If Americans can’t talk honestly about the Queen we can’t talk honestly about ourselves.

By Peter Beinart, The Beinart Notebook

Here are two statements Joe Biden will never make:

“Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy is inextricably bound up with the legacy of British imperialism, which oppressed millions around the world.”

“Given the way China suffered under Western (and Japanese) imperialism, it’s not surprising that today’s Chinese leaders see America’s antagonistic posture as yet another Western effort to keep China down.”

British native troops embarking at Freetown, Sierra Leone for German Cameroon. 1914. They captured the colonial capital of Douala on Sept. 27, 1914. In June 1915 the German garrison at Garoua fell.

I believe both these statements are true. They are not the whole truth, obviously. It’s also true that the Queen was a gracious, dignified woman beloved by many in Britain and beyond. It’s also true that China’s government has crushed freedom in Hong Kong, placed more than one million Uighurs in concentration camps, helps prop up some of the most odious regimes on earth, and menaces Taiwan.

But for Washington politicians, these latter truths are easy to acknowledge. What’s difficult to acknowledge—when talking about the Queen’s death or about America’s deteriorating relationship with China—is the legacy of Western imperialism. And these taboos are related. In many ways, America’s unacknowledged empire is the British empire’s heir. “Just as in science fiction people are able to live on through cryogenic freezing after their bodies die,” wrote the historian Andrew Roberts, “so British postimperial greatness has been preserved and fostered through its incorporation into the American world-historical project.” Because the US is, in many ways, continuing the work that imperial Britain began, the inability of American leaders to talk honestly about how people outside the West remember British imperialism is bound up with their inability to talk about honestly about how people outside the West view America today.

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