American imperialism is the economic, military, and cultural influence of the United States on other countries. Such influence often goes hand in hand with expansion into foreign territories. Expansion on a grand scale is the primary objective of an empire, a notable example being the British Empire. The concept of an American Empire was first popularized during the presidency of James K. Polk who led the United States into the Mexican–American War of 1846, and the eventual annexation of California and other western territories via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden purchase.
- Imperialism and empire 1
- American exceptionalism 2
Views of American imperialism 3
- Empire 3.1
- Factors unique to the "Age of imperialism" 4
U.S. foreign policy debate 5
- Cultural imperialism 5.1
- U.S. military bases 6
- Benevolent imperialism 7
- World War I 8
- See also 9
- Notes and references 10
- Further reading 11
Imperialism and empire
Thomas Jefferson, in the 1790s, awaited the fall of the Spanish empire until "our population can be sufficiently advanced to gain it from them piece by piece." In turn, historian Sidney Lens notes that "the urge for expansion – at the expense of other peoples – goes back to the beginnings of the United States itself." Yale historian Paul Kennedy put it, "From the time the first settlers arrived in Virginia from England and started moving westward, this was an imperial nation, a conquering nation." "
In the late nineteenth century, foreign territories such as Hawaii and Latin America were feverishly sought after by the United States. The Teller Amendment and the Platt Amendment were used in unison to grant the United States the right to intervene in those territories if that particular government was deemed unfit to rule itself. The American government now held the power to both criticize and occupy any nation that it deemed to be unstable.
Stuart Creighton Miller says that the public's sense of innocence about Realpolitik impairs popular recognition of U.S. imperial conduct. The resistance to actively occupying foreign territory has led to policies of exerting influence via other means, including governing other countries via surrogates, where domestically unpopular governments survive only through U.S. support.
The maximum geographical extension of American direct political and military control happened in the aftermath of World War II, in the period after the surrender and occupations of Germany and Austria in May and later Japan and Korea in September 1945 and before the independence of the Philippines in July 1946.
American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States occupies a special niche among the nations of the world in terms of its national credo, historical evolution, and political and religious institutions and origins.
Philosopher Douglas Kellner traces the identification of American exceptionalism as a distinct phenomenon back to 19th century French observer Alexis de Tocqueville, who concluded by agreeing that the U.S., uniquely, was "proceeding along a path to which no limit can be perceived."
American exceptionalism is popular among people within the U.S., but its validity and its consequences are disputed. Some American citizens will participate in exceptionalism without even being aware of it. Such instances occur when American interests and advancements are justified solely on the basis of its economic standing or the protection of human rights. The American public's attitude towards intervention in Cuba and the Philippines was one of sheer sympathy, all due to the propaganda utilized to portray the Americans as the worldwide protector of human rights.
As a Monthly Review editorial opines on the phenomenon, "in Britain, empire was justified as a benevolent 'white man's burden'. And in the United States, empire does not even exist; 'we' are merely protecting the causes of freedom, democracy, and justice worldwide."
Views of American imperialismsuper-imperialism", and (5) "Hardt-and-Negri-ite" theories. There is also a conservative, anti-interventionist view as expressed by American journalist John T. Flynn:
The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims, while incidentally capturing their markets; to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples, while blundering accidentally into their oil wells.
A "social-democratic" theory says that imperialistic U.S. policies are the products of the excessive influence of certain sectors of U.S. business and government—the arms industry in alliance with military and political bureaucracies and sometimes other industries such as oil and finance, a combination often referred to as the "military–industrial complex". The complex is said to benefit from war profiteering and the looting of natural resources, often at the expense of the public interest. The proposed solution is typically unceasing popular vigilance in order to apply counter-pressure. Johnson holds a version of this view.
Alfred T. Mahan, who served as an officer in the U.S. Navy during the late 19th century, supported the notion of American imperialism in his 1890 book titled The Influence of Sea Power upon History. In chapter one Mahan argued that modern industrial nations must secure foreign markets for the purpose of exchanging goods and, consequently, they must maintain a maritime force that is capable of protecting these trade routes.
A theory of "super-imperialism" says that imperialistic U.S. policies are not driven simply by the interests of American businesses, but by the interests of the economic elites of a global alliance of developed countries. Capitalism in Europe, the U.S., and Japan has become too entangled, in this view, to permit military or geopolitical conflict between these countries, and the central conflict in modern imperialism is between the global core and the global periphery rather than between imperialist powers.
Following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the idea of American imperialism was reexamined. On October 15, the cover of William Kristol's Weekly Standard carried the headline, "The Case for American Empire." Rich Lowry, editor in chief of the National Review, called for "a kind of low-grade colonialism" to topple dangerous regimes beyond Afghanistan. The columnist Charles Krauthammer declared that, given complete U.S. domination "culturally, economically, technologically and militarily," people were "now coming out of the closet on the word 'empire.'" The New York Times Sunday magazine cover for January 5, 2003, read "American Empire: Get Used To It."
In the book "Empire", Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argued that "the decline of Empire has begun". Hardt says the Iraq War is a classically imperialist war, and is the last gasp of a doomed strategy. This new era still has colonizing power, but it has moved from national military forces based on an economy of physical goods to networked biopower based on an informational and affective economy. The U.S. is central to the development and constitution of a new global regime of international power and sovereignty, termed Empire, but is decentralized and global, and not ruled by one sovereign state; "the United States does indeed occupy a privileged position in Empire, but this privilege derives not from its similarities to the old European imperialist powers, but from its differences." Hardt and Negri draw on the theories of Spinoza, Foucault, Deleuze, and Italian autonomist marxists.
Geographer David Harvey says there has emerged a new type of imperialism due to geographical distinctions as well as uneven levels of development. He says there has emerged three new global economic and politics blocs: the United States, the European Union, and Asia centered on China and Russia. He says there are tensions between the three major blocs over resources and economic power, citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, whose goal was to prevent rivals from controlling oil. Furthermore, Harvey argues there can arise conflict within the major blocs between capitalists and politicians due to their opposing economic interests. Politicians, on the other hand, live in geographically fixed locations and are, in the U.S. and Europe, accountable to the electorate. The 'new' imperialism, then, has led to an alignment of the interests of capitalists and politicians in order to prevent the rise and expansion of possible economic and political rivals from challenging America's dominance.
Classics professor and war historian Victor Davis Hanson dismisses the notion of an American empire altogether, mockingly comparing it to other empires: "We do not send out proconsuls to reside over client states, which in turn impose taxes on coerced subjects to pay for the legions. Instead, American bases are predicated on contractual obligations — costly to us and profitable to their hosts. We do not see any profits in Korea, but instead accept the risk of losing almost 40,000 of our youth to ensure that Kias can flood our shores and that shaggy students can protest outside our embassy in Seoul."
Factors unique to the "Age of imperialism"
A variety of factors may have coincided during the "Age of Imperialism" in the late 19th century, when the United States and the other major powers rapidly expanded their territorial possessions. Some of these are explained, or used as examples for the various perceived forms of American imperialism.
- The prevalence of racism, notably John Fiske's conception of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, and Josiah Strong's call to "civilize and Christianize"—all manifestations of a growing Social Darwinism and racism in some schools of American political thought.
- Early in his career, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in preparing the Navy for the Spanish–American War and was an enthusiastic proponent of testing the U.S. military in battle, at one point stating "I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one".
Industry and trade are two of the most prevalent factors unique to imperialism. American intervention in both Latin America and Hawaii resulted in multiple industrial investments, including the popular industry of Dole bananas. If the United States was able to annex a territory, in turn they were granted access to the trade and capital of those territories. In 1898, Senator Albert Beveridge proclaimed that an expansion of markets was absolutely necessary, "American factories are making more than the American people can use; American soil is producing more than they can consume. Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours."
U.S. foreign policy debate
Annexation is a crucial instrument in the expansion of a nation, due to the fact that once a territory is annexed it must act within the confines of its superior counterpart. The United States Congress' ability to annex a foreign territory is explained in a report from the Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations, "If, in the judgment of Congress, such a measure is supported by a safe and wise policy, or is based upon a natural duty that we owe to the people of Hawaii, or is necessary for our national development and security, that is enough to justify annexation, with the consent of the recognized government of the country to be annexed."
Prior to annexing a territory, the American government still held immense power through the various legislations passed in the late 1800s. The Platt Amendment was utilized to prevent Cuba from entering into any agreements with foreign nations, and also granted the Americans the right to build naval stations on their soil. Executive officials in the American government began to determine themselves the supreme authority in matters regarding the recognition or restriction of independence.
When asked on April 28, 2003, on al-Jazeera whether the United States was "empire building," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld replied "We don't seek empires, we're not imperialistic. We never have been."
However, historian Donald W. Meinig says the imperial behavior by the United States dates at least to the Louisiana Purchase, which he describes as an "imperial acquisition—imperial in the sense of the aggressive encroachment of one people upon the territory of another, resulting in the subjugation of that people to alien rule." The U.S. policies towards the Native Americans he said were "designed to remold them into a people more appropriately conformed to imperial desires."
Writers and academics of the early 20th century, like Charles A. Beard, in support of non-interventionism (sometimes referred to as "isolationism"), discussed American policy as being driven by self-interested expansionism going back as far as the writing of the Constitution. Some politicians today do not agree. Pat Buchanan claims that the modern United States' drive to empire is "far removed from what the Founding Fathers had intended the young Republic to become."
Andrew Bacevich argues that the U.S. did not fundamentally change its foreign policy after the Cold War, and remains focused on an effort to expand its control across the world. As the surviving superpower at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. could focus its assets in new directions, the future being "up for grabs" according to former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz in 1991.
In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, the political activist Noam Chomsky argues that exceptionalism and the denials of imperialism are the result of a systematic strategy of propaganda, to "manufacture opinion" as the process has long been described in other countries.
Thorton wrote that "[...]imperialism is more often the name of the emotion that reacts to a series of events than a definition of the events themselves. Where colonization finds analysts and analogies, imperialism must contend with crusaders for and against." Political theorist Michael Walzer argues that the term hegemony is better than empire to describe the US's role in the world; political scientist Robert Keohane agrees saying, a "balanced and nuanced analysis is not aided...by the use of the phrase 'empire' to describe United States hegemony, since 'empire' obscures rather than illuminates the differences in form of rule between the United States and other Great Powers, such as Great Britain in the 19th century or the Soviet Union in the twentieth.". Emmanuel Todd assumes that USA cannot hold for long the status of mondial hegemonic power due to limited resources. Instead, USA is going to become just one of the major regional powers along with European Union, China, Russia, etc.
Other political scientists, such as Daniel Nexon and Thomas Wright, argue that neither term exclusively describes foreign relations of the United States. The U.S. can be, and has been, simultaneously an empire and a hegemonic power. They claim that the general trend in U.S. foreign relations has been away from imperial modes of control.
[...], so influential has been the discourse insisting on American specialness, altruism and opportunity, that imperialism in the United States as a word or ideology has turned up only rarely and recently in accounts of the United States culture, politics and history. But the connection between imperial politics and culture in North America, and in particular in the United States, is astonishingly direct.
International relations scholar David Rothkopf disagrees and argues that cultural imperialism is the innocent result of globalization, which allows access to numerous U.S. and Western ideas and products that many non-U.S. and non-Western consumers across the world voluntarily choose to consume. Matthew Fraser has a similar analysis, but argues further that the global cultural influence of the U.S. is a good thing.
Nationalism is the main process through which the government is able to shape public opinion. Propaganda in the media is strategically placed in order to promote a common attitude among the people. Louis A. Perez Jr. provides an example of propaganda used during the War of 1898, "We are coming, Cuba, coming; we are bound to set you free! We are coming from the mountains, from the plains and inland sea! We are coming with the wrath of God to make the Spaniards flee! We are coming, Cuba, coming; coming now!"
U.S. military bases
While territories such as Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico remain under U.S. control, the U.S. allowed many of its overseas territories or occupations to gain independence after World War II. Examples include the Philippines (1946), the Panama canal zone (1979), Palau (1981), the Federated States of Micronesia (1986), and the Marshall Islands (1986). Most of them still have U.S. bases within their territories. In the case of Okinawa, which came under U.S. administration after the battle of Okinawa during World War II, this happened despite local popular opinion. As of 2003, the United States had bases in over 36 countries worldwide.
One of the earliest historians of American Empire, William Appleman Williams, wrote, "The routine lust for land, markets, or security became justifications for noble rhetoric about prosperity, liberty, and security."
Max Boot defends U.S. imperialism by claiming: "U.S. imperialism has been the greatest force for good in the world during the past century. It has defeated communism and Nazism and has intervened against the Taliban and Serbian ethnic cleansing." Boot used "imperialism" to describe United States policy, not only in the early 20th century but "since at least 1803". This embrace of empire is made by others neoconservatives, including British historian Paul Johnson, and writers Dinesh D'Souza and Mark Steyn. It is also made by some liberal hawks, such as political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Michael Ignatieff.
British historian Niall Ferguson argues that the United States is an empire and believes that this is a good thing. Ferguson has drawn parallels between the British Empire and the imperial role of the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, though he describes the United States' political and social structures as more like those of the Roman Empire than of the British. Ferguson argues that all of these empires have had both positive and negative aspects, but that the positive aspects of the U.S. empire will, if it learns from history and its mistakes, greatly outweigh its negative aspects.
Another point of view implies that United States expansion overseas has indeed been imperialistic, but that this imperialism is only a temporary phenomenon; a corruption of American ideals or the relic of a past historical era. Historian Samuel Flagg Bemis argues that Spanish–American War expansionism was a short-lived imperialistic impulse and "a great aberration in American history", a very different form of territorial growth than that of earlier American history. Historian Walter LaFeber sees the Spanish–American War expansionism not as an aberration, but as a culmination of United States expansion westward.
Historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that the U.S. does not pursue world domination, but maintains worldwide influence by a system of mutually beneficial exchanges. On the other hand, a Filipino revolutionary General Emilio Aquinaldo felt as though the American involvement in the Philippines was mutually destructive, "…the Filipinos fighting for Liberty, the American people fighting them to give them liberty. The two peoples are fighting on parallel lines for the same object. We know that parallel lines never meet." American influence worldwide and the effects it has on other nations have multiple interpretations according to whose perspective is being taken into account.
Liberal internationalists argue that even though the present world order is dominated by the United States, the form taken by that dominance is not imperial. International relations scholar John Ikenberry argues that international institutions have taken the place of empire.
International relations scholar Joseph Nye argues that U.S. power is more and more based on "soft power", which comes from cultural hegemony rather than raw military or economic force. This includes such factors as the widespread desire to emigrate to the United States, the prestige and corresponding high proportion of foreign students at U.S. universities, and the spread of U.S. styles of popular music and cinema. Mass immigration into America may justify this theory, but it is hard to know for sure whether the United States would still maintain its prestige without its military and economic superiority.
World War I
American imperialism did not end with the beginning of the First World War. When World War I broke out in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson promised American neutrality throughout the war. This promise was broken when the United States entered the war after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by German submarines. The war for the United States was "a war for empire" according to the historian W.E.B. Du Bois, as historian Howard Zinn explains in his book, A Peoples Republic . Zinn argues that the United States entered the war in order to create an international market that could be beneficial to the United States through conquest.
During the First World War, some of the American Imperialism at the time can be viewed as imperialism to stop the spread of democracy to certain countries, such as Haiti. According to the noted writer and progressive Randolph Bourne, the United States did not enter the war with intentions to make the world a better place or else they would have required a principle of international order. Bourne criticizes intellectuals who gave support for the war without knowing the true intentions of the United States government. Even though Bourne believes that the United States entered the war imperialistically, he states that many intellectuals believed at the time that the United States intervened in the war to promote democracy. Bourne believes that by leading the public into the war, with many intellectuals unsure of the actual reasons for the war, the country led an apathetic nation into what he considers an irresponsible war.
The United States invaded Haiti in July 1915 after having made landfall eight times previously. American rule in Haiti continued through 1942, but was initiated during World War I. The historian Mary Renda in her book, Taking Haiti, talks about the American invasion of Haiti to bring about political stability through U.S. control. The American government did not believe Haiti was ready for self-governing or democracy, according to Renda. In order to bring about political stability in Haiti, without allowing for self-governance, the United State secured control and integrated the country into the international capitalist economy, while preventing Haiti from securing their own democracy. In order to convince the American public of the uncivilized nature of Haiti, the United States government used paternalism to make it seem to the American government that the Haitian political process was uncivilized. While Haiti had been running their own government for many years before American intervention, the United States felt as though Haiti was unfit for self-rule, even though it may not have been true at all. Americans saw the Haitians as children in need of guidance due to the corrupt thoughts of the U.S. officials who rationalized American imperialism in Haiti. Through their imperialistic control, the United States made the Haitian government agree to terms laid out by the U.S. government as well as directly supervising the Haitian economy. This direct supervision of the Haitian economy stressed the uncivilized nature of the Haitian political process by the American government to the U.S. citizens and prevented the spread of democracy to Haiti where they were unable to form their own government under U.S. imperialistic control.
In 1917, Russia went through a revolution, removing Tsar Nicholas II from power. The United States, including President Wilson, praised this revolution and felt that it was a step towards postwar world order. Not long after, the Bolsheviks overthrew the new Russian government. The United States government was stunned with the second revolution and was against the Bolshevik proposed armistice with Germany. In order to keep the Bolsheviks from gaining allied supplies in Russia, Wilson agreed to an intervention in Russia. The United States and the allies entered into a war with the Soviets, with the first U.S. troops landing in Russia in September 1918. After the defeat of the Germans, the war in Russia continued, with the United States and the allies opposing the Bolsheviks. This intervention in Russia was imperialistic by its nature opposing the Soviet government in favor of a government that would align with the allied and American views. In their attempt to overthrow the Bolshevik government, the United States showed an imperialistic attitude towards a nation that was still aligned with the allies officially.
Notes and references
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