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‘The True Flag’ shows why ‘interventions’ is too polite a term for the U.S.’ exceptionalist behavior

In a previous post, while summarizing a tiny bit of the history of the NATO era, I felt obliged to add this aside:

“I’m no fan nor apologist for U.S. imperialism.”

One reason I felt the need to squeeze that in there is that I have just finished an excellent book about a period that the author describes as “the birth of American empire.”

The book is “The True Flag.” The author is Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times foreign correspondent who has focused over recent years on writing books about the history of U.S. interventions abroad.

“Interventions” is too polite a term. Since its founding, our dear nation has constantly expanded its size and its reach, first at the expense of the native population who were subjected to a virtual genocide of astonishingly brutal, high-handed and racist proportions, then at the expense of Mexico (how seldom, when we think about California or the southwestern states do we think to ourselves “that’s territory we took from Mexico in a war of conquest and not all that long ago.”)

Continual expansion

In the past hundred or so years, we have continued to expand U.S. control, in faraway places, by various means such as CIA-engineered coups but also by direct application of military force. These “interventions” were justified in the name of things like fighting the spread of communism or promoting the spread of democracy, helping the weak out of generosity of our hearts, although in plenty of cases the reality was that U.S. acted to overthrow democratically elected leaders who were insufficiently friendly to U.S. “interests” in favor of dictators who were friendlier. (Here’s one effort to catalog U.S. interventions. The numbers are staggering.)

The only real moments of democracy in such places as Iran and Guatemala were snuffed out by U.S. intervention. Kinzer has done book-length treatments of those two. I don’t know if Kinzer has made a general statement of this magnitude and sweep. Others, mostly notorious lefties, have made the case fairly explicitly. Most Americans are encouraged to stick to a happier, falser version of the story.

But the big picture that emerges from our history of covert and overt overthrows of governments around the world is this: Without stating so explicitly (although there have been official policy statements that have come close), the United States has arrogated to itself the authority to go anywhere in the world, do anything in its bag of tricks, to overtly or covertly remove the government of any nation if that government is insufficiently responsive to U.S. wants and needs, and replace it with one more responsive.

If another country did that (and others have, over history, when they were at the height of their own imperial period) we would know what to call them. When our country does it, we use different terminology, like American exceptionalism, which means whatever we need it to mean. In the context above it means that there are rules that apply to others but that we are excepted from that rule. Because why? Because our motives are so pure?

It also seems that many, perhaps most Americans are so invested in believing a fundamentally different and happier and more altruistic and freedom-loving tale of what our country is up to in the world that it gets in the way of facing the historical reality.

1898: a war of conquest

Kinzer’s latest book, “The True Flag,” is about the conflict we call the “Spanish-American War” of 1898, a war of conquest in which the United States picked up control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Guam.

The war was justified on the false grounds that Spain had blown up the U.S. naval cruiser the U.S.S. Maine on the coast of Cuba. Over the past century, it has become clearer and clearer that Spain did not blow up the Maine, although some still believe it did. It’s almost impossible for anyone not motivated by U.S. exceptionalism to believe that that’s what the war was about.

The larger reality of the case, reflected in Kinzer’s book, is that, having expanded the original 13 colonies into a rich and enormous nation from sea to shining sea, many important U.S. leaders were ready to acquire a far-flung global empire. Spain was a weak, dying empire. We were a rising empire. Cuba, just off the coast of Florida, was ripe for the picking. We just needed an excuse.

Kinzer identifies three Americans who successfully campaigned for the war: Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst famously played up the claim about the Maine and campaigned for the war in one of the famous elements of so-called “yellow journalism”; the influential Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, who was the least flamboyant but the most important of the three jingoes; and Teddy Roosevelt, who, before the war, had held no position higher than assistant Navy secretary.

TR was the least known in advance of the Spanish-American war and the least influential of the three in getting us into the war, but gained the most out of it. He resigned his sub-Cabinet post, formed and financed his own regiment nicknamed the “Rough Riders,” and, with Lodge and Hearst’s newspapers promoting him, came home a hero, setting off a series of events that culminated in him being one of the four presidential faces (along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln) carved into Mount Rushmore.

TR: a raging imperialist

TR has his likable qualities, and some career accomplishments that deserve respect, but he was a raging American imperialist who hated to think he might go his whole life and never get into a war. When he managed to get into one, he gleefully shouted “Holy Godfrey, what fun!” After Cuba fell under U.S. control, he actively (but unsuccessfully) campaigned for a Congressional Medal of Honor for himself, writing to Lodge: “I do wish you would get that Medal of Honor for me. I think I earned it. I don’t ask it as a favor. I ask it as a right.”

If America were really what it likes to think it is, “liberated” Cuba would have been given real independence. Instead it was run as a phony nation-state but an unofficial U.S. colony, until Fidel Castro took it over and turned it into an unofficial Soviet colony.

Flushed with victory, Lodge did seize the moment to ask the Senate to annex Hawaii, where the indigenous monarchy had been overthrown a few years earlier at the behest of white planters. It was done, and Hawaii remained essentially a U.S. colony until statehood in 1959. Anti-imperialists in Congress demanded a vote among Hawaiians before annexation could be legalized, but that notion was defeated.

The case of the Philippines

The saddest and most brutal tale connected with this episode was the treatment of the Philippines, which had fought for decades for its independence from Spain and had an indigenous movement to secure independence since 1896 led by Emilio Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo had been exiled by the Spanish. The U.S. arranged to transport him back to the island nation and resume his fight against Spain rule, with the understanding that the Philippines would become independent.

But, after Spain was defeated, the United States kept it as a colony. Aguinaldo and his forces resisted that plan, which led to a disgraceful, bloody U.S. campaign of conquest that lasted until 1913.

President William McKinley, viewed as one of America’s most religious presidents, prayed for guidance and (according to himself) God told him to drive the “Spanish butchers out of our hemisphere.” He also prayed for guidance on whether to grant the Filipinos independence, and God told him not to do it.

McKinley explained thusly why the U.S. had to control the Philippines: “They were unfit for self-government … 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.”

He left out the part about hunting down and killing those who preferred independence. This is a brutal, horrible tale about which, for reasons that seem obvious to me, most Americans prefer not to know.

Albert Beveridge, a rising star of Indiana politics at the time who would later become a leading progressive in the U.S. Senate, explained why the Filipinos should be grateful, in an 1898 speech:

The Opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people without their consent. I answer: The rule of liberty that all just government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, applies only to those who are capable of self-­government. We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern our territories without their consent, we govern our children without their consent. How do they know what our government would be without their consent? Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this Republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?

‘The large policy’

Rather than using obvious terms like imperialism or colonialism, Lodge coined the term “the large policy” for what America was up to in this period. Lodge was influenced by the then-very influential writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan, who wrote that naval power was the key to successful world power.

From Mahan, the “large policy” crowd learned that a global power needed to control islands that could serve as “coaling stations” as their naval vessels crossed the big oceans (so big battleships could replenish their supply of coal). Guam was a tiny, thinly populated Spanish-controlled island between Hawaii and Asia, not too far from China and Japan.

Someone decided it would be dandy U.S. territory to have as a coaling station for the growing U.S. empire. U.S. Navy Secretary John Long, dispatching some ships to help the U.S. war in the Philippines, sent secret orders to one commander, telling him to stop in Guam on the way. Kinzer quotes the orders:

On your way, you are hereby ordered to stop at the Spanish island of Guam. Use such force as may be necessary to capture the port of Guam, making prisoners of the governor and other officials and any officials and other armed forces that may be there. … These operations on the island of Guam should not occupy more than one or two days.

It went exactly as ordered. The 56 Spanish troops on the island didn’t even know there was a war on. With no ability to resist, they surrendered. Guam became an American colony and maintains the status of a U.S. “territory” to this day, the same status that Puerto Rico, also taken in the larger war, maintains.

Back to 1898. My disgust with the cruelty of U.S. imperialism in this period must not get in the way of acknowledging big-name, rich, important, brilliant opponents of the policy — including the magnate Andrew Carnegie ,who generously supported the resistance; civil rights leader Booker T. Washington; pioneering social worker Jane Addams; labor leader Samuel Gompers; former president Grover Cleveland; three-time presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan; philosopher William James; former Civil War general, former senator, diplomat, Cabinet member and writer Carl Schurz (who should be more famous than he is); and author Mark Twain, who came to the movement late because he was living abroad during the main action, but then harpooned the imperialists so brilliantly that Kinzer got Twain’s name into the subtitle of the book: “Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the birth of American Empire.”

Twain wrote that Teddy Roosevelt was “clearly insane.” TR, presumably not trying to prove Twain’s characterization, announced that he would like to “skin Mark Twin alive.”

Pinned hopes on Bryan

With all those big names joining together, they thought they could at least get McKinley voted out of the White House in 1900 and end the savagery in the Philippines, especially since one of the anti-imperialists, Bryan, was again the Democratic nominee. Apparently much of the country was turning against the war, and Kinzer seems to believe that Bryan might have won if he had stuck to the anti-imperialist theme, but Bryan couldn’t bring himself to give up on the “coinage of silver” idea on which he had run and lost in 1896.

Of course, Bryan lost. McKinley chose war hero Teddy Roosevelt as his running mate and the assassination of McKinley made TR president. In 1904, running for a term in his own right, Roosevelt publicly repudiated the suggestion that the war that spread U.S. control from Cuba to the Philippines was imperialistic. Replied Roosevelt, that recent war was “only imperialistic if the Louisiana purchase and the Indian removal policies were imperialistic.” Good argument.

Kinzer ends with this summation, which strikes me as a summation of not only this book but of the body of his historical work:

Nations lose their virtue when they repeatedly attack other nations. That loss, as Washington predicted, has cost the United States its felicity. We can regain it only by understanding our own national interests more clearly. It is late for the United States to change its course in the world – but not too late.

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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/28/2017 - 10:52 am.

    Has there ever been an empire

    with military and economic dominance comparable to ours that -hasn’t- behaved imperialistically?
    Off the top of my head;
    Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Han, Alexandrine, Roman, British.
    Exceptions, anyone?

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/28/2017 - 12:20 pm.

      China. It has a long history, and it may be arguable,

      …but looking across many centuries, generally I can’t see the Chinese as aggressors.

      They seem to have always wanted no more than an orderly society within their own borders.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/28/2017 - 01:16 pm.

        China ruled as an imperial power in Indochina for centuries. If you consider the Mongol Empire “Chinese,” it holds the distinction as the largest land empire in history.

        Arguably, the Chinese are practicing a new form of imperialism in Africa, by pouring development money into the continent.

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/28/2017 - 03:32 pm.

          Point taken, and no small point, either (Indochina).

          Maybe Mr. Brandon’s thesis has no exceptions. It seems everyone has played the game of conquest.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/28/2017 - 03:24 pm.

        The Han became

        the dominant ethnic group in China through military conquest of other cultures.
        They were deliberately self limiting, and stopped at the ocean’s edge. They didn’t try to extend their borders any further.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/28/2017 - 11:07 am.

    I’m sure it’s a good read and…

    I’m glad a NYT’s reporter has finally caught up Chomsky, Zinn, and Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me) and countless others held on the fringe of American discourse. It’s taken six decades but better late than never I guess. Let’s not treat all of this like it’s an historical artifact, we see this imperialism in action right up to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and beyond. If you want to see how all of this plays out in recent decades I would recommend Howard Zinn’s: “Just War” about the Bush Cheney years, and Chomsky’s: “Deterring Democracy”.

    The value of all of this by the way isn’t to feel “bad” about America, it’s to recognize long standing and durable features of the US power elite that transcend the two party system. If you want to know why so many Democrats voted for the Iraq War, this is where you start looking. And you should start looking because these guys are still there, still in power, and still dictating foreign and domestic policy.

  3. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 06/28/2017 - 11:21 am.

    Can you imagine?

    Can you imagine the affordable healthcare, prescriptions, vocational school, college, along with a very viable infrastructure we could have provided our citizens without this massive intervention in other countries? It is estimated that the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars will cost us $10 Trillion, which will be more.
    What have we accomplished in the MidEast, but to stir up more anger towards us?

    I understand that as a dynamic economic power, we need a viable defense, but why are we so involved in defending (?) the world for free?
    Who benefits from war…repub financial benefactors such as the defense industry and the fossil fuel barons, considering war uses up tons of fuel…and these firms contribute heavily to this repub party?

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/30/2017 - 11:08 am.

      This was already obvious during the Reagan administration

      In an article that appeared in the early years of the Reagan administration, and therefore before the age of the Internet, there was a description of what *could have* been done with just the increase in Reagan’s military budget.

      It included repairing and upgrading America’s infrastructure, which was already beginning to show its age in some parts of the country. (I saw my first article warning about infrastructure deterioration in the now-defunct paper The National Observer in the early 1970s.)

      America reminds me of a man who lived in my first neighborhood in Portland. He had a decrepit one-building slum of a house, a yard surrounded by a literal three-strand barbed wire fence, a pair of fierce dogs patrolling the property, and signs that warned that trespassers would be shot without warning. At least he didn’t try to invade other people’s houses. At least, I don’t think so.

  4. Submitted by Arthur Himmelman on 06/28/2017 - 11:31 am.

    The American Empire

    Thank you for your excellent article on this important but far from for adequately acknowledged and debated reality of American history and current practices. Most Americans don’t think of America as an empire. They do not question our interventions in other countries’ politics and using military force to protect our oligarchy and corporate hegemony around the world. They believe we have over 800 military bases (Russia has less than 20) in other countries to make sure these countries have access to “freedom and democracy.”

    It is unlikely that most people who still read books will read a book about the American Empire. This is one book I agree people should read. Another book I recommend includes a personal account of someone who directly worked for the American empire with extensive details of what he did to support its power and dominance, including confirmations of assassinations and the overthrow of democratic governments. It is an update to John Perkins first book and is titled, The New Confessions of An Economic Hit Man. Just reading Perkins’s accounts of what the American empire does and why it does it can be sufficient for a basic understanding of its purpose and massive costs, including in human lives, to people all over the world. Also see:

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/28/2017 - 11:34 am.

    Good argument, indeed…

    “…then at the expense of Mexico (how seldom, when we think about California or the southwestern states do we think to ourselves ‘that’s territory we took from Mexico in a war of conquest and not all that long ago.’)” Imperialism is as much a part of the modern United States as it was for 19th-century Britain or Medieval Genghis Khan.

    “Innocence” is not a word easily applied to our behavior in expanding from 13 to what we usually call “the lower 48” states, or the 50th one, either. At least Alaska, #49, was a relatively straightforward purchase. Since Minnesota is a state that still has a significant native population, it would behoove many of us to become better acquainted with the natives’ less-than-admiring view of how “the West” was “won,” and how Minnesota became a state.

    For those interested in the originals regarding overseas expansion, I’d recommend Josiah Strong’s “Our Country,” (1885). Filled with the prejudices of a nativist late 19th century, and resultant policy suggestions that justified our turn-of-the-20th-century imperialism, it sounds remarkably like what our current President and his staunch supporters have presented to the public; Alfred Thayer Mahan’s essay “The United States Looking Outward” (1890), later incorporated into “The Interest of America in Sea Power” (1897); and Mark Twain’s essay, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” which appeared in the “North American Review” in 1901. Mahan was mostly interested in expanding the Navy, made more necessary, in his view, by the acquisition of overseas territory. Twain was, of course, opposed to that sort of acquisition.

    And, if your jingoistic spirit still hasn’t been satisfied, there’s the inaugural speech of Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana to the U.S. Senate on January 9, 1900. Strong and Beveridge, in full Victorian ethnocentric fashion, argued that no one other than Anglo-Saxons are even *capable* of self-government, and therefore, not deserving of it, or even independence. It was, and is, a nicely self-serving argument.

  6. Submitted by Misty Martin on 06/28/2017 - 11:53 am.

    I always learn something from reading your articles, Eric.

    Especially in reading what President Theodore Roosevelt said: “that the recent war was only imperialistic if the Louisiana Purchase and the Indian removal policies were imperialistic”. I wonder how our Native Americans would view this book, “The True Flag”? I can imagine.

    I love America, I truly do – there’s no other country on earth I’d rather be; however, I believe we will have a lot to answer for someday. Maybe we’re already there.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/28/2017 - 12:05 pm.


    In my experience, advocates of American Exceptionalism are never too clear to what exactly America is an exception.

  8. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/28/2017 - 12:35 pm.

    Glad to see this column, Eric.

    I’ve stopped reading your work as soon as I detect it is yet another “I Hate Trump” rant, usually tipped off in the column’s title. This has gotten WAY old. A dead horse needs no further beating. And lest your readers take this to indicate admiration of Trump, I think he is a terrible President and I can’t wait for his term to be over.

    On the other hand, I very much enjoy your exploration of other topics, today’s work a good example.

    A barely related note: my #1 objection to Hilary Clinton in this last election was that she was the #1 proponent of American Exceptionalism, which is a thin veil for naked aggression.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/28/2017 - 01:11 pm.

    Some other books…

    “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” by Naomi Kline.
    “In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story” by John Stockwell
    “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade” by Alfred McCoy
    “Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies” James Bamford.

    All of these books explore various aspects of US foreign policy and it’s imperial/colonial nature albeit from different perspectives.

    We also have a wonderful History professor at the U of M (now retired from teaching) by the name of David W. Noble. If you want to explore the nature of American exceptionalism in the progressive era I’d recommend: “The Progressive Mind 1890-1917″. For a more a recent socio-political analysis I’d recommend: ” Death of a Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism” 2001. Noble’s most recent offering is: “Debating the End of History: The Marketplace, Utopia, and the Fragmentation of Intellectual Life” 2012

    By the way, no one has to take a guess at what Native Americans think about colonization there are several books by Native authors such as Winona LaDuke and Vine Deloria. Check out “Indian Country” online:

  10. Submitted by Thomas Cahill on 06/28/2017 - 02:06 pm.

    America First !

    This, often told story, brought to mind Trump’s inaugural speech. I had to laugh out loud hearing him growl “From now on, it’s going to be America First !” I could just picture jaws dropping around the world as friends, allies, neutrals, enemies and opponents all scratched their heads and thought “Hasn’t that always been the US policy ?”

  11. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/28/2017 - 04:10 pm.

    Limits of power

    Thanks, Eric, for this book review. I’m putting on my list. Not that anyone’s list needs lengthening, but the late Chalmers Johnson’s trilogy on the American Empire are worthwhile and also accessible, if becoming a bit dated in 2017.

    One historian who’s been sort of airbrushed out of history himself is Charles Beard, who may have been considered in the pre-1950 era as America’s leading and most widely read historian. I ran across a two volume work by him published in 1940: “America at Midpassage.” One would assume that a history book written in 1940 might not have much to say to anyone today. But Beard’s incisive insights into the “currents” of American culture, policy and thought strike me as remarkable, particularly in regards to America as Empire. Beard is easily the parent to Howard Zinn and other “countercultural” historians today, except that Beard was regarded in his time as very mainstream. America in 1940 was a neutral country and Beard traces the background of the Neutrality Acts of the late 1930’s to the First World War and before that to the Mahon-Lodge school of “imperialist-isolationism”-Beard’s term for one of the four schools of foreign policy thinking. “America at Midpassage” is to me like a work by Tacitus on Rome- a sweeping view of America on the eve of the Second World War by one of its greatest historians.

    The Cold War pretty well silenced discussion of American Imperialism after WWII. Such talk was presumed to be Communist propaganda during my younger years. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it’s becoming clear that the powers that be never wanted to dismantle the military-industrial complex that had been developed supposedly to contain it. New enemies were needed and have been provided to sustain and expand this now more nakedly imperialist complex. This has clarified for me at any rate that the “Mahon-Lodge school of imperialism” lives on, only now to protect and expand vague “American interests” which have spread across the entire globe. To paraphrase the great Imperialist Cecil Rhodes: “The flag must follow trade” or perhaps it’s the other way around.

  12. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/28/2017 - 04:15 pm.

    Blast from the Past

    I haven’t thought of this in years. Back in 8th grade US history class, our teacher decided to start a class discussion by asking us what word described Americans. One smartypants piped up immediately: “Imperialist.” Our poor teacher grew increasingly frustrated, and nearly profane, as he had to argue with a bunch of 13 year-olds about whether the history he was teaching us (Louisiana Purchase, Manifest Destiny, etc.) was in fact evidence of imperialism.

    And I was not that initial smartypants, although I had a wicked crush on her.

  13. Submitted by Richard Hodges on 06/28/2017 - 04:20 pm.


    For anyone who thinks China wants “no more than an orderly society within their own borders” I suggest you read the introduction to Howard French’s “Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power”

  14. Submitted by William Beyer on 06/28/2017 - 04:36 pm.

    Other books

    William Blum’s several books on the topic have been around for years – Killing Hope” may be the most exhaustively-documented effort out there. What’s your take on Sy Hersh’s latest article at Die Welt regarding the Trump lies on the non-sarin attacks in Syria. The MSM is clearly suppressing it.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/29/2017 - 09:44 am.


      John Darwin’s After Tamerlane traces the inevitable decline of all empires. It’s especially noteworthy because it doesn’t look only at European or American imperialism, but gives a lot of attention to the Persian and Ottoman empires.

      The War of the Worlds is another anti-imperialist allegory.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/29/2017 - 02:30 pm.

        Or Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse’

        Although it’s a bit broader — dealing with how ALL societies eventually self destruct.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/30/2017 - 09:28 am.

          Not a big fan of Diamond

          History by analogy always breaks down because of the dissimilarities. We can call the US an empire, but if we try to compare it to Hitler’s empire the analogy breaks down. So when we say things like “all empires collapse” beyond the mundane observation that perpetual conquest isn’t sustainable it’s really not a very interesting or enlightening observation.

          If we’re looking at these “collapses” from an historical perspective we have to note that while empires collapse, civilization does not. Sure, the Dutch, British, and Nazi empires all “collapsed”, but have you been to the Netherlands, Germany, or England lately? Sure we can talk about the collapse of the Roman Empire that preceded the Dark Ages, but that just illuminates the differences between pre and post Enlightenment “empires”, it doesn’t predict the collapse of the American empire. With the advent of liberal democracies and robust world wide economies civilization appears to have the ability to survive the collapse of empires. The Japanese and Nazi empires are gone, but civilization actually did very well.

          There’s also a serious problem with the idea that colonization exists within discrete boundaries that collapse along with the empire. Colonization isn’t just a feature of “conquest”, it’s an ongoing cultural and economic feature of post conquest power relations and environments. For instance while the conquest of American Indians was completed over 100 years ago, colonization is still a constant and ongoing feature of contemporary America.

          As far as I can tell Diamond’s work doesn’t examine any of this.

  15. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/29/2017 - 03:41 pm.

    McKinley was a typically ignorant American jingoist

    He wanted to “Christianize” the Filipinos, whom the Spanish had already forcibly converted to Catholicism centuries earlier. They remain predominantly Roman Catholic to this day.

    That being said, there are other fine books that detail the history of American imperialism.

    The first is Victor Marchetti’s “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence,” which was one of the triggers for Senator Frank Church’s hearings in the 1970s. Marchetti was a former CIA agent, so the CIA insisted on censoring his book. He and the publisher were angry enough about this that they published the book showing exactly how much material had been deleted and where.

    Next is a book from the 1980s, Jonathan Kwitny’s “Endless Enemies.” Kwitney was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, so not exactly a leftist, but he saw a lot that was counterproductive in America’s foreign policy. His chapter on the invasion of Grenada (one of the dumbest in the long list of the Reagan administration’s cynical and stupid moves) fits exactly with what I heard on CBC’s “As It Happens” while the invasion was going on. (American media fretted about not having any information, while the Canadian reporters picked up the phone and called people who lived on the island, including the president of the medical school whose students the U.S. military was supposedly going to rescue.)

    The third deals specifically with an issue that has been in the news lately, the Cuban embargo. “Havana Nocturne” by T.J. English describes the Batista years and how the U.S. government and the American mob propped it up. The story reads like a novel and features a lot of colorful characters, including a few Hollywood stars. While English is no fan of Castro, he makes it clear why the Cuban revolution occurred and why it found such popular support.

    Having read several of the books others have mentioned, as well as these three, I find it impossible to indulge in rah-rah patriotism or to do anything but silently roll my eyes when poor, naive enlisted personnel talk about “serving their country” or “defending freedom.”

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/30/2017 - 10:43 am.

      Just an interesting note on Marchetti

      The CIA doesn’t just insist that former CIA employees submit any public disclosures for CIA review, it’s the law. It’s interesting to compare and contrast Marchetti’s book with that of Phillip Agee’s book: “Inside the Company”. Marchetti submitted his book for review, and throughout the text there are blank lines of redaction. Agee did NOT submit his book for review and spent the rest of his life on the run, literally. Agee died in exile. Agee’s was the first uncensored personal account of CIA operations ever printed.

  16. Submitted by Joe Musich on 06/29/2017 - 10:39 pm.

    I have to wonder…

    if the reaction to the Towers would have been penitence ?

  17. Submitted by Jim Mork on 07/04/2017 - 10:31 pm.

    An Unstable Culture

    Robert Dallek wrote an excellent book about American foreign policy. What he revealed is that American culture is inherently unstable. It generates conflict out of inherent contradictions. Theodore Roosevelt recognized the need of some kind of way to keep our populations from each other’s throats. History since he had that revelation has done nothing but constantly confirm it. There just has never been a peaceful society. We’re at war or looking for one. We hadn’t escaped Korea when our government began supporting a Vietnamese elite. And before the exit from Vietnam, our support of the Iranian shah dragged us into conflict with Iran. Because we never address our inner tensions, we’re doomed to endless war. And we’ve also built a military-industrial complex addicted to tax money to enrich the stockholders and employees. We’re chained to our nemesis. And like an alcoholic we’re unable to see and admit our pattern.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/05/2017 - 11:40 am.


    Our interventionist policies are driven by pretty clear economic motivations on behalf of our elite class, it’s not about unstable societies. Our leaders typically have to resort to pretty extreme dishonesty in order to convince American’s that a war is justified. This Spanish American war is a good example, American’s were told that US sailors had been murdered by Spanish saboteurs. With few exceptions, WWII being the most obvious, the US Government typically mounts a pretty effective misinformation campaigns. If our psyche were that warlike, none of this would be necessary.

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