The War Nobody Won 2

The phrase, coined in 1845 to promote the annexation of Texas, was originally intended to justify America’s expansion toward its nat¬ural boundaries. It was the slogan of reformers, the sponsors of the Homestead Act, who sought to open new territories to small farmers, among them the German and Irish immigrants who had fled to the young United States in quest of freedom and security. Soon it was amplified by such idealists as Walt Whitman, who foresaw America projecting its “happiness and liberty” to the ancient cultures of Asia. Later, progressives like John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, convinced they were extending their liberal ethic to Vitenam as an antidote to totalitarianism, might have borrowed from Whitman:
Facing west from California’s shores,
Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,
I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar,
Look off the shores of my Western sea, the circle almost encircled. . . .
The doctrine of manifest destiny was distinct from the imperialist dynamic that flourished around the turn of the century. The United States did reach out to grab the Hawaiian islands, Guam and part of Samoa, and it took over Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines after defeating Spain in 1898. But while the European powers were then carving up Asia and Africa, there was little inclination in America for dominating foreign territories. In contrast to the Europeans, who needed overseas raw materials and outlets for their industries, the United States could rely on its own resources and a vast domestic market. Besides, as former rebels against oppressive British coloni-alism, Americans were instinctively repelled by the idea of governing other peoples. Distinguished molders of opinion at the time, like An¬drew Carnegie and President Charles Eliot of Harvard, vigorously opposed imperialism, asserting among their arguments that it violated free trade.
So Cuba was granted independence, and bids by Haiti and San Domingo to become American dominions were rejected. The United States, unlike the Europeans, refrained from plunging into the plunder of China—and characteristically used an indemnity fund for damages incurred during the Boxer uprising to school Chinese in the United States. The Philippines, the major possession to remain under Amer¬ican tutelage, was finally subdued after a protracted “pacification” campaign that foreshadowed U.S. strategy in Vietnam. But America’s acquisition of the archipelago had been reluctant. As President William McKinley later confessed: “The truth is, I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us as a gift from the gods . . . there was nothing left for us to do but take them all and to educate the Filipi¬nos . . . and, by God’s grace, do the best we could do for them.”
It would be a gross distortion to suggest that the U.S. presence abroad was consistently prompted by such benign altruism. Big busi¬ness exploited “our little brown brothers” in the Philippines just as it manipulated the economies of Latin America, often underwriting local despots in order to defend its interests. But a more prevalent strain in American expansionism was evangelical—as if the United States, fulfilling some sacred responsibility, had been singled out by the di¬vinity for the salvation of the planet. The rhetoric of redemption permeated Woodrow Wilson’s pledges to “make the world safe for democracy” under American auspices. Franklin D. Roosevelt empha¬sized the same theme. He encouraged nationalistic self-determination in European colonial areas, while denying that the United States had any hegemonistic ambitions for the period following World War II. Yet, he stressed, international postwar peace and stability would de¬pend on America’s global leadership.
These moralistic pronouncements were meanwhile being matched by the zeal of American missionaries, especially in China. There the United States had promulgated an Open Door policy, designed to uphold China’s sovereignty against the intrusions of European im¬perialists. But the missionaries were supposed to work from within to transform China into a Christian nation, thereby spurring the de¬velopment of its democratic institutions and cementing its ties to America. Quaint though it may seem today, many prominent Amer¬icans hoped for a Christian China. Anson Burlingame, a U:S. dip¬lomat and later adviser to the Manchu court, envisioned “the shining cross on ev.ery hill and in every valley” of China, and William Jennings Bryan looked forward to a “new Chinese civilization . . . founded upon the Christian movement.” Reveries of this kind heightened in the early 1930s, when Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese Nationalist leader, converted to a Methodist sect—largely to improve his connections with the West. Many Americans soon saw China becoming a replica of the United States, an aspiration solemnly ex¬pressed by Senator Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska in 1940: “With God’s help, we will lift Shanghai up and up, ever up, until it is just like Kansas City.”
Exalting the same theme, Henry Luce, the influential proprietor of Time and Life magazines, unveiled a grand design for America’s future on the eve of World War II. He was the son of missionaries and had been born in China. His essay in Life, “The American Century,” struck a messianic tone: “We need most of all to seek and to bring forth a vision of America as a world power, which is authentically American. . . . America as the dynamic center of ever-widening spheres of enterprise, America as the training center of the skilled servants of mankind, America as the Good Samaritan, really believing again that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and America as the powerhouse of the ideals of Freedom and Justice—out of these elements surely can be fashioned a vision of the 20th century . . . the first great American Century.”

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