imperialism is one that greatly interests me as a reader and writer [1].  And this book, while predictable from a certain political view that I do not happen to share myself, is at least not offensive in regarding the way that the American empire expanded in certain ways (namely bases around the world) but stopped expanding in others without giving the American government the credit of being genuinely anti-imperialist during the period at and after World War II.  To some expect this is a missed opportunity, as the United States government under FDR was vocally anti-imperialist when it came to the British Empire, and certainly Eisenhower was no great friend of the behavior of the British in trying to retain control of the Suez Canal, even if nationalization of American assets in Iran and Guatemala in the same period led to coups to overthrow offending leaders.  America’s empire is largely hidden, except to those who deliberately seek to look for it, and that is something that I must admit that I find very puzzling and also very interesting.

This sizable book of about 400 pages is divided into two parts and 22 chapters.  The book begins with an introduction that urges the reader to look beyond the logo map and also a note on the language and terms used in the book.  The first part of the book then discusses America’s colonial empire, starting with the exploits of Daniel Boone (1), the quarrel over Indian Country (2), the importance of guano to 19th century farming (3), Roosevelt’s experience in the Spanish American War (4), America’s imperialism during the period right afterwards (5), the Philippine-American war (6), the fate of Puerto Rico without accountable government (7, 8, 9), which even encouraged terrorist attacks from pro-Independence forces, America’s building of fortresses in the period before World War II (10), the relationship between warfare and imperialism before World War II (11), and the vulnerability of America’s pacific empire to the Japanese (12).  The second part of the book then discusses America’s postwar pointillist empire based on bases (II), with chapters discussing America’s World War II experience (13), the winding down of official colonialism after World War II (14), the lack of knowledge Americans have about Puerto Rico (15), the importance of synthetic materials to the ability to give up colonies (16), advances in technology and logistics (17), America’s interest in standardization (18), linguistic imperialism in English (19), the reason why islands and Mr. Bond’s villains are connected (20), Baselandia (21), and the war of points in the fight against terrorism (22), after which the conclusion discusses America’s enduring empire.  After this the book ends with notes, acknowledgements, and an index.

When we consider why it is that the American empire is hidden, a large part of that springs from the fact that the United States as a people tend not to have a conscious desire to dominate the world but have expectations when it comes to living their lives that tends to reflect an unconscious expectation of throwing one’s weight around and showing the flag and being respected and honored in the way that imperial peoples are.  Likewise, there is little interest on the part of either American media or America’s political leadership to take responsibility for the development of colonies that don’t have voters on them and which are not on the path to statehood because of their populations and which were acquired in a lapse of forgetfulness and frequently neglected afterwards to their own corrupt elites.  Without sustained interest on the part of the American people in their imperial territories or a fit of conscience to consider the implications of America’s bases abroad and their vulnerability as well as to consider America’s empire as a contradiction of our own political culture with its intense focus on responsible self-government, although it admittedly does not appear as if that is likely to happen anytime soon.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: How To Hide An Empire

  1. Pingback: Empire State Of Mind | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s