Almost from the very beginning, the United States held a foreign policy of constant expansion. The original thirteen colonies saw the vast expanse of their uncharted continent as an adolescent today would view a new video action game. The fact that there were other inhabitants predating their arrival was of little consequence. The near complete genocide of the American native proved to be but a precursor of things to come. Historian David Stannard is of the opinion that the indigenous peoples of America were the victims of a "Euro-American genocidal war." While conceding that the majority of the indigenous peoples fell victim to the ravages of European disease, he estimates that almost 100 million died in what he calls the American Holocaust.
One can dispute the population numbers from before and after, but one cannot argue with the fact that the US set out deliberately and from the very beginning, even while a colony under British rule, to conquer land and subjugate those living there prior to their arrival. It is important to note that the fact that American natives had not been exposed to common European diseases prior to their arrival, was a factor used quite often by military and civilian groups to purposefully weaken and deteriorate the strength and will of the American native. Blankets laden with small pox and other diseases were often offered to native Americans as “gifts” with the benefactors knowing full well that this constituted the death knell for the recipient natives. Often the native Americans would be forced into hard labor for little or no pay and then discarded when they no longer served a useful purpose.
But this was just the beginning of the American foreign policy. Early in its life, the US sought to expand its influence well beyond the eventual borders that would mark its current boundaries. The Monroe Doctrine was written in 1823 by then president James Monroe and it stated simply, “In the discussions to which this interest has given rise, and in the arrangements by which they may terminate the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers....” Though seemingly innocuous in nature, this one statement would have a very profound effect in future events. The US would hide behind this shield time and time again in its pursuit of foreign intervention into the affairs of its neighbors both in North America and South America.
The US had already used its emerging prowess in aggressive attacks of its neighboring countries long before this time, but this marked the first time that a US president spoke out forcefully to the world about American intentions in its forming foreign policy. In 1806, Captain Z. M. Pike and his troops invaded Mexico across the Rio Grande. In 1812, President James Madison and Congress authorized the seizure of Amelia Island in then Spanish Florida under brutal means by General George Matthews. Over the next ten years the US would forcibly invade Spanish Florida five times and the Marguesa Islands as well. In the 1820s and 1830s, the US invaded Cuba, Puerto Rico, Greece, the Falkland Islands, Sumatra, Argentina, and Peru. While most of these incursions involved retaliation against pirate attacks, the attack on Peru was different.
For the first time in US history, in 1835 the US attacked a sovereign nation to protect American interests inside that nation. For the first time US Marines were solicited to enter into armed conflict to protect American companies located in the towns of Callao and Lima. Over the next two centuries, this policy of protecting US business interests using US military and American soldiers would become a hallmark of US foreign policy.
Over the next ten years, the US would invade such countries as Fiji, Samoa, Ivory Coast and China. In China in 1843, sailors and marines from the USS St. Louis landed after fighting broke out over factories and trading posts in the city of Canton. The troops crushed a riot over Yankee imperialism.
Following the annexation of Texas into the US in 1845, border disputes with Mexico were rampant. The US decided to take the area now known as New Mexico in 1846 under a concept known as Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was a phrase that expressed the belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean; it has also been used to advocate for or justify territorial acquisitions. Advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion was not only good, but that it was obvious and certain. It was originally a political catch phrase or slogan used by Democrats in the 1845-1855 period, and rejected by Whigs and Republicans of that era. Manifest Destiny was an explanation or justification for that expansion and westward movement, or, in some interpretations, an ideology or doctrine which helped to promote the process. In just three of those years, 1846 to 1848, the US wages an all out war against Mexico ending in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which Mexico cedes more that half of its territory to the US. More than 13,000 US soldiers died in this quest, representing two in five in the military, yet the US public were largely supportive of the war effort and applauded the annexation.
On September 17, 1852, US Marines landed in Buenos Aires to protect American interests during a revolution and they remained until April 1853. Again we have American intervention in internal strife to maintain US business interests through force. In 1853 this scene is repeated in Nicaragua.
Again in1853, Commodore Perry and his troops sailed into Tokyo Harbor demanding that Japan open its markets to international trade. Perry landed Marines twice and secured a coaling company from the provincial ruler in Okinawa. He also secured facilities for commerce in Bonin Island. In 1863, the USS Wyoming was dispatched to retaliate against an attack on the Pembroke at Shimonoseki. Over the next five years, the US used blatant military force to punish the Japanese into allowing international trade dictated on American terms.
In 1854, US naval forces bombed and burned San Juan del Norte, Nicaragua, to avenge an insult to the American ambassador to Nicaragua who was wounded by an angry mob who later refused to apologize for the event. 1856 also saw American attacks on China and Panama (then still part of Colombia). The attack on Panama was to secure the Atlantic-Pacific railroad being built through the region. In 1858, the US lashed out against Levant, in the Ottoman Empire after a massacre of Americans at Jaffe.
Over the next ten years, the US would invade China, Mexico, Colombia, Angola and Korea in pursuit of bandits or protecting American interests. From 1873 to 1896, the US invaded Mexico repeatedly in pursuit of bandits and renegades. The US attempted to legitimize such raids with a treaty with Mexico in 1882. In 1885, the US shows it first use of the famous “Gunboat Diplomacy” in which American troops and naval power were sent to Guatemala to protect American civilians and property. In 1893, the US moved against the sovereign nation of Hawaii and annexed it outright despite the outrage of the Hawaiian people. Though president Grover Cleveland was completely against the idea, his successor, president William McKinley, had no problem completing the job. Hawaii would eventually become the 50th state of the United States in 1959. In 1894, the US deliberately beached a naval vessel at Tientsin, China, in order to provide safe haven for Americans during the Sino-Japanese War.
That brings us to the first major US intervention in the world. The US had major sugar interests in Cuba towards the end of the 19th Century. Their constant conflicts with the Spanish government were duly reported back to the American government. In 1898, The USS Maine was stationed in Havana Harbor. When an engine boiler blew next to the magazine compartment, the vessel sank, and 266 US sailors lost their lives. This provided the dawning of Yellow Journalism and the beginning of manipulative media reporting in US newspapers. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, two wealthy New York newspaper tycoons, vied ferociously with each other to prove that Spain had sunk the USS Maine. “Remember the Maine,” was the cry of the period and the American public was seduced into waging war against Spain, though it had nothing to do with the sinking of the USS Maine. Through outright lies and media spin, these two tycoons launched America into a war it had no right to be in. Though the US lost nearly 3,000 soldiers, the Treaty of Paris saw Spain ceding not only Cuba, but Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the US.
But the Philippines wanted independence, not a transfer of rulers. Emilio Aquinaldo declared himself president of the Philippines soon after the US intervention, and led a new fight against the Americans. The brutality of US forces knew no bounds and by July 4, 1946, over 4,000 American soldiers lay dead, and more than 20,000 Philippine soldiers and over 500,000 Philippine civilians joined them. In the end, the Philippines did receive its long awaited independence, but at the cost of over half a million souls. During the next ten years, the US intervened in Nicaragua, Panama, China, Morocco, Honduras and Cuba. Every single one of these military and illegal interventions were started solely to protect American business interests and American lives.
In 1910, the US upped the ante with foreign countries. That year, they landed in Nicaragua because then President Jose Zalaya had decided to impose a tax on American mining and fruit companies. The US military forced him to resign and fully supported his successor Adolfo Diaz. This would mark the first time that the US intervened forcefully in the removal of a democratically elected president. By the end of the century, this act would become commonplace. In 1912, US forces returned to Nicaragua in order to prop up the regime of President Diaz. Until 1934, US forces remained in Nicaragua to continue to keep their puppet regime in power. Year after year, Diaz would be unanimously elected by the Nicaraguan people, even though only 4,000 of the 572,000 voters were allowed to cast a ballot.
The next twenty years witnessed US military interventions in China, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Haiti, all in the name of protecting US businesses in those countries. The major intervention, however, was its involvement in WWI.
On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was sunk off the coast of County Cork, Ireland by a U-boat after it had slowed to await the arrival of the English escort vessel, the Juno, which was intended to escort it into the English port. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, issued orders that the Juno was to return to port, and the Lusitania sat alone in the channel. Because Churchill knew of the presence of three U-boats in the vicinity, it is reasonable to presume that he had planned for the Lusitania to be sunk, and it was. 1,201 people lost their lives in the sinking. The US had its long-anticipated war with Germany and its allies. Even though the ship was loaded with war ammunitions and Germany had posted several ads in the New York newspapers warning Americans that it would consider any ship carrying arms from America to Great Britain to be a military ship, the American public was outraged and demanded retaliation.
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