This is a very absorbing account of the imperial nature of the US that is presented in an intriguing, approachable way. It was eye-opening, and even history experts would learn a lot of surprising, well researched, unknown material from it. This 528 page book is crammed full of information, much of which blows the mind. It is a fascinating expose on US history from a global systems point of view– one that we never got in school.
It is a lucid indictment of our practice of extracting strategic benefit from colonies while denying rights or representation to their inhabitants. To quote the Puerto Rican nationalist Pedro Albizu Campos: “The Yankees are interested in the cage, but not the birds.
US conquest began as the pioneers rolled west in their covered wagons. At that time, we seized 94 islands for their guano deposits, which we used for fertilizer.
The book offers a detailed account of our high-handed management of the Philippines. Did you know we owned that nation as a colony for 47 years, from 1898 to 1946? Consider that the worse death toll on American soil ever was the 1.7 million people who died in WWII in the Philippines; we’ve never heard of it because most of them were Filipino and not white.
In Puerto Rico, mustard gas was tested on humans, because they too were not white, so were considered expendable. Also blatant genocide occurred there in the form of medical testing and female sterilization. Because of Puerto Rico, we have the birth control pill today, but that did not occur without a toll.
Then we learn of the dark side of Woodrow Wilson, who was a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer, defending their motives as “the mere instinct of self-preservation.” When the Japanese delegation asked to insert language about racial equality into the League of Nations covenant, the proposal had the support of the majority, and the French delegation deemed the cause “indisputable.” However, Wilson blocked it, refusing to let even the principle of racial equality stand.
Herbert Hoover was a major proponent of standardization. Thanks to him, all traffic lights have the same rules, which they didn’t have before. His biggest triumph was screws: “Now the half-inch nuts screw into all the half-inch bolts.” Our standardization became the world’s standards, which again gave us the upper hand while everyone else had to retool.
After WWI, the US gave up its territories, which looked magnanimous, but was really self-serving, giving us military bases everywhere, which changed warfare, and solidified our dominance. America then became what is called a “pointillist empire.” There are only 30 non-US military bases in the world, while the US has 800 of them, literally at everyone’s back door.
The other reason we gave up the territories was that technology reduced the need for them. We used to need territories for natural products, for example, for rubber, which now could now be made synthetically. As planes improved, and the internet and Hollywood proliferated English as the global language, it became clear that we could still empire build and control the world, without any of that pesky territorial expansion.
How to Hide an Empire was a phenomenal book. It was engaging and accurate, dense with information and full of ah ha realization, all while still being incredibly readable. I learned a lot and would highly recommend it. I give it five stars. I encourage you to give it a read for yourself, or buy it for the history buff on your Christmas list. You’ll be glad you did.