Empire or Democracy? Rome couldn’t have both, and when it decided to be an empire, it was dictator time. One man rule seems to be the norm for empires, with Britain being the sole exception. Of course early on in her imperial adventures, the king actually did rule the roost over there, but by the time they got around to annexing the subcontinent of India under Queen Victoria, the monarchy had become a figurehead position and it was democratically elected citizens of the United Kingdom that spread and maintained the British Empire.
Of course Britain is an empire no more, having lost control of her vast territories following World War 2, even though they fought on the side of the winners of that conflict. The thought was that the age of colonialism and empires had come to an end, and self-deternination was the order of the day. That didn’t stop the Soviet Union from creating an empire out of Eastern Europe, short-lived though it was. It also didn’t stop The United States of America from becoming an imperial power, expanding her influence and military presence throughout the world.
We conquered and claimed no new territories in this period, making us an imperial power with a pretty small empire, an odd thing in history. While we still maintain sizable military forces in Germany, Japan and Korea, we don’t administer their governments from Washington like a real empire. We also deploy military units in 150 contries throughout the world, out of only 192 nations in existence. That’s more nations with foreign forces stationed in them than any empire ever had in all of history. For what reason? Security? Business? The British and Dutch empires were fueled by business interests, with the Dutch East India Company and the British East India company being virtually one and the same as their governments.
So, what has America become? In 1898 we annexed Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain following the Spanish-American War, immediately freeing Cuba but hanging on to the Philippines until after World War 2. Puerto Rico lives on in some sort of limbo between statehood and independence, with its citizens being born U.S. citizens but unable to vote in our national elections unless they are not on the islands of Puerto Rico itself. Confusing? You bet. Also around the time of the Spanish American War, we annexed Hawaii and hung onto that country too, eventually making it our 50th State, an island 2,563 miles from the rest of the nation. Not exactly what anyone could consider a contiguous area to the mainland, like Long Island or Martha’s Vineyard. America has 14 U.S owned “possessions,” from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean all the way to Wake Island and American Samoa in the far Pacific.
While some of these are tiny places with no prospects of ever becoming viable nations or States of the Union on their own, that is not the case with all of them, Puerto Rico being the most likely candidate for either independence or statehood. So our empire is pretty unimpressive, territory-conquered and riches-looted wise. Most of the land we conquered, like Western Europe, North Africa, Japan and a series of islands in the Pacific during World War 2, we abandoned as soon as the war was won, leaving armies of occupation in Japan, Italy and Germany. Even though those 3 nations are our allies these days we still maintain a military presence on their soil, just in case they get frisky again. We also hung on to a few strategically located islands for naval and air bases throughout the Pacific.
So, to recap, we gave back all the large and potentially profitable tracts of land we conquered, yet maintain military forces in more countries that any empire ever. While we can’t claim to be no sort of empire at all, are we a hybrid empire? Right now we’ve conquered Iraq and Afghanistan but plan to abandon them too, most likely leaving some military units stationed there permanently. We’re also bombing Pakistan with unmanned but deadly Predator aircraft and eying Iran with bad intent. What’s the plan, Stan? Is there a plan at all or just reaction to world events?
Is it too late to roll back our empire? Has it taken on a life of its own and is now taken for granted that America has tentacles reaching everywhere on earth and always will? Towards what end? What possible advantage is it to have soldiers in 150 nations? It’s not like world peace has been assured by all this, with some sort of Pax Americana taking root. There are wars all over the place, and we are among the biggest participants. Will our position in the world be threatened by rolling back our hybrid empire? More threatened than it is now?
These are questions that never seem to come up in Washington, or anywhere else in America. Is maintaining this far-flung empire beneficial or an unwanted encumbrance? Does it benefit special interests within the government whose function is to spread American influence at all costs, with no thought to what sort of nation we become? It seems at odds with our mission statement, which remains the United States Constitution. The President of The United States has no other title, like when Queen Victoria also sported the “Empress of India” monicker. Shouldn’t his first and last priorities always be the 50 states of this union? And shouldn’t any personnel we send overseas be bearing food to feed the starving rather than guns to kill the living unless we are directly threatened?
What have we become? How can we fix this? And do we even want to? First, bring our soldiers home to their own country. The past 50 years has been a period of perpetual small wars, one after the other, all over the world. Is that the only alternative to World War 3? Seems doubtful in a world where America is the last superpower standing. We should use our vast power to improve ourselves and the world, not guard it like sentries in watchtowers. Somebody sometime has to have the courage be the first to stand down. Why not the strongest?
Roll back the empire that was never meant to be and get back on the road to becoming America. America is as much an ideal as a reality, one we strive to attain year by year, through trials and trauma, good times and bad. The words upon which we were founded are powerful and true, and we have not realized their fulfillment yet. But we certainly can if we rededicate ourselves to the democratic republic we founded by rejecting the imperialism of Britain and George III. Reject our own creeping imperialism and let the world be what it is and we’ll be what we can be, to the best of our abilities. Let us be the ones who rejected an Imperial America on our watch.

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