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Chapter 12: The Empire and the People 
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Post Chapter 12: The Empire and the People
The salient aspect in this chapter for me was how U.S. racism figured into the two major wars Zinn writes about, occurring in Cuba and the Philippines. There was first of all the respectable belief that the European race had obligations to take the inferior races in hand. Cuba had a large black population, which to U. S. politicians meant that independence for the island could come at some cost to stability in the region. There might also have been a cultural attitude that the Anglo civilization of the U. S. was superior to that of Spain, but I'm not sure about this. Where the Philippines were concerned, the population was seen as both black and oriental, giving it a double dose of inferiority. It's hard to imagine, but these attitudes weren't those of a far-right faction, but were uttered by mainstream newspapers and government officials.

Another way that race comes into the history is that around 1900, the killing of blacks was common, especially in the South. Yet blacks were being asked to fight in a conflict against other dark-skinned people in the Philippines who wanted their freedom, first from Spain and then from the U.S. Filipinos were commonly referred to as "niggers." In the Cuban war, blacks could actually be proud to support the "Cuba Libre" movement, for a while at least, but after Spain withdrew it became clear that the U. S., while not attempting to annex Cuba, wanted to attach strings to its independence, and did. Blacks were in a severe bind; with opportunity largely denied them, one of the only ways to prove their worth was to fight for the country that devalued them.

The U. S. conduct in the Philippine war was especially egregious. Shades of Vietnam.

Throughout this book, Zinnn has strained to exculpate the people by pinning almost all the blame on business interests and the politicians beholden to them. He does, after all, make it pretty clear that he sides with the people. For me, however, this practice works against respect for the people, who often look like easily duped pawns in Zinn's telling.
Quote:
Many histories of the Spanish-American war have said that "public
opinion" in the United States led McKinley to declare war on Spain
and send forces to Cuba. True, certain influential newspapers had been
pushing hard, even hysterically. And many Americans, seeing the aim
of intervention as Cuban independence--and with the Teller Amendment
as guarantee of this intention-supported the idea. But would
McKinley have gone to war because of the press and some portion of
the public (we had no public opinion surveys at that time) without
the urging of the business community?

I cite an opposing view from Wikipedia not to prove Zinn is wrong (it is only one source), but to indicate that there are other ways to tell the story, other quotations to select, other interpretations to impose on the facts.
Quote:
This new "yellow journalism" was, however, uncommon outside New York City, and historians no longer consider it the major force shaping the national mood.[60] Public opinion nationwide did demand immediate action, overwhelming the efforts of President McKinley, Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed, and the business community to find a negotiated solution. Wall Street, big business, high finance and Main Street businesses across the country were vocally opposed to war and demanded peace. After years of severe depression, the economic outlook for the domestic economy was suddenly bright again in 1897. However, the uncertainties of warfare posed a serious threat to full economic recovery. "War would impede the march of prosperity and put the country back many years," warned the New Jersey Trade Review. The leading railroad magazine editorialized, "From a commercial and mercenary standpoint it seems peculiarly bitter that this war should come when the country had already suffered so much and so needed rest and peace." McKinley paid close attention to the strong anti-war consensus of the business community, and strengthened his resolve to use diplomacy and negotiation rather than brute force to end the Spanish tyranny in Cuba.[61]

Wiki goes on to say that that after a pro-war senator gave a powerful speech, the country began to fall into line with the pro-war cause, including the previously opposed business community. Zinn perhaps doesn't give us an accurate picture of how a consensus for war came about. He wants to absolve the people. Unfortunately, as with the election of Donald Trump, I don't think we often can.

I'd like to see some perspective on the imperialism/colonialism practiced by the U. S. vs. that of European powers. Are there clear differences to be noted? Has the U. S. been, on the whole, heavy on imperialism but light on colonialism, relatively speaking?



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Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:51 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 12: The Empire and the People
DWill wrote:
I'd like to see some perspective on the imperialism/colonialism practiced by the U. S. vs. that of European powers. Are there clear differences to be noted?


The first point that comes to mind is the size difference between the imperialism of the European countries and that of the United States. The European imperialists carved up whole continents while the United States took control of Cuba, the Philippians, Puerto Rico and Guam. Imperialism was much more accepted in the European countries. In fact, in 1885, the European Imperialist countries met in Berlin to hammer out very specific rules around boundaries and governance of the colonies (soooo very civilized!!!).



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Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:14 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 12: The Empire and the People
LevV wrote:
DWill wrote:
I'd like to see some perspective on the imperialism/colonialism practiced by the U. S. vs. that of European powers. Are there clear differences to be noted?


The first point that comes to mind is the size difference between the imperialism of the European countries and that of the United States. The European imperialists carved up whole continents while the United States took control of Cuba, the Philippians, Puerto Rico and Guam. Imperialism was much more accepted in the European countries. In fact, in 1885, the European Imperialist countries met in Berlin to hammer out very specific rules around boundaries and governance of the colonies (soooo very civilized!!!).

So was it, perhaps, that the U. S., as a former colony, was more reluctant to become a traditional colonial power? Zinn doesn't go into any comparative differences between the U. S. and Europe. For him, the foreign adventurism of the U. S. was plenty extensive even if not of the colonial variety. On one point I'm fully on board with Zinn, who often explains U. S. desire to interfere with other countries as stemming from needing to expand markets for U. S. goods. That sounds like the America we're all familiar with, the best country at making money the planet has ever seen (unless China usurps us there).



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Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:19 am
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Post Re: Chapter 12: The Empire and the People
DWill wrote:
LevV wrote:
The European imperialists carved up whole continents while the United States took control of Cuba, the Philippians, Puerto Rico and Guam. Imperialism was much more accepted in the European countries.

So was it, perhaps, that the U. S., as a former colony, was more reluctant to become a traditional colonial power?

On one point I'm fully on board with Zinn, who often explains U. S. desire to interfere with other countries as stemming from needing to expand markets for U. S. goods.

The comparison strikes me as interesting. I tend to think that the nations of Europe saw themselves as competing to be in a position of empire, in the tradition of Rome, Persia and Alexander. They had the example of the "Holy Roman Empire" in Germany, a relic of Charlemagne, but were probably more enticed by conquest of less powerful people. The empires of Spain and Portugal were sources of much power and wealth (until the colonists revolted), and in the endless jostling warfare within Europe, that could be a big advantage.

As always, reasons for human choices are complex. I suspect that as you suggest, the memory of domination by Europe, including the burning of Washington D.C., played into the reluctance of Americans to get involved in that competition. Right up to Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt there was a strong strain of isolationism, feeding partly on the relative safety created by an ocean between us and Europe. On the other hand, as Zinn never seems to tire of pointing out, there was money to be made from resources in the Third World.

I have trouble believing that "markets for our goods" were such a vital motivation, although it's clear that the industrial magnates were aware of the opportunities and American exports going back at least to whale oil and ice in the 1830s and 40s were going to Latin America. In the discussion over China, the vast population seems to have figured as a potential market in the debates over foreign policy, and they would have been aware that British manufacturers, from porcelain to clothing, benefited by imperial control of India's market. Opening Japan's market was worth a little, but not worth a large military investment.

The truth is that there was not really that much money to be made selling in poor countries. The thinly scattered elites of Latin America and China would have been a small fraction of the income spent in European markets. Not easy, though, to sell cars, tractors, and light bulbs, much less shirts and socks, in Europe (nor, for that matter, in Japan.)

If you look at imperialist behavior by the U.S. in Latin America, it was almost all about natural resources. Land, in the case of Mexico and the Panama canal, but sugar, oil, minerals, leather and plantation crops seem to have been the main prizes. One of the worst things about the Philippine conquest, in my view, was its repudiation of democratic self-government with no serious purpose. The U.S. wanted a power base in the Far East, and didn't even care, really, about "markets" in the islands themselves (by contrast with Zinn's reporting, but in several other accounts of the period which I have read, including some critical to U.S. policy, markets seem to have mattered little).

Even today in the East Asia the Americans behave as economic tourists, happy to sell where they can to make a quick buck, but not deeply invested. This contrasts sharply with, for example, the behavior of Japanese companies in the '97 crisis, who stayed, and kept the workers on, even while Americans were rushing for the exits.



Mon Sep 25, 2017 5:29 am
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Post Re: Chapter 12: The Empire and the People
I have reached the chapter about the Korean War, and I am giving up. I am much more familiar with the modern era, and I simply cannot abide Zinn's slanted presentation. If other matters come up, I may read the relevant sections to be able to discuss them, but that's probably the only reason I would read more.

I liked the revelations about events buried essentially in obscurity. I liked learning about how brutal life was in the world of, say, Andrew Jackson or W.T. Sherman. But I have a pretty good idea what life has been like in the U.S. of my lifetime, and there is not much revelation left. I am sure I would learn a few valuable things here and there by reading on, but the teeth-gritting gets to be too much trouble to be worth it.



Thu Sep 28, 2017 4:57 am
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