An Imperial Moment | The Nation


An Imperial Moment

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The United States has arrived at an imperial moment in its history, but it is not the first time.

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...

Also by the Author

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.

Long before a President talked about an "axis of evil" and "regime change," a President talked of going "to war for humanity's sake," in order to liberate Cuba and the Philippines from Spain. Both were taken, and a string of other colonies followed: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and Panama--a country we created in order to occupy it. There was, President McKinley said of his decision to declare war, "nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate and uplift and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died."

Long before Trent Lott and John Ashcroft accused Bush Administration opponents of aiding the enemy, McKinley's men shouted down the small group of Mugwumps and members of the Anti-Imperialist League, who were opposed to an America that projected its ideals abroad by force without considering the consequences. "If we ever come to nothing as a nation," Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his colleague-in-arms, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, "it will be because the treachery of Carl Schurz, [Harvard] President Eliot, and the Evening Post and the futile sentimentalists of the international arbitration type, bears its legitimate fruit in producing a flabby, timid type of character, which eats away the great fighting features of our race."

Long before September 11, when Americans hung flags on mailboxes and highway overpasses and pasted them to the bumpers of their cars, audiences at theaters and music halls sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" after each performance. The conflict with Spain, John Hay said, would be "a splendid little war."

It is not the first time. And if those voices raised against imperialism were not adequately heard a hundred years ago, it is time to let them speak again.

On the Need to Follow Our Constitutional Principles

"It is not that we would hold America back from playing her full part in the world's affairs, but that we believe that her part could be better accomplished by close adherence to those high principles which are ideally embodied in her institutions--by the establishment of her own democracy in such wise as to make it a symbol of noble self-government, and by exercising the influence of a great, unarmed and peaceful power on the affairs and the moral temper of the world."
      --Charles Eliot Norton, professor of fine arts, Harvard

"I would gladly pay twenty millions today to restore our republic to its first principles."
      --Andrew Carnegie,
      explaining why he would buy the Philippines from the
      United States in order to give the islands their independence

On the Need to Address Our Own National Problems

"Nations and communities don't die from disorders external to them; dangerous decay is internal. The trouble with Rome wasn't in the colonies and the empire; it was in the Senate and the forum."
      --Charles Francis Adams Jr., historian, industrialist

"The serious question for the people of this country to consider is what effect the imperial policy will have upon ourselves if we permit it to be established."
      --Frederick Gookin

On the Power of Christian Fundamentalists

"The Kingdom of Heaven is to come as a grain of mustard seed, not as a thirteen-inch shell."
      --The Rev. H.P. Faunce, Baptist minister

On the Evils of a Permanent Military Establishment

"A wretched fatuity that so-called patriotism which will not remember that we are the envy of the whole world for the priceless privilege of being exempt from the oppressive burden of warlike preparations."
      --Carl Schurz, reform journalist and senator

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