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David Levering Lewis : The Imperial Experiment
David Levering Lewis The Spanish-American War, the premise was that we're going to help people achieve democracy. The Spanish have made that impossible for them and, in the case of the Cubans, they've been struggling for such a long time and, moreover, we've got investments on the island and wouldn't it be nice if we'd bring democracy in and also access to those markets unhampered by Spanish regulations? And that was, I think, a fair enough paradigm to come on the world stage with. When the Filipino chapter turned sour, when we had thrown in our face the very principles that we had justified our imperial venture by Aguinaldo. He wanted a republic. He wanted one man, one vote. he wanted a constitution. Those things seemed to many Americans so basic that the refusal was, indeed, to do ourselves as great, if not greater, harm than the Filipinos in denying them. And so I'm sure people like Mark Twain and David Starr Jordan and the progressives who railed against this violation of our democracy principles were convinced that we would pay dearly later for this. Then there were others, like Senator Tilman of South Carolina, strange bedfellows, this anti-imperialistic clique had Mark Twain and Ben Tilman, but Tilman didn't want any more coloreds in the American republic. "We got enough problems," said he. "We don't need these little brown men."

The racist spin that was put on the imperial experiment, the beginnings of it, is really quite malevolent. Some of our most honorable citizens participated in it. Theodore Roosevelt, I suppose, was one of the great offenders. Neither the Chinese nor the Filipinos had any rights that a white man was bound to respect. It was part of the social Darwinian miasma that just enveloped much of the American Establishment during this time. There was a very famous admiral, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, who wrote a classic work, still to be read, I'm sure, at Annapolis, on sea power in which the argument was that to be great, America must fulfill its imperial mission with an invulnerable naval flotilla and we must, indeed envelope the globe in order to protect our markets." There was a combination of racism that people of a different color were slower evolving and that northern Europeans were way ahead, with a curious kind of Marxism, although they would have been scandalized if you had said, "You're thinking Marx." But overproduction was an obsession with many of these advocates of imperialism and that meant to say, "We're not gonna pay the workers in this country enough to buy what's produced. And so what are we gonna do with it?" And the solution was, of course, to ratify and justify these incursions in China under the rubric of the Open Door policy. And, of course, at this very moment in time the Boxer Rebellion involved some four or five thousand American Marines suppressing Chinese irredentism. All of the had to be justified, though, the economics justified, the racism justified the economics.

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