In Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at home, the position of the globe’s “sole superpower” is visibly fraying. The country that was once proclaimed an “empire lite” has proven increasingly light-headed. The country once hailed as a power greater than that of imperial Rome or imperial Britain, a dominating force beyond anything ever seen on the planet, now can’t seem to make a move in its own interest that isn’t a disaster. The Iraq government’s recent offensive in Basra is but the latest example with — we can be sure — more to come.
In the meantime, the fate of that empire, lite or otherwise, is the subject of Howard Zinn today at Tomdispatch, and of a new addition to his famed People’s History of the United States. The new book represents a surprise breakthrough into cartoon format. It’s a rollicking graphic history, illustrated by cartoonist Mike Konopacki, that takes us from the Indian Wars to the Iraqi “frontier” (with some striking autobiographical asides from Zinn’s own life). It’s called A People’s History of American Empire. It’s a gem and it’s being published today.
In honor of publication day, Tomdispatch offers the equivalent of a little online extravaganza. Below, you can read Zinn’s essay on how he first learned about the American Empire; and you can also click here for two special treats. You can view an animated video, using some of the book’s art, with voiceover by none other than Viggo Mortensen. (Think of it as Lord of the Rings, Part IV: The American Mordor Chronicles.) Finally, if you look below the video on that same page, you’ll see an autobiographical section of the new book, focusing on Zinn’s early years. (Click on each illustration to view a single page of text.) Have fun. Tom
Empire or Humanity?
What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me About the American Empire
By Howard Zinn
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.”
I was conscious, like everyone, of the British Empire and the other imperial powers of Europe, but the United States was not seen in the same way. When, after the war, I went to college under the G.I. Bill of Rights and took courses in U.S. history, I usually found a chapter in the history texts called “The Age of Imperialism.” It invariably referred to the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the conquest of the Philippines that followed. It seemed that American imperialism lasted only a relatively few years. There was no overarching view of U.S. expansion that might lead to the idea of a more far-ranging empire — or period — of “imperialism.”