Tag Archives: Politics

Liberty vs. Servitude: the Value of Education

Stupidity is not owned by any one group, and education has long been viewed as intrinsic to the strength of the nation. In recent decades, attacks on education have been virulent. Anti-intellectualism has spread like a plague which is undermining the health of the nation. A nation that once celebrated literacy is now a nation deriding education and rewarding ignorance. Knowledge, whether from a book or in the form of a skill, should be celebrated rather than criticized. Instead of encouraging the pursuit of knowledge, there has been a call for the use of plain speech, a euphemism for dumbing down the content of shared information, which mocks the very foundation of the nation.

The men and women of 1776 were unique in their day due to high rate of literacy. While not everyone could read and write, a good portion could. This literacy made it much easier for the ideas of the revolution to spread and for the nation to grow. Literacy was a benefit of liberty and would draw immigrants from around the world. Literacy was part of the path to prosperity.

During the early days of the U.S. involvement in World War I, troop literacy, or rather the lack of literacy, was problematic for commanders. Modern warfare required soldiers who could read, write, and adapt quickly to the tasks that were foreign to them. By the end of two world wars, the United States realized a strong nation was dependent on a having a literate nation, more importantly, a strong nation needed an educated populace. Literacy was part of a strong national defense.

More than just the ability to read and write would be needed to win the modern war where science and technology would decide the battles. It could be said that the Cold War would be fought in the classroom rather than on the battlefield. The United States was determined to lead the world, and education was vital in the competition against the Soviet Union. Scientific minds, economic skill, and political craftsmanship would be required if containing Soviet influence was to be achieved. Defeating this particular foe required a populace where great minds could rise up from every locale, from every corner of the nation. A strong educational system was needed nationwide. While social injustice would not be eradicated, in a war of ideologies even the repressed were vital to the fight. It was opportunity rather than race that mattered when it came to intellectual potential, and in this particular war, all potential needed to be cultivated if victory  was to be secured. Literacy was part of achieving social equality.

Literacy has been key to the United States’ success throughout its history, but literacy produces a workforce who expect liberty rather than servitude, and that means a workforce that is not necessarily cheap. For cheap labor, businesses look elsewhere or look for ways to create cheap labor at home. Diminish the value of education – whether it be vocational or academic – and you will no longer need to look for cheap labor in far off locales. Diminish the value of education, and you have a cheap workforce at home. Diminish the value of education, and you are one step closer to achieving an illiterate populace who are relegated to servitude rather than benefiting from liberty.

 

 

Further Reading

Doughboys, the Great War and the Remaking of America by Jennifer D. Keen

“Every Man Able to Read” by Jack Lynch

“American Way of Life and Education during the Cold War” by Jessie Hagen

Empty Tributes and Avoiding Change

A recent discussion concerning cultural appropriation has identified an interesting question that needs pondering. Should it be considered an honor to have something attributed to a group, even if the thing in question is not a traditional piece of the group’s culture? Why, therefore, would a group of people be irritated or offended by such an honor, such a tribute? Upon pondering this, another question is arises. Who does the tribute actually benefit – the recipient or the one bestowing the tribute?

The tribute that generated these questions concerns the technique of chain-plying, a yarn spinning technique believed to have existed throughout the world prior to modern history. In the United States, this technique gained the name of “Navajo plying” because the indigenous people, the Diné (or commonly known as the Navajo), were known to use this technique in their weaving. It was not necessarily a traditional spinning technique for them, but rather a way of finishing a woven product. Therefore, it begs the question that wouldn’t referring to the spinning technique as Navajo-plying be incorrect or an empty tribute?

A tribute that is empty, not directly associated with any reason to honor or give acclaim, has inherent problems. Primarily, paying tribute without there being any real justification is often the result of a desire to feel better about how one has treated another. In simple terms, a tribute of this kind is made from a desire to make amends for past and/or present actions ill in nature. Therefore an empty tribute benefits the one bestowing rather than the recipient.  Does this tendency derive from racism? Is it merely a byproduct of colonialism? Can it simply be attributed to the notion that another culture is exotic and desirable? Or is the tendency simply paternalistic in nature – the notion that an honor is being bestowed on a lesser society who should be grateful for the tribute?

Throughout history, society has experienced the clash of cultures. It has also experienced the blending of cultures. Scholars now consider how the cultural blending of the past affects the people of the present. In particular, the question is raised as to whether the cultural blending of the past provides equanimity or discrimination for current members of the society. These considerations, and subsequent calls for change, have caused their own clashes of culture. In recent times tributes, particularly in the form of statues and monuments, have become the catalyst for heated debates and deadly violence. While these tributes may have originated out of differing intent than the empty tribute describe above, when they are challenged the reaction is quite the same. While is surprises few that challenges to statues and monuments associated with historical identity generate conflict, it may surprise many that something as seemingly simple as what people call a spinning technique, generates similar conflict. The heated debate over, and attempt to correct the name of a spinning technique highlights issue: change often causes someone to feel a sense of loss or inconvenience. One would think that by changing to a more universally understood name, one which is of greater descriptive nature and is already in general use, no one would feel a loss. At most, only a small inconvenience might be felt as an individual becomes accustomed to a different name. However, even when change benefits another individual or group, and where the change is of minor inconvenience, the change can generate a sense of loss for some. It can even generate a fear of greater loss. Therefore avoiding change, particularly when it means holding onto empty tributes, seems reasonable to many.

 

Additional Materials:

The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of and American Myth by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality: A Brief History of the Education of the Dominated Cultures in the United States by Joel Spring

Video blog on terms used in fiber arts by Abby Franquemont

 

 

 

 

Looking Forward – Learning from the Past

Seven decades ago, the United States emerged from World War II relatively unscathed compared to other great nations of the world. It found itself in the position to help rebuild, and in doing so it prospered. This prosperity was evident in its purchasing power. A look through the cupboards and attics of our aging population will unearth the evidence of that purchasing power. Crystal and silver tea services, porcelain and fine china, flat ware of the highest quality, and linens too lovely to ever have been used except for the most special occasions. These imported items, often the gifts associated with marriage and new life, were made in recovery zones, and helped reestablish the war-torn markets and industries vital to the lives of those fortunate to have survived a horrific war. These items also confirmed to the U.S. populace that they had fully become a great power, much like the empires that had dominated the century before.

The purchasing power and abundance of the post war era in the United States also provided a balm for hardship from which so many had suffered. The world had been either at war or suffering financial depression for over three decades when WWII ended; an entire generation felt the burden of despair lifted when the industrial and economic potential of the United States was reached post-war. The youth, those too young to have felt the full brunt of hardship, reached adulthood in the glow of economic world domination. This glow was only slightly dimmed by the threat of nuclear war, a threat that increased as they aged but did little to blunt their earning power. War machines equaled economic growth as long as the nation continued to view such development as being vital. Once that view shifted, however, the realities of over extension and taxation created an ever growing sense of waste and loss. The greatness of their youth seemed to have slipped away and in its place, only a sense of uncertainty remained. The Cold War, with all its ills, provided secure jobs and a sense of proactive security. When it ended, a new generation faced the aftermath of war. For them, the balm came in the form of a technology boom, of rapidly falling interest rates, and open borders; these changes provided the American Dream the youth had heard about, but had worried would be outside their reach.

As the twenty-first century dawned, rumblings of change and challenge emerged: first with the Y2K fears and then with the market crash following the September 11 terror. A nation which had for so many years found economic stability in military development and distant wars, once again turned to war as a means to unify and solidify a shaken populace. However, unlike during the Cold War, the United States had lost its standing as superpower. Politically, economically, and militarily – others had risen from the ashes and emerged powerful equals. No longer was the United States seen as the great protector; rather, many saw the United States as a threat to peace. Others questioned if the political system, which had weathered over two hundred years of challenge, would survive the challenges of the new century. Unlike in recent history (the last three hundred years or so) the new century had seen a return of conflict dominated by non-state actors which thereby created a longing for the seemingly stable nature of the Cold War, stable despite its harsh suppression of ethnic conflict, damaging political interference, and costly proxy wars.

This longing for the stability and prosperity of the Cold War provided fuel for the fear, anger, and desperate hope which motivated many as they voted yesterday. The new century has not secured the American Dream for its younger generation; rather, it seems to only have jeopardized it for the older generation. Conservative or liberal, the policies formed in national and state capitals seem, at best, to be bandages rather than sutures. Few anticipated a speedy recovery, but many are willing to risk experimental treatment in the hopes of a miracle cure. The nation should survive from this latest illness, and from the treatment it has chosen; however, it is unlikely that the youth, the youngest voters, will find the balm their parents and grandparents found from an economic boom. Industry, and even much of technology, has gone elsewhere. The borders of nations are closing rather than opening. Peace is threatened as much from the turmoil within as it is from without, and the economy is adversely affected by all the uncertainty. The generations who have suffered the ills and recoveries of the past may be too fatigued to calm the fears and fevers of today’s youth. There simply may be no balm.

History often times seems to be about groups of people working against or for an issue. After destructive wars, terrible depressions, or horrific epidemics, people tend to work together to bring about recovery, with special concern for the young who are always the true hope for a better future. At this time when the ills that face the world are less tangible but no less threatening, it is vital, as we look to history for the lessons taught by groups of people in the past, that we remember the work always began and ended with the individual; the individual who created the cure, who did the work, and who didn’t lose hope. Never did they wash their hands and walk away from the crisis or turn their backs on the young; rather they recognized that the young are, in reality, the key to the stability and prosperity so sought after.

Eisenhower: Popular Presidential Candidate

Political campaign season tends to encourage comparisons. Recently a journalist noted that Dwight D. Eisenhower had never held a public office prior to holding the highest public office of the United States. Eisenhower was a military man who had never voted for president, yet found himself asked by members from both political parties to run for president. In the end, and after much encouragement, Eisenhower chose to run for president with the Republican Party. His successful campaign, fueled by the slogan, “I like Ike,” was supported by a public hoping he would work to fix a broken national government.[1]

Eisenhower was a straight talking man who had honed his style and mannerisms during a lifetime of military service. Accepted into West Point in 1911, he began his service to his nation and committed himself to a life of duty and honor.[2] His experience as a leader grew during the three decades leading up to World War II and during his time as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Military leadership at the level reached by Eisenhower required political skill and the ability to use diplomatic finesse. His experience as an able politician was refined when he was chosen to be the first Governor of the American Zone of Occupied Germany, and as he maneuvered through the political tensions that accompanied the position of Supreme Commander of Europe during the turbulent early period of the Cold War. While Eisenhower may not have engaged in domestic politics prior to running for the office of U.S. President, he was not unfamiliar with the skills and demeanor required of a U.S. president. The nation didn’t just “like Ike” but rather they loved him for what he represented and for the manner in which he conducted himself.

 

Endnotes

[1] “Dwight D. Eisenhower: Campaigns and Elections,” The Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, http://millercenter.org/president/biography/eisenhower-campaigns-and-elections.

[2] “Dwight David Eisenhower.” US Army Center of Military History, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/ike/ike.htm.

Further Material

The American Experience: The Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower – PBS

The American Experience: The Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower – Documentary Part 1 (YouTube)

The American Experience: The Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower – Documentary Part 2 (YouTube)

Service rather than Indiference

It could be said that Woodrow Wilson’s ideas are like a work of art. While the artist lived, the world was slow to embrace the art, but after the artist’s death, the world recognized the greatness of the work. Like with a work of art, interpretation would be highly subjective creating great potential for debate and disagreement.

In October 1916, Edward M. “Colonel” House, an American diplomat, stated, “We are part of the world…nothing that concerns the whole world can be indifferent to us.” During the same month, President Wilson stated that the United States would need to “serve the world.” [1] In order to provide this service, Wilson believed that a change in how international relations was conducted would be needed. It was vital that the old system of alliances be replaced by a new system of international cooperation.

Wilson was correct in the need for a new world order, and despite a growing isolationist movement in the United States, there would be no turning back from greater international political involvement. At the end of the Second World War, the United States played a dominant role in the international political body that was created to replace the failed League of Nations. While the United Nations would both be valued and criticized, it would, through accident or plan, become a way for nations to work together in war-torn regions of the world. Conflict and hostility might not have been eradicated through international cooperation, but service to the world’s population through peacekeeping efforts did, in some measure, fulfill the progressive ideas of the early twentieth-century. Certainly, it became harder for any powerful nation to remain indifferent to the concerns of the world.

[1] George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 407.

Prosperity through Diplomacy

As a young nation, the United States found itself in a conundrum. The desire to avoid the entanglements of European politics clashed with the desire for economic prosperity. Some early leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, believed that the plentiful natural resources of the Americas would remain in high demand by Europeans and would ensure that a predominately agrarian society would continue to prosper for decades, even centuries to come. Others were more doubtful and recognized that trade would mandate political interaction. While idealists would cleave to the notion that the demand for U.S. raw materials would force the nations of Europe to treat the new nation with respect and dignity, others rightfully worried that it would take strength to bring about international respect.

The United States would spend much of its first one hundred and fifty years debating how to be taken seriously as a world power while at the same time remaining distant from the conflicts of Europe. However, isolation was never the viable option that many envisioned it to be. By the end of the Second World War, the United States fully understood that international respect came both from military strength and from economic influence. Political finesse was also vital for peaceful coexistence, but it was too often overlooked or dismissed in the eyes of the general public. Even though the United States had produced a few outstanding diplomats during its youth and adolescence, too often the role of diplomacy was overshadowed by the feeling that military and economic strength could get the job done without diplomatic pageantry. Like a few of the early founding fathers, many in the twentieth century believed that the peoples of the world would wish to purchase U.S. products and thereby highly value peaceful relations with the United States. On the other hand, there were many who derived lessons from the decades when a strong navy equaled security at home, and encouraged prosperity through protected shipping routes and foreign markets. In the years following the end of the Second World War, U.S. economic and military might certainly seemed to be the key to prosperity, and not just to the prosperity of the United States, but prosperity for Europe as well. Unfortunately, what many failed to foresee was a day in which the rebuilding of Europe would be completed. Furthermore, many failed to anticipate a day when Europe might wish to free itself from the protection and economic influence of the United States.

Prosperous international relations, whether they are economic, military, or political, are dependent on diplomacy. At different times, the idea of isolation has appealed to policy makers and the public alike. At other times, policy makers and the public support aggressive relations and even war with the other nations of the world. In either case, diplomacy is underrated by those who hold to the notion that prosperity is something that can be controlled by one nation at the expense of others. History shows that such beliefs are founded on a limited understanding of the vital role of diplomacy during periods of strife and in times of prosperity.

 

Further Reading:

Bemis, Samuel Flagg. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956.

Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Lind, Michael. The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

When Chaos Threatens, Diplomacy Struggles

Chaos breeds fear much like an insidious virus; everyone becomes fearful that they will be next to catch it. Segregation is then seen as a positive means of prevention; a measure taken before eradication can commence. Calls for calm and cooperation become drown out by vitriolic shouts for action. It seems that when chaos threatens human cooperation, tact and finesse are the first casualties. Within the world of international cooperation, chaos creates a force against which diplomacy struggles to survive. By the end of World War II, chaos had taken a terrible toll on humanity. Devastating war, multiple pandemics, and a severe economic depression all contributed to a general fatigue which left many seeking strong leadership rather than diplomatic dialogue. The rise of authoritarian leadership should not have surprised many, nor should there have been surprise that some desired isolation. Like in the case of the insidious virus, many felt that segregation from the problem was the logical solution. Others placed their faith in military strength and vitriolic rhetoric. World War II demonstrated that neither segregation nor authoritarian leadership would stop chaos. A terrible truth became evident; the world was too interconnected to ever truly support isolationist policies or prevent the chaos which can derive from authoritarian regimes. However, even as the interconnectedness of the world became an undisputed fact and the vital role of international diplomacy became apparent to those who had once questioned its value, the chaos of a post-WWII world threatened the very cooperation that had brought the war to an end.

World War II had ceased but the suffering caused by war had not. Additionally, the process of decolonization was creating renewed competition for areas of the world which had previously been controlled by foreign powers. A post-colonial world was ripe for chaos, particularly political chaos. The great powers of the day did not wish to see the return of any form of chaos, particularly chaos located in their own back yard. While, the Cold War has been characterized as a war between ideologies, it can also be viewed as a war to eradicate regional chaos. The United States and the Soviet Union both developed international policies which were authoritarian in nature. The nations of the world felt distinct pressure to choose a side. Traditional diplomacy suffered even as the United Nations worked to promote peace through diplomatic means. At the end of the day, pressure in the forms of military posturing and economic support or sanction often dictated international relations more than traditional diplomacy. For nearly fifty years, the United States and Soviet Union managed to keep the chaos from spreading within their own borders. Like with a virus, small outbreaks were to be expected, but the big pandemic was avoided. If chaos was a virus, then the Cold War cure was death to the host if segregation was ineffective. Diplomacy might seem a slow and imperfect treatment for the conflicts that threaten to unleash chaos, but is there truly wisdom in containing chaos through the threat or creation of greater chaos? Some will argue yes while others shudder no, but both should agree that when chaos threatens, diplomacy struggles.

 

Further Reading:

Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Lind, Michael. The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War; a History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973.

Zubok, Vladislav M. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Rumors and Rhetoric

In 1783 at the army camp located in Newburgh, New York rumors of revolt were quelled when General George Washington addressed his men. The rhetoric, which had grown from frustration with Congress over back pay, was effectively countered when Washington spoke, “…let me entreat you, Gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained…”[1] Scholars have argued over whether the crisis in Newburgh was one of rhetoric only, or if an actual conspiracy existed which threatened the stability and future of the United States.[2] Regardless, the Newburgh Affair highlights how political rhetoric can lead to crisis, and how calm leadership rather than dramatic action can be the solution.

Conspiracy theorists and politically motivated historians have inferred that orchestrated nationalist machinations were the cause of the rumors and implied threats that swirled around Newburgh in the fall and winter of 1782-83. Others argue that frustration at the lack of pay, and the worry of a post-conflict future, organically inspired the rhetoric Washington felt needed addressed on March 15, 1783. Pamphlets, newspapers, public meetings, and personal correspondence were the main vehicles for the spreading of news and the airing of grievances prior to the technological age. The years leading up to the outbreak of war proved that these were effective tools in rousing public opinion in order to force change. It stood to reason then that these same tools would be used when Congress ground to a standstill on the issue of military pay and veteran benefits.

Even in the days before technology transformed the ways in which the world communicated, rumors once started were difficult to suppress. Enflamed rhetoric was even harder to manage for often it was printed and preserved for posterity. Fortunately for the young republic, General Washington was a man who had learned that brash language and rash actions were counter-productive to stability and prosperity. While he understood the frustration[3] of his men, he also understood that a liberty so newly achieved could not withstand civil discord.[4] A nation built from the fire of revolution would have to learn how to handle and even embrace civil discord.; however, Washington was wise in objecting to discord created by “insidious design” and spread by rumor and extreme rhetoric.

 

Endnotes

[1] George Washington, George Washington: Writings, vol. 91, Library of America (New York: Library of America, 1997), 499.

[2] Edward C. Skeen, and Richard H. Kohn, “The Newburgh Conspiracy Reconsidered,” The William and Mary Quarterly 31, no. 2 (1974): 273–298.

[3] Mary Stockwell, “Newburgh Address,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/digital-encyclopedia/article/newburgh-address/.

[4] Washington, 500.

Military Superiority Leads to Decline

As the twentieth century ended and the specter of the Cold War appeared to be fading into history, political scientists pondered the question of how a new world order would take shape under the direction of a victorious superpower. As John Ikenberry stated, victors try “to find ways to set limits on their powers and make it acceptable to other states.”[1] The United States, having spent a century building its image as military power determined to protect the world from evil and in doing so spread democracy, found itself in a dilemma. While talking heads and braggarts proclaimed U.S. superpower greatness, diplomats faced the harsh reality that yesterday’s protector can quickly become today’s bully and tomorrow’s enemy. Additionally, the economic strain military spending places on a society can become politically detrimental once victory occurs. In the past it was said that to the victor goes the spoils, but in modern times with plundering being frowned upon, the victor tends to win a headache both at home and abroad without seeing any real benefit. Without change in policy, particularly policy pertaining to its military superiority and status, a victorious nation discovers that military superiority can lead to economic and political decline.

Of the many headaches the United States developed as a single superpower in the years following the end of the Cold War, probably the most contentious one was the headache of being asked to intervene in conflicts great and small. Seldom was there a clear right side and wrong side to support. In many cases the crises that prompted the debate over intervention occurred in regions that had been previously under the political, economic, and military supervision of the Soviet Union. Even when using the umbrella of the United Nations, U.S. intervention could stir conflicting emotions in the crisis region. The United States had been both the enemy and possessor of enviable commodities for fifty years. Envy and distrust were not feelings easily eradicated simply because war was over. In a world that seemed to be rupturing in the absence of Cold War superpower dominance, the United States struggled with its expanded role of policeman, banker, and social worker.

Military dominance, which had spurred the U.S. economy in the years following World War II, became a burden following the end of the Cold War. In the wake of international cooperation and the perception of peace, nations could shift away from military technology as a basis of economic growth. Nations which remained entrenched in military development became economically dependent on wars that seldom required Cold War technology. Furthermore, Cold War technology had been all about fighting a war from a distance, and the conflicts of the twenty-first century required boots on the ground. When President Truman and President Eisenhower put their support behind the development of nuclear technology and behind the technology to deliver nuclear weapons from a distance, part of their justification was that it would save U.S. casualty and hypothetically shorten, if not prevent war. Their reasoning was based predominantly on the notion that nations would fight nations, and that the days of tribal warfare were becoming part of the past. When the theories and perception of modern war shifted after the attacks on the United States in 2001, the world powers seemed taken by surprise. When the Second Gulf War did not produce the results predicted, when peace did not flourish, and when terrorism spread rather than diminished, the United States seemed not only surprised but confused. The U.S. war strategy and military development, so honed during the twentieth century, did not work in the twenty-first. A nation which had grown powerful through military superiority, found itself the targeted enemy rather than the celebrated hero. Furthermore, it found itself struggling to justify increasing national debt, made larger due to wars that seemed to have no end. Like many great powers which had come before, the United States faced decline despite continued military superiority. In fact, it could be argued, the United States faced decline because of its military superiority.

 

 

Endotes

[1] John G. Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), xi.

 

Further Reading

Hixson, Walter L. The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Strong Military as a Path to Prosperity

There is a belief held by many that a strong nation can ensure stability and can promote prosperity by developing a strong military presence in a region. It is not a new theory nor is it difficult to validate when history is full of examples of empires formed by military strength who then add to their own prosperity through the quelling of regional conflict and instability. In fact, it is much easier to cite examples of empires made strong by force than by diplomacy; therefore, it should be of no surprise that the United States followed a similar path as it sought to expand its economic interests during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

What might be surprising, especially after the fact that the United States went on to flex its military might for the greater part of the twentieth century, is that there had been fierce opposition within the United States to the notion of militarizing, taking on the role of stabilizer and protector, and pursuing the status of empire.[1] Even during the years following the Monroe Doctrine many argued that the United States needed to simply concentrate on the lands of North American and leave the affairs of Europe to the Europeans. However, these well intended notions of independence and isolation failed take into consideration that sea trade could not be ‘free’ or ‘secure’ unless someone policed the waters. The United States was comfortable allowing the British Navy the job even though the British posed the greatest threat to U.S. interests at the time. However, by the end of the nineteenth century more U.S. voices were calling for a change. One of these voices was that of Alfred Thayer Mahan who wrote, “All men seek gain and, more or less, love money; but the way in which gain is sought will have a marked effect upon the commercial fortunes and the history of the people inhabiting a country.”[2] He argued that for economic gain to increase, sea trade must be protected, and rather than relying on the naval strength of others, the United States must get into the game and become a naval power. A few short years after he made his argument, the United States acquired territories and increased its markets overseas.  A larger navy was required.

When faced with questions and criticism concerning the appearance of imperial objectives, President Theodore Roosevelt responded, “When the Constitution was adopted, at the end of the eighteenth century, no human wisdom could foretell the sweeping changes, alike in industrial and political conditions, which were to take place by the beginning of the twentieth century.”[3] A few years later he would assure the critics, “All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous.”[4] Whether Roosevelt was genuine in his assurances or whether he was fully aware that the nation was heading down an imperial path is debatable, but one thing that has been clear from that point forward – the United States was no longer theoretically a regional power but had become one in reality. During the next two decades, the United States would transition from regional power to world power and the transition would happen through the use of military might.

 

[1] Many will argue that the United States never pursued or achieved the status of empire. They will claim that the United States assimilated and incorporated territories rather than acquired colonies and that the peoples of the territories were treated as citizens rather than as subjugated peoples. The debate on the question of whether the United States is or was an empire can be quite interesting to follow.

[2] Mahan, Alfred Thayer. The Influesnce of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 (1890), Kindle.

[3] Theodore Roosevelt, “First Annual Message,” Presidential Speech Archive, Miller Center, University of Virginia, (December 3, 1901), http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3773.

[4] Theodore Roosevelt, “Forth Annual Message,” Presidential Speech Archive, Miller Center, University of Virginia (December 6, 1904), http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3776.