"Never before in modern history has a country dominated the earth so totally as the United States does today."
Excerpted from "Discovering America as It Is" by Valdas Anelauskas (Clarity Press 1999)
A Taste for EMPIRE
by Valdas Anelauskas
The capitalist logic of expansionism led U.S. elites to seek not just a continental but a global empire. Hence, even before the smoke had cleared at places like Wounded Knee, greedy eyes were being cast across the waters of the world as the country's business and governmental leaders contemplated the acquisition of colonies in a variety of strategic locales. Given the climate, it was no overstatement when in 1898, on the eve of the Spanish-American war, the editors of the Washington Post opined that, "We are face-to-face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth." Or, as Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge more accurately framed the matter about three years earlier, "We have a record of conquest, colonization and expansion unequaled by any people in the Nineteenth century. We are not about to be curbed now."
Invasion, Occupation and Colonization
During the third week of January, 1893, a group of well-armed EuroAmerican insurgents, backed by troops landed from the U.S.S. Boston, overthrew the constitutional monarchy of Hawai'i, with which the United States had entered into several still-binding treaties of peace, friendship and commerce. Although President Grover Cleveland quickly denounced the whole affair as an undeclared "act of war," and thus a crime against both the U.S. constitution and international law, Congress proceeded to bestow recognition upon what the usurpers had already announced was now an "independent republic." This proved to be a transitional ruse, however, as the new government spent the next several years arranging for the annexation of the archipelago as a U.S. "trust territory" (colony), an effort consummated on June 15, 1898.
By then, American expansionism had escalated beyond all bounds. On May 12 of the same year, seven U.S. warships opened fire without warning on the town of San Juan, on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. Two-and-a-half months later, troops were landed and seized control of the Caribbean island. Claiming that their intent was to "liberate" the populace from the old and weakened Spanish Empire, the soldiers fanned out and shortly set in place the facilities and institutions which allowed Americans to simply replace the Spanish as colonial oppressors.
Meanwhile, the U.S. was attacking Spain in other quarters, primarily Cuba and the Philippines, and winning every round. In Cuba, victory was followed by installation of a regime "friendly" to American corporate interests and, for the most part, military withdrawal (albeit, the U.S. Navy retained, and continues to retain, a major base at Guatanamo Bay, at the island's southern tip). In the Philippines, on the other hand, Commodor Dewey's triumph over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay ushered in the islands' annexation as a U.S. colony. There followed the bloody suppression of Philippine nationalists in the north and a vicious war of extermination against the "Moro" people indigenous to Mindanao and other southerly islands, tellingly, U.S. troops referred to the Moros as "Indians", which left as many as a million people dead.
Along with Guam, an island in the Marianas the U.S. also appropriated from Spain, each of these overseas territories seized at the turn of the century served explicitly military as well as commercial purposes. By the early 1920s, the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) had been almost completely dispossessed as their homelands were converted in large part into a vast complex of military bases, Pearl Habor, Hickman Field, Schoffield Barracks, For DeRussy, Bellows Field, Fort Shafter, and so on, with the remainder consigned to sprawling pineapple and sugar plantations owned by Dole and other American corporations. Thirteen military bases were eventually established on Puerto Rico, while, beginning in 1899, four U.S. sugar companies gobbled up the bulk of the remaining arable land. The population, of course, was left destitute and by the 1970s, about half of it had been displaced into menial occupations on the U.S. mainland.
Some two dozen military bases were constructed in the Philippines, including the 130,000 acre Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base, which includes the entire city of Olangapo, while American corporations quickly set up shop. Although the achipelago was formally decolonized in 1947, the U.S. retained both Subic Bay and Clark Air base under 99 year leases, and, as of the late 1970s, its corporations still held nearly a third of the islands' gross equity. Moreover, the U.S. unleashed a counterinsurgency campaign during the late 1940s and early '50s against the Hukbalahap guerillas, it was headed by Colonel Edward Lansdale, who would go on to mount a similar effort in Vietnam, to ensure that the neocolonial client regime it had installed would prevail against the will of its own people.
For its part, Guam was used first as a naval coaling station, a facility which has grown into the Agana harbor nuclear submarine station. Much to the consternation of the indigenous Chamorro population, Agana, together with the gigantic Anderson Air Force Base, now take up about half the island's surface area, while American hotel and recreation companies have consumed most of the rest. To survive, many Chamorros, descendants of a once proud and entirely self-sufficient people, have been reduced to performing menial labor for the military, or providing even more degrading services in their colonizers' thriving tourist and sex industries.
Such circumstances are replicated elsewhere among America's Pacific colonies, many of them, like Okinawa, appropriated from the vanquished Japanese at the end of World War II. As analyst David Robie has summed up the overall situation in the western Pacific:
If American possessions (there) become truly independent, the United States would lose major military facilities in Guam and American Samoa, its missile and Star Wars testing facilities at Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and its contingency sites for possible new bases in Belau and elsewhere in Micronesia. If the Philippines becomes truly independent, the Pentagon would lose its biggest air, naval, electronic and brothel facilities in the (region).
Along with its military ascendancy would likely go America's access to natural resources and economic domination throughout most of the Pacific Basin. Hence, as U.S. Ambassador to Fiji William Bodde put it in 1982, "The U.S. Government must do everything possible to counter (any) movement" toward the attainment of genuine independence by Filipinos, Micronesians and other western Pacific islanders. And, to date, what has proved possible for the United States has been more than sufficient for the task.
In Hawai'i, things are in some ways even worse. So vital did policymakers consider these islands to American interests that, in the face of a requirement in the United Nations Charter that all overseas trusts and other such "non-selfgoverning territories" be scheduled for timely decolonization, 61 the U.S. moved to incorporate them directly into itself. This maneuver was accomplished in 1959 by way of an invalid referendum, the option of the indigenous people resuming an independent existence was not presented on the ballot, providing the pretext for Hawai'i to be admitted as a state of the Union. Since then. U.S diplomats have argued, quite transparently, that this utterly rigged process satisfied all rights of the Kanaka Maoli to self-determination, thus nullifying further questions concerning the islands' ultimate disposition.
Such subterfuge, in combination with the dire conditions under which the Kanaka Maoli have been forced to live, has given rise to an increasingly visible Hawaiian sovereignty movement. In 1993, largely because the movement had succeeded in bringing its case before the U.N., Congress took the unusual step of issuing a formal apology for crimes committed by its predecessor body against the monarchy a century earlier. The gesture has proved essentially cosmetic, however, since the U.S. has undertaken to meet none of the international legal obligations to effect restitution which attend such admissions of wrongdoing.
Nor are things better in Puerto Rico. Although there is no indication that U.S. lawmakers have ever seriously considered conferring statehood upon the island, they did set out to finesse U.N. decolonization requirements by enacting Public Law 600 in 1950, proclaiming that Puerto Rico had thereupon assumed the status of "Free Associate State" The popular response was a massive insurrection. Unlike Hawai'i, where the sovereignty movement has generally adhered to principles of nonviolence, Puertoriquenos have a long history of armed struggle, requiring a direct U.S. military response.
By the mid- 1960s, the independence movement was once again strong enough and the island important enough, it served, and continues to serve, as the staging area for virtually all U.S. military operations in the Caribbean and Central America, for the United States to try again. A plebiscite on the status issue was announced for 1967, but, since the U.S. rather than the U.N. was to administer it, the independentistas called for a boycott. The result was that about a third of the electorate declined to participate.
There followed an extended period of guerilla operations, both on the island and within the mainland U.S. itself, as pro-independence forces sought to alter the power equation defining Puerto Rico's destiny. To this, federal authorities replied with a Draconian campaign of repression and finally, in 1995, with independentista fighting formations seriously depleted and the population wearied by the seemingly endless struggle, a second plebiscite. Although voter turnout was somewhat greater than in 1967, the referendum was again administered by the U.S. rather than by an impartial third party, a matter of invalidating the results under international law. Like Hawai'i, then the self-determining status of Puerto Rico continues to be denied. In effect, like the indigenous nations encapsulated within U.S. continental boundaries, both remain American colonies.
Carrying the Big Stick
The United States has always had global ambitions. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 declared the entire Western Hemisphere to be a U.S. sphere of influence. Leaving aside its continuous record of aggression against American Indians, its expropriation of Florida from Spain during the early nineteenth century, and subsequent war of conquest against Mexico in 1847-48, the United States carried out 103 military interventions prior to the Spanish-American War? These included actions against Tripoli ( 1800-1805), Algiers ( 1815), Sumatra ( 1832, 1838), Argentina ( 1833, 1852, 1890), Mexico ( 1836, 1842, 1859, 1866, 1870), Fiji ( 1840, 1855, 1858), Samoa ( 1841, 1888), Drummond Island ( 1841), Tourane ( 1845), Jaffa ( 1851, 1858), Japan ( 1853), Nicaragua ( 1853, 1854, 1857, 1867, 1894, 1896, 1898), Uruguay ( 1855, 1858, 1868), Columbia, mainly the Province of Panama ( 1856, 1865, 1873, 1885, 1896), China ( 1859), Paraguay ( 1859), Angola ( 1860), Shimonoseki Island ( 1863), Korea ( 1871, 1888), Hawai'i ( 1874, 1889, 1893), Egypt ( 1882) and Haiti ( 1888, 1891). In addition, the U.S. Navy continuously patrolled China's Yangtse River from 1841 onward.
The United States carried out 103 before 1895.
As Senator Cabot Lodge was quoted above as so correctly observing, America's record of belicosity during the nineteenth century was unequaled by any other country. Thus, the U.S. war against Spain in 1898, and its initial seizure of colonies abroad, simply marked the crystallization of attitudes and behaviors which had been evident from the outset. And, although President William McKinley cast American policy in the Philippines in the most glowing terms, as a "civilizing mission" devoted to the "Benevolent Assimilation" of Filipinos (he also described the colonization of Puerto Rico as "anticolonialism"), the wanton slaughter occurring in those islands even as he spoke painted an obviously different picture of U.S. intentions.
With Theodore Roosevelt's pronouncement of his "Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904, the intensity of American aggression, if anything, increased. In the corollary, President Roosevelt proclaimed that the United States, because it was a"civilized nation," had the right to stop "chronic wrong doing" throughout the world. "God," declared Senator Beveidge of Indiana in January 1900, "has made us master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth...Were it not for such a force such as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night."
Perhaps the proudest achievement of Roosevelt's presidency was setting in motion construction of the Panama canal, an expedient not only to rendering U.S. commerce more efficient (and thus profitable), but to transferring American naval force between the Atlantic and Pacific with a minimum of delay. Of course, to accomplish this it was first necessary to strip Columbia of Panama, its most northerly province, and then carve an effectively permanent zone of U.S. military occupation across the resulting "nation."
Altogether, during the thirty years from the Spanish-American War to the Great Depression, the United States sent its troops into Latin American countries thirty-two times. Apart from the expeditionary force it dispatched to fight in World War I, it intervened militarily in other locales on a further dozen occasions during the same period. And, in the aftermath of the Second World War, possessed of a temporary nuclear monopoly and with its primary opponents in shambles, the scope of such activities was extended still further as U.S. policymakers endeavored to finally attain a truly global reach.
Between the end of the Spanish-American war and the Great Depression, the United States sent troops to Latin american countries thirty-two times.
For nearly five decades, the United States has used its status as the dominant military and economic power to intimidate rival nations around the world as it pursues the interests of American big business. There is no other country whose government talks so endlessly of peace and engages so precipitously in acts of war, largely undeclared as such. For years, the government of the United States has willfully inflicted agony, death and destruction on the peoples of other countries, most of whom were militarily weak or defenseless. During the Vietnam War, U.S. General Curtis Lemay advocated, and almost achieved, the goal of bombing the enemy into the Stone Age. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos may never recover from the economic and ecological devastation brought on by U.S. bombing in its war of aggression in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia alone, between 1969 and 1973 the US air force dropped more than 530,000 tons of bombs, killing more than 600,000 people and displacing nearly 2 million.
Tens of thousands have been slaughtered by direct U.S. military actions against the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya, Lebanon, Panama, and Iraq. Besides direct attack by the U.S. military, people in many countries are also subject to the state terror of governments supported by the United States. Palestinians, for example, are regularly murdered by Israel's military forces supplied and financed by the U.S. Government. The United States sells arms and provides military aid to dictators and totalitarian regimes around the world. President Jimmy Carter allowed the U.S. to train the Shah of Iran's despicable Savak "security" police, a veritable torture club.
The U.S. supported Indonesia's Suharto dictatorship even though it had become common knowledge that the Indonesian military practiced genocide against the people of East Timor. The Indonesian armed forces, known as ABRI, have long been the chosen instrument of American foreign policy for bolstering its preferred totalitarian regime in the world's fourth largest country. The United States collaborated with ABRI (providing it with lists of suspected communists) in 1965, when General Suharto slaughtered a half-million people in the process of coming to power. It also condoned ABRI's invasion of East Timor on December 7, 1975, and its subsequent elimination of 200,000 East Timorese through what the State Department in its 1996 Human Rights Report calls "extrajudicial killings." Since Indonesia lacks external enemies, its armed forces are devoted almost entirely to maintaining internal security. For most of the period of the Suharto regime, the CIA has actively trained ABRI special forces in a variety of lethal tactics, including advanced sniper operations, dose quarters combat, containing street demonstrations, and psychological operations.
The United States spent billions of dollars to overthrow the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan, supporting the most reactionary and fanatic Taliban forces in that country. The CIA had supported a mercenary army recruited of feudal warlords and their servants for a "holy war" against the communists. These forces received huge amounts of weapons, military training, and other aid from the U.S.^Wit was the largest CIA operation in history.
The U.S. Government does not like Castro's Cuba, although that country is impotent to threaten any American interest. Nevertheless, the U.S. imposed an embargo designed to bring Cuba back under its thumb. The U.S. Congress enacted the 1996 Helms-Burton Act to punish Cuba by punishing foreign enterprises that do business there. This effort to assert U.S. law outside its territory was received with outrage by other nations who resented the American attempt to dictate their trade policies with Cuba. In October 1998, the United Nations General Assembly voted 157 to 2 in favor of the United States dropping its embargo against Cuba. The only two votes in favor of continuing the embargo were those of the United States (of course) and Israel. While U.S. deputy UN ambassador Peter Burleigh called the sanctions "an important foreign policy tool...aimed at promoting a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba," properly speaking, this methodical program to deny food, clothing, educational supplies, building materials and medical supplies to an entire nation for thirty-five years amounts to economic warfare and terrorism. It is like mercilessly starving another human being, then referring to the deprivation as an important human relations tool.
Now free from the constraints that were once imposed upon it by the opposition of another global superpower, the U.S. government operates today in a belligerent and bullying manner. "Never before in modern history has a country dominated the earth so totally as the United States does today," the German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, reported in 1997.
The expected peace dividend that was to be reaped at the end of the Cold War has not been realized. The U.S. still has weapons, aircraft, battleships and tens of thousands of troops stationed at bases all over the world ready to attack any country at a moment's notice, in what mainstream American scholarship seeks to legitimize as the role of a global hegemon in the maintenance of peace.