Empire or Humanity?: What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me about the American Empire

Article for Teachers and High School Students. By Howard Zinn. 4 pages.
An essay which raises questions about the justifications for empire building and imperialism.

Time Periods: All US History
Themes: Imperialism, US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, World History/Global Studies

Empire or Humanity?: What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me about the American Empire (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryWith an occupying army waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with military bases and corporate bullying in every part of the world, there is hardly a question anymore of the existence of an American Empire. Indeed, the once fervent denials have turned into a boastful, unashamed embrace of the idea.

However, the very idea that the United States was an empire did not occur to me until after I finished my work as a bombardier with the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, and came home. Even as I began to have second thoughts about the purity of the “Good War,” even after being horrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even after rethinking my own bombing of towns in Europe, I still did not put all that together in the context of an American “Empire.”

Lesson originally published by Rethinking Schools | Zinn Education ProjectOriginally published in Rethinking Schools, Summer 2008, Volume 22.