Imperial Wars, Then & Now
August 13 2003
Having found neither weapons of mass destruction nor a link to 9-11, the
White House has retreated into its fallback position. It now defends Operation
Iraqi Freedom as a necessary war to rid the Middle East of a brutal dictatorship
and replace it with a democracy.© 2003 Creators
That is, this was a war of democratic imperialism, as some of us said all along.
The neocons exploited America's rage after 9-11 and steered the president into
invading Iraq, in order to reshape its political system and redirect its foreign
policy. Imperialism, pure and simple.
Ahmed Chalabi was the puppet preselected to run the colony.
Now, we are mired in a guerrilla war, with daily dead and wounded, costing $1
billion a week, with no exit strategy and no end in sight.
Yet, it is not the first time a U.S. president, elected on an
anti-interventionist platform, was steered into an imperial war, after absorbing
a stunning, shocking blow to the nation.
On Feb. 15, 1898, the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor, killing 268
sailors. This perceived Spanish atrocity, almost surely an accident, was seized
upon by Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore
Roosevelt to bully President McKinley into calling for a war with Spain for
which they had long planned.
In "First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power,"
ex-ambassador Warren Zimmerman tells the compelling story of how America first
became an empire.
Anticipating war, T.R., on the navy secretary's day off, wired Commodore Dewey,
commander of the Pacific squadron, to prepare to attack the Spanish fleet. As
soon as war was declared, Dewey sailed for Manila Bay, caught the Spanish ships
in the harbor and sank or burned all seven, losing but a single man.
The U.S. North Atlantic Squadron did the same to the Spanish fleet sent to
protect Cuba. The Spanish warships were bottled up in Santiago harbor by U.S.
battleships with superior firepower. In a heroic but doomed breakout on July 3,
1898, every Spanish ship was scuttled or sunk. Madrid surrendered.
After our "splendid little war," a ferocious debate erupted. It was between T.R.-Lodge
imperialists – who believed that for America to be secure in a world of empires,
she must become an empire and annex the Philippines – and anti-imperialists, or
"goo-goos," who wanted to give the Filipinos their independence.
Arguments for and against annexation were both strategic and racist. Said
industrialist Andrew Carnegie, "As long as we remain free from distant
possessions, we are impregnable against serious attack."
Added progressive Carl Schurz, "Show me a single instance of the successful
establishment and peaceable maintenance for a respectable period of republican
institutions, based upon popular self-government, under a tropical sun."
McKinley had promised Schurz, "You may be sure there will be no jingo nonsense
in my administration." But he was won over by the imperialists. He ordered the
Army to occupy Manila and crush Filipino rebels, who were stunned to discover
their liberators had decided to replace their former colonial masters.
For three years, U.S. soldiers and Marines fought, with 4,000 dying in combat,
several times as many as had been lost in Cuba. Filipino combat losses were
20,000 with 200,000 civilian dead, many of disease. Yet, a recent New York Times
Almanac does not even list the Filipino insurrection as a major U.S. conflict.
Was it worth it – annexing the Philippines?
In the war to secure the islands, atrocities were committed on both sides, and
as a result of that war, we became ensnared in the great power politics of Asia,
out of which came Pearl Harbor, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. By annexing the
islands, writes Zimmermann, America "took on a security commitment in Asia that
it found difficult to defend. In the Philippine case, the founders of American
imperialism may have made a costly mistake."
One year after the war to avenge the sinking of the Maine in Havana, we were in
an imperial war 10,000 miles away. Now, two years after Sept. 11, we are
fighting a guerrilla war in a nation 6,000 miles away, that had nothing to do
President Bush was misled about what to expect when Baghdad fell. And those who
misled him now reassure him that our occupation is going well and we are mopping
up the resistance.
Perhaps. But, like William McKinley, George Bush may prove to be a
well-intentioned president who embroiled us in decades of wars in a part of the
world that was never vital to America.
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