Britain's Fall and America Ascendant

This morning I read two excellent articles, one by Piers Brandon in the New York Times and the other by Adrian Hamilton in the Independent. Both talk about the collapse of empires, and both even quoted the same Dean Acheson quote: “Britain has lost an empire but has failed to find a role.”

That sent me thinking in a Monty Pythonesque way: “What did the British Empire ever done for us?” There were shameful episodes: Opium War, Irish Famine, Boer concentration camps, etc. But, for starters it ended outdated customs: thuggee and suttee in India, footbinding, triads and infanticide in Hong Kong, cannibalism and headshrinking elsewhere. The Royal Navy was singlehandedly responsible for ending slavery. As Niall Ferguson said in his majestical book, Empire, it was in general “a force of good,” which carried arts, culture, jurisprudence, education, industry and above all, administration to all corners of the world.

What I wonder is whether we will be answering the same to the question, “What did America ever done for us?” True, its finest hour came during the WWII, but since then, its influence had been ambivalent at best and evil at worst. America doesn’t always support democracies (Guatemala, the Philippines, Indonesia, Iran), nearly sent the world into nuclear apocalypses, and started a few unnecessary wars.

I just wonder who will write the elegy for the American Empire and whether he will be as kind as Ferguson.


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