The United States has arrived at an imperial moment in its history, but it is not the first time.
Long before a President talked about an “axis of evil” and “regime change,” a President talked of going “to war for humanity’s sake,” in order to liberate Cuba and the Philippines from Spain. Both were taken, and a string of other colonies followed: Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and Panama–a country we created in order to occupy it. There was, President McKinley said of his decision to declare war, “nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate and uplift and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.”
Long before Trent Lott and John Ashcroft accused Bush Administration opponents of aiding the enemy, McKinley’s men shouted down the small group of Mugwumps and members of the Anti-Imperialist League, who were opposed to an America that projected its ideals abroad by force without considering the consequences. “If we ever come to nothing as a nation,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his colleague-in-arms, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, “it will be because the treachery of Carl Schurz, [Harvard] President Eliot, and the Evening Post and the futile sentimentalists of the international arbitration type, bears its legitimate fruit in producing a flabby, timid type of character, which eats away the great fighting features of our race.”
Long before September 11, when Americans hung flags on mailboxes and highway overpasses and pasted them to the bumpers of their cars, audiences at theaters and music halls sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” after each performance. The conflict with Spain, John Hay said, would be “a splendid little war.”
It is not the first time. And if those voices raised against imperialism were not adequately heard a hundred years ago, it is time to let them speak again.
On the Need to Follow Our Constitutional Principles
“It is not that we would hold America back from playing her full part in the world’s affairs, but that we believe that her part could be better accomplished by close adherence to those high principles which are ideally embodied in her institutions–by the establishment of her own democracy in such wise as to make it a symbol of noble self-government, and by exercising the influence of a great, unarmed and peaceful power on the affairs and the moral temper of the world.”
–Charles Eliot Norton, professor of fine arts, Harvard