Catalogue


Colossus : the price of America's empire /
Niall Ferguson.
imprint
New York : Penguin Press, 2004.
description
384 p. ; 24 cm.
ISBN
1594200130
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Penguin Press, 2004.
isbn
1594200130
catalogue key
5148063
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. [343]-364) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Nialll Ferguson is Herzog Professor of Financial History at the Stem School of Business, New York University. He is also a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
First Chapter

It used to be that only foreigners and those on the political fringes referred to the “American Empire.” Invariably, they did so in order to criticize the United States. Since the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001, however, there has been a growing volume of more mainstream writing on the subject of an American empire. The striking thing is that not all those who now openly use the “e” word do so pejoratively. On the contrary, a number of commentators seem positively to relish the idea of a U.S. imperium.

There is certainly no question that the United States has the military capability to take on the old British role as underwriter of a globalized, liberalized economic system. Before the deployment of troops for the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military had around 752 military installations located in more than 130 countries, accommodating 247,000 American service personnel deployed abroad. On land, the United States has 9,000 M1 Abrams tanks. The rest of the world has nothing that can compete. At sea, the United States possesses 9 “supercarrier” battle groups. The rest of the world has none. And in the air, the United States has 3 different kinds of undetectable stealth aircraft. The rest of the world has none. The United States is also miles ahead in the production of “smart” missiles and pilotless high-altitude drones. Pentagon insiders call it “full spectrum dominance.”

Nor is there any doubt that the United States has the economic resource to maintain FSD. America’s 31 percent share of the world product is equal to the shares of the next four countries combined (Japan, Germany, Britain and France). So rapidly has its economy grown since the late 1980s that it has been able to achieve a unique “revolution in military affairs” while vastly reducing the share of defense expenditures as a proportion of the gross domestic product. According to the Congressional Budget Office, defense spending in 2003 is likely to amount to 3.6 percent of the GDP—substantially below its cold war average. In the space of less than five years, three of the world’s tyrannies—Milosevic’s in Serbia, the Taliban’s in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq—have been swept from power at negligible cost. If this combination of military and economic dominance is not imperial power, then it is hard to know what is.

Yet the idea that the United States is now an authentic empire remains entirely foreign to the majority of Americans, who uncritically accept what has long been the official line: that the United States just doesn’t “do” empire. In the words of George W. Bush during the 2000 election campaign: “America has never been an empire. We may be the only great power in history that had the chance, and refused, preferring greatness to power, and justice to glory.” Since becoming president, Bush has in fact initiated two invasions of sovereign states, successfully overthrowing their governments in both cases. The Office of the President has produced a document on “National Security Strategy” that states as a goal of U.S. policy “to extend the benefits of freedom…;to every corner of the world.” But Bush himself has continued to deny that the United States has any imperial intentions. Speaking on board the homeward-bound Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier on May 1, President Bush declared: “Other nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home.” A few days previously, Donald Rumsfeld was asked by a journalist from Al-Jazeera if the United States was engaged in “empire building in Iraq.” “We don’t seek empires,” shot back Rumsfeld. “We’re not imperialistic. We never have been.” Few Americans would disagree with that sentiment.

The Victorian historian J. R. Seeley famously joked that the British had “conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.” But the Americans have gone one better. The greatest empire of modern times has come into existence without the great majority of the American people even noticing. This is not a fit of absence of mind. This is mass myopia.

It is not hard to explain such attitudes given the anti-imperial origins of the United States. However, just because you were once a colony doesn’t mean you can’t ever become an empire. England was once a Roman colony, after all. Americans also like to point out that they don’t formally rule over that much foreign territory: the formal dependencies of the United States (like Puerto Rico) amount to just over ten thousand square kilometers. But nowadays, thanks to air power, it is possible to control vastly more territory than that with a network of strategically situated military bases. And as for the claim that when Americans invade countries they come not to subjugate but to emancipate, the British said exactly the same when they occupied Baghdad in 1917. “Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors, or enemies, but as liberators.” Those were the precise words of General F. S. Maude’s proclamation to the people of Mesopotamia, dated March 19, 1917.

Unfortunately, the American refusal to recognize the reality of their own imperial role in the world is one of the things that make their empire very different from—and significantly less effective than—the last great English-speaking empire. For a start, Americans feel no qualms about sending their servicepeople to fight wars in faraway countries, but they expect those wars to be short and the casualty list to be even shorter.

Moreover, compared with the British Empire, the United States is much less good at sending its businesspeople, its civilian administrators and its money to those same faraway countries once the fighting is over. In short, America may be a “hyperpower”—the most militarily powerful empire in all history—but it is an empire in denial, a colossus with an attention deficit disorder. And that is potentially very dangerous.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2004-01-26:
Criticism of the U.S. government's imperialist tendencies has become nearly ubiquitous since the invasion of Iraq began nearly a year ago, but Ferguson would like America to embrace its imperial character. Just as in his previous book, Empire, he argued that the British Empire had done much good, he now suggests that "many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule," as stability and a lack of corruption that could be brought by liberal imperial government would result in capital investment and growth. Similarly, he says, the British Empire acted as "an engine for the integration of international capital markets." The problems nations like India faced after the British left, he continues, could have been ameliorated if the colonization had been more comprehensive, more securely establishing the types of institutions that foster long-term prosperity. The primary shortcoming of America's approach to empire, Ferguson believes, is that it prefers in-and-out military flourishes to staying in for the long haul. His criticism of Americans as a people who "like social security more than they like national security" and refuse to confront impending economic disaster are withering, but he also has sharp comments for those who imagine a unified Europe rising up to confront America and for the way France tried to block the Iraqi invasion. The erudite and often statistical argument has occasional flashes of wit and may compel liberals to rethink their opposition to intervention, even as it castigates conservatives for their lackluster commitment to nation building. (Apr. 26) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 2004-11-01:
Colossus derives its name from Thomas Jefferson who envisioned Old Europe leaning on the US's shoulders, hobbling alongside; he declared: "What a colossus shall we be." Ferguson (Oxford Univ., UK) traces the evolution and limitations of the US attaining dominance while practicing anti-imperialist imperialism. Among his contributions are identifying an age of primarily European empire spread across a third of the world. Ferguson asks why, compared with Britain and France, the US has difficulty imposing its will on others. For him the tragedies of 9/11 are primarily the outcome of contradictions in American policy toward the Middle East, growing dependence of Western economies on Persian Gulf oil, and development of terrorism by Arabs orchestrated against the US and its allies. Opposing the views that American policy in Iraq represents a descent from multilateralism to unilateralism, Ferguson defends President Bush's improvising to counteract failures of the UN--particularly of European powers in the Security Council--despite heavy casualties, prisoner-of-war scandals, and chain-of-command issues. The US has acquired an empire, yet the public lacks an imperial cast of mind and would rather consume than conquer, and build shopping malls rather than engage in nation building. Harsh words but food for thought. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers and upper-division undergraduates and above. K. W. Thompson University of Virginia
Appeared in Library Journal on 2004-04-15:
In Empire, Ferguson (Herzog Professor of Financial History, Stern Sch. of Business, NYU) extolled the value of the British Empire; here, he turns his attention to its putative successor. America, he says, is an empire and has always been an empire, but this is not necessarily bad. The presence of a strong empire stabilizes the world around it. As a result, Ferguson is very much in favor of the recent U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first half of this book takes a historical approach, showing how the United States acquired an empire not by brute conquest but primarily by purchasing territory. The second half compares contemporary America to the European Union and China as possible contenders for the imperial mantle. Both have problems, he argues, that make it unlikely they will supplant the United States. Ferguson, however, is not blind to the weaknesses of the U.S. empire, pointing especially to the unwillingness of Americans to spend a career abroad (as did Britain's Indian Civil Service) and a tendency to seek quick fixes when they do intervene in the affairs of other countries. Unlike Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which argued that excessive military commitments abroad would undermine U.S. supremacy, Ferguson points to smoldering internal financial weaknesses (especially in Social Security and Medicare) as the more dangerous threat to this country. Though this book is well argued, its comparisons will make many readers uncomfortable. Still, many current affairs collections will want it for its synthesis of history and economics.-Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Publishers Weekly, January 2004
Booklist, March 2004
Library Journal, April 2004
San Francisco Chronicle, May 2004
Washington Post, May 2004
Guardian UK, June 2004
Wall Street Journal, June 2004
Choice, November 2004
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Niall Ferguson brings his renowned historical and economic depth of field to bear on a bold and sweeping reckoning with America's imperial status and its consequences. Is America an empire? Certainly not, according to our government. Despite the conquest of two sovereign states in as many years, despite the presence of more than 750 military installations in two thirds of the world's countries and despite his stated intention "to extend the benefits of freedom...to every corner of the world," George W. Bush maintains that "America has never been an empire." "We don't seek empires," insists Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "We're not imperialistic." Nonsense, says Niall Ferguson. In Colossushe argues that in both military and economic terms America is nothing less than the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Just like the British Empire a century ago, the United States aspires to globalize free markets, the rule of law, and representative government. In theory it's a good project, says Ferguson. Yet Americans shy away from the long-term commitments of manpower and money that are indispensable if rogue regimes and failed states really are to be changed for the better. Ours, he argues, is an empire with an attention deficit disorder, imposing ever more unrealistic timescales on its overseas interventions. Worse, it's an empire in denial-a hyperpower that simply refuses to admit the scale of its global responsibilities. And the negative consequences will be felt at home as well as abroad. In an alarmingly persuasive final chapter Ferguson warns that this chronic myopia also applies to our domestic responsibilities. When overstretch comes, he warns, it will come from within-and it will reveal that more than just the feet of the American colossus is made of clay.
Unpaid Annotation
Ferguson brings his renowned historical and economic depth of field to bear on a bold and sweeping reckoning with America's imperial status and its consequences.
Main Description
Is America an empire? Certainly not, according to our government. Despite the conquest of two sovereign states in as many years, despite the presence of more than 750 military installations in two thirds of the world's countries and despite his stated intention "to extend the benefits of freedom...to every corner of the world," George W. Bush maintains that "America has never been an empire." "We don't seek empires," insists Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "We're not imperialistic." Nonsense, says Niall Ferguson. In Colossus he argues that in both military and economic terms America is nothing less than the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Just like the British Empire a century ago, the United States aspires to globalize free markets, the rule of law, and representative government. In theory it's a good project, says Ferguson. Yet Americans shy away from the long-term commitments of manpower and money that are indispensable if rogue regimes and failed states really are to be changed for the better. Ours, he argues, is an empire with an attention deficit disorder, imposing ever more unrealistic timescales on its overseas interventions. Worse, it's an empire in denial-a hyperpower that simply refuses to admit the scale of its global responsibilities. And the negative consequences will be felt at home as well as abroad. In an alarmingly persuasive final chapter Ferguson warns that this chronic myopia also applies to our domestic responsibilities. When overstretch comes, he warns, it will come from within-and it will reveal that more than just the feet of the American colossus is made of clay.
Table of Contents
Introductionp. 1
Rise
The Limits of the American Empirep. 33
The Imperialism of Anti-Imperialismp. 61
The Civilization of Clashesp. 105
Splendid Multilateralismp. 132
Fall?
The Case for Liberal Empirep. 169
Going Home or Organizing Hypocrisyp. 200
"Impire": Europe Between Brussels and Byzantiump. 227
The Closing Doorp. 258
Conclusion: Looking Homewardp. 286
Statistical Appendixp. 303
Acknowledgmentsp. 305
Notesp. 309
Bibliographyp. 343
Indexp. 365
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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