Browsing "Imperialist Adventures"

Korea's Temporary American Intervention

Far from being a sterling example of democracy exported from the US, South Korea has been “an unrepresentative and unpopular dictatorship since the early days of American occupation.” Author Bruce Cumings (The Origins of the Korean War) suggests that the claimed North Korean surprise attack in June 1950 was in fact an armed response to frequent border incursions by the American-appointed puppet Syngman Rhee’s military. Not content with ruling only South Korea for his American friends, instigating war with the North could increase his realm.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Korea’s Temporary American Intervention

“America’s three-decade intervention in Korea has shattered an ancient East Asian society. Millions were killed and wounded; millions more became refugees separated from their families and birthplaces. Twenty-nine years after World War II and twenty-one years after the Korean War, the Korean people and peninsula are still divided into two hostile regimes.

The consequences for the United States have also been grave. America suffered casualties of 33,629 killed and 150,000 wounded in the Korean War and has spent tens of billions of dollars for the security and economic development of the Republic of Korea (ROK). The belief that US policies in Korea were a successful model for resisting communism in Asia led directly to the US intervention in Vietnam.

Ironically, although American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam . . . the US expeditionary force remains in South Korea to “ensure stability in Northeast Asia,” a hostage to strategies and ambitions of the cold war past.

American involvement in Korea occurred at a moment of singular renaissance for the Korean people. Japan’s crushing defeat in 1945 meant political and cultural liberation [and a chance] to re-establish the Korean nation after thirty-five years of harsh Japanese colonial rule . . . Korea was a unified country when it lost independence to Japan in 1910. A homogenous population speaking a common language lived on a distinct geographical unit, the Korean peninsula, where they had lived for over a thousand years.

The American forces that landed at Inch’on, Korea, in September 1945 . . . were a harbinger of America’s new role in postwar Asia. The US-USSR agreement in August 1945 on a temporary zonal division of the peninsula to accept the surrender of Japanese forces gave America a limited “temporary” responsibility for southern Korea. Since 1948 the United States has paid directly a large percentage of the ROK’s annual budget and has trained, armed and supplied its military forces.

The post-World War II involvement in Korea differs from areas where US power was traditionally paramount. No United Fruit Company dabbled in Korean politics. The Korean peninsula lacked natural resources and market potential . . . Congress might have limited the US involvement, but instead it passively and indifferently acquiesced to executive branch policies.

The most striking instance was allowing President Harry S. Truman to go to war in Korea in June 1950 without a declaration of war by the Congress, as required by the Constitution. This fateful lapse contributed to the plunge into Vietnam a decade later.

The US intervention in Korea to block the Soviet Union overlooked one factor: the Koreans. Whether the Korean demands for immediate self-government and reforms were communist-inspired or advocated by non-communist radicals and liberals, the US command would not risk a potential challenge to its control [and] Washington ruled that there could be no retreat.

The United States intervention [in June, 1950] prolonged the war [between Korean political factions] by more than three years, bringing an estimated 4.5 million Korean, Chinese and American casualties. The United States attained its objective of keeping the southern half of the peninsula non-communist, but the Koreas remain divided almost three decades later.”

(Without Parallel, The American-Korean Relationship Since 1945, Frank Baldwin, Pantheon Books, 1971, excerpts, pp. 3-16)

The General Sherman Destroyed

French priests increased their efforts to penetrate Korea in the 1830s and were executed for violating Korean law, and Koreans learned that foreign fleets would be sent to enforce the work of the Vatican. More Catholics were executed, and when the French threatened to mount a punitive expedition, Koreans found it incomprehensible: “they told the French that they would understand perfectly the execution of their own nationals in France, should they try to disseminate Korean views there.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The General Sherman Destroyed

“The United States also tried its hand at opening up Korea in 1866, when the merchant schooner General Sherman sailed up the Taedong River toward P’yongyang. A heavily armed ship with a mixed crew of Americans, British and Chinese, it received the message that it was not just Christianity that contravened Korean law but also foreign commerce.

Undaunted, the General Sherman forged ahead. Shortly a hostile crowd gathered on the shore, into which the frightened sailors unloaded their muskets. After that volley the provincial governor, a much respected and temperate official named Pak Kyu-su (who later negotiated the first treaty with Japan), ordered the General Sherman destroyed. The tide obliging receded, grounding the vessel. The Koreans killed all its crew in battle and burned the ship – unwittingly taking revenge for an Atlanta that could not.

It was a dastardly act, the authorities in Washington declared; what an outrageous affront to a peaceable bunch of people who just happened to be sailing a man-o-war up the river to P’yongyang! None other than Secretary of State William Seward, architect of westward expansion, proposed a joint expedition with the French to punish the Koreans . . . But it did not happen until 1871. By then the US government had decided to open Korea’s ports by force . . .

In this famed “Little War with the Heathen,” as the New York Herald called it, the American Asiatic Squadron . . . steamed through the straits near [Kangwha], where it took fire from newly cast Korean cannons. Marines hit the beaches at Kangwha and sought to capture several Korean forts. In the end about 650 Koreans [who battled ferociously] died [but after] some desultory and fruitless negotiations, the Americans withdrew.

The “Little War with the Heathen” was little noted nor long remembered in the United States, but [there exists] the stone monument that marks the spot where the General Sherman burned. It is not far from Kim Il Sung’s birthplace . . . and Koreans of that era thought that their staunch moral virtue had sent the foreigners packing, even if their weapons were technologically backward.”

(Korea’s Place in the Sun, A Modern History, Bruce Cummings, W.W. Norton Company, 1997, pg. 96-97)

Forrest Captures a Future General

While Nathan Bedford Forrest captured a future American commander in Cuba, Sherman was accompanied by a young Spanish officer who would also serve in Cuba. Military attaché and observer Valeriano Weyler admired Sherman and as a Spanish general 30 years later in Cuba, he adopted scorched-earth tactics to starve rebellious Cubans and established concentration camps for women and children.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Forrest Captures a Future General

“The two other regiments which [Nathan Bedford] Forrest had on the field – Biffle’s Ninth Tennessee and Cox’s Tenth – he had sent on a wide swing to the right. Coming in from that flank, they cut across the turnpike in [Northern Colonel John] Coburn’s rear, deployed, dismounted . . . and drove home the charge which . . . ”decided the fate of the day.”

When the charging line was within twenty feet of the Union troops, Forrest reported, they “threw down their arms and surrendered.”

Among the losses of the day was the death of Captain Montgomery Little . . . [a] planter and Memphis businessman of middle age . . . a Union man in sentiment before the outbreak of the war.

The bag of Union prisoners at Thompson’s Station numbered 1,221, including seventy-eight officers, among them Colonel Coburn himself and Major William R. Shafter, the same who thirty-five years later was to command the American forces before Santiago de Cuba.”

(First With the Most, Forrest, Robert Selph Henry, Mallard Press, 1991, pp. 130-131)

The Cloak of Social Revolution

New York Times correspondent and CFR member Herbert L. Matthews interviewed Fidel Castro in April 1957 at his mountain retreat. In three successive front page articles he compared Castro to Lincoln, and presented him as a “peasant patriot,” “a strong anti-communist,” a “Robin Hood,” and a “defender of the people.” The State Department’s William Wieland looked the other way as Battista set the stage for a new Cuban nationalist to emerge.

Bernhard Thiuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Cloak of Social Revolution

“A Senate Internal Security sub-committee, on September 10, 1960, blamed US State Department officials and segments of the American press for helping bring Castro to power. Senators James O. Eastland, Democrat of Mississippi, and Thomas J. Dodd, Democrat, of Connecticut, members of the sub-committee, after hearing testimony of former Ambassadors Earl E.T. Smith and Arthur Gardner said: “Cuba was handed to Castro in the same way China was handed to the communists.”

The two Ambassadors singled out William Wieland, director of the State Department’s Caribbean division, Roy R. Runbottom, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, at the time Ambassador to Argentina, and Herbert Matthews of the New York Times. The Senators charged that the State Department group “misguided the American people.”

When Wieland was in Havana during the Castro revolution, I asked him why the State Department did not tell Batista to stop torturing and killing, either oust his corrupt military men or get out and let the OAS or the UN hold elections. Wieland insisted that the United States could not “interfere.”

I pointed out that the United States was interfering all over the world – so why not in Cuba before the United States had something worse to contend with there?

This idea of “social revolution” has a great appeal for our so-called “liberals,” who do not realize that social revolution is the cloak under which the Communists hide.

About that time an old Cuban friend came into the office much excited over a book on Communist brainwashing. He had been a devout follower of Castro and now was completely disillusioned.

“I haven’t read the book,” I said, “but I can tell you the American who is the easiest to brainwash. It is the educated person who has usually gone through college and is trying to be a liberal. He is frightened by any talk of conservatism and really doesn’t know what he believes. You were one of them when Castro got hold of you.”

The Cuban grinned and said, “You are right, that is about what the book said. Now tell me, who is the hardest to brainwash?”

“A person, not too well educated perhaps, but one who has been raised by a God-fearing family, who has been taught honesty and respect of property and all the virtues we are supposed to have in the United States.”

“How right you are,” he said. “The book points out that the Communists were unable to brainwash the Southern Negro prisoners they captured in Korea who had been raised in such religious families as you describe.” Then he added, “There must be something wrong with the American education.” He [the Cuban] was a graduate of one of the United States great universities.”

(The Cuban Dilemma, R. Hart Phillips, Ivan Obolensky Publishing, 1962, pp. 251-252)

 

Betraying the American Republic

William E. Borah was a turn-of-the-century Idaho lawyer and Republican who compared McKinley’s annexation of the Philippines to Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase – he did not overestimate the imperialist appetite of the American people. An ardent supporter of Roosevelt the First in 1902, he lost his appetite for imperialism when a Democrat occupied the White House.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Betraying the American Republic

“[Woodrow Wilson] thought America, both for humanity’s sake and because its own interests were linked with Europe’s, could not stand idly by while Europe moved headlong down the path of destruction. Wilson thought in terms of an international organization with broad authority to draw upon military might to compel obedience and defend the territorial integrity of every member state.

[Senator] Borah argued that Wilson’s proposal to commit American armed forces to the protection of every little country would plunge this nation into the storm center of European politics.

Wilson outlined his plan for the League [of Nations] in his “peace without victory” speech before Congress on January 22, 1917. Though it was approved by the Allies and even by Austrian and German liberals, Henry Cabot Lodge . . . warned that such an organization might compel America to accept Oriental immigration and plunge us into another war.

After hearing the President’s speech, Borah [stated that] “internationalism absolutely destroys the national spirit and patriotic fervor,” [and] it would mean the subordination of the Constitution to a pact with foreign powers. It would mean the betrayal of the American Republic. He thanks God that the United States had such a rocklike national spirit and that its people would never submit questions affecting the country’s honor to arbitration.

[Borah said] “The President is in favor of a League of Nations. If the Savior of mankind would revisit the earth and declare for a League . . . I would be opposed to it . . . “ [He told] packed galleries [in Congress] the League was not only a departure from Washington’s policies but a negation of the Monroe Doctrine as well [and that] every League member would be obligated to preserve the territorial integrity of the British colonies.

{Borah] posed the question, “How are the armies of the League to be raised?” The answer, “ by conscription in peace time,” . . . Such a plan would require the largest navy in the world, at the expense of the American taxpayer, and would inevitably lead to war.

Borah denounced Wilson’s “league of diplomats” with its executive council in which Asiatic and European members could outvote Americans on purely American issues. He assailed his own party for its pusillanimous attitude on the League: “I am getting tired of this creeping, crawling, smelling attitude of the Republican party upon an issue which involves the independence of this Republic . . . The white-livered cowards who are standing around while the diplomats of Europe are undermining our whole system . . .”

(Borah, Marian C. McKenna, University of Michigan Pres, 1961, pp. 151-155)

Saving the British Empire

 

Though American political leaders claimed high moral purpose in our entry into war in 1917, American banks did not want their deeply in debt clients to lose and without ability to repay the  principal and interest. Within five years of the 1934 Johnson Act mentioned below, a bankrupt Britain was engaged in yet another war, more deeply in debt and in need of saving once again.

What should have been an armistice between exhausted European combatants in 1917, American intervention at the urging of the media, moral crusaders, banks and munitions dealers bailed out the British and French.  This ensured the rise of a German nationalist who would seek retribution, and more American men buried on European soil.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Saving the British Empire

“The First World War marked the death of many human values, and if Christianity was not numbered among the fatalities it certainly suffered injuries from which it has not recovered. Another faith shattered on the battlefield was the faith that the [British] Empire had in the Motherland.

[General Alexander] Haig had ordered too many Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians to certain death for their countrymen ever again to trust their regiments to the direct command of Whitehall.

The Australian Official History quotes one officer saying his friends were “murdered” through “the incompetence, callousness and personal vanity of those in high authority.” Of the [Battle of the] Somme, another Australian officer is quoted as saying “a raving lunatic could never imagine the horror of the last thirteen days.”

Mammon too was among the wounded. In July 1917 Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer had admitted to the Americans that Britain’s financial resources were virtually at an end. The United States began lending the British $180 million per month. By war’s end Britain’s national debt had risen from 650 million [pounds] in 1914 to 7,435 millions [pounds] of which 1,365 millions was owed to the USA.

This provided an unbearable postwar burden for the taxpayer, and in 1931 Britain defaulted on its debt. Congress responded with the Johnson Act of 1934; Britain’s purchases would now have to be paid for in cash.”

(Blood, Tears and Folly, Len Deighton, HarperCollins, 1993, pp. 129-130)

Utopian Regulation of Future Wars

The American media-provoked Cuban crisis of the late 1890’s provided an ambitious Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Teddy Roosevelt, with the opportunity to catapult the United States into imperialist status with war against Spain.

Roosevelt and the Navy League were preeminent in badgering Woodrow Wilson into entering the European war, with the full support of the steel and munitions industry.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Utopian Regulation of Future Wars:

“One of the unfortunate results of British propaganda efforts in America, and “management” of information at home, was the creation of the viewpoint that the German submarines were ineffective and that the Allies were winning the war. Upon arrival in London, [Admiral] Sims was given the full and unvarnished story. The U-boats were sinking Allied and neutral tonnage faster than it could be replaced. With six more weeks of sinkings, food imports into the British Isles would not be enough to meet demands, and shipments of munitions to the Allied armies would slow to a trickle.

It took the combined efforts of [Admiral William S.] Sims, Ambassador Walter Hines Page, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George to get the story to President Wilson and Secretary [of the Navy Josephus] Daniels without is impact being reduced by filtering through the Atlantic Fleet and the Office of Naval Operations.

[Both] . . . Admiral Benson and Mayo had been basically pessimistic about the outcome of the war before America had entered. From this outlook had developed a strategy of naval construction that anticipated the defeat of the Royal Navy. [The] capital ship construction program was laid down in 1916 that would give the United States a fighting chance of defeating the Germans at sea – provided they didn’t arrive before 1919 or 1920.

By October of 1918, Admiral Benson and the General Board were pressing hard to have a second major [naval] construction program approved. In 1918 the General Board proposed a seven-year construction program that would give the United States preeminence by 1925. Because of wartime construction in America, British merchant and naval losses, and practical cessation of naval building in England, while their ships deteriorated from hard use, the United States was in a position to seize maritime dominance with just a little effort. Once supreme, American need not be concerned about defending the Monroe Doctrine in the Western Hemisphere or the Open Door in Asia.

With her merchant marine, backed by a superior navy, the nation could compete with any power for the world’s markets. In short, as the General Board saw it, the time was at hand when the trident should pass from Britannia to Columbia – by seizure if necessary. Admirals Benson, [Henry T.] Mayo, and Charles J. Badger, Chairman of the General Board, had so testified before Congress. If it meant a period of strained relations or dangerous rivalry with Great Britain, the United States Navy was ready.

Before the war formally stopped on 11 November 1918, a small group of naval officers, plus Professor George Grafton Wilson of Harvard University and the Naval War College, had been set to work developing a Navy Department plan for a League of Nations Navy. Such a plan would be put forward whenever the subject of enforcing the League Covenant was discussed. The League Navy would be made up of vessels and personnel from existing national navies and it would be twice the size of any single nation’s navy. The beauty of the plan, as Pratt saw it, was that it would lead to an automatic regulation of international armaments and maximum freedom of the seas for all nations.

Unfortunately for the Navy, [President Woodrow Wilson] was using the new construction proposal as a form of blackmail to force Great Britain to join the League [of Nations] or face competition with a great new American fleet. Playing an even deeper game, the President was trying to face Congress and the public with a similar choice – join the League and have security from the pooling of interests, or build a new and expensive fleet to provide national security in a possibly hostile world.

During the spring of 1919 Secretary Daniels decided to divide the United States Fleet and create two fleets of equal strength – the Atlantic Fleet . . . and the Pacific Fleet . . . [as] Japanese gains in Asia during the war concerned the Wilson administration and thus the creation of a strong Pacific Fleet was designed to cause the Island Kingdom to think again before moving further.

There was the inevitable need to meet pork-barrel demands from the Pacific Coast politicians. A Pacific Fleet would require bases and the fleet payroll itself was worth attracting.”

(Admiral William V. Pratt, US Navy, A Sailor’s Life, Gerald F. Wheeler, Naval Historical Division, 1974, pp. 96-97, 127-131, 142)

Properly Observing Pearl Harbor Day

Properly Observing Pearl Harbor Day

The sacrifices of those who served in the American military in December, 1941 should be recounted often for us all to ponder and appreciate and the 3000 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor should not have perished in vain.

The sincerest memorial to those who fought and died in this tragedy (and others) is to analyze and discuss the multitude of reasons why it happened, and how do we ensure that American servicemen are not knowingly put in harm’s way for political purposes ever again. As there is far too much information available today for the surprise attack myth to survive scrutiny, and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and declassification of hundreds of thousands of decoded Japanese messages, we can now get a more clear picture of how events unfolded in 1941.

The myth reported by court historians and the media is that the US was minding its own business until the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbor, thereby dragging a reluctant US into a world struggle. In reality, the US under FDR had been deeply involved in Far Eastern affairs for some time, and those policies actually provoked the Japanese attack.

As Oliver Lyttleton, British Minister of Production stated in 1944 . . . ”Japan was provoked into attacking America at Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty to say that America was forced into the war”.

After FDR’s numerous provocations toward Germany without retaliation (while the US was neutral) he switched his focus to Japan and had assistance with Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, who stated in October 1941 that “for a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by way of Japan.”

And as early as January 27th, 1941, US Ambassador to Japan in Tokyo, Joseph C. Grew noted in his diary that . . . ”there is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the US, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course, I informed our government.”

Even Adm. Ernest J. King wrote a prescient report on 31 March 1941 that predicted a surprise Japanese dawn air attack on Hawaii as the opening of hostilities. The United States military had prepared for a Japanese-American conflict since 1906 with “War Plan Orange” which predicted the Philippines as the target, attacked by surprise for which the Japanese were notorious.

Also, in early 1940 Claire Chennault, the American airman hired by the Chinese, was urging General Hap Arnold and Roosevelt to provide bombers with which to firebomb Japanese cities in retaliation for their attacks on China.

While we cannot excuse Japan’s aggressiveness in Asia in the 1930’s, our government continually provoked the Japanese by freezing assets in the United States, closing the Panama Canal to her shipping and progressively reducing exports to Japan until it became an all-out embargo along with Britain’s. The Philippines, by 1941 were reinforced to the point of being the strongest US overseas base with 120,000 troops and the Philippine Army had been called into service by FDR.

General MacArthur had 74 medium and heavy bombers along with 175 fighters that included the new B-17’s and P-40E’s with which to attack or defend with. The mobilization of troops and munitions has always been recognized as preparation for attack and we thus assumed this posture to the Japanese.

We then implied military threats to Tokyo if it did not alter its Asian policies and on 26 November 1941, FDR issued an ultimatum that Japan withdraw all military forces from China and Indochina as well as break its treaty with Germany and Italy. The day before the 26 November ultimatum was sent , Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his Diary that “the question was how we should manoevre them (the Japanese) into the position of firing the first shot.”

The bait offered was our Pacific fleet.

In 1940, Admiral J.O. Richardson, the commander of the Pacific Fleet flew to Washington to protest FDR’s decision to base the fleet in Hawaii instead of its normal berthing on the US west coast. His concern was that Pearl Harbor was vulnerable to attack, was difficult to defend against torpedo planes, lacked fuel supplies and dry docks. Richardson came away from his meeting with FDR “with the impression that, despite his spoken word, the President was fully determined to put the US into the war if Great Britain could hold out until he was reelected.”

Richardson was quickly relieved of command and he was replaced with Admiral Kimmel, who was still concerned about Pearl Harbor’s vulnerability, but did not challenge FDR.

Also to be considered was the April, 1941 ABD Agreement FDR concluded with the British and Dutch in Indochina that committed US troops to war if the Dutch East Indies were invaded by the Japanese. Add to this the 1940 $25 million loan and Lend-Lease aid provided to China.

The Dutch and British were of course eager for US forces to protect their Far Eastern colonial empires from the Japanese while their military was busy in a European war, and it has been said that this was the primary reason for war with the Japanese. FDR’s dilemma was his 1940 election pledge of non-intervention (unless attacked first) to the American people, and the US Constitution, which provided only Congress with authority to declare war.

One of the most revealing elements in FDR’s beforehand knowledge of Japan’s intentions was our breaking of the Japanese diplomatic and naval operations codes as early as mid-1939. Copies of all deciphered Japanese messages were delivered to Roosevelt and the Secretaries of War, State and Navy, as well as Army Chief of Staff Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark.

With no deciphering machines in Pearl Harbor, though three machines went to Britain, the commanders in Pearl Harbor were left completely dependent upon Washington for information. It should be understood that with this deciphered information, our government officials could not have been better informed had they seats at the Japanese war council.

It is in this bare political light that Pearl Harbor should be examined and judged for historical perspective. Our military should not be a pawn used by presidents to initiate war and this is the basic reason the Founders deliberated extensively on the establishment of a standing army which might be used as such and for political benefit.

As nothing happens in a vacuum and the post-World War One US Neutrality Acts were in place to avoid the political machinations that dragged us into that conflict, FDR’s relentless erosion of US neutrality and his secret agreements with foreign governments led to that unnecessary loss of brave American servicemen.  We hopefully have learned from this.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Sources and Suggested Reading:

Betrayal at Pearl Harbor, James Rusbridger & Eric Nave, 1991, Summit Books

On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor, Memoirs of Adm. Richardson, 1973, Naval History Division Press

Pearl Harbor Countdown, Adm. James O. Richardson, Skipper Steely, 2008, Pelican Publishing

The Years of MacArthur, Volume 1, D. Clayton James, 1970, Houghton Mifflin Company

Blankets of Fire, Kenneth P. Werrell, 1996, Smithsonian Institution Press

Desperate Deception, Thomas E. Mahl, 1998, Brassey’s Books

Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War, George Morgenstern, 1947, Devin-Adair Company

Ten Year’s in Japan, Joseph C. Grew, 1944, Simon & Schuster

Crusades to Transplant American Civilization

Americans in 1898 followed what Reverend Alexander Blackburn called “the imperialism of righteousness, and Samuel Flagg Bemis “an imperialism against imperialism,” crusading to free an oppressed people while imposing an alien culture upon them. At home, Americans received large doses of what Ernest May referred to as “cascades of imperialist and moralistic oratory,” and New Republic founder Herbert Croly believed that the Spanish War launched the whole Progressive Era by delivering “a tremendous impulse to the work of reform.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Crusades to Transplant American Civilization

“So what was new about 1898? Why even call it imperialism, another abused word (like isolationism) with a host of nasty connotations? And above all, why include it among the traditions of US foreign policy? For the decidedly new, problematic feature of the era was not the colonialism that everyone now condemns, but the moral progressivism that most now applaud!

The United States went off the rails, in terms of its honored traditions, when it went to war with Spain in the first place. Imagine: the American people and government allowed themselves to be swept by a hurricane of militant righteousness into a revolutionary foreign war, determined to slay a dragon and free a damsel in distress.

It was precisely the sort of temptation that Washington and Hamilton scorned, Jefferson and Madison felt but resisted, and John Quincy Adams damned with eloquence. Exceptionalism meant Liberty at home, not crusades to change the world. In terms of US traditions, the only thing wrong with the imperialist era was what everyone took for granted was right: the war to end war in Cuba.

Having then vanquished the Spaniards, Americans found themselves in possession of several small colonies. The problem of what to do with them raised a second temptation: not retention of foreign bases – that was sound strategy – but rather the “All-Philippine Movement,” which landed the nation’s moral elites in the muddle Polk had avoided at the time of the All-Mexico Movement.

For not only did Americans charge off on a crusade, they remained in the lands they seized in the belief that they had a mission to transplant American civilization, even though they had no intention of allowing the islanders to graduate to statehood. As one historian shrewdly observed: “The imperialist compromise was to allow the flag to advance but to deny that the Constitution followed the flag.”

What did follow the flag was the same do-gooder impulse that inspired the reforms of the Progressive Era . . . Colonial administrators, economists, teachers, doctors, missionaries, investors, and the Army Corps of engineers descended on Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Panama to whip yellow fever and malaria, build the Panama Canal (which TR dubbed a gift to humanity), develop the economies, and free the people from their Spanish Catholic legacy.

For at bottom, the belief that American power, guided by a secular and religious spirit of service, could remake foreign societies came as easily to the Progressives as trust-busting, prohibition of child labor, and regulation of interstate commerce, meat-packing and drugs. Teddy Roosevelt’s “rhetoric of militant decency” was the voice and spirit of the age. “Our chief usefulness to humanity,” he preached, “rests on our combining power with high purpose.”

(Promised Land, Crusader State, the American Encounter with the World Since 1776, Walter A. McDougall, Houghton-Mifflin, 1997, pp. 118-120)

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