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- “Every day, America’s destroyed and being created;
- America is I and you;
- America is what you do;
- America is what you make of it.”
- — John Dryden, Paul Bunyan (music by Benjamin Britten)
The United States of America is unique in that it was the first of several modern nations to consist entirely of the descendents of migrants settled in a new land in known history, compared to other contemporary republics such as those of the Netherlands or Italy, which were founded around a self-identified region (Netherlands ) or long-established culture (Italy). Other precedents notable of having the same political development were Carthage and the Greek colonies of ancient antiquity, but even so these nations had long perished by the time the American Constitution was ratified and sanctioned as the governing law of the fledgling American nation. Initially composed of communities of Protestant Anglo-Saxons and assimilated Amerindian tribes settled upon the Atlantic seaboard, this nation was formed in the crucible of a revolutionary uprising against the British, abetted by the French and Spanish, then expanded westward while assimilating new migrants from Europe and Asia. The United States first chose to cut itself off from the world and concentrated on the Western Hemisphere, deeming it its own sphere of influence, but eventually became strong enough to emerge as a global power in its own right, beginning in the middle of the First World War in 1917. Following the Cold War in the late 20th century, the United States emerged as the world's sole superpower, boasting the largest economy and most powerful military, exerting enormous cultural and intellectual influence worldwide. However, such influence and prestige has not come without attracting the envy and ire of other parties, and as such, the United States is much contemned yet respected by the so-called "enemies of the free world", and countless challenges to American influence (and possibly survival) can be forseen for the immediate future.
Prehistoric America (pre 1400s)Edit
Human habitation of the Americas is as old as time itself, and evidence of large, complex and prosperous civilisations have been unearthed in the form of archaeological finds throughout Canada and the Southern United States, as well as having been attested to by early Spanish visitors in the 16th century.Some, as the Calusa and the Mississipi cultures, were capable of great feats of engineering as can be evidenced by sites such as Mound Key, Florida; the Kincaid Mounds, Illinois; or Cahokia, Missouri.
In its heyday, Cahokia was far larger than mediaeval London, and finds suggest that it was a major industrial site, associated with coppersmithing. Graves discovered at Mound 72 at the Cahokia site suggests that the pre-Columbian societies of the Mississipi region were not only highly advanced and socially stratified, but may also have been rather warlike as well in a manner similar to the more well-known Aztec and Mayan civilisations. These cultures are collectively rolled into one hypothetical civilisation, the Mound Builders, and speculation is rife that some of the Lakota peoples may be descended from the survivors of its collapse.
Colonial America (c1600–1763CE)Edit
Yet, it was not until the Early Modern Era that America began to make its presence felt globally. By then, Spain had seized Central America and was feeling her way around California and the Gulf Coast, while attempting to keep the Dutch, the French, the English and other European powers away from her gold-rich possessions. All four of these nations contributed something of their own culture that is still present to this day in modern America.
By the time of Elizabeth I's demise in 1603, the English had several colonies along the East Atlantic Coast of North America. Chief among the reasons for doing so were to frustrate Spanish attempts at control of the Atlantic, as well as to accumulate exotic commodities for resale in England. These colonies were located mostly in Newfoundland as well as further south, centred upon the colony of Jamestown in what is present-day Virginia, named so after Elizabeth I, known fondly as the "Virgin Queen" to her subjects. Life for the first few colonists from England was no cakewalk, for they were not the only European powers then present in North America. The French were gaining footholds in present-day Canada, and were also engaged in costly rivalry with the Spanish in the Gulf of Mexico. In between Virginia and Newfoundland, the Dutch were making their presence felt at Nieuw Amsterdam (present-day New York), while the Swedes had settled upon the Delaware River. All this meant that close rivalry between the English and other European powers — especially with the French — were eventually inevitable, and aside from the caprices of nature, the first settlers had to put up with border wars with this nation or that tribe, as well as pirates when European fleets decommissioned their sailors.Equally troublesome were the native tribes. Despite being small and disunited, the many tribes settled in the region meant that resources were scarce, and everyone clashed often with one another. While the English colonial government did its best to cool things down, tensions continue to build between the Virginian English and the local Powhatan tribes, eventually leading to hostility between colonist and native alike. These rivalries would be capitalised upon by England and France alike, each nation supporting a local tribe to raid their rivals and enemies during the bitter struggles of the 18th century.
Unlike developments in Canada and Australasia where most migrants were predominantly Anglo-Irish in nature, the Americas were and had always been racially heterogeneous, especially with the addition of further European ethnicities and slaves imported from Africa (and not to mention possible miscegenation with the aboriginal tribes). Through a series of wars with the Netherlands and France, Britain managed to assimilate their possessions in North America into its American colonies. It is often suggested by scholars that the American republican constitution was inspired by the Dutch who were then under a republican government, although any links suggesting such have only proved to be insignificant.Nevertheless, the loosening of relations between Britain and the Colonies was inevitable. The first crisis may have been precipitated by George III's Royal Proclamation of 1763, which forbade further westward colonial expansion of the Thirteen Colonies in North America. While this was meant to ensure that British control over her increasingly burgeoning overseas empire could be consolidated, it also meant that the potential holdings of landowners would be severely curtailed, without doubt causing resentment by the colonists. Over the next eleven years, more controversial legislation would be enacted by Westminster. Dubbed the Intolerable Acts, this legislation did not deal with taxation alone, but also with the conduct of the Royal Army in the Thirteen Colonies and also — in the case of the Boston Port Act of 1774 — to punish a riot in which shipments of imported tea were dumped into Boston in what was known as the “Boston Tea Party”.
Westminster felt that these laws were fairly just, yet most colonists did not see them as such, and soon anti-British sentiment began to build up throughout American cities. In the following years, a Continental Congress of all American cities was formed, while militia were raised to resist British troops. Congress declared independence on 4 July, 1776, but it would take almost 36 years of intermittent bloody conflict throughout the Thirteen Colonies, abetted by France, the Netherlands and Spain, before the British Crown was made to accept the permanent loss of its colonies with the Treaty of Ghent (although the northern half remained loyal to the mother country, eventually evolving into the Dominion of Canada).
The First Decades (1812-1860CE)Edit
- “And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”
- — John L O' Sullivan, 19th century American journalist
Of course, however, this process was not always peaceful and was sometimes downright controversial. As mentioned earlier on, the seemingly unpopulated lands west of the Mississippi were in fact the home of scores of aboriginal peoples, and as westward migration intensified over the next few decades after independence, relations between settler and native as during the colonial era were strained, resulting in violence. These so-called "Indian Wars" were fought between various parties, but the result was usually the same: in the long run, Amerindian tribes would be “pacified” and eventually deprived of their indigenous culture, especially if they had previously been nomadic traders and gatherers, which did not endear them to the more agriculturally minded and sedentary colonists.
However, as much as the Indian Wars have fascinated people, no one war with a rival nation or tribe ever completely changed the United States as much as the Mexican War did. If anything, this 19th century CE conflict was an ominous portent of what the United States was to become in the 20th century CE. In the late 1820s CE, Mexico was finally free of Spanish domination after almost three centuries of oppressive Spanish rule, but was impoverished, war-weary and starving, and one of the biggest challenges to the new government was economic growth. Thus, it was decided that colonists from the United States would be settled in Texas to grow food and build infrastructure. However, the Texans had other ideas: they would rather grow cotton, which fetched higher prices yet could only be successfully cultivated using manual labour, in other words, via slavery, which was also against Mexican law.
Naturally, these Texans resented the rules and took to arms in 1836. Despite British and French advice to recognise Texas, Mexico stubbornly persisted, issuing an ultimatum that Federal attempt to annex Texas would result in war — and then obtained more than she bargained for: American troops invaded Mexico, and imposed a humiliating treaty, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexico was to cede Texas and other territories to the United States of America, and was shorn of almost one-third of its territory: a humiliation which Mexican irredentists have not forgotten to this day.
The Americans, despite being victors, were not spared either. The brutality and horror of the conflict between Mexico and her Texan and American opponents, once driven home, disquieted the home front. Equally disturbing was the American government's preying on a weaker country, which smacked of "Old European tyranny" which they were eager for their nation to avoid. Still, much worse was yet to come.
Manifest Destiny (1860-1917CE)Edit
- “America is therefore the land of the future, where, in the distant future, perhaps in a contest between north and south, some world-historical significance is to be revealed.”
- — Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgeschicht
For decades, the American public had been debating the virtues of slavery. The northern United States, with its increasingly industrialised society, spoke out against it. Their southern cousins however depended greatly on agriculture and were unhappy about abolitionist sentiment, because they would lose greatly financially should abolition be introduced to their lands. The addition of slaveholding Texas resulted in the battle over pro-abolitionist and pro-slavery factions in the United States destabilised the political equilibrium at home, and suspicions began to mount into general unrest. At the end of 1860CE, South Carolina seceded from the United States, citing the "tyrannical" rule of the Federal government. Other states eventually followed suit, forming the Confederate States of America, also called the Southern Confederacy.This was the start of the American Civil War, the very first industrialised mass conflict in all human history, involving the use of mechanised steamships, railways and possibly even the world’s first electronic communications system, telegraphy. Nevertheless, the war was a bloody and bitter end which could only be accomplished once the Confederacy's resources began to give way. By 1865CE, Union troops had reached the Confederate capital of Richmond, finally subjugating the rebels once and for all. To date, the Civil War remains a watershed moment in American history, being the bloodiest and most devastating conflict in all the history of the United States, but the Union nevertheless survived. With the preservation of the Union and the power of America as a coherent entity intact, America could now grow stronger as industrialisation and social progress encroached their way across the continent to the Pacific.
With the purchase of Alaska from Russia, and the annexation of Hawai'i as well as the remaining parts of Spain's overseas colonies after the Spanish–American War of 1898CE, America ruled supreme and was the largest country in the world, dwarfed only by the British Empire and Tsarist Russia in size and by Qing China with regards to population in the late 19th century. American shipping traded with the entire world, especially in the Far East with China (where Americans were seen as less politically sensitive for the Celestial Throne than the Europeans), while the assimilation of migrants from both east and west meant that the best minds and strongest bodies were often at America's disposal.
However, it would be unwise to say that peace and plenty were enjoyed by all. On one hand, the relative emptiness of America and her seemingly endless riches beckoned all from Europe and Asia to come and seek their fortune and enrich their host society through either crafty innovation or brute force. On the other hand, however, racial discrimination and abject immiserisation remained as they were. Blacks, now legally emancipated following the Civil War, discovered that they were still unable to be fully integrated into American society. The Amerindian tribes fared no better as they were "weaned off" their hunter-gatherer lifestyles and forced to live on reservations, their ancestral lands now expropriated by American settlers since the Civil War had pauperised scores of ethnic whites who were now driven westwards to take advantage of the more abundant resources of aboriginal lands. At the same time, American businessmen were sending their money abroad, patronising the caudillos of Latin America whose people continued to live in abject poverty, even as social inequality gnawed at the edges of society at home and abroad alike (and continues to be a source of friction between the Anglophone gringo communities of the New World and the so-called latino nations of the Western Hemisphere). This seeming veneer of apparent general opulence clashed with social reality, thus bringing authors such as Mark Twain to dub the post-Civil War years War as "the Gilded Age". Nevertheless America weathered out these problems as a nation.
Despite stock market crises in the 1870s and 1930s CE, American capitalism continued to prosper, and her free-market ways, coupled with steady migration and exploitation of natural resources, sped up the process of industrialisation. Separated from the rest of the world's troubles by the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, America could concentrate on development undisturbed, while the revolutions of the 1840s CE and the rise of Prussian Germany continued to destabilise “old” Europe. By the end of the Spanish-American War, and the quelling of unrest in China (which was seen as America's sphere of influence in Asia) the American nation was on the verge of becoming a key player in global politics, and 37 new states were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the North American continent and acquired a number of overseas possessions, most notably the Philippines, and the last remaining possessions of Spanish America in the Caribbean.
With Great Power ... (1917-2000CE)Edit
- “If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.”
- — Hiram Maxim, American-born weapons magnate, inventor of the Maxim machine gun, quoting a stranger’s advice
However, greater complications now arose: In the wake of the First World War, Russia had collapsed and in place of the old decrepit monarchy, a communist government was installed, threatening to "export revolution" with all the alarming zeal of French sans-culottes in 19th-century Europe, or even the holy warriors of Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages. Half-hearted attempts of other countries to bring down this new nation, calling itself the Soviet Union, merely earned America confrontation with the Soviets, who (under the influence of Marxian logic) believed that the capitalist West was out to crush them for good. Even inpromptu cooperation between the British Commonwealth, Soviet Russia and the United States of America against a resurgent and belligerent Germany during the Second World War couldn't mitigate this, especially once “strategic arms” — an euphemism for nuclear weapons — were adopted by both the Americans and the Soviets, and other nations as well. For most of the Cold War, the whole of the entire planet lived under the shadow of a prospective nuclear conflict that would not just efface the Americans and the Soviets, but all life on the planet as well.By 1947CE, the Soviet Union and Western powers (with the United States as its leader) competed with each other in a game of political and technological "one-up-manship". Indeed, the Soviet Union was the first nation in the world to successfully launch an artificial satellite in 1957CE, Sputnik I. In retaliation, the Americans eventually worked to land a man on the moon, which they succeeded in doing 12 years after Sputnik I. These two superpowers also fought in a series of proxy wars, for which the results were not always favourable for America as were the total victories achieved for the two World Wars: the Korean War was little more than a stalemate; the Vietnam War was a thorough rout, with ominous implications for American socioeconomic stability and esteem.
Nevertheless, the economic inefficiencies of the Soviet system and its inability to cope with endemic corruption eventually resulted in its collapse, leaving the United States as the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world in 1991CE.
...Comes Great Responsibility (21st century CE)Edit
- “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”
- — Henry Kissinger, The White House Year
Much has been said of America’s demise as an imperial power, yet only time will tell if this indeed is the case today. Although the contemporary United States remains the world's largest economic power with a per capita GDP of $47,400 today, its position as the world's leading power now is far less than assured.
After the Second World War, the United States of America, in meeting the exigencies of the Cold War with Russia, had had to join forces with various regimes which never shared the same ideals of "democracy and capitalism" so worshipped by the American people and their laws. The United States was thus quick to recognise the geopolitical significance of the Middle East. To secure the geostrategic potential of the Middle East, the United States brokered several uneasy alliances with the Muslim powers of the world as a bulwark against the spread of Communism in the Middle East, and strove to influence the local rulers through diplomacy (with nations such as Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia) while creating others through “police action” (as with Israel and post-Mossadegh Iran). Much later, there was immense concern on behalf of the United States towards the theocratical and anti-Western Republic of Iran, and much resources were diverted towards goading Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, into fighting a futile war with Iran, from which it never truly recovered, especially after turning on the United States by invading Kuwait in 1990CE (Western forces led by America defeated the Iraqis, and eventually launched a second war in 2003CE, resulting in the removal of Saddam Hussen from power).
However, the sketchiness of American Middle Eastern policy (especially with regards to Israel and Palestine) angered many Muslims and so by the mid-1990s CE, a “War on Terror” was well underway, with radical Muslim terrorists preaching jihad to liberate Palestine from Israeli control, and to retaliate against perceived American aggression against Muslim society. In 1993CE, the New York World Trade Center became the target of a terrorist bomb; it was thoroughly levelled with great loss of life in 2001CE when Muslim terrorists purportedly crashed hijacked airplanes into the complex. Nine years later, America managed to single out the terrorist organisation that sponsored the attacks and even managed to kill its leader, Osama bin Laden, yet now still struggles to press on in conflicts on many fronts, with troops garrisoning perceived hotspots, while attempting to maintain domestic security even in the face of its own socioeconomic problems and increased political polarisation.
The Asian Challenge (1991CE onward)EditSimilarly, the United States also currently faces vast challenges today with regards to its position as the world's top economy. During the Cold War, it was necessary to reinforce nations under American influence where possible in order to sell the American way of life to them as well as ensure that they were economically self-sufficient to maintain them as a bulwark against Communism, but by the end of the Cold War, many of these nations — particularly those of the Asia-Pacific region — are now major competitors to the United States of America.
In the early post-1950s CE, US firms were at or near the forefront in technological advances, after all, they were the first nation to land a man on the moon. By the 1970s CE, however, this advantage had narrowed: America now faced a gaggle of economic competitors in Europe and Asia whose economies had barriers of entry to their American rivals; however, the United States grudgingly tolerated this state of affairs because of the importance of defeating the Soviets and to avoid estranging its former enemies, including Germany and (most notably) Japan — to this end the USA engaged in intergovernmental talks with its peers through associations such as the Library Group (now today's Group of 7 or G7). Galling to American pride was the fact that the automobile industry, once the preserve of American economic might, was now usurped by the new Japanese keiretsu, which enjoyed government encouragement, which was complete anathema for American political values.
Yet, Japan was merely the calm before the storm. In the 1980s CE, the most unlikely of all events occurred: the world's most populous nation, Communist China, decided to shift away from collectivist Maoism to more capitalist-friendly "Socialism with Chinese characteristics". This was not a new thing: Communist regimes in Hungary and Czechoslovakia had attempted to experiment with market socialism, but Soviet “direct action” prevented them from harvesting the fruits thereof. By the end of the 20th century CE, China had eventually surpassed Japan as both the banker and salesman to the United States' role as purchaser and debtor, the (ruinous?) effects of which are still being played out even to this day. As of today, China seems set to become the world's Number 1 economy in the not-too-distant future.