1898, U.S. Militarism, and the Formation of Asian America

By Fujita-Rony, Dorothy B. | Asian American Policy Review, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

1898, U.S. Militarism, and the Formation of Asian America


Fujita-Rony, Dorothy B., Asian American Policy Review


Rightfully, many would point to the 1965 Immigration Act and its emphasis on family reunification and professional migration as an important tipping point in the formation of Asian America. However, 1965 and its consequences need to be viewed through the lens of U.S. military actions beginning in 1898, actions whose consequences continue to reverberate to the present time. Rather than looking solely at the unidirectional migratory flow of different people to the United States, we need to examine the larger patterns that emerged that established U.S. dominance due to the country's militarism in the Pacific. U.S. militarism in Asia has profoundly shaped the formation of Asian America and directly promoted the growth of Asian American communities in the United States. To put it succinctly, many Asian Americans are here in the United States because the United States went to Asia and stayed.

THE IMPORTANCE OF 1898

1898 is the year that heralded the entrance of the United States into colonizing status as it jostled for position with European rivals like Germany, France, and especially Great Britain (Hobsbawm 1989, 51-52, 58-59). This realignment of political positioning would have an impact on many peoples in and around the Pacific, both in Asia and in the area we now consider the Pacific Islands. Through the Spanish American War in 1898, the United States emerged as an imperial power in its own right, making economic and military claims throughout the Pacific and the Caribbean. At the turn of the century, the power of the United States became the most extensive to date as it gained political dominance over Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hawaii, and the Philippines (Bonacich 1984, 109; Painter 1987, 141-169).

Military objectives, as well as trade, shaped U.S. priorities in the Pacific region. By 1898, U.S. ambitions on trade with China were long standing. The United States had previously gained a foothold in other Asian countries. For example, Japan had to allow the United States access to its ports by an 1854 treaty, and less than three decades later, the United States gained entry to Korea as well due to a treaty between Japan and Korea (Bonacich 1984, 106).

Mapping U.S. intervention in the Pacific and Asia at the turn of the twentieth century highlights clear patterns of U.S. military dominance. In order to maintain a naval presence in the seas and an army presence on land, the United States required the development of several bases and ports, especially because the short-ranged naval vessels of that period required frequent refueling at coaling stations. Hence, following war on sea or land, the United States sought to establish bases and a large and continued military presence throughout the region at sites that included Hawaii, Samoa, Guam, and the Philippines.

In 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii, following the 1893 armed invasion by the U.S.S. Boston and Queen Lili'uokalani's decision to abdicate her throne to prevent the bloodshed of thousands of her people. The United States quickly expanded its military presence by developing sites like Pearl Harbor, turning Hawaii into a highly militarized space (Hanlon 1994, 110; Kiste 1994, 250-251). Four decades later, the 7 December 1941 Japanese bombing attack on Pearl Harbor became a decisive turning point for World War II as it brought the United States into the war. Hawaii and its population were mobilized, turning the territory into the preeminent forward training supply and command center of U.S. military power in the Pacific (Odo 2004, 101- 219; Okihiro 1991, 195-224; Kiste 1994, 250).

Samoa was partitioned in 1899, with the United States administering Tutuila Island and six other smaller islands in the eastern region. American Samoans became U.S. nationals but not citizens. The U.S. Navy became the administrator of this section, with Germany governing the area that would eventually gain independence as Western Samoa, officially the Independent State of Samoa. …

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