Do Exceptional Empires Come from the Frontier?

A big way of stripping away the U.S.’s perceived uniqueness is by positioning the nation among Winston Churchill’s “English Speaking World,” and classifying the U.S. as just another “settler colony.” But there is another group of settler colonies that, while included in the larger discussion of imperialism, are traditionally excluded from the the topic of settler colonies, and are almost always differentiated from the U.S. by the major historical narratives.

These excluded areas are the nations of Latin America, predominantly Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, among others. When studied, they reveal some important things about the U.S.

There are a great many reasons why the nations of Latin American may not be included in discussions of the “White Dominions”/settler colonies. Origins. Settlement patterns. Religion. Race. These reasons can account for the omission.

Partly, there is a similar sentiment to these nations’ non-inclusion as there is to why the U.S. sees itself as different than the other settler colonies (“White Dominions.”)

Recent studies do, in fact, include the nations of Latin America as part of the settler colonies.

The focus of study that has been used to study all the nations together, both the so-called “White Dominions,” the United States and Latin America is the idea of the “frontier.”

Defining the frontier is problematic because it is difficult to define, as the word doesn’t always mean the same thing everywhere. The evolution of the term over historical time also makes it difficult to define.

In American history the word "frontier” had been used to denote many things that the U.S. viewed as unique, and special, about its history. A good source of instruction about the meaning of the word lies with a historian of the late-19th century named Frederick Jackson Turner and his “Frontier Thesis” of 1890.

He lamented the closing of the “frontier,” saying that, with the result of a new census in the U.S., it was possible to say that there was no more line that separated areas of bare settlement in the contiguous U.S., that the frontier of settlement was forever closed, and with the closing of the frontier, so ended a source of all the things that Turner, and other Americans in-agreement, considered American and made the U.S. “exceptional” among nations.

In many ways the concept of the frontier is a cornerstone of the myth of American Exceptionalism. Those exceptional qualities of the U.S. - freedom, individualism, religious tolerance, democracy, free-enterprise - were born on the frontier, with the push of settlement across the North American continent that spread these institutions and changed conquest from an imperial mission to an enlightened crusade.

Empire building, and the type of special American empire that was created…that was exceptional too. Conquest wasn’t conquest. Settlers spread civilization. An American empire didn’t look like an empire.

How exceptional is that really, though?

Read “Somos Immigrantes” @Fictionade Magazine.

Nations are made on the Frontier

Racists in America are not scared of statistics. They are scared of so many people of non-European descent assuming positions of power in the U.S. Teachers. Doctors. Business leaders. Politicians.

The easy answer is to say that the change in the racial and ethnic social fabric began in the 1960s with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965. Agreed it did. I could digress and explain that this was the best thing to happen in the U.S. for a long time, that it literally pressed the reset button on American society, which, frankly, should have happened long ago.

A myth in our society is that nations are made on the frontier, and it provided a source of greatness of the national character, but in so doing so in this location, the participants that made the nation great were white Americans, and so they made a "white nation" (even while admitting there were non-whites in their presence.)

This image…

…versus this image.

History does make allowances for the presence of African slaves; it does mention too the indigenous peoples on the “frontier.”

But the narrative is filled with white settlers creating a “republic,” and they were leaders and founders. Their place was uncontested. Even while the nation they expanded into and outward was descriptively non-white - and not “great.”

This was the “empire of liberty” that Thomas Jefferson lauded, which expanded onto the frontier.

The real story of the “nation,” as built on a “frontier,” is more accurate when studied as a region of settlement that was worldwide phenomenon - and not just located in North America.

For too long “American Exceptionalism” has ignored the larger picture of the founding of the U.S., as just ONE PART OF MANY settlement colonies around the world.

Canada. Australia. South Africa. New Zealand…America should be in there somewhere too (and so should others…)

Some would tell you that settlement of the last 500 years has taken place along one Great Frontier.

That’s where great nations are made.

A Laterday Bactria: Post-Frontier America

“…Demetrius I of Bactria, ruler of the Indo-Greeks and the lands formed by conquest and the blending of cultures - the Greco-Buddhists - on the far edge of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the 4th Century BCE…”  

Historians recognize the “frontier” as a place of settlement and conquest that is not unique to the U.S. They also realize the “frontier” does not mean one thing. The word has many meanings. Recent works now use the words “contact” and “exchange” to describe the place where the settler colonies began to push into various continents, where colonies became nations, and then empires, and a place where resistance was not always futile, nor did conquest produce the type of results that most mainstream histories give periods and areas of territorial expansion.

Historians with an eye on ethnography, stressing the ideas of contact and exchange between peoples, have tried to apply Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” to other nations, not only the so-called “White Dominions,” but the frontiers in Latin American nations. In doing so, they knew outright that one of the most troublesome of Turner’s terms had to be thrown out.

That word is “free land,” and it’s particularly worrisome because not only does it exclude indigenous peoples, it also misses the conflicts between elites and non-elites that took place over the issue of property ownership. At least in the U.S. “free land” was not “free.” It resulted in things that made American culture less unique that it might have wanted to admit, running counter to the ideas that the U.S. prides itself on, and entirely overturning some of the key parts of American Exceptionalism.


What happened when the unit of study of the “frontier” was used to study the nations of Latin America was a fulfillment of the original ideas that the newest scholars wanted to bring to the discussion. The frontiers of Latin America were diverse places filled with all sorts of indigenous groups and people from the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. This collection of different groups, all in contact with one another, exchanging ideas and material culture, producing in some cases hybrid cultures, or other times resistant syncretism, stood out as the best way to look at the frontiers of all these nations. Notice was given to the tensions that were produced on these “frontiers,” as the nations of Latin America struggled to come to grips with the situation on their own frontiers, as their national leaders attempted to build countries worthy of their European counterparts, stressing the need to settle more white colonists on the “frontier” and worrying about white settlers going “native.”

The early U.S. fits within this schema. Taking advantage of the rich work of social history that concentrated on the “ignored voices” in American history, the last 20 years of scholarship on the study of the frontier in American history mentions many of the same ideas that scholars found in their studies of Latin America.

Rather than a picture of white settlers founding a nation on a sparsely settled frontier filled with a few lonely indians, and maybe, a few poor slaves, the first moments of colonization in early America have the same exact characteristics of what took place in Latin America.

The same tensions, the same stresses, the same worries by national leaders that America might not be “white” enough, and that settlers might not only be cavorting with indigenous and other non-white peoples, but living side-by-side with them - even marrying them and producing families of mixed race and ethnicity.

But still, U.S. history clings to a “whites only” picture of early America. There’s hardly a mention that when the U.S. was founded that numerous peoples lived with each other, and they weren’t all white.

An interesting thing about Latin America is the place they give non-white peoples in their national foundation narratives. If you look at some portraits of the Latin American Wars of Independence, there are non-white peoples in the background, if not front and center.

It’s not only time to put Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Native Americans into the pictures of early American history, it’s time to stop thinking that, only until recently, has this nation become a place of a possible non-white majority.

From the beginning, this nation was formed by people from all over the world who never paid attention to the “whites only” sign on the front lawn or the edge of town.

Read “Somos Immigrantes” at Fictionade Magazine to see the immigrants get back!

Confederate Arizona: The Persistence of a White Supremacist Empire

***Note: the below is a plot from the narrative timeline of “Tinsel Fortress Time” America, which forms the backdrop for such stories as Pershing, Somos Immigrantes (and even a little part of Bethlehem.)

Begin: The origins of the Uprisings go back to the American Civil War, when the border region was populated by a militant settler movement from the Lone Star Republic, creating the Territory of Arizona, which organized its armed militants behind a territorial government and supported the white supremacist-led rebellion against the District of Columbia-led United States of America.

Following defeat and dismemberment, the colonial elites of Arizona persisted in the establishment of an apartheid society in Arizona, through the enlargement of the colonial territory, until it could override the Hispanic eastern majority and create its own American “state of Arizona.” The apartheid society was further expanded and the “quasi-Confederate” state of Arizona grew stronger through draconian racial laws and police-state techniques.

The Uprisings took place in the face of non-ending racism. It took place against a larger background of revolts against state constitutions and the creation of alternate policies of government that stressed autonomy and self-determination. This was “Tinsel Fortress Time” America and the civil society of the U.S. was in the grips of a transformation of the meaning of “nation.”

The Uprisings served as a source of political capital by racists who wanted to continue the old white supremacist regime in Arizona. The southern region of Arizona was turned into the center of the MZ - the Militarized Zone - that not only stretched along sections of the U.S-MX border, but also militarized the inner cities, and other designated “frontiers” of American society.

The Mandate Acts made it possible. At the heart of the repression of the Uprisings laid the New Dominate.

The best way to view this armed militancy is the sign of a nation unable to come to grips with its changing racial demographics. Recent news had identified something that had “supposedly” never happened before in this nation - more children being born from parents who were not predominantly of European descent.

How wrong this picture turned out to be. The history of American society in the U.S. was always a story of a strong population of non-whites living side-by-side with whites. The only difference between then and now was that, in the so-called “Crisis of the Third American Century,” non-whites had been able to grab and exercise political power in the U.S.

This partly explained the troubles that were to come….Read “Somos Immigrantes” @ Fictionade Magazine.

Anatomy of American Fascism

Let me just start this out by saying I am not against American military veterans. There’s no need to give you the obligatory story about coming from a military family, or having a dad who was in World War Two or the Clone Wars. No, I never lived with ex-soldiers, (just some ex-sailors) and I never fantasized about joining up (well, except the Air Force Space Command.)

But I have always thought that, if some revolution did happen in this nation (and I lean more to the side of civil war, than anything), that it would start with right-wing extremists, and they would have received their training in the U.S. military. Big whoop. Of course they would. I am no genius for thinking that. After all, it has happened before in this country.

My fantasy has always been centered around the situation of soldiers returning home from a war and, feeling like they were “stabbed in the back” by citizens or the government, they would launch some attacks on targets in cities, in the effort to start a revolt.

Clearly, this is inspired by a few things. Rambo: First Blood. The Rock. And maybe, a little by this book I read called The Anatomy of Fascism.

I agree there is nothing original about any of my scenarios. But lately, in reading the news, I have come across things that make me think I am not that off base, and truth is stranger than fiction. With the attacks on the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the plot by military vets to overthrow President Obama, there is a lot of anger coming from people - some from people once in the military, some from people from “Lubbock or Leave it,” Texas. But the real story to me is what’s behind their anger.

What are they reacting to? And what kind of people are they?

It’s easy to answer the first question, what with the stories of white supremacists in the armed forces (a small minority?), which the shooter at the Sikh temple belonged to such a hate group, a newest book about the results of military recruitment, and more and more stories about this situation, I can say without a doubt that the biggest terrorists the U.S. has to confront are right-wing extremists who are racist and have military training.

I also believe that the newest stories I have read give the possibility another twist that is potentially revolutionary, what with members of the special forces getting political and saying things about President Obama. Granted, it’s not like they are calling for a revolution, but they are involved in politics. Nothing about this is particularly troubling. But it just makes me wonder why, of all presidents, is Obama getting the harshest treatment from people, and why is he such a symbol of hatred of “big government?”

That takes me to my second question.

What are these people scared of?

New short story Somos Immigrantes, out now @Fictionade Magazine.