The Empire that Pretends Not to Be One

Most Americans have been brought up with the fiction that America is a land of ever-expanding freedom and democracy, which it exports to a grateful world. Empires, with their cycles of growth and collapse, were a thing of the past – the most recent example being the British Empire, which basically imploded during and shortly after World War II. I myself, having been brought up in the 1940s and 50s in England, also shared this common delusion – and the defeat of Hitler’s Germany led a certain plausibility to this story of America as the gallant defender of liberty. The “reluctant empire” myth is of course not shared by the public in most countries of the world, where the population has experienced America’s imperial shadow up close. In recent years the number of academic and political writers questioning and critiquing this posture has increased dramatically – and here are a couple of  outstanding examples. Tom Engelhardt’s website is a great source on this topic, and for the following descriptions. (

Chalmers Johnson – Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope.

In his prophetic book Blowback, published before 9/11, Chalmers Johnson warned that our secret operations in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe would exact a price at home. Now, in a brilliant series of essays written over the last three years, Johnson measures that price and the resulting dangers America faces. Our reliance on Pentagon economics, a global empire of bases, and war without end is, he declares, nothing short of “a suicide option.” There is, he proposes, only one way out: President Obama must begin to dismantle the empire before the Pentagon dismantles the American Dream. If we do not learn from the fates of past empires, he suggests, our decline and fall are foreordained.

Andrew Bacevich: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism

An immediate New York Times bestseller, The Limits of Power offers an unparalleled examination of the profound triple crisis facing America: an economy in disarray that can no longer be fixed by relying on expansion abroad; a government transformed by an imperial presidency into a democracy in name only; and an engagement in endless wars that has severely undermined the body politic. Writing with knowledge born of experience, conservative historian and former military officer Andrew J. Bacevich argues that if the nation is to solve its predicament, it will need the revival of a distinctly American approach: the neglected tradition of realism. In contrast to the multiple illusions that have governed American policy since 1945, he calls for respect for power and its limits; aversion to claims of exceptionalism; skepticism of easy solutions, especially those involving force; and a conviction that Americans must live within their means.

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