The Common Currents of Imperialism

By Shafer, Gregory | The Humanist, September-October 2003 | Go to article overview
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The Common Currents of Imperialism

Shafer, Gregory, The Humanist

"We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ."--Franklin Graham

"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...."--President McKinley

Imperialism is a pesky thing. No matter how ardently one tries to adorn it in the garb of democracy and liberation, it seems always to look the same. One hundred years ago, the United States fought Spain with the pretense of liberating the Philippines and other "possessions" from subjugation. "A splendid little war," mused John Hay, the U.S. ambassador to England, in pondering the windfall it would mean for U.S. citizens. For the Filipino people, however, the occupation of their nation was anything but splendid. As a subjugated people, they fought the U.S. oppressors and their exploitive plans as heroically as they had the Spanish. While Mark Twain and others castigated American icons like President Theodore Roosevelt for their genocidal cleansing of the Filipino people, too many others remained mute, unwilling or unaware of how the United States had used the ruse of liberty and democracy to establish a pacific base in the Philippines.

Much of the same has also occurred in Iraq, where searches for weapons of mass destruction have been overshadowed by a growing Iraqi chorus for U.S. troops to leave their country. Whether President George W. Bush ever had any desire to do anything hut give contracts to his favorite oil companies is questionable, but one thing is rather clear: the Iraqi people, both Shiite and Sunni, don't want Americans in their country and have asked them to leave in daily protests and orchestrated demonstrations: through marches, through civil disobedience, and in talks with U.S. officials. "Iraq cannot be ruled except by Iraqis," said Sheikh Hussein Sadr, dean of the Islamic Council in London, on April 28, 2003, as reported by USA Today. Just two days alter a disquieting 60 Minutes special revealed the sweetheart deals that were going to Haliburton--Dick Cheney's former oil company--Bush tried to remind the nation that the mission in Iraq was noble. "America has no intention of imposing our form of government or our culture," USA Today quoted Bush in a speech to Iraqi-Americans in Michigan on April 28. Interestingly, Bush omitted any discussion about intentions to develop the reservoir of Iraqi oil or the contracts that had been doled out to U.S. companies with ties to the White House.

Not surprisingly, many also wondered about the people who weren't being invited to talk about the rebuilding of Iraq. Many were concerned about the exclusion of certain Iraqi groups that might want U.S. troops expelled and an end to U.S. rapacity in their nation. Others wondered why nobody was finding connections to terrorism or weapons of mass destruction, as that was the pretext for invading the country in the first place. As an American student asked, "Can someone remind me why we invaded Iraq? If it was to rid the world of a deluded and dangerous dictator, shouldn't we have pursued Kim Jong in North Korea? Is this about freedom or Americanization?"

Actually, the phrase often used for this kind of colonialism is benevolent assimilation, an insidious process in which the aggressor nation prostrates the victim nation and then begins to absorb it by plundering its resources and inculcating its people to believe that the usurpation was all done to liberate them and extricate them from an evil force. This lesson of imperialism, as has been played out in Iraq, amazingly and horrifyingly parallels the actions in the Philippines one century earlier.

When the United States first occupied the Philippines, the same mantra of liberating the people and bringing civilization to the land was espoused. Roosevelt referred to the Filipino people as childlike and suggested that they were too barbaric, too savage, to be left to their own devices.

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