Gizmodo: Arctic to Warm 15º by 2100

From Gizmodo <https://earther.gizmodo.com/the-arctic-is-on-track-to-warm-over-15-degrees-this-cen-1833288900> ——

Climate change

The Arctic Is on Track to Warm Over 15 Degrees This Century Even If We Meet the Paris Agreement Pledges

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Brian Kahn
Yesterday 12:32pmnvvhp0xzzaggr0su10nw.jpg

Photo: Getty

A new report from the United Nations shows that it’s basically game over for the Arctic as we know it.

Even if carbon pollution magically stopped tomorrow, the region’s winters would still warm an astonishing 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) by century’s end. Meeting the Paris Agreement pledges—which do not get us to the two degree warming goal—would lead to that level of warming by midcentury and up to 9 degrees Celsius (16.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, along the way unraveling one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet and displacing people who have done very little to cause the disruption.

The report was released on Tuesday at a meeting of the United Nations Environment Program. The synthesis pulls together recent research and puts it all in one terrifying graphic-driven document. The litany of changes that have already occurred is unsettling, but the real shock is in what could come next.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, which translates to dramatic change. Sea ice extent, which has shrunk about 40 percent since regular satellite monitoring began in 1979, could reach zero percent in summer as early as the 2030s. Old, thick sea ice will likely be gone even sooner. Permafrost, frozen ground full of carbon, could thaw out and destroy a third of all the infrastructure in the Arctic (and also release deadly strains of anthrax). Rising temperatures could also unleash a host of other infectious diseases like Lyme disease, which is already on the rise in Canada.

“Insects like mosquitoes and ticks have the potential to connect the Arctic and tropics,” the authors write, which sounds like the sequel to Contagion.

The cruel irony of this is that like their small island counterparts, the 4 million people living the Arctic have contributed precious little to the carbon pollution causing those dramatic changes. In the case of permafrost, its thaw could also hasten climate change along by releasing methane and carbon dioxide in a vicious feedback loop.

And all these bleak findings don’t even get into other issues like plastic pollution, heavy metal contamination, or ocean acidification, all of which are and will continue to compound the region’s woes. The report concedes that the best way forward for the region with little sway on carbon pollution is adapting to whatever changes are coming its way.

“Challenges can no longer be managed in isolation: a holistic, ecosystem-based approach that considers multiple drivers and cumulative pressures is needed,” the report said. “In the years and decades to come, adaptation that integrates and respects local knowledge and Indigenous knowledge will be vital to help Arctic societies address the coming challenges.”

And there is sure to be no shortage of them.

Posted in Fun

Get Girls Hiking

From High Country News — one of my favorite (weekly) newspapers <https://www.hcn.org/articles/hike-like-a-girl-to-close-outdoors-gender-gap?utm_source=wcn1&utm_medium=email>

———

TrailPosse

The outdoors gender gap needs to be closed

Women’s tax dollars help fund public land – yet that public asset isn’t seen as safe for all people to enjoy.

Liz Thomas Opinion Essay May 10, 2016 Like Tweet Email Print

Women often wonder whether it is safe for them to hike solo. For me, the answer clearly is yes: I’ve hiked 8,000 miles by myself, pioneered routes in Utah and the Columbia River Gorge, and set an Appalachian Trail speed record. But others argue that in the eyes of a good chunk of women – heck, in the eyes of many people in this country – what I do is an exception.

Which makes me wonder: Since no one questions female pilots, police officers or professional athletes these days, why should hikers be any different?

The truth is, as the daughter of two conservative, middle-class parents, I grew up internalizing the idea, rooted in historic and cultural sexism, that walking solo is unsafe for women, whether in nature or in urban settings. For centuries, unaccompanied women frequently were attacked because women, for religious or cultural reasons, aren’t “supposed” to be out. That’s still true in many countries. Even in supposedly safe places that don’t hold such religious or cultural norms, like U.S. cities, women walking alone experience high rates of street harassment. For women, going into the outdoors sometimes is a confidence issue— the fear of being alone, paired with just the plain, old fear that everyone has going outdoors, whether because of four-legged critters or just the two-legged.

Liz Thomas treks through a Seattle neighborhood on an “urban thru-hike.”
Glenn Nelson/TrailPosse

The perception of the outdoors as “not a woman’s place” even has been reinforced by institutions charged with managing public lands. At its inception in 1916, the National Park Service listed park ranger jobs as “men’s only.” Things hadn’t changed much by 1967. With a line straight out of Mad Men, then Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall responded to a woman’s discrimination complaint by assuring the public that it was “our concern and affection for girls that prevents our saddling them with the full load of ranger duties.” Sporting airline-attendant inspired uniforms, so-called “rangerettes” were barred from law enforcement training and the ability to carry a gun until 1971. High Country News recently has published stories chronicling decades of sexual harassment and gender bias in the Park Service with a survey showing more than half of the female rangers and three-quarters of the female park police reporting on-the-job sexual harassment.

Despite the cultural taboos, I decided almost 10 years ago to backpack solo from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Those first few nights camping alone I was on such high alert that the U.S. Army Rangers, who use the trail to practice stealth travel skills, failed their mission. As they attempted to sneak past my lone hammock, I shined my headlamp on them. Dejected, the men disappeared into the woods, their training officer chastising them.

The more I hiked, the more I saw that, mile after mile, night after night, nothing bad happened. The vigilance that kept me up at night stirring with every sound quickly seemed unnecessary. My concerns about hiking solo were similar to those of a teenager learning to drive a car: Those first miles are exciting and scary, and then it becomes normal and routine. In fact, solo hiking and camping reinforced my sense that good things happen when going alone. I gained skills, bolstered my self-reliance, and observed and appreciated nature differently than when I hiked with men.

My story of discovery on the trail is not unique. Women have proven they can excel and can even surpass men in outdoor abilities, particularly during the past decade. Jennifer Pharr Davis was the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012. Heather Anderson is the thru-hike record holder for unsupported treks of both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Kristin Gates was the first female to solo hike the 1,000-mile-long Brooks Range in Alaska. Female outdoor adventurers have let their love of the mountains be their reward; their stories rarely get the traction (or, like their sports-athlete sisters, the sponsorship and funding) that male adventure athletes receive.

Still, while elite women are pushing the limits and shattering the glass ceiling, the message that hiking is safe and fun still hasn’t filtered down to your average elementary school girl.

That’s why I urge all women – especially younger women – to get outdoors during Hike Like a Girl Weekend, May 14-15. Whether you hike solo or with other women, the weekend is not only supposed to be fun, it also is meant as an act of defiance against norms that seem 100 years old yet persist today. It’s standing against every stereotype or micro-aggression ever foisted our way – from the women who are told “be safe” instead of “have fun,” to every company that designs women’s gear by shrinking-and-pinking men’s models, to the ranger who asks the solo female hiker, “Are you doing this all by yourself?” Women’s tax dollars also go to fund public land – yet we still live in a world where that public asset isn’t perceived as safe for all people to enjoy. Trees, rivers and mountains should be spaces that feel welcoming to everyone.

Knock on wood, but I’ve never had a problem while hiking alone. I also try to be smart about making sure conditions are right, doing research, and keeping a rational head.

While I’d like to believe my anecdotal evidence – female adventurers like me sharing stories that hiking solo is safe – will inspire other women to get outdoors, either by themselves or with a friend, real change happens when women go out and take that first step in the woods. The real empowering education and confidence comes from showing yourself that you can do something that previously seemed impossible. The experience becomes proof more powerful than any athlete’s testimony that hiking is safe and not a strange thing for a woman to do.

Hike Like a Girl Weekend doesn’t require you to go out and buy fancy gear. A pair of running shoes, polyester gym clothes and a school backpack will do. Bring water, snacks, a flashlight, sun protection and some extra layers. Bring friends or family, too, if you’d like. For just one day or just one weekend, try something completely off your radar – something that seems outside your limits – whether it’s going beyond your routine run, visiting a new park or trail or hiking solo for the first time. You may be surprised by what you learn. Like me, you may find yourself coming back to hike again.

Note: “Hike Like a Girl,” organized by Teresa Baker of African American National Parks Event, encourages females of all ages to walk or hike this weekend, May 14-15, and post about their experiences on social media with the hashtag, #HikeLAG.

Liz “Snorkel” Thomas is a Japanese American fast, light and long-distance hiker who held the unsupported speed record for the Appalachian Trail from 2011-15. She has completed the so-called “Triple Crown” of thru-hiking (Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails), and is vice-president of the American Long Distance Hiking Association, an ambassador for the American Hiking Society, the instructor for Backpacker Magazine’s online course, Thru-hiking 101, and author of the newly released, The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado. She writes about her adventures at www.eathomas.com and tweets at @eathomas.

Posted in Fun

How Rising Seas Eat Home Values

The economic effects discussed here for mid-Atlantic coastal states in the continental USA also operate on housing and other coastal development in the Eastern Caribbean.

Rising Seas Soaked Home Owners for $16 Billion over 12 Years

The threat of flooding has driven some buyers away and caused losses in property values

Rising Seas Soaked Home Owners for $16 Billion over 12 Years
Flooded street in the Broad Channel section of Queens in New York on March 3, 2018. Credit: Don Emmert Getty Images

Sea-level rise has cost homeowners on the East and Gulf coasts nearly $16 billion in property value as floods and the threat of flooding drive some buyers away, according to a study released this week.

Analysts at the nonprofit First Street Foundation in Brooklyn studied millions of residential home sales in 17 states from Maine to Alabama and found that coastal property values were rising at a slower rate in flood-prone areas than in areas that did not flood.

“The market is already reacting,” First Street Executive Director Matthew Eby said. “There’s no longer a conversation of what sea-level rise will do in 2050 or 2100.”

Delaware Gov. John Carney said the study shows the need for “a serious, coordinated approach to confront the real threats posed by climate change. It’s clear that climate change already is having real effects in Delaware—the lowest lying state—and in states across our country.”

Carney, a Democrat, said Delaware has worked with a coalition of governors called the U.S. Climate Alliance to cut carbon emissions. “We cannot afford to delay action on this issue,” Carney said in an emailed comment.

The slower appreciation rates are affecting both expensive vacation properties in places such as the Hamptons in New York and middle-class homes in communities such as Norfolk, Va., Eby said. Although much of the $16 billion in eroded value occurred in pricey coastal communities, middle-class areas saw the largest percentage of loss, Eby said.

First Street has released a series of reports since June analyzing the effect of sea-level rise on property in various coastal regions from 2005 to 2017. The group issued its latest report yesterday covering Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, which completes its analysis of all 17 coastal states.

The three mid-Atlantic states were affected moderately compared with their coastal neighbors, largely because they have less coastline than states like Florida and New Jersey. In Maryland, with a population of 6 million, 29,404 homes saw their property values depressed by sea-level rise, losing a total of $556 million in expected appreciation, the study found. Values were affected both on Maryland’s celebrated Atlantic shore and in inland communities along the Chesapeake Bay.

In Delaware, 9,552 homes were affected, and in Pennsylvania, 1,639 were affected, largely in the Philadelphia area along the Delaware River.

First Street says its study breaks ground by quantifying the effect of sea-level rise in the current real estate market and differs from other studies that have analyzed potential flood damage to homes in the future from climate change.

First Street analyzed 13.3 million real estate sales in the 17 states over 12 years and tried to assess the effect of flooding on sales prices. “We found that places that experience flooding are appreciating at a slower rate than places that don’t flood,” First Street data analyst Jeremy Porter said.

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After determining the effect of flooding on properties that had been sold, First Street applied that measure to 26 million coastal properties and found that communities had lost a total of $15.8 billion in expected appreciation. Florida and New Jersey, with their long stretches of densely populated oceanfront communities, accounted for nearly $10 billion of the lost appreciation. They were followed by New York, South Carolina and Connecticut.

First Street seeks to quantify the effects of sea-level rise and has created an online interactive website that shows flood risks to individual properties.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

Posted in Fun

Most US coal plants are contaminating groundwater with toxins, analysis finds

Another nice piece of reporting from The Guardian <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/04/us-coal-plants-contaminating-groundwater-toxins-analysisutm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0d1YXJkaWFuVG9kYXlVUy0xOTAzMDQ%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUS&CMP=GTUS_email>

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Most US coal plants are 'contaminating groundwater with toxins'
Environment / Most US coal plants are ‘contaminating groundwater with toxins’
Of 265 US power plants that monitor groundwater, 242 report unsafe levels of at least one pollutant derived from coal ash
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Blue Dolphin Cottages — 16 Feb 2019

Bruce Potter443-454-9044

Posted in Fun

The Guardian Examines the US Empire in the 21st Century

From The Guardian — The long read: The United States likes to think of itself as a republic, but it holds territories all over the world – the map you always see doesn’t tell the whole story .

The long read

How the US has hidden its empire

The United States likes to think of itself as a republic, but it holds territories all over the world – the map you always see doesn’t tell the whole story. By Daniel Immerwahr

Fri 15 Feb 2019 01.00 EST Last modified on Fri 15 Feb 2019 08.28 EST

There aren’t many historical episodes more firmly lodged in the United States’s national memory than the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is one of only a few events that many people in the country can put a date to: 7 December 1941, the “date which will live in infamy,” as Franklin D Roosevelt put it. Hundreds of books have been written about it – the Library of Congress holds more than 350. And Hollywood has made movies, from the critically acclaimed From Here to Eternity, starring Burt Lancaster, to the critically derided Pearl Harbor, starring Ben Affleck.

But what those films don’t show is what happened next. Nine hours after Japan attacked the territory of Hawaii, another set of Japanese planes came into view over another US territory, the Philippines. As at Pearl Harbor, they dropped their bombs, hitting several air bases, to devastating effect.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was just that – an attack. Japan’s bombers struck, retreated and never returned. Not so in the Philippines. There, the initial air raids were followed by more raids, then by invasion and conquest. Sixteen million Filipinos – US nationals who saluted the stars and stripes and looked to FDR as their commander in chief – fell under a foreign power.

Contrary to popular memory, the event familiarly known as “Pearl Harbor” was in fact an all-out lightning strike on US and British holdings throughout the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the US territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island and Wake Island. They also attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and they invaded Thailand.

At first, “Pearl Harbor” was not the way most people referred to the bombings. “Japs bomb Manila, Hawaii” was the headline in one New Mexico paper; “Japanese Planes Bomb Honolulu, Island of Guam” in another in South Carolina. Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, described the event as “an attack upon Hawaii and upon the Philippines”. Eleanor Roosevelt used a similar formulation in her radio address on the night of 7 December, when she spoke of Japan “bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines”.

That was how the first draft of FDR’s speech went, too: it presented the event as a “bombing in Hawaii and the Philippines”. Yet Roosevelt toyed with that draft all day, adding things in pencil, crossing other bits out. At some point he deleted the prominent references to the Philippines.

Why did Roosevelt demote the Philippines? We don’t know, but it’s not hard to guess. Roosevelt was trying to tell a clear story: Japan had attacked the US. But he faced a problem. Were Japan’s targets considered “the United States”? Legally, they were indisputably US territory. But would the public see them that way? What if Roosevelt’s audience didn’t care that Japan had attacked the Philippines or Guam? Polls taken slightly before the attack show that few in the continental US supported a military defense of those remote territories.

Roosevelt no doubt noted that the Philippines and Guam, although technically part of the US, seemed foreign to many. Hawaii, by contrast, was more plausibly “American”. Although it was a territory rather than a state, it was closer to North America and significantly whiter than the others.

Yet even when it came to Hawaii, Roosevelt felt a need to massage the point. So, on the morning of his speech, he made another edit. He changed it so that the Japanese squadrons had bombed not the “island of Oahu”, but the “American island of Oahu”. Damage there, Roosevelt continued, had been done to “American naval and military forces”, and “very many American lives” had been lost.

An American island, where American lives were lost – that was the point he was trying to make. If the Philippines was being rounded down to foreign, Hawaii was being rounded up to “American”.

One reporter in the Philippines described the scene in Manila as the crowds listened to Roosevelt’s speech on the radio. The president spoke of Hawaii and the many lives lost there. Yet he only mentioned the Philippines, the reporter noted, “very much in passing”. Roosevelt made the war “seem to be something close to Washington and far from Manila”.

This was not how it looked from the Philippines, where air-raid sirens continued to wail. “To Manilans the war was here, now, happening to us,” the reporter wrote. “And we have no air-raid shelters.”

Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam – it wasn’t easy to know how to think about such places, or even what to call them. At the turn of the 20th century, when many were acquired (Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, American Samoa, Hawaii, Wake), their status was clear. They were, as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson unabashedly called them, colonies.

That spirit of forthright imperialism didn’t last. Within a decade or two, after passions had cooled, the c-word became taboo. “The word colony must not be used to express the relationship which exists between our government and its dependent peoples,” an official admonished in 1914. Better to stick with a gentler term, used for them all: territories.

Yet a striking feature of the overseas territories was how rarely they were even discussed. The maps of the country that most people had in their heads didn’t include places such as the Philippines. Those mental maps imagined the US to be contiguous: a union of states bounded by the Atlantic, the Pacific, Mexico and Canada.

That is how most people envision the US today, possibly with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii. The political scientist Benedict Anderson called it the “logo map”, meaning that if the country had a logo, this shape would be it:

The US ‘logo map’

The problem with the logo map, however, is that it isn’t right. Its shape does not match the country’s legal borders. Most obviously, the logo map excludes Hawaii and Alaska, which became states in 1959 and now appear on virtually all published maps of the country. But it is also missing Puerto Rico, which, although not a state, has been part of the country since 1899. When have you ever seen a map of the US that had Puerto Rico on it? Or American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Marianas or any of the other smaller islands that the US has annexed over the years?

In 1941, the year Japan attacked, a more accurate picture would have been this:

The ‘Greater United States’ map
A map of the ‘Greater United States’ as it was in 1941

What this map shows is the country’s full territorial extent: the “Greater United States”, as some at the turn of the 20th century called it. In this view, the place normally referred to as the US – the logo map – forms only a part of the country. A large and privileged part, to be sure, yet still only a part. Residents of the territories often call it the “mainland”.

On this to-scale map, Alaska isn’t shrunken down to fit into a small inset, as it is on most maps. It is the right size – ie, huge. The Philippines, too, looms large, and the Hawaiian island chain – the whole chain, not just the eight main islands shown on most maps – if superimposed on the mainland would stretch almost from Florida to California.

This map also shows territory at the other end of the size scale. In the century before 1940, the US claimed nearly 100 uninhabited islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Some claims were forgotten in time – Washington could be surprisingly lax about keeping tabs. The 22 islands included here are the ones that appeared in official tallies (the census or other governmental reports) in the 1940s. I have represented them as clusters of dots in the bottom left and right corners, although they are so small that they would be invisible if they were drawn to scale.

The logo map is not only misleading because it excludes large colonies and pinprick islands alike. It also suggests that the US is a politically uniform space: a union, voluntarily entered into, of states standing on equal footing with one another. But that is not true, and it has never been true. From its founding until the present day, the US has contained a union of American states, as its name suggests. But it has also contained another part: not a union, not states and (for most of its history) not wholly in the Americas – its territories.

What is more, a lot of people have lived in that other part. According to the census count for the inhabited territories in 1940, the year before Pearl Harbor, nearly 19 million people lived in the colonies, the great bulk of them in the Philippines. That meant slightly more than one in eight of the people in the US lived outside of the states. For perspective, consider that only about one in 12 was African American. If you lived in the US on the eve of the second world war, in other words, you were more likely to be colonised than black.

My point here is not to weigh forms of oppression against one another. In fact, the histories of African Americans and colonised peoples are tightly connected (and sometimes overlapping, as for the African-Caribbeans in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands). The racism that had pervaded the country since slavery also engulfed the territories. Like African Americans, colonial subjects were denied the vote, deprived of the rights of full citizens, called racial epithets, subjected to dangerous medical experiments and used as sacrificial pawns in war. They, too, had to make their way in a country where some lives mattered and others did not.

What getting the Greater United States in view reveals is that race has been even more central to US history than is usually supposed. It hasn’t just been about black and white, but about Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan and Chamoru (from Guam), too, among other identities. Race has not only shaped lives, but also the country itself – where the borders went, who has counted as “American”. Once you look beyond the logo map, you see a whole new set of struggles over what it means to inhabit the US.


Looking beyond the logo map, however, could be hard for mainlanders. The national maps they used rarely showed the territories. Even the world atlases were confusing. During the second world war, Rand McNally’s Ready Reference Atlas of the World – like many other atlases at the time – listed Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Philippines as “foreign”.

A class of seventh-grade girls at the Western Michigan College Training School in Kalamazoo scratched their heads over this. They had been trying to follow the war on their maps. How, they wondered, could the attack on Pearl Harbor have been an attack on the US if Hawaii was foreign? They wrote to Rand McNally to inquire.

“Although Hawaii belongs to the United States, it is not an integral part of this country,” the publisher replied. “It is foreign to our continental shores, and therefore cannot logically be shown in the United States proper.”

The girls were not satisfied. Hawaii is not an integral part of this country? “We believe this statement is not true,” they wrote. It is “an alibi instead of an explanation”. Further, they continued, “we feel that the Rand McNally atlas is misleading and a good cause for the people of outlying possessions to be embarrassed and disturbed”. The girls forwarded the correspondence to the Department of the Interior and asked for adjudication. Of course, the seventh-graders were right. As an official clarified, Hawaii was, indeed, part of the US.

Yet the government could be just as misleading as Rand McNally on this score. Consider the census: according to the constitution, census takers were required to count only the states, but they had always counted the territories, too. Or, at least, they had counted the continental territories. The overseas territories were handled differently. Their populations were noted, but they were otherwise excluded from demographic calculations. Basic facts about how long people lived, how many children they had, what races they were – these were given for the mainland alone.

The maps and census reports that mainlanders saw presented them with a selectively cropped portrait of their country. The result was profound confusion. “Most people in this country, including educated people, know little or nothing about our overseas possessions,” concluded a governmental report written during the second world war. “As a matter of fact, a lot of people do not know that we have overseas possessions. They are convinced that only ‘foreigners’, such as the British, have an ‘empire’. Americans are sometimes amazed to hear that we, too, have an ‘empire’.”


The proposition that the US is an empire is less controversial today. The case can be made in a number of ways. The dispossession of Native Americans and relegation of many to reservations was pretty transparently imperialist. Then, in the 1840s, the US fought a war with Mexico and seized a third of it. Fifty years later, it fought a war with Spain and claimed the bulk of Spain’s overseas territories.

Empire isn’t just landgrabs, though. What do you call the subordination of African Americans? Starting in the interwar period, the celebrated US intellectual WEB Du Bois argued that black people in the US looked more like colonised subjects than like citizens. Many other black thinkers, including Malcolm X and the leaders of the Black Panthers, have agreed.

Or what about the spread of US economic power abroad? The US might not have physically conquered western Europe after the second world war, but that didn’t stop the French from complaining of “coca-colonisation”. Critics there felt swamped by US commerce. Today, with the world’s business denominated in dollars, and McDonald’s in more than 100 countries, you can see they might have had a point.

Flags on top of the fortress in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico.
Flags on top of the fortress in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. Photograph: Anton Gorbov/Alamy

Then there are the military interventions. The years since the second world war have brought the US military to country after country. The big wars are well-known: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. But there has also been a constant stream of smaller engagements. Since 1945, US armed forces have been deployed abroad for conflicts or potential conflicts 211 times in 67 countries. Call it peacekeeping if you want, or call it imperialism. But clearly this is not a country that has kept its hands to itself.

Yet among all the talk of empire, one thing that often slips from view is actual territory. Yes, many would agree that the US is or has been an empire, for all the reasons above. But how much can most people say about the colonies themselves? Not, I would wager, very much.

It is not as if the information isn’t out there. Scholars, many working from the sites of empire themselves, have assiduously researched this topic for decades. The problem is that their works have been sidelined – filed, so to speak, on the wrong shelves. They are there, but as long as we have the logo map in our heads, they will seem irrelevant. They will seem like books about foreign countries. The confusion and shoulder-shrugging indifference that mainlanders displayed at the time of Pearl Harbor hasn’t changed much at all.


I will confess to having made this conceptual filing error myself. Although I studied US foreign relations as a doctoral student and read countless books about “American empire” – the wars, the coups, the meddling in foreign affairs – nobody ever expected me to know even the most elementary facts about the territories. They just didn’t feel important.

It wasn’t until I travelled to Manila, researching something else entirely, that it clicked. To get to the archives, I would travel by “jeepney”, a transit system originally based on repurposed US army jeeps. I boarded in a section of Metro Manila where the streets are named after US colleges (Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Notre Dame), states and cities (Chicago, Detroit, New York, Brooklyn, Denver), and presidents (Jefferson, Van Buren, Roosevelt, Eisenhower). When I would arrive at my destination, the Ateneo de Manila University, one of the country’s most prestigious schools, I would hear students speaking what sounded to my Pennsylvanian ears to be virtually unaccented English. Empire might be hard to make out from the mainland, but from the sites of colonial rule themselves, it is impossible to miss.

The Philippines is not a US territory any more; it got its independence after the second world war. Other territories, although they were not granted independence, received new statuses. Puerto Rico became a “commonwealth”, which ostensibly replaced a coercive relationship with a consenting one. Hawaii and Alaska, after some delay, became states, overcoming decades of racist determination to keep them out of the union.

Yet today, the US continues to hold overseas territory. Besides Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and a handful of minor outlying islands, the US maintains roughly 800 overseas military bases around the world.

None of this, however – not the large colonies, small islands, or military bases – has made much of a dent on the mainland mind. One of the truly distinctive features of the US’s empire is how persistently ignored it has been. This is, it is worth emphasising, unique. The British weren’t confused as to whether there was a British empire. They had a holiday, Empire Day, to celebrate it. France didn’t forget that Algeria was French. It is only the US that has suffered from chronic confusion about its own borders.

The reason is not hard to guess. The country perceives itself to be a republic, not an empire. It was born in an anti-imperialist revolt and has fought empires ever since, from Hitler’s Thousand-Year Reich and the Japanese empire to the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. It even fights empires in its dreams. Star Wars, a saga that started with a rebellion against the Galactic Empire, is one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time.

This self-image of the US as a republic is consoling, but it is also costly. Most of the cost has been paid by those living in the colonies and around the military bases. The logo map has relegated them to the shadows, which are a dangerous place to live. At various times, the inhabitants of the US empire have been shot, shelled, starved, interned, dispossessed, tortured and experimented on. What they haven’t been, by and large, is seen.

The logo map carries a cost for mainlanders, too. It gives them a truncated view of their own history, one that excludes part of their country. It is an important part. The overseas parts of the US have triggered wars, brought forth inventions, raised up presidents and helped define what it means to be “American”. Only by including them in the picture do we see a full portrait of the country – not as it appears in its fantasies, but as it actually is.

How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr will be published by Bodley Head on 28 February. Buy it at guardianbookshop.com

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

 

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14 February, 2019 18:22

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