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I was discussing "empire" with a Canadian in Petra the other morning. I maintained that since we have not occupied, colonized, or governed any territory since we took the desert southwest from Mexico, we cannot be considered an "empire". He said that since we have military bases all over the world, we are.
From Wikipedia: "The term empire derives from the Latin imperium (power, authority). Politically, an empire is a geographically extensive group of states and peoples (ethnic groups) united and ruled either by a monarch (emperor, empress) or an oligarchy. Geopolitically, the term empire has denoted very different, territorially-extreme states — at the strong end, the extensive Spanish Empire (16th c.) and the British Empire (19th c.), at the weak end, the Holy Roman Empire (8th c.–19th c.), in its Medieval and early-modern forms, and the Byzantine Empire (15th c.), that was a direct continuation of the Roman Empire."
I don't dispute the economic and political meddling and coercion that the US has engaged in around the globe. It has been and is still reprehensible. We have stopped shy of actual conquest and subjugation, however, so I maintain that we do not have an empire, beyond Guam and Puerto Rico, if you must. If we were truly Imperialist, Germany and Japan would be part of our empire, instead of two of our strongest economic competitors. All the many countries which have been bailed out by the IMF and World Bank, we could have just bought for economic aid.
We have a much more insidious way of absorbing the world and its cultures. We export ours via television, and make everyone want it. Then, bit by bit, our corporations and ideas make inroads all over the globe. Soon, when you ask someone in El Progreso, Honduras where the best place to eat is, they tell you "Applebees". (this actually happened to us).
Tourists from around the Middle East, enjoying the Eid holiday in Aqaba, broke their Ramadan fast by cramming into McDonalds, Popeyes, Pizza Hut, and Burger King.
We are not imperialists, we do not conquer the world. We homogenize it.