Murad Qureshi

Daniel Immerwahr’s How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States is a book I have been meaning to read since it was first published last March in hardback. It’s now available in paperback. After racing through the 22 brisk chapters over the extended break, it confirms to me that it is a must read for anyone of us who has struggled with the many histories of American expansionism. The American historian provides a revealing new perspective with his brilliant analysis.

He states quite clearly that “the history of the US is the history of Empire” while giving empire his own additional definition, which is not subjective in the manner accustom amongst the left. He suggests the shape of the empire is critical with its outposts and colonies and in the case of the United States it is all too often forgotten even by its own citizens. A case in point is Puerto Rico, which many Americans do not consider part of the mainland even though they are American citizens!

The book itself is divided into two parts, the Colonial Empire and the Pointillist Empire. The first part takes you through the history of the United States on the mainland and the territories it acquired via its westward expansion and, of course, the gains made via the American-Spanish wars. For those who have little to no background of American history these 200 pages provide a quick and thorough knowledge of what you need to know for the normal definition of empire alongside many interesting insights into American history which you may not find elsewhere. One such example is the history of the name of Oklahoma which illuminates how native Americans were treated in the formative state and how the Filipinos, Cubans and Puerto Ricans (amongst others) struggled for their freedom in America’s conquered territories. Much of which l heard about for the first time in this book!

The second half is where the book really takes shape. Immerwahr makes the argument that the Pointillist Empire is redefining empire today based on the way the US has acquired its network of foreign bases, which often raise the same issues of direct colonialism. There are also sovereignty concerns in places like Okinawa and the Chagos Islands – where local people are excluded from their ancestral lands – to name just a few. Unfortunately, these territorial holdings of modern day America face very little scrutiny from the US political system. Alongside these conquests, other soft power advantages such as the global use of the English language and the standardisation of production along US lines have made sure that the USA still reigns supreme as the only imperial power of the day.

This is a vital book if ever USA is ever going to change its view of itself as a republic, not an empire – thus acknowledging its own past. As a result, it is a must read for all.

19 Jan 2021

Sign Up