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To What Extent Has American Imperialism Come To Replace That Of The

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To what extent has American Imperialism come to replace that of the

British Empire since the end of the Second World War?

"We [the English] seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled

half the world in a fit of absence of mind"

John R. Seeley, 1883

"By our actions [in Iraq], we will secure the peace, and lead the world to a better day"

President George W. Bush, October 7, 2002.

The term "imperialism" is often looked upon with disdain; as something taboo; a chapter in history that is best forgotten. The records of oppression and brutality that the European Empires wrought upon their subjects coupled with the economic exploitation of colonies at all four corners of the world make for uncomfortable reading. However, as the writers of Monty Python so astutely pointed out in the "what have the Romans ever done for us?" sketch, empires did have their up side. Most of the major European nations had empires - from Belgium to Italy - and these exported infrastructure, education, medicine, new foodstuffs, materials and domestic goods, among other things, to their colonies. Though colonial conquest and rule was often a bloody affair, the benefits of modernisation went some way to tempering it, a philosophy that the British like to identify when recalling her Empire.

It is however the former imperial legacy of subjugation that has caused the United States to renounce the notion that she is in any way imperialistic, for fear of being tarred with the same brush. After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had begun, Donald Rumsfeld asserted that "we [the United States] don't do empire". When looking at his country's record since the end of the Second World War, the statement would have been better phrased; America doesn't like to think it "does empire".

The twenty to thirty year period following the end of the Second World War was one of rapid decolonisation for the European colonial empires, most notably for the British Isles. The mainstay of the British Empire, India, became independent in 1947 and this started a trend that ran up until 1997 when Hong Kong was transferred to China. The decline of the British Empire, which had been such a dominant force in the world, left something of a power vacuum, one that the United States, with its enormous military and economic capability, has to some extent come to replace. After America's timely intervention in World War II, and her subsequent victory on the side of the Allies, she emerged as one of the world "superpowers", along with the Soviet Union. This "superpower" status - whereby she enjoyed financial and military superiority over every other country - allowed the United States to adopt an aggressive foreign policy that waged war firstly on Communism and, following the end of the Cold War, on states harbouring terrorism. Whether or not this American foreign policy since 1945 has constituted imperialism has been a cause for great debate, reignited of late with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. America itself is very reluctant to adopt such a label, as shown by the White House's continued denial that it is an imperialist state. However, the paralleled decline of the British Empire - once the world's dominant power - and the United States' increased influence in world affairs since World War Two, have posed an interesting comparison.

Imperialism can be a difficult term to define, and just how far the United States can be classified as a modern day imperial power is equally problematical. In classical terms - relating to the nineteenth century European colonial powers - imperialism effectively meant one country's ability to govern another, often cross-continentally. In the British case, this was done through either military conquest and imposing a system of government - "direct rule" - or through collaboration with existing native elites - "indirect rule"; the former method being the more common. With naval protection and using small military garrisons and a handful of civil servants, Britain was able to effectively govern a quarter of the world's surface, and approximately the same percentage of its population. That was until the Second World War when this essentially fragile system fell apart under the economic and military strains that the war forced upon it. Since the rapid decline of the British Empire from 1945, the United States has grown to adopt something of a similar world role through both its covert and aggressive foreign policy. America's now-global interests have begged the question of whether herein lies a form of imperialism.

The United States' occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, which followed the terrorist strikes of 9/11 against the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, caused certain parallels to be drawn with the colonial conquests of the old European empires. A country with a present day defence expenditure of some $520 billion (over 24 times the total Gross Domestic Product [in terms of Purchasing Power Parities] of Afghanistan in 2001 ) overwhelmed both countries with military force, but has since been fighting insurgency in both Afghanistan and Iraq - reminiscent of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 or the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s, familiar to students of the British Empire . These territorial conquests - designed to safeguard America's interests; countering the threat of terrorism and, if the cynics are to be believed, protecting the Middle Eastern supply of oil - bare more than a passing similarity to Britain's colonial acquisitions, such as the decision to seize control of Egypt in 1882 to safeguard the Suez Canal's route to India and Gladstone's government's shares in it . Though America doesn't like to publicise the fact, her "imperial" tradition stretches far beyond these two recent episodes.

The United States' imperial nature lead the historian Bernard Porter to remark that America's "superempire" - as he termed the U.S.A. based on her unparalleled economic and military capability - had in fact exceeded the former imperial powers through 'the spread of her cultural and economic influence... in her military dominance; and in the extent of her ambition... to remodel the world in her own image' . In essence The United States has a long history of global intervention, whenever her best interests have been threatened. Korea, Vietnam, parts of South America, the Balkans, the Philippines; virtually every continent on the planet over the last 50 or so years has

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