All of the propaganda associated with the United States, particularly the American Dream, is based on this idea of everyone has an equal opportunity. It only seems fitting that the people of America try to spread this ideology on a global front. However, while the word of the leaders of this country may ring loud and clear, do their actions and involvement at a global level actually reflect the ideas held so dear by the American people? The lack of transparency has clouded people from making an accurate analysis regarding America’s entrance and escalation on the international stage.
During the early 1900s, and even looking to the present day, on balance has the rise of American as an empire or hegemon been working for the global good? Looking at this idea in purely black and white terms, sure. US involvement during the late 1800s and early 1900s, including the liberation of Spanish colonies such as Cuba and the Philippines, without a doubt yielded numerous international benefits to the natives of these regions and the United States.
However, if when looking deeper and longer, to the actual motivation for the rapid rise of the US to the top of the international society and what actually happened after the initial involvement, it becomes more apparent that maybe, the US was not necessarily the perfect nation that everyone, including US citizens thought they were. Due to the game of politics, the desire to expand the economy, and the thoughts about acquiring land in geostrategic locations, the seemingly pure motivations for moving forces beyond the border of the country become marred.
Even from the start of the nation, one of the primary focuses of the people and the government was the expansion of the economy to become competitive with the more industrialized Europe. Initially, thru tariffs, subsidies from the government, and foreign loans, American companies slowly became just as capable, if not more than those in Europe. In addition, the vast new continent had the benefit of an abundance of natural resources. Moving into the late 1800s and early 1900s, the US economy and companies were strong enough to make a forceful appearance into the international limelight.
In an attempt to gain more consumers and find more resources to manufacture, the US greedily sought to form economic alliances with countries all over the world in accordance with the ideas put forth in Washington’s Farewell address. However, as wars began to tear Europe apart, the United States inevitably became involved. Due to economic alliances with countries on both sides of wars like WWI, the best policy seemed simply to remain neutral as planned and continue trade. However, to these European nations, providing for the enemy was not an option.
While the war presented a unique and profitable venture to arms manufactures and other industries in the United States, it became increasingly clear that neutrality was not a viable option if the government wanted to protect US citizens, particularly US merchant and trade lanes open. The sinking of the Lusithania, while still a British Ship, was one of the last straws, finally adding the United States to the mix of growing international powers engaged in a bloody war. The continuous use of U-boats by Germany on any American merchant ships in European waters could not go unnoticed.
However, when Wilson publicly addressed the nation he proclaimed that the United States was going in to help bring peace to the nation and try to work towards a diplomatic solution. He wanted to bring democracy and the ideals of freedoms to the region. However, if one actually looks at what was at stake for the Americans, one realizes that this ideological philosophy was not the core reason behind the entry into the war. In order to preserve the economy, the trade routes that were established, and keep up the prosperity that was observed in the recent past, a stable Europe is necessary.
As a source of consumers and general trade partners, European nations were essential to American companies. However, there is no doubt that America’s entrance into WWI and the peace process afterwards had no benefits. Even so, the political involvement in trying to create the American Empire should not be ignored. Rather, it is important to note how Americans political involvement, especially in proceedings after WWI, were beneficial but still with American betterment at heart. However, it is important to note that American expansion during this time period was fueled by what are now called the “Foreign Policy Elite,” a group of politicians, bureaucrats, and wealthy Americans who had considerable influence on the political decisions made during the time period. Indeed, the desire of these people to expand markets and improve the clientele of major Americans businesses. Because of the political clout possessed by these individuals, they were able to effectively control legislation and declarations of war, including that against Spain in order to free Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam.
However, more importantly is noting the American impact on the peace proceedings directly after WWI. Wilson’s fourteen points and plans for peace were instrumental in an attempt to bring peace to war-torn Europe. The fourteen points detailed a plan to try and have a balance of power between all the nations in Europe while preventing any one nation from taking the blame for the war or paying reparations. In addition, establishing the League of Nations to help act as a middle man was a novel one for the time period.
Sadly, the fourteen points were never put into effect as the European nations met together, excluding Russia and Germany, in order to create a plan that worked for them. Indeed, the treaty of Versailles had Germany paying reparations that would demolish their economy for years and create land borders that would only serve to fuel the fire for more conflict. Wilson could have cared less, and simply watched as Europe lit the fire that would eventually start WWI. The only part of Wilson’s idea that was adopted was the League of Nations.
But, ironically, the US never joined due to political tensions between Wilson and the republicans in congress who did not want an international body to govern their choices. In this alone, it is clear that the political rivalry that existed during this time period served to greatly influence American presence in the world as well as their foreign policy. While America’s intentions were noble in trying to bring peace to Europe, the inaction to forward US ideas shows that sometimes, America was not as strong as it needed to be in attempting to bring about democracy and world peace.
In addition to the pure politics and economy associated with American foreign policy, the desire to expand both economically and ideologically required us to have presences in geo strategic locations around the globe. After the Spanish-American war, the United States obtained land abroad, including the American Guam and the Philippines. While the US entered the war under the pretense of bringing democracy and freedom to the region, it must be observed how and why the US actually did get involved in this conflict.
Originally, under the Monroe Doctrine, it was important to remove foreign influence from the western hemisphere. It was not acceptable that Spain controlled colonies in the Caribbean, so close to the homeland. Therefore, while the US intervened in the name of justice and freedom for the inhabitants of those islands, they had multiple other motivations for doing what we did. Indeed, the people of the United States learned that it is important to not have European influence in the Western Hemisphere.
With the turmoil ravaging every single European country, sparing no one, the US learned the importance of having a strong international standing, especially in regards to geopolitical importance. Remembering that we were mostly focused on the expansion of trade routes and commerce, having islands in key refueling lines to Asia and Europe and even to South America was extremely important. In addition, in order to streamline trade routes between the Pacific and the Atlantic, the United States militarily took over Panama in order to build and finish the Panama canal.
While the US had an agreement with Panama that we would let them be autonomous, in order to advance US geopolitical interests, the government “temporarily” broke the agreement, showcasing the American’s desire to improve only their quality of life. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. ” These words, written by the founding fathers of the nation, are a true testament to what exactly America is supposed to stand for. America hopes to try and bring the constitution wherever the US flag goes, yet truly what happens is what needs to be examined.
It must be realized that while Americans try to work with the idea of trying to spread ideals such as democracy and freedoms, they definitely have their own motives for doing what they do. On a basic level, the United States Empire was a force for expanding ideals that were believed to be good and fundamental to humanity. However, the actual reason for going through with the actions is slightly less ideological. Looking at the specific cases of the Spanish American War and US involvement in World War I, it is visible that the United States on a whole had noble intentions of spreading the ideas of universal freedoms and democracy.
However, the true motivation was for the betterment of America. So, on a whole the work done by America abroad did reap benefits for every country involved, as autonomy was eventually given to former colonies, and temporary peace was forged in Europe. Overall, the United States was split pretty much down the middle in terms of the extent to which it was a force for good. While the intentions weren’t all pure and some of the actions were counterproductive to the goals of the United States, the US and the countries in which they were involved still gained benefits from US presence.