Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2 Summer 1981

BBSS BB_LBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB ■■■■■■ I ■ ■■■■■■■■■ ■■■■■■■■ ■■■■■■■■■ !■■■■■ [ ■ ■ ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ For two centuries, Americans have been encouraged to see themselves as defenders of freedom and democracy. Why then, in recent years, have world events seemed to turn against us? in this remarkable article, historian william ADDleman Williams brings us face to face withthe history andnature of anAmerican Empirewhose very existence we have long been reluctant to acknowledge, A EMPIRE as a way of Life BY WILLIAM APPLEMAN WILLIAMS ■■■■■■■ ■ ■■■I ROM THE beginning, our imperial way of life seduced us into assuming that we could go on forever projecting the present into the future: that we could start over again and again and again. F. Scott Fitzgerald understood that when he had Jay Gatsby speak these lines: “Can’t repeat the past,” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can.” William Appleman Williams, currently teaching in the Department of History at Oregon State University, and recently president of the Organization of American Historians, is one of Oregon and the nation’s finest political thinkers. This article, adapted from his book of the same title, first appeared in The Nation. That traditional assumption was elevated into a blind faith by the tremendous absolute and relative power that we Americans enjoyed after 1945. We came to think of ourselves as being beyond history—beyond being human. Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson expressed the feeling perfectly in his attitude that “only the United States could get hold of History and make it conform.” It was not simply our military and economic power over other societies; it also, and perhaps more importantly, involved the way that we allowed our technological accomplishments to fragment the essential continuity—the process—of life. The most obvious example is television, which defines experience as disconnected episodes without significant relationships or consequences. A terrifying distortion of reality certified by Walter Cronkite’s daily Hail Mary: “And that’s the way it is.” But in truth it is extremely difficult to ■ ■■I ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■I i&i ■■■■■■■■ ■■■■■■■■■I