Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The History Of American Imperialism, From Bloody Conquest To Bird Poop

What a succinct headline.

National Public Radio

Historian Daniel Immerwahr shares surprising stories of U.S. territorial expansion, including how the desire for bird guano compelled the seizure of remote islands. His book is How to Hide an Empire.


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. American presidents like to describe the United States as a force for freedom and independence in the world. Our guest, historian Daniel Immerwahr, says there are also plenty of times in our history when we’ve subjugated and ruled foreign lands – sometimes with bloody conquests. Today, roughly 4 million people live in the American territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas.

Immerwahr’s new book is a colorful look at the history of and forces behind U.S. territorial expansion, including – and I’m not kidding – the need for massive quantities of bird poop in the 19th century. Daniel Immerwahr is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University and the author of a previous book “Thinking Small: The United States And The Lure Of Community Development.” His new book is “How To Hide An Empire: A History Of The Greater United States.” MORE

4 replies »

  1. BTW, the quest for bird poop started to go away when German chemist Fritz Haber invented what is called the Haber-Bosch process.
    It reacts hydrogen (H2) and nitrogen (N2) together, at very high pressures, and exposed to a catalyze, to make ammonia (NH3). Some of that ammonia can be oxidized to nitric acid, and reacted with more ammonia to form ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer.

    This process is that which allows 7 billion people to exist on earth; if we had continued to be dependent on bird poop, we would probably have run out of it 70 years ago.

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