Athens and America: A Study of the Paralleled Rise and Fall of Empires


Zeus or Poseidon?

History Repeats Itself

The global empire of the United States bears staggering similarities to that of the ancient Athenian empire; both rose through an influx in foreign wealth, fought long and costly wars, and lost their supremacy due to singular, devastating defeats.

Athens’s rise and fall was intertwined with the grand conflict of the Peloponnesian War.  Before the war, Athens dominated Greece.  Tribute, paid through monetary and naval capital by Delian League, was arbitrarily used by Athens for its own betterment.  Under Pericles, Athenians built great public works, such as the Parthenon, with foreign money.

Later, the tectonic Peloponnesian War erupted between Athens and Sparta.  Neither could defeat the other, so the conflict evolved into a regional, strategic struggle.  Foreign campaigns, like in Sicily, eroded the strength of the Athenians.  Athens was too heavily invested in these foreign conflicts.

Athens risked too much and the Peloponnesian League, Sparta and her network of Allies, punished them for it.  The tipping point for the Athenian Empire was at Syracuse.  Athenian generals procrastinated at the beginning of the conflict; this delay resulted in the unsuccessful siege of the city rather than a victorious strike.  Spartan reinforcements had enough time to reinforce Syracuse and beat back the Athenians.  Countless ships of Athens were lost in the harbor of Syracuse.  Athenian morale was splintered with their strength broken.  The downward spiral of Athens lasted eight painful years before they surrendered to Sparta.

America is on the downhill slide of the Athenian curve as she circles her own defeat.  Historians would place the high point of the American empire at the close of World War Two.  At this point, many nations adored the victorious liberators.  Wealth flowed into America in exchange for manufactured products.  Destruction of international economic competitions, with the bombings of Europe and the wars of East Asia, enabled this modern reincarnation of Athenian tribute.  Buoyed by foreign wealth, politicians constructed highways, funded Social Security, and created Medicare.  Meanwhile, the Cold War flickered into forest fire.

Forces mobilized against the United States; America’s Cold War would mirror Athens’s Peloponnesian War. Many nations sided with the USSR, and later China, in a manifold communist threat against the United States.  Communist converts were afraid of being poached by America’s predatory foreign policy; the CIA coup of democracy in Iran, GI’s fought the rightful rule of Vietnam, and paratroopers invaded Grenada.  This only empowered America’s enemies.

American capitalism and USSR’s communism fought long and hard, sapping global capital. China besieged the United States in Korea, freedom fighters in Afghanistan killed millions of Russians, and the Middle East burned as Israel, Egypt, and Syria warred.  Ideological conflicts continue to this day in various modern forms.  By 2011 America had overextended herself.  Tens of thousands of troops were stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO jets controlled the airspace of Libya, and drone strikes assassinated opposition figures in Yemen.

Here the American model caught up to the Athenian timeline.  The next chronological event was a major defeat of the American Empire at the hand of the Chinese.  Despite having the best universities, arguably the most innovative populace, and the most capital the American economy was overtaken by the oppressive, environmentally destructive, and antagonistic Chinese economy. The Americans would be surpassed by 2020; China was declared the Sparta of the modern age.  As early as 2011 the Chinese were flexing their strength, the flow of resources, such as rare metals, was halted to the United States.  It would not be long until other essential elements of the globalized economy simply went missing.  America’s empire unraveled, just as its star-crossed ancestor Athens did before it.


Reforms, Annexations, and (Booming) Commerce of America: How Progressivism at Home and Imperialism Abroad Forged the United States Superpower

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Countries rely on both on strong private and public sectors to create a prosperous economy.  An unbalanced economy threatened the United States at the beginning of twentieth century.  Only after aggressive trust-busting and progressive reforms did the nation become hospitable to rapid development of new businesses and industries.  Imperial polices secured grand markets for American industry to exploit and proliferate.  Government regulation and global imperialism empowered the American economy to become the largest and most influential in the world.

Solving domestic issues laid the groundwork for an expanding economy.  During the late 1800’s political machines and trusts conspired together, forming indomitable alienated fair markets and new businesses.  The economy was stagnant.  Progressives across the nation’s state governments led initiatives the against conglomerates; they instated a fair tax structure, expanded public infrastructure, capped work hours, acquired government utilities, and passed the Seventeenth Amendment.  President Roosevelt capitalized on these gains, trust busting the largest oligopolies, arbitrating strikes, and placing federal regulations on railroads, foods, drugs, and false-advertising.  Later, President Wilson forged ahead against hostile business practices; the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 was designed to fragment the remaining monopolies, his Federal Trade Commission eliminated unethical businesses practices, and a revolutionary federal income tax funded an expansive American government.  The waves of progressivism across the government allowed the nation’s leaders to break up bad trusts and allow a diverse American industry to prosper.  Aggressive imperial policies abroad only encouraged this crucial development.

Invasive foreign policy secured markets that would fund the American economy for decades.  Hawaii was annexed and made into a state to make agricultural trade viable.  Old Spanish colonies across the globe were taken by American troops during the Spanish-American War.  These captured markets bolstered the American economy; United States businesses were safe to proliferate behind a high tariff wall and favorable geopolitics in theses territories.  The Roosevelt Corollary staved off European intervention in the Americas by declaring that any foreign interference in Latin America would be policed by the United States.  These kept foreign competition from venturing too close to America, as business of the United States traded with their neighbors at excessive gains.  Industry boomed as the world came to rely on the superpower status of the American economy.

The American government put the United States’ economy in an advantageous position whose gains were compounded by fortuitous international events.  Strong economic policies domestically allowed numerous companies to spring up and become profitable in the isolated American markets.  Two world wars leveled the competition and made America the bread basket and industrial superpower of the world.  With these positions came unimaginable wealth.  By the close of World War Two America had escaped the global carnage and emerged largely unopposed for economic dominance.  America grew an indomitable economy based on strong regulations domestically and invasive imperial polices to exploit new markets.   The nation would only suffer an economic collapse only ensued after corporatist politicians approved legislation stripping back these domestic reforms, accomplishing everything from consolidating oligopolies on Wall Street and banning basic human rights like collective bargaining in Wisconsin.  In addition, modern America would become entrenched in endless and fruitless wars, fought on specters like drugs and terrorism, which alienated new markets and narrowed the possibility of new business opportunities. America is currently backtracking, and will continue to backtrack until the reforms of the last century are reinstated.

(Unethical) American Imperialism: How Crimes Against Humanity Result in Economic Prosperity For All


A noble band of renegades, inventors, and politicians met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774 to decide what the response of the American colonies would have to the increasingly threatening British government.  Rights had been striped without just cause, innocents had been viciously killed, and the city of Boston was occupied and being economically strangled.  In reaction these historic representatives wrote the Declaration of Independence, the first document of the United States of America.  Their first resolution was that the lives of the American people would be protected at all costs.  They also resolved that the independence and autonomy of every American citizen would be respected and improved upon.  Finally, the American population would have the unalienable right to pursue happiness, through capitalism and innovation. The guiding American ideals are to protect the American people’s lives, liberties, and livelihoods at all costs; these were upheld through imperialism to the highest standards of the Founding Fathers.

The lives of the Americans were fiercely defended by the American government.  Manifest Destiny led the American people across the Great Plains.  Americans citizens pioneered across the heartland to establish stable new, prosperous live for themselves.  Native American complaints were sidelined as America began flexing its great military abilities and regional dominance.   The first wars of imperialism were fought across the modern American heartland as the United States seized lands from Native Americans to better the lives of American citizens.  A series Planes Indian Wars, land grabs that protected American interests, were used to defend the pioneers and budding American cities.  This defense of the Heartland was further strengthened by the transcontinental railroads, which spiderwebbed across the continent allowing American troops to be rapidly deployed to defend Americans in any region. The United States, and the lives of the Americans who lived there, were protected.  The general population supported these first wars of Imperialism; the army was portrayed as heroic fighters who were critical to the survival and economy of the nation.  Despite grievous, needless losses at the Battle of Little Bighorn, General Custer became a heroic martyr of his time; even the worst military blunders were met with faithful support of the public.  The Indians were put on reservations and countless Americans built new lives that benefited themselves, American, and the international economy on the previously underutilized lands. America had secured its country, shortly afterwards it pressed outwards to create protectorates and better foreign territories as well.  The Founding Fathers often wondered during the Revolutionary War if America would ever exist independently, this end result of Imperialism was a physical embodiment of those dreams.

The preservation and enhancement of American rights was the second goal of the Founding Fathers that was met with outstanding results both domestically and regionally.  American rights in the Western hemisphere were protected first under the Monroe Doctrine, which was empowered by the Roosevelt Corollary.  This later declaration of “big stick diplomacy” made it perfectly clear to the world that American interests in the hemisphere would be defended if European nations were to encroach on that.  Unchallenged power of this resolution gave American’s a natural dominance of their lesser neighbors.  When interests in Hawaii were threatened the local Americans justly defended their property and investments.  When the Hawaiian government had grown hostile to American interests, the local Americans orchestrated a coup d’état and took control of the islands and established the pro-American Republic of Hawaii.  American’s international influence had grown to the point where its citizens could defend their liberties of representation regardless of the hostility of local government without even officially intervening.  The American people became liberators of foreign nations in a simultaneous move, gaining the moral high ground as they annexed ex-Spanish colonies.  After the Treaty of Paris of 1898 the United States took control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.  Despite revolts on these islands America was able to guide all these nations towards independence, nurturing their young democracies to cherish their own people.  The American people even extended basic liberties to foreigners, over time; giving them the ability to dictate their own government rather than be ruled by an autocratic colonial government.  Each new right in America was mirrored later in her territories; in all these regions today both men and women have the right to vote, there is no segregation, and except for Cuba, they have stable economies.  The civil rights of the American people bloomed in the United States and spread across the Western Hemisphere.

The pursuit of happiness of the American people was a core pillar of the republic from its inception; it still remains at the heart of the American spirit.  Dollar diplomacy began to be a growing aspect of American foreign affairs.  Using strategic loans the United States government was able to stabilize countries across Latin America.  This prevented European powers from occupying countries in the Western hemisphere, just as Britain had done when it seized Egypt’s Suez Canal.  With this imperial policy partnered with capitalism American influence spread rapidly.  One historic example of this is the Panama Canal.  Staging a coup d’état in Panama, backed by American naval presence, America took control of the Panamanian Canal Zone.  Capitalism inspired investors to construct the canal; secondary effects resulted in the eradication malaria in the region, thousands of happily employed workers, and influx of capital, and linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to begin a new age of faster trade that benefited everyone.  American supremacy reigned unquestioned in the region and Americans existed in a state of near bliss.  While the countries of Europe armed itself for World War One, the costliest conflict on human history, America’s economy grew in leaps and bounds by profiting off these hostilities.  Americans began to believe in Pax Americana.  The European powers eroded each other’s strength and America was left alone at the top, achieving the status of global superpower.  Everyone was ecstatic, every able bodies man could be employed and live a good life.  The United States citizens believed that their institutions and way of life was the best in the world; arguably, they were.  The Founding Fathers set out to construct a democracy that flourished into the world’s leading power; their deepest unspoken wishes had materialized as democracy spread across the hemisphere.

The United States valued the lives, liberties, and happiness of its citizens above all else and succeeded because of it.  Imperialism was used to serve these values, creating high standards of living and peace wherever America went.   Some dissidents denounce this progress as humanitarian war crimes.  Morally, they are correct; practically, they are naive.  Without conquering foreign lands America would not be able to defend itself or even exist.  The Founding Fathers stole land from the British empire to found this great democracy; a country which later saved the world from tyranny of Kaiser Wilhelm the Second,  the communist autocracy of Joseph Stalin, and ushered in an age of innovation, modernization, prosperity, and peace unlike anything humanity had ever seen.  This practical reality, with Imperialism, is better than morally correct alternate history that would have weakened America to the point of disappearance.

The First American Empire and Imperialism

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In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War the United States collected its first international territories; Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.  These seizures initiated the rapidly emerging force of American Imperialism, which was described as a American foreign policy to gain control of distant lands for military and economic benefits.  This policy is practiced to this day as the United States completes construction of pro-America governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What were the Positive Effects of american Imperialism?

American imperialism’s best quantities are the naval strengthening, reaction of armed forces, and protection of American business interests.  American navy greatly benefited from imperialism; it allowed them to establish ports around the world to service the fleet.  To this day there are still major American ports in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Both bases were established as a result of American imperialism; without these key ports American ships range would be limited because they would have to rely on exclusively American ports or the benevolence of competing nations to be able to send ships outside of the local hemisphere.  Pearl Harbor later played a key role in American defense; preventing World War Two from spreading to the American mainland.  National defense of America benefited in more ways than just the naval powers, American influence expanded greatly thanks to imperialism.  Troops were able to be quickly deployed to counteract emerging threats around the world since the troops could be stationed in these territories.  Being able to deploy American troops around the world was key in American foreign policy; it was the American army who were first landed to counteract the Boxer Rebellion.  They were able to arrive so quickly because they had been stationed in the Philippians.  Finally, financial interests were the third to benefit from American imperialism; both the foreign countries and the United States benefit in this case.  Thanks in part to the protection of American business in Cuba after the Spanish American war investments in the territory quadrupled, benefiting Americans and the locals.  Puerto Rico greatly benefited from its semi-unique position of being under tax-exempt status, which greatly bolstered the economy.

What Were the Negative Effects of American Imperialism?

Anti-American resentment, unnecessary conflicts, and under effective or counterproductive use of resource were the negative results of American imperialism.  In every nation that American annexed or was sold there was native resentment for having a foreign power ruling over them; there was a sizeable population that pressed for independence of their own country and the ruling Americans disagreed.  This stifled anger solidified over time, harming American relations with the countries with distrust and bitterness. Cuban’s resentment of American annexation of the country doubtlessly played a role in the conversion of the country to communism and endangering American lives by housing Soviet nuclear missiles during the Cuban Missile Crises.  Unnecessary conflicts emerged from American annexation of territories around the world; natives who believed they had switched one oppressor for another were eager to take up arms to take back their homeland.  The Philippine-American War resulted from this cause, 24000 men died in the conflict and $400 million dollars was expended on securing a distant island that played not significant role in domestic issues.  Finally, resources were wasted on these territories and foreign interests that could have been better utilized benefiting the American homeland directly.  Following the Philippine-American war 540 educated and motivated Americans were sent to the Philippines to educated the population and sweeten the sour relations the territory had with America.  These individuals greatly benefited the island increasing elementary student numbers by 20,000 percent; these individuals did improve the countries relationship but did not directly benefit America.  Monumental effects of this nature would have been greatly appreciated in America, who was undergoing a progressivism revolution that need motivated individuals just like these men to educate students and help pass favorable legislation.

In Retrospect, Is American Imperialism Beneficial to the United States?

Overall, the results of American imperialism were positive.  American territories have remained prosperous, Puerto Rico prospers under its tax-exempt status and the Philippines are a stronghold of democracy in Asia.  Only Cuba remains with a low standard of living; they are also the only territory whose government is actively anti-American.  American military supremacy was maintained thanks to the territories, it is unquestioned today that American military is amongst the elite of the world.  One core reason for this is that troops can be deployed to almost any region quickly.  American troops counter coups in Grenada and more recently Haiti thanks to nearby American troops.  Taiwan and South Korea remain free countries because of American involvement in the region, thanks to the pioneering claim of the Philippines.  The local populations of the territories might have been resentful of being dominated by a foreign power, but the end result is financial security and prosperity, along people controlling their own countries which are not in the case of regions that were not made American territories such as China.  Perhaps if America had played a more dominant role during this time period China would not have later emerged as the communist threat that terrorized Americans in Korea and Vietnam, extending the Cold War and killing hundreds of thousands.  A stronger Imperialism policy might have resulted in fewer innocents dying.

Source -Danzer, Gerald A. The Americans Reconstruction through the 20th Century. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2002. 375-81. Print.

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