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  • Empire's Twin: U.S. anti-imperialism from the founding era to the age of terrorism ed. by Ian Tyrell and Jay Sexton
  • Michel Gobat
Empire's Twin: U.S. anti-imperialism from the founding era to the age of terrorism. Edited by Ian Tyrell and Jay Sexton. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2015.

Much ink has been spilled recently over the imperial history of the United States. Empire's Twin, in contrast, visits the neglected tradition of US anti-imperialism. To be sure, historians have studied anti-imperialism in the United States, but they tend to focus on a few key moments. By charting US anti-imperialism from the American Revolution to the present, the twelve essays in Empire's Twin neatly illuminate the strengths and diversities of this tradition. Above all, the book expands on William Appleman Williams' concept of "imperial anticolonialism" (1959) to reveal the paradoxical ways that opposition to US imperialism could wind up buttressing the agenda of the colossus.

In an engaging introduction, the editors make a strong case for the US "imperialist form of anti-imperialism" by highlighting the underappreciated continuity, diversity and transnational connections marking US anti-imperialism. While their overview ranges widely, it refrains from engaging with the rich scholarship on foreign opposition to US imperial rule and anti-Americanism. Such an engagement might have offered additional insights on the transnational dimensions of US anti-imperialism as well as its different strands and efficacy.

The book then explores how US expansion by land engendered a powerful tradition of anti-imperialism during the nineteenth century. Peter Onuf demonstrates that nascent US anti-imperial ideals mainly reflected opposition to British power rather than to imperialism per se. Hence was the idea of a colonizing empire widely accepted in antebellum United States. A "moralistic anti-imperialism" nonetheless emerged that opposed continental expansion. For Onuf, this at once inward-looking and cosmopolitan US anti-imperialism laid the basis for the one reigning today.

That this moralistic anti-imperialism had an imperialist impulse is shown by Jeffrey Ostler, whose essay explains how some Native Americans confronted US expansion by drawing on the "civilizing" ideals of Anglo-American moral reformers. Ostler also places Native American anti-imperialism in a comparative context, as when he links Cherokees' embrace of US institutions with a similar move made by anti-colonial activists in British India. His essay thus points to the complex relationship between anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism as well as to that between Americanization and anti-Americanism—and highlights the need for further research on the ways that Native Americans might have reshaped the views of Anglo-American anti-imperialists.

Jay Sexton's chapter illuminates the malleability of US anti-imperialism by exploring how the Civil War reversed the US self-image as an imperial nation. For Sexton, this reversal stemmed not so much from the war's devastation as from the anti-imperialist war both parties claimed to be waging. If the Union deemed Southerners pawns of British imperialists, the Confederacy portrayed Northerners as imperialists bent on imposing a strong central state. Sexton concludes that the Civil War facilitated the global rise of anti-imperialism. This is a fascinating new take on the war's international relevance, as well as one that calls for a greater consideration of the politics of race.

The next four essays shed new light on the most studied era of US anti-imperialism—the early twentieth century—by exploring it from a non-US perspective. Julian Go's study of Filipino, Puerto Rican and Guamanian resistance to US colonial rule echoes Ostler's analysis in its consideration of the tension between anti-Americanism and Americanization. He also advances Sexton's analysis by illuminating how US racism transformed local supporters of US annexation into anti-imperialists. At the same time, Go traces the connections among Puerto Rican and Filipino nationalists and their counterparts in British Ireland and India. His essay thus demonstrates the multiple ways that a transnational and comparative approach can enhance our understanding of anti-imperialism.

Alan Knight focuses on opposition to US imperialism in revolutionary Mexico to argue for an approach that stresses structure over agency. While Knight...

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