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The Atomic Jolt Forward for City Planners

The US armed the Soviet Union to the teeth as an ally against Germany, in the process creating a postwar enemy it has spent trillions combatting. The atomic age also spurred city planners into central planning action to disperse city inhabitants which triggered urban blight and suburban sprawl. Jefferson wrote: “I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man”; and noted that “the inhabitants of the commercial cities are as different in sentiment and character from the country people as any two distinct nations, and are as clamorous against the order of things [republicanism] established by the agricultural interest.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Atomic Jolt Forward for City Planners

“In the atomic age, [a] report concluded, it was the nation’s newspapers that would “set the pattern and pace” of the public’s scientific knowledge and hence determine its ability to make informed decisions on life-and-death issues.”

City planner Tracy B. Augur told the American Institute of Planners in 1946 that the planning profession had a crucial role to play in guiding the urban dispersal being widely advocated as a civil defense measure. If properly conducted, he said, such a project would involve not just piecemeal resettlement [of Americans outside cities], but a whole new urban planning approach.

The starting point, he went on, was for experts to define “the qualities of social life that are worth having” and then to “plan the kind of urban structure that will make them more fully possible.” Demonstrating the readiness of his profession to rise to this challenge, Augur presented a series of charts showing how a “typical city of half a million could be rearranged from a concentrated to a dispersed form without weakening its capacity to function as a single metropolitan unit.”

Such a systematic attack on the problems of the city, Augur insisted, was in any case overdue. “Long before the threat of the atomic bomb,” he said, urban planners had warned of the need for comprehensive programs to save the American city from “the blight . . . gnawing at its innards” and to convey to the larger society their dream of a totally-planned urban environment. Now suddenly Hiroshima and Nagasaki had propelled the question of the urban future to the top of the public’s agenda.

In the realm of city planning, Augur concluded hopefully, “the threat of atomic bombing may prove a useful spur to jolt us forward!”

At long last, city planners would assume the central social role they had long sought. Having lost the public ear after their heyday in the Progressive Era, city planners, under the spur of the atomic threat, would finally take charge of urban development and guide it along rational lines.

In a 1947 address to the National Recreation Association, a longtime activist in the park and playground movement painted the familiar grim picture of mass leisure in the atomic age, but hastened to offer a solution: “The answer to all this is, of course, Education and Recreation.”

The government must take the lead, he said, in expanding the nation’s recreational resources, including “parks and playgrounds, game reserves, public theaters, opera houses, orchestras, [and] hobby centers.”

Echoing Tracy Augur’s message to the city planners, this speaker assured the recreation specialists that their profession would be crucial to society’s survival in the era of atomic energy. “Unless ability to make wise use of leisure increases,” he insisted, “there is no doubt that our civilization is doomed.”

However implausible and even comic such views seem in retrospect, they were advanced in all earnestness in the perfervid post-Hiroshima cultural climate.”

(By the Bomb’s Early Light, American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, Paul Boyer, UNC Press, 1994, pp. 152-153)

Jun 11, 2016 - America Transformed, Future Wars of the Empire, Imperialist Adventures, Lincoln's Revolutionary Legacy    Comments Off on Deluded American Generals in Vietnam

Deluded American Generals in Vietnam

The administration of FDR spent billions arming the communist Soviet Union in order to help defeat Germany, and by 1953, the Eisenhower administration was spending billions to help a bankrupt France preserve its colonial possession in Indochina from communist takeover. The US News & World Report of July 31, 1953 states: “The French Government is serving notice that the United States must put up another 200 million dollars for war in Indochina or expect the Communists to take over that country, and, perhaps, the whole of Southeast Asia.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Deluded American Generals in Vietnam

“In July of 1963, nine years after the debacle at Dienbienphu, Denis Warner, the Australian journalist, told me how astounded he was to find the American generals in South Vietnam deluding themselves with the same false optimism the French generals had professed during the first Indochina war.

Warner . . . had just returned from a trip through the villages and rice paddies of the Mekong Delta south of the capital. Warner noted sadly that the Saigon government’s position was crumbling there just as rapidly under the hammer blows of the Vietcong guerillas as the French position in the Tonkin Delta in North Vietnam had eroded under pressure from the Vietminh insurgents in 1952.

On his return to Saigon, however, Warner had been shocked to hear the American generals assure him with the same false self-confidence the French had shown, that they were winning the war in the Delta. They had cited similarly meaningless statistics on the number of guerillas supposedly killed and on the number of fortified hamlets that had been supposedly built. “I’ll bet I could dig out my old notebooks and find almost identical statements by the French,” Warner said.

The enemy was no longer called the Vietminh. They were now know as the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists), but they were the same black-clad little men, lean and hardened by years of warfare, determined to finish the revolution they had begun against the French in 1945 and to unite Vietnam under their rule. At home in the United States, most Americans, just as the French before them, were too preoccupied with their own lives to become interested in a war in a small Asian country thousands of miles away . . . Many probably didn’t even know where Vietnam was.

Listening to the Americans one got the impression that the French had fought badly and deserved to lose. In any case, they said, the French had been attempting to maintain an outdated colonial system and thus were doomed to failure. They, the Americans, knew how to fight wars, since they had defeated the Nazis and the Japanese and had bludgeoned the Chinese Communists to a stalemate in Korea. They were also fighting for democratic ideals and deserved victory, since Communism is bad and Democracy is good.

The Americans, however, did not know that the French Expeditionary Corps had usually fought with more bravery and determination than the Vietnamese government troops they were arming and advising. The Americans also forgot that many Vietnamese peasants saw little difference between the corrupt and brutal administrators of the Ngo family regime the US was trying to preserve and those who had plagued them during the earlier French days.

Like the French before them, the Americans placed their faith in classic Western military axioms and in practice sought a conventional military solution . . . [and] overwhelm the Vietcong with their vast amounts of money and materiel, their thousands of advisors, and the helicopters, fighter-bombers, armored vehicles and artillery batteries they were pouring into the country.

I remember with what confidence Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara assured us . . . ”Every quantitative measurement we have shows we’re winning this war.”

(The Battle of Dienbienphu, Jules Roy, Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1963, pp. xi-xvii)

Liberalism’s New World of Freedom

Liberal internationalists can be counted on to explain the complex causes of war as simply “unprovoked aggression,” and eliminating aggression anywhere they saw as the only way to make the world safe for democracy. Regardless of public opinion, diplomats like George Kennan advised the public to allow national leaders to speak for them in “councils of the nations,” Republican presidents replaced Democratic presidents “without the slightest diminution of executive power,” and Congress was seen as an obstruction to liberal progress.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Liberalism’s New World of Freedom

“Since the beginning of this century, American liberalism has made little measurable progress toward two of its most important goals: a more equitable distribution of income and an improved level pf public services. Confronted with the realities of corporate power and the conservatism of Congress, the reforming zeal of the liberal state has been easily frustrated.

This is mirrored in the stymied hopes of the New Freedom by 1916, the stalemate of the New Deal by 1938, and the dissolution of the Great Society by 1966. What is left by these aborted crusades is not the hard substance of reform but rather the major instrument change – the powerful central state. In the process the ideological focus of liberalism have moved from the concepts of equality and democracy to those of centralization and governmental unification.

The liberal search for national unity and an expanding domestic economy could not be separated from the vision of an internationalist order which was “safe from war and revolution and open to the commercial and moral expansion of American liberalism.”

This was a vision shared by Woodrow Wilson and Cordell Hull. To Hull and Wilson and later to Dean Rusk, peace required the restructuring of diplomacy through an elaborate network of collective security arrangements; prosperity demanded the removal of national trade barriers.

Such a vision, as N. Gordon Levin has brilliantly argued, could not contain within it the forces of either revolution or reaction and led almost inevitably to a foreign policy marked by conflict and crisis. Each new foreign policy crisis in turn strengthened the state apparatus and made the “National Idea” seem even more appropriate – a development which liberals, especially of the New Deal vintage, could only see as benign.

Peace and prosperity, political themes of the Eisenhower years, were considered indulgences by Kennedy liberals such as Walter Rostow. Eisenhower’s cautious leadership was considered without national purpose.

To those liberals the American mission could be no less than “the survival and success of liberty.” The “National Idea,” glorified by such transcendent goals, became a Universal Mission, viz., Arthur Schlesinger, Jr’s assessment, “The United States has an active and vital interest in the destiny of every nation on the planet.” Presidents felt mandated not only to complete a mere domestic program but rather, to quote the Kennedy inaugural, “to create a new world of freedom.”

Nevertheless, such missionary rhetoric was eminently compatible with the liberal mission of government problem solving and reform emanating from the top. Setting the tone in 1960 for another liberal return to power, Townsend Hoopes insisted, “Under our system the people can look only to the President to define the nature of our foreign policy problem and the national programs and sacrifices required to meet it with effectiveness.”

After a generation of such fawning rhetoric, it is little wonder that the modern president’s conception of himself bears closer resemblance to the fascist notion of the state leader than even the Burkean concept of democratic leadership. As President Nixon described his role, “He (the president) must articulate the nation’s values, define its goals and marshal its will.”

(The Ideology of the Executive State: Legacy of Liberal Internationalism, Watershed of Empire, Essays on New Deal Foreign Policy, Myles Publishing, 1976, Robert J. Bresler, pp. 2-4)

Carpetbaggers in the Philippines

The entrance of the United States into the game of imperialism came after an unnecessary war with Spain and the seizure of the latter’s former imperial possessions of Cuba and the Philippines. The promise of independence for the natives was soon realized to be empty, and the standard procedure of installing US-friendly regimes in conquered regions began — and continues today.

As articulated below, it is worth pondering if exploitation by the dominant Tagalogs after the US military departed was worse than exploitation by American carpetbaggers. The latter believed, and still seem to believe, that all people of the world are really hard-working New England Puritans in native clothing and if taught to master the art of democratic town hall meetings they could be left alone.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Carpetbaggers in the Philippines

“The problem of giving self-government to the Filipinos was made difficult by the existence of several distinct tribes speaking different languages and cherishing race enmities among themselves. The most important tribe was the Tagalogs, numbering 1,466,000 out of a population of nearly 8,000,000. They exceeded the others in culture and in the will to dominate the islands. If left to themselves it was believed that they would establish supremacy over the islands both political and economic. This policy has weighed down our policy in the islands.

Whatever the reasons why the United States should withdraw from the conduct of government there, it would be against the spirit of our promises to all the people if by so doing the large majority of the natives were left to the exploitation of the Tagalogs.

[In 1900], a governmental commission was appointed, with William H. Taft at the head, with instructions to introduce civil government as far and as rapidly as possible. The commission itself was at the top of the system with wide executive and law-making powers. It was directed to establish schools and create courts of justice.

Provision was made that the language of the United States should be taught in the schools, and that the officials should be taken from the natives as far as possible. These instructions were written by Secretary of War [Elihu] Root after a careful study of conditions in the Philippines.

The next step in developing government for the Philippines was McKinley appointing Taft Governor] and made him with the other members of his commission a Council to assist him in governing. At the same time three of the ablest natives were added to the membership of the Council, in which they were a minority.

Taft’s first care was to establish local self-government in the provinces . . . The suffrage for this process was awarded to persons who had held office in the islands, or owned a specified amount of property, or who spoke, read, and wrote Spanish or English. Elections were held in 1907, and the Assembly fell at once into the hands of a nationalist party.

The natives, that is, the Tagalog ruling class, were disappointed that no larger share of the government of their own country was given them, and they likened themselves to the [American] South when it was ruled by carpetbag officials from the North.

When President [Warren] Harding came into authority he sent General [Leonard] Wood and Lieutenant-Governor General Forbes to investigate and give advice on the withdrawal of the United States from the islands. They reported, in 1921, that the natives were not ready for self-government and advocated the continuance of the existing system. The natives were disappointed at the decision of the commissioners and continued to protest against the continuance of United States authority over them.”

(Expansion and Reform, 1889-1926, John Spencer Bassett, Kennikat Press, 1971 (original 1926), pp. 103-107)

What is Wrong With America?

What Is Wrong With America?

“There was once indeed a time when Americans plumed themselves on their individualism; but the fine trait of self-help is not so common now, and what we hear nowadays is rather the enervating cry, “Let the government do it.”

So obsessed are the people with politics, so omnipotent in action and so all-sufficing in providence do they deem the government that to some of them it seems either that legislative statutes are a substitute for moral principles, or that virtue can be legislated into persons whether they want it or not.

This acceptance of legislation as a species of miracle-performing leads to remarkable consequences. If legality can be substituted for morality, it follows that no one need have any character; and, if an individual could be terrorized into goodness by the penalties of man-made laws, why should a person put forth any effort to acquire the habits of goodness?

But the law cannot make the people good; it can only make them pretend to be.

Puritanical blue laws defeat their own object; the futility and perniciousness of such laws are the evidence of their essential quackery . . . There are many credulous Americans who can be interested in the League of Nations, for such a league of governments appears to afford an alternative to the duty of cultivating intelligence and morality and might work a miracle by the quick and east way of erecting more political machinery. Apparently therefore, it is not the saints, not the teachers, but the politicians who are going to save mankind.

Although it was the statesmen who did nothing to prevent, but everything they could to bring about, the World War, yet such is the incurable gullibility of some Americans that they will doubtless enjoy the brief but false security when, by entrance into the League, the American masses are persuaded to imagine that they have succeeded in shifting off their own shoulders and onto the shoulders of a group of secret diplomatists, the responsibility of maintaining peace.

Thus the adoption of a panacea will provide a welcome inducement to abandon the slow and hard work, [and] only adequate method, which is to go to the root of a matter and remove all the causes of the trouble.”

(Editorial, What Is Wrong With America? The Libertarian Magazine, March 1924)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxes Only for Public Objects and Ends

In May of 1882 Delaware’s Senator Bayard recalled the meaning of the Mecklenburg Resolves and warned against the continuing expenditure of public tax dollars on projects unrelated to a strictly “public objects and ends.” Americans then were witnessing a federal government, unrestrained since 1861, complicit in subsidies to private businesses and pursuing vast imperial ambitions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Taxes Only for Public Objects and Ends

“The commemorative celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence took place at Charlotte on May 20th [1882]. The streets were fairly decked with flags and banners, filled with citizen soldiers in bright uniforms, and at least 20,000 people from the surrounding country.

Governor [Thomas] Jarvis and his staff, Senators Vance, [Matt] Ransom, Wade Hampton and [Thomas] Bayard were present. The Mecklenburg Declaration was read by Senator Ransom, and Senator Vance introduced the orator of the occasion, Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware. The address was enthusiastically received, especially the sentiments contained in the following extract:

“I wish I could impress upon you gentlemen, and not upon you only but upon our fellow-countrymen everywhere, the fatal fallacy and mischief that underlies and inheres to every proposition to use the money of the people — drawn from them by taxation, the powers of the government, the force of their government, under any name or pretext — for any other than really public objects and ends.

I include the maintenance of the public honor, dignity, and credit, the protection of American citizenship everywhere, among the just objects for the exercise of governmental powers; but I wish to deny . . . the rightfulness of involving the welfare and happiness of the 50,000,000 men, women, and children of the country, whether by laying taxes upon them which are not needed for the support of their government, or paying bounties and subsidies to maintain lines of private business which are too unskillfully or unprofitably conducted otherwise to sustain themselves, or promising the presence of our fleets or armies, or risking the issue of peace or war, or shedding the blood of our soldiers and sailors in aid of schemes of private greed or personal ambition under the guise of claims foreign or domestic.”

(North Carolina, Appleton’s Annual Cyclopedia, 1882, New Series Vol VII, D. Appleton and Company, 1883, page 634)

Common-Sense Agrarian

Tom Watson of Georgia was old enough in 1863 to see Yankee prisoners on trains, and his father and two uncles served in defense of the American Confederacy. He remembered his grandfather’s plantation as belonging to another world, “a complete social and industrial organization, almost wholly sufficient unto itself,” and the old agrarian traditions of his childhood held sway for all his days.  He attacked those wanting to increase military appropriations for being “Afraid of your own proletariat. You are afraid of the dissatisfied workman, thrown of work by these soulless, these heartless, these insatiable trusts and combinations of capital . . .”

Watson was elected senator from Georgia in September 1920, and fought tirelessly against Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Common-Sense Agrarian

“The first subject on which the new Senator delivered himself at any length was the proposed treaty with Columbia, intended to conciliate that country for the Panama affair by the payment of $25,000,000. Republican senators, rallying to the defense of [Theodore] Roosevelt, had opposed the treaty as proposed by the Wilson administration.

Now that Roosevelt was dead . . . even [Henry Cabot] Lodge had reversed himself to support the treaty . . . [and] let the cat out of the bag by his statement: “We must not only enlarge our trade, but we must enlarge our source of supply of oil wherever it is possible to do so, and we cannot do it if we take the position that it is a sin for Americans to make money and that those who are engages in foreign investment and foreign commerce are to be punished instead of sustained.”

“Mr. President, are we the agents of Standard Oil Company – that and nothing more?” asked Watson. “When did that infant, protected in all its roots and branches, need our assistance in securing access to foreign oil fields?” He intimated that all the fine talk about Pan-American brotherhood turned his stomach. “Let us confess what we are doing – that we are here to buy property for the Standard Oil Company.”

If the country was in such need of oil, why did we cut ourselves off from the richest oil fields in the world – those of Soviet Russia.? “Because we did not like their form of government.” Did the senators like the form of government in Columbia any better? “What is it, by the way? “Despotism tempered by assassination.”

[Senators] who professed to be horrified at Red atrocities met with his ridicule. “Where is the consistency,” he asked, “of staying in a state of war, or at least non-intercourse, with a great nation which has always been our friend and at the same time handing out food to them as objects of charity? First we destroy their commerce and then try to replace it by gifts, by doles of food.” We had no more right to dictate Russia’s form of government than we had to dictate Germany’s.

He quoted a speech of [Daniel] Webster’s advocating recognition of Greece. “Let us not affect too much saintliness,” he admonished. “Are our skirts entirely clear of wrong in Hawaii, the Philippines, and in Santo Domingo?”

In a different connection, but in the same trend, he said: “We are hereditary revolutionists. We are so from instinct, history and tradition. We are so by sentiment.” Whence, then, all this outcry against revolutionists.”

[On questions of foreign policy Watson opposed] anything that remotely smacked of the [Woodrow Wilson’s] League of Nations, which, he said, was as much like the Holy Alliance of the nineteenth century “as two black cats are like one another.”

His most conspicuous fight was waged against the ratification of the Four-Power Treaty upon insular affairs in the Pacific. He denounced it as in reality an alliance with the dominant imperialist powers, designed to promote imperialism, and to draw the United States into the web of foreign rivalries, if not into the League itself.”

(Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, C. Vann Woodward, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 477-479

Wilson’s Worldwide Liberal Crusade

Woodrow Wilson campaigned for president with the vow that he would not send young Americans to their deaths in Europe, though once in power, his high-minded, progressive utopian collectivist ideals got the best of him. Any dissent was quickly crushed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Coirca1865.com

 

Wilson’s Worldwide Liberal Crusade

“Modern liberalism did not originate in the New Deal. The concentration of state power, the use of government for humanitarian ends, the rise of the expert, all began with Wilson’s high-minded decision to take America into World War I (a war much of the country and the Congress didn’t want).

The word “liberal” first came into wide political usage in America during this period, when the editors of The New Republic began to substitute it for “Progressive,” which was now tarnished by their former hero [Theodore] Roosevelt’s political defeats and increasingly crankish jingoism.

They were importing the word from England, where it referred to the nineteenth-century European idea of enlarging individual freedom against the power of the state and to the Liberal Party’s activist program of using government to address modern social ills. In nineteenth-century America few people spoke of being politically “liberal” because almost all Americans were liberal in their belief in self-government and freedom. It was during the second decade of the twentieth century that the word came to mean a specific attitude toward government’s role in industrial society.

The declaration of war galvanized The New Republic’s New Liberals to claim Wilson as their own, his war as their war. “Mr. Wilson is today the most liberal statesman in high office,” the magazine editorialized, “and before long he is likely to be the most powerful. He represents the best hope in the whole world.”

The war would join “the forward liberal movement in American national life.” It would be a collectivist war, involving industry, labor, economic central planning, nationalization of railroads, the first large-scale conscription in American history, the most draconian suppression of dissenting speech since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, and a nationwide propaganda campaign waged by the new Bureau of Public Information. The population of Washington, DC would grow by 40,000 in one year. It would be America’s first truly national war.”

(Blood of the Liberals, George Packer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000, pp. 77-78)

America Exports Democracy

John Quincy Adams said long ago that “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” The North forgot his words, conquered the South, established it as an economic colony, and set off on imperial adventures to add colonies of subject peoples to the American empire.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

 

American Exports Democracy

“On July 4, 1901, William Howard Taft took the oath of office as the first Governor-General of the Philippines, and control of the islands passed from the military arm of the government. Not all the problems [of converting the islands] had been solved. Philippine society remained ill-suited to the concept of representative democratic government, primarily because it is not one culture, but several. An election in Zamboanga was decided by which Filipino shot the other candidates first.

The Filipinos in the northern islands were Tagalog Christians, those in the south were Moro’s (meaning “Mohammedan”) who had long resisted Tagalog encroachment. A tribal people, they were fiercely jealous of their semi-savage freedom. Wisely, the Spaniards had left them to their own devices; but the Americans wanted to clean up and educate everybody.

So the [American] army established a garrison at Balangiga, on Samar, in the south where Magellan had sighted the Philippines and where he was to die at the hands of natives. On September 1, 1901, the natives from the surrounding hills of Balangiga fell on the American garrison, and in a devastating surprise littered the street with the heads, brains and intestines of the soldiery.

This was the beginning of a religious war with the Moros, one that took longer to settle than the war against Aguinaldo’s insurrectos. The fight became a struggle to win the minds and hearts of the villagers, who supplied the guerrilla bands and offered them bases and sanctuaries.

What was called for [to control the Moros], [General John] Pershing decided, was to disarm the entire Moro Province, to confiscate or buy every rifle, pistol, campilan, bolo and krise on the islands. It was not an original idea. General Leonard Wood, who left the Philippines in 1910 to become Chief of Staff advised Perching: “You cannot disarm the people. It means they will bury their best arms and turn in a few poor ones, especially some who want to make a show of obedience.”  Moros who surrendered their arms were victimized by those who had not . . . it is as hard to disarm a people as it is to make them give up a religious belief.

In a letter to Avery D. Andrews, Pershing put succinctly the apostolic creed to which he himself subscribed:

“It has been urged by some people at home that the Filipinos should be given their independence. Such a thing would result in anarchy. To whom should we turn over the government? Tagalog, Viscayan, Igorrote, Macabebe or Moro? No one can answer that any of these tribes represents the people in any sense, any more than the Sioux represents all the Indians in America.

There is no national spirit, and except for the few agitators, these people do not want to try independence. They will have to be educated up to it and to self-government as we understand it, and their education will take some time and patience. It is a grand work cut out for us from which there should be no shirking.”

(Pipe Clay and Drill; John J. Pershing: The Classical American Soldier”, Readers Digest Press, 1977, excerpts, pp 100-153)

 

The Former Colony Becomes Colonialist

The American commander in the Philippines in 1898 was Gen. Thomas Anderson, a Northern lieutenant-colonel in the War Between the States, who knew firsthand about invasion and thwarting independence movements. In a twist of irony, Sen. George Hoar of Massachusetts, a radical Republican who was instrumental in subjugating the American South thirty-some years earlier, became outspoken in 1898 regarding US military force creating vassal states.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Former Colony Becomes Colonialist

“At the Paris Peace Conference of December 1898, where the terms of final surrender were fixed, Spain tried to retain Puerto Rico, arguing that the United States had never before challenged its sovereignty there. President McKinley rejected [this] . . . and said he decided that Puerto Rico was “to become the territory of the United States.” The Spanish, defeated and weak, had no choice but to accept.

No American alive in 1898 could have had any doubt about why the United States had gone to war with Spain. The conflict was fought to resolve a single question: Who would control Cuba? [But] as a result of Commodore Dewey’s victory at Manila, the United States suddenly exercised power over [the Philippines].

At first, McKinley seemed to want only enough territory in the Philippines to build a naval base at Manila. Then he considered the idea of granting the islands independence . . . [though] “One night late, it came to me this way.” He said. “there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and educate the Filipinos and uplift them and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could for them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died.”

What is certain is that McKinley, in the words of one historian, “knew the Filipinos not at all, and would misjudge their response with tragic persistence.” He himself admitted that when he heard news of Dewey’s victory at Manila, he “could not have told where those darned islands were within two thousand miles.” His fervor to “Christianize” the Filipinos, most of whom were already practicing Catholics, suggested his ignorance of conditions on the islands.

He certainly had no idea that they were in the throes of the first anticolonial revolution in the modern history of Asia. “The episode marked a pivotal point in the American experience,” Stanly Karnow wrote in his history of the Philippines. “For the first time, US soldiers fought overseas. And, for the first time, America was to acquire foreign territory beyond its shores – the former colony itself becoming colonialist.”

On May 1, 1898 . . . Dewey welcomed the Filipino guerilla leader Emilio Aguinaldo aboard his flagship, the Olympia. Their versions of what transpired are contradictory. Aguinaldo said they agreed to fight the Spanish together and then establish an independent Republic of the Philippines. Dewey swore that he made no such commitment. Whatever the truth, when Aguinaldo declared the independence of the Philippine, on June 12, neither Dewey or any other representative of the United States turned up at the ceremony.

General Thomas Anderson . . . was the first commander of American troops in the Philippines, sought to reassure them “I desire to have amicable relations with you,” he wrote Aguinaldo on July 4, “and to have you and your people cooperate with us in military operations against the Spanish forces.”

On December 21, [1898], McKinley issued an “executive letter” proclaiming American sovereignty over the Philippines. Rebels there were already proceeding along their own path. They had elected a constituent assembly that produced a constitution, and under its provisions the Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed on January 23, 1899. Twelve days later, this new nation declared war against the United States forces on the islands.

McKinley took no notice. To him, the Filipinos were what the historian Richard Welch called “a disorganized and helpless people.” Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts warned that [this oppression] would turn the United States into “a vulgar, commonplace empire founded upon physical force, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and the other classes must forever obey.”

(Overthrow, America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Stephen Kinzer, Times Books, 2006, pp. 46-49)

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