America as an Empire

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace,” said Jimi Hendrix, an influential rock guitarist, in the mid-twentieth century.5 The world is far from realizing this utopia as children still fight over owner ship of toys as men have fought for centuries over land, religion, science, fear, racism, and women. Popular adjectives for man are: powerful, strong, educated, healthy, and rich. A man needs to be in charge of his domain — to include his home, church, office, country, and everything in between (farms, roads, and rivers) and within reach (the next mountain, the new frontier, and the closest islands). Man is a proud creature and has proven repeatedly through bloody wars and conquering efforts that he will fight for what he believes is right or his, regardless of the outcome, especially when using other people as his pawns.

Pythagoras, known for his theorem and the start of philosophy, said in 500BC, “Power is the near neighbour of necessity.”6 If humans were able to separate themselves from the animal kingdom by not fighting over territory, something our government makes us pay to live on, the world would have one less dangerous aspect. Living on free, unmarked and unregulated, land was seen as barbaric and something to abolish.4 Now it’s frowned upon and charged for so that all activities may be regulated — houses, cars, and jobs taxed while walking and sleeping can acquire fines depending on their location. Humans used to share their existence — farming, hunting, and wives, but over time have felt the need to distinguish between ownership, and seem to be slowly going back to sharing the burdens of existence with co-ops and community gardens. Above are the underlying reasonings behind the leaders of history trying to dominate the world, some more than others.

The following is a discussion of man’s excuses to conquer another people, push them from their land, or dominate them in their own territory for the benefit of religion, business, beliefs, and fear of the unknown. President McKinley wasn’t the first, and definitely not the last president to justify his actions with the words of the Bible and the sharp edge of a sword. His tactics were unChristian to the extent that I understand the Word and the ways it has been interpreted to me — love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)7, but only if he’s white. It’s also not fair to “civilize” someone and then deny them the rights to read or vote.

As Larry Madaras, author of Taking Sides, stated, “the acquisition of California and the subsequent  discovery of gold there spurred interest” in finding faster ways to connect the government of the East coast with the wealth of the West coast, and acquiring more places to stop for refueling and repairs along naval trade routes to grow American businesses and sell the plethora of industrialized products to a larger market.4 I agree with free trade (definition: international trade left to its natural course without tariffs, quotas, or other restrictions)8, but not with forcing another nation to open its borders or change its beliefs in order to accomplish it. Similarly, as if a vacuüm cleaner salesman was to come to my door I’m not going to let him in to kill my son and teach my daughter a new religion.

Racism has played a large role in the public and private sectors throughout history and did not disappoint as the United States strove to win the race to be next leading empire. Walter LaFeber, author of Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, agrees that the racial attitudes of the nineteenth-century “considered all races other than white to be inferior,” which made it easier for people like William Walker, American soldier turned Nicaraguan president, to attempt “to impose Anglo-Saxon values on the unwilling.” This feeling of power was instilled in ‘white males’ since their proclamation of personal freedom in the Declaration of Independence.4

I believe in the right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” but only so far as being fair will allow. Life is full of competition and it keeps nature and economics healthy, but demoralizing and killing other humans deemed inferior due to skin color is heartless. The legacies of fighting Indians for the frontier and Blacks over slavery were even carried over to other Europeans that had different cultural beliefs.4 These standards are still prevalent today as citizens agree to ban Muslims on planes and to build a longer, taller, and wider wall to keep out Mexicans, as if their country is the only one that can have a corrupt government and unfair policies towards ownership, religion, and personal pursuits — sexual, educational, or recreational.

The United States invested “a highly disproportionate amount” of time, money, and military into the five Central American nations, a region that covers “only a little more than one-hundredth of the Western Hemisphere’s land area.”4 I applaud their effort that every little piece and person counts and helps to make up the whole of the planet, but America was more interested in the amount of profits they saw in the new wealth-based soil frontier that was Central America — Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Honduras; and the Caribbean — Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, and keeping out the British, Germans, and Soviets. Most of the invested millions in 15 years, about $93 million by the eve of WWI, went towards plantations of bananas, sugar, coffee, and tobacco, and the railroads to transport it all.4

sugar plantation in Cuba

America’s goal in gaining the Caribbean and the Philippines was to have better access for “economic penetration” into China and have a large new market of buyers. This goal was worth the investment and loans given to Latin American countries, repeatedly, even after their government defaulted on payments and used the funds for other purposes until “the whole process of contracting such debts became a vicious game without rules,” claimed David Healy4. America went south, in Nicaragua for 21 years, to ensure foreigner’s debts were repaid, giving those other countries no reason to tread on the States’ property, but increasingly had to agree on only a fraction of the loan to be repaid.4 I understand how this would lead to another world war as nations are going broke and their citizens hungry and dying of disease while they fight battles for their leaders that are overseas. The war in the Middle East is still an issue today as America battles with the growing debt now in the teen-trillions10.

W. T. Stead, newspaper editor, predicted that America would “emerge as the greatest of world-powers” through their “pursuit of wealth.”3 Such is the case now, where America chooses how much to pay for oil, bananas, and coffee; much like the government chose to do with the crops of Central America. The United States chose cash crops to take up land the locals could’ve used to feed themselves.4 This also relates to corn and grain farms today — valuable land that should be used to grow food for human consumption is grown and given to cows to feed those more wealthy or dependent on the government for food allotment when more people would benefit from fruits and vegetables instead11. It’s terrible how greed can make people treat each other with disdain for the color of their skin, deeming them unworthy of a meal and leading to “malnutrition, even starvation,”4 while the rich prosper from the land of the poor.

Control of the market and food deprivation are ways to maintain power as is passing laws making the actions legal or making amendments to bills already passed that approve of the behavior. Roosevelt did this with his Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine, a warning to European nations that an attempt to colonize the Americas further would be met with aggressive interposition, but not “for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny.” President Monroe hoped “to leave the parties to themselves, in hope that other powers will pursue the same course,”9 so it’s easy to understand while under the fear of another world power intervening, the United States would force the islands into a state of dependency under military control.

The “principles that made the United States the globe’s greatest power: … a fear of foreign influence, and a dread of revolutionary instability” were the opposite tactics they used in Central America as a way to maintain power — fueling revolutions to bring about change, at least in the short-term of keeping citizens focused on the upheaval of their lifestyle while the leaders formulate methods to bring about more longterm stability with an outside control from a foreign power.4 It was also for these reasons “to ensure investments, secure the canal, act as a ‘natural protector’” that Roosevelt felt it was necessary to preserve the position of world police4, to keep order in a place with so much of America invested.

The United States believes that just as “England and France and Germany have stood”4 that they too will have their time as the leader of power, especially as they lead the way in the industrial enterprise that continues to grow in the world. This power comes with the obligation to sustain control and to “have the right to knock their heads together until they should maintain peace between them,” as President Taft believed was necessary between the governments of Central America.4 The United States was a country built on the dreams of freedom from government, religion, and persecution, but that was worth fighting bloody battles for and instilling those beliefs on others as “The first taste of power is always the sweetest”4 and the young nation wasn’t ready to let go of what they felt was in their grasp.

The United States has influenced other countries through the Declaration of Independence and grass-roots movements towards equality of race, sex, and gender. America has lead the way in new technology, science discoveries, and military presence which helped them maintain power in the past, but I question how it will work moving forward as other countries lead in children’s education, green technologies, and equality among genders. What aspects of society are the most important to focus on to keep citizens motivated to defend it? America’s answer is fear of the unknown, hate of the other, and a belief that anything or anyone not like us is wrong and bad and should be done away with. That is not a way of life I want to defend. I believe Americans have a lot of false freedoms, negative ideologies, and an ignorance of the world around them.

The governing people use their followers’ lack of knowledge, and the fears previously instilled through history and stories shared around the campfire, to inspire a sense of American pride and nationalism to keep a herd mentality alive. In moments of despair new rituals are introduced. In 1893, it was the Pledge of Allegiance and standing for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”2 In 2001, it was the sight of the flag on every home, car, and person, and the start of TSA and phone tapping for the sake of the nation’s security. The United States even went as far as to spy on other nations, ones that are supposed to be their friends and allies — not how I treat my friends or believe they should be.

Humans are big on acting on their beliefs from fear, religion, and media. Josiah Strong, a published minister, believed that all social problems could be solved with God because whites were superior, Christians the only rightful missionaries, and the Anglo-Saxons were to wipe out or assimilate their inferiors for a worldwide game of survival of the fittest.1 Americans still assume this role today, of going to countries deemed less fortunate and trying to supply them with water or birth control or free enterprise. Some of these goals are honorary, but others are pointless when juxtaposed with the other countries religion, government, and historical beliefs. Those who want to change are told they can’t because women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia and men can’t be gay in Russia and those who don’t want to change are forced out of their businesses in Africa or into the streets in India.

Critics believed that, “some races were destined to dominate over others”1 making it easier for the American public to believe in the inferiority of non-white people who were “ignorant, lazy, backward” and obviously in need of a Christ intervention to save them from “dreaming the years away.”4 These colored people were ‘incapable of self-government and economic development’ so America went in to improve these countries in such decay by pushing them onto reservations, forcing their sons into battle, and making them second class citizens. Europeans saw non-whites as obstructing the possibilities for whites to improving their society with the raw materials and agricultural production available to the barbarians of the world if they would act more civilized. Today, Marines are taught about the extremists of the Middle East and not the Muslim’s inshallah, God-willing, lifestyle before they are sent into battle against a religion they know nothing about.12 No one goes above God.

Except maybe a religious extremist group that chooses to walk beside their faith and reinterpret it dramatically to fit their own outlook. This process happens naturally, but what doesn’t help is when one group begins to assume that all people of the same skin tone, dress type, or religious scripture follow those same beliefs. These accusations can lead to violence and misunderstanding as people are kicked off planes and tackled outside of hospitals. These beliefs can cause unnecessary laws to be passed, even if temporary, and can destroy future business relations or children’s outlooks on their future as they are raised in hate, but can’t understand why.

The United States, though consisting of millions of people, sometimes has the personality of a macho man trying to prove his masculinity. America pretends to sit on the sidelines for only so long before giving all its resources towards a battle so that it can claim the all-powerful trophy. This behavior is seen in the treatment of the Caribbean, the Philippines, and WWI and II. We supply the enemy with weapons to defend themselves in their revolutions and when it’s not working at the American pace or in a way seen fit to civilized standards, America steps in to clear the battlefield to maintain hegemony of the Western Hemisphere and the globe which may seem useless and expensive to some, but which is just the almighty dollar diplomacy at work.

Assumptions make navies grow to stay alert, prep for war, and retain a presence where a threat is felt. This fear causes people to be on edge, to be judgmental, and to act out of accordance of the law and their religious beliefs. These are problems that only an empire should have — Ottoman, Russian, and British as they unjustly command a people they know nothing about from a land far away without any representation in government dealings. A democracy, which America sits on the edge of, shouldn’t be the parent setting the children straight with violence, but the parent of peaceful protests setting the example for how a fair government should deal with its citizens.

America jumps in to benefit itself, develop other countries, and to scare off foreign powers, but what about the immigrants living in the United States that feel threatened by the countries leaders and their beliefs? If America isn’t leading the way on bombing children and withholding funds till its goals are achieved which country will take its place to do the “practical, right, legally justified, and even necessary” things to keep the economy of the world in trillions of debt while its own people starve? Who will want to take on that burden of responsibility or will China or Germany focus on a different set of beliefs? Fears are meant to keep you safe, but ignorance is more dangerous than any falsehood.

*all images courtesy of Google

1. Foner, Eric. “17.” Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History. 4th ed. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. 66-72. Print.

2. Foner, Eric. “17.” Give Me Liberty!: An American History. 4th ed. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. 529-42. Print.

3. Foner, Eric. “19.” Give Me Liberty!: An American History. 4th ed. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014. 575-80. Print.

4. Madaras, Larry, and James M. SoRelle. “Issue 7.” Taking Sides: Clashing Views in United States History. 12th ed. Vol. 2. Boston: McGraw-Hill Education Create, 2017. 157-80. Print.

5. “Jimi Hendrix.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 06 May 2017. <http://>.

6. Harbottle, Thomas Benfield. Dictionary of Quotations (classical), with Author and Subject Indexes. 3rd ed. N.p.: Swan Sonnenschein; Macmillan, 1906. 356. Print.

7. “Mark 12:31.” The Bible: King James Version. Glasgow: Collins, 2008. N. pag. Print.

8. Abate, Frank, and Elizabeth J. Jewell. “F.” The New Oxford American Dictionary. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. N. pag. Print.

9. Monroe, James. “Monroe Doctrine.” Welcome to Avalon Project at Yale Law School, n.d. Web. 06 May 2017.

10. Hubbard, Ben, and Michael R. Gordon. “U.S. War Footprint Grows in Middle East, With No Endgame in Sight.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 May 2017.

11. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). 2013. Animal Feed vs. Human Food: Challenges and Opportunities in Sustaining Animal Agriculture Toward 2050. Issue Paper 53. CAST, Ames, Iowa.

12. Fuentes, Gidget. “UPDATED: Marines with 11th MEU Join the Ground Fight in Syria.” USNI News. U.S. Naval Institute, 09 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 May 2017.

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