FRED LOGEVALL: For about the last century, the United States has been a great power. And for about the last-- well, since the closing days of World War II-- or perhaps to be more precise, since about the middle months of 1942, I would say-- the United States has been a superpower. And more recently, some have referred to the United States as a hyperpower since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1989, 1991.
But is the United States an empire? That's a tantalizing question that is at the heart of today's talk. It's a question that has been debated by scholars and by others for a very long time, as you all know. The United States was born out of an anti-colonial reaction, anti-imperial reaction to Great Britain.
And to one degree or another, since those early days, since those founding days of the Republic, this has been a question. And it's, as I say, at the question of today's lecture by Elizabeth Cobb-Hoffman, who I have the pleasure of introducing in just a few minutes. This is a lecture that is an entry in our Foreign Policy Distinguished Speakers Series at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. And it's a series that we've had in existence now for about seven or eight years, since 2006, I think is when we started.
And really, the purpose of the series is to inform, to educate, to discuss as a campus community topics of pressing international concern and pressing concern in terms of US foreign relations, US foreign policy. And if you have the program for today's lecture, and if you look at the back of that program, you can see that we've had a very distinguished list indeed of speakers since 2006 in this series. And we're very grateful for the support from several individuals, several entities, that make these talks possible.
As you can imagine, it costs money to bring distinguished speakers to campus, and then to put them up while they're here, and to organize various events surrounding the visit. And I want to recognize in particular the San Giacomo Charitable Foundation, Mrs. Judy Biggs, and also the Bartles family.
Let me also quickly draw your attention to upcoming events after today that I hope you'll put on your calendar. And I hope you'll be back here for these events. They're actually both in this room, so I can say back here.
On the 27th of March-- so this month-- the 27th, in exactly three weeks, Andrew Weber, who is assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs will be here to lecture on countering weapons of mass destruction. So that's in this room at 4:30 PM on March 27. Very much looking forward to his presentation.
And then on the 29th of April-- so right at the end of the semester-- Douglass Rutzen, who is president and CEO of the International Center for Nonprofit Law, will be here in an event co-sponsored by the law school to give us a lecture on defending civil society and peaceful protests around the world. That's Tuesday, April 29 at 4:30 PM. And very much looking forward to both of them.
I want to now, however-- this is the best part of the thing for me, which is to get a chance to introduce our speaker. Maybe I should have introduced myself. Did I not do that? My name is Fred Logevall. And I'm a faculty member in history here at Cornell. I'm also the director of the Einaudi Center, and also serving now as Vice Provost for International Affairs.
And like our distinguished guest, I am a US foreign relations historian by field of specialization. And it's a special honor, therefore, for me, also because I've known Professor Cobbs Hoffman for a long time to have this chance to introduce her to you. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman earned her PhD in American history at Stanford University working with, among others, David Kennedy. And she is now the Dwight Sanford professor in US foreign relations history at San Diego State University.
She has won numerous prizes for her work. In fact, she's accomplished something quite rare, which is two prizes for her nonfiction work, and two for fiction. That's a tough one to pull off. She is the author of, among other publications, The Rich Neighbor Policy: Rockefeller and Kaiser in Brazil, published by Yale in 1992, and also which won the Allen-Evans prize and the Stuart Bernath prize.
She is the author of All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. That's from Harvard 1998. And she is the co-editor of Major Problems in American History with Edward Blum.
Her recent novel-- and she is that very rare creature who is an academic and a superb historian, but who is also a published novelist. Her recent novel, Broken Promises, a novel of the Civil War, won the 2009 San Diego Book Award for Best Historical Fiction, and the director's mention for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction.
She has received fellowships from the Irish Fulbright commission, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Organization of American States, in addition to research support from the Kennedy and Johnson Presidential Libraries, and the Rockefeller Family Archives.
She writes in various things-- blogs, scholarly and popular journals. She has served on the editorial board of diplomatic history, as well as the Encyclopedia of American foreign relations. From 1999 to 2005, Professor Cobbs-Hoffman served on the historical advisory committee of the US State Department advising on transparency in government and the de-classification of top secret documents, an issue I dare say that is still of pressing concern to those of us who are working historians.
Her research interests include US, European, and Latin American history, among other subjects. And she has been several times-- I believe three times, most recently last year-- a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. Her next project, which I'm thinking we might need to bring her back to discuss in due course-- her next project is a novel based on the remarkable life of Alexander Hamilton and his courageous wife, Eliza Schuyler, and the life that they experience, which included her having to raise seven children alone.
That's not, however, the subject of today's talk. Today we're going to hear from Professor Cobbs-Hoffman about her most recent book, published last year by Harvard University Press, and titled American Umpire. It's a clever title. I was going to say a punning title. I guess one could say that.
But it's also a provocative title, and an important title. And I believe that the book accomplishes what all serious scholarly work should do, which is that it causes us to question received judgment, causes us to think about pressing-- in this case historiographical-- questions in a new way. And that's precisely what we want to I think try to do as historians. This book succeeds in spades.
We had a session yesterday evening at my home primarily involving graduate students, but also some faculty in a couple of different departments, as well as a faculty member from Ithaca College. And it was on some of the issues that are in the book that you will be hearing about now. It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Professor Elizabeth Cobbs-Hoffman.
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: Well, thank you all so much for being here. And it's an extraordinary pleasure for me too, not only to be here at Cornell where I've never been-- so this is an exciting and new experience-- but to be introduced by one of the great historians of my generation, Fred Logevall, who has been, of course, recognized nationally and internationally. So it's such a treat. And thank you so much.
I'd also like to think Heike Mitchelsen, who also made this possible, and has been my good shepherd throughout this experience. So thank you to Heike for bringing me here. And I think in some ways this invitation was prompted-- oh, by the way, I've got to get my-- you guys have great technology. If I make a mistake, though, you'll be patient with me, because I'm learning it.
I think this invitation was prompted by my new book, and also by a spin-off from it, which has been really a series of op eds that I've been writing the last year, one of which was in the New York Times, titled Come Home America, almost a year ago. And in that I observed that everyone talks about getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But what about Germany and Japan?
And in many ways, what I was really calling for-- and this resulted in my talking about this in a variety of forms, including on the Morning Joe show shortly after that-- I believe that what I'm trying to point to here is what I think is a fundamental historical confusion, a lack of historical self-awareness that we have as Americans. And I think it prevents us from making some important changes-- basic changes-- in our foreign policy, which I think we're due for at this point in our history.
And to give a recent example of this confusion, which I think abounds, President Obama said not that long ago in September 2013 when he was speaking to all of us on a televised address about the need, he believed, to get involved in the Syrian Civil War. And he said that the United States-- listen carefully-- the United States has been the chief enforcer of international law for the past seven decades.
Then the President asserted that the United States, however, is not a global policeman. Well, what is a policeman if not an enforcer of law? He also said a few weeks later-- and this was in an address to the UN-- he said that the United States seeks a world order that respects state sovereignty, but in which sovereignty cannot shield a regime from outside intervention. Right.
Now this is also a contradiction, because the whole meaning-- the classic definition of sovereignty-- is you don't have outside intervention. Sovereignty is like a bubble. You touch the bubble, and it goes away.
So this was very much a contradiction. So really what the President was saying is that we seek a world in which sovereignty cannot shield states from kind of external checks and balances to protect human rights, and to make sure that countries are abiding by general world laws, much as the federal government operates in the United States. So really he's engaged in a kind of doublespeak.
Now I do not think this doublespeak is intentional. I think that it reflects, again, this lack of historical clarity about what the United States is doing and why. And if we don't understand these issues, nobody else will.
The United States produces the world's best scholarship on the United States, naturally, as every country does. And so we need to understand these things better, because the fact is, the US exerts incredibly unusual role, as you all know, in the world today as the country with the greatest, and yet very limited, power to affect what goes on in foreign conflicts, to affect the outcomes of these foreign conflicts.
As a result, so that when things go wonky, what people ask is, what's the United States going to do about it? They don't say, what's Mexico going to do about that? What's Canada, or Iran, or France, or Switzerland going to do about it?
So this raises important questions-- this fact that we are the go-to country. The very first question, of course, is, are we the world's policemen? Or another way of saying that-- are we a self-important bully that imposes its values on others, that makes others conform to our wishes. Worse than that, are we an empire?
Now here's where the big E comes in instead of my U. I like to say we're an umpire. But the real question is, are we an empire that essentially seeks to dominate the world for its own geopolitical and economic benefits? Some might say simply it's vanity. Or that's door number one. Here's door number two. Are we instead the only power, as realists believe, that stands between our world and Armageddon, that prevents a third World War, a total economic collapse, or worse, possibly, nuclear devastation of the planet.
And if that's true, if door number two is true, must we play this role forever? Regardless of what it costs our country? Regardless of what it costs our Treasury, our soldiers, our schools, our infrastructure, our domestic security, our Treasury, our psyche. That's door number 2.
Or door number three. Is it possible-- and this is what I think my research suggests-- that the road we've been on for the past 70 years has in a way been a detour, and perhaps even a necessary detour, on the path that world history has been taking-- the world together has been taking-- since about 1648, and that now is the time for a course correction.
If I am accurate, if my suppositions are true, then my book challenges us to begin that transition to the next phase of our national epic, confidently, affirmatively, learning from both successes and failures. Because if scholars are to be rigorous, then they must be as honest and inquiring about our successes as our failures. What went right, as well as what went wrong.
Well, now I hate to be a tease, but I can't possibly answer all of these big questions in 45 minutes with adequate evidence. So you'll have to read the book, of course. But what I hope to show you all, and prove at least enough to get you interested in thinking about it and debating it with me, is that a new interpretation of world history can possibly change our way of understanding these things. It might begin to answer some of these questions. And that's what I hope to sketch out for you today.
So I want to do three things. First of all, I want to tell you why in the world I wrote this book. Why would anyone take on such a big topic? 1648 really to the present.
And then I'd like to explain why I think the current reigning scholarly paradigm, if you will, understanding of how the world works, is wrong. And then lastly, I'd like to propose an alternative explanation, because it's not fair to tear down and criticize something without saying, well, what then? How could we understand this in a way differently?
And essentially what I'm going to argue is that first of all, in terms of world history, the world has collectively devised new norms over the past four centuries, new ways of thinking about the world and what we want. And that secondly-- that's the world history piece-- the American history piece of this, because like Fred, I'm an Americanist-- I study US history-- I'm going to argue that under the press of catastrophic events in the 1940s, the United States reluctantly reversed its long-standing policy of political non-entanglement with the rest of the world.
I'm sure some you've heard that. Maybe your ears are warming up here. Non-entanglement. That is what George Washington talked about.
And what happened is the United States adopted instead an ongoing role which is akin to, but not identical with, a role it was used to playing, that it had been playing for a while among its own states, among the states of the United States. That is the role of an umpire to compel acquiescence between squabbling sovereignties in moments of extreme crisis.
So to begin with, why I wrote the book. I actually-- I wouldn't say I thought of this at the time. But in a way, it goes back to when I was first a graduate student. And I was interviewing for a national scholarship. And I was before a panel of people.
And one of the scholars said, now why do you want to enter a dying field? Well, I didn't know until he said it that it was dying. So of course, you know, I thought, oh, I shouldn't show that.
So bunching quickly, I said, well, because we can't let it die. You know, that's why I want to be in this field. How can we let the story of America's relationship to the world be a dying field?
But you know what? It turns out he was right. And although his death has been much exaggerated, as Mark Twain said about himself, the rumors were an exaggeration. But it was dying, because in many ways, a lot of young people had left the field in droves. They had gone into social and cultural history, which seemed sexier and more interesting in the 1980s and 90s, and even today.
But also, they had abandoned it. And I think that my own speculation is part of the reason is, who wants to go into any field where the answer to every question is always the same. My mother? No, no, no. It's not like Freud here.
But the answer is always, the US messed up. You know, that gets to be boring after awhile and kind of a drag. So what really did happen in the years I was going into this field is that historians have tended to leave the study of American foreign relations. That's become a minor field, political history in general.
And what's happened is that the story's been taken up by political scientists-- go poly sci-- good women and men. Thank you for continuing the study for us. And also, the historians who stayed in the field-- not all, for sure-- but many tended to see the United States-- the history of the US-- as a long story of empire, empire, and imperialism.
Now by the way, there are some who don't say that. But they're awfully quiet. They don't generally challenge that paradigm. The paradigm is the reigning paradigm.
Now I think that empire is a misleading term that obscures the challenges it faces today. And the worst thing is that a misdiagnosis can be much worse than no diagnosis. Because a misdiagnosis can kill the patient.
And in fact, to give you a sense of this, there are many people who say the US is an empire. And one of them is al-Qaeda. And To al-Qaeda, the solution to America as an empire is death to the empire. And so it's an important word to look at very carefully.
So I'd like to talk about who else says the US is an empire? Because sometimes I actually think am I exaggerating this? Is it possible that I'm overstating the Case
And then I go back to the kinds of things that I see that come across my desk every day. These are just a little bit of some of the books that you'll see on the subject that say the US is an empire. Oh dear, could my technology be failing me already? No. OK.
Niall Ferguson, Colossus, the Rise and Fall of the American Richard Immerman, Empire for Liberty: a History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz. Among Empires: American Ascendancy and its Predecessors, Charles Maier from Harvard. American Empire, Andrew Bacevich. Et cetera, et cetera.
The Secret History of the American Empire. Noam Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations from the Post-9/11 World. And in case you don't want to have to read any words, you just want the graphic novel version, A People's History of American Empire by Howard Zinn. Now this is the granddaddy of them all. Empire As a Way of Life, William Appleman Williams, who first really started this line of thinking. That's by the way, the 50th anniversary edition.
I like this classically worded, Empire. I know, it's very straightforward.
Now lest you think that this is just all about corporations and government. No, there are also Christians in the American Empire. There are even tourists in the American empire. This is US Tourism and Empire in 20th Century Latin America. Irresistible Empire. There are pretty girls. In fact, one person talks about the Marilyn Monroe Doctrine, I always thought was kind of clever.
The Empire Trap, lest you fall into that. And make sure you try not to do that. US Interventionism.
Now by the way, this is not just a right/left debate, too. I want to emphasize this. It's is not just a leftist analysis. There are folks on the right who also have this analysis. And Deeps Lal is one of those people who thinks that empires are actually a good form of government, and we ought to be thinking more about that.
Andrew Bacevich considers himself on the right. Although some people say he's gone so far right, he's come around to the left. But the point is, it's across the political spectrum.
Now this, in some ways, is the kingpin of all the American empire arguments. Chalmers Johnson. Some of you probably read it. The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. Sometimes with him I feel like I'm arguing against Lord of the Rings, because of his empire trilogy, which has sold millions and millions of copies.
So these are the kinds of books that argue that the United States is an empire. They take very different-- lots of different multiple and amorphous definitions of what an empire actually is. And in fact, to my way of thinking, empire has become a sloppy, imprecise catch-all phrase. I know you're saying, don't be shy now. Tell us what you really think about it.
But this phrase really encompasses everything. Lots of things are used to describe as an American empire. But to give you a flavor of some of the most critical comments, to take a comment out of Chalmers Johnson, he says American bases abroad are quote-- "striking evidence for those who care to look of an imperial project that the Cold War obscured."
Andrew Bacevich, again, who considers himself conservative. He says that a war in Iraq, for example, was a war quote-- "for the imperium," and that the whole purpose of American foreign policy is quote-- "to expand an American imperium." So
He's considers himself a conservative. More on the left. The World Socialist Web just dragged off the internet recently. "Iraq was a predatory imperialist war. It was carried on as part of a long-term strategy for reorganizing the Middle East to secure American interests."
Another quote from Tariq Ali, a very well-known eminent British commentator. He says, "When people tell me that the American empire is weakening, I say, don't underestimate it. Europe and the Middle East fall in line whenever the United States says this has to be done and that has to be done. So the only really sovereign nation today is the United States."
So Europe and the Middle East, when we say jump, they say how high. I can't think of a country actually in either of those continents or subcontinents which will do that for us. But so that's his point of view.
By the way, there are also, of course, people who, as I said, this trope, if you will, this idea that the US is an empire, percolates everywhere. It is in the public eye as well. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, less than a year ago when he and his brother blew up Boston Marathon, had gone around to their neighbors ahead of time ranting about the American empire. There they are right before the explosion at the marathon last year.
And as I said, complaining about American empire. And in fact, after it, an American commentator who was talking about what happened at the Boston Marathon. He said, talking about Tsarnaev, he says, "The American empire is not anti-Islam," as Tsarnaev apparently he thinks should not have believed. He says, "It's only anti-those who present serious barriers to the empire's plan for world domination." So that's an American commentator on that.
Terrible tragedy, which left literally blood on the streets. Now by the way, President Obama has actually apparently decided-- I hope he's reading my book. Probably not. But he said-- actually very recently he came out and said the US isn't an empire. So apparently he thought it was out there enough that the President of the United States thought it would be worthwhile to say something about it.
He said it's propaganda. He said this to the UN. He said, however, what the United States really wants is a world-- he said, we seek a world where nations, quote-- do not covet the land or resources of other nations."
Now this was translated about 25 minutes later on Democracy Now, which is the web presence of the nation, the magazine journal of the United States. And Jeremy Scale for The Nation came out and said about Obama's speech, Obama quote-- "basically came out and said the United States is an imperialist nation, and we are going to do whatever we need to conquer areas to take resources from the world." That is how this goes in this ear and it comes out. And it's a very odd distortion of things.
So I want to say-- by the way-- I read you some inflammatory statements, some are by actually very well-respected scholars, and some are by popular pundits, and some are obviously by terrible terrorists. But on what basis have historians said that the United States is an empire? And I mean a lot of wonderful scholarly historians who are some of my best friends. So I really have great respect for them.
So there are really three bases. And I want to say something briefly about that. Then I'm going to go into what my alternative is to this paradigm.
Are three bases on which people tend to say this is that firstly of all, that the United States is an empire because of its 19th century expansionism. And this is an example of that. Habits of Empire, by a wonderful historian-- Walter Nugent, a good friend.
The second basis for this claim is that the United States has military bases all over the world. We know that's true. And not coincidentally, US values have spread in the same period of time, spread by American in a way military force.
The third argument-- and this is a very old argument as an economic one-- which is, how in the world can we explain places like Cornell, beautiful spots in America, the wealth of America embodied in places like Cornell unless we understand that that was American economic dominance that came out of our ability to milk the rest of the world for its resources to be a kind of empire that forced others into a dependent state and that took advantage of them.
Well, now I think the crazy thing about this is there's absolutely completely clear evidence to counter all of these claims very easily. Now I can't, again, do that right now. You'll have to read the book. I go back.
My friend Michael McGandy from Cornell University Press will understand that this is what authors do. They're always talking about their books. And as a publisher, you'll appreciate that authors need to do that.
But just to give you a couple little things. All right. Let's take the expansionism. The thing I like to say about American expansionism is that if we're going to call it American empire for that reason, then we must as scholars and as people interested in these issues use a definition consistently. Oxygen always has the same property. Right? We don't call oxygen hydrogen. We don't call hydrogen whatever else is on the table of elements. And I'm not very good at that.
All right. So that for example, I'd like to talk about what happened in Latin America around the same time that the United States was expanding across the continent and booting other nations like Mexico out of the way and running terribly roughshod over native peoples. And this is no way to exculpate or to excuse that process.
But the same thing was happening throughout the Americas. I love this map of Latin America around 1879, 1880. This was right before the War of the Pacific. The crosshatching shows you all the claims and counterclaims to different properties that different nations were making against each other's interests, in the way that US and Mexico fought over Texas. As you can see from this map, Chile is a much smaller nation. It and Argentina had claims to the same areas. It ultimately took a lot of Peru and Bolivia. It was called the War of the Pacific.
Right after that, Chile expanded southward into the lands of the Mapuche. About half of Chile to the South comes from the lands that were conquered after the 1880, very similar to the plains wars of the United States. In fact, this particular picture is from Argentina, not from Chile, showing Indians conveniently dying for the onward progress of Argentine Manifest Destiny.
And this notion-- what nation states did in the 19th century was pretty grim-- and by modern standards, absolutely unforgivable. And at the time, but this is what we call nationalism. So unless we want to talk about the empire of Chile, or empire Paraguay, or empire of Australia, or empire of Canada, we can't say the United States is an empire for doing the exact same things that all these other nation states were doing at the same time, because we must be consistent in the definition, which is again, not to excuse it at all.
Another basis for which people say that the United States is an empire is not the 19th century reason, but the 20th century reason. Then we talk about military basis here. You can't be an empire if your military basis is imposed without your consent, and you can't get rid of it if you don't want it any longer.
France was the first to kick us out in 1967, said, take your airbases and go home. The Philippines kicked the United States out, and they left. Saudi Arabia told us to take our bases. And we left.
So again, this is not to praise the United States. It's just to say, this doesn't sound like empire. This is not at all how empires behave.
And then lastly, of course, the part of this is that the United States acted as a guarantor of world security. That that's what these bases were about.
The third claim that the United States is an empire-- and we can see this because of the wealth that it has. It's important to recognize that the United States was the world's richest country in 1890. Its per capita income was the greatest in the world in 1890, long before it got involved in Europe, long before its adventures even in Latin America or elsewhere. So the wealth that the United States created was largely because of things that were going on within the United States.
Nevertheless, we're left with a mystery. We say, OK. If we can't call the US an empire for these various reasons, how do we explain, therefore, US interventionism? Why does the US do what it does? And also, how have these American values spread around the globe? Is there some explanation beyond the counterfactual-- to me, a counterfactual explanation that all this happened because the US had its arms twisting somebody else's arms.
And I say it's counterfactual because the United States, within the period that the US has been most dominant, as Fred was saying, since World War II, is the period in which the number of sovereign nations around the world has quadrupled, and which wealth around the world had the biggest leaps towards prosperity of any other time in all of human history.
So let's talk first two. Here are the two explanations. One has to do with what happened in world history. And the other has to do with what America's about, and why America answers the phone when people call.
So with world history, I think we need to understand, if we want to understand America and the world, we have to start with understanding the world. And what world history shows is that in terms of the spread of ideas, or institutions, or ways of doing things-- and let's talk about democratic capitalism here, because that's the system that has spread. Fits and starts. It's not perfect anywhere, including right here. But it certainly has spread around the world.
But what I think that world history shows is that useful techniques of human governance-- useful tools in the human toolkit, if you will-- have always spread more or less spontaneously from their point of origin. If somebody invents something interesting and useful, other people will steal it. They will copy it. They will make it theirs. They might change it too along the way. But they will definitely possess it.
So that for example, if somebody had told any of us about 25 years ago that everyone in this audience would have a computer in their pocket from which they would not be willingly ever parted, or even turn it off-- I hope you all have it on silence-- you would have thought we were nuts. Who would do that? And who would spend the money for it?
Well, the fact is that we all now have those phones in our pockets-- those computer in our pockets. And they have spread from Silicon Valley to Siberia. In fact, in places in Central Africa and in Siberia, they're more used than they are even here, because there's no underlying grounds network of lines, that they're actually more useful elsewhere.
And so I like to say Apple doesn't have to twist anybody's arm or coerce anyone to buy its iPhone. People line up to buy it. They line up around the block.
Similarly, other great innovations in human history-- one of the most important of all-- the invention of farming. In fact, if you asked a historian, what's the difference between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic-- well, I'll just given you the answer. It's farming. That's what changes human history. People invent farming.
And we don't go around saying, well, gosh. Those Mesopotamians have been shoving bread down everybody's throats ever since then. Instead, what happened, like in the Fertile Crescent, and in Mesoamerica as well, is that certain techniques were developed. Other humans found that they were really useful. And they grabbed onto them.
And so I think that really a very similar epochal transition that's akin to the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic has happened in human governance. And it's happened over the course of the last 400 years. And the United States has played a role in it. But it's something that's also has originated really outside the United States.
In fact, to the extent the United States has been a big part of this transition towards governments that competed economically rather than militarily, from empires to nation states, that the United States has been a big-- its biggest role in this transition has not been a military one since World War II, but rather that the United States embodied many of these new characteristics. It took upon itself back when, in 1776, the experiment in certain forms of government that other people had long talked about and had invented-- we didn't think this up, by any means-- It came from elsewhere. But the United States put it into practice.
And the stature of the United States grew largely because it embodied these new techniques. By the way, I always like to point out that Latin America-- this picture shows you-- pulled off the internet, so it's kind of grainy. But it shows you Latin America on the eve of a revolution at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, which really busted out Latin America and separated from the European empires.
So at the top of the chart here, you see the United States of America, then quite a small country. Well, when all these countries declared their independence, they all declared themselves republics. Of course, France had done that even before.
Now was this because the United States was some big country that went around making sure everybody did this thing? No. The United States simply showed that it could be done. And I always like to say, well, what is "it" then?
It showed that you could have a chief executive who retired after his term. That it was possible to create a durable peace among states which are always in competition with each other on some basis other than a volatile balance of power, that that was a new way towards peace. And also that open commerce across borders actually created prosperity in a way that nobody had ever really thought was possible.
Now I always love to quote one of my favorite Frenchman. The Francois Barbe-Marbois. And when he was a young man, he was a French emissary to George Washington's army at Valley Forge. And later on he was the chief negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase. And then in 1830 he came back. And he saw such wonders that he wrote about them.
One of the wonders was to see James Monroe walking down the street, an ordinary citizen. And he said, this is amazing! This guy was president. Now he's just a citizen again.
And Barbe-Marbois said in 1830, the government of the United States has no model in ancient or modern times. Because the United States was an enlightenment pipe dream fulfilled in the flesh, if you will. And so I think what the United States basically did is it simply demonstrated possibilities, much as Magellan when he sailed around the globe. He didn't make the globe round, but he showed it could be circumnavigated, that the world wasn't actually flat.
So my book argues that the United States became influential initially because it embodied certain characteristics that had been floating around for a while that other nations had also been a part of inventing, that American ideals are not just American ideals exceptionally in any way at all. So what are these principles? And in my book, I argue that there are three major principles that have changed the world. The United States has been a part of this, and that these are valued across the globe.
I call them access, arbitration, and transparency. By access, I'll explain it more at length in a second. But this is this idea that systems that are open, that people can get inside and do things with, either economic systems or political systems, that somehow they just seem to work better than systems which are closed. They just have proven for whatever magical reasons to work out better.
The second principle is one of arbitration, that law is preferable to simply might makes right. Transparency serves both of those. And that these principles-- which I'll show have been marching across world history for a while-- have been accompanied by yet another principle, which is that nations have gradually replaced empires.
So when we talk about an American Empire, we're talking about a figment, really, because empires have been going the way of dodos for a while. And that this history-- kind of the good bookends for talking about it-- would be the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which ended the wars of the Reformation. And the birth of the nation state, many people think, goes really to the Treaty of Westphalia. And ending with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
So I'd like to see something that each of these values, describe them a little bit more, and then tell you something about American history. Because right now I'm really talking still about world history that America is a part of. So this is a picture of Adam Smith. If you had to say who would you kick off the internet if you wanted to get a picture of the principle of economic access? Of course, and he wrote The Wealth of Nations, published in the year 1776.
He didn't know there was to be an American Revolution, of course, a Scotsman. And this is the idea that, again, systems where ambitious individuals can gain access to markets or to political power seem to work better, that the overall society, Adam Smith argued, becomes more peaceful and wealthier. Now lest you think this is simply a European project, I always like to put up a picture of one of my other favorite guys-- Deng Xiaoping. I'm sure that's who you were thinking of when you thought of access and openness.
China is very interesting, because historians-- not only is it very culturally different, of course, from the West and from the United States, but also historians who have originally put out this idea that the US is an empire, one of their very favorite examples is China. And they like to talk about the open door empire begun in 1900-- 1899, 1900.
And by the way, there is a bit of a spin-off of something that Fred and I were talking about last night. This is for the true geeks in the audience. There's a British duo called Robinson and Gallagher who invented this idea of kind of informal empire a while ago. And they were talking about the British Empire.
And their theory-- I'm going to summarize this here in one sentence-- is that when Britain closed off markets to everybody else, when they created closed spheres that only they could trade in, like with the Navigation Acts that led to the American Revolution, that they were creating an empire when they closed markets. Well, sneaky Brits. When they opened markets, they were creating an informal empire.
So no matter what they did, good or bad, open, closed, it was all some kind of empire. And so the idea applied to American history is that the United States, when it argued for openness amongst Chinese markets, meaning that foreigners who had access-- whatever access China had granted to foreigners-- that foreigners should all be on an equal basis with one another, that one group should not be able to carve out a fiefdom just for itself, that this was a kind of open door empire.
Now by the way, the US defended not only at that time equal access for all foreigners. It also defended the idea that China should be a sovereign nation, should continue to be a sovereign nation, should not simply be carved up by all the other foreign nations. This was in 1899 and 1900.
Well, by the way, China didn't like this. And in 1949, China closed its doors resolutely, and said we are no longer trading with the capitalist pig West. Right?
Well that went on for 30 years, until this man, Deng Xiaoping, decided in 1979 that access turns out to have been very important, and that his country and his people were falling through the cracks, and that the best way to reverse that terrible process for China was to initiate a policy that he called [? Chi-feng, ?] which by the way, ironically is sometimes translated as open door, and actually means opening up. But there's a similarity there. The idea of open trade with the West. Access in and out of China.
Now China didn't do this because it lost the Cold War, or the United States put a gun to its head, made anybody do it. It's simply that the Chinese decided for their own reasons, on their own terms, on their own timeline, to open up to access to the West. Sometimes, by the way, I'm often asked to comment on political events. And people will say, well, can we trust China?
And I think the answer is, we don't have to trust China. We just trust the process. The process is guiding us all, has been for a long time, regardless of our efforts, towards a world where we're more integrated in our interests. It's in our interest to remain accessible to each other and not fight.
OK. Speaking of not fighting-- oh, by the way. Political access, last thing I'll say about this. This is a picture of George Canning, another one of my favorite guys from world history-- the British man who really initiated this idea that of a kind of making the world safe for democracy, that's not an American idea. He was actually the person who said that after the Napoleonic Wars, that Spain and France couldn't simply come back and take over Latin America again in the 1820s.
Now in the United States we call this amendment the Monroe Doctrine. We think we invented it. In fact, actually it was just a copy policy. It was George Canning who suggested it. And we signed on and called it our own. But making the world accessible or safe for democracy is an old idea, not really necessarily an American one at all.
So that other second principle-- arbitration. This is a principle that's been marching through world history. And in my book, I'm looking at world and American history in tandem. And I think a lot of times when we look at American history, we take out the Declaration of Independence, and we say, oh, well, where haven't we lived up to our goals here?
And what we need to look at is the globe. And we say, in what context were Americans making decisions in pursuit of their goals?
So one of these goals, I think, is arbitration. And this is essentially the belief-- I know this is going to knock you over-- that war is counterproductive. Well, now, this newer belief has always been up against an older belief, which is that nations actually best increase their strength by robbing each other, by taking each other's resources, which is why throughout world history, your worst enemy was always your closest neighbor, because who's going to take your stuff first? It's going to be your neighbor. Right?
So the idea, however, that maybe the world doesn't have to work that way, that in fact we can arbitrate differences. This is a very old idea. It doesn't just go back to Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations. It really goes back to the Middle Ages, as I explore in American Umpire.
The first expression of this is indicated by this slide here, which is the famous depiction of the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Wars of the Reformation, which by the way, the Catholics and Protestants, they hate each other so much they did not even meet in the same city. Protestants were in one city. And 30 miles away were the Catholics. And they sent emissaries back and forth. That's how much they hated each other's guts.
But they came up with the idea that maybe you should arbitrate differences and not just duke 'em out. Of course, the crowning moment of this was the creation of the United Nations in 1945 in San Francisco. In the United States, there was also, however, a moment. And we're talking here about world history.
Let's go back to American history for a moment. Arbitration as a principle in American history goes back to this moment. That is the Constitutional Convention, the great heroic portrait, of course, of George Washington.
But one of things I love about this picture is there are a lot of squabbling conversations that are going on around him. And he's trying to organize them. But the idea of the Constitution really was this notion that it was important to find ways to corral states that might otherwise fight each other, as Vermont and New York, by the way, were doing almost right after the revolution. There were chances of coming to blows. And so the question was how to create a system where people would not come to blows.
Lastly, transparency is the other value. Again, one of my heroes from world history-- a champion who is not an American, for transparency, or what he called glasnost-- Mikhail Gorbachev. Transparency really is a hand maiden, one might say, of access to arbitration. But it's something that swept the world.
Some of the most recent conversations are about Switzerland. Who would ever think that we'd have windows on Swedish bank vaults. The idea that it should be more transparent is something that pretty much, it's hard to argue against transparency with anybody, it's become so globally valued.
Now all of this, however, does not explain the last bit of my argument, which is why does the United States get intervened in protecting or promoting or defending any of this-- the idea that nations should arbitrate conflicts, rather than just beat each other up or invade Crimea. Why does the United States get involved in this?
Because for 300 years, the United States was content-- well, not the United States, America and the American colonies-- ultimately the United States was content to be what was called the city upon a hill. Now by the way, lest you think the United States is being all exceptionalist with this, Canada also thought it was a city on a hill.
I thought this was so hilarious. I was doing research in Canadian archives. They're like, and Canada, the city on a hill-- I'm like, whoa. I thought that was the United States.
But any case, for many, many years, for most of our history, Americans have been content to be really what we thought would be a model. But ever since 1947, the 70-year period that President Barack Obama has just recently spoken about, the United States has been doing something rather different. And the question is why? Why did the United States pledge itself to defend the world, the whole world?
Well, one obvious answer is means and motivation. When Germany, and then the USSR, seemed poised to nab all of Europe, only Americas had the strength to oppose this. And Western Europeans begged for American intervention.
But I think the answer also goes deeper. And this is where I like to go to American history and getting away and away from world history, which is that I think the answer goes deep into the DNA of the United States. And I think really this is the most original contribution of my book. Maybe it's the one you'll disagree with the most. And that would be fine. As you know, you have lots of company if you do disagree with it.
But the United States was designed and has always acted as an umpire among states. And in fact, umpire is the very term that Alexander Hamilton and James Madison and John Jay, the writers of the Federalist Papers-- the famous writers of the famous Federalist Papers-- to convince states like New York to pass the US Constitution, which it barely did. And what they meant by this is this word had a kind of metaphorical quality, then and now. An umpire among states.
But it still serves as an approximation, and a pretty good one, for a powerful supranational-- meaning above other nations-- a supranational entity that intervenes episodically to enforce compliance with group norms without colonizing individual states and without taking their place. John Jay said about this-- John Jay, head of the New York Supreme Court, in fact, I think, possibly. I might have that wrong. That goes back to my novel on Alexander Hamilton. I'm very au courant with details from that era right now. So we could talk about that.
But Jay said, in disputes between the states, quote-- "the umpire would decide between them to compel acquiescence." Hamilton said the federal government would be quote-- "an umpire or common judge to interpose between the contending parties." Because Hamilton recognized that in ancient history that small republics, in fact Athens in particular, that the Athenians and the Spartans had done far more damage to each other than Persia had ever done to them.
And James Madison said, what better umpires could be desired than representatives in Congress to quell conflict between states? At that time, a state-- by the way, Jefferson called Virginia my country. And so the idea that the state was your actual country meant it really was much more sovereign than we think of it today.
And so what the Federalists created was a kind of umpire with higher sovereignty to play the role that imperial metropols had played elsewhere in world history, which is something that would coordinate between states, that would call the rules, that would enforce the rules, but without doing it in such a way that the members of this coalition would become subordinate to it.
And so they set up in such a way, as the 13 states became 50 states, where new territories came in as self-governing units, where the existing states were not allowed simply to get bigger by aggrandizing and going into the lands of their neighbors, and that they all came together under one government. And so the US Constitution passed.
And the federal government has at different times in our national history played the role of umpire. It's always dangerous. It's always costly.
Whether it was the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, the Nullification Crisis of 1833, or the Civil War of 1861, or the Little Rock Integration Crisis, et cetera. So we have pictures from some of this. I'm remembering this as I'm saying it. The Little Rock Integration Crisis when the 101st Airborne occupied Arkansas to make sure that federal law, that federal norms, that group norms, collectively arrived at were actually enforced.
And I think that what happened after 1947 is that the United Nations, it enjoys a kind of similar juridical equality where states are equal to each other. And yet like the Congress of the Confederation before the American government actually formed in 1789, the UN Security Council has limited powers of enforcement and no powers of taxation. And that's why our Constitution was created was to take a weak form of government and make it strong enough, not to oppress people, not to make the state subordinate, but to create a coordinating entity above them.
And so my book posits that in the Cold War, in extremis, in crisis, the United States gravitated towards playing a role it was used to playing, although it knew that that rule was a difficult one. In fact, it's important to say that being an umpire is not in any way to excuse the United States from its many, many mistakes that it has made both domestically and internationally in playing these roles.
My book takes account of the Indian Removal Policy, the war with Mexico, the colonization of the Philippines, the tragic, tragic intervention in Vietnam. It recognizes that the powers which were given explicitly to the federal government in 1789 were never given explicitly to the United States in 1947. It was a role that the United States was pushed into, pulled into, volunteered for, and with the acknowledgement that interventionism across state borders, any kind of sovereign border, always is a very dicey affair.
So lastly, I'd like to say something about what the costs have been for all of this, because as I said, I don't mean to underplay at all the mistakes the United States has made. The United States, I think, for the world-- I honestly think for the world, I'm not sure if you can add it up this way. But I think it might have been a better deal for the world than for the United States. Let me tell you why.
The United States has sometimes been a good umpire. Sometimes it's been a terrible one, made some really bad calls. Sometimes it made good calls. It held the line in West Berlin and in South Korea. That turned out pretty well.
Tried to hold a very similar looking line in South Vietnam. And that turned out disastrously. But the lines looked very similar at the time. It made other kinds of mistakes-- Iraq, Iran, other times in our history.
But when it did function as an umpire, it did it with some consistency. A good example is the Suez Crisis of 1956, which my book starts with. The United States defended the territorial sovereignty of Egypt when they took away the Suez Canal from Britain. It threw its best friends in the whole world out of the game, meaning Britain and France and Israel, as it turns out.
It allowed play to resume. It did not occupy Egypt, turn Egypt into any kind of colony at all. It did not take the place of the sovereign government.
In other places where the United States did intervene, it subsequently withdrew. Following this, by the way, following World War II, the world entered what world economic historians called an economic golden age. That 25 years after World War II is the time of the world's greatest economic production. The second 25 years after that are the second most productive time in all of human history.
And in fact, if you just look at violence between states, historians and political scientists will tell you that violence between states, between governments, has declined in every single decade steadily since 1945, since 1947 Truman Doctrine. And that's huge. I mean, just think about the difference between the first half of the 20th century and the second half of the 20th century. And you come to some understanding of the role of the United States. And the work of other countries too, not to downplay their contributions.
So what are the results for the US? I think the results are a bit more mixed. As an umpire, the United States or any country playing that role will be a target. Who likes the ump? Have you ever sat through Little League? We all hate the ump at different times. Sometimes we love the ump.
Umps are never fully objective. And umpires never win, by the way. So for the United States, what this means is the United States spends more money on military expenditures than all the other countries in the world combined.
We're the column on the left, the orange column. Our very best allies spend 1% to 2% of their budgets, their national budgets, on defense. The United States spends 45% on defense. Four to five times what our very best allies spend.
And you know what? The estimate is that 85% to 90% of what we do spend is not spent on the defense of our own shores of New York or California, where I'm from. It's for the defense. It's for defense expenditures around the world.
The United States, students in our country exit college deeply in debt. 60% of students, like many of you, I'm sure. In places like Finland and Ireland-- tiny countries which could not ever possibly begin to defend themselves-- students go to school for free, university for free.
The United States was first in per capita income in 1950. Today we're 17th in per capita income. We are 50th in life expectancy. These are life expectancy charts that don't show all the countries of the world, but amongst many industrialized countries, we're at the bottom. And we're 50th overall.
The US has had a structural trade deficit since 1971. We've been a debtor country since 1985. Our trade imbalance was $40 billion a year in 1992. Today it is $40 billion a month.
Our muscles bulge. And other people's muscles atrophy.
Now we remain a vibrant and prosperous country. But we don't have to remain the only umpire of the world. Defense minister Peter MacKay of Canada-- former defense minister-- has spoken about allies sharing the burden. And I think we need to not only hear more, but I think we need to do more to create an expectation that it's time for others to step behind the plate. This won't be easy. But it is possible.
Tragedies will occur, as world history shows. But the most stable system is the system that all nations not only want, but are prepared, to defend. And I think that ultimately, although some people would say, well, won't we look weak? Isn't that going to make America look weak?
But I think that placing the responsibility squarely on Europe and other regions which benefit from a more peaceful world just as much as we do, it's not a matter of cowardice. It's a measure of our courage.
And I'd like to conclude by asking your indulgence. As I have a very short clip that is actually a trailer for my book that I think summarizes the points. But normally I wouldn't play that trailer. But as it turns out, the person who so very generously made this trailer for me, that his mother is a Cornell graduate.
And so Cornell has a little bit of history embedded in this. And his mother, who is here today-- Virginia Shaw Shelley-- is in a way partly responsible for this trailer, and has never seen it. And I thought that it not only summarizes this, but that you'll indulge me in playing it.
By the way, lastly, this is from The Economist, David Cameron of Britain. Our defense position has not changed, hanging on to American coattails. That's from about a month ago.
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN (ON VIDEO): When disaster strikes around the world, the question always seems to be, what's the United States going to do about it? This book asks, why us? And why do we respond?
Is it because we're a power-mad empire? I think not.
If the United States didn't exist, it would have to be invented. And in a way, it was, because what the founders discovered after fairly short order was that you could not get 13 states to agree all the time on anything.
What we really are is a kind of umpire. It was an insight that I had. But then I went back to the writings of John Jay and James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, and found that that was the word they used-- "umpire." Thirteen states eternally squabbling would eventually come to blows. The idea of having an umpire to compel acquiescence, as they put it, between states.
And we think of Barack Obama as being very different from George W. Bush, or George Bush as being very different from Bill Clinton. But in fact, there is a historical continuity there that goes back to George Washington's getting on his horse during the Whiskey Rebellion and riding out to Western Pennsylvania and saying, on this matter, this is what the umpire has decided.
When Abraham Lincoln intervened in the American Civil War and decided that the decision of the federal government would have to prevail, he was fulfilling the dream, the commitment, the promise, and in a way, the threat of the founders.
After World War II, the world learned that there have to be some rules. And if there are some rules, then who enforces them? And what essentially evolved is the United States became the enforcer of last resort.
When you have almost 200 equal nation states in the world, then how do you ever decide on what the rules are going to be? I want people to walk away from this book saying, I understand now why the United States intervenes around the world. This role is a part of our constitutional DNA.
There's nothing wrong with saying what's right about the United States. We've fulfilled a terrifically difficult and unprecedented role in the world. We have a lot to be proud of. But I think it's also time to reconsider.
You only get other leaders if you put other people in positions of leadership. And good leaders develop new leaders. We don't have to do this forever.
The fact is, there are no more empires.
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: Questions and disagreements? Because really lots of people would find this quite not amenable to their liking. Yes.
SPEAKER 1: So first of all, [INAUDIBLE] thank you very much [INAUDIBLE]. I have one question. So you brought up the point that it is unfair to criticize the United States for acting in an imperialistic way, meaning that all other countries [INAUDIBLE] with Chile and Argentina and the Pacific War. And then you also brought up the point about how there is just a lot of ambiguity with regards to the term "empire" and its definition.
So I would actually be wanting to make the proposition that a lot of people agree with me that whereas some countries can be definitely said that they are empires, some countries can also be said that they are not empires. So for example, we can talk about Russia and China. A lot of people, I'm willing to predict that a lot of people would agree that Russia and China can both be said to be empires.
And at the same time, some people might even go as far as saying that European Union that is now forming some sort of new [INAUDIBLE] empire. But I would also predict that not a lot of people would agree that Chile or Argentina are empires.
So I'm just curious to know what's your definition of empire?
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: Well, empire, of course, is a pejorative term. One thing to recognize, it is a pejorative term, and has been for quite a long time.
And so when people use it, it usually is especially in the last 56 years, when empires were actually ruled illegal in 1960, when Khrushchev was actually using his shoe to pound on the table, what he was proposing at that time was the bill to make colonialism illegal, which did occur in the United Nations. So when we talk about empires today, it's inherently we're talking about people who are rule breakers today.
I would argue that that Russia is not an empire. It can act bruisingly. It might try to create an empire. There's never any guarantee that world history is always going to go in a certain direction. It can go backwards. It can take a totally unexpected turn.
But I think that what has happened is when USSR broke up in 1991, is it ceased to be an empire. I think it is important for us to understand that nation states are coercive. All right. That's what governments do. And nation states can sometimes do that very unfairly, and it can be a very ugly process.
Ask the Welsh. Ask the Irish. Ask the Provencal French. There are a lot of groups who feel that they are corralled with the nation states they don't really like.
The difference is is that since roughly 1960, if a group of people wants to take a vote and say, you know, we'd like to secede, they have a lot of support from the world. Now sometimes they have to make that happen on the ground militarily. But they will get a lot of support usually from the rest of the world, if they really, truly want to make that happen. We can see lots of cases of that occurring.
So that makes me think that there really are not empires in the same way. If the South wanted to secede today, or Quebec wants to secede from Canada, those processes will probably go forward. And that's because the world rules did change in the 20th century.
So I think to me-- I know you're right. We could use this term. But I think we have to use terms consistently. And I have to think there has to be a bedrock understanding.
An empire, or even a hegemon, is an entity that exerts such preponderant power that nobody can get out. And it's not just a temporary thing. I'm not talking about a 10-year occupation-- which is not a good thing. But this is not on a temporary basis. It's like on a long-term basis.
If people want to get out and do get out, then what they are getting out of was an empire. And the empires have fallen apart. When the Philippines became independent of the United States, the United States ceased to be an empire. What's remarkable about the United States is that it actually volunteered for that. It's the only empire I'm aware of in world history which actually did do that, set voluntarily a timetable for decolonization.
So. I hope I'm close. It's tough. It's not easy. These are words we've all been using again and again in so many different ways. But we have to try to nail them down better.
They're important. Heads do roll. People are killed over terms like you're an imperialist. You, Daniel Pearl, represent an imperialist newspaper. When President Bush used the term inadvertently, "crusade," he learned, oh, wow! That's a hot button word. I better not use that word again unless I'm talking about the 11th century.
Similarly with words like, we are an imperialist nation bent on world domination. If you say that, people will believe you. And they have a right to. So say it only if it's true.
SPEAKER 2: In reference to the current administration, you used some words and some statements-- doublespeak, infusion, lack of consistency. And then your research focuses on American history as an umpire, which I think is a good thing.
A lot of people now are saying America is in decline, that our influence around the world is significantly weaker than in the past. I don't think that's a good thing, because it limits our ability to fairly and effectively umpire.
Now I guess my question is, where do you see us going in light of identified trends? And my two-part question is, in reference to Europe and other entities coming into the picture, are they willing and able to step up to the plate to assist in the umpiring?
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: It's like the $64,000 question, in a way, right? And here's where I have to sort of step outside the role of historian, because I'm not really a crystal ball reader.
But as you said, there are historical trends. And one thing I'm trying to say in this book is, if we can understand the moment at which we stepped into this role, then it gives us more chances about what choices about whether we want to continue in that role.
Professor Logevall will tell you in the most moving prose you could read about the Vietnam War. And I often say to my students, why were there five Vietnam War presidents? A man from Missouri, a man from Massachusetts, one from California, one from Kansas. These guys were as different from each other as American presidents have ever been. Their class backgrounds, their orientations, their personalities.
All five lockstep, because they were all following essentially the Truman Doctrine. They were saying, we are following this policy, which is that we committed basically to be the guarantor of world security.
And it worked out to an important extent. By the way, the Japanese call this the Yoshida Doctrine, which I think translates as, let America do it. They have 1% of their national wealth is devoted to defense. And that's worked out very well for them. But it's very burdensome for us.
I think it has largely been good for the world. However, I think-- and now I'm speaking as a citizen, not as a historian, really. But I think it's very important for world security that we begin to share this role, because no system is terribly secure if it's on one pillar. The more pillars you have, the better the system will be. Which will mean taking risks. But we're taking risks all the time anyway.
And we have to start moving in a new direction where we say, all right, we all benefit from this system that we all did create. There were no dissenting votes on the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. There was not one dissenting vote.
And the same is true in the creation of the United Nations, that these are institutions that benefit everybody. A more prosperous world, a more peaceful world, is in everyone's interest. And everyone should be expected to help defend it to their ability.
Now you raised the question of ability. The United States has-- and I said you know, why don't we ask Iran? Why don't we ask Mexico? Why don't we ask Switzerland?
You can start to pop. Well, Switzerland's way too small. And Iran has different values. And Mexico doesn't have the will to do it.
So the United States has will, it has resources, and it has values. And it's one of the reasons why we are the go-to nation. People call us for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we are fairly transparent.
So when we mess up, oh my gosh. Everybody sees it. And that's a good thing, because people want to see what they're getting in the way of a guarantor. So they may not like us. But they like us more than the people they can't see into very well.
But I think that has to happen, because even though realists will say we have to do it all the time, that is not realistic. Because otherwise, we will ultimately hollow out the things that gave us the capacity in the first place.
I think American wealth was built largely in America. And we need to make it possible for our students to go to school without bankrupting themselves and their children, so that they can buy a house someday down the road. And those are important.
Democracy in any country is a good model for other countries, if it works for its own citizens. So that is priority number one. Put on your oxygen mask first.
And we need to expect other countries to do that. And I think it's great that Angela Merkel and David Cameron and others are over there in Kiev trying to make it work. I don't think it should be all on John Kerry.
If John Kerry wants to go to Kiev, he should be meeting there for coffee with all the others, because it'll be more powerful too. Right? If just the US says it, it's not as convincing.
Yes. Go ahead. Yes, sir.
SPEAKER 3: [INAUDIBLE] there's a lot of provincialism. But I was just thinking [INAUDIBLE] I keep thinking, if the people making these decisions had read their history, they'd be making the same mistakes.
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: Would we? Or wouldn't we?
SPEAKER 3: I'm saying, [INAUDIBLE] I think that for example, if they understood Vietnam, would we be doing the same thing?
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: Well, that's what I mean. Historians, why we get up in the morning is because we do hope. Although I think Winston Churchill said that the only thing that we've ever learned about human beings is that they can't learn. Something like that.
But I do believe that there is a role for history. I think that that's one reason why I feel so passionately about this topic. You know, my book is-- the reviews have not been very kind to it amongst historians.
One historian who recently reviewed it, said, the US isn't an empire? What about Guam?
I'm thinking, boy, you're reaching around the bottom of the barrel when you come up with Guam as the example of the American empire. But we're here because we think it is possible that people, even if they don't "learn" learn in the sense of consciously, that if we together, all of us, can be having these kinds of conversations, that we can move the world in a better direction.
And honestly, I call this my hell in a hand basket theory. Every generation thinks the world is going to hell in a hand basket. If that were true, we would be in hell in a hand basket.
Instead, we are here at Cornell University, with the lights on, with food to go home to. So it never sells, by the way. This does not sell books. Books are all about plane crashes and starvation and terrible things happening.
Michael McGandy will back me up on this. Never write about flowers. Well, maybe you can sell that to gardening people.
But the fact is, the world actually has created more wealth. There are people who are being pulled up out of poverty. China is a good story of that.
And so some countries do get it right, more and more. We don't live in a perfect place. We never will. But the world has moved in positive directions. Truly has. As much as things are still bad.
SPEAKER 4: Asking you, what about [INAUDIBLE] maybe the limits of the metaphor [INAUDIBLE]. It's a very strong metaphor, [INAUDIBLE] what you're saying in the American Federalist system [INAUDIBLE]. It's very strong. But as we know in the American Federalist system, which is far more efficacious an umpire than UN, it's a tumultuous, difficult situation than in the beginning it was expected to be. [INAUDIBLE] the umpire is often not liked.
So if we look ahead and we try to distribute umpiring responsibilities. And there always has to be a head umpire. You have a 3-game series, they rotate between bases and home plate. But at any given call, there's someone who is responsible. And that person then is the person who has disdained, disliked. And then it becomes the focal point of this tunnel in a Federal situation moving to be actuality in a metaphor.
So if we're thinking about inviting or taking applications, who are more responsibility, how is that going to actually work?
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: And that's the crystal ball thing there. Well, first of all, nobody likes the umpire. But nobody's willing to play without one. Everybody wants there to be an umpire, because otherwise, it's a mess.
In terms of taking applications, I think that I don't have a thing worked out. But I can tell you that you never reach any goal you don't set. So if you set a goal, and people talk about a goal and say it's time to share this role, because it will be better for everybody. It will be better for the United States. It will be better for the world system.
If you set that goal and create that expectation, instead of getting-- I mean, par of the problem with talking about the American Empire, E, is that it distracts us from real problems by creating a false problem. We're all talking about that false problem. So get rid of the false problem. Talk about the real problems, which is how to share this burden of responsibility so that everybody understands what a bummer job it is.
My kids always kind of an interesting story. Again, you know, when you write a book, there's lots of motivating factors.
But I was thinking about it when I was in Ireland on a Fulbright in 2003, which if you think about it, that's really the first real year of the Iraq War. And I had a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old with me. We're from California. If you bring a paper and a plastic fork to school three times, you're out.
I mean, like, we're so nonviolent in California, it's ridiculous. It's love and peace and everything. But my kids were both in fistfights in Ireland, not which they initiated, but which happened to them.
And my son stomps up the stairs. He says, Mom, just write that book. Because for the Irish, if they were running the world, they were just sure it was going to be a much better place than the United States, which was just mucking it up.
Well, I'd like to see some other countries in our position and learning what that's like and sharing that role. How we'll exactly get there, I don't know. But I think we should aim our shoes in that direction.
SPEAKER 5: How has this idea of being the umpire played to arguments of American Exceptionalism. Is the United States the first umpire? Have there been umpires in the past? And is every hegemon an empire?
So for instance, did the Roman Empire have an umpire, the Ottoman Empire, and so forth.
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: Well, there is a role that empires have played. Empires, some people who praise them say, oh, thank gosh for empires, because they keep the lid on. And they make sure that nobody gets way out of line. And they create common markets.
That's why the Gupta Empire and the Chinese Empire the Ottoman Empire were able to create fabulous wealth. They lowered customs. You didn't have people trading so competitively that they couldn't create a common system.
So our Federalist founders, they said we need something like that. But we don't want to create minions. We want there to be equality.
None of these states are going to stand for this for a minute unless we can try to hide the coercive aspects. So what they created was-- and they sometimes even used the word "empire."
Why is New York called the Empire State? You New Yorkers, you. Because--
SPEAKER 6: Portal to the empire.
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: And because George Washington said it will be the seat of empire. What he meant by that is, New York was actually, of course, the government of the United States. The federal government was located in New York City, initially.
And so what he meant by that is that this federal government was this coordinating entity. And so he sometimes he actually used the word empire. But umpire was also the word they used. And that was, I think, more what they meant. Because they did not want New York to be subordinate to South Carolina, or Georgia to be subordinate to New Jersey.
So they said, we've gotta have something which coordinates and is coercive. Don't tell Tom Jefferson that.
But that we'll also respect individual sovereignty. So that's what we have now with the UN. But the UN is very much to me much more akin to the Articles of Confederation, basically, where you have this idea of cooperation, mutual security. But each country is really responsible ultimately for its taxation, for its defense, and everything else.
That just did not work out very well. So in the power vacuum after World War II, the United States steps in. And it will never be legitimate in that role. We have no legitimate role here, because unlike the federal government, that specific authority was never designated to the United States.
Sometimes some of our biggest conflicts with our allies are over us saying, well, we need to have special immunity for our soldiers. Everybody's like, whoa. Wait a minute. You don't want to be held to the same rules as everybody else?
Well, no, because we play a role that nobody else does. We're not exceptional in the sense of we're exceptionally wonderful and brilliant and fabulous, and only we could do this. That's not my argument at all.
My argument is in fact the opposite. That these values and ideas are values and ideas that have come to us from across world history, that they're ones which pretty much everybody wants, from Mikhail Gorbachev to Deng Xiaoping, to lots of other folks.
And even when people don't abide by those rules, they pretend to. So the lies they tell us say something about how they think they ought to be operating, the Russian troops that don't have their badges on now. Because they know they're messing up. They're not playing by "the" rules.
Yes, in the back.
SPEAKER 7: So I think to some degree, I think you address the pillage and plunder argument, like the United States is an empire because it has access to the world's resources. But by saying by 1890, the United States was the riches country. I mean, you know, we had already has amassed that wealth.
But I think in some way, I'd like you to address it a little more. To my mind, this umpire goal has like, feeds certain kinds of dividends in the form of our ability to consume cheap goods, and things like access to oil, and all of those things. So it's not an entirely thankless role.
And I guess that's how I see the connection, right? I'd like you to address how you see that connection [INAUDIBLE].
ELIZABETH COBBS HOFFMAN: And I think we all look around and see, if we live so well, maybe it's because we're siphoning off or robbing or setting the terms of trade to our benefits and things like that. And that's important. That's a moral question to be asking. Absolutely important one.
If we were to try to explain the bases for US wealth, obviously an economist might be better at doing that than I am. But I can say having studied economic history to some extent, that I think that certainly in terms of natural resources, the United States was for a long time the world's biggest oil producer. There's a good chance that we will be, again, very soon because of fracking. We won't go into that dicey conversation.
But the fact is, the United States has tremendous natural resources, far greater natural resources than probably most countries of the world with a greater diversity. If anybody-- I said this once to a European friend. I said, if anybody could afford to roll up the carpets, to come back from the oceans, the United States could better afford to do that than anybody else, because we have a lot of natural resources.
We have a huge domestic market. We have an enormous agricultural potential to feed our people. Our biggest exports have always been our agricultural exports.
So I don't think that US wealth is dependent on these things. Now has the United States benefited from the world that was created after 1945? Absolutely. In fact, pretty much everybody has.
And by the way, ain't wrong with that. It's important for governments to be selfish. I think my students often with their tender heart say, we're so selfish. We get so much. And we should be doing more for others.
And I say, you realize this is the contract theory of government, right? Governments are supposed to serve their people. That's their job. Their job is not to serve other people. Their job is to serve their people.
And their people are supposed to be able to kick them out if the government doesn't serve its purposes. As John Locke said, that people should be able to change their governments like you change your physician if he doesn't meet your health needs.
And so our government is supposed to be selfishly looking out for Americans. So is the government of Guatemala. So is the government of Bolivia. So is the government of Venezuela. So is the government of France and Germany.
The question is that, within that, knowing that all governments are supposed to be selfish-- and that, of course, comes to an almost Adam Smith view of the world as well. What does that mean for coordination?
Well, it turns out, by the way, that the best way for governments to get ahead, the way for them to best serve their selfish interests, is by not having war with other countries, which is very expensive. And it also cuts off all your trade routes.
And that it's better to have access cooperatively with countries. They can get access to your markets. And you can get access to their markets.
So it turns out-- I have a friend who's a German historian. He said, you know what? After World War II, the Germans learned that it was better to polish their Beamers than their jackboots. It was more moral and more profitable.
Look at Japan today. Look at the wealth that Japan tried to create through creating an empire through conquest that absolutely bankrupted and devastated Japan, as it did Germany and other countries. It's just simply it's a better system. It's more valuable and more profitable for everybody.
Who profits the most? Do we get more out of it than other people? I don't know.
But I do know that our per capita income has gone way down. And our life expectancy is one of the lowest. And that we spend a ton on defense.
And students at places like Cornell-- and it breaks my heart as a teacher-- we're assigning books our people cannot afford to read. We encourage them to take out loans that they possibly can never pay back.
The only kind of loan in America that's not subject to bankruptcy law are student loans. It's also the only kind of loan in which there's no collateral, in which the individual is not evaluated ahead of time to see if they can ever pay it off. It is absolute travesty.
And that's the kind of thing that we can pay for better if we share the burden of defense. I'm going into politics next.
FRED LOGEVALL: We are out of time. As we conclude, I'm still reflecting on Randy's question about basically the utility of history and of what leaders can learn about reading books like the one we [INAUDIBLE] today.
And I've decided that I'm very modest in terms of what I expect from our leaders when it comes to history there. They're addicted to historical analogizing. They're addicted to using what they want from history in the way that they want.
But I still believe, as Lisa does, that it's important for us historians to continue to do the work that we do in the hope that our books are read. And with American Umpire, what I can say is that this controversial thesis, this provocative argument, is going to generate, as I said in my introduction, debate discussion about what this country has been doing in its history, and what it's doing today.
And I want to first of all, thank all of you for coming. And then let me conclude by asking you to join me in thanking Professor Cobbs Hoffman.
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Historian Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman spoke at Cornell March 6, 2014 as part of the Einaudi Center's ongoing Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.
Cobbs Hoffman is a professor of history and the Dwight E. Stanford Chair in U.S. Foreign Relations at San Diego State University. In her new history of American foreign relations, "American Umpire," she questions the idea that the United States is an empire, and argues instead that America has more often played the role of umpire since 1776.