Thursday, June 2, 2011

OK, Back to School

So what else did I learn during those four long years, spending all that money?  Well, let's see ...

I had Professor Jeremi Suri for two history classes, back-to-back semesters.  History 102: The U.S. from the Civil War to the present; and 434: History of American Foreign Relations, 1898 to the present.  Guess what subject kept coming up? 

Yes, it was war.  We do, as a nation, have something of a history of deciding what we want and then taking it.  Not always and not necessarily without some justification.  But think about it.  A war to tell England that we weren't part of them anymore.  Another because they apparently weren't convinced that it really was over.  A Civil War to reconcile an irreconcilable difference.  Indian "wars" to take all the land, from coast to coast.  A war with Mexico to take what is now New Mexico, Arizona, California, bits of Utah and Nevada.  We helped Texas fight free of Mexico and admitted them as a state.

Some of this is actually quite defendable.  The founders did try to reason with King George.  The South was not only unwilling to give up slavery but were trying actively to spread it into the unsettled West in the last decade before the Civil War.  I'm surprised that war didn't happen sooner.  The "Indian Wars" are rather harder to defend but also seemed to have an inevitability that I can't see around.  The Mexican War got us much territory that was only nominally Mexico, really.  Many Californians wanted to  join the U.S.  The Spanish-American War at least started as an anti-colonial, Cuban independence move. 

It was at that point that the 434 class started, actually.  An unexpected benefit of the Spanish war was the acquisition of the Philippines.  There were discussions regarding what to do.  Do we want overseas possessions?  Why?  Aren't we anti-colonial?  Senator Albert Beveridge, however, as well as others, insisted that this was obviously part of our "manifest destiny."  Obviously God had decided that it was time (the frontier had just been declared "closed,"after all) for America to expand overseas.  Asian markets, Asian raw materials, an American Empire!

Of course we went ahead.  The Philippines were subdued (turned out that they didn't like colonialism either), T.R. sent the Great White Fleet around the world, the Open Door Policy was declared.  Comes next: a couple World Wars.

Stay tuned! 



  1. notacynic:

    Ah yes! Manifest Destiny. We can always bring God into the conversation when we want to expand our control over territory. We are still doing it.

  2. This leads sort of nicely into subjectivism. I think we're headed there next (after the wars).

  3. NAC,
    Ever notice that opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has shifted toward Republicans and the reasons given are along the lines of "we can't afford them"? I don't seem to recall hearing much from that quarter about the wars when they held sway in both the Executive and Legislative branches, nor much about the "back door draft" (recalling people who thought their service time had ended) or the over-extension of US forces. But now it's time to "bring our troops home."

  4. Not so much in my classes but in some other reading I was struck by how "political" war policy always is. We had the Korean thing because Truman was worried about "getting killed" in the 1950 mid-term elections. We had successive escalations in Vietnam because Johnson, who hated "that goddamn war," was worried about being portrayed as "weak" on defense by the republicans.

    Eventually the people turn on any war and eventually that becomes relevant. But it's always a slow process.

  5. NAC - Interesting comment about how political war policy is. Seems to be accurate today. Ironic that the politicians go to war to avoid being seen as weak, even though most wars end up weakening them and the country.

  6. It's true, Skinny. There's an early "rally 'round the flag" effect; popularity surges. But then, results please! George H.W. Bush got it about right. Get in, get'r done, get out.