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Maintaining political stability and the free flow of oil to the global economy have been the overarching objectives of U. The U. Navy has been one of the primary instruments of that policy, in both peace and war. Between the establishment of the Middle East Force in and the outbreak of war inU. The continuous, albeit limited, American military presence in the Persian Gulf demonstrated to potential aggressors that in any confrontation they faced the prospect of war with a superpower. The Navy's extended presence in the region generated political support for the United States among the economically vital but militarily vulnerable states on the Arabian Peninsula.
A political cartoon in Puck magazine on January 25,captures the mind-set of American imperialists. Library of Congress. The word empire might conjure images of ancient Rome, the Persian Empire, or the British Empire—powers that depended variously on military conquest, colonization, occupation, or direct resource exploitation—but empires can take many forms and imperial processes can occur in many contexts. One hundred years after the United States won its independence from the British Empire, had it become an empire of its own? In the decades after the American Civil War, the United States exerted itself in the service of American interests around the world.
In the Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East, and most explicitly in the Spanish-American War and under the foreign policy of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, the United States expanded on a long history of exploration, trade, and cultural exchange to practice something that looked remarkably like empire.
The question of American imperialism, then, seeks to understand not only direct American interventions in such places as Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico, but also the deeper history of American engagement with the wider world and the subsequent ways in which American economic, political, and cultural power has shaped the actions, choices, and possibilities of other groups and nations.
Meanwhile, as the United States asserted itself abroad, it acquired increasingly higher s of foreign peoples at home.
European and Asian immigrants poured into the United States. And how accessible—and how fluid—should American identity be for newcomers?
All such questions confronted late-nineteenth-century Americans with unprecedented urgency. The United States had long been involved in Pacific commerce. American ships had been traveling to China, for instance, since As a percentage of total American foreign trade, Asian trade remained comparatively small, and yet the idea that Asian markets were vital to American commerce affected American policy and, when those markets were threatened, prompted interventions. It was in the economic interest of American business to maintain China for free trade.
The following year, inAmerican troops ed a multinational force that intervened to prevent the closing of trade by putting down the Boxer Rebellion, a movement opposed to foreign businesses and missionaries operating in China. President McKinley sent the U. Army without consulting Congress, setting a precedent for U.
The United States was not only ready to intervene in foreign affairs to preserve foreign markets, it was willing to take territory. Guano—collected bird excrement—was a popular fertilizer integral to industrial farming. The act authorized and encouraged Americans to venture into the seas and claim islands with guano deposits for the United States. These acquisitions were the first insular, unincorporated territories of the United States: they were neither part of a state nor a federal district, and they were not on the path to ever attain such a status. The act, though little known, offered a precedent for future American acquisitions.
Christian missionaries soon followed explorers and traders. The first American missionaries arrived in Hawaii in and China infor example. Missionaries, though, often worked alongside business interests, and American missionaries in Hawaii, for instance, obtained large tracts of land and started lucrative sugar plantations. As many Americans looked for empire across the Pacific, others looked to Latin America. The United States, long a participant in an increasingly complex network of economic, social, and cultural interactions in Latin America, entered the late nineteenth century with a new aggressive and interventionist attitude toward its southern neighbors.
American capitalists invested enormous sums of money in Mexico during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the long reign of the corrupt yet stable regime of the modernization-hungry president Porfirio Diaz.
In the midst of the terrible destruction wrought by the fighting, Americans with investment interests pleaded for governmental help. But the U. More and more American businessmen called for military intervention. Wilson refused to recognize the new government and demanded that Huerta step aside and allow free elections to take place. Huerta refused. When Mexican forces mistakenly arrested American sailors in the port city of Tampico in AprilWilson saw the opportunity to apply additional pressure on Huerta.
Huerta refused to make amends, and Wilson therefore asked Congress for authority to use force against Mexico. The Huerta government fell in Julyand the American occupation lasted until November, when Venustiano Carranza, a rival of Huerta, took power. When Wilson threw American support behind Carranza, and not his more radical and now-rival Pancho Villa, Villa and several hundred supporters attacked American interests and raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico, in Marchand killed over a dozen soldiers and civilians.
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Wilson ordered a punitive expedition of several thousand soldiers led by General John J. But Villa eluded Pershing for nearly a year and, inwith war in Europe looming and great injury done to U. This example highlights the role of geography, or perhaps proximity, in the pursuit of imperial outcomes. But American interactions in more distant locations, in the Middle East, for instance, look quite different.
The U. Trade was limited, too limited for an economic relationship to be deemed vital to the national interest, but treaties were nevertheless ed between the U. Still, the majority of American involvement in the Middle East prior to World War I came not in the form of trade but in education, science, and humanitarian aid.
American missionaries led the way.
The first Protestant missionaries had arrived in Soon the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the boards of missions of the Reformed Church of America became dominant in missionary enterprises. Missions were established in almost every country of the Middle East, and even though their efforts resulted in relatively few converts, missionaries helped establish hospitals and schools, and their work laid the foundation for the establishment of Western-style universities, such as Robert College in Istanbul, Turkeythe American University of Beirutand the American University of Cairo Although the United States had a long history of international economic, military, and cultural engagement that stretched back deep into the eighteenth century, the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars — marked a crucial turning point in American interventions abroad.
In pursuing war with Spain, and then engaging in counterrevolutionary conflict in the Philippines, the United States expanded the scope and strength of its global reach. Over the next two decades, the United States would become increasingly involved in international politics, particularly in Latin America.
These new conflicts and ensuing territorial problems forced Americans to confront the ideological elements of imperialism. Should the United States act as an empire? Or were foreign interventions and the taking of territory antithetical to its founding democratic ideals? What exactly would be the relationship between the United States and its territories? And could colonial subjects be successfully and safely incorporated into the body politic as American citizens?
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The Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars brought these questions, which had always lurked behind discussions of American expansion, out into the open. InAmericans began in earnest to turn their attention southward to problems plaguing their neighbor Cuba.
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Cubans had tried unsuccessfully again and again to gain independence from Spain. By that time, in an attempt to crush the uprising, Spanish general Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau had been conducting a policy of reconcentration—forcing Cubans living in certain cities to relocate en masse to military camps—for about two years.
Prominent newspaper publishers sensationalized Spanish atrocities. Cubans in the United States and their allies raised cries of Cuba Libre!
And while the U. He ordered the battleship Maine to Havana harbor in January The Maine sat undisturbed in the harbor for about two weeks. Then, on the evening of February 15, a titanic explosion tore open the ship and sent it to the bottom of the ocean.
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A naval board of inquiry immediately began an investigation to ascertain the cause of the explosion, but the loudest Americans had already decided that Spanish treachery was to blame. When urgent negotiations failed to produce a mutually agreeable settlement, Congress officially declared war on April Military victories for the United States came quickly.
In the Pacific, on May 1, Commodore George Dewey engaged the Spanish fleet outside Manila, the capital of the Philippines another Spanish colonial possessiondestroyed it, and proceeded to blockade Manila harbor. Roosevelt had been the assistant secretary of the navy but had reed his position in order to see action in the war.
His actions in Cuba made him a national celebrity.
As disease began to eat away at American troops, the Spanish suffered the loss of Santiago de Cuba on July 17, effectively ending the war. The two nations agreed to a cease-fire on August 12 and formally ed the Treaty of Paris in December. Fewer than four hundred Americans died in battle in a war that lasted about fifteen weeks.
Contemporaries celebrated American victories as the providential act of God. Beveridge of Indiana, took matters one step further, seeing in American victory an opportunity for imperialism. This political cartoon shows embodiments of colonies and territories before and after American interventions. Those who claimed that American imperialism brought civilization and prosperity to destitute peoples used such visuals to support their cause.
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But the question of whether the United States should become an empire was sharply debated across the nation in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the acquisition of Hawaii in July At the behest of American businessmen who had overthrown the Hawaiian monarchy, the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands and their rich plantations.
Between Hawaii and a of former Spanish possessions, many Americans coveted the economic and political advantages that increased territory would bring. American actions in the Philippines brought all of these discussions to a head. The Philippines were an afterthought of the Spanish-American War, but when the smoke cleared, the United States found itself in possession of a key foothold in the Pacific.
American and Philippine forces under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo were in communication: Would the Americans offer their support to the Filipinos and their ongoing efforts against the Spanish? Or would the Americans replace the Spanish as a colonial occupying force? American forces were instructed to secure Manila without allowing Philippine forces to enter the Walled City the seat of the Spanish colonial governmenthinting, perhaps, at things to come.