In reading The Untold History Of The United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (a gut-wrenching, powerful and well-documented book), it’s clear that, contrary to what we were taught in history classes, the US has long been a cruel and greedy empire.
For more than 200 years, we have engaged in wars of choice with no other purpose than to capture territory and extract resources. We have brutally murdered, tortured and subjugated indigenous peoples, all the while patting ourselves on the back for bringing them “Christianity” and “civilization.” We perfected mass murder and water boarding in the Philippines. We forced China, Japan and Korea to bow to our wishes for trade. We exerted our will in the Caribbean and South America in order to claim their resources and protect the interests of our corporations.
We occupied Cuba, Dominica, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama and the Philippines. After World War II, we occupied Germany, Italy and Japan. We have sent our troops to every corner of the Earth and have long ruled the air and the seas. According to Stone and Kuznick, “by 2002, we had some form of military presence in 132 of the UN’s then 190 member nations.” And, by my best estimates, we have been at war for all but 33 years of our history.
Why? It mostly has to do with business.
We forced our will upon nations in order to control their gold, silver, copper, aluminum, rubber, sugar, fruit, land, even drugs. More recently, on behalf of our industries, we have pursued oil in the Middle East. We helped to overthrow democratically-elected governments in Chile, Iran, Iraq and elsewhere. We supported and trained death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua. And we have bullied almost everyone else.
All the while, we celebrated our victories along with our good intentions.
Is it any wonder, then, that our people have long admired the Romans? In reality, we are them; a power-hungry nation of avarice and cruelty. Like the Romans, we believed that the gods or, in our case, God was on our side. We called it Manifest Destiny; the God-given right and responsibility to govern all those people we considered incapable of governing themselves. Of course, “those people” just happened to be people of color.
We have become the kind of empire our forefathers fought to escape. The Founding Fathers had high ideals; that all people are equal and have a right to life, liberty and happiness. Yes, many held slaves, but many wrestled with that fact and sought a way to end slavery while holding the states together. For example, although he was a slave holder, Thomas Jefferson wanted to bring slavery to an end. In recognition of the complex politics of the issue, he likened slavery “to having a wolf by the ears. You can neither hang on nor let go.”
We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. We must strive to be better; to lift people the world over out of poverty; to support and restore freedom; to end hunger; to rein in greed; to help educate children; to create jobs; to increase the sustainability of our all-too-fragile planet.
We may never be able to end wars, but we should make them increasingly rare. We should have a strong defense, but we cannot and should not be the self-appointed police of the planet. That was never the intention of the Framers. Rather, they believed that we should be an example to others; a model of liberty and justice for all.
We haven’t been, but we still can be.