Liberty seems so fragile a thing, does it not?
We have it, gaining it at great cost. But think, piece by piece, year by year, it seems to slip away, or to decay into something as useful as a sucked-empty egg shell, pretty on the outside and with little but corruption within.
We have gotten so accustomed to this happening that we are scarcely aware it is happening. Yes, we see or hear about a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or some 10-second sensation on talk radio or the hourly news, but the long, slow, steady decline is hard to notice.
It is the same thing concerning our imperial status.
What’s that? Imperial America? What kind of weird thing is that? Americans have always FOUGHT empires, right? The British, the French, the German, the Austria, the Ottoman, the Japanese, the Soviet “evil empire,” and a few more? How can “WE” be an empire?
Good question, but one easily answered. Many of the AmerInd who inhabited this continent prior to European colonization were imperialists: of note are the Azteca, the Maya, the Iroquois Confederacy, and the great Confederacy of the Southeast, and very likely the Chaco Culture and others in the Southwest, and the Cahokia culture. Not all of these were empires for their entire existence, but they all had imperial characteristics.
The same thing was obvious with the first European explorers and settlers: they represented and were part of (or fleeing from) various empires. For example, the vast Hapsburg domains (not just Spain but much else in Europe), the French Bourbons, and of course the British: first the Tudors and then other royal houses, while in the fringes and niches of the big powers were the smaller imperial ventures: the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark. But the ultimate big winners in North America (despite a valiant showing and an indelible mark by France) were the United Kingdom and Spain. Those colonists along the largest part of the Eastern Seaboard, from Newfoundland through Nova Scotia and Massachusetts Bay to Chesapeake Bay and on down to Savannah were British: English and Welsh and Scots and Irish. They were proud members and junior partners in the great British Empire (version 1.o, as it turned out). Their blood was imperial blood, as great as that of Ancient Macedonia or Ancient Rome or Medieval Angevin or Bourbon or Hohenstaufen or Welf or other great imperial ventures and dynasties of Europe. They sought to expand the empire at the expense of Spain and France and the various AmerInd tribes and confederations that occupied the continent.
What we call the War of American Independence or the American Revolutionary War could equally be called a civil war: a war of secession from the Empire. A war which, unlike the Second American Revolutionary War, was won (or at least not lost) by the secessionists. Not hardly what we are taught in history, of course. But ridding themselves (officially) of a royal family and monarch did NOT change their imperial nature all that much: nor did the outbreeding to AmerInd, all of Europe, and a good chunk of Africa.
American imperialism swept across AND around a continent, assisted and encouraged the defeat of still more opposing imperial ventures (Spain, France, then Mexico and Brazil) and while much of North America was still unconquered, leaped the oceans as had Portugal and Spain and Britain and the Netherlands before us. (Long before the last AmerInd revolts and resistance was put down, the US or her surrogates had already laid claim and taken control of dozens of little out-of-the-way islands and ports, working in cooperation if not consultation with British interests, usually against Spanish and French efforts.)
The various squabbles between Brits and Americans (War of 1812, Jenkins’ Ear war, etc.) as well as internal American squabbles (slave revolts, the War between the States, etc.) were truly internal issues – more akin to bureaucratic infighting than much else.
Meanwhile France was virtually banished from the Americas, followed by Spain and Portugal and their New World successor empires, and then their successor states.
Too many people think that American imperialism did not develop until the late 19th century and the war against Spain. At that time, American imperialism WAS beginning a new phase, but it was at least two centuries old. Spain’s last pieces were swept from the New World gameboard, filibustering had been nationalized in the Western Hemisphere, and the American part of the Anglo-American Empire finally jumped nearly completely across the oceans – to the Philippines.
Too many people think that imperial powers must have a single center, but history does not teach us that: Ancient Israel, even before – but especially after the kingdoms divided, had Jerusalem and Samaria; Persia had Persopolis and Susa; for centuries the Roman Empire was ruled from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and Roma (mostly). Both London and Washington have, and still are the centers of the modern Anglo-American Empire: a global empire still greater than any previous in history. That was even more obvious in the early 1900s.
Imperial dominance can come in many forms – and is often disguised. The French empire, for example, still exists in much of Africa, where France controls the economies of supposedly independent nations and frequently intervenes in their local affairs. Although the United Kingdom has pulled back from the same tactics itself, nevertheless it supports American interventions, and works through its Commonwealth surrogates: Australia and Canada in particular. And today, Anglo-American (or American-Anglo) control – dominance – exists in most of the world in some degree or another: including the European Union and even the Muslim world, as well as much of East Asia and South Asia. Official title and control are not necessary de facto control.
Like Rome, modern America has conveniently come up with various ways to conceal its imperial power and promote the de facto condition both at home and abroad. And like Rome, it is both hated and loved by those IN the empire as well as those running and supporting the empire.
In part II, I’ll look at what this means and has meant for the past 40 or so years, and could mean in the future.