The American Empire
American Caesars: The Empire strikes back?
Nigel Hamilton, a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen and Senior Fellow in the McCormack Graduate School of Public Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, will give a Studium Generale lecture on Tuesday, 15 September at the Academy Building.
Hamilton’s talk will focus on modern American history since World War II and the future of the American Empire. The lecture is a historian’s perspective on how this accidental American empire has had to take the responsibility for world peace and security as well as its future.
In this pre-presidential election year, the democratic and republican parties are seeking a candidate to represent them. But many citizens around the world are also wondering if the U.S. can continue as an empire, a status which the young nation never aimed to achieve, Hamilton says.
The Studium Generale lecture will cover empires of the British, the French and the Dutch, ‘and how they all collapsed during World War II, and how the U.S. became an empire by accident’, Hamilton says. ‘America was never intended to be an empire, but once the Japanese and the Germans declared war on the U.S., they had to fight.’
‘Most powerful nation in the world’
‘Americans had these incredible ground and air forces and because of that, in 1939, in the process of fighting, they changed from being the 17th strongest military power in the world into the most powerful nation in the world, even more powerful than Russians.’
The content of the lecture is drawn from Hamilton’s book American Caesars, published in 2010. The premise of the book was based on a famous Latin work by Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars. Hamilton’s book looks at all of the American presidents since World War II, from Roosevelt to George Bush, and represents them as if they were Caesars of ancient Rome. The book looks at both the public and the private lives of these leaders.
Since the U.S. has been key to much of the development of the whole world, according to Hamilton, it is vital to examine whether or not the nation could continue to be an empire as it is today. It’s also true that the U.S. is facing numerous challenges today that leave the future uncertain.
‘The U.S. has to confront many problems like ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the rise of China, an unstable world economy and the rising level of inequality within the global system that has led to instability within the world’, Hamilton says. ‘On top of that, we have to deal with environmental issues and global warming. Parts of the U.S. will be under water in a few years. So, my lecture questions if the U.S. could survive all that and we will discuss what is likely to happen.’
He believes that in terms of the world economy, the U.S. is doing relatively well. Despite European economic instability at times, so long as the American economy continues to thrive, Hamilton doubts that anything will happen on a global economic scale. As for China and its relationship with America, both nations need each other, so a war is not possible at the moment. But for Hamilton, the problem of ISIS is different.
He sees the apparent inability to know exactly how bad the situation is as similar to a brush fire. ‘The region is so volatile, and it’s a challenge because no one knows how this will develop. It’s clear that the U.S., after its last attempt to intervene, cannot solve this problem.’ He believes that ISIS will be a problem for years to come, and although the ‘fire’ is relatively contained in Syria and Iraq as the moment, ‘If it expands beyond, you could have a real global world crisis.’
Hamilton has studied the life and political careers of many American presidents and shares his opinion on the most and least effective presidencies in history.
‘For me, by far the worst president was George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney. It’s almost incredible that Cheney wasn’t imprisoned. I think the president’s reaction to the 9/11 attack on the twin towers was incredibly short-sided and counterproductive. I watched it happening, what a disaster! Worse than Vietnam.’
There is no doubt to Hamilton that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the greatest president of the 20th century for a variety of reasons.
‘He solved the problem of massive unemployment without resorting to fascism or dictatorship. He created the United Nations, which helped to avoid World War III so far. Truman was also a great president because he never thought he would be a president: in the beginning, he just inherited the presidency from Roosevelt.’
As for the current American president, Barack Obama, Hamilton had predicted he would be a great president five years ago in the last page of American Caesars.
‘He is my hero. I admire him because he ended the crazy war in Afghanistan and because he decided that Iraqis would have to eventually come to terms with their own problems. Economically, he was the one saying that austerity measures in Europe wouldn’t help the U.S. to overcome this recession. He also managed to find and kill Osama Bin Laden.’
In addition, Obama has faced tremendous problems with racism within the country. Hamilton believes that Obama has done everything he can to calm the situation, but he believes that racism is a major problem in the U.S. that will not be solved for years to come. ‘There is so much wealth held by white people.’
In his opinion, America has daunting challenges ahead. ‘I don’t see any simple resolution. It is a violent society, it’s this kind of cowboy land in comparison to Europe and I don’t see it changing. It’s part of the American culture that some people only feel secure if they have a gun around the house and in some ways, it can only get worse.’