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Posts Tagged ‘American expansionism’

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON  Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre

BASIC BOOKS, 2010

by MARSHALL POE 
New Books on Native American Studies  MARCH 19, 2011

Heather Cox Richardson

[Crossposted from New Books in History] Of all the events in American history, two are far and away the most troubling: slavery and the near-genocidal war against native Americans. In truth, we’ve dealt much better with the former than the latter. The slaves were emancipated. After a long and painful struggle, their descendants won their full civil rights. Though that struggle is not yet finished, near equality has been reached in many areas of American life. And almost all Americans understand that slavery was wrong. None of this can be said about the campaign against native Americans. Instead of emancipation, the Indians–or rather those left after the slaughter–were “removed” to reservations where their way of life was destroyed. After a long and painful struggle, many of their descendants are still in those reservations and living in poverty. They struggle still, but are not equal to other Americans by most measures. And many Americans refuse to believe that the U.S. was wrong in killing, sequestering, and impoverishing the native Americans.

They are wrong to do so, for we know what happened and why thanks to historians such as Heather Cox Richardson. In her eye-opening new book Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre(Basic Books, 2010) she shows just how calculated, self-serving, and even spiteful the White assault on the Plains Indians was. Despite what they said (mostly to the Indians themselves), the Whites never had any real intention of allowing the Sioux and others to keep their land, maintain their way of life, or even to continue to exist. It was clear to them that the Indians would either become White (meaning would take up farming) or would go. The Whites weren’t exactly cynics; rather they were self-deceiving fatalists. They came to believe that destiny itself compelled them to assimilate or annihilate the Indians.

But destiny didn’t destroy the Plains Indians. The government of the United States of America did.

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How Even President Obama Gets U.S. History Wrong: We Weren’t a Colonial Power?

by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

HNN October 10, 2014

In a 2009 interview with Al Arabiya Television in Dubai, soon after his first inauguration, President Barack Obama affirmed that the U.S. government could be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying, “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power.”

One has to query the president: How did the United States begin with thirteen small colonies/states hugging the Atlantic seaboard and end up in the mid-twentieth century with fifty states over much of North America, and a number of island colonies in the Pacific and the Caribbean? Apparently, it was manifest destiny at work.

According to the centuries-old Doctrine of Discovery, European nations acquired title to the lands they “discovered,” and Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Europeans had arrived and claimed it.Under this legal cover for theft, European wars of conquest, domination, and in some cases–such as the United States–settler colonial states devastated Indigenous nations and communities, ripping their territories away from them and transforming the land into private property. Most of the land appropriated by the United States ended up in the hands of land speculators and agribusiness operators, many of which, up to the mid-nineteenth century, were plantations worked by another form of private property, enslaved Africans.

Arcane as it may seem, the Doctrine of Discovery remains the basis for federal laws still in effect that control Indigenous peoples’ lives and destinies, even their histories by distorting them.

From the mid-fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, most of the non-European world was colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the first principles of international law Christian European monarchies promulgated to legitimize investigating, mapping, and claiming lands belonging to peoples outside Europe. It originated in a papal bull issued in 1455 that permitted the Portuguese monarchy to seize West Africa. Following Columbus’s infamous exploratory voyage in 1492, sponsored by the king and queen of the infant Spanish state, another papal bull extended similar permission to Spain. Disputes between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies led to the papal-initiated Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which, besides dividing the globe equally between the two Iberian empires, clarified that only non-Christian lands fell under the discovery doctrine.

This doctrine, on which all European states and the United States relied, thus originated with the arbitrary and unilateral establishment of the Iberian monarchies’ exclusive rights under Christian canon law to colonize foreign peoples, and this right was later seized by other European monarchical colonizing projects. The French Republic used this legalistic instrument for its nineteenth- and twentieth-century settler colonialist projects, as did the newly independent United States when it continued the colonization of North America begun by the British.

In 1792, not long after the founding of the United States, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson claimed that the Doctrine of Discovery developed by European states was international law applicable to the new U.S. government as well. In 1823 the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. McIntosh. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Doctrine of Discovery had been an established principle of European law and of English law in effect in Britain’s North American colonies and was also the law of the United States. The Court defined the exclusive property rights that a European country acquired by dint of discovery: “Discovery gave title to the government, by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.” Therefore, European and Euro-American “discoverers” had gained real-property rights in the lands of Indigenous peoples by merely planting a flag. Indigenous rights were, in the Court’s words, “in no instance, entirely disregarded; but were necessarily, to a considerable extent, impaired.” The Court further held that Indigenous “rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished.” Indigenous people could continue to live on the land, but title resided with the discovering power, the United States. The decision concluded that Native nations were “domestic, dependent nations.”

In fact, Indigenous peoples were not allowed to continue living on their land under Andrew Jackson’s presidency; with the Indian Removal Act that he pushed through Congress, all the Indigenous nations east of the Mississippi were dissolved and their citizens were forcibly relocated to “Indian Territory,” which itself was later dissolved to become a part of the state of Oklahoma.

The Doctrine of Discovery is so taken for granted that it is rarely mentioned in historical or legal texts published in the Americas.

In the era of global decolonization of the second half of the 20th century, Native Americans remained colonized. The official celebration of Columbus is a metaphor and painful symbol of that traumatic past, although the United States did not become an independent republic until nearly three centuries after Columbus’s first voyage. None of Columbus’s voyages touched the continental territory now claimed by the United States.

Native American nations and communities are involved in decolonization projects, including the development of international human rights law to gain their right to self-determination as Indigenous Peoples, having gained the United Nations’ 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Obama administration endorsed. It’s time for the United States government to make a gesture toward acknowledgement of its colonial past and a commitment to decolonization. Doing away with the celebration of Columbus, the very face of the onset of colonialism in the Western Hemisphere, could be that gesture. In its place proclaim that fateful date of the onset of colonialism as a Day of Solidarity and Mourning with the Indigenous Peoples. In retiring Columbus, nullification of the Doctrine of Discovery is also required.

The affirmation of democracy requires the denial of colonialism, but denying it does not make it go away. Only decolonization can do that.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. She has been active in the international Indigenous movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. After receiving her PhD in history at the University of California at Los Angeles, she taught in the newly established Native American Studies Program at California State University, Hayward, and helped found the Departments of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. Her latest book is “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.” –

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The Invasion of America  

Este  mapa interactivo del desarrollo del expansionismo continental estadounidense,  examina la adquisisicón de territorios a través de los tratados y órdenes ejecutivas relacionadas con las llamadas naciones indias. En otras palabras, ilustra el proceso de despojo de las tierras de los pobladores norteamericanos originales por parte del gobierno federal norteamericano entre 1776 y 1876. También contiene vínculos a los textos de los tratados en cuestión  y un video, los que podrían resultar herramientas muy útiles para educadores.

El mapa esta accesible aquí.

Imagen

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An Isolationist United States? If Only That Were True
Tim Reuter

Forbes, October 10, 2013

“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”  Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address.

This image depicts the Territorial acquisitions of the United States, such as the Thirteen Colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, British and Spanish Cession, and so on.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This image depicts the Territorial acquisitions of the United States, such as the Thirteen Colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, British and Spanish Cession, and so on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Orwell once wrote that if “thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”  He derided his contemporaries for how their use and abuse of the term fascism emptied the word of any meaning.  The subsequent inability to define fascism degraded it “to the level of a swearword,” and a slur for use against anyone or anything deemed undesirable.

The same holds true for the word isolationism, and its use in American foreign policy discussions.  Proponents of American empire hurl the words isolationism and isolationist at their critics to tar them as ignoramuses and kooks.  The neoconservative movement’s scion, super hawk Bill Kristol, has dismissed, the non-interventionist and possible 2016 presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul as a “neo-isolationist.”

Charles Krauthammer was more explicit in a Washington Post op-ed on August 1:

“The Paulites, pining for the splendid isolation of the 19th century, want to leave the world alone on the assumption that it will then leave us alone.  Which rests on the further assumption that international stability — open sea lanes, free commerce, relative tranquility — comes naturally, like the air we breathe.  If only that were true. Unfortunately, stability is not a matter of grace.  It comes about only by Great Power exertion… World order is maintained by American power and American will.  Take that away and you don’t get tranquility.  You get chaos.”

The specter of renewed intervention in the Middle East (attacking Syria) may have passed, but the slur remains.  Neoconservative intellectuals, obsessed with American military might, have stamped non-interventionists and the war weary public alike as isolationists.

But in the history of American foreign affairs, isolation has never meant a lonely existence.  Instead, it implied security.  The “splendid isolation” phrase mocked by Krauthammer comes from late Nineteenth Century British statesman who viewed Britain’s interests as distinct from continental Europe’s.  The English Channel separated British security concerns from the continent’s power politics and wars.  This geographic isolation helped demarcate differences between colonial security interests, which Britain routinely acted on, and homeland security.

Something similar was true for the United States.  German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck put the matter well: “The Americans are truly a lucky people.  They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbors and to the east and west by fish.”  The Founding Fathers agreed.

Americans had the geographic luck of distance from Europe and its conflicts.  Out of this ability to avoid unnecessary wars that jeopardized life and liberty, came the Founders’ caution.  Before Jefferson’s aforementioned quip, George Washington stated the matter bluntly in his Farewell Address.  “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

Such counsel contained a powerful strain of realism.  Strict neutrality was the infant nation’s best hope for survival amid international turmoil.  The global nature of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars threatened to ensnare and destroy the republic with one misstep or ill-fated alliance.  President James Madison nearly did just that in the War of 1812 when British forces burned Washington D.C.

In the republic’s harrowing early years, one should note the impossibility of isolation or having no foreign contact.  The world war meant the U.S. needed diplomatic relations and readiness for conflict.  Sometimes the two overlapped, such as when hostilities began in 1812 over the repeated impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy.  But, the key for the Founders was to comprehend foreign threats and respond appropriately.

Prescribed aloofness from European power politics never concerned diplomacy or trade.  The Founders encouraged the latter, while the former became easier after Napoleon’s fall in 1815.  Indeed, diplomacy was critical to bolstering U.S. security.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 did more than add land.  It reduced the presence of France, and then Spain, in North America and secured American control of the Mississippi River.  The Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 built off of Jefferson’s work.  It exchanged vague boundary claims in present-day Texas for Spanish Florida, and consolidated American control of land east of the Mississippi River.  Moreover, New Spain (Mexico and Central America) became independent soon thereafter.

In 1823, President James Monroe warned European nations against re-colonizing Latin America.  Such efforts would constitute a serious threat to U.S. security.  Despite America’s inability to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, and whether by design or accident, Britain tacitly approved.  Spanish re-conquest likely meant a reestablished mercantilist system.  If the Royal Navy kept prospective colonizers out, those new markets would likely stay open.  This overlap of British economic interests and American geopolitical interests benefited the United States immensely.

As Europe settled into peace, foreign crises abated and the market revolution began.  Over the succeeding years, U.S. economic growth exploded, the restraints of weakness fell away, and politicians’ desire to exercise power grew.  From 1815 to the Civil War, Americans made plenty of mischief abroad.  The U.S. declared one war (against Mexico 1846-1848), threatened another with Britain over border disputes regarding Canada out west (1845-1847), and issued ultimatums to Spain about freeing Cuba (the 1854 Ostend Manifesto).

The justification for this belligerency may sound familiar, freedom.  In July 1845, a young writer named John L. O’Sullivan published an editorial entitled “Annexation” in The United States Democratic Review.  This piece mixed freedom with foreign policy, and turned a famous phrase.  O’Sullivan opined about America’s “manifest destiny” to “overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

O’Sullivan did not mean territorial acquisition by force.  Instead, the spread of free peoples and success of free institutions would exercise a gravitational pull.  American energy and productivity would inexorably draw North America’s foreign territories into the Union.  California, then part of Mexico, was a case in point.

“Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it, armed with the plough and the rifle, and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meeting-houses.  A population will soon be in actual occupation of California, over which it will be idle for Mexico to dream of dominion.”

Stated succinctly, freedom’s power lay internally.  Americans’ success as free people marked them as chosen by God to show the way to a better future.  Moreover, once the U.S. conquered North America, no European power would equal its strength.  O’Sullivan concluded:

“Away, then, with all idle French talk of balances of power on the American continent [emphasis in the original]… And whosoever may hold the balance, though they should cast into the opposite scale all the bayonets and cannon, not only of France and England, but of Europe entire, how would it kick the beam against the simple solid weight of two hundred and fifty, or three hundred millions-and American millions-destined to gather beneath the flutter of the stripes and stars, in the fast hastening year of the Lord 1945!”

Others shared such sentiments, including the new president.  In his first annual message to Congress in December 1845, President James Polk stated, “the expansion of free principles and our rising greatness as a nation are attracting the attention of the powers of Europe.”  That attention brought about the threat of a “ ‘balance of power’ ” system imposed “on this continent to check our advancement.”

The solution was territorial acquisition.  A trans-continental United States would, excluding British Canada, end European intrigue and mischief making in North America.  If it came at the expense of others, then so be it.  Such thinking was not confined to the younger generation.  President Andrew Jackson said of Mexico’s breakaway Texas province in 1844: it was “the key to our safety” and would “lock the door against future danger.”  Texas was duly annexed in February 1845, while the Oregon territory and California followed soon thereafter.

But ultimately, America’s exaltation of freedom did not stop with continental conquest.  It turned outward after Reconstruction and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  While not inevitable, the transition from Jefferson’s “empire of liberty,” to an imperial power built off early expansionist impulses.

As European nations carved up Africa, Americans watched a horror show closer to home.  In February of 1895, Cuba’s Spanish masters brutally suppressed an insurrection.  Mass arrests, concentration camps, and destruction of property continually wracked the island.  Such carnage, inflamed by mass media, attracted renewed American interest in obtaining Cuba.  However, the reasons for annexation had changed with the times.

Early interest fit into O’Sullivan’s model of gravitational pull.  As Monroe’s Secretary of State (1817-1825), John Quincy Adams labeled Puerto Rico and Cuba “natural appendages of the North American continent.”  Once free, both could “gravitate only towards the North American Union.”  His contemporaries and successors agreed: Madison tried to buy the island in 1810 and annexationists eagerly awaited its freedom in 1848 as revolution gripped Europe.  Yet, Cuba stayed Spanish real estate.

With wealth and power by the end of the Nineteenth Century, American opinions on imperialism had changed.  Given its proximity, Cuba was a logical target.  Some, such as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, appealed to security concerns.  He called Cuba a “necessity” to the defense of the Panama Canal upon its completion.  Others, namely Senator Morgan of Alabama, thought the prior generations’ wisdom was obsolete.  He unabashedly stated, “Cuba should become an American colony.”

While Cuba burned, jingoists kept agitating for colonialism on newer, and more expansive, grounds.  In April 1898, with war declared on Spain, freedom’s forceful expansion reached its supreme perversion in a speech by Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana.  “The progress of a mighty people and their free institutions” begun at the Nineteenth Century’s start was nearing its apex.  “Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours.”  This quest for an empire of trade wrested Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from Spain in three months.

The turn from the past finished four years later in a faraway land.  On July 4, 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt extended pardons to all those involved in the Filipino insurrection.  This gesture came after roughly a million Filipinos died in a guerilla war against U.S. forces.  Upwards of 75,000 American soldiers suppressed the rebellion, captured Aguinaldo (the rebellion’s leader), and solidified American control over the nation’s new Pacific trade post.  All that remained was to “civilize and Christianize” the “little brown brothers.”  While it might take a while, Governor-General William Howard Taft estimated “fifty or one hundred years,” the empire would endure.

The neocons’ chest thumping about American power relies on alleged international benefits, open seas, outweighing the negatives of expense or quagmires.  They seemingly do not consider, or care about, domestic consequences; centralized power, distorted perceptions of the military’s role in protecting society, and intellectuals playing social engineers.

Some statesmen, in their humility, knew better.  Eighty-one years before Roosevelt’s pivot to imperialism, John Quincy Adams channeled his father’s generation.  On July 4, 1821, he issued as sublime a statement of U.S. foreign policy ever written.

“But she [America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own… She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.  The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force [emphasis added].”

How prophetic.  Yet, it seems the era of intervention that climaxed under President George W. Bush is at its end.  Its foundational ideas are in retreat despite the bellowing of its loudest spokesmen.   The next, and final, step for such bankrupt ideas and the isolationist slur is residence in the dustbin of history.

This article is available online at:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/timreuter/2013/10/10/an-isolationist-united-states-if-only-that-were-true/

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