“America, Again” is a year-long project by the photographers of VII, an exploration of some of the most important issues facing American voters as they head to the polls on November 3rd. This is Chapter 6: American Imperium which includes essays by Suzy Hansen, Anthony Loyd, and Jill Filipovic as well as photo stories by Hector Guerrero, Stefano De Luigi, Nichole Sobecki, Valentina Sinis, Leonardo Carrato, Forough Alaei, and two essays curated for this chapter from the VII archive.
Introduction essay by Suzy Hansen
In May of 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent his vice president, Richard Nixon, to visit Latin America. By then, over a decade into the Cold War, the Americans wanted to win hearts and minds in the so-called Third World. But when Nixon toured Venezuela, a crowd erupted in protest. “Get out, dog!” they cried, “We won’t forget Guatemala!” The protesters threw rocks at Nixon’s car, shattering the car windows. Eisenhower recognized that the Americans had a public relations problem. In a meeting with his national security advisers, the president observed that “capitalism, which means one thing to us … clearly meant to much of the rest of the world something synonymous with imperialism.” He suggested they come up with new phrases for the American project. Among them were “free enterprise,” the “free world,” and “freedom.”¹
If American propaganda failed to convince Venezuelans, or Iranians, or Chinese, it succeeded in shaping the collective worldview of its own citizenry. Of the many ways the United States government has insulated its citizens from responsibility for their role in the world, the use of language may be the most pernicious. It is still common, for example, to hear pundits, journalists, and politicians attribute the invasion of Iraq to “idealism,” the genuine belief that the Americans could bring the Iraqis “freedom.” Rarely in these discussions are Americans compelled to consider what that word had come to mean by 2003, or its long, deceptive history. James Baldwin once identified that white Americans and Black Americans had different “systems of reality;” a similar condition exists between Americans and the rest of the world.
Americans still not only rarely hear how the world speaks of American power, they know little of its effect on…