U.S. Imperialism Has a Long History

excerpted from the book

Pox Americana

Exposing the American Empire

Edited by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney

Monthly Review Press, 2004, paper

John Bellemy Foster and Robert W. McChesney

Soviet text on Military Strategy

"The political aims of American imperialists were and still are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries and, after the latter are transformed into obedient tools, to unify them in various military-political blocs and groups directed against the socialist countries. The main aim of all this is to achieve world domination."

Chalmers Johnson, Sorrows of Empire

"As distinct from other peoples on this earth, most Americans do not recognize-or do not choose to recognize-that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, they are often ignorant of the fact that their government garrisons the globe. They do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent but Antarctica) actually constitutes a new form of empire."

The primary goals of U.S. imperialism have always been to open up investment opportunities to U.S. corporations and to allow such corporations to gain preferential access to crucial natural resources.

... an empire by definition is a sphere of exploitation in which a single imperial power plays the dominant role.

Ronald Steel, Pax Americana, 1967

"After Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, and the Greek junta, it is not so easy for an American President to speak with a straight face of the nation's foreign policy being based on the 'liberation of man' or the 'survival of liberty."



Kipling, the "White Man's Burden," and U.S. Imperialism
by John Bellamy Foster, Harry Magdoff, and Robert W. McChesney

In the Spanish-American War of 1898 the United States seized the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific, emerging for the first time as a world power. As in Cuba, Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines had given rise to a national liberation struggle. Immediately after the U.S. naval bombardment of Manila on May 1, 1898, in which the Spanish fleet was destroyed, Admiral Dewey sent a gunboat to fetch the exiled Filipino revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo from Hong Kong. The United States wanted Aguinaldo to lead a renewed revolt against Spain to prosecute the war before U.S. troops could arrive. The Filipinos were so successful that in less than two months they had all but defeated the Spanish on the main island of Luzon, bottling up the remaining Spanish troops in the capital city of Manila, while almost all of the archipelago fell into Filipino hands. In June, Filipino leaders issued their own Declaration of Independence, based on the U.S. model. When U.S. forces finally arrived at the end of June, the fifteen thousand Spanish troops holed up in Manila were surrounded by the Filipino army entrenched around the city-so that U.S. forces had to request permission to cross Filipino lines to engage these remaining Spanish troops. The Spanish army surrendered Manila to U.S. forces after only a few hours of fighting on August 13, 1898. In an agreement between the United States and Spain, Filipino forces were kept out of the city and were allowed no part in the surrender. This was the final battle of the war. John Hay, U.S. ambassador to Britain, captured the imperialist spirit of the time when he wrote that the Spanish-American War as a whole was "a splendid little war."

With the fighting against Spain over, however, the United States refused to acknowledge the existence of the new Philippine Republic. In October 1898 the McKinley administration publicly revealed for the first time that it intended to annex the entire Philippines. In arriving at this decision President McKinley is reported to have said that "God Almighty" had ordered him to make the Philippines a U.S. colony. Within days of this announcement the New England Anti-Imperialist League was established in Boston. Its membership was to include such luminaries as Mark Twain, William James, Charles Francis Adams, and Andrew Carnegie. Nevertheless, the administration went ahead and concluded the Treaty of Paris in December, in which Spain agreed to cede the Philippines, along with its other possessions seized by the United States, to the new imperial power.

This was followed by a fierce debate in the Senate on the ratification of the treaty, centering on the status of the Philippines, which, except for the city of Manila, was under the control of the nascent Philippine Republic. On February 4, 1899, U.S. troops, under orders to provoke a conflict with the Filipino forces ringing Manila, were moved into disputed ground lying between U.S. and Filipino lines on the outskirts of the city. When they encountered Filipino soldiers, the U.S. soldiers called "Halt" and then opened fire, killing three. The U.S. forces immediately began a general offensive with their full firepower in what amounted to a surprise attack (the top Filipino officers were then away attending a lavish celebratory ball), inflicting enormous casualties on the Filipino troops. The San Francisco Call reported on February 5 that the moment the news reached Washington, McKinley told "an intimate friend.. . that the Manila engagement would, in his opinion, insure the ratification of the treaty tomorrow."

These calculations proved correct. The following day the Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris officially ending the Spanish-American War. Under the treaty Spain ceded Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States, and Cuba came under U.S. control. It stipulated that the United States would pay Spain $20 million for the territories that it gained through the war. But this did little to disguise the fact that the Spanish-American War was an outright seizure of an overseas colonial empire by the United States, in response to the perceived need of U.S. business, just recovering from an economic downturn, for new global markets.

The United States immediately pushed forward in the Philippine-American War that it had begun two days before-in what was to prove to be one of history's more barbaric wars of imperial conquest. The U.S. goal in this period was to expand not only into the Caribbean but also far into the Pacific-and by colonizing the Philippine Islands, to gain a doorway into the huge Chinese market. (In 1900 the United States sent troops from the Philippines to China to join with the other imperial powers in putting down the Boxer Rebellion. Kipling's "White Man's Burden subtitled "The United States and the Philippine Islands," was published in McClure's Magazine in February 1899. It was written when the debate over ratification of the Treaty of Paris was still taking place, and while the anti-imperialist movement in the United States was loudly decrying the plan to annex the Philippines. Kipling urged the United States, with special reference to the Philippines, to join Britain in the pursuit of the racial responsibilities of empire:

Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Many in the United States, including President McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, welcomed Kipling's rousing call for the United States to engage in "savage wars," beginning in the Philippines. Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana declared: "God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle selfcontemplation and self-admiration .... He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples." In the end, more than 126,000 officers and men were sent to the Philippines to put down the Filipino resistance during a war that lasted officially from 1899 to 1902 but actually continued much longer, with sporadic resistance continuing for most of a decade. U.S. troops logged 2,800 engagements with the Filipino resistance. At least a quarter of a million Filipinos, most of them civilians, were killed along with 4,200 U.S. soldiers (more than ten times the number of U.S. fatalities in the Spanish-American War).5

From the beginning it was clear that the Filipino forces were unable to match the United States in conventional warfare. They therefore quickly switched to guerrilla warfare. U.S. troops boasted in a popular marching song that they would "civilize them with the Krag" (referring to the Norwegian-designed gun with which the U.S. forces were outfitted). Yet they found themselves facing interminable small attacks and ambushes by Filipinos, who often carried long knives known as bolos. These guerrilla attacks resulted in combat deaths of U.S. soldiers in small numbers on a regular basis. As in all prolonged guerrilla wars, the strength of the Filipino resistance was due to the fact that it had the support of the Filipino population. As General Arthur MacArthur (the father of Douglas MacArthur), who became military governor of the Philippines in 1900, confided to a reporter in 1899:

When I first started in against these rebels, I believed that Aguinaldo's troops represented only a faction. I did not like to believe that the whole population of Luzonthe native population that is-was opposed to us and our offers of aid and good government. But after having come this far, after having occupied several towns and cities in succession... I have been reluctantly compelled to believe that the Filipino masses are loyal to Aguinaldo and the government which he heads.

Faced with a guerrilla struggle supported by the vast majority of the population, the U.S. military responded by resettling populations in concentration camps, burning down villages (Filipinos were sometimes forced to carry the petrol used to burn down their own homes), and engaging in mass hangings and bayonetings of suspects, systematic rape of women and girls, and torture. The most infamous torture technique, used repeatedly in the war, was the so-called water cure. Vast quantities of water were forced down the throats of prisoners. Their stomachs were then stepped on so that the water shot out three feet in the air "like an artesian well." Most victims died not long afterwards. General Frederick Funston did not hesitate to announce that he had personally strung up a group of thirty-five Filipino civilians suspected of supporting the revolutionaries. Major Edwin Glenn saw no reason to deny the charge that he had made a group of forty-seven Filipino prisoners kneel and "repent of their sins" before bayoneting and clubbing them to death. General Jacob Smith ordered his troops to "kill and burn," to target "everything over ten," and to turn the island of Samar into "a howling wilderness." General William Shafter in California declared that it might be necessary to kill half the Filipino population to bring "perfect justice" to the other half. During the Philippine War the United States reversed the normal casualty statistics of war-usually many more are wounded than killed. According to official statistics (discussed in Congressional hearings on the war) U.S. troops killed fifteen times as many Filipinos as they wounded. This fit with frequent reports by U.S. soldiers that wounded and captured Filipino combatants were summarily executed.

The war continued after the capture of Aguinaldo in March 1901 but was declared officially over by President Theodore Roosevelt on July 4,1902-in an attempt to quell criticism of U.S. atrocities. At that time, the northern islands had been mostly "pacified" but the conquest of the southern islands was still ongoing and the struggle continued for years-though the United States from then on characterized the rebels as mere bandits.

In the southern Philippines the U.S. colonial army was at war with Muslim Filipinos, known as Moros. In 1906 what came to be known as the Moro Massacre was carried out by U.S. troops when at least nine hundred Filipinos, including women and children, were trapped in a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo and shot at and bombarded for days. All of the Filipinos were killed while the U.S. troops suffered only a handful of casualties. Mark

Twain responded to early reports (which indicated that those massacred totaled six hundred rather than nine hundred men, women, and children, as later determined) with bitter satire: "With six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men killed outright, and we had thirty-two wounded counting that nose and that elbow. The enemy numbered six hundred including women and children-and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States." Viewing a widely distributed photo that showed U.S. soldiers overlooking piles of Filipino dead in the crater, W. E. B. Du Bois declared in a letter to Moorfield Storey, president of the Anti- Imperialist League (and later first president of the NAACP), that it was "the most illuminating thing I have ever seen. I want especially to have it framed and put upon the walls of my recitation room to impress upon the students what wars and especially Wars of Conquest really mean."

President Theodore Roosevelt immediately commended his good friend General Leonard Wood, who had carried out the Moro Massacre, writing: "I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag.

Michael Ignatieff, professor of human rights policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government

The Iraq operation most resembles the conquest of die Philippines between 1898 and 1902. Both were wars of conquest, both were urged by an ideological elite on a divided country and both cost much more than anyone had bargained for. Just as in Iraq, winning the war was the easy part .... More than 120,000 American troops were sent to the Philippines to put down the guerrilla resistance, and 4,000 never came home. It remains to be seen whether Iraq will cost thousands of American lives-and whether the American public will accept such a heavy toll as the price of success in Iraq.

DAVID BARSAMIAN: With the U.S. economy deteriorating and with more layoffs, how is the Bush administration going to maintain what some are calling a garrison state with permanent war and occupation of numerous countries? How are they going to pull it off?

NOAM CHOMSKY: They have to pull it off for about another six years. By that time they hope they will have institutionalized highly reactionary programs within the United States. They will have left the economy in a very serious state, with huge deficits, pretty much the way they did in the 1980s. And then it will be somebody else's problem to patch it together. Meanwhile, they will have, they hope, undermined social programs, diminished democracy, which of course they hate, by transferring decisions out of the public arena into private hands. And they will have done it in a way that will be very hard to disentangle. So they will have left a legacy internally that will be painful and hard. But only for the majority of the population. The people they're concerned about are going to be making out like bandits. Very much like the Reagan years. It's the same people, after all.

And internationally, they hope that they will have institutionalized the doctrines of imperial domination through force and preventive war as a choice. The U.S. now in military spending probably exceeds the rest of the world combined, and it's much more advanced and moving out into extremely dangerous directions, like space. They assume, I suppose, that no matter what happens to the American economy, that will give such overwhelming force that people will just have to do what they say.


The Grid of History, Cowboys and Indians
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Senator Robert Byrd at onset of Iraq invasion, 2003

"What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomacy when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?"

Edward Said

"The doctrine of military preemption was never voted on by the American people or their representatives ... It seems so monumentally criminal that important words like democracy and freedom have been hijacked, used as a mask for pillage, taking over territory and settling scores."

During the early seventeenth century the English conquered Northern Ireland ... The English policy of exterminating Indians in North America was foreshadowed by this English colonization of Northern Ireland. The ancient Irish social system was systematically attacked, traditional songs and music forbidden, whole clans exterminated, and the remainder brutalized. A "wild Irish" reservation was even attempted. The planted settlers were Calvinist Protestants, assured by their divines that they had been chosen by God for salvation (and title to the lands of Ulster). The native (and Papist) Irish were definitely not destined for salvation, but rather the reverse, both in the present and hereafter.

The "plantation" of Ulster followed centuries of intermittent warfare in Ireland, and was as much the culmination of a process as a departure. In the sixteenth century, the official in charge of the Irish province of Munster, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, ordered that:

The heddes of all those (of what sort soever thei were) which were killed in the dale, should be cutte off from their bodies and brought to the place where he incarnped at night, and should there bee laied on the ground by eche side of the waie ledying into his owne tente so that none could come into his tente for any cause but commonly he muste passe through a lane of heddes which he used ad terrorem...[It brought] greate terrour to the people when thei sawe the heddes of their dedde fathers, brothers, children, kindsfolke, and freinds.'°

Bounties were paid for the Irish heads brought in and later only the scalp or ears were required. A century later, in North America, Indian heads and scalps were brought in for bounty in the same manner. Native Americans picked up the practice from the colonizers.

Reconciling empire and liberty was a historic obsession of U.S. political thinkers and historians, and in the twenty-first century it is openly being debated once again. Thomas Jefferson had hailed the United States as an

"empire for liberty." Andrew Jackson coined the phrase "extending the area of freedom" to describe the process in which slavery had been introduced into Texas in violation of governing Mexican laws, to be quickly followed by a slaveholder's rebellion and U.S. annexation. The term freedom became a euphemism for the continental and worldwide expansion of the world's leading slave power. The contradictions, particularly since the initial rationalization for U.S. independence was anti-empire, are multiple.

It is easy to date U.S. imperialism to Andrew Jackson, but he only carried out the original plan, initially as an army general who led three genocidal wars against the Muskogee in Georgia/Florida, then as the most popular president ever, arid the organizer of the expulsion of all native peoples east of the Mississippi to the Oklahoma Territory.

Although white supremacy was the working rationalization and ideology behind theft of Native American lands, and especially the justification for African slavery, the independence bid by what became the United States of America is more problematic, in that democracy/equality and supremacy/dominance/empire do not make an easy fit. During the 1820s, in the era of Jacksonian Democracy, the unique U.S. origin myth was created, with James Fenimore Cooper as the initial scribe. Cooper's reinvention of America in The Last of the Mohicans has become the official U.S. story. Herman Melville called Cooper "our national novelist," and he was the great hero of Walt Whitman who sang the song of manhood and the American superrace through empire. As a supporter of the U.S. war against Mexico, 1846-1848, Whitman proposed the stationing of sixty thousand U.S. troops in Mexico to establish a regime change there, "whose efficiency and permanency shall be guaranteed by the United States. This will bring out enterprise, open the way for manufacturers and commerce, into which the immense dead capital of the country will find its way."

Whitman's sentiment followed the already established U.S. origin myth that had the frontier settlers replacing the native peoples, similar to the parallel Afrikaner origin myth in South Africa.

The public acceptance of media propaganda justifying U.S. government aggression falls into the pattern of a belief system ...

Warren Zimmermann in his book on the frankly imperial aims of the Teddy Roosevelt administration,

Americans like to pretend that they have no imperial past. Yet they have shown expansionist tendencies since colonial days . . Overland expansion, often at the expense of Mexicans and Indians, was a marked feature of American history right through the period of the Civil War, by which the United States had reached its continental proportions.

The War for American Independence, which created most of the founding myths of the Republic, was itself a war for expansion ... Thomas Jefferson nursed even grander plans for empire.


U.S. Weakness and the Struggle for Hegemony
Immanuael Wallerstein

... the importance of the Yalta arrangements ... in effect, made the cold war a choreographed arrangement in which nothing ever really happened for forty years. That was the important thing about the cold war. It divided up the world into a Soviet zone that was about a third of the world and a U.S. zone that was two-thirds. It kept the zones economically separate and allowed them to shout at each other loudly in order to keep their own side in order, but never to make any truly substantial changes in the arrangement.

This lasted only about twenty-five years. The United States ran into difficulty somewhere between 1967 and 1973 because of three things. One, it lost its economic edge. Western Europe and Japan became sufficiently strong to defend their own markets. They even began to invade U.S. markets. They were then about as economically powerful and as competitive as the United States, and that, of course, had political implications.

Second, there was the world revolution of 1968. In 1968, there were two themes that were repeated throughout the world in one version or another. One, we do not like U.S. hegemony and dominance of the world, and we don't like Soviet collusion with it. That was a theme everywhere. That was not only the Chinese stance on the two superpowers but that of most of the rest of the world as well.

The second theme of 1968 was that the Old Left, which had come to power everywhere-Communist parties, social-democratic parties, and national liberation movements-had not changed the world and something had to be done about it. We were not sure we trusted them anymore. That undermined the ideological basis of the Yalta agreement, and that was very important.

The third thing that happened between 1968 and 1973 is that there were people who did not agree with Yalta. They were located in the third world, and there were at least four significant defeats of imperialism that occurred in the third world. The first was China, where the Communist Party defied Stalin and marched on Kuomintang-controlled Shanghai in 1948, thus getting China out from under U.S. influence on the mainland. That was a central defeat in the U.S. attempt to control the periphery. Then there was Algeria and all its implications as a role model for other colonial territories. There was Cuba, in the backyard of the United States. And finally there was Vietnam, which both France and then the United States were incapable of defeating. It was a military defeat for the United States that has structured world geopolitics ever since.

The threefold fact of the rise of economic rivals, the world revolution of 1968 and its impact on mentalities across the world, and Vietnam's defeat of the United States, all taken together, marks the beginning of the decline of the United States.

... the so-called Washington Consensus ... coalesced in the 1980s. What is the Washington Consensus about? To understand it, we must first remember that the 1970s was the era when the United Nations proclaimed the decade of development. Developmentalism was the name of the game from the 1950s through the 1970s. Everybody proclaimed that countries could develop. The United States proclaimed it. The Soviet Union proclaimed it, and everybody in the third world proclaimed it-if only a state were organized properly. This was the basic ideology; development was to be achieved by some kind of control over what went on within sovereign national states.

Now tie Washington Consensus was the abandonment and the denigration of developmentalism, which had visibly failed by the late 1980s, and, therefore, everyone was ready to abandon it. They substituted for developmentalism what they called globalization, which simply meant opening up all the frontiers, breaking down all the barriers for (a) the movement of goods; and more importantly, (b) capital; but not (c) labor. And the United States set out to impose this on the world.

An important element of the Washington Consensus was the ideological consensus-building process at Davos. Davos is not unimportant. Davos represents an attempt to create a meeting ground of the world's elites, including elites from the third world, and to constantly bring together and blend their political activity.

At the same time, the objectives of the United States during this period took three forms. One objective was to launch a counteroffensive, the counteroffensive of neoliberalism, which aimed to (1) reduce wages worldwide; (2) reduce costs to (and end ecological constraints on) corporations, permitting the total externalization and socialization of such costs; and (3) reduce taxation, which was subsidizing social welfare (that is to say subsidizing education, health care, and lifelong guarantees of income).

The real threat to U.S. military power is nuclear proliferation, because if every little country has nuclear weapons it becomes very tricky for the United States to engage in military action.

... the collapse of the Soviet Union ... was a disaster for the United States; it removed the most important political weapon they had in relation to Western Europe and East Asia.

... we now have a weakening of the dollar, and the dollar has been a crucial lever of the United States, enabling it to have the kind of economy it has and the dominance it has over the rest of the world.

The hawks do not see themselves as the triumphant continuation of U.S. capitalism or U.S. power or anything else. They see themselves as a group of frustrated outsiders who for fifty years did not get their way even with Ronald Reagan, even with George Bush Sr., even with George Bush Jr. before 9/11. They are still worried that George Bush Jr. will chicken out on them. They think that the policy that went from Nixon to Clinton to the first year of George W. Bush, that of trying to handle this situation diplomatically and multilaterally-what I called above the velvet glove-was an utter failure. They think it just accelerated the decline of the United States, and they think that had to be changed radically by engaging in an egregious, overt, imperial action-war for the sake of war. They did not go to war on Iraq or Saddam Hussein because he was a dictator. They did not go to war on Iraq even for oil. I will not argue that point here, but they did not need the war on Iraq for oil. They needed it to show the United States could do it, and they needed that demonstration in order to intimidate two groups of people: (i) anybody in the third world who thinks that they should engage in nuclear proliferation and (2) Europe. This was an attack on Europe, and that is why Europe responded the way it did.

Pox Americana

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