How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States
by Daniel Immerwahr

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019

Picture in your mind a map of the U.S. It probably shows the continental states, with Hawaii and Alaska somewhere off to the side. Does it have Puerto Rico? How about Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, etc.?

In How to Hide an Empire, the author attempts, and succeeds I believe, in introducing us to the United States Empire.

A great deal more of this empire existed in the past, but there are bits, big and small, still out there that we give very little thought to. Puerto Rico is the big bit. Its “Commonwealth” status obscures the fact that it really is a colonial possession. There are other little bits left over from the time that the U.S. had a much larger empire.

The United States Empire has a long history and Immerwahr takes us along for the ride as the U.S. expands through the designated “Indian Territory” that eventually results in many new states, states that were originally colonial possessions. The last continental state to lose its colonial status was Arizona in 1912. Hawaii and Alaska only ended their colonial status in 1959.

Prior to World War II, empires needed overseas possessions in order to supply and resupply their far-flung military. The U.S., like the other colonial powers, held many overseas places in its colonial/military grip. But post-war air power changed that: No longer were ships the major military and transportation mode. No longer were ports-of-call of supreme militarily importance. What matters now are airbases, and we don’t need whole territories for that, just compliant governments to grant long-term leases. The U.S. empire is now one of “points,” in the author’s wording.

This is an important book, a fitting companion to A People’s History of the United States.

–written by John C. Reiger


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