In Defense of Empire
13 March, 2010
D. Alan Johnson
Today, America’s empire stretches to every corner of the world. We have troops stationed in over 60 countries and special operations soldiers working in 170 nations. But our empire is different than those of our ancestors, or even our recent foes, the Soviets. We take no land except for small plots to bury our dead. Our territory is measured instead in terms like market share and barrels per day of oil pumped. Our glory is not that we own a continent, but that John Deere just won a large contract for mining equipment in a far off land.
America haters decry this empire, overlooking entirely the good that is done both here and abroad. Empires of the past, just like ours, brought the world a mixed bag. Alexander killed thousands, but gave the known world one language, Greek, that brought about an explosion of trade and literature. The Romans were brutal but they built roads and bridges, introduced running water, and established the rule of law (for citizens). Our legal system is still based on theirs. England civilized great swaths of Asia, Africa, and Australia, contributing the concepts of modern banking, a professional bureaucracy, punctuality, the gentleman-athlete, and free trade.
But what has America contributed to the world except for billboards shouting out that “Coke is the Real Thing”? Like Greece in 300 B.C., the USA has built on the influence of England to give the world a common language of business and diplomacy. Our concept of meritorious promotion has permeated ossified cultures such that the Laotian donut magnate, the Chinese car dealer, and the Kenyan theater owner all have become millionaires.
The American Dream is our greatest export. A widow in Tanzania applies for a micro-loan on the internet. Funded by American investors, she has a sewing machine delivered by UPS. Within a month she is able to feed her family from the profits of her clothing repair shop, and she plans to have three more shops opened and manned by her sisters and cousins within a year.
America’s reluctant empire has brought about peace in those lands where we have used our muscle, diplomatic, commercial, and military, to bring about changes. The former communist guerrilla now works in a paint factory in San Salvador. Argentine investors build resorts in Nicaragua. East Germany is reunited with West Germany. Croatia welcomes tourists today instead of foreign fighters. Angola is focused on the World Cup and not the destruction of their brothers. These are our most gratifying impacts on the modern world.
No group is perfect, and America has had her share of black eyes. But to completely overlook any good that our empire has accomplished is an unbalanced and unfair position. No one in America desired an empire: World War II left us as the “last man standing”. Just like an individual, the personality of a nation propels it toward a certain destiny. The USA, finding itself with an empire thrust into its lap, took on the job of defending it, nurturing it, and, yes, taking advantage of it.
We sit too close to the action to judge accurately how much America’s tromping around the world has influenced the game for good or bad. But for one and all in the liberal camp to call our influence evil while enjoying the fruits of that influence seems short-sighted and biased.