the dreaming tree

in restless dreams i walk alone…

Manifest Destiny and the “Greater Good” December 9, 2009

There is a topic which has dominated the comments on U4Prez for the past few days – cloaked behind words like “nation-building,” “globalization,” “responsibility…” I spent the better part of my day yesterday arguing with Hawk about the inherent “goodness” of America. There are those here who believe that the United States can do no wrong… Or that, at least, the good that our government does in the world far outweighs the bad… I sometimes wish that I, myself, were able to adhere to this viewpoint, for as they say – “ignorance is bliss.” I am not such a cynic that I can’t remember the days when I, too, believed that our nation was a source of light in a dark world… But I was naive then – I believed what my high school history books told me. The facts, however, the things that they leave out of those books – the information that I had to go looking for on my own, tells me that this is not true… That the widespread vision of America as a “Beacon of Light” is nothing more than illusion… Sleight of hand.

The phrase “manifest destiny” was first used by John O’Sullivan, an American newspaper editor, in 1845. It portrayed, in 2 words, the idea that the United States was destined to stretch across North America, “from sea to shining sea.” This concept, while not an official government policy itself, encouraged westward expansion – leading to the passage of legislation such as the Homestead Act. Many Americans embraced the idea – not only did it expand land use opportunities, but it broadened their horizons, so to speak – gave their children a wider range of choices for their futures. “Manifest Destiny” was promoted in newspapers, splashed across posters, and even supported by influential figures of society – such as famous poet Rudyard Kipling. And it was not a new concept – even then. The United States was already engaged in westward expansion long before the term “manifest destiny” was born. One of the first steps our government took to expand their borders was the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803. The words, however… that simple little phrase – “manifest destiny” – provided the United States government with precisely the catch-phrase they needed to garner support from the American people. Over the years, this school of thought has had a negative impact on many – from the Native Americans, Mexico, and various countries in South America to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan… The concept of Manifest Destiny, and how it was presented to the American people, may well be the most successful propaganda campaign the United States Government has ever waged on its own citizens… It has grown, evolved… we no longer simply seek to control all of the land from one ocean to the other – rather, much like a small white mouse named “Brain”, we have the idea that it is our god-given right to control the rest of the world. However, unlike Brain – we are not so honest in our approach… We hide behind deceiving phrases like “spreading democracy” and “bringing freedom…”

The Native Americans were the first to suffer at the hands of westward expansion. The Cherokee Indians protested the attempts of the state of Georgia to force them from their land in the early 1800’s, saying “We wish to remain on the land of our fathers. We have a perfect and original right to remain without interruption or molestation. The treaties with us, and laws of the United States made in pursuance of treaties, guaranty our residence and our priveleges, and secure us against intruders.” However, between 1820 and 1850, the Cherokee, Choctaw, and other tribes were pushed off of their homeland in the South and forced to march all the way to a reservation in Oklahoma. As a result of the many Native American deaths caused by disease and starvation along the way, these marches became infamously known as the “Trail of Tears.” A New England woman condemned the actions of the government at the time, writing “In the whole history of our government’s dealings with the Indian tribes, there is no record so black as the record of its perfidy to the Cherokee Nation.” In 1864, approximately 8,500 Navajo Indians were removed from their homes and put in a confinement camp in New Mexico. The relationship between the United States government and the Native Americans only worsened when, in 1887, the General Allotment Act gave the government the power to take what was once the Native Americans’ land and parcel it out as they saw fit, giving the Native Americans only small areas to live on. Even today, they are still fighting to get back what was taken from them – such as land, water, and mineral rights.

And then, of course, there was the Mexican-American War. “The belief that the U.S. basically had a God-given right to occupy and ‘civilize’ the whole continent gained favor as more and more Americans settled the Western lands. The fact that most of those areas already had people living upon them was usually ignored, with the attitude that democratic English-speaking America, with its high ideals and Protestant Christian ethics, would do a better job of running things than the Native Americans or Spanish-speaking Catholic Mexicans.” – Roger A. Lee. (http://www.historyguy.com/Mexican-American_War.html) From 1846 to 1848, the United States and Mexico were involved in a conflict over the state of Texas. Mexico refused to give up ownership of Texas despite the fact that Texas had successfully seceded from Mexico in 1836. Our government saw this dispute as an opportunity to claim the sovereign state of Texas as its own. Ulysses S. Grant, a participant in the war, wrote “I do not think there ever was a more wicked war than that waged by the United States in Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not the moral courage enough to resign.”

With the gain of Texas came a thirst for more land – and in 1898, with tensions high between Cuba and Spain – opportunity came knocking. Harboring expansionist ideals, fueled by the yellow journalism tactics of men such as William Randolph Hearst, and operating under the guise of saving the people of Cuba from themselves – the United States went to war with Spain. There were many who spoke out against the actions of the government – and a group of “Bourbon Democrats” who believed in limited government formed the American Anti-Imperialism League. One of the most prominent members of the league, Mark Twain, condemned the war, decribing it as “a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater.” Of the American invasion of the Philippines, he wrote that the United States had gone there “to conquer, not to redeem.” Eight months after the war began, the Treaty of Paris was signed, giving the United States control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.

Need a few more examples of how the United States has overstepped its role in global politics? From 1959 to 1975, the United States lost almost 60,000 soldiers in its attempt to turn Vietnam into a democratic nation against their will. The word “communism” still has the power to strike fear in the hearts of Americans, a leftover effect of the Cold War and McCarthyism. Today, America finds itself squarely in the middle of a conflict founded upon the principles of Manifest Destiny, but hiding them behind the more popular term – “nation building.” Using “weapons of mass destruction” as a scare tactic, and under the delusion that “America knows best,” the U.S. invaded Iraq, resulting in the deaths of over 6,000 American soldiers, journalists, and contractors, and an estimated 1,366,350 Iraqis. And now, we’re sending more  troops to Afghanistan.

And all of that is still only the tip of the iceberg. To elaborate – let’s talk debt forgiveness… The G8 (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia), has made the decision in recent years to forgive the debts of Third World nations – a move which, on the surface, appears to be a selfless act of generosity designed to help those living in poverty throughout the world. But what so many fail to see is that this is not about debt forgiveness at all – but about opportunity and greed. We must remember that those debts were accumulated without the consent of the majority of the people in those countries and served to make the corporatocracy of America and its allies – and a very select few Third World families – even richer. Large corporations would send “economists” to research the nation’s economy and its natural resources, and to creatively form an evaluation which would justify a loan from our government for the industrialization of that country. Included in the terms of the loan agreement would be a requirement that the recieving nation would hire specific American companies to complete the designated projects – thus funneling the vast majority of the loan funds back into the pockets of wealthy American CEO’s. Due to loan terms that were based on very optimistically exaggerated economic growth reports, the borrowing nation would be unable to make good on the loan, at which point, the United States – wanting its “pound of flesh”, so to speak – would take payment in the form of political and military support, as well as access to natural resources – primarily oil. The economy of the borrowing nations would sink rapidly, throwing the middle and lower classes into poverty.

Their debt should be considered paid in full – after all, we got our payment – by exploitation and manipulation. However, the G8 decision only grants them “forgiveness” for their debt if they will agree to a number of conditions – cloaked in terms like “good governances”, “sound economics”, and “trade liberalization.” Enticing language – but also extremely deceptive. These policies are only “good” and “sound” if you’re looking at them through the rose-colored glass of a corporate office window. The countries that agree to these conditions are required to privatize their public services, including health, water, electric, and education – essentially selling them to the corporatocracy. They are forced to drop subsidies and trade restrictions that support local businesses – while at the same time accepting that the U.S. and other G8 countries have the right to subsidize certain G8 businesses and erect trade barriers on imports that threaten G8 industries. When Bolivia gave in to such “good governances” policies, it opened the door for multinationals to privatize its water supply system – prices of water skyrocketed and Bolivians claimed that service was suspended to thousands of people. In Cote d’Ivoire, the French firm that bought the assets of the privatized telephone company reportedly raised prices so high that many people had to forego connections to the system, including university students who could not afford internet access essential for their studies. In Tanzania, these policies led to the appalling situation where children have to pay to go to school, and, many of them being too poor, fail to do so. Similar stories abound in countries across the globe that have accepted the conditions that come as a prerequisite to what is being inaptly called debt forgiveness. The Third World is well aware of what is going on – and they are angry. The resistance in 2005 to the G8 meetings in Scotland was, to a large degree, an expression of anger against the deceptions. Many people believed that Bush and Blair were simply playing “good guy” “bad guy” in an attempt to legitimize a highly exploitative system that is balanced heavily in favor of multinational corporations at the expense of the poor, starving citizens of Third World nations around the world. “Debt forgiveness” should be as good and generous in actuality as it sounds on paper.

“In its twenty-first century incarnation, Manifest Destiny has disguised its racist rhetoric but still wears proudly the garb of self-righteousness and arrogance. In a State of the Union speech, President Bush declared: ‘Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation… America is a strong nation and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.’ tell this to the Native Americans, the Puerto Ricans, the Filipinos, and the Central Americans. Tell it to the Mexicans who had populated the Southwest since the sixteenth century. Tell it to the vast majority of their descendants whose legal and economic rights have been denied systematically since 1848. Tell it to the families of hundreds of Mexican immigrants who have died at the militarized border simply because they sought a better life.” – journalist Jorge Mariscal.

The United States has a long and sordid history of trying to force its system of government on other nations… Politicians hide behind the assertion that the only goal is to improve the lot of the backward masses, that it is all for the “greater good,” as though we – an infant of a nation in comparison to some – are better able to make policy decisions for them than they are able to make for themselves. We live in a nation where lobbyists have a louder voice than the constituents, with a government owned by corporate America. Our politicians lie to us, selling promises of lower taxes and healthcare reform like the ShamWow guy selling us overpriced bits of fabric. We have corrupted our system here at home, we’ve sold our liberty for a false sense of security, and we’ve discarded all of the principles that our nation was founded upon… And yet, we think that we know better than the rest of the world? I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – you cannot impose freedom upon someone… it’s an oxymoron. As George Santayana said – “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” History tells us that our interventionist policies bring nothing but harm to those who we claim to be freeing… And yet, here we are… making the same mistakes over, and over, and over again – Simply because the vast majority of us refuse to look beyond our government-censored educations to find another, less biased viewpoint. Do you honestly wonder why radical terrorist groups hate America so much? I look at our history, and I wonder that we’ve made it this many years relatively unscathed… If someone did to us the same things that we have done repeatedly to nations all over the globe – how do you think we would react? You speak of the American government as though it were Santa Claus on Christmas morning, bringing joy and happiness wrapped in shiny paper and tied with a bow to the rest of the world… I, for one, refuse to leave the blinders on. And despite what you say Hawk, I don’t believe that means that I hate my country. On the contrary – I love my country. I speak out against my government because I feel that my government is failing me, failing my fellow Americans, and failing the principles that it has sworn to uphold. I love my country too much to sit idly by while that happens.

Well then… I thank those of you crazy enough to read that whole thing… And look forward to the biting remarks that will inevitably spring from it.

~The Sparkler

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