It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but clear evidence can be seen at least in the aftermath of World War II. Some trace the origins back to 1898 and the Spanish-American War, or even earlier to the War of 1812. And still others would say that imperial ambitions were even on the minds of some of the Founding Fathers. Regardless, there can be no doubt that today the United States of America is an empire.
It is probably safe to assume that most Americans do not think of their country as an empire. As a conservative in my younger years, I might have even labeled the suggestion as anti-American, rationalizing to myself: Sure, we may have strategic military bases around the world and we may use force at times, but it is only for benevolent purposes. We get the bad guys, give the country back to the good guys, and we leave. The US does not try to rule the world.
I was wrong.
While it has indeed expanded its borders through conquest in the past, the modern United States exercises its global hegemony in a different way than the old colonial empires: through a worldwide network of military bases. This network is so vast that there is probably not one single individual who knows precisely how many bases exist at any given time, but even the Pentagon acknowledges that the number is over 600, and with an honest assessment the total would surely be much higher than that, possibly over 1,000.
The fact is that America’s unique empire is the most expansive in all of history, covering 6 of 7 continents and nearly 150 countries, and including what are essentially 10 floating bases (or is it 19?) capable of establishing a military presence in any ocean on earth. There are currently about 160,000 US soldiers officially deployed overseas, along with many more tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of individuals such as spies, technicians and civilian contractors. This comes at an enormous cost, measurable in many different ways. Among these are the cost in blood, the price in dollars, and the impact on American society.