I am happy to be an American and enjoy the freedom this gives me. But as a student of history I know that America’s past is made up of a series of events. Some we can be proud of, and others we should learn from.
America’s experiment with democracy is unlike any other country before it, and yet America is like every country that has become a world power. It is impossible to become a world power without trampling on the rights of others now and then.
Andrew Bernstein, a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute, wrote, “The United States has never fought a war of conquest.” Anybody who has studied American history knows this is not true.
In 1846 the United States started a war with Mexico that ended with the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny. It gave us the territory that would become the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The Mexican people certainly viewed this as a war of conquest.
Henry David Thoreau wrote his now famous “Essay on Civil Disobedience” during that war. President, James K. Polk settled a boundary dispute with the British government over Canada just prior to it. He did this so he would not have to fight a war on two fronts. This shows prior intent on the part of Mr. Polk to engage in a war.
The American government engaged native American tribes in many wars of conquest beginning in the 1700s and lasting very close to the 20th century. It would be foolish to try and convince Native Americans that these wars were not about conquest.
In 1898 fearing England and Germany were going to dominate trade with China, the United States government pushed for war with Spain. This was done under the pretext of freeing Cuba and the Philippines. In reality the American government needed bases in the Pacific to continue its Western expansion. The Philippine-American War that arose as a result was much more costly to Americans than the Spanish-American War. This is a fact not well known to many Americans.
In 1853 the United States engaged Japan in gunboat diplomacy and forced them to open their country to trade. Japan learned a lesson from this. The lesson? If you don’t want another country to dictate policy to you then you need to be able to defend yourself. Japan quickly modernized their military and within fifty years became a power that threatened America’s expansion in the Pacific Region.
This western expansion would ultimately put us on a collision course with the empire of Japan, culminating in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. A Japanese Foreign Minister stated, “The United States taught Japan the game of poker and after acquiring all the chips pronounced the game immoral.”
At the end of World War Two, Vietnam wished to become independent. France had suffered a quick and humiliating defeat at the hands of Germany. They wished to retain Vietnam as their colony. Washington wanted France to help them rebuild Europe.
Because of this Washington financed the French-Indochina War from 1946-1954. France lost. Instead of letting Vietnam decide its own fate the United States intervened. This culminated in the Vietnam War lasting from 1965-1975.
In 1953 the United States installed the Shah Reza Pahlevi in power in Iran. He would control Iran until he was overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. At this point the United States helped Saddam Hussein come to power in Iraq. He would be supported by the United States until he invaded Kuwait leading to the First Gulf War.
President Reagan said that Saddam was the greatest chance for peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice speaking in Cairo in 2005 stated, “For 60 years my country has pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region…by trying to purchase stability at the price of liberty, we achieved neither and we saw the result of that on a fine September morning.”
Condoleezza Rice was admitting the problem with American foreign policy. That foreign policy led others to become angry and attack the United States. She got it. She understood. Unfortunately as our two current wars show, it hasn’t changed it.
The study of history is the study of a series of events that often lead to war. Before America gets involved in its next conflict our leaders need to look at our past and decide if war is really the answer or is time to look at America’s foreign policy.