JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 29, 2003 – Is America an empire? That was the question posed by Harvard University professor Charles S. Maier at Union University's seventh annual Carls-Schwedfeger History Lecture Series.
"Contemporary history," explained Maier, "is the history of events still being played out with consequences still being felt."
Maier serves as Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University and is the author of multiple works including such titles as The Cold War in Europe: Era of a Divided Continent and The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust and German National Identity. He is collaborating on a world history of the twentieth century with William Kirby and is writing a resource for state organization in the modern era concerning the rise and fall of territorialism.
If America is to be viewed as an empire, Maier said, it would be a post-territorial empire.
Maier said he supports the argument of America as an empire by pointing out the influence America has in areas of economy, our ideology, political distribution of wealth, and the current issues of citizenship, residence and belonging. On the other hand, for the last half century America has been centering on the use of power and resources to build up international institutions born to try and bring the world into a peace once more.
"It takes a political framework to cause friction to erupt into organized conflict... turning ordinary men into murderers," said Maier as he discussed the manner in which an empire both suppresses and provokes violence. America and the Soviet Union stepped into the void left by the fall of these older empires and with the more recent fall of the Soviet Union this leave America as a major world power, he said.
More than 600 students and faculty attended the lecture, and a number of students had different thoughts on Maier's lecture.
"It is rather difficult to decide whether America is an empire since the criteria is not clearly defined, and the world in which other empires existed was vastly different than the world we live in," said Mariann Martin, a junior. "But it is very important that Americans stop to consider whether we want America to be an empire and what we need to do to prevent or facilitate an empire."
"I think it's a stretch to call America an empire," said Union senior David Patterson. "Every time there's a new election a new set of policies including international and national as opposed to the continuity of the Roman Empire."
"I see the U.S. throwing its weight around the world international stage as the 'world police'. Being the foremost democracy we want to benefit other countries and end up putting our noses where they are not wanted," said senior Spencer Lowry. "We're not there yet, but we're fast approaching an American empire."
By Alaina Kraus