The Deluded Idea of Manifest Destiny

The Deluded Idea of Manifest Destiny

In the nineteenth century, the idea of Manifest Destiny led many Americans to believe they were chosen by God to expand this “experiment in democracy” across the North American continent, with a notion they were spreading freedom, egalitarianism, and individualism to all people. I am certain many Native Americans would beg to differ.

At the end of the nineteenth century, having brutally conquered all Native American cultures and extending the boundaries of the country to the Pacific Ocean, the United States desired to spread their exceptional brand of liberty to other parts of the globe. In 1892, the Republican Party, in a quest for the White House, put forth this statement in its platform:

We reaffirm our approval of the Monroe Doctrine and believe in the achievement of the manifest destiny of the Republic in its broadest sense.

This may have been left purposefully vague so that it could be loosely interpreted later, under the McKinley administration, as the US began seizing other lands overseas. The Territory of Hawaii was appropriated in 1898.

On the evening of February 15 1898, the U.S.S Maine suddenly exploded and sank while harbored in Havana, Cuba. Historians debate the cause to this day. American forces sided with Cuban rebels against the Spanish, and thus began the Spanish-American War. It lasted about ten weeks and was fought, not only in the Caribbean, but also in Pacific regions, as well. After Spain sued for peace, the US took control of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

Having first assisted the Filipino rebels, the Katipunan, in their fight against Spain, the US entered into a war with the rebels. The conflict was long and bloody, lasting several years. Loss of life in the Philippines, at the hands of the United States, between the years 1899-1905, has been estimated at around 1.4 million people, including many who died from a cholera outbreak. Filipino historian, E. San Juan, Jr. has contended that the US committed acts of genocide during the conflict. Many of the dead were civilians.

As with the American Indians, U.S. colonization involved, among others, the “destruction of the specific character of a persecuted group by forced transfer of children, forced exile, prohibition of the use of the national language, destruction of books, documents, monuments, and objects of historical, artistic or religious value.” The goal of all colonialism is the cultural and social death of the conquered natives, in effect, genocide (E. San Juan, Jr.).

On January 9, 1900, American imperialist, Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana, provided the real reasons for America’s brutality in the scourge of the Filipino people:

Mr. President, the times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever… . And just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either… . We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world… .

The Pacific is our ocean… . Where shall we turn for consumers of our surplus? Geography answers the question. China is our natural customer. … The Philippines give us a base at the door of all the East… .

No land in America surpasses in fertility the plains and valleys of Luzon. Rice and coffee, sugar and cocoanuts, hemp and tobacco… . The wood of the Philippines can supply the furniture of the world for a century to come. At Cebu the best informed man on the island told me that 40 miles of Cebu’s mountain chain are practically mountains of coal… .

I have a nugget of pure gold picked up in its present form on the banks of a Philippine creek… .

My own belief is that there are not 100 men among them who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon self-government even means, and there are over 5,000,000 people to be governed.

It has been charged that our conduct of the war has been cruel. Senators, it has been the reverse… . Senators must remember that we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals (Quoted in A People’s History Of The United States, by Howard Zinn, pages 313-314.

This is American imperialism in a nutshell; profit before the lives of human beings. The abandonment of morality in exchange for yet another dollar, while innocent men, women, and children are wiped from the Earth. Nothing has changed to this day.

Just prior to the Philippine-American War, President McKinley came to a fateful decision, taking the lives of millions into his hands:

When I next realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides—Democrats as well as Republicans—but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands perhaps also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that 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, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map on the wall of his office), and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!

Source: General James Rusling, “Interview with President William McKinley,” The Christian Advocate 22 January 1903, 17. Reprinted in Daniel Schirmer and Stephen Rosskamm Shalom, eds., The Philippines Reader (Boston: South End Press, 1987), 22–23.

These words reveal the state of mind of our 25th President, just after the psychopathic despoilment  of the Filipino people and their country. The effrontery of these statements is contemptible. These words demonstrate the avaricious attitude of American imperialism and racism at this time in our history. The theory of “manifest destiny” had been reinterpreted as license to slay millions of people in order to provide profits for American companies and expand American territory. The manner in which religious zealots spew hatred in the name of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, is morally repugnant.

Instead of saying he wanted to educate, uplift, civilize, and Christianize the Filipino people, why didn’t McKinley just tell the truth? America saw the natural resources of the Philippines and coveted them. American companies wanted to exploit the richness of the Philippines to line the pockets of corporate shareholders and executives. The US had already been doing the same thing for decades. Historian Sydney Lens postulates that “the urge for expansion – at the expense of other peoples – goes back to the beginnings of the United States itself” (The Forging of the American Empire).

Thus begins the story of America in the twentieth century.

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