Gayblack Canadian Man

Foreign Policy Analysis
HIST 2112 11 – U.S. Imperialism

HIST 2112 11 – U.S. Imperialism


This next segment follows from what we just
talked about. We’re going to talk about U.S. Imperialism in particular. There was
a time when you could bring up the idea of the United States as an Imperial power, and
you could get an argument, or a fight, started. Now days, people tend to take it for granted
that the United States is an Imperial power, and what’s especially troubling to a historian
is that people think it’s natural and inevitable that the United States is an Imperial power;
we don’t question it anymore. You’ll notice it’s not a topic for conversation among
Presidential candidates. As we enter this election year, you will not hear our Imperial
policies come under question, for the most part. At any rate, there’s a long-standing
debate among historians as to when the United States, or when the American people, became
Imperialistic. Some historians go all the way back to the English colonies, at Plymouth
and at Jamestown, and the desire to expand westward, pushing the Indians out of the way.
Other historians will point to the war with Mexico in the 1840s, when the United States
became a truly Continental country from the Atlantic to the Pacific, pushing both the
Mexicans and the Indians and others out of the way as we sort of fulfill our Manifest
Destiny to dominate this continent. Probably most historians would point to 1898 and the
Spanish-American War as the time when the United States truly became a world power.
So we want to look at a few significant ideas in the development of the U.S. as an Imperial,
or world, power. I want to bring to your attention a book,
a terribly influential book, written by Alfred Mahan. He’s a retired U.S. Naval officer.
Alfred Mahan wrote a book called, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, and in this book
he made an argument. He said that the United States, or the American people, had traditionally
treated the Atlantic and the Pacific as protective barriers. He said that the time for this was
over, we should not look at the great oceans as protective barriers; we should look at
them as avenues of opportunity. He said that if the United States was going to become a
great power, then we have to use these oceans to access both Asia and Europe. Mahan made
the argument that we’re going to need not only a great Merchant Marine, but we’re
going to need a battleship Navy to protect our interests, if we’re going to venture
out into the Atlantic and the Pacific. He went on to make the point that not only are
we going to need a Navy, but we’re going to need coaling stations in ports of call,
and places for our sailors to have R and R, and on and on. And he pointed out that the
best natural harbor in the Central Pacific was at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and that this
should be a post that the United States should acquire. He also made the argument that the
United States would need a Pacific and an Atlantic fleet, but that it was prohibitively
expensive and time consuming for these fleets to have to travel all the way around the tip
of South America, Cape Horn, in order to access the other ocean. He said that we should acquire
the most narrow point in the Western hemisphere, and once we acquire it, we should dig a ditch
through it, so we could have quick access from the Atlantic to the Pacific, both for
the Merchant Marine and for the Navy. Now these ideas will be put into force after
1900, by President Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt read this book and took its message to heart.
You can see some of the cartoons, or some of the editorial or political cartoons I’ve
included here. You can see Teddy exercising this Imperial power here. You see Teddy wading
through the Caribbean as if it were a backyard pool, and of course, he has his big stick.
What was the slogan? Speak softly and carry a big stick. And you can see U.S. Naval forces
accompanying him. This of course, points to what has gone down in history as gunboat diplomacy;
it’s much easier to get your negotiating partner to make concessions if you can threaten
him with military force. We see another cartoon here of Teddy Roosevelt, and you can see his
big stick being put into action, sort of the ‘policeman’ of the Caribbean and the new
world, or the Western hemisphere at this point. Not only does Teddy put these ideas into action,
these policies promoted by Mahan, but he’s able to do it during what’s called the Splendid
Little War, the Spanish-America War. Cuba, of course, had been part of the Spanish
Empire since Columbus. By the early 20th century, the Spanish Empire in the West had become
decrepit, increasingly weakened and diminished. The Cuban people wanted independence from
Spain. The United States sided with the Cuban people, and we helped the Cubans acquire their
independence from Spain in the Spanish-American War. Of course, the Cubans, whether they knew
it or not, they simply exchanged one master, the Spanish, for another, the Americans. And
the Americans, like I said earlier, established what was essentially a protector in Cuba. The United States acquired other territories
as a result of the Spanish-American War – the Philippines, other territories in the Caribbean
and in the Pacific. Here is where the United States sort of leaves the continental borders
of North America, and moves across the ocean to begin to acquire colonies in the traditional
Imperial manner. A couple of key ideas here – One is China.
China has an enduring allure for the American businessman and politician. Let’s face it,
China has the largest population of any country, and the thought of acquiring the China market
is something that has stuck in the imagination of American Imperialists. Let’s face it,
it doesn’t matter what you sell to the Chinese, if you can sell two billion of them, you’re
going to make a nice profit if it’s toothpicks or tractors. So the China market is an enduring
temptation still alive today. The Spanish-American War allows us to sort
of hop, skip, and jump across the Pacific to Hawaii, and to Guam, the Philippines, and
finally, to China. The U.S. Open Door is a policy designed to gain access to the China
market without establishing colonies. This is sort of a ‘soft’ empire in the terms
of today. The United States has – through its’ Imperial
policy – has extended what Jefferson once called the Empire of Liberty, and this is
how the American people have often viewed U.S. expansion, as not a predatory action,
but an action of good will, and action of generosity or benevolence, whereby the United
States is spreading not only Christianity, but is spreading the market economy, expanding
new technologies to places that otherwise would not have them, and to expand Republican-style
governments to places that are more used to despots and tyrants. So this ‘soft’ empire
of the United States in the Pacific, is not viewed pejoratively by most of the American
people. Now there are some politicians and some intellectuals in the United States who
will protest this expansion of our power beyond our borders, and say that we began as a Republic
and we should remain a Republic, and that, in fact, a Republic cannot coincide with an
empire. Again, these objections have been brushed aside essentially. As you can see
today, the United States has military bases in dozens and dozens of countries. It would
be easier to talk about the countries we DON’T have bases in, as opposed to those that we
do. So the United States has a worldwide reach
today. This reach begins, really, with the Spanish-American War. Now I’ll say one more
thing about this Spanish-American conflict, this Splendid Little War as John Hay called
it. The event that provoked war between Spain and the United States in 1898, was the explosion
of the U.S.S. Maine, a battleship stationed in Havana Harbor in Cuba. The Maine exploded
and killed more than 200 United States Marines and sailors. This was the ostensible cause
of the war. Now the Maine was later brought to the surface. There was an investigation,
and it was discovered that apparently the boiler in the engine room exploded, and this
was the cause of the disaster. Now this is something else that you, as students,
will probably remember. We were given reasons for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, were we
not? Your government told you every day that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction,
and this was the cause of our invasion of Iraq. There was the notion that Saddam Hussein
might give these weapons to terrorists, who could then use them against us. We’ll get
into this later in the semester, but remember that we supplied Saddam Hussein with most
of these weapons in the late seventies/early eighties, so that he could use them to attack
Iran. So we knew what Saddam Hussein possessed. Yet, the American people quite easily believed
this argument based on weapons of mass destruction. Well, here you see the similar tactics used
with the U.S.S. Battleship Maine in 1898 as a cause of the Spanish-American War. You get
the sense that the Spanish-American War would have come about one way or the other. If it
had not been the Maine, it would have been another incident to inflame American opinion. I want to refer you again to the editorial
cartoons and to the maps, which demonstrate U.S. Imperialism, not only in the Caribbean,
but across the Pacific, and you can see some of the various products and some of the reasons
for our expansion. Those things that are desired by U.S. industry – cheap labor, cheap natural
resources, access to strategic waterways. When we get back, our next lecture, we will
move from Imperialism to the Great War, the First World War that begins in 1914. And as
you’ll recall in Lenin’s Justification of Imperialism, he made the argument that
the great powers would go to war as they compete for scarce natural resources, and cheap labor
and markets. I don’t think Imperialism is the main cause by any means of the Great War,
but it is a contributing factor. And we’ll also do a short review next time
before we get into the BIG topic of the First World War. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *