Book One, “Dreaming of Empire,” is a critique of U.S. imperialism, a debunking of U.S. nationalist myths, a corrective or alternative history of the U.S. nation. Politically, a book like this would never be permitted in U.S. schools, and it’s clearly not aimed at clearing that hurdle. It uses curse words, which would provide a handy excuse for keeping it out. It’s also not straight history. It’s part chronological, part theme-based. It mixes historical accounts with pop-culture, with quotations from scholars, historical sources, and analysts interviewed by the authors.
Dreaming of Empire also does not try to leave the past in the past. Instead it proposes to explain current wars, the weaponization of outer space, and the rhetoric of contemporary U.S. politics through a myth-busting hard look at the past. And there’s little the U.S. public needs more. Indeed the authors seem to have concentrated on topics around which damaging myths have been constructed, including the glories and goodness of the Founding Fathers.
Reading here in Charlottesville, I’m struck by the extent to which local boys, Jefferson and Monroe (and the latter’s “Doctrine”), dominate this story. I wonder how many people realize that when a participant in a fascist rally here last summer drove his car into a woman and killed her, he was in that moment driving past the location of James Monroe’s first house here. I’m sure it’s more people than realize that Charlottesville is not a hotbed for fascists (they mostly come from elsewhere) but is a town that was founded by and which still prominently honors fascists avant la lettre.
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