Project Description

How to Hide an Empire

I don’t often read books on imperialism that are fun to read. Yet, that is what Daniel Immerwahr has been able to do with How to Hide an Empire. I would recommend it, however, if it were simply funny. It has some important points to make that anyone interested in world peace and international relations in general should be paying attention to.

Critics on the left have long talked about America’s imperialist past and present. None have done so with more insight or fewer axes to grind than Immerwahr. And, you get to learn about guano islands and some of his relatives along the way.

The first thing I learned is that we weren’t always rabid expansionists. Daniel Boone was seen more as a hooligan than a hero during his lifetime. There was active opposition to turning places like Puerto Rico and the Philippines into colonies almost a century later.

However, our history has been one of expansion—and not just territorially and not just through the acquisition of territory. Therein lies the real value of his book.

Some of our expansion to create and then go beyond what he calls the logo map had less than imperial islands. We took over a group of islands around the world because of their accumulated bird droppings (yes, the guano) because we needed it for fertilizer. It didn’t hurt (though no one, of course knew it at the time) that they would be useful as air bases during World War II.

Some of our expansion had nothing to do with territory. Thus, Immerwahr makes the case that our real empire has grown at the very same time that our physical one shrank. In ways I only vaguely had heard about, he discusses the ways American industrial standards went world wide, English became the world’s dominant language, and our culture became the envy of the world (even when many of the same  people hated our politics).

This is a delightful book which will make you smile as you learn. What more could you ask for? Worth reading even if you don’t care much about American foreign policy.