Published on Alarab online, By Howard Zinn, April 2, 2008.
What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me About the American Empire
With an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question any more of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.
However, the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home. Even as I began to have second thoughts about the purity of the “Good War,” even after being horrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after rethinking my own bombing of towns in Europe, I still did not put all that together in the context of an American “Empire” …
… The American Empire has always been a bipartisan project — Democrats and Republicans have taken turns extending it, extolling it, justifying it. President Woodrow Wilson told graduates of the Naval Academy in 1914 (the year he bombarded Mexico) that the U.S. used “her navy and her army… as the instruments of civilization, not as the instruments of aggression.” And Bill Clinton, in 1992, told West Point graduates: “The values you learned here will be able to spread throughout the country and throughout the world.”
For the people of the United States, and indeed for people all over the world, those claims sooner or later are revealed to be false. The rhetoric, often persuasive on first hearing, soon becomes overwhelmed by horrors that can no longer be concealed: the bloody corpses of Iraq, the torn limbs of American GIs, the millions of families driven from their homes — in the Middle East and in the Mississippi Delta.
Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense — that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization — begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity?
* Howard Zinn is the author of A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States, now being filmed for a major television documentary. His newest book is A People’s History of American Empire, the story of America in the world, told in comics form, with Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle in the American Empire Project book series. An animated video adapted from this essay with visuals from the comic book and voiceover by Viggo Mortensen, as well as a section of the book on Zinn’s early life, can be viewed by clicking here. Zinn’s website is HowardZinn.org. (full text on alarab online).
(Copyright 2008 Howard Zinn – Source: April 01, 2008, Tomgram, Howard Zinn, The End of Empire?).