Gayblack Canadian Man

Foreign Policy Analysis
U.S. Imperialism – Part 1 – OpenBUCS

U.S. Imperialism – Part 1 – OpenBUCS


In the previous segment I talked a bit about what imperialism actually is, I tried to provide you with a
definition of imperialism. I want to move through this segment sort of
looking at some of the roots, but in a very brief
fashion leading up to what will happen in the United States in the late 1880’s and into the 1890’s as the United
States expands abroad. The fact of the matter is that talk of
expansion had sort of always been part of
US culture and an idea of what America was from
the colonies of the British on the Atlantic coast, to the
Mississippi Valley, the trans Appalachian frontier, and then
pushing on further west as a result of the war with Mexico, purchase of or the agreement on Oregon and the Oregon Territory. The United
States prior to the Civil War had already
spread from one coast – the eastern coast to the
western coast and the Pacific coast. So this notion
expansion is not entirely new and indeed even before the Civil War this sort of notion
of Manifest Destiny was part of the American psyche. The Monroe Doctrine as early as the
1820’s had established that the United States had interest that went
beyond its immediate borders, that indeed the United States would pay
very close attention to events occurring in the rest of the Americas. South America, Central America and
might, if it were powerful enough, take action in the event something should happen
with a European power and the revolutionary movements occurring in the Americas. Just before
the Civil War, in the 1850’s, there was considerable talk of making Cuba or points in the Caribbean part of the South and part of the
United States perhaps through territorial acquisition.
One of those that comes to mind of course is the Austin Manifesto, but we also have accounts of
numerous filibusterers. These are individuals who led crusades
or campaigns to try and establish US-like governments
abroad. Well anyhow, by the time we get to the
Civil War, United States really consists of sort of that
lower 48 that – that we hadn’t had come to know that
covered what the traditional boundaries I guess
we would say of the lower 48 in the United States. Not
long after the war however, Secretary of State William Seward
would undertake among other things to broaden America’s territorial control beyond the immediate borders of the lower 48 states. We know, in part we know Seward through the
purchase of Midway Island in the Pacific which
comes in 1867. There had been an issue with a
naval officer out in the Pacific and the United States had seized the
Island of Midway and claimed it as US territory. More well-known perhaps is the purchase of Alaska. Alaska being cold, being quite barren, having a native population, but very
little European settlement, it didn’t seem perhaps like
Alaska was a grand purchase of course little did we know about the
resources that were there. But in ’67 as well the
United States will pay approximately 7.2 million dollars to Russia for the purchase of 591,000
square miles. Even so it will come to be known, Alaska will, as Seward’s Folly. As a mistake, an ice box, and not worth the money that was paid.
But in a fundamental way with both the
purchase of Midway and Alaska I think it becomes clear that Secretary Seward and perhaps more
broadly the Lincoln administration before and then the Republicans after are looking to
the west and looking to the Pacific and the
Pacific Rim for markets and for trade. And we see here the initial steps establishing an
American presence in the Pacific that would then lead to connections to
markets in Asia. Vast markets indeed. Now it’s worth saying that not all Americans
favored any kind of expansion and certainly
didn’t favor this notion of imperialism. The United States was never really
outside world affairs, but the imperialist crusade, the
imperialist effort really takes off after 1880 in the United States, aside of course from Seward’s purchases and the claiming at Midway. The arguments that anti-imperialists, as they are called, made really were cultural in many ways. Two of the best known
perhaps, two of the best-known anti-imperialisst were William Jennings Bryan and Andrew Carnegie and they led the charge to try and slow
this persistent American involvement abroad. Sort of engagements that perhaps we shouldn’t have been in. Nonetheless the arguments of the anti-imperialists were
among other things that the conquests of peoples against their will really went against the ideals of the Constitution. The basic idea is that the United States
is about freedom and liberty and the pursuit of happiness and such. They also argued that there were domestic priorities, issues here at home
that needed to be resolved and were more important than expansion abroad. There were risks. There was a possibility
of as we spread out coming into more and more
conflict with other nations that were practicing
imperialism and ultimately ending up in war. So business, many businessmen felt that
the risks that were involved in imperialistic undertakings were just too risky, there
was too much at stake. Others, sort of went at it from a racial
perspective, an ethnic perspective and I talked in a lecture just a little bit previous about the way ethnicity
and race played into ideas about labor and about poverty and about radical ideas here in the US. So it sort of make sense from that
perspective that many Americans would wonder about bringing people from Asia, from the Pacific under US domination or people in the Caribbean under US domination, if that would entail getting sort of mixed
up in all these ethnic and racial issues, that many
Americans felt were just tied to ethnicity, tied to race. Whatever the case, in order for the United
States to move forward with an imperialistic program, what would be required would be a
rationalization that could overcome these arguments made by
anti-imperialists and the political power and the
political will to spread the United States abroad. Part of the argument becomes the argument of civilization. It’s the
old argument. It’s the argument that by sort of
conquering either physically or in terms of ideas
other people, the United States is spreading
civilization, but more importantly, spreading Liberty,
spreading the ideals of the United States. And there’s always a tension there isn’t there? This notion that you can somehow spread
ideals of peace and liberty with force. Against someone’s will. Very, Very problematic notion. Yet it’s
that very tension that lies at the heart of this period in which the United States
expands drastically into the Pacific and ultimately into the
Caribbean. So we have to ask as historians I think
what changes? What begins then to lead the United
States from from a nation that is tied specifically
to North America into being a nation that’s
both a world power and that claims territories abroad,
territories beyond its immediate continental borders? There are a lot of
possible answers to that and you know I’m not claiming that I
have the answer for any of this stuff or any of this material, but I’m going to kind of narrow it down to a
few things and I think one of them starts with understanding something we’ve
already talked about and that’s how the economy of the United States transitions from the Civil War through
the early 20th Century. It is becoming an industrial economy.
It’s producing goods as never before and one of the things that producers always
have to look out for would be markets. Places that you can
sell the goods being produced. There was already a belief, already a belief in the United States really after the Civil War as the
American economy had begun to change during the war that the US would need to start looking
out for new markets, that it would have to eventually deal with surplus production that would go beyond what the American
market or other markets in the Americas could
sustain. This very clearly is something that ties
into depression, economic depression, you know
it would – these ideas would rise to the top
as the American economy plummeted. Indeed we can see in terms of US exports
what happens over the course of this period. In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, United States exports amounted to approximately 234,000,000 dollars. By 1914, beginning
of the First World War, American exports are running somewhere
around 2.5 billion dollars. There were as many Singer Sewing
Machines, if you’re familiar with the Singer Sewing Machine, abroad, there were as many abroad as there were here in the United States. And besides just markets in which to
sell goods, you also have US investment spreading out – going abroad. In 1914, the same year I had mentioned
earlier, United States investments abroad reached
approximately 3.5 billion dollars. Many of those were in
Latin America. In the 1870’s, US exports to Latin America were somewhere
around 50 million dollars. By 1914, that had gone up to around 300
million. Indeed in 1899, two of the largest fruit importers merge to form the United
Fruit Company and they own for instance more than a
million acres in Central America as late as 1913. They owned railroad and steamship lines and many of the utilities in the countries
where they operate. Now the reason I mention Latin America
here for an example, it’s merely to suggest the economic
ties that had developed over time, over this late 19th Century,
between the United States and other nations, nations abroad. If you remember whet I talked about in
the last segment I sort of talked about a procession of steps
that are involved in imperialism. And the
first one that I mentioned was investment and you can see that happening both in terms of markets, in terms of production taking place
abroad and shipping goods back to the US for sale. You can see American investment
growing over the course of the late 19th Century
outside the immediate borders of the US. It should come as no surprise then that
from the late 19th Century on into the 20th, the United States
will be intimately involved with protecting investments in Latin America, Central America. One example that comes to mind immediately is Mexico, as you know the United States will be
heavily involved in military expeditions into Mexico just
prior to our entry into the First World War. But it’s not
just Mexico. It doesn’t take long in that progression
of steps from investment to changes to the culture, political
culture, whatever may be in the country’s where
investments are made and then the need for security eventually
pulls in… pulls in the use of force in this case by the United States, but it
could be another imperial nation that has investments in interests
in a country or on an island or wherever it may be. So point number one. I think one of the things that drags the US into sort of imperialist policies in the late 19th
Century will be the changing nature of the economy, the
need for markets and American investments abroad. The
feeling is… have to be protected. We also have as I’d mentioned earlier
and mention one more time, we have notions about the changing frontier. I told you
about Frederick Jackson Turner and his significance to the frontier in American
history. But very clearly by the 1890’s, by the time that imperialism reaches its
peak, when I say its peak, by the time it
really takes off, you already have that sense I think that
something that’s been fundamental to the United States which is the frontier
experience is no longer possible in the lower 48.
It’s not going to be possible. It’s declining. It’s going away. It’s
fading. And so what you’re going to be left with
perhaps is the question of well what do we do now. It didn’t take much of a leap to say
well perhaps we continue to expand but we do it beyond the shores of this
continent. We expand South, we expand West into
Asia and into South America. There was, there was actually a good bit of talk of this, one of the people that comes to mind and we’ll mention him a little bit later is Theodore Roosevelt. His notions of manliness were tied to notions of the frontier, to the West and he’s also a major, major figure in
the thinking behind imperialism, in US imperialism in particular. There’s another element that I want to
throw in here that I think has a role in America moving to becoming more
imperialistic and that’s race and nationalism. In Europe, in particular, one of the major ideas that had begun to be espoused, and the major
figure espousing the idea was a fellow named Herbert Spencer. It was the idea of social Darwinism. Darwin’s efforts on natural selection in what know we kind of commonly referred
to as evolutionary theory or evolution. Darwin’s efforts were predominately biological. Others would consider the social and
cultural implications, though Darwin in his latter works would think about
that as well. The notion of specifically the
relationship of a human being to to an ape to a
lesser form of what it meant to be human. But it didn’t take long for people who
wanted to use Darwin’s ideas for sort of social engineering or other
purposes to adapt Darwin’s ideas for other uses, uses other than he had
perhaps intended. Social Darwinism amounts to a sort of pseudo-science. And it draws from ideas about natural
selection, notions about the status of particular groups within the human
community. That because certain individuals, or often it’s ascribed to groups, portray or have certain characteristics; say poverty, say low education rates, poor hygiene,
whatever. The idea that develops the
pseudo-science is that you take Darwin’s notion of natural
selection, the strongest will survive. And that some human beings, those who are
strongest are superior to other groups have human being who
don’t display the characteristics that are used to define strength. Now the interesting little quirk here of course is that those defining what it means to be strong, those who would often set themselves up as
the superior people; well they’re the same people who are defining
what it means to be superior. What those characteristics of superior –
superiority are and lo and behold they can often
engage society and go about their task of definition in
ways that ensure that groups who don’t have those
characteristics won’t have those characteristics. That they can be portrayed in ways that
set them apart as different or to use another term as
the other. Not strong but weak, not civilized, however you define that,
but barbaric. Well, there was a lot of talk both in
Europe and ultimately in the United States about the implications of Darwin’s ideas
in this pseudo-scientific sort of social way. And those ideas could
be applied to race and they add to this notion that imperialism becomes a sort of missionizing effort to bring civilization to groups
of people i.e., in this case; Asians or African or other populations of the Caribbean or the Mayan or Latino populations of Central America that simply lacked the characteristics of strength. In other
words we can go, we can educate them, we can save them, we can make them whole, we can make them like us. Now there’s a
problem. Natural selection is natural and if
you’ve been selected out because of a mutation, there’s nothing you can do about it, not
really. I mean maybe there’s gene therapy, but you know
there’s nothing really you can do. So implicit in the use of Darwin to
justify defining some individuals, some human
beings as lesser or as the other, and then suggesting well we can up
lift these people, we can pull them up to our standards, we can teach them how
to live. The implication, the underlying sort of reality of Darwin’s ideas is you can’t. And so it’s a no win. That’s one of the great sort of mechanisms of racial thinking. You can rationalize it,
you can justify it, based on doing good. You know helping your neighbor, making them better. Even while the underlying assumption is
no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you try, your
neighbor’s not going to get any better. They’re never going to be able to
overcome a basic limitation which is not cultural or social, but natural. And so it’s a no win. There’s just no way for one of the sort of a lesser sort to dig their way out no matter how hard
they dig. This type of thinking becomes enmeshed in imperialism. One of the terms
that comes to mind of course is this
notion of the white man’s burden and it’s often associated with Rudyard
Kipling who of course is British. But it expresses ever so well that sense that
we have an obligation to lift up those who are less well-off than
we are, to teach them how to be more like us, that’s the white man’s burden and the
burden too is this notion… well we never can succeed. They’ll never be like us. Instead there was a dominant Western
notion, an Anglo-Saxon superiority, you see that term over and over and over again in the
documents in the late 19th Century, this focus on Anglo-Saxon origins. Almost a willingness, a desire to tie ones origins back to this germanic
roots. There is also a tie to religion. All of this religion, blood, and lineage; it’s all bound up into the ever so
rational, ever so rational project of the West and the United States is part of that. Let me just read you a quote. This comes
from a book called Our Country, which was
published in 1885, Our Country, and it’s a book written by
Josiah Strong and here’s the quote, if you pardon me for
looking at the text just a second, “The Anglo-Saxon, as the great
representative of a pure spiritual Christianity and civil liberty is divinely commissioned
to be in a peculiar sense his brother’s keeper. Add to this, the fact of his rapidly
increasing strength in modern times and we have well-nigh a demonstration of his destiny. It seems
to me, right strong, that God with infinite wisdom and skill is training the Anglo-Saxon race for an hour sure to
come in the world’s future.” That quote encapsulates a great deal of the cultural rationalization that I’m
talking about. A rationalization that would provide a
cover, would provide a reason, a basis for imperialism, which was about a great deal more.

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