"We are familiar with maps that outline all fifty states. And we are also familiar with the idea that the United States is an "empire," exercising power around the world. But what about the actual territories--the islands, atolls, and archipelagos--this country has governed and inhabited? In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr tells the fascinating story of the United States outside the United States. In crackling, fast-paced prose, he reveals forgotten episodes that cast American history in a new light. We travel to the Guano Islands, where prospectors collected one of the nineteenth century's most valuable commodities, and the Philippines, site of the most destructive event on U.S. soil. In Puerto Rico, Immerwahr shows how U.S. doctors conducted grisly experiments they would never have conducted on the mainland and charts the emergence of independence fighters who would shoot up the U.S. Congress. In the years after World War II, Immerwahr notes, the United States moved away from colonialism. Instead, it put innovations in electronics, transportation, and culture to use, devising a new sort of influence that did not require the control of colonies. Rich with absorbing vignettes, full of surprises, and driven by an original conception of what empire and globalization mean today, How to Hide an Empire is a major and compulsively readable work of history."--Provided by publisher.
Yes, we know that the U.S. was territorially expansionist, but (most) contiguous territories were treated very differently than noncontiguous territories, further revealing the centrality of race to U.S. history—until Hawai’i and Alaska were admitted, whites had successfully blocked statehood for any territory that might put nonwhites in power in the near term. (I would’ve appreciated a bit about the mainland territory in which I was born, whose majority-nonwhite residents still lack voting rights in Congress despite living around it.) Immerwahr’s argument has two main chunks, as I read it. The first is just educating mainlanders about how very much territory, and how very many people, the U.S. controlled and in many cases still controls without any intention of admitting to the polity, including in the Phillippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The “logo map” of the mainland (with Alaska and Hawai’i squished in along the side) that dominates mainstream thinking leads the public to misunderstand what “the United States” and its history really are. (As my husband points out, a significant number of Americans apparently don’t know that New Mexico is a state, any more than they care that DC can’t control its own destiny—being on the mainland isn’t enough to protect everyone from a racialized failure to know, though New Mexico at least has two senators.)
The second part of the book, which seems more scattershot but comes together in the end, is to explain why American imperialism didn’t usually come in the form of running colonies—what he refers to as globalization rather than colonization. Immerwahr adds considerations of technical changes as well as ideology (though he is also clear that the desire not to admit nonwhites to citizenship and the embarrassment of keeping them subjects and subjected played big roles). Specifically, technological innovations meant that owning tropical colonies became less important as a guarantor of important resources lacking on the U.S. mainland, such as rubber; standardization meant that the U.S. didn’t need to legally mandate production to its needs because the market would take care of that; likewise with the dominance of English and the U.S. entertainment industry. Technological change also united with resistance to imperialism to lead the U.S. to take a “pointillist” approach to territory: as long as it has hundreds of bases around the world, which it does, and as long as it can fly or sail to them, which it can, it doesn’t need more from the country around those bases. Indeed the U.S. often finds it convenient to put its bases in out-of-the-way places that are harder to notice and protest, though people (including Osama bin Laden) do anyway.
He begins by talking about the "manifest destiny" of the westward
He then describes the acquisition of a string of far flung islands in order to provide farmers with guano fertilizer - some of the most grisly scenes in the book. This is followed by the acquisition of the Philippines and Puerto Rico from teh Spanish as a result of the Spanish-American War. While this Wwar did not result in the United State acquiring Cuba, it did lead to the US getting Guantanamo naval base and this country controlling several critical industries on the island.
During this time, our colonial possessions were used as a laboratory for civic, social and medical experiments - mostly without regard to teh native populations. Racism was the order of the day and it is instructive to note that Puerto Rico was regarded as "a mess" almost from the point it was acquired.
World War II saw the US backing away from i's colonial possessions as synthetics like synthetic rubber and plastics lessened the need for the natural resources the colonies once provided. Instead, the US learned how to leverage its power in other ways through standards and superior methods of communications. After the war the influence of the US was felt by its bases that were established in over 100 countries and the spread of English as the standard language n aviation, remnants of colonialism and the Internet. Sometimes the subjects learned the lessons to well as the author points out with Japanese manufacturers and Osama bin Laden.
This book is an interesting take on America's power in the world today.
"It wasn’t until 1927 that traffic lights
This is an interesting piece of trivia, I suppose, but the thesis that standardization makes an empire unnecessary is questionable, and hardly merits the many pages about technology history and other random touches Immerwahr felt he needed to pad the length.
In the 20th century , "territory" has been supplanted by "points" as the impact of digital systems like GPS has changed the ways we engage militarily and economically with the world.
There's a point in the middle of the book where Immerwahr transitions from Puerto Rico and the Phillipines to capitalism abroad. It seems to wander until you realize how badly foreign bases and the soft power of commercial and cultural dominance has resulted in so many