A large, complex, and important nation, located in North America. One way to understand my country is in the following Manichean sort of way:

Things that are great about the USA:

• From sea to shining sea an entire world of nature’s gifts are in one country - humid deciduous woodlands, endless prairies, jagged snow covered mountains, moonscape deserts, tundra, rolling verdant hills, coniferous forests, tropical swamps, ancient redwoods, geysers, inland seas, thousands of miles of coastline, and a hundred thousand lakes. This is a land where everything from arctic foxes to alligators roam free, which contains every natural resource and which produces enough food to feed itself several times over.

• The entire amazing mosaic of humanity is wrapped in one country. Every ethnicity, religion, language, cuisine, ideology, temperament, lifestyle, literary preference, profession, fetish, sport, craft, and hobby has a presence in America.

• The United States has a strong tradition of democratic ideals, and a widespread belief in the equality of mankind and that freedom and liberty are sacred, which are embodied in foundational documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and which have been repeatedly reaffirmed in mass movements and struggles.

• In contrast to the culture of most countries, American society generally has less rigid social strata, and the culture is in a process of continually reinventing and renewing itself.

• Almost unique among nations, the United States guarantees to its citizens the right to keep and bear arms.

• There are an endless variety of different places to see and live and feel, from the most important and intense city in the world, to empty tracts of wilderness, to everything in between.

• All of the above and an extraordinary sense of individuality, optimism, and spirit have led to some of the most profound innovations humanity has ever produced, including, but not limited to, critical advancements in science and technology, seminal works of scholarly and artistic genius, cultural phenomena that have spanned the globe, and some of the most successful and important institutions in the world.

• Partially as a result of all of this, a considerable segment of American society enjoys levels of material prosperity and geographic and socio-economic mobility, and a freedom to pursue their interests and generally fulfill their potential, on a scale that is unprecedented in human history.

Things that are bad about the USA:

Corporations have and continue to exercise appalling control over the politics, policies, priorities, and very social organization of the country.

• A considerable segment of society does not enjoy secure prosperity or mobility, but it rather locked into a situation of diminishing wages, increasing debt, crumbling social institutions, and political marginalization.

• The most disadvantaged parts of the population exists in a state of shocking poverty, violence, and mass imprisonment.

• In spite of the extraordinary opportunities offered by widespread freedom and prosperity, the spirit of much of the population is stunted by a mass-marketed popular culture of unfathomable vapidness. This culture urges people to literally define and validate themselves through their purchases, and has often led to some of the most banal widespread conformity ever seen.

• The governmental system of the United States has some very undemocratic elements, including the corrupting way in which political campaigns are funded, wildly disproportionate representation in the Senate, an entrenched two-party system, systematic disenfranchisement of large segments of voters, and a process for drawing political districts that benefits incumbents.

• The state of political and social discourse in the United States is appalling. The nature of the media system prevents debate on, or even contemplation of, important issues, and the dominant paradigm for discussing the important affairs of the most powerful nation on Earth is that of ‘sound bites’ and polls. This manifests itself in the level of ignorance of geography, history, and current events often displayed by Americans.

• As with many nations, the founding and development of the United States was marked by terrible atrocities. In the case of the USA these were the wholesale genocide, both unintentional and intentional, of the indigenous population of an entire continent, the kidnap, rape, murder, and enslavement of 100 million Africans, and the historical and ongoing exploitation of them and other poor and immigrant populations at home, and of the poor in other nations throughout the world.

• Unique among western nations, there is a strain of religious fanaticism in the United States, to the point where a significant portion of the population does not accept such scientific truths as evolution.

• The nation’s infrastructure has been for several decades, and is currently, much too centered around the automobile. The result has been the unique ‘suburban sprawl’ that characterizes much of the country, without alternate modes of transportation or lifestyles adequately provided for. This contributes to a wildly disproportionate percentage of the world’s resources being consumed in the United States.

• Today more than two million Americans are in prison, more than in any other nation on Earth.

• The diet of most Americans consists of unhealthy amounts of over-processed, high fat, high sugar, nutritionally devoid foods, resulting in by far the highest rate of obesity in the world and a very high incidence of cardio-vascular disease, adult onset diabetes, and other diet related health problems.

• Much of the citizenry interprets the right to keep and bear arms as the right to brandish arms for one's personal benefit, resulting in the highest rate of violent crime in the developed world.

• Throughout the past, with shameful episodes ranging from the Fugitive Slave Act to COINTELPRO, and currently with the War on Some Drugs and the War on Some Behaviors, the government has often made a mockery of the founding ideals of freedom and liberty.

Since the early 20th century the United States has had an enormous effect on global affairs, and is now widely recognised as the world's major (perhaps only) superpower. When looking at the powerful force the US is today, it is easy for outsiders to forget its origins in colonial history and revolutionary war.

America's systems of government and politics, and its legal system, reflect this colonial past to some extent, and show parallels with European systems. Its 50 states have roots in the original colonies, although of course the nation has undergone many fundamental changes since then, notably as the world's major capitalist nation.

This metanode attempts to highlight some of the nodes about the US currently available on E2 - please /msg me with any additions.

The 50 states and their capitals: 48 of the states are in the mainland United States, with Alaska and Hawaii being the exceptions. The District of Columbia is a special case, designed to incorporate the nation's capital, Washington, without being part of any one state.

US territories

American presidents:

American History:

US law and legal cases

  • Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America
  • American laws against tipping
  • Barron v. Baltimore
  • Bob Jones University v. United States
  • Chevron deference
  • Copyright Law of The United States of America
  • Dodge v. Ford Motor Co.
  • Drye v. United States
  • Engel v. Vitale
  • Ganulin v. United States
  • Gherebi v. Bush
  • Gonzales v. Carhart
  • Goss v. Lopez
  • Griswold v. Connecticut
  • Holden v. Hardy
  • Citing a United States Supreme Court case
  • Kahle v. Ashcroft
  • Kelo v. City of New London
  • Lawrence v. Texas
  • Littleton v. Prange
  • New York Times co. v. United States
  • Nicaragua v. United States of America
  • Padilla v. Rumsfeld
  • Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co.
  • Reynolds v. United States
  • Roe v. Wade
  • Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad
  • Schenck v. United States
  • Some thoughts on drinking age limits in the United States
  • Supremacy Clause
  • Tennessee v. Lane
  • United States $1 Coin Act of 1997
  • United States Courts of Appeals
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • United States federal court system
  • United States Public Law 103-150
  • United States Supreme Court
  • United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.
  • United States v. Susan B. Anthony
  • Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer
  • US government and politics

  • 1992 United States Vice Presidential Debate
  • Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People
  • Amendment to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act
  • Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America
  • American Parliamentary Debate Association
  • A short history of United States government efforts to combat the Great Recession
  • Bipartisanship and democracy
  • Candidates for President of the United States, Year 2000
  • Congress
  • Democratic Party
  • Electoral College
  • House of Representatives
  • How a bill becomes a law in the United States
  • Is America a Police State?
  • President of the United States of America
  • Renouncing U.S. citizenship
  • Republican Party
  • Running for political office in the United States
  • Senate
  • State of the Union Address
  • The American Two-Party System
  • The Constitution of the United States of America
  • The freedom to express dissent in America
  • The National Security Strategy of the United States
  • The Short Abbreviations of United States Political Parties
  • U.S. citizenship
  • U.S. Federal Government
  • Why the United States has a two-party political system
  • The US and international affairs

  • War and the United States of America
  • American Aid to Israel
  • American and Japanese policy towards China, 1942-1943
  • How the United States helped Saddam Hussein
  • Osama Bin Laden's Declaration of War on America in the Middle East Part 1
  • Osama Bin Laden's Declaration of War on America in the Middle East Part 2
  • Philippine-American War
  • Project for the New American Century
  • Saddam Hussein's response to the United States attack, March 20, 2003
  • Second open letter from Saddam Hussein to the peoples of the United States
  • The Dalai Lama's response to terrorist attacks on the United States
  • War and the United States of America
  • War on Iraq 2003
  • Tibet and the United States
  • United States Global Empire
  • United States nuclear threat against Yugoslavia in 1946
  • Why the United States needs the United Nations


  • Many, many thanks to jrn for the following interactive map of the continental United States:
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    American history

    This isn't intended to be a detailed factual retelling of America's short history, a subject to which I pretend no specialised knowledge. Rather, I intend to provide a broad outline of each period in American history, starting with the 'heroic' phase of the Revolution and culminating in the United States' contemporary position as the world's only superpower and first-order world-historical actor. I end with a brief look at the future.

    Such a task could be accomplished an almost infinite number of ways. This is mine. I'd be happy to hear from you about yours and possibly incorporate your comments to make my arguments stronger.

    The Revolution

    When European historians and commentators discuss the genesis of the idea that government is accountable to the people and that each person has unalienable rights which exist prior to any government sanction, they often point to the example of the French Revolution as the first practical expression of these ideas. Of course, they are correct only in the context of Europe. Like the French Revolution, the American Revolution was the outcome of the impact of these revolutionary ideas on an increasingly untenable political situation. Revolutions have a tendency to happen when, in the words of Macauley, 'nations move onwards, while constitutions stand still'.

    The American nation had moved on in two distinct ways with which the colonial government did not keep up - indeed, could not keep up. Firstly, new political ideas were impacting the colonies, emanating from the European Enlightenment. They stressed the importance of natural law and natural rights as opposed to deference to established authority and property. Situated far away from King George III, ties to the motherland came to be seen as more of a burden than a boon. A distinctively American colonial nationalism sprung up as the colonists began to imagine the existence of an 'American' political community.

    Benedict Anderson has argued strongly that the emergence of newspapers added greatly to the formation of this 'imagined community'. Through reading stories about one another in the press, the people of each of the thirteen colonies begin to conceive of themselves as linked by a common bond of circumstance. This was reinforced by the fact colonial officials might move to different jobs in any of the thirteen colonies, but never to London. Hence their journeys up the rungs of the civil service ended in the colonial environment, underlining the fact they were citizens of the colonies rather than citizens of Britain as their ancestors had been.

    These feelings were reinforced by the feeling of oppression that began to spread among the colonies after the accession of George III and his program to make the American colonies more profitable for Britain. The King felt that he and his Parliament had the right to impose whatever taxes he pleased on the colonies, despite the fact the citizens of these colonies were not represented in the Parliament. Yet was not this precisely the doctrine which had been repudiated in Britain itself in the Glorious Revolution of 1688? The colonists were not impressed by the double standards, and began to co-ordinate together in opposition to the King.

    A crucial moment was the Stamp Act of 1765, which attempted to impose a stamp tax on all printed material, such as official documents, legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets and playing cards. This was part of an effort by the British government to make the colonists share some of the burden for their own protection, as at the time there were 6,000 British troops stationed in North America to guard the frontier to the West. However, to the colonists it appeared to be an attempt to suppress their freedom of speech and to deprive them of the myriad benefits of printed material to civilised man.

    British troops began to arrive in the colonies, and encountered constant abuse from the colonists. In 1770, the so-called 'Boston massacre' occurred, in which five unarmed Americans were shot by redcoats after the Americans had pelted them with snow and trash. Five years later, full-scale violence broke out between the Americans and the British. The British enjoyed the support of a substantial number of colonists, and ex-slaves and native Americans fought on either side. German mercenaries were crucial to the British effort, showing the character of the British state - dynastic and with a German King. The Americans fought a nationalistic war - their allies, the French and Spanish, had their own reasons to fight the British and aid the nascent United States.

    The Constitution

    Once the dust was settled, the British were defeated. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 set about deciding the character of the new nation, and in so doing created one of the legends about America's founding. Like all good legends, much of it is true. The Constitution is considered sacrosanct by almost all American politicians, which leads to the paradox that those on either side of the partisan divide believe their opponents would rather see it torn to shreds. Whenever an argument arises over a particularly contentious issue, such as the debate over substantive due process as a protection of property, or the limits of the state's ability to carry out surveillance, the Constitution is invoked, usually without reference to any specific article. Proponents of a measure argue that innovation is needed lest the Constitution be outmoded and people lose respect for it; opponents that the measure clearly indicates that such respect is already lost.

    The Constitution has a number of features which at the time, and for some time afterwards, remained unique and a model for those in other countries seeking equal freedom. Firstly, it established the separation of church and state, a product of the 'Great Awakening' which can legitimately be seen as a child of the European Reformation. It allowed for broad freedom in political expression, declaring "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort". This was in sharp distinction to British laws, which could see you charged with treason for seditious speech.

    Many people opposed the inclusion of something like the Bill of Rights in the original Constitution because it might give the impression that whatever rights were not granted were withheld, when in fact the opposite was intended. However, there was criticism that the Constitution was an essentially aristocratic document that would not give the people the liberty they desired, so the Constitution was amended ten times in two years to add the Bill of Rights. These first ten amendments include the right to freedom of the press, freedom of religion, trial by jury, due process, the right to bear arms, and an article declaring that rights not listed are nevertheless retained by the people.

    With a nation and Constitution duly established, the Americans were ready to enter the stage of history. Their first seventy years would be characterised by expansion westward into the Continent, and a fierce individualistic spirit which was the natural outcome of such unbridled opportunity.

    The first seventy years

    The dominant aspect of the history of the United States before the civil war was surely her expansion westward into land which was stateless, but housed the various native American nations. There are two broad interpretations of this expansion. One is that it was imperialist, and the only difference between it and European imperialism was the fact the land colonised was adjacent to the United States rather than overseas. The best analogy for the actions of the early Republic would, in this interpretation, be the Russian Empire or Nazi Germany. I would claim that this argument is analytically flawed, and that American expansion is best understood by a different framework. The conditions of this expansion shaped the early character of the Republic and left a pregnant ideological heritage to the twentieth century.

    European imperialism was driven by the desire to augment the metropole's economic power through the exploitation of subject populations. The idea of any form of assimilation only came later when the colonial state had to increase the number of quislings it could count upon to participate in the political order, hence increasing the state's legitimacy. White settlement of the tropics was a side-effect, and not a particularly desirable one, as the climate and atmosphere was held to degrade the white race. American expansion was not based on a desire to exploit subject populations nor to provide economic resources for the metropole, but was a pure war of conquest. There was no white man's burden, no idea of bringing civilisation to the natives - simply the drive for land which white settlers could move into and develop. The new land would eventually become a full part of the Republic, in contrast to most European colonies.

    The problem was that the land was inhabited by the native Americans. They would have to be, in the language of the time, "removed". Such was never really in doubt - what was up for discussion was how this removal would be carried out. As is so often the case on the borders between ethnic groups, locals were wont to take matters into their own hands if they did not feel the central government was doing enough to protect them. Hence a sense of urgency and inevitably was added to the desire of Americans to conquer the land, and the fate of the natives was sealed. They were pushed further and further westwards leaving trails of tears, or they were slaughtered on the frontier. In 1876 they were ordered onto reservations, and their culture began to decay.

    Meanwhile, Americans set about taming the Continent. The Presidency of Andrew Jackson made the United States the most democratic country on the planet, and the seemingly unlimited economic resources of the Continent fostered an individuality which remains an important part of American political culture to this day. The isolationist strain in American foreign policy thought dates from this period, with James Monroe announcing in 1823 that America would not become entangled in European wars, but that the Americas were henceforth to be colony-free. European interference with the emerging states of Latin and Central America would not be permitted, and would be considered an act of war against the United States.

    Perhaps the event of greatest symbolic significance in the expansion westward was the linking of east to west by the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. It took ten year, starting in 1859, to complete. Two companies began building - one in the industrial east, and one in the west, employing Chinese labourers who had fled to America from poverty in their homeland - and eventually met at Promontory Summit, Utah. This railroad would help to stimulate the unprecedented economic growth that occurred in America in the second half of the nineteenth century. However, first the country would nearly rip itself in two and doom its constituent parts to obscurity.

    The Civil War

    The United States of 1860 contained various cultures, rooted in different socio-economic circumstances. In the north east, the descendants of Puritan immigrants presided over a growing industrial civilisation, prone to periodic moral 'Awakenings'. A frontier culture in the West was made up primarily of isolated farmers not yet incorporated into states. In the south, there was a paternalistic slave-based culture which contained something akin to an aristocracy - which, as Alexis de Tocqueville remarked at length in 1832, was virtually unheard of in the north east. Of the six million white people living in the south, it is probable that only three hundred and fifty thousand were slaveholders. Of these, perhaps seven per cent owned three quarters of all the slaves.

    However, as the wielders of economic power which they passed to their sons, these men were the focal points of social and political power as well. The rich are able to influence opinion, spread patronage, and give loans, and in so doing dominate the discourse of an agricultural society. This is not to absolve the lower sorts of their sins, because their acceptance of slavery and the racism implicit in it was beyond question. When critiques of their society began to spread from the north east, they were bound to view these Bible-thumping moralists with contempt and rally to the support of their own. The economic power the north east could wield over them by its monopoly on manufactures increased their resentment.

    In the north, abolitionism was on the increase and the second 'Great Awakening' of religious values stressed the importance of individual thrift, industry and sobriety. The poor and unemployed were increasingly blamed for their own condition as they were being in Victorian England at the time. The emergence of mass politics in the north was leading to a groundswell of popular opinion against slavery, which was played upon by ambitious politicians. In the south this provoked a militant reaction as people leapt to the defence of the institution that kept body and soul together, and which was the ideological underpinning of their civilisation. When Abraham Lincoln, infamous in the south for his opposition to slavery was elected in 1860, seven states seceded from the Union shortly thereafter.

    The Confederate States of America soon grew to encompass eleven states, with a new Constitution based on the original Articles of Confederation of the United States. Predictably, it had a weaker executive and placed more value on the right of States; it also specifically endorsed the institution of slavery. When Lincoln entered office on March 4, 1861, he declared that the secession of the southern states was 'legally void', begging for a return to normality. He declared his intention to use armed force to protect federal property, and the wanton disregard of the southern states for his threat soon led to full-scale war between the two halves of the union.

    The North, known as the Union, ultimately prevailed in 1865. It is commonly thought that victory was due to the Union's much-superior industrial capacity, not to mention its greater manpower and infrastructure. The issuing by Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation, did much to raise the spirits of slaves in the south and confound the Confederate war machine. When the war was over, the thirteenth amendment was duly passed, banning slavery throughout the Union.

    On the brink of world power

    The period directly after the Civil War is commonly known as Reconstruction, the last few decades of the nineteenth century as 'the gilded age', and the period from then to World War I as 'the Progressive era'. As is often the case with historical demarcations, these are misleading. Taking this era as a whole, three themes predominate. The first is the rise of America to become the world's predominant industrial power, an outcome of the individualistic spirit and its nurturing in an environment of boundless possibility. The second is the concurrent rise of a new, collectivist spirit of the sort which inevitably arises under the dislocation of a rapidly-growing capitalist economy. The third is the brief practice of something similar to European imperialism, and then America's surprise engagement in the first world war.

    America could become the world's primary industrial power thanks to a fortunate marriage of circumstance - the American ideology of individual thrift and industry, and its haloing of the concept of competition, along with a land of seemingly unlimited opportunity. In the first decades of expansion, there seemed to be enough resources for the taking for anyone with the gall to do it, and such men thrived in a rough, atomised society. Business was exalted; politics, considered a necessary evil conducted by the venal and corrupt. The spirit of 'Progressivism' and 'Populism' however, sought to reform government, even the Constitution, with what Walter Weyl called 'a new democratic spirit'.

    Weyl castigated the democracy of 1787 as a 'shadow democracy', and went on to say that even though Jacksonian democracy had granted formal political rights to all, these rights were meaningless without economic and social rights. Turning American particularly on its head, he argued that the individual spirit of Americans worked against their achievement of a full democracy rather than for it. Now that the Continent had been conquered and most of the property in it become private, he believed a new spirit was needed for America to carry on in prosperity. Along with many other Progressives, he called for the redistribution of wealth by the government, and the reinterpretation of the Constitution to allow the federal government more leeway in such matters. He and others like him were castigated as socialists and revolutionaries, but Grover Cleveland was the last President who could govern by ignoring them, and he barely.

    These ideas found fertile socio-economic ground in workers and farmers who were frequently upset by the business cycle and rapid structural change in the American economy. Elite groups were also afflicted by these developments, and some reached the same conclusion as their European counterparts - that an Empire would help to alleviate economic problems by providing new markets for American manufactures and agriculture. Some would answer Weyl by claiming that the individualistic spirit of America could only be fruitfully maintained by a continued expansion to a new frontier, something politicians down to George W. Bush have wrestled with. Hawaii was annexed, and after the Spanish-American war the USA took possession of the Philippines, Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico.

    Perhaps most surprising of all was the entry of the United States into World War I. Twice in the twentieth century America has elected Presidents on an antiwar ticket who have then taken them to battle, and Woodrow Wilson was the first example. Wilson was himself sympathetic to entering the war, and from the start aided the Allies economically; but he did not initially call upon Americans to prefer one side over the other. The reasons why the public eventually became convinced of the necessity of war were many, although an official commission reported in 1936 that the decision had been primarily economic. This could not be wholly true, as the public are rarely stirred by considerations of national debt.

    The Zimmermann Telegram, an attempt by Germany to forge an alliance with Mexico and Japan against the United States, caused an outpouring of anti-German sentiment in the United States. Combined with unrestrained German attacks on American shipping of supplies to the Allies in Europe, the public were easily swayed into supporting the cause of their fellow Anglo-Saxon Brits against German dictatorship. In 1917, Congress declared war against Germany and her allies, and the Germans launched their final Spring Offensive to try and win before American troops could arrive at the front line. As we all know, they were unsuccessful and American blood and treasure saved Western Europe from the ambitions of the Kaiser.

    It was now that America began its first experiment in the building of global diplomatic systems.

    The short twentieth century: foreign affairs

    The twentieth century as a historical construct in international affairs is best regarded as the period between 1914 and 1991. The events of this period are all intertwined, and no clear break can be perceived until 1991, when the United States found itself unsure of what to do with its inheritance of peace. Great War to Russian Revolution and Treaty of Versailles; Russian Revolution and Treaty of Versailles to World War II; World War II to Cold War. These events are all part of one large conflict, and as the most prominent actor in so many of them, America was deeply affected by them all.

    Woodrow Wilson enthusiastically took up the idea of a League of Nations, a collective which would provide security and legitimacy for all its members. The world would be made up of equal sovereign nation-states, forged together by a great compact and common purpose. Colonised peoples desirous of independence were greatly galvanised by such promises; as was their anger when such promises failed to be delivered. For now, Britain remained the focus of the ire of the colonised due to the perception, rapidly becoming an illusion, that she was the dominant world power. Not until after World War II would the United States inherit this unhappy role.

    The United States reverted to its essentially isolationist ways until World War II. As with Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt pledged not to enter the war when elected in 1940; unlike Wilson, he made no bones about telling the American people who they should support in this war. It may seem strange that it was Japan who eventually attacked the United States, as she seemed to have little material reason to do so - but the particular contours and program of Japanese fascism would, in the minds of its proponents, inevitably bring about a war with the United States. They thought it was best to launch a pre-emptive surprise strike, which was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were successful in knocking out much of the United States' naval power in the short-term, but in the long-term doomed themselves and their allies to defeat.

    The generation that took part in World War II are often referred to as the 'Greatest Generation', even by intervention-shy left-wingers, who view their cause as noble and untarnished. Along with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, America defeated fascist Italy, then Nazi Germany, and then imperial Japan. The victory over Japan was underlined by the use of two nuclear weapons against Japan, one of the first instances of shock and awe bombardment. It has been claimed that one of the motivations for this was to stay Soviet expansionism, and this was to become the dominant focus of American foreign policy after the war and until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The metaphorical Iron Curtain was soon drawn over Europe and Asia. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland and North Korea were behind it. To prevent the further expansion of Communism across the world, America flooded Europe and Asian countries with aid to rebuild their economies and secure their military capability. Despite Dwight D. Eisenhower's brief experiment with 'rollback' (following Communist aggression), the dominant word in the Cold War was 'containment'. The existence of a Soviet bloc was unhappily conceded (as acknowledged by Jeane Kirkpatrick when she declared totalitarian countries to be beyond grace), but it would not be allowed to grow any further. Early major tests of this were the Greek Civil War, the Korean War and, of course, the Vietnam War.

    Vietnam left many lasting scars on the American psyche which are still not healed, which shall be discussed below. As a foreign policy endeavour, opinions are mixed. Some call it a success, pointing out that Vietnam did not become a successful Communist state. Most consider it a failure, arguing that even if the United States had continued fighting it could never have the political will to win the war of attrition. Even if political restraints had been removed and the North had been invaded, it is unlikely the USA could have won the battle of hearts and minds in the North, nor have turned it around in the South without a change of policy. Warriors battling against terrorism should take note.

    After Vietnam, the country lost confidence in itself in a manner which was uncannily personified in the person of President Jimmy Carter. The 1973 Arab oil embargo showed the fragility of the world economy, and the depression of the '70s, which was the worst since the Great Depression, caused many to speculate that America might soon fall from the position of superpower. The Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan added to the sentiment that all over the globe things were going in the favour of America's enemies. Even the Presidency, that haloed institution, had been disgraced by Richard M. Nixon.

    Then there appeared on the scene Ronald Reagan, a man with an ample hagiography - as well as many strong detractors. Some consider him the last great Leader of the Free World; others, a simpleton whose deteriorating mental condition nearly brought about global annihilation (has anyone else between Barry Goldwater and George W. Bush attracted such rabid hatred?) Reagan's foreign policy was based on a number of principles, namely that the Soviet Union could not continue to exist in its present form and that the threat of nuclear war must be stopped. He stepped up pressure on the Soviet Union, which soon realised it could not compete with America's increased defence spending. The aggressive stance he took was advocated by many 'neoconservatives', so-called because of their origins in the Democratic Party.

    With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan had found a man with whom he could work. Slowly, due to internal pressure and pressure from the U.S. which saw this advantage and pressed it, Gorbachev set out to reform the Soviet Union. Eventually, he would destroy it in so doing.

    The short twentieth century: domestic affairs

    Following on the heels of a decade of prosperity, the Great Depression saw the start of the battles which raged for America's soul in the twentieth century. Herbert Hoover enacted government controls unknown to any previous peacetime federal government, and yet due to his eventual failure and election defeat he is often accused of fiddling while the economy burned. But it is true that Franklin D. Roosevelt's Presidency set the scene for much of the next thirty-five years, as everyone on both sides of the partisan divide claimed to be his political legatee.

    The New Deal which Roosevelt passed to try and raise America from the mire of the depression was the first systemised program of social democracy in the United States, and it would remain in place for the rest of the century and beyond. It did not seriously come under attack until the collapse of the 'liberal consensus' which prevailed in America after World War II. This consensus was based on an acceptance of the New Deal by Republicans, and an acceptance of strong anti-Communism by Democrats. The extreme Left of the Democratic Party was pushed off the scene, but its re-emergence in the '60s would provoke fresh attacks on social democracy and even the New Deal.

    The 1960s were the watershed of American cultural history in the twentieth century. Despite the failure of the New Left student rebellions to achieve their political program, they dominated the thoughts of both imitators and opponents for decades afterwards. The New Left sprung from the first generation of baby boomers to reach maturity, who found themselves economically comfortable and hence able to exercise a freedom of action unknown to their ancestors. With a college education now the norm, these people took longer to enter the real world. Animated by the righteous battles of the civil rights movement and enticed by counterculture, their enthusiasm was turned away from patriotic channels by the Vietnam War and the use of armed force against civil rights activists or students, notably by Governor Reagan in California in 1968.

    Associated with the New Left in the minds of its enemies was Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, an attempt to go beyond the New Deal and extend social democracy in the United States. In attempting to do so, Johnson created a backlash which culminated in the 'Reagan Revolution' (in rhetoric if not reality) in the 1980s. The 1960s were such a watershed because they created a countervailing force, a New Right which was worried about the breakdown of law and order, concerned that affirmative action and poverty programs placed the interests of others above them, and wished a return to the values of patriotism, rationality and hard work which they believed had made the United States great. This was the 'silent majority' which supported Richard M. Nixon before his disgrace of the Republican Party and the Presidency.

    The malaise which afflicted America in the 1970s found its expression in domestic as well as foreign affairs. Carter was a man who seemed to have abandoned the idea of American particularism, a man who his opponents saw as willing to let the United States slip from its position of world power by allowing an erosion of America's values at home and abroad. 'Stagflation', unemployment and queues for gas dominated the public mind, made worse by the world economic downturn that occurred after 1973. The dream of a constantly-growing capitalism economy which would provide prosperity for all through growth did not seem to match reality in the United States, just as was seeming the case in Western Europe.

    Reagan's election represented, at the most fundamental level, the optimism that prevails in the American national character. Reagan offered a vision of America as the 'city on the hill' and promised that he would guide the American people to become great once again. By stimulating the economy through federal spending on defence, he could neatly offer the people prosperity at home and strength abroad. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought a resurgence of optimism to America that right would always prevail over wrong, and that her institutions and ideals were truly the greatest. This hubris would prove dangerous.

    Hyperpower

    After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States was left alone in the world as the only superpower. For a while, it wasn't clear that would happen next. When President George H.W. Bush announced a 'New World Order' following the Gulf War, some mistakenly thought this heralded a new age where a broad international coalition would work through the United Nations, spearheaded by the United States, to combat injustice. Of course, the Gulf War did not herald this at all, being simply Bush's homage to the foreign policy imperative not to let any one state gain hegemony of the oil supplies of the Middle East. The particularly odious nature of Saddam Hussein's regime made this a welcome marriage between morality and national interest.

    Hyperpowers affect every sovereign state in the world; when they are economic and cultural hyperpowers, they affect their people as well. The United States has only a few broad foreign policy objectives now (by these I mean ones divorced from the practical defence of national interests), most of which boil down to the destruction of international terrorist gangs and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The last and most difficult goal facing the United States is to improve its image abroad, something which became painfully clear on September 11, 2001.

    There is no denying that the fanatics of al-Qaeda - just like the fanatics who carried out the horrific Beslan massacre, surely the greatest atrocity of the twenty-first century to date - will always exist and will always attempt to harm the USA. Their totalitarian and fanatical ideology is not going away. All that can be done, for now, is to contain them. The USA cannot discredit their ideology on its own, as it needs the help of representatives of Islam and of Asian nations to do so. The attack on Iraq was but part of this, an attempt to discredit the idea of a lone dictator who can defy the West and get away with it. This is why the United States is currently employing its power as much as possible to bring, in co-operation with Middle Eastern nations, democratisation and economic development to the Middle East. This must be done on Middle Eastern terms if it is to succeed, but it must be done quickly if America's patience is not to wear too thin.


    I wrote this off the top of my head so I don't have any 'sources' to offer as such. However, I can offer a short list of books which I have read in the past which I believe had the most influence on my notes here.

    Further reading

    Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
    Walter Weyl, The New Democracy
    Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government
    G.W. Morgan, Beyond the Liberal Consensus: A Political History of the United States Since 1965
    Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle (eds.) The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930 - 1980
    G. Hodgson, More Equal Than Others: America from Nixon to the New Century
    Robert Kagan, Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order
    Robert Cooper, The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty First Century

    People like to compare the United States to an empire or totalitarian dictatorship of some sort, and that's understandable; the USA is old news. But it's easy to forget just how truly groundbreaking it was 230 odd years ago. This hardy little group of colonists had, in 1789, an elected head of state, elected congress, a legislatively-confirmed Supreme Court and highly public participation in matters of law, military and transportation. Women, of course, were excluded - the USA wasn't that far ahead of its time - but it's helpful to compare the USA of 1789 with its European contemporaries.

    France was in its 143rd year of utter, absolute monarchy; empires rose and fell in the time it took the Estates-General to meet twice. Germany and Italy were still a patchwork of tiny fiefdoms, though clear winners had begun to emerge, and Poland, who had the closest Continental flirtation with constitutional monarchy, was mercilessly carved up by its three larger neighbours who will not be named to protect their identities. Great Britain, of course, had a more hands-off monarchy, but only 46 years had passed since the last time a King led his army into battle (in any case, monarchs with porphyria are usually hands-off).

    Non-European examples don't fare much better. China was ruled by the Qianlong Emperor, whose advanced age and willingness to trust resulted in an extraordinarily corrupt bureaucracy, whose head, Heshen, was worth the equivalent of fifteen consecutive years of Imperial revenue. That's like the head of the IRS being worth 30 trillion dollars. That level of graft doesn't go unnoticed, and so after Qianlong's death Heshen was sentenced to death by "slow slicing". Sounds delicious.

    Contemporary British newspapers had difficulty properly describing George Washington's job - he is variably described as a Despot, a Suzerain, a Dictator, or an elected-Dictator. Naturally, the British public of 1789 would have difficulty imagining an elected head of state - they still struggle with the concept - and the most people knew of a "President" was as a particularly unsavoury character of the Marquis de Sade's.

    The world eventually caught up with the United States, though it was in no real hurry, and now American accomplishments seem very ordinary and pedestrian. Fortunately, America has under its belt a very compelling and heroic foundation story, the kind of true-life David-and-Goliath battle that every Hollywood producer wants to exploit (Cuba has the same, which probably explains 50 years of fruitless standoff). Countries or governments with a tear-inducing, epic foundation tend to last longer and remain more coherent over time, as opposed to countries like Canada which were legislative acts passed by British parliament. The 1867 Hansard is riveting, though.

    But 235 years is not such a long time. Rome and Britain each clocked in a thousand years on the job (though Rome went into retirement soon after), and depending on how you measure it, France may have existed for as many as 1300 years. East Asians naturally scoff at European records, with modern China and Japan each having been founded roughly around the same time as Rome; third place in the Asia Cup goes to Korea, whose run of 977 consecutive years without a lost-time accident was ended by Japan in 1894, only twenty-three years away from retirement. Tough loss. But Beware Greece or Egypt when they talk of being the oldest; theirs are not legitimate claims. I could cut a slice out of Iraq and call it Assyria, but that does not make it so.

    By any measure, the America of old was not any more benevolent than its current edition. It's not a point I even have to make, given the generally widespread knowledge of it having once had slaves. The primary difference is that today's cruelty is concealed in creepy Bureaucratic Euphemismage - inmates of old were simply sent to "the hole"; today they are sent to an "Intensive Special Management Unit." Police suspects used to be given beatdowns; today, it is a "Non-Compliant Use of Force Order". At least if the old USA gave you a beating because they plain didn't like you, they told you to your face. But that's what happens when young nations start to mature - they don't get any less violent, just better at concealing it - and truly gifted wordsmiths can make a good living.

    UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Abbrev. USA! USA!), the world’s third largest country by land area and population, and the oldest, largest and most expensive republic in the western hemisphere.

    Geography.

    Predominantly located in North America, the nation borders Canada to the north (and, from Alaska, to the east), and Mexico to the south; it also has a very narrow maritime border to its west with Russia. Historically, it occupies the latter half of the Modern Era; the five hundred-year period beginning with the end of the Renaissance and terminating abruptly at the start of the forthcoming dark age. Its geographical center is in Topeka, Kansas between June and July of 1954.

    Regions.

    The country comprises an unwieldily large number of states and territories; however, these may be grouped for convenience into nine principal socioeconomic regions:

    1. New England, an important center of education and learning, including four of the eight Ivy League colleges, and a crucial source of the nation’s treasonable ideas.
    2. The greater Northeast, stretching from the Great Lakes to the mid-Atlantic. This highly industrialized region manufactures the essentials of modern-day living, including food, water, automobiles, money and information. It also produces most of the nation’s plastics, the basic building-blocks of all life.
    3. The Midwest, producing most of the nation’s corn.
    4. The South, where the nation’s civil wars are fought, and where its presidents are elected.
    5. The Southwest, where the nation’s Mormons and casinos are kept; where its weapons of mass destruction are tested. The abundance of sparsely-populated expanses of desert in this region makes it a desirable entry point for illegal aliens.
    6. The Northwest.
    7. California, the country’s most productive agricultural region, and a major producer of electronics and software.
    8. California, the country’s most urbanized desert region, and a major producer of film and entertainment.
    9. Numerous exclaves, including Alaska, Hawaii, insular possessions, military bases, extraterritorial prisons, the South Pole and much of the further remains of this planet.
    Government.

    Articles of Confederation (1781–1788).— The country’s founders detested monarchial government and feared tyranny. The first constitution, called the Articles of Confederation and ratified on March 1, 1781, addressed these concerns in two ways. First, the central government it created was entirely powerless. Second, the Articles were effectively unmodifiable (except by unanimous vote of all member states). Despite these advantages, this form of government eventually proved a failure.

    The Constitution (1788–).— The second constitution, ratified on June 21, 1788 and called simply the Constitution, is the one currently in force. Its framers acknowledged the need for a strong central government, but still wished to prevent any one person from controlling it tyrannically. Therefore, ultimate power was split into three pieces and scattered across the country, assuring that only one who was pure of heart and wise of soul could ever hope to be able to decipher the clues and assemble the pieces back into a working government. (This occurred March 4, 1789.) As a further improvement over the rigidity of the Articles of Confederation, the current Constitution is a living constitution, allowing for its basic framework of laws to be modified or ignored when necessary.

    Bill of Rights (1791–).— The years immediately following ratification of the Constitution were a time of unspeakable horror and savagery. The newly-created Federal Government, entirely unrestrained by any notion of civil rights, butchered citizens by the thousands and subjected countless others to tortures and cruelty beyond the scope of sane imagination. Property was seized, homes destroyed, trials were conducted in sham fashion with the accused denied the merest semblance of due process. In a desperate response, the Bill of Rights, a pair of stone tables on which Ten Amendments were engraved, was presented to Congress by James Madison and ratified on December 15, 1791, slowing down the reign of terror.

    Nomenclature.

    The country’s full name is United States of America. For convenience, the of America part may be omitted. Alternatively, the adjectival form of the name may omit The United States of. However, for the sake of clarity, a least one of the aforementioned two phrases should be retained.

    Encyclopedia Blipvertica.

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