"White Man's Burden"

Marc Rodrigues cuito61 at onebox.com
Tue Sep 24 08:18:31 MDT 2002

[at least this guy admits it...]

. . . there's a definite whiff of imperial ambition in the air once again.

Of course the new Bush doctrine, in which the United States will seek "regime
change" in nations that we judge might be future threats, is driven by high
moral purpose. But McKinley-era imperialists also thought they were morally
justified. The war with Spain — which ruled its colonies with great brutality,
but posed no threat to us — was justified by an apparent act of terror, the
sinking of the battleship Maine, even though no evidence ever linked that attack
to Spain. And the purpose of our conquest of the Philippines was, McKinley
declared, "to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize

Moral clarity aside, the parallel between America's pursuit of manifest destiny
a century ago and its new global sense of mission has a lot to teach us.

First, the experience of the Spanish-American War should remind us that quick
conventional military victory is not necessarily the end of the story. Thanks
to American technological superiority, Adm. George Dewey destroyed a Spanish
fleet in Manila Bay without losing a single man. But a clean, high-tech war
against Spain somehow turned into an extremely dirty war against the Filipino
resistance, one in which hundreds of thousands of civilians died. 

Second, America's imperial venture should serve as an object warning against
taking grand strategic theories too seriously. The doctrines of the day saw
colonies as strategic assets. In the end, it's very doubtful whether our control
of the Philippines made us stronger. Now we're assured that military action
against rogue states will protect us from terrorism. But the rogue state now
in our sights doesn't seem to have been involved in Sept. 11; what determines
whose regime gets changed? 

Finally, we should remember that the economic doctrines that were used to justify
Western empire-building during the late 19th century — that colonies would
provide valuable markets and sources of raw materials — turned out to be nonsense.
Almost without exception, the cost of acquiring and defending a colonial empire
greatly exceeded even a generous accounting of its benefits. These days, pundits
tell us that a war with Iraq will drive down oil prices, and maybe even yield
a financial windfall. But the effect on oil prices is anything but certain,
while the heavy costs of war, occupation and rebuilding — for we won't bomb
Iraq, then wash our hands of responsibility, will we? — are not in doubt. And
no, the United States cannot defray the costs of war out of Iraqi oil revenue
— not unless we are willing to confirm to the world that we're just old-fashioned
imperialists, after all.

In the end, 19th-century imperialism was a diversion. It's hard not to suspect
that the Bush doctrine is also a diversion — a diversion from the real issues
of dysfunctional security agencies, a sinking economy, a devastated budget
and a tattered relationship with our allies. 


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