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Why It's Time to Use the "E" and "I" Words to Describe American Policies for 200 Years

Historians/History




Mr. Kimball is a professor of history at Miami University and the author of several books including To Reason Why and Nixon's Vietnam War. His most recent book is The Vietnam War Files: Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon-Era Strategy (University Press of Kansas, 2004).

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Several developments in recent years have revived the imperial question in mainstream discussions of American history. Among these, of course, were the traumatic events of September 11, 2001; the Bush administration’s ensuing rhetorical bluster; the expansion of U.S. military bases and commercial interests in Central Asia; the administration’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq; the critique of the invasion by the political and intellectual left-of-center; President Bush and Vice President Cheney’s advocacy and defense of the invasion, as well as their proven deceptive rationales for war; and the assertive public articulation of an imperial worldview by their cohorts and allies on the political and intellectual right-of-center.

Particularly significant in regard to the revival of debate about imperial question was not only the neoconservatives’ call for expansion of the American empire -- the history of which they celebrated as a positive good for civilization as they knew it or wanted it to be -- but also their explicit use of the “E” and “I” words (although in recent months they seem to have muted their empire/imperialism-speak). This latest praise of empire, coming as it did from the Right, which had perennially attacked the Left’s use of the E and I words, seemed to mark a turning point in historiography and popular discourse. At one stroke, they had lowered conceptual, linguistic, and political barriers that had previously deterred timid Americans from seriously discussing the question of imperialism and empire in reference to the United States. It was now more socially, politically, and academically acceptable to talk about empire and imperialism. For the conservatives, of course, this talk was about the global benefits of American empire.

Their argument for an empire of “democracy”must have struck many, as it did me, as analogous to Thomas Jefferson’s case for an “empire of liberty.” It is not a perfect analogy, but the two phrases held in common the explicit use of the E word coupled with the invocation of a reputed American “good.” In Jefferson’s case, it was the spread of liberty for land speculators, pioneering yeoman, and slave-owning planters. In the neoconservative case, it is the spread of one form of American-styled democracy and capitalism to the autocratic, economically stagnant Middle East and the rest of the Second and Third Worlds for the benefit of international corporate capital, as well as to facilitate the flow of oil to the metropolitan center. In both cases empire itself becomes a good, because it is held to be consistent with and beneficial to liberty and democracy (aka “free enterprise”).

In the long history of imperialism from ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome, through the Medieval Christian period in Europe and the imperial dynasties of China and the Ottomans, to pre-Encounter empires of the Western Hemisphere, to the British, Russian, and other empires of the nineteenth century, to the present, there had always been celebrants of empire and imperialism -- as well as critics. But as we all know, in academic historiography and political discourse, the tendency of most Americans was to apply the implicitly pejorative words empire and imperialism to the empires and imperial policies of other countries but not to those of their own country. Instead of applying the E and I words to their own history, most Americans used euphemistic phrases such as “empire of liberty,” “manifest destiny,” “frontier expansionism,” “open door policy,” “Wilsonian mission,” “international security,” “free world,” “superpower responsibility, or credibility,” “global leadership,” “anti-communist containment,” “the American Century,” “the war on terrorism,” and “great power hegemony.” This perhaps innocent fraud was and is similar to that of describing the American economic system with such meaningless but misleading terms as “free enterprise” and “marketplace economy” instead of with the more accurate historic label of "capitalism." These are frauds that elites who have an interest in diverting our attention from economic and foreign policy realities not so innocently encourage.

Whether innocent or not, in American historiography there is no equivalent to the large and sophisticated body of straightforward scholarly historical writing on the British Empire. For the past century and a quarter of professional, academic history, relatively few American historians (save the imperial school of colonial American history, early twentieth-century Progressives, Sixties neo-Marxists, New Leftists, and Cold War revisionists, and a smattering of recent historians) dared use the E and I words or write and talk directly about American imperialism or empire as enduring facts; that is, as intrinsic elements in the historical continuum of American policy and culture. The emergence of postcolonial studies in the past two decades (although salutary in focusing our attention upon the social and cultural history of the colonialized people on the periphery and semi-periphery) has contributed relatively little to the understanding of the dynamics of the imperial metropolitan center or the historiography of the causes of imperialism. This left even postcolonialist scholars, as well as the bulk of the intelligentsia and the citizenry, unprepared to understand the causes and policy implications of the recent and dramatic manifestations of American imperium.

Despite the current revival of interest in American imperialism, at least two obstacles, it seems to me, continue to hamper serious analysis of its history. The first is the persisting controversy about the meaning or definition of empire, imperialism, and related terms, such as colonialism and neocolonialism. The second is the habit of most who write about imperialism -- whether or not they use the E or I words, and whether they are academics or non-academics, liberals, conservatives, neoconservatives, or Marxists -- to confuse descriptive questions about American imperialism (such as, “has the United States been or is the U.S. an imperial nation?”) with normative questions (such as, “was or is American expansionism [aka imperialism] good or bad?”).

If we can put aside for the moment the second problem and focus mainly on the first problem -- the problem of definition -- I want to suggest that there is a solution. It is a solution that is not original with me, yet few who talk and write about imperialism and empire have embraced it.

The path to a solution begins with an acceptance of what should be obvious: imperialism, empire, colonialism, and similar terms are merely words we use to describe real things, behaviors, and policies; that is, real, tangible elements and events of the past and present. But what were and are those elements that some would call imperial and which by any other name would remain imperial in their metaphysical reality? For some time now the discourse about the meaning of imperialism has ossified around the different but hardened answers that conservatives, liberals, Marxists and neo-Marxists give to such questions as whether imperialism is primarily caused by political, ideational, or economic factors, whether those economic causes are intrinsic to capitalism, whether informal or neoimperialism is akin to formal imperialism or colonialism, and, in the case of the United States, whether the U.S. can be said to have practiced informal imperialism. (Often missing from the debate, moreover, was and is an analysis of militarism and its relationship to imperialism.)

The solution to this sterile, frustrating, and often ideologically driven debate, I believe, is to recognize that the word imperialism has etymological roots in ancient Roman Latin and that equivalent terms existed in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Anatolia, India, and China, pre-Encounter Mexico and Peru, and elsewhere in place and time. The varying meanings of imperialism evolved through history, yet what all meanings have in common is the notion of an unequal relationship between one entity (an elite, an ethnicity, or a polity) and another entity (another elite, ethnicity, or polity) that is dependent or subservient in some significant way, often if not always against its will during at least the initial phases of conquest or absorption. Through history, dominant entities have exercised their imperium through formal or informal, direct or indirect, legal or illegal means, by conquering and colonizing territory or not, and/or by establishing political, military, economic, ideational, and/or cultural hegemony over other territories and entities -- whether near to home, over the rivers and mountains, or across the seas. Usually, if not always, the concept of empire has implied great size, which itself is a term that is relative to time and place.

Applied to the history of the territories and peoples who came to constitute the United States, historians can readily appreciate that before and after the Revolution Americans continually exercised one form or another of historic imperialism. They expanded the size of their state and extended its sovereignty through military aggression or settler infiltration by seizing or colonizing territories formerly belonging to or occupied by native populations or foreign powers. In the process, they relocated or killed aboriginal peoples to expropriate their territory for the purposes of settlement, economic exploitation, or the establishment of military bases. They incorporated colonized territories into their polity or exercised dominant economic, military, or political influence over non-incorporated territories. For almost two hundred years they also used slave labor that had forcibly been seized abroad in order to exploit new environments, increase profit margins, and expand a particular way of life.

At present, the United States continues to practice virtually all historical forms of imperialism: military invasion and conquest; the keeping of large and potent military forces in a permanent war posture in far-flung lands; the maintenance of numerous military enclaves in which and out of which American soldiers are beyond the pale of local laws; the possession and governing of non-incorporated territories whose relationship to the United States is in reality colonial; direct and indirect military, political, and economic hegemony over other states and peoples; the practices of regime change and regime protection; and secret and not-so-secret military, paramilitary, and diplomatic alliances with other governments for the purpose of maintaining the empire (aka “status quo”).

Although presently in economic decline, the United States ironically continues to exercise hegemony abroad not only through its military superiority but also through what some have called financial “super-imperialism.” Since the 1970s foreign individuals, corporations, and nations have indirectly financed the American debt, American military spending, and American military adventures, because, having for the time being nowhere else to put their surplus dollars, these foreign entities purchase U.S. Treasury notes and American stocks and bonds.

Even in the political and military seat of the empire, the District of Columbia, the United States taxes indigenous residents but denies them their Constitutional and human right to vote for their own congressional representatives and to practice true local self-rule. The executive and legislative branches of the government of the United States rule the District through imperious committees, appoint judges, operate the court and prison system, prosecute most crimes committed in the district, overturn local laws governing the use of firearms, and control the District’s budget -- even the school system budget.

Whether abroad or at home, America’s imperial practices and policies were not and are not mere intermittent, aberrant, or accidental ones. The American empire was not created in a fit of absentmindedness. Nor can it be said that American imperialism is any less imperial because Americans have considered themselves exceptional in their supposedly noble motives or manifest successes. All imperial elites, ethnicities, or polities with hegemonic power considered themselves exceptional in some sense until they suffered catastrophic defeat and were forced to come to terms with that defeat, recognizing that history’s verdict applies to all. Empire and imperialism by any other names would still constitute the historic elements of empire and imperialism; they would look and feel the same. These are old words, historic words. Let us use them when appropriate, whether or not we think empire or imperialism to be good or bad, welcomed or unwelcomed, and whether one perceives benefits or fears blowback.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

This article reads for like a prescription for intellectual laziness. Never mind the subtle complexities, the unintended consequences, the rich contingent diversity, or the multifaceted interplay of short term human agency and long term trends in History. Keep the brain and the textbook closed, forget facts and dates, ignore historiography. All that matters is to learn the politically correct set of buzzwords. Imperialism, good, globalization bad. Capitalism good, free enterprise bad. By this dumb-down logic, the difference between the Marshall Plan and the "Bush doctrine" of preventative war is minor, what is important is to see that both are manifestations of "American imperialism". Abu Ghraib, the US Navy's tsunami rescue, the ozone hole, hip hop "music", the Peace Corps, and the export of advanced weaponry to tinhorn dictators: all uniform, inseparable examples of American "hegemony". At least the often silly sloganeering of the 1960s had purposes; civil rights, women's liberation, withdrawal from the Vietnam disaster, etc.. Here the only apparent goal is to sell unoriginal books.


Glenn Rodden - 8/15/2005

So, you are arguing with Chalmers Johnson and not Kimball? And what exactly are you arguing against?

Why not address the points made by Kimball? He stated that American historians, until recently, have avoided using the term imperialism to describe American foreign policy. That has changed. Neocons freely write about the American empire in glowing terms. The embrace of imperialism by conserveratives is a radical change in the historiorgraphy of American foreign policy and needs to be explained.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 8/14/2005

A more updated version of Encarta (2005) states the following:

“In 1965 the United States sent in troops to prevent the South Vietnamese government from collapsing. Ultimately, however, the United States failed to achieve its goal, and in 1975 Vietnam was reunified under Communist control; in 1976 it officially became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. During the conflict, approximately 3.2 million Vietnamese were killed, in addition to another 1.5 million to 2 million Lao and Cambodians who were drawn into the war. Nearly 58,000 Americans lost their lives.”

Notice, however, that the introduction to the overall article reads as follows:

“Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, military struggle fought in Vietnam from 1959 to 1975, involving the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (NLF) in conflict with United States forces and the South Vietnamese army.”

This means that the 3.2 million Vietnamese and 1.5 to 2 million Lao and Cambodian figures are included into the Second Indochina War, or overal from “1959-1975”. So the war dead in this article is not attributed to the First Indochina War when France was involved, but only the Second Indochina War, when the U.S. was officially invovled after the French had long packed up and left the country.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 8/14/2005

Bill,
"The numbers also included the French part of the war. And included all civilians who died because of the war or who were killed by anyone who fought in the Vietnam theater. You know that, but want to smear the US "

The Encyclopaedia Britannica states the following:

"The human costs of the long conflict were harsh for all involved. Not until 1995 did Vietnam release its official estimate of war dead: as many as 2 million civilians on both sides and some 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war... The Vietnam War had its origins in the broader Indochina wars of the 1940s and '50s, when nationalist groups such as Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh, inspired by Chinese and Soviet communism, fought the colonial rule first of Japan and then of France. The French Indochina War broke out in 1946 and went on for eight years, with France's war effort largely funded and supplied by the United States."

Is not the United States government just as responsible for the deaths that took place during the French Indochina War when it supplied and funded the belligerents? Perhaps I am being naive and obtuse, but again, even if half the deaths were from the First Inchochina War, does that not make the U.S. government just as repsonsible for the deaths that took place before they officially entered the war in 1964?


Syd Webb - 8/13/2005

Bill,

Learn to read for comprehension. My quote from Encarta upthread said, "The extensive use of napalm by U.S. forces maimed and killed many thousands of civilians". There was no suggestion that napalm was the agent of death for two millions.

Encarta's reference to "As a result of more than eight years of these methods of warfare..." refers to the period of commitment of regular US ground units in the RVN, 1965-73. Nothing to do with 'the French part of the war' as you try to suggest.

The two million Vietnamese deaths in the period, while largely civilians killed by the US, also included deaths at the hands of other parties and indigenous troops on both sides.

To discover how people could be killed at such an alarming rate, searching on phrases like "Rolling Thunder", "ARC LIGHT", "Linebacker" and "Christmas bombing" may assist. Googling on the phrase "more bombs were dropped than in" is also instructive. That is, if you really want to learn.

As it is we seem to be moving away from agreed definitions of 'imperialism' and 'empire'. Is there still anyone on this thread who isn't Bill Heuisler or me?

- Syd


Bill Heuisler - 8/13/2005

Syd,
Not only are you foolish, but you obviously can't add or quote properly.
Or you're trying hard to deceive.

In my line of work we call people who twist information grifters or frauds. You edited the quote you used.

The complete quote is:
"As a result of more than eight years of these methods of warfare, it is estimated that more than 2 million Vietnamese were killed, 3 million wounded, and hundreds of thousands of children orphaned. It has been estimated that about 12 million Indochinese people became refugees. Between April 1975 and July 1982, approximately 1,218,000 were resettled in more than 16 countries. About 500,000, the so-called boat people, tried to flee Vietnam by sea; according to rough estimates, 10 to 15 percent of these died, and those who survived the great hardships of their voyages were eventually faced with entry ceilings in the countries that agreed to accept them for resettlement."

But "these methods" didn't just refer to napalm as you tried to infer.

You avoided the complete quote:
"As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Vietnam War was essentially a people’s war; because guerrilla fighters were not easily distinguished from noncombatants and because most civilians were mobilized into some sort of active participation, the civilian populace of Vietnam suffered heavily, in unprecedented numbers."

The numbers also included the French part of the war. And included all civilians who died because of the war or who were killed by anyone who fought in the Vietnam theater. You know that, but want to smear the US

Want further proof of your deceit and your inanity? Do the math, Syd.

For the US to have killed 2 million civilians in the Vietnam War (or as you said 8 years) we would have had to kill 250,000 civilians each year.
That comes to 680 civilians a day.

Were the logistics at all possible,
not even such as you can believe our military is capable of such mindless atrocity. Lying? Misquoting? Dumb?
Which is it, Syd, old boy?
Bill Heuisler


Syd Webb - 8/13/2005

Bill Heuisler wrote:

When you avoid questions by repeating the questions and then repeating the false information, you look foolish.

Easy, tiger! Getting a bit heated up under the collar, I see. Your love of country does you credit but when you lash out irrationally it makes you look like a jingo, not an objective historian.

"Killed millions" is specific.
"Is Bill unaware of his country's wars and police actions in the 1900s?" is not a specific answer. Show millions killed by US or back off the stupid statement.


Most readers of HNN would be aware of the USA's contributions to the Second World War and the police actions in Korea and Vietnam. Let's just look at Vietnam. My source is MS-Encarta '96 - not a great cite but a convenient one:

"[T]the civilian populace of Vietnam suffered heavily, in unprecedented numbers. The extensive use of napalm by U.S. forces maimed and killed many thousands of civilians, and the employment of defoliants to destroy heavy ground cover devastated the ecology of an essentially agricultural country.

"As a result of more than eight years of these methods of warfare, it is estimated that more than 2 million Vietnamese were killed..."

"Vietnam War," Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. (c) Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.

Now, as mentioned elsewhere on this thread, "In fairness to the United States, when she has waged war it has been in support of her perceived national interests. But can we say different of any other empire?" So let's sidestep any sterile debate on 'Vietnam War: Good or Bad' and look for less sensitive parallels.

Ah! Afghanistan in 1979. The USSR supports a coup against Hafizullah Amin and sends ground troops into the country. Civic action programs are launched aimed at educating children, emancipating women and improving health care. Hundreds of thousands die and three million refugees are created.

While Afghanistan is on the USSR's borders she is projecting her power beyond her borders and the Brezhnev/Karmal relationship is an unequal one. We should be able to agree that the Soviet Union is engaging in acts of imperialism - irrespective of her stated intentions or what a partiotic Party member might say at the time.

Empires being Republics? Have you forgotten the point? WWI effectively ended any pretense of French Empire in the sense of Kimball's article. They acquired Alsace-Lorraine and some Middle East mandates, but the country was ruined.1,385,000 soldiers dead; 700,000 maimed; 2,344,000 merely wounded and a half million civilians dead - more than any other combatant. WWI was mostly on French soil and the country was devastated.

This is squid ink, presumably issuing as Bill tries to wriggle away. He thought the 3rd Republic ended in 1914, I corrected him and now we have this farrago.

France still exerted imperium over Algeria, Tunisia, Niger and Indochina to name but a few of her colonies. She acquired more to extend her imperium.

WWI may have been something of a pyrrhic victory for France but this does not deny that she had, to quote MS_Encarta again, "a new colonial empire in Africa and Asia, larger than the empire lost in the 18th century and second in extent only to the British Empire."

"France," Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. (c) Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.

Bill, take a chill pill and try, do try, to be a historian.

- Syd


Bill Heuisler - 8/13/2005

Mr. Webb,
When you avoid questions by repeating the questions and then repeating the false information, you look foolish.

"Killed millions" is specific.
"Is Bill unaware of his country's wars and police actions in the 1900s?" is not a specific answer. Show millions killed by US or back off the stupid statement. Simple.

The ploy exhibits deficient knowledge and deliberate deceit. In the future, when you accuse the US, it might be prudent to possess a few facts.

Empires being Republics? Have you forgotten the point? WWI effectively ended any pretense of French Empire in the sense of Kimball's article. They acquired Alsace-Lorraine and some Middle East mandates, but the country was ruined.1,385,000 soldiers dead; 700,000 maimed; 2,344,000 merely wounded and a half million civilians dead - more than any other combatant. WWI was mostly on French soil and the country was devastated.

After the war France decended into the political chaos of defeatism, pacifism and Socialism. Your Republic may have survived, but not Empire.

Mr. Webb, your replacing facts with wordy trivia doesn't fool many people on sites like HNN. Ideology isn't my hang-up; knowledge and accuracy are. Please back up your statements.
Bill Heuisler


Syd Webb - 8/13/2005

Bill Heuisler wrote,

Mr. Webb,
In your eyes the modern US is similar to the USSR? Great perspective for a history site. Embarrassing.

Bill is, of course, erecting a straw man argument. I did not equate the USA with the USSR. I merely pointed out that an empire need not have its imperium extended at the direction of an emperor. There can be a politburo, a national security council or - in the case of Victorian Britain - a Queen-in-council advancing the polity's interests abroad.

And killed millions? Facts, please. Name the countries and the times, otherwise we'll all get the further impression you don't know what you're talking about.

We were talking about US foreign policy of the last century. Is Bill unaware of his country's wars and police actions in the 1900s? Should he be allowed unsupervised on a history board?

In fairness to the United States, when she has waged war it has been in support of her perceived national interests. But can we say different of any other empire?

And your reference to France's Third Republic (1870 to 1914)

Ahem. The 3rd Republic lasted until 1940. Hope this helps!

clinches your hoplessly palsied grasp of history. All those Socialists and Radicals, the Paris Commune, the Constitution of 1875 and Georges Clemenceau would object strenuously to the description of the chaotic years after the loss of the Franco-Prussian War as empire.

And here I was thinking of the acquisition of Tunisia and Indochina in the 1870s and 1880s. It was fairly chaotic in the France of those years, cabinets coming and going and the country expecting the Republic to fall at any time. Just goes to show that a chaotic, squabbling republic can still exert imperium. Who knew? (Apart from my non-Bill readership, obviously.)

Your problems with history are a poor excuse for a low opinion of the US.

Bill still doesn't get it. The topic of discussion is not 'America: Threat or Menace?' The question is whether the way that the US projects her power abroad, and the non-reciprocal nature of some of her dealings with foreign powers, can be characterised with words like 'imperial' and 'empire' or not.

Bill seems to have some ideological hang-ups so that he word-associates 'empire' with 'evil'. Until he can work past this we are jumping ahead to argue normative questions without settling the descriptive.

- Syd


Bill Heuisler - 8/12/2005

Mr. Webb,
In your eyes the modern US is similar to the USSR? Great perspective for a history site. Embarrassing.

And killed millions? Facts, please. Name the countries and the times, otherwise we'll all get the further impression you don't know what you're talking about.

And your reference to France's Third Republic (1870 to 1914) clinches your hoplessly palsied grasp of history. All those Socialists and Radicals, the Paris Commune, the Constitution of 1875 and Georges Clemenceau would object strenuously to the description of the chaotic years after the loss of the Franco-Prussian War as empire.

Your problems with history are a poor excuse for a low opinion of the US. Guess you just don't know any better.
Bill Heuisler


Syd Webb - 8/12/2005

We avoid them because they are an ignorant misuse of the language done solely in order to phrase censure without offering foundation. Whether triumphalist or pejorative, the term empire is insulting to a country that, in the space of a century, has freed millions and restored countries to those we vanquished.

And killed millions, too. We probably should not overlook that. Especially as we are more likely to agree on a definition of 'killed' than 'free' in the inevitable debate on whether the millions killed were all, mostly, or only partially killed in a good cause.

Empire means governed by an emperor or a union under one rule.

My dictionary gives five definitions. The closest to the one used by Bill is "an extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, esp an emperor."

The term is from the Latin imperium meaning rule or authority. The US has no Emperor, we have no single ruler or authority and we strive to free people rather than to rule them.

This might be an important distinction to those within the homeland but of less relevance to the experience of those in the satrapies.

Consider the Roman Empire. During the Commonwealth period she exerted her imperium on her colonies and her client states. Yet when Rome changed from being a republic to having an emperor, when the domestic arrangements changed the imperium was unchanged and the experience of non-Romans was also unchanged. Whether the soldier who is stabbing you is under orders of the Senate and the People of Rome, or of Caesar, makes no difference.

Empires can be republics. The French Empire of the Third Republic and the USSR are just two more examples.


Syd Webb - 8/12/2005

I hesitate to introduce facts into a debate that has already gone down the rhetorical path yet feel I must.

1) The existence of US military bases throughout the world is given as evidence of an American empire, while the fact that the US pays rent for these bases and abandons them when asked to is never mentioned.

May one advance the counter-example of Guantanamo Bay? While the peppercorn rent is paid I understand the recipient government does not cash the cheque as a form of protest against an arrangement said government would like ended.

2) The American economy is said to be in decline and yet the rest of the world's investors place their money in the US because there is nowhere else to put it.

This statement doesn't change facts. In 1950, the perihelion of the US economy, almost half the world's GDP was American. The USA, while perhaps richer in absolute terms in 2005, has seen her relative wealth in constant retrenchment since the glory days of Truman.

3) The "regime change" undertaken by the US in Germany, Italy and Japan during the 40's would have to be defined as "imperialism" according to the definition given here. Another ridiculous thought.

Why a ridiculous thought? Could not WWII be a clash of empires? Could there not have been empires on the United Nations side? I see no reason why the British Empire and the Soviet Union could not be categorised as 'empires' as well as the USA.

Edwards seems the be reading Jeffrey's think piece through a normative lens - 'empires bad' - rather than accepting Jeffrey's statement at face value that he was trying to address the descriptive question, "Has the United States been or is the U.S. an imperial nation?"

True, neither the "Good/bad?" or the "Is she now or has she ever been?" questions can be answered unambiguously or scientifically. Each side of the question will have to assemble their preferred facts and argue as best they can. But for the debate to work, each side needs to agree on the question.


Bill Heuisler - 8/12/2005

Mr. Rodden,
Lets cut the crap. The thesis is sophistry. Key words Kimball uses and we banter are misleading,specious and insulting to most Americans.

Why deal with Kimball's argument, you ask? Because his argument insists on using pejorative terms to describe the United States and its motives.

You agree with Kimball and insist others explain words or reiterate Kimball's ridiculous position. You ask why, "the rest of the country still avoids the E and the I words?"

We avoid them because they are an ignorant misuse of the language done solely in order to phrase censure without offering foundation. Whether triumphalist or pejorative, the term empire is insulting to a country that, in the space of a century, has freed millions and restored countries to those we vanquished.

Empire means governed by an emperor or a union under one rule. The term is from the Latin imperium meaning rule or authority. The US has no Emperor, we have no single ruler or authority and we strive to free people rather than to rule them.

When you or Kimball wish to criticize US Indian policies or US slavery, be honest. Stop hiding behind false terms or parroting other so-called intellectuals who misuse our language.
Bill Heuisler


Henry Edward Bower - 8/12/2005

"The path to a solution begins with an acceptance of what should be obvious: imperialism, empire, colonialism, and similar terms are merely words we use to describe real things, behaviors, and policies; that is, real, tangible elements and events of the past and present."

Words describe real things, but they also must exclude other things in order to aid analysis. Overly inclusive words confuse rather than aid.

Britain and France controlled empires. Belgium and Germany also developed empires. Application of the term to Belgium and Germany aids in the study of the development of their empires.

Application of the term to the American invasion of Europe in 1944 and the subsequent maintenance of military bases does not aid in the study of the period. In fact, the real opposition to closing American bases in Europe appears to come from the Europeans, hardly an indicator of imperialism.

Belgium took tremendous resources from Congo in the late 19th century with almost no investment. American companies invested huge sums of money in Latin America in the late 19th and early 20th century and received some profits. Applying the term "imperialism" to both does not aid analysis, but hinders it.

The author's use of empire and imperialism as applied generally to the US are simply pejoratives arising out of ideology rather than being a useful term of analysis.


Glenn Rodden - 8/12/2005

Why deal with Kimball's argument that Americans have long avoided using the terms empire and imperialism to describe US foreign policy. And while you are at it, please explain why neocons have recently embraced those terms while the rest of the country still avoids the E and the I words.


michael haas brophy - 8/11/2005

The author seems to have paid attention to the Iraq War. He starts with 'shock and awe' rhetoric, which announces to the reader that if he stays out of the 'bad' postions he will be safe and then conclusions are reached: The neocon foreign policy is for the "benefit of intenational corporate capital," and "flow of oil to blah, blah, blah." Profesor, I don't need a grade in the course; so "Bye-bye."


Bill Heuisler - 8/11/2005

Mr. Rodden,
Read Chalmers Johnson's book and note how Mr. Kimball sets up the same phoney set of circumstances:

I'll paraphrase (cut and paste).

"Applied to...the United States, historians can readily appreciate that before and after the Revolution Americans continually exercised one form or another of historic imperialism. They expanded the size of their state and extended its sovereignty through military aggression or settler infiltration by seizing or colonizing territories formerly belonging to or occupied by native populations or foreign powers. In the process, they relocated or killed aboriginal peoples to expropriate their territory for the purposes of settlement, economic exploitation, or the establishment of military bases. They incorporated colonized territories into their polity or exercised dominant economic, military, or political influence over non-incorporated territories."

"...whose relationship to the United States is in reality colonial..."

"...Although presently in economic decline, the United States..."

This is the exact argument made by Johnson in his 2000 book and used some of the same phrases.
Bill Heuisler


Frederick Thomas - 8/11/2005

Mr. Clark:

This is a fan letter.

As Auden said on the eve of WW II,

"Time, which is intolerant
of the brave and innocent
and indifferent in a week
to a beautiful physique
worships language, and forgives
every one by whom it lives..."

You make it live, Mr. Clark.

Could it be, that somewhere in a hidden campus, high on a clouded mountaintop, a single rhetoric course survives, having escaped the relativist's knife?

Thanks again!


Glenn Rodden - 8/11/2005

"Kimball-Johnson thesis: All empires fall. The US is an empire. We have military bases abroad. We killed Indians, fought Philippine patriots annexed Hawaii and will suffer the same fate as the Romans and, God Help Us, the European colonialists."

Where does Kimball make this argument?


James Spence - 8/11/2005

"blowback" is a Cold War term: when a foreign policy comes back home to haunt its authors.


Bill Heuisler - 8/10/2005

Michael,
Since the 2000 publishing of Chalmers Johnson's (Imperial America Will Fall as all Empires Have) book, using the word, Blowback" to mean unintended consequences, the Left has shoved the trendy term into many conversations where it doesn't belong.

In the CIA the term means having the wrong result. Johnson used the term as though we shouldn't have helped the Afganis resist Soviet invasion because - years later - we created an enemy. He forgets all the Afgani allies we have and the fact the USSR was repulsed. In Kimball's world, blowback means the US is wrong, no matter what happens or the intent.

Kimball-Johnson thesis: All empires fall. The US is an empire. We have military bases abroad. We killed Indians, fought Philippine patriots annexed Hawaii and will suffer the same fate as the Romans and, God Help Us, the European colonialists.

Ahistorical nonsense should receive the scorn it deserves on HNN. There is no mention by Kimball (and little by Johnson) of historical US good works and altruism, or of millions of people freed from tyrany by our efforts.
Bill Heuisler


Michael Barnes Thomin - 8/10/2005

No, "blowback" was actually a word coined by the C.I.A., and it means "unintended consequences".


Glenn Rodden - 8/9/2005

"All that matters is to learn the politically correct set of buzzwords. Imperialism, good, globalization bad. Capitalism good, free enterprise bad. By this dumb-down logic, the difference between the Marshall Plan and the "Bush doctrine" of preventative war is minor, what is important is to see that both are manifestations of "American imperialism". Abu Ghraib, the US Navy's tsunami rescue, the ozone hole, hip hop "music", the Peace Corps, and the export of advanced weaponry to tinhorn dictators: all uniform, inseparable examples of American "hegemony"."

Where does Kimball actually make these statements?




James Spence - 8/9/2005

Mr. Clarke. Do you believe the Marshall Plan was only about domination then as compared to what Bush is now attempting? Europe was in a bad situation after the war and the victors took advantage (has the present administration also taken advantage?). Out of curiosity, in one or two words, what would you say to what the U.S. has done and continues doing with the world militarily, economically, etc.? Kimball uses the I and E words. What words do you use?


Edward Siegler - 8/9/2005

"Blowback" is another world for "it's all your fault."


Bill Heuisler - 8/8/2005

What's next, blood-red skies, planets aligned, a Second Coming? Siegler, Lederer and Heuisler all agree with Peter Clarke. A beautiful thing.

Notice how recent poseurs add the newly profound word, "blowback", to their efforts? A gauche recognition signal? A gang sign, so other vapid souls can simply skip the flummery?
Bill Heuisler


Edward Siegler - 8/8/2005

... and that makes two of us, John. Well said, Peter.

A couple other points:

1) The existence of US military bases throughout the world is given as evidence of an American empire, while the fact that the US pays rent for these bases and abandons them when asked to is never mentioned. What sort of Roman, Egyptian, Persian or any other imperialists would do this?

2) The American economy is said to be in decline and yet the rest of the world's investors place their money in the US because there is nowhere else to put it. This is laughable.

3) The "regime change" undertaken by the US in Germany, Italy and Japan during the 40's would have to be defined as "imperialism" according to the definition given here. Another ridiculous thought.

As Peter says - the purpose must be to "sell unoriginal books" because the it's highly unlikely that this author intends to embarrass himself.


John H. Lederer - 8/8/2005

Gulp...Peter Clarke and I agree.