President Barack Obama exemplified the persistence of Luce's vision when he declared in 2010: "There's no reason the 21st Century is not going to be the American Century just like the 20th Century."
"The real problem was not that the American Century had reached a premature end," LaFeber argues. "It had never existed except as an illusion, but an illusion to which Americans, in their repeated willingness to ignore history, fell prey."
That history includes the westward migration of white immigrants who killed millions of Native Americans and took over their land, the 1846-1848 Mexican War that added new territories to the United States and the 1898 invasion of the Philippine Islands.
Nikhil Pal Singh, a social and cultural analysis professor at New York University, argues Luce "was merely repackaging sentiments already in wide circulation."
Today, Singh writes, we are witnessing a growing "empire of bases gradually encircling the planet."
T.J. Jackson Lears, a Rutgers University history professor, wrote a fascinating essay about the history of our country's "non-interventionist" thinkers, focusing on people like historian Randolph Bourne, Columbia University professor Charles Beard and Sen. Robert Taft, always a skeptic of U.S. imperialist policies.
Political and intellectual leaders who promote those policies, Lears believes, routinely ignore the realities of the lives of ordinary people.
"Too often, advocates of military intervention abroad seek support by shedding crocodile tears over the pain of Iraqis and Afghans while ignoring the travails of those living in Camden [N.J.] and Detroit. ...
"War intellectuals prefer to hatch their grandiose dreams far from the scene of battle."
The late Sen. J. William Fulbright, D-Ark., Lears writes, knew Luce's "God-intoxicated mentality had been a staple of colonialism for centuries, its American version justifying overseas intervention since at least the Spanish-American War. He detested the bullying sanctimony of this tradition."
By the 1970s, "the nation's building blocks, the necessary foundations for an American Century, were deteriorating."
"Americanization" of the world helped destroy key industries at home, such as clothing and steel, during the last 40 years. Wages paid American workers have not kept up with inflation.
Negative trade balances continue forcing the U.S. government to borrow increasing amounts of money from China, Japan and Europe. That money was needed to pay for the lifestyle Americans pursued and the military ventures "to which Washington leaders and their think-tank allies were becoming increasingly addicted," Lears writes.
In The Short American Century's final essay, Bacevich argues, "The problem for the United States today is that sanitizing history no longer serves U.S. interests. Instead, it blinds Americans to the challenges they confront.
"Self-serving mendacities -- that the attacks of September 11, 2001, reprising those of December 7, 1941 [Pearl Harbor], 'came out of nowhere' to strike an innocent nation -- don't enhance the safety and well-being of the American people. If anything, the reverse is true."
Responsibility for our growing tragedies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Bacevich adds, lies with our history and with all of us today.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or (304) 348-5164.