In How to Hide an Empire, Immerwahr chronicles the history of these ‘large colonies and pinprick islands’. The result is a whimsical-serious work: a deft disquisition on America, and America in the world, with a raconteur’s touch and keen sense of the absurd...The impression this leaves is of a vast, transnational corporation whose outposts, like semi-autonomous subsidiaries, permitted off-balance-sheet transactions — atoll arms testing, Puerto Rican women as guinea pigs for the pill, American Samoans leading military enlistment (but unable to vote in presidential elections) — that the brass didn’t want on the main ledger.
Throughout its history, the US has ruled over lands beyond the borders of the States of the Union; its relationship with these other places has played a role, sometimes an important one, in defining what sort of country it is. That, in fact, is the main message of Daniel Immerwahr's lively and fascinating book...Here and there, Immerwahr overstretches his argument; but he is incapable of writing a dull page, and he has a real gift for making striking and unusual connections.
Here and there, Immerwahr overstretches his argument; but he is incapable of writing a dull page, and he has a real gift for making striking and unusual connections. (We owe modern contraception to Puerto Rico, where lax regulations favoured the trialling of the birth control pill; we owe The Beatles to the US Air Force base at Burtonwood, near Liverpool, which poured a stream of American music into the local record shops.) There are unexpected delights here, after all, for the pub quizzers. But there is also a very thought-provoking account of some American history that has been, if not deliberately "hidden", then quite badly mislaid.
“But you really did have an empire!” I said as I barricaded myself in my cabin, and this smashing new book by Daniel Immerwahr proves I was right all along... This excellent volume is full of moments of comic self-realisation, such as the “liberation” of the Philippines from the Japanese in 1945... Incredible.
How to Hide an Empire had the potential to be an important book, but falls well short of that. The first half chronicles American empire-building, with the bulk of attention devoted to the Philippines and Puerto Rico. There’s hardly anything on Guam or the Marshall Islands. The latter omission seems curious, given how they are a perfect microcosm of the American imperial ethic. In 1946 the 167 residents of Bikini Atoll were told that it was God’s will that they should move to faraway Rongerik, an island unsuited to their way of life. They obliged, since they had no choice. Americans then destroyed Bikini with an atom bomb.
...racy exploration of his country’s record of imperialism... This is a sloppy, undisciplined book, which makes some penetrating and important points amid a heap of self-indulgent clutter, for instance about Ian Fleming’s enthusiasm for fictional lunatics such as Dr No seeking to control the world from private islands... Immerwahr is right to emphasise the insensitivity of American governments... In his anger about this, however, he ignores the critical truth, that for all its vices, follies and periodic descents into evil, the United States has been broadly a Good Thing, not merely for its own people, but for most of us...
Critics of American foreign policy have long accused the country of imperialism in a general sense — of meddling and bullying, starting wars and inciting coups — but Immerwahr, a historian at Northwestern University, wants to draw attention to actual territory, to those islands and archipelagos too often sidelined in the national imagination...To call this standout book a corrective would make it sound earnest and dutiful, when in fact it is wry, readable and often astonishing. Immerwahr knows that the material he presents is serious, laden with exploitation and violence, but he also knows how to tell a story, highlighting the often absurd space that opened up between expansionist ambitions and ingenuous self-regard.