Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

Question for Discussion: What are the major
arguments used to support American
imperialism and overseas expansion?

Reading: Hoffman, pp. 101-105, 114-120; Beveridge
"America should Retain the Philippines" (web)"
Joseph Crooker for the Anti-Imperialist League (web);
Anti-Imperialist League Platform; Strong, "Our Country"; McKinley Prays

Daily Class Web Links

The Spanish-American-Philippino War

The United States Conquers the Philippines

The American Debate over Empire

Daily Class Outline

1. The Age of Empire: 1870 to 1945

2. America debates becoming a Global Empire

3. America's War for Empire

4. The Philippines War as a Model for the
Vietnam War

Daily Class Questions

1. According to Josiah Strong, what character traits
have prepared the Anglo
-Saxon race for conquering
other countries and races?

2. What does Strong believe will be the final result of
this "competition of races" for land and empire?

3. Why does Albert Beveridge believe that the United
States must hold onto the Philippines in order to
ensure world peace?

4.  What are the major arguments Beveridge uses
to support the United States conquering the
Philippines and holding it as a colony?

5. According to Beveridge, what is the role of God
in the growth of America's global empire?

6. Where does President McKinley claim to get his
authority to conquer and hold the Philippines as
a colony?

7. Why does the Anti-Imperialist League believe that
conquering the Philippines threatens democracy in

8. According to Joseph Crooker, why do American
actions in the Philippines threaten America's
democratic institutions and reputation in the world?

9. Do you agree with the Anti-Imperialists that a
democratic society cannot become an empire
and deny to other people their basic democratic rights?

10. How does the Supreme Court in Downes vs. Bidwell
justify the United States' right to conquer other people
and deny them the same democratic rights guaranteed
to all Americans?

11. How does President Roosevelt justify American
intervention in the economic and political affairs of
Latin American countries?

12. Do you agree with Roosevelt when he argues
that America's "interests  and those of our southern
neighbors are in really identical"?

13. What does President Wilson's and the United
States' invasions and  interventions in Latin American countries tell us about the growth of the American Empire
from 1900 to 1920?

14. How do you think the emergence of an American
Empire affected American democracy in the early
1900s? Did Empire threaten Americans' commitment
to democracy and basic right?

Daily Class Notes

"The present war is no bloodless opera
bouffe engagement; our men have been
relentless, have killed to exterminate men,
women, children, prisoners and captives,
active insurgents and suspected people
from lads of ten up, the idea prevailing
that the Filipino as such was little better
than a dog...Our soldiers have pumped
salt water into men to make them talk, and
have taken prisoners people who held up
their hands and peacefully surrendered,
and an hour later, without an atom of
evidence to show that they were even
insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and
shot them down one by one, to drop into
the water below and float down, as
examples to those who found their
bullet-loaded corpses."
...Manila Correspondent of the Philadelphia Ledger

"The major said that General Smith instructed him to kill and burn, and said that the more he killed and burned the better pleased he would be; that it was no time to take prisoners, and that he was to make Samar a howling wilderness. Major Waller asked General Smith to define the age limit for killing and he replied 'Everything over ten.' "
                Major Littletown Waller (1901)

We have already discussed the larger economic arguments supporting the growth of American imperialism. The major economic reasons for the growth and expansion of an American empire were to obtain and ensure access to foreign markets for Americans to sell their surplus production, sources of cheap natural resources and raw materials to fuel America's expanding industrial economy, and places to invest profits and surplus capital that would provide higher returns than investing in the American economy. Because America confronted the growth and expansion of European empires in Africa and Asia by the early 1900s, American political and economic elites concluded that the only way for America to compete was to expand its political and economic control over Latin America and Asia and create its own empire. For many Americans, this expanding empire would create the "new frontier" which would fuel continuous economic growth and expansion. American empire promised to protect and expand American freedom and opportunity. But how did this expansion of empire affect those peoples and countries dominated and controlled by the United States. This was a central question supporters of American empire and economic expansion were forced to answer in order to gain American support for American imperialism.

We can begin to answer this question by looking at America's efforts to conquer and control the Philippines as a colony in the early 1900s. Beginning in the 1890s, the Filipino people were fighting for their independence from Spanish control and domination. In 1898, the United
States entered this conflict by going to war against Spain. With a quick and decisive victory, the United States forced Spain to give up Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to American control. But the Filipinos did not want to be ruled by the United States. Just as they fought for their independence from Spain, so too did they fight for their independence from the United States. But American leaders refused to accept Filipino demands for independence. Instead, the United States fought a long and bloody war with the Filipino Revolutionaries, killing over 600,000 Filipinos in more than ten years of war. What follows is a brief history of the Filipino struggle for independence against American rule and domination.

Philippine History as told from a Filipino Viewpoint

The U.S. Occupation (1898-1946)

The first Philippine Republic was short-lived. Spain had lost a war with the United States. The Philippines was illegally ceded to the United States at the Treaty of Paris for US$20 million, together with Cuba and Puerto Rico.

A Filipino-American War broke out as the United States attempted to establish control over the islands. The war lasted for more than 10 years, resulting in the death of more than 600,000 Filipinos. The little-known war has been described by historians as the "first Vietnam", where US troops first used tactics such as strategic hamletting and scorched-earth policy to "pacify" the natives.

The United States established an economic system giving the colonizers full rights to the country's resources. The Spanish feudal system was not dismantled; in fact, through the system of land registration that favored the upper Filipino classes, tenancy became more widespread during the US occupation. A native elite, including physicians trained in the United States, was groomed to manage the economic and political system of the country. The U.S. also introduced western models of educational and health-care systems which reinforced elitism and a colonial mentality that persists to this day, mixed with the Spanish feudal patron-client relationship.

Militant peasant and workers' groups were formed during the U.S. occupation despite the repressive situation. A movement for Philippine independence, involving diverse groups, continued throughout the occupation. A Commonwealth government was established in 1935 to allow limited self-rule but this was interrupted by the Second World War and the Japanese occupation. The guerilla movement against Japanese fascism was led mainly by socialists and communists, known by their acronym, HUKS.

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, flag independence was regained although the U.S. imposed certain conditions, including the disenfranchisement of progressive political parties, the retention of U.S. military bases and the signing of economic agreements allowing
the U.S. continued control over the Philippine economy.

The Philippine Republic (1946 - )

The political system of the Philippines was basically pattered after the U.S., with a bicameral legislature and a president elected every four years, limited to one re-election. Philippine democracy remained elitist with two political parties taking turns at the leadership. In 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law as his second term was about to end, amid a resurgence of a nationalist movement that was questioning treaties on the US military bases and the U.S. economic "parity" rights.

Political repression reached its height under Marcos. His preferential treatment for foreign investors further contributed to the deterioration of the Philippine economy, particularly with the use of government funds and foreign loans for the Marcos family and their cronies. Until the 1960s, the Philippines was economically among the most developed countries in Southeast Asia; today (1991 when this was written - Ken), it is the second poorest country in the region.

In the early years after the declaration of martial law, opposition against Marcos was spearheaded by the Left. A new Communist Party was established in 1968, followed by the New People's Army (NPA) in 1969. After Marcos's declaration of martial law in 1972, a broader political grouping called the National Democratic Front (NDF) was established with an anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and anti-fascist line. In the southern Philippines, the Muslim fought for secession through the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983 precipitated an economic and political crisis that further broadened the ranks of those opposed to Marcos. Strapped for funds, the Marcos regime agreed to a "stabilization plan" from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that plunged the economy back to 1975 levels. In February 1986, after holding blatantly fraudulent presidential elections, Marcos was overthrown by a civilian uprising supported by the military. Marcos's rival in the election, Corazon Aquino, became the new president.

The economic and political crisis in the country continues even the restoration of formal democratic processes including the ratification of a new Constitution and the election of a Congress. The new Congress remains dominated by the elite, including former officials during the Marcos dictatorship. Economic policies remain essentially conservative with an Omnibus Investments Code that favors foreign investors and a limited land reform law. The new government has pledged to pay the entire foreign debt of US$28 billion, much of which had been incurred by Marcos under anomalous conditions. In 1990, the government agreed to another IMF stabilization plan that includes cutbacks on government budgets; reduction or elimination of subsidies and increased taxes. Graft and corruption remains endemic and has eroded support from the middle class.

The new government is essentially a fractious coalition of conservative forces representing traditional interests as exemplified by their policies on land reform, labor, foreign investments and their antagonism toward progressive groups. The perennial attempted coups by right-wing elements in the military are manifestations of power struggles among the members of the conservative elites, who ride on continuing discontent among the people brought about by the slow pace of economic and political change. Independent and progressive groups that work with peasants, workers, students and other sectors have sustained the struggle for more substantial social changes but face increasing repression, particularly from paramilitary (vigilante) groups formed with the tacit support of the government.

Serious questions about the dominant models of development, including those used in health care with its hospital- and doctor-centered orientation, have spurred new initiatives in health care among alternative organizations. Community-based health programs are part of the popular movements that seek to democratize health care even as the struggle goes on for other structural reforms.

How could America, a democratic nation that believes in individual's inalienable rights to freedom, fight a long and bloody war with the Philippines to forcibly deny them the same basic rights as Americans believe are their inherent rights? The answer to this question explains the paradox of American imperialism in the twentieth century: On the one hand we claim we are struggling to bring democracy and freedom to the world, and on the other we fight to deny countries and peoples the very freedoms we claim America stands for. The answer to this question lies in ideas about American manifest destiny and America's god-given mission to bring law and order and growth and stability to backward nations. Let's now look at the arguments for American imperialism in the early 1900s to better understand this paradox.

In his "America's Destiny" speech, Senator Albert Beveridge lays out the basic arguments supporting American imperialism in the twentieth century. Beveridge first argues that controlling the Philippines will help America gain an economic foothold in Asia. He argues that "trade and development made necessary our commercial empire over the pacific." In addition to helping the American economy and trade, American imperialism will allow America to carry out its noble god-given destiny of "regenerating the world." Beveridge and other supporters of an American empire believed that America had a "divine mission" to bring our modern civilization, Christianity, our democratic institutions, and our culture to backward peoples. Beveridge did not perceive any contradiction between American control over other peoples and our democratic principles. He argues:

The Declaration of Independence does not forbid us to do our part in the regeneration of the world. If it did, the Declaration would be wrong....It was written by self-governing men for self-governing men.

Because of our racial, cultural, social, and religious superiority to backward peoples, we had a mission to civilize and develop them. Beveridge and others believed that under American guidance, these savage and uncivilized races and peoples would one day we ready for the democratic rights and freedoms that Americans had.

Let's now look at how American President justified American domination and control over other countries. In 1898, President McKinley argued that God had told him, in answer to his prayers, that it was America's duty to control the Philippines. He argues:

They were unfit for self-government--and they would soon have anarchy and misrule worse than Spain's war. [Therefore]...there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.

Like Beveridge, McKinley did not see any large American selfish motives for controlling the Philippines. But, of course, in return for our control and guidance, the United States and American economic interests would benefit by dominating and exploiting the Filipino economy and natural resources. American economic benefits were just our just reward for our efforts to "uplift and civilize" the Philippines.

Like McKinley, President Roosevelt and later President Wilson argue that American control and domination of Latin American countries, the Philippines, and China are not for our own selfish interests but in the interests of these backward countries. In his "Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine," President Roosevelt argued that "it is not true that the United States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards the other nations of the Western Hemisphere save such as are for their welfare. All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous." Because these backward countries need to develop their economies and natural resources, Roosevelt argues that it is in their interests as well as the interest of the United States that America ensures that these countries governments and societies maintain law and order and social and economic stability. President Wilson justified the United States invasions of Mexico, Nicaragua, and Haiti, arguing that "I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men." Loewen argues that under Wilson, the United States intervened in Latin America more often than at any other time in our history.

But there is a serious contradiction in these American arguments for imperialism. What would the United States do if these so-called "backward" or underdeveloped countries refused to accept American domination? What if they did not want America's guidance, and did not want American culture, civilization, democratic institutions, and way of life? What if these countries and peoples demanded the freedom to choose their own culture, develop their societies in their own way, and control their own economies and natural resources? American imperialism refused to recognize that these countries and peoples had this right. We believed that our society was and should be the model for all countries to follow, and that they should accept our benevolence and guidance to become modern, civilized, economically developed, and democratic. In refusing to allow the Philippines their independence, and the rights to control their own country and society, we killed 600,000 Filipinos. In the name of bringing democracy and civilization to the Philippines, we killed hundreds of thousands, believing that we knew what was best for them.

But these contradictions in the argument for American imperialism did not go unnoticed. Some Americans challenged the growth and expansion of an American empire, arguing that a democratic nation could not take and hold colonies and deny to other people the very rights Americans believe they themselves are entitled to. The Anti-Imperialism League tried to convince Americans that controlling the Philippines as a colony threatened not only the basic rights of Filipino people but also threatened American democracy itself. They declared:

We hold, with Abraham Lincoln, that "no man is good enough to govern another man without that man's consent. When the white man governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism."....Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it."

The Anti-Imperialist League argued that American democracy was threatened by American imperialism. If our government could decide which countries and peoples were ready for democratic self-rule, what would stop the United States government from deciding that the American people themselves couldn't be trusted with democratic self-rule? If our leaders truly believed in democracy, and the inherent right of all people to shape and control our lives, how could they deny these rights to other peoples?

As we shall see, increasingly throughout the twentieth century, the United States government denies the American people the democratic right to shape and control their government and society. Throughout the Cold War, the American government lied to the American people, spied on Americans who challenged government policy, and even killed Americans who challenged the government. Whether it was about Vietnam, the Soviet Union, El Salvador, Guatemala, or the Philippines, the United States government lied to the American people believing that we could not be trusted to make the right decisions to guarantee American political and economic dominance in the world. I believe that the growth of the American empire in the twentieth century, and the expansion of American economic and political domination over large parts of the world, threatened and weakened American democracy and American's faith in their government, their society, and their future. The irony of American imperialism is that we believed we were bringing our democracy and freedom to others, but in the end denied other countries and the American people the very freedoms we claimed America stood for. This is the tragic irony of what Williams calls "empire as a way of life."


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 8 Oct. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/spanish.htm
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