Americans hate thinking of themselves as an empire. After all, weren't we fighting an "empire" in our Revolutionary War? And wasn't it an "empire" that crucified Jesus and persecuted his followers? The USA — that bastion of freedom and democracy — might not literally claim other countries as part of our own territory. But only we can declare someone else's natural resources on the far side of our planet “vital to our national security” (but in reality, are vital only to our accustomed material lifestyle).
You could debate long and hard about whether the US is an "empire." But actually, what you and I think is irrelevant. The fact is, much of the world views us that way, and therefore they — especially our enemies — will treat us as an empire.
Why are we perceived as an empire by so many people? For starters, look at our United Nations voting record: According to the UN website, in 2007, the US voted “no” more than any other nation. In 40 percent of those "no" votes, we were outvoted by at least 150 to 4. Who stands with us as we oppose issues such as creating a declaration of rights for indigenous peoples, the human right to food, child labor laws, dropping the embargo against Cuba, and restricting illicit small arms trade? Israel, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia. Even if you write off the United Nations as a group of one-world-fixated loonies, many other countries take it seriously...and our dismissal of it speak volumes about our willingness to engage in peaceful and constructive problem-solving.
When others look at us, rather than see a hardworking policeman of the world defending freedom wherever we can, they see a nation with military bases in 130 countries. They see a nation with 4 percent of this planet's people spending as much as everybody else put together on our military.
Many Americans consider the emblems of the Bush years — Iraq War, Guantánamo, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, world isolation, domestic surveillance, loss of civil liberties, and so on — a reasonable price to pay because we avoided another terrorist attack. Much of the rest of the world saw these as an overreaction to a tragic situation. The wave of sympathy that poured into America after 9/11 could have lifted the whole world to an unprecedented new unity. Instead, our leaders manipulated our national grief to justify acts that have alienated us from many of our allies and swollen the ranks of our enemies.
Some might brush off questionable American policies by saying, "Well, that was just our government." We are our government. We cannot rest on the notion of the "innocent civilian." Morally, when it comes to a free and powerful nation like ours, I believe there are no innocent civilians. If I pay taxes, I am a combatant. Every bullet that flies and every bomb that drops has my name on it. It could be a good bomb or a good bullet. Sometimes military action is necessary. But right or wrong, I take moral responsibility for it. That's simply honest, responsible citizenship.
About This Entry
You are reading "American Empire? Part 1", an entry posted on 30 October 2009 by Rick Steves.