The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
THE UNGUARDED RAMPARTS

"The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force."

-- THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1807


1

THE MAN IN THE STREET, like men in other streets all over the world, is deeply concerned about anything that affects his security against foreign invasion and domination. He responds to a clear threat to his safety more quickly than to any other stimulus in the field of foreign affairs.

The British were willing to fight and actually did fight in 1914 rather than see a hostile Germany occupy the trans-channel ports of Belgium; the Japanese were willing to fight and actually did fight in 1904 rather than permit Manchuria to pass under the control of Tsarist Russia. Other great powers have set up security danger zones, and the United States is no exception. Jefferson was prepared to ally the United States with Great Britain to fight France in 1803 rather than see the mouth of the Mississippi fall into the clutches of Napoleon. We repeatedly made it clear in the nineteenth century that we would permit no hostile foreign power to acquire Cuba, which lies dangerously athwart our Gulf and Isthmian shipping routes. But the real jugular vein of American seapower, as well as the key to a commercial empire, is the Panama Canal. The Washington government has long been able to count on overwhelming popular support for any necessary measure, including war, designed to keep dangerous intruders at a safe distance.

The derisive term "dollar diplomacy" is highly misleading, especially when applied to our activities in the banana republics of the Caribbean during the first decades of the present century. "Life-Line Diplomacy" would be better terminology, for we were more concerned with the security of our communications than with the security of our investments. Our protectorates over Cuba and Panama; the numerous landings of the marines; the warning given to Japan in 1912 regarding Magdalena Bay, in Lower California; the leasing of the Nicaraguan canal route in 1916, with base sites at both ends--all these are episodes in the same drama. The list could be greatly expanded, but one might add our purchase of the Danish West Indies in 1917 at a hold-up price and in the face of a potential German occupancy; our desire for bases on the Ecuadorian Galápagos Islands (temporarily gratified by our Latin-American ally during World War II); and our reluctance to relinquish these bases as well as others granted temporarily by Panama during the same conflict.

-61-

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