Supporters of the annexation of the Philippines similarly tossed out various arguments, like access to Asian markets and the uplifting of the Filipinos themselves. Theodore Roosevelt, whose participation in the war against Spain in Cuba made him a celebrity and put him on the path to the vice presidency and then the presidency, denied that the Spanish-American War and the war in the Philippines broke with American history. In 1899 in a speech titled “The Strenuous Life,” Roosevelt thundered at the anti-imperialists: “Their doctrines, if carried out, would make it incumbent upon us to leave the Apaches of Arizona to work out their own salvation, and to decline to interfere in a single Indian reservation. Their doctrines condemn your forefathers and mine for ever having settled in these United States.”
Roosevelt and the imperialists found their greatest nemesis in Mark Twain. Twain condemned all efforts by Western nations to carve up the non-Western world. Writing of the Boxer rebellion against Europeans and Americans in China, he declared: “My sympathies are with the Chinese. They have been villainously dealt with by the sceptered thieves of Europe, and I hope they will drive all of the foreigners out and keep them out for good.” Twain’s genius for satire showed in his widely publicized polemics for the anti-imperialist cause. In a 1901 essay for the North American Review, reprinted as a pamphlet by the Anti-Imperialist League, Twain said: “And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one — our states do it: We can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones.”
But Kinzer is not content to retell the story of the controversy over annexation of the Philippines. He tries to promote an overarching theory of United States foreign policy, and he cites the former Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, who in the 1930s bitterly described his military service in the Philippines, Cuba, China, Haiti, Mexico and Central America as that of a “gangster for capitalism” and “a high-class muscleman for big business.” Recycling the arguments of the venerable anti-interventionist tradition, Kinzer quotes figures like Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota, who blamed commercial interests for American participation in World War I, and post-1945 advocates of close Soviet-American ties like Henry Wallace and Paul Robeson. In this way, the rich detail of Kinzer’s account of the debate over American imperialism at the turn of the 20th century gives way to a hasty revisionist account of United States foreign policy as a series of imperial follies, in which the wars of presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama whiz past. All of American foreign policy for more than a century is attributed to some vague mix of business greed and arrogant folly.
Kinzer is free to make this case, but it should not have been tacked on to the conclusion of the book. His own account does not support the idea that business interests drove the United States to go to war with Spain and against the Filipino independence movement. Kinzer himself notes, “Businessmen as a class were at first reluctant to join the rush to war, but by midsummer many had been won over.” Andrew Carnegie was a passionate anti-imperialist, and Mark Hanna, identified with the interests of big business and banking, despised Theodore Roosevelt and thought him dangerous.
Kinzer points to the Massachusetts senator Henry Cabot Lodge who, along with his friend Roosevelt, was one of the champions of what was called a “large” foreign policy: “With our protective tariff wall around the Philippine Islands, its 10 million inhabitants, as they advance in civilization, would have to buy our goods, and we should have so much additional market for our home manufactures.” But this was an argument to be made for public consumption and hardly reflected Lodge’s worldview. He was part of a group of mostly patrician neo-Hamiltonians, including Roosevelt and the naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, who sought to turn the United States into a great military power. They were not agents of American export lobbies.
Kinzer omits any discussion of the turn-of-the-century rivalries between the United States and other great powers, in the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific. He does not even mention one of the most famous incidents of the war in the Philippines — the confrontation in Manila Bay between Admiral Dewey’s American fleet and the German fleet under Adm. Otto von Diederichs in Manila Bay in 1898. But as the Cambridge History of Latin America tells us, “German-American rivalry was an important factor underlying the expanded role of the United States in the Caribbean-Central American region. The German admiralty did not hide its desire for bases in the Caribbean to control an isthmian canal, and to American leaders it seemed that the German-American naval confrontations that had occurred in the Samoan Islands (1888) and Manila Bay (1898) might be repeated much closer to home.” Indeed, in 1903 the German admiralty devised Operations Plan III, which “envisaged the occupation of Puerto Rico . . . and the utilization of bases on the island to conduct a naval offensive against the United States.” “The True Flag” works better as a history of polemics than as a polemical history.Continue reading the main story
“We are all Americans,” a banner headline in Le Monde declared after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But the warm embrace from France and the rest of the global community was short-lived. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has unleashed a torrent of anger at the United States. Often directed at President George W. Bush and his policies, it takes aim at everything from the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison to the mounting death toll in Iraq to U.S. policies on climate change. Before the war, anti-Americanism had seemed the province of leftists who demonized capitalism, or those who resented America's unrelenting cultural influence — what some call the McGlobalization of the world. Now, anti-Americanism seems epidemic, especially in the Muslim world but also in Europe, Asia and Latin America. In European intellectual circles it has even become a badge of honor. Ironically, while resentment of the U.S. simmers, people seeking economic opportunity continue to emigrate to the U.S.
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