Why do you consider the United States an empire?
From day one the United States has included both states and territories, with the territories treated differently. In 1940, when the Philippines was a U.S. possession, there were 19 million U.S. nationals living outside of the 48 states. That’s more than the immigrant or African-American populations at the time.
“Empire” can be a loaded term.
It can be used as a pejorative, but I’m not talking about the country’s character. I’m talking about its shape—its territories and outposts. Today, around four million people live in the U.S. overseas territories. That’s about the populations of Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island combined.
Technology helped the United States give up territories?
Traditionally, countries claimed colonies to secure resources or military outposts. By the 1940s, the United States had satisfied some of those needs with technology. Developing synthetic rubber meant it didn’t need tropical colonies to grow rubber. With aircraft and wireless communications, it didn’t require continuous swaths of land for railroad tracks and telegraph cables to maintain its military presence.
How do we think about our territories today?
A lot of people don’t. Woodrow Wilson spoke of them as lying “outside the charmed circle of our own national life.” That attitude is ingrained. The territories almost never appear on maps of the country, and census statistics usually exclude them. (If it had been included, Manila would have been one of the top ten largest cities in the country in the 1940s.) You can see that neglect today in how little aid
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands got after hurricanes Maria and Irma. Or by the lack of national attention to Typhoon Yutu, which laid waste to the Northern Marianas.