Americanism versus Imperialism

by Andrew Carnegie
Reviewed date: 2007 Jul 16
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Andrew Carnegie once again returns to the question of the Philippines. He argues forcefully that the United States should not attempt to rule the Philippines, but rather give them their independence. Carnegie portrays the United States at a crossroads between imperialism and traditional American isolationism.

Shall we remain as we are, solid, compact, impregnable, republican, American? or, Shall we creep under the protection, and become, as Bishop Potter says, the "cat's-paw" of Britain, in order that we may grasp the phantom of Imperialism.

Imperialism will be particularly costly for the United States, Carnegie argues, because (at the turn of the century) it lacked a world-class navy. To become an imperial power, America would need to field a world-class navy--at tremendous expense. In the short term, if the United States wishes to promote its international imperial agenda, it can only do so with the support of Britain and her navy; thus America must support Britain.

Carnegie identifies three main arguments in favor of imperialism: 1) for commercial gains--unnecessary because global open trade policies already obviated the need for American-owned colonies; 2) increased power in war--counterproductive, because foreign expansion puts America at greater risk compared to the geographic safety of the continental US; 3) America has a "sacred task to undertake the civilization of a backward people committed to their charge." It is this last argument that dominated the newspapers in Carnegie's day.

The average American, especially in the West, really believes that his country can govern these tropical people, and benefit them by so doing ... The writer knows that the cynics, both at home and abroad, but especially the latter, will smile at this statement; but the extent of the ignorance of the American people in general, except in the South, about subject races and tropical conditions, cannot be realized by Europeans. This ignorance is truly as great as their belief implies.

The thought sweeping America--fueled by zealous religious leaders--is that America has been called by God to bring civilization, liberty, and Protestant Christianity to the world. Most specifically, to Cuba and the Philippines. Carnegie asserts that America can do nothing but harm to the Philippines. (Cuba had already been granted independence at the time Carnegie wrote.)

Imperialism can become a "holy duty" only if we can by forcible interference confer blessings upon the subject races; otherwise it remains what the President once said it was, "criminal aggression." Let us see, therefore, whether good or evil flows from such interference. ... Has the influence of the superior race upon the inferior ever proved beneficial to either? I know of no case in which it has been or is...
We can only retard, not hasten, their [the Philippines] development.

Finally, Carnegie draws parallels between the Filipinos and the American Revolutionary War.

They have just the same feelings as we have, not excluding love of country, for which, like ourselves, as we see, they are willing to die. Oh, the pity of it! the pity of it! that Filipino mothers with American mothers equally mourn their lost sons -- one fallen, defender of his country; the other the invader. Yet the invader was ordered by those who see it their "duty" to invade the land of the Filipinos for their civilization. Duty, stern goddess, what strange things men sometimes do in thy name!

Historical note: the United States did not leave the Philippines until 1992.

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