Yesterday i got to reading about Japan's "Showa Era" (1926-1989). Showa means "Enlightened Harmony." The Japanese now call it Kurai Tanima, or the Dark Valley. It's interesting to draw parallels between earlier empires and present-day America. Here's a sample of the text that I found particularly interesting:
Faced with international opprobium, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933. Ultranationalism, resentful in its isolation, became more focused. Efforts were made to purge Japan of foreign concepts and words; regressing to nationalistic Meiji-era emperor worship, education promulgated historical disinformation (mythical emperors and warriors were presented as fact) and the glorification of the Japanese race.
This eventually lead to a deviation into empire-building which was corrected through the Pacific war and the nuclear attacks on Japan.
The interesting part is the reason why they were faced with "international opprobium." Japan had its mind set on annexing a part of China known as Manchuria. In 1931, the Japanese army staged a sabotage of a railroad in Guangdong, China - which gave them an excuse to move in and take over.
What instantly sprang to mind was the current American administration. We've got our minds set on war with Iraq, and now we're just looking for the right way to sell it to the American people.
That's the difference between an Empire and a Representative Democracy. An Empire only needs to convince the international community that what it's doing is right. A representative democracy needs to convince its representatives and the people they represent as well. Truth be damned, sell them the story you want them to hear.
Thinking about it, it's hard not to personify countries. You see America being sort of punch-drunk and out-of-control, not knowing how to behave under the circumstances. You can look at Empires the same way. When they get far enough out of line, the rest of the world corrects the problem.
When it's America's turn, I'd rather be with the rest of the world.