the zone- panama borderland
and the complexity of u.s. empire
Historians of U.S. foreign relations still debate whether the United States
constitutes an empire in the classic sense, such as that of the Roman or Brit-
ish Empire. Even those scholars who accept the concept of the United States
as an empire continue to argue about what kind of empire Washington has
maintained since the late nineteenth century. Historians of U.S. western
expansion and Manifest Destiny contend that long before 1898, the United
States consciously forged a contiguous imperium. Since the birth of the repub-
lic, and even before, Americans have conquered the lands of Amerindians,
Spaniards, Frenchmen, and Mexicans on the North American continent.1
Foreign relations scholars have put forth diff erent notions of the twentieth-
century overseas U.S. empire, all of them notable by their qualifi ers: demo-
cratic empire, empire by invitation, enlightened empire, empire by integra-
tion, defensive empire, protective empire, empire by default, and even
accidental empire.2
Among large sectors of the American public, reluctance still persists to
admitting that the United States has, now or ever, constituted an empire in
the British, French, or Spanish manner. The whole notion cuts against the
central ideology of the American Revolution: popular sovereignty and self-
determination forged in an anticolonial war for independence. The pejora-
tive use of the term American imperialism by the Soviets, Latin Americans, and
other critics throughout the twentieth century has further discredited such a
concept in the minds of many U.S. citizens. To such dogged skeptics of em-
pire, this study can only state, paraphrasing President John F. Kennedy at the
Brandenburg Gate, “Let them come to Panama.”
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