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writing for godot

A Retrospective on the American Empire, at a Most Unusual Museum

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Written by Thomas Huckin   
Tuesday, 05 February 2019 09:42

A Retrospective on the American Empire, at a Most Unusual Museum

Tom Huckin & Allan Ainsworth

Ten years have passed since Donald J. Trump resigned in disgrace as president of the United States. As we write this, we are visiting one of the most remarkable museums in the world. The Museum of American Empire opened just this week, only a decade after Trump’s fall from grace. Americans, along with the rest of the world, have become accustomed to the new, lesser role the US is now playing in the world, no longer the arrogant and aggressive empire it once was.

The museum chronicles the history of the United States starting with the War of Independence (1776-1783) followed by a Constitution (1787) that, although written in the name of “We the People,” granted full rights only to a small fraction of the population.  It notes how the Monroe Doctrine (1823) prefigured the imperial pretensions of this young country, effectively declaring ownership of the entire Western Hemisphere.

“Manifest Destiny” as Rationale for Aggression

A large part of this story details the ideology and history of “Manifest Destiny,” whereby indigenous people were forcibly removed from their lands so as to make way for white settlers. Featured here are the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican War, and the subsequent Indian Wars culminating in the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.

It details the 1898 US invasion of Cuba and its subsequent takeover of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Philippines, where an estimated 250,000civilians died during the three years of US war on that country.

An entire wing of the museum is devoted to the first half of the 20thcentury, starting with the neocolonial US occupation of Panama in 1903 and the building of a transoceanic canal serving US corporate interests. One corporation in particular, the United Fruit Company, has a special exhibit as the pioneer in creating Central American “banana republics.”  Noted in this regard are the seven US invasions of Honduras between 1903 and 1925, the eight-year US military occupation of the Dominican Republic ending in 1924, the 20-year occupation of Nicaragua ending in 1933, and the 19-year occupation of Haiti ending in 1934.

The museum recounts how democratically-elected Chilean president Salvador Allende was assassinated by US-backed Chilean military forces, who then killed over 3,000 dissidentsand tortured tens of thousands as part of a brutal military dictatorship that lasted 17 years.

It describes how the popular Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz was ousted in a CIA-assisted military coup in 1954, allowing US-backed oligarchs to take over that country and rule it brutally ever since.  It tells the story of the US-supported Salvadoran Civil Warthat lasted 13 years (1979-1992) and tore the country apart,  how the democratically-elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was subjected to a US-approved coupin 2009. It exposes the infamous School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, and its role in training leaders of those military coups.

Fortress America

Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador subsequently became some of the world’s most violent countries, with rampant drug trafficking and gang violence spawned largely in the US.  This exhibit makes clear why so many refugees from those countries were so willing to brave the hardship of a months-long, 2000 mile trek on foot to the US – only to confront walls, fences, and militarized police armed with tear gas. This museum should help educate American citizens about that, pointing out how a “City on a Hill” became, under Trump,  “Fortress America.”

The Empire Goes Global

Although the museum is largely about the American Empire’s home base, the Western Hemisphere, it also has a wing dedicated to its neocolonial expansion to other parts of the world.  This post World War II period begins with the atomic bombing of civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and expands to“full-spectrum dominance”by the end of the century.  On display here are maps and documents pertaining to Palestine/Israel, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and various NATO countries, among others.

When people around the world think back to the American Empire, what usually comes to mind, of course, is the overwhelming military power it had, with more than 800 basesin over 80 countries and naval superiority on all the seas.  But after WWII the United States  enjoyed financial dominance as well, starting with the Bretton Woods Agreement and its imposition of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  Subsequently, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other instruments of US neoliberal aggression did incalculable harm to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Iraq, South Africa, Congo, Iran, Venezuela and numerous other countries.  This unique museum covers this topic as well.

The museum is chronological in its story telling and implicates every president in the history of the US for his imperialistic activities.  It explains how the American public was endlessly propagandized, from early childhood to old age, into believing that the United States was some kind of benevolent force in the world, an “exceptional” nation.

It All Comes to an End

And of course it recounts how the American empire, like all others before it, got overextended and exhausted by perpetual war—especially by its ill-fated invasion of Iran.  The museum describes how the international community discarded the US dollaras the world’s reserve currency, and how this quickly plunged the US economy into a full-scale depression.  It names names, it shows faces.

The primary face, of course, is that of Donald J. Trump. Like the ubiquitous image of Big Brother in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, Trump’s sneering visage symbolized America’s longstanding duplicity about democracy and fair play.  Trump’s racist nativism finally confirmed, even for those in blissful denial, the hypocrisy of a nation that was complicit in the deaths and pillage of countless innocents under the guise of “American democracy and freedom.”

 

Tom Huckin is a professor emeritus of English and Writing at the University of Utah, specializing in the study of modern propaganda. He blogs at dailydoublespeak.com and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Allan Ainsworth, a retired applied anthropologist, focused his career on legal and medical issues on behalf of disenfranchised people in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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