Patterns of Expansion
The "New World" was not, is not, new,
except to the several Western European countries who found it so.
The American system of government is not new, either,
for it is as old as the Roman Assembly and Senate before the Empire.
Yet it is the oldest Republic in the world and
one of the several oldest regimes of the world.
Furthermore, its experience with foreign lands has been extensive.
It has often been blundering, erratic, untutored, brilliant.
The earliest Europeans watched for a ship's mast with frightful
anticipation. It could mean all manner of joys - food, tools, joiners,
news. Or a hostile, even a pirate vessel.
The tie to the Old Country was exquisite.
Shots exchanged with Indians could have international effects.
A colony could hire royal courtiers in London.
The fate of the vast Northwest territory was settled in Paris,
of the Revolution itself in French offices.
Moving as fast as they did, Americans scrambling for new lands
outran and overran the weak opposition before substantial reactions
could occur -- Spanish from Florida to New Orleans;
France in the Louisiana territory;
Mexico, Canada, Britain, and Russia in the West and North;
ultimately taking over the Hawaiian Islands by
prayers, goods, purchase, force, and orderly government,
menacing the Caribbean as a mean uncle.
Inasmuch as its greatest early historian, Bancroft,
saw its mission as democracy, freedom, and prosperity
worldwide, and "manifest destiny" had hardly begun
as a war-cry before it became too modest,
it is perplexing that American authorities - intellectual and political -
have always discoursed upon the isolationism of the country
(inducing foreign observers to believe likewise),
unless we should ascribe this to the ever present false
and usually hypocritical image that Americans
have of themselves.
A large part of the isolationism of the nation was
owed to ethnic elements - especially the German and the Irish Catholic,
both of whom had strong reasons for hating Great Britain,
the one because of the severe cultural and economic competition
and deadly conflicts between the two states,
the second because of an oppressive colonialism
as old as the discovery of America.
Upon immigration, these feelings were rationalized
in terms of the greater good of the United States,
using words spoken by George Washington and
hundreds of respected politicians thereafter.
Isolationism, in these cases, as in many others,
could be supported vehemently. Anglo-Americans,
Italian-Americans, French-Americans, Jewish Americans,
Swedish Americans: all and more, in greater or
lesser proportions, would regress to isolationism.
Part of the same "great lie" was the myth that the USA was a
peaceful country, although in fact its people engaged in state-sponsored
violence against external forces, on the average, about
eight out of every ten years, or 80% of the time of its existence as
identifiable human clusters originating in Europe.
And the USA experienced a bewildering variety in types of warfare:
warfare against the most under-equipped and weak and
warfare against the most technologically prepared enemies;
warfare by massed armies and guerilla warfare;
warfare on its borders or within;
and warfare around the whole world.
Similarly, its diplomatic experience has played the gamut from meek
the foot of a long diplomatic table, to master,
heading the banquet
table of the mighty. Many have been the defeats, but
frequent, too, the victories of the U.S. in the halls of diplomacy.
The record overall does not compare badly,
or probably one should say, the record is incomparable,
with that of other nations renowned for
their diplomatic triumphs.
We have often been tricked, but also tricked others.
Far from showing undying gratitude to the French
for helping to win Independence,
we violated out sacred treaty with France
not to make a treaty with England without their advice and consent.
There even is a mumbled story, surely not true,
but believed in France, that we never fully
paid the pittance owed for the Louisiana Territories.
The Indians were tricked at every turn,
while the Whites complained continually of their untrustworthiness.
The U.S. - and before this its colonial predecessors,
whether of English, Spanish, French, Russian,
Dutch, Swedish, or Danish origin - and by means of every one of its
agencies - Congress, President, Secretary of State, Bureau of Indian
Affairs, Department of War, State and territorial governments,
corporations, banditti, filibusterers, and explorers -
has deceived, tricked, defrauded, and overridden every right
of every Indian nationencountered in its vast domain.
In the course of all of this, many thousands of diplomats were
trained - unless we are to understand that a diplomat is not one who
is merely effective, but one that is both effective and just - in which
event, we can wipe off the books of diplomatic skill all whose
names have ever been inscribed thereupon.
Were the slave-traders from New-England or elsewhere not
engaging in diplomacy when they entered upon Portuguese, Dutch,
Spanish and Arab slave pens in Africa, to deal with their commanders,
and with the African tribal or national rulers who were
alternately victims and participants in the international business of
enhancing human misery?
To these skilled diplomats must be added the thousands of masters
over two centuries who steered their ships into strange harbors and
dealt with strange men in strange languages with strange laws - in
China, Japan, the South Pacific, Africa, all over South and Central
America, and the Mediterranean lands. And add, too, their successors,
who went by ship and then by aircraft to the most
remote places to trade and stay out of trouble, which have composed
the heart formula of international relations.
There is much to be said about the pell-mell Yankee presence in
commercial centers everywhere. It seemed that every man had a
Congressman or official ready personally to represent him at home,
so why bother going through the reluctant and inquisitorial channels
of the government? Why not use your powerful and undisciplined
"glorified errand-boy" to get things done?
The American manager was already a familiar figure abroad. By
the beginning of World War I, American direct foreign investment
amounted to seven per cent of the Gross National Product, a
proportion that did not change much for another political generation.
Dozens of large multinational corporations were moving around the
world. Coca Cola, Quaker Oats and American Tobacco, for
instance. In chemicals there were DuPont, Standard Oil of New
Jersey, and Sherwin-Williams, in machinery a large number that
included Ford, General Electric, American Gramophone,
Mergenthaler Linotype, and National Cash Register.
Eastman Kodak and Diamond Match were active.
To these need be added the military and naval officers, diplomats
willy-nilly, in peace and war, as they hobnobbed with their
counterparts and foreign populations.
The Poles of the Globe became a target of explorers,
propelled to excel by the media and jingoists.
The USA celebrated pretended arrivals at the North Pole
of Dr. Frederick A. Cook in 1908 and
Robert E. Peary in 1909. Cook's claim was
generally denounced, but not until a century later was
Peary (made Admiral by Congress for his varied achievements)
revealed to have stopped hundreds of miles short.
Neither man would admit his failure.
To the glory of the US of A, an Air Force C-47
flew to the Pole in 1952, landed there, and
a Joseph Fletcher walked over to mark the spot.
Important are the myriad missionaries that have gone out from
America to save the world through Christian beliefs and conduct, and
in the process had to negotiate as delicately, firmly, meekly, obligingly,
and, often, misleadingly, as the official card-carrying diplomat, and more.
Missionaries played a part in the revolution and annexation of
the Hawaiian Islands.
Beginning in the Revolutionary Age, many Americans journeyed to
Europe to study, especially to England, France and Italy. Later on,
they went to Germany also. News of Europe and elsewhere was avidly
received in all well-settled areas, if not at frontier, but since so much of
diplomatic news bore import to the frontier regions,
it was well-attended to.
Finally, we come to the "foreign-policy-makers" and the diplomats -
temporary and career. Beginning with the President. If the President
was ignorant on all scores, inept, and incompetent, one would expect
his foreign policy to be such, too. This happened, less than one might
expect, especially when one compares him with his counterparts
elsewhere - in England, France, Russia, Germany,
Japan, Mexico, Spain, etc. Britain's vaunted diplomatic
professionalism has not prevented enormous blunders in the past
century. And the world still suffers from the insane measures that
the British took to cut up the Near and Middle East and rearrange its
dynasties after World War I. The Gulf War - after a mnemonic
generation - had much of its origins right then and there.
The U.S. was expansionist, imperialist from the beginning. It was fully
supplied with the human means: ideologues of democracy and the
rights to free trade everywhere; missionaries; media technology, like
the transatlantic circuses of Buffalo Bill, and the ultimate regular flood
of Hollywood movies; busy intent traders, tourists and travelers,
tatterdemalions and foreign service officers (standing alongside their
slick and sleek European counterparts they tried to appear and did
appear to most Americans as of the same ilk).
The major Presidential intercessions from the beginning to the end of
the nineteenth century were numerous, their motives few: to protect or
enforce embargo, to buy foreign lands, to stimulate trade and foreign
deals, to build up aggression and encourage war, to attack presumed
foreign enemies, to put down uprisings, to
undermine inimical governments, to train friendly foreign troops
and guerillas, to negotiate treaties from a narrow, moderately
aggressive viewpoint. Presidential policies on the whole (or
whatever brought them about) were a resounding success. Perhaps
the twentieth century will show a difference, and
that is for later treatment.
The Senate was and is an essential part of American diplomacy and
foreign relations. Almost invariably, it assisted, improved, and in any
event approved by two-thirds vote the critical actions of war, peace,
and trade of the President. A grand exception was the rejection of the
Versailles Treaty following World War I, and the League of Nations
that was part of it.
The House of Representatives, seemingly deprived of a role in foreign
relations, got to be soon a prime factor, owing to its control over
finances. Practically every international agreement required small or
large sums which were dependent on House approval.
The restless imperial eye of the American opened wide upon landing in
the New World. Never passed a decade without some externally
directed covetousness - Canada, Bermuda, Florida, Cuba, Mexico,
etc. - Grover Cleveland, the lone Democrat of the string of post-Civil
War Presidents, was the only one made nervous by expansionism.
When another Democrat occurred, Woodrow Wilson, expansionism by
temporary invasions and economic penetration remained in favor.
So extensive was American activity that it created a maelstrom
threatening by the early 1900's to swallow up Britain
by investments in Britain and British commercial enterprises.
World War I continued the development of America's role
in Western Europe with the financing of German recovery
by the Dawes plan of 1924, pushed by
Cabinet Secretaries Hoover and Hughes. The British held
out well until World War II. In the twenties, the American news
networks, Associated Press and United Press broke the cartel bonds
dividing the world into monopolistic spheres and burst out all
around the world in the name of free, unbiased news.
The U.S. was to its own public a gentle neighbor, to the Canadians a
perennial menace. The Canadians, Francophone and Anglophone,
didn't love Britain, but Britain was their best defense against the
onslaught of American business, mining interests, and fishing
incursions. Mexico felt heavier pressure but had more inhabitants.
Railroads, land investments, and commerce tied the two countries
together and alienated them.
Americans were greedy, Mexicans unfaithful.
In all the world, as in North America, U.S. presented itself as the
liberal, progressive carrier of democracy. Americans abroad were
eager to assure all and sundry that they would do well to adopt the
American way of government, development and commerce, with
private enterprise, openness to trade and investment (while actually
the U.S. practiced protectionism until near the
end of the twentieth century).
For the pushing Yankees abroad, so they believed, the U.S.
government should offer full protection and encouragement: it
proceeded to do so. Expansion by every conceivable means was
practiced with a bi-partisan coalition in support, through the long
memorial generation from the Civil War to the end of World War I.
An old-timer when the Lusitania sank could recall when the
Confederate raider Alabama caused hard feelings between Great
Britain and the USA. He could recall many episodes, most of them
disillusioning. As when in 1884, business interests got the U.S. to
send a delegation to the Berlin Congress on the disposition of the
Belgian Congo, then in the hands of King Leopold II. Despite all
proof of one of the most brutal exploitations in history, the
Americans sided with Leopold.
When Taft was President, it came to be called "dollar diplomacy," the
use of Government by all means to foster the entrance and profitability
of American business on foreign soil. The Navy was built up and put
to work glorifying the travels of the dollar. Like Mussolini and Hitler
another long mnemonic generation ahead of them, Theodore
Roosevelt and advisers like Charles Conant could unabashedly declare
of the United States that "outlets are required outside their own
boundaries, in order to prevent business depression, idleness, and
suffering at home." Economic pressures and military force were to
assure such expansion.
Hypocritical as usual, protected by high tariffs, U.S. agents and
businessmen sang the song of free trade everywhere.
China, a sad example, was bullied, invaded, made the subject of the
"Open Door Policy" of John Hay, Secretary of State,
meaning that the USA should have the same full rights
to enter China and bugger about as all the other
"Great Powers," and the Powers joined gaily in routing a
Chinese patriotic revolutionary and, naturally, anti-foreign movement
called the Boxers. Everywhere, too, the U.S. with hard-headed
bankers and heaps of natural gold, agitated for all currencies and
obligations to be hitched to the gold standard. Such was long-standing
British policy, but the USA was more so.
Theodore Roosevelt, here as in every aspect of his life, was
contradictory. He pulled American interests out of Korea to make way
for Japanese suzerainty. He did not support railroad investment
in Manchuria. Yet he was fiercely defensive in China, exhorting
J.P. Morgan interests to forego a profitable buy-out in order to keep
the flag waving over a railroad project.
Small and sturdy Teddy sponsored 300-pound
William Howard Taft of Ohio (where several
famous Tafts played politics over a century of time),
who respectably administered the Philippines and fostered conservation.
Taft, stately with the mien of the tortoise, beat fast Bryan
in 1908, qualified as a weak President, increasingly conservative,
antagonized T.R. (not difficult to do), so that a
neonate snorting "Bull Moose" Party of Roosevelt
entered the Presidential race of 1914,
effectively dooming Republican chances. When Harding
became President, Taft was designated Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court, where, happily until 1930,
he handed down decisions protective of corporate interests .
Woodrow Wilson, Democrat following upon Republicans Roosevelt
and Taft, dedicated himself to similar foreign policies. He sought an
open world into which American ideology and investment might pour
unfailingly. While the European powers were furiously embroiled,
Wilson's men assiduously promoted American interests over both
Allies and enemies in Central and South America, indeed everywhere.
All consular officers were directed to seek out economic opportunities
for American business. American banks moved vigorously abroad.
Meanwhile, Wilson's administration had tolerated and even
encouraged lending policies in favor of the Allies; loans guaranteed
a large measure of support for a saving intervention in the War
when their repayment seemed to be threatened. W.R. Grace was
helped to buy out German investments in Ecuador and Peru. Both
the Webb-Pomerence Act of 1918 and the Edge Act of 1919 allowed
business and banks to engage in practices abroad that were forbidden
at home, with the aim of expanding American
international interests and profits.
It was, of course, a double standard, that had always been and
always would be, though a little less crudely rationalized in the
looming fears of world financial distress during the
1980's and 1990's.