U.S. Interventionism: Some Notes

An Introduction to the Spanish-American War Plus Links

Notes on U.S. Imperialism
Mostly About the Spanish-American War plus a Few Extras

Jump to Links on U.S. Interventionism

Last Updated 06/28/02

The Problem of Terminology: the Problem with the Phrase "Spanish American War"

U.S. military intervention has historically been termed the 'Spanish American War." Many historians in recent decades have rejected this term for being colonialist. These critics argue that the term erases and invalidates Cuban contributions to the war effort, subtly reinforcing the prejudicial view that the only participants in the war were North Americans and Spaniards.

Key Concepts for the Theory and Practice of U.S. Imperialism

The Monroe Doctrine (1823) and The Roosevelt Corollary (1904): President James Monroe proposed the erection of a symbolic barrier between Europe and the Americas. The U.S. promised to not intervene in the internal affairs of Europe and in its colonies, whereas the U.S. declared that Europe should not intervene in the Americas, nor set up new colonies. The Monroe Doctrine was a phrase that became common in discussions of foreign policy many years after President Monroe articulated this perspective, and was a recognizable phrase in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Roosevelt Corollary was the work of President Teddy Roosevelt, and it amended the Monroe Doctrine to include the possibility of U.S. intervention if the U.S. saw it fit to do so. This was essentially a paternalistic point of view: if the U.S. decided a country's internal affairs required policing, then it took it upon itself to take control of the situation. Roosevelt is famous for having popularized the phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick," which accurately represents the tenor of the Roosevelt Corollary.

Stereocard image of U.S. soldiers in battle, circa 1898

The Avalon Project at Yale: The Monroe Doctrine

CIVNET on the Monroe Doctrine

Thomas Jefferson on the Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine and a Reaction from The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society

Walter LaFeber, Historian, on The Roosevelt Corollary

The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine:Theodore Roosevelt’s Annual Message to Congress, 6 December 1904

Manifest Destiny (1845) and the Frontier Thesis (1893): Manifest Destiny was a phrase coined by a writer who was trying to get across the idea that it was the providential mission of the U.S. to extend itself over the frontier, claiming it as a kind of god-given, national right. Manifest Destiny was not an explicit, policy phrase, but a cultural concept that reflected Anglo-Saxon attitudes about westward expansion and the Native American question. The Frontier Thesis refers to the work of the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, who in 1893 wrote an essay titled "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." Turner's argument was that the no longer existent frontier had been central to the construction of the American character. Turner argued that the U.S. would have to find new frontiers to conquer in order to maintain its sense of identity. The ideological formulations of Manifest Destiny and the Frontier Thesis were popular justifications for U.S. expansionism. In fact, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show incorporated scenes from the U.S. intervention in Cuba in his show, making the link between internal frontier and exterior, maritime frontier quite clear: the epic of the conquest that had taken place in the West was now taking place abroad.

The Many Shades of Manifest Destiny

Frederick Jackson Tuner's Essay on the American Frontier, complete

Biographical information on Turner

Does the Frontier Experience Make America Exceptional? Richard Etulain

Dollar Diplomacy (1909-1913): A phrase that described President William Howard Taft's foreign policy, which quite cynically traded money for political and economic clout in other countries. Dollar diplomacy was used to meddle in the internal affairs of the Dominican Republic and in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, U.S. meddling resulted in the first Sandinista Revolution.

Dollar Diplomacy by W.H.Taft

Detailed Overview of its use by Dr. Steven Schoenherr.

Reflections on Economics and Empire

Between the Civil War and 1900, the U.S. began its apprenticeship as an imperial power. As early as the 1850's, the U.S. was sending troops to Argentina, Nicaragua, Japan, Uruguay and China, as well as eyeing sugar rich Cuba for annexation purposes.The latter half of the Nineteenth Century was spent in industrialization and the installment and maintenance of a social order that would prove beneficial to capitalist expansion and progress.

By 1894, with the failure of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, the National Cordage Company, the collapse of 500 banks and 15,000 businesses, the ejection of millions of restless workers into the ranks of the unemployed and the increasing restlessness of millions more of the employed, economic expansion was increasingly touted as a very attractive panacea to the volatility of the social matrix. Quite simply, at the turn of the century, the U.S. was suffering its first great crisis in the relations of production. Presidents clambered for answers, and super-star businessmen power-brokers, such as Rockefeller of Standard Oil, either refused to be left out of the decision-making process, or were fearfully spied upon by the presidency for tacit guidance and sanction.

Stereocard story image from 1900, reflecting U.S. popular consumption of the war in Cuba

Racism Towards Cubans in the U.S.

John Paul Johnson's book, Latin American in Caricature, contains hundreds of North American political cartoons of Latin Americans from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. With regards to U.S. imperialism in Cuba, Johnson's anthology of images amply illustrates the degrading stereotypes of Cubans that were disseminated before, during and after U.S. intervention in Cuba. Generally speaking, Cubans were represented as children, implying their essential political immaturity, which was then contrasted with the adult image of Uncle Sam. Also, Cubans were often presented as pickaninnies, or grotesquely exaggerated black children who spoke in minstrel English, and who were prone to "act up" and misbehave. It is apparent that racist stereotypes of black Americans were being projected outward onto Cubans as a justification for U.S. intervention in Cuba. After the War, U.S. generals involved in the military government the U.S. imposed in Cuba, described the Cuban people in terms that were quite similar to these demeaning images. For these men, Cubans were stupid, irresponsible, immature, violent, and savages akin to Africans, and therefore, unprepared for democracy.

Suggested Reading List. Please Go to Your Local Public Library or University Library to do Proper Research. (Do not depend on this or any other website for your research. )

Barrett, John. "The problem of the Philippines". In Welch Jr., Richard E. (Ed.) Imperialists vs. Anti-Imperialists, The Debate Over Expansionism in the 1890's. F.E. Peacock Publishers: Itasca, Illinois 1972.

Beveridge, Albert. "A Taste of Empire". In Sievers, Harry J (Ed.) William McKinley 1894-1901: Chronology -Documents-Bibliographical Aids. Oceana Publications: New York 1970.

Cave, Alfred A. "Canaanites in the Promised Land: England's Providential Theory of Empire". American Indian Quarterly, volume XII, no. 4, Fall 1988.

Foner, Philip. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism 1895- 1902. Monthly Review Press: New York 1972.

Green, Theodore (Ed) American Imperialism in 1898. D.C. Heath and Company: Boston 1955.

Jenkins, Leland. Our Cuban Colony, A Study in Sugar. Vanguard Press: New York 1928.

LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion 1860-1898. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, London 1963.

Lodge, Henry Cabot. "The Philippine Islands". In Green.

Magdoff, Harry. Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present.

Pratt, Julius. "American Business and The Spanish American War". In Green.

Williams, William Appleman. The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Dell 1969.

Wisan, Thomas. "The Cuban Crises as related to the New York Press". In Green.

Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. Perennial Library, Harper & Row: New York 1980.

Links on U.S. Foreign Policy

U.S. Imperialism at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Historical and elegant. One of my favorite websites.

An American Anti-Imperialist: Mark Twain Historical and of literary interest.

Let the Bloody Truth be Told: U.S. Imperialism Polemical, political, large and current. Not for the faint of heart.

Excerpts from Eduardo Galeano's "Memory of Fire," on U.S. Imperialism in Latin America. Galeano is one of Latin America's most celebrated contemporary essayists, and one of the most forceful critics of U.S. interventionism.


Requires us to be inquisitive, critical and questioning. Think about it for a minute. I realize many of my fellow Americans disagree with this. Many believe that the U.S. should be a Christian nation that can do no wrong. They believe we can absolve ourselves of any responsibility for what has happened before in our history. OK, so be it. This webpage is not worth your time and any anxiety it might provoke. All the best to friends and antagonists alike!

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