An American Empire?

Whenever you apply the word “empire” to the United States, Americans get all hinky.  A lot of that comes from the fact that, when our country was established, it was set up as sort of an anti-empire.  Our founding fathers had seen what empire had done to Europe and wanted no part of it, so they laid out the plans for our nation in a way that should have avoided such a thing.  But, as poet Robert Burns said , “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy!” (translated into readable English: “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!”).  No matter how well you think you’ve preempted something, people will find away around what you’ve done; especially when the prospect of power looms.  That’s what happened to America, the lure of the power of empire has caused us to abandon not only the principles of our founders, but also the principles of our faith. 

Why do I apply the word empire to America?  That will first require a definition (hey, you asked the question).  Empire, according to the dictionary, is “a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government: usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom.”  Or, it’s “major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority.”  According to Wikipedia, an empire is “a geographically extensive group of states and peoples (ethnic groups) united and ruled either by a monarch (emperor, empress) or an oligarchy.”  Hang on a minute, you say, we don’t have a monarch or an olig…, wait, what? (don’t worry, I had to look it up, too)  Merriam-Webster says an oligarchy “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.”  According to, it’s “a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.”  And, if you don’t think that’s happening in America right now, you need to wake up.  It takes so much money to elected in this country these days that anyone who gets elected is deeply beholden to those who contribute to their campaign.  And, I’m not talking about those of us who check the Presidential campaign fund box on their tax return or the average Joe who sends a check to the candidate of his choice.  I’m talking about the big money; corporations and the ultra-rich who give huge sums to both sides to cover all the bases.  It doesn’t stop with campaign contributions, either.  Lobbyists for these big money interests continue to lavish funds on elected officials in order to make sure they get what they want and to hell everyone else.  We are most definitely ruled by an oligarchy and it’s spending its ass off to make you don’t see it.

I’m sure you’re shaking your head right now and thinking, okay, so we have “government by the few”.  That still doesn’t mean we’re an empire; what about that whole “group of nations” thing, you know multiple territories under our rule?  To answer that question, I point to “Manifest Destiny“, the idea that America was divinely sanctioned to spread across the continent.  The Mexican War and the Indian Wars were a direct result of this doctrine and the Spanish-American War extended it out from our continent.  All three were blatant empire building.  From the first two, we gained the western United States; the third gave temporary control over Cuba and indefinite sovereignty over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philipines.  To this day, we control Guam and Puerto Rico (the Filipinos kicked us out completely in 80’s) and we still hold onto a small piece of Cuba; Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.  While we tried to be little more unobtrusive in the latter part of the 20th century, we seem to have returned to our more overt imperial behavior in the 21st with our occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Obstensbly, we went into both countries to get rid of dangerous regimes and/or to punish people who attacked us.  With the murder of Osama bin Laden, those tasks were accomplished.  However, we’re not leaving.  In fact, whenever talks about pulling out are mentioned, we’re told that it’s not possible at the current time.  That these places aren’t stable enough.  The truth is they will never be “stable enough” because we don’t want to be.  If they were, we’d have to leave and that’s not going to happen.  We need to stay in Iraq because of the oil and we need to stay in Afghanistan because then we can stay in Iraq.

So what, you say, if we stay there.  So what if there’s an American Empire.  Maybe America will be the ones to finally get this empire thing right.  Not gonna happen, my friend.  You can’t do empire “right” because empire is always going to be about empire and not about people.  For a country with a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, that’s not good.

I realize that this is a very political piece on what’s supposed to be a religious blog, but I needed to set the stage for the religious part.  Stayed tuned for that tomorrow.