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An Imperial Moment

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On American Hypocrisy

About the Author

John Maxwell Hamilton
John Maxwell Hamilton is a fellow at the Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard...
Jonathan Schell
Jonathan Schell is the Lannan Fellow at The Nation Institute and teaches a course on the nuclear dilemma at...

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Twenty months ago, when the Bush Administration was steering the country toward war in Iraq, we noted a parallel with another military misadventure, the Spanish-American War, in which Cuba and th

Also by the Author

After 9/11, the US invented a new kind of borderless, pre-emptive warfare, plunging the world into an endless cycle of violence.

The United States is no Soviet Union—and yet it has set up machinery that satisfies certain tendencies that are in the genetic code of totalitarianism.

"Extending the Blessings of Civilization to our Brother who Sits in Darkness has been a good trade and has paid well, on the whole; and there is money in it yet, if carefully worked--but not enough, in my judgment, to make any considerable risk advisable. The People that Sit in Darkness are getting to be too scarce--too scarce and too shy. And such darkness as is now left is really of but an indifferent quality, and not dark enough for the game. The most of those People that Sit in Darkness have been furnished with more light than was good for them or profitable for us. We have been injudicious.... Is it, perhaps, possible that there are two kinds of Civilization--one for home consumption and one for the heathen market?"
      --Mark Twain,
      "To the Person Sitting in Darkness"

On the Loss of National Virtue

"We had supposed ourselves (with all our crudity and barbarity in certain ways) a better nation morally than the rest, safe at home, and without the old savage ambition, destined to exert great international influence by throwing in our 'moral weight,' etc. Dreams! Human Nature is everywhere the same; and at least temptation all the old military passions rise, and sweep everything before them."
      --William James

"God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct.... We can destroy their [Filipino] ideals but we can't give them ours."
      --William James, on American annexation
      of the Philippines and the guerrilla war it engendered

On the Failure to Lead by Example

"If we turn this war, which was heralded to the world as a war of humanity, in any sense into a war of conquest, we shall forever forfeit the confidence of mankind."
      --Carl Schurz

"The United States has lost her unique position as a leader in the progress of civilization and has taken up her place simply as one of the grasping and selfish nations of the present day."
      --Charles Eliot Norton

On the Limitations of Free Speech

"He who, as a lover of his country, jealous of her liberty and mindful of the lessons of history, dares oppose these schemes of Colonial power, is in danger of being denounced as a traitor, and held up as an object of public contumely and scorn."
      --Tennant Lommax, Democratic politician

"To be popular is easy; to be right when right is unpopular, is noble.... I repudiate with scorn the immoral doctrine, 'Our country, right or wrong.'"
      --Andrew Carnegie

On the Role of the Press

"They rely mostly on large sales, and for large sales on sensational news. Now nothing does so much to keep sensational news coming in over the considerable period of time as war.... Next to war they welcome the Promise of war."
      --E.L. Godkin, editor of The Nation

"The Cost of a National Crime," "The Hell of War and Its Penalties," "Criminal Aggression"   --titles of three pamphlets sent by Edward Atkinson, a founder of the Anti-Imperialist League, to American troops in the field in the Philippines, as a test of free speech. Postmaster Charles Smith declared the pamphlets "seditious" and had them removed from the mail.

On the Dangers of Success

"If all these imaginings are in vain, and our success is a rapid and bloodless one as the most sanguine can hope, such a victory is more dangerous than defeat. In the intoxication of such a success, we would reach out for fresh territory, and to our present difficulties would be added an agitation for the annexation of new regions which, unfit to govern themselves, would govern us. We would be fairly launched upon a policy of military aggression, of territorial expansion, of standing armies and growing navies, which is inconsistent with the continuance of our institutions. God grant that such calamities are not in store for us."
      --Moorfield Storey, president of the Anti-Imperialist League

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