Before I even touch this subject that I’ve been discussing with the folks at 4&20 blackbirds, I feel the need to give a disclaimer: This is my opinion. I’m almost certain Pogie’s opinion is more liberal than mine, and I’m curious to hear exactly what it is.
The question I propose is this – ought the United States be an empire? I propose that although we have made truly enormous mistakes as an imperial power, the alternative of further isolationism is worse.
As evidence, I offer the last period of American isolationism – the period between the world wars. The United States did not enter the war against Germany until Dec 11, which is two days from today. By that point –
A quarter million Chinese were massacred in Nanjing; a substantial portion of the 20 million Chinese who perished at Japanese hands between 1937 and 1945 were already dead.
A half million Ethiopian civilians were killed in the Italian invasion of the country, which the impotent and US-less League of Nations ineffectively opposed.
200,000 Polish Catholic civilians had died in the German invasion of Poland. Polish Jews were already in ghettos and camps, and the first gas chambers were being tested.
Much of the Soviet Union was already occupied; tens of thousands of Jews and other Soviet civilians had already been executed.
There were dozens more democides throughout those few decades. Many of them could have been avoided simply by the US participating actively in the League of Nations. The rest could have been solved with aggressive US intervention from the beginning, rather than waiting to get hurt under the mistaken impression that we would be safe as long as we didn’t deal with the rest of the world. I know what you’re thinking: “But PW, that was an unusually violent decade.” First of all – You’ll find the decades before were also atrocious, and the US was also fairly isolated post-Roosevelt and pre-1918. But more importantly, that’s the point. After WWI, the British were timid and unable to assert their authority, and the US, which should have been the natural inheritors of the British imperial torch, instead chose to close its eyes to the chaos around it, chose for many years not to ‘hold up half the earth’. The result was that many of the worst atrocities of the century either occurred before we were willing to do anything or were already unpreventable by the time we joined the war.
Conclusion? Yes, the ‘American Empire’ has done terrible things, and our jingoistic adventurism will inevitably weaken us if we continue making bad choices. However, broader arguments that the basic position of the US as a globally involved power should be more limited will improve neither American security nor global living conditions.