When the United States lost its way


In 1981, the diplomatic historian Robert C. Hilderbrand wrote a pioneering study of the first attempts by the US government to “manage” public opinion. The book’s early chapters focus the spotlight on William McKinley, the president who prosecuted the Spanish-American War and launched the American conquest of the Philippines.

I found the following paragraph in the first chapter (titled “In the Ways of McKinley,” an allusion to one of the standard accounts of the McKinley years, Margaret Leech’s “In the Days of McKinley”) all but revelatory.

“In March 1897, the president’s staff comprised only six typists and clerks, one of whom was detailed to handle the first lady’s correspondence; by the end of the year, his entourage had grown to eighteen. Even this proved insufficient, however, when the responsibilities of war and empire added to administrative duties, so that by 1901 the White House staff grew to more than eighty assistants. One reason for this expansion was the added clerical work of preparing and distributing press releases; one result was more time for dealing with Washington correspondents.”

The point is worth belaboring: When McKinley took office in 1897, the White House office staff consisted of only six typists and clerks. By the time of his assassination four years later, the staff had grown to more than 80—largely because of “the responsibilities of war and empire.”

It wasn’t only the White House office staff that grew to meet the needs of an imperial capital on a wartime footing; the entire federal government grew, too, fattened on a network of new colonies and, by 1917, a true world-spanning war.

I think the true roots of the national-security state that the United States is today—the same subtle surveillance state that whistleblower Edward Snowden sought to describe—lie in the aggressive expansionism that characterized American policy between the McKinley and Woodrow Wilson administrations, between 1898 and 1918. Readers who came of reading age when Richard Nixon was US president from 1969 to 1974 may remember the charges of an “imperial presidency” being hurled at him and his administration, but in fact the charges were occasioned more by the trappings of power with which Nixon liked to surround himself. In truth, the nature of the American presidency began to change when McKinley decided to “Christianize” the Philippines, and make himself an empire in all but name.

At the turn of the century, one of the grand old men of McKinley’s own Republican party vigorously opposed the US policy of conquest. In one Senate speech, Sen. George Hoar predicted the consequences of American expansion. “Our fathers dreaded a standing army, but the Senator’s doctrine [he was referring to pro-expansion Sen. Orville Platt], put in practice anywhere, now or hereafter, renders necessary a standing army, to be reinforced by a powerful navy. Our fathers denounced the subjection of any people whose judges were appointed or whose salaries were paid by a foreign power; but the Senator’s doctrine requires us to send to a foreign people judges not of their own selection, appointed and paid by us. The Senator’s doctrine, whenever it shall be put in practice, will entail upon us a national debt larger than any now existing on the face of the earth, larger than any ever known in history.” Thus: a large standing army, a tradition of foreign intervention, massive debt-funded spending.

How did McKinley and the other expansionists square the idea of expansion, to the extent of subjugating other peoples, with the founding principles of the American Revolution? By linking the war against Spain in 1898 and later the conquest of the Philippines with the revolution of 1776 and the American Civil War. The cartoon (by the artist “Bart,” who drew it for the Minneapolis Journal on May 30, 1898) just about sums it up.

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  • kayanatwo


    nobody asked me…but….mr. nery and like most of the ilks of his kind still wanting to live a conjured up world without a conqueror and the vanquished.

    mr. nery also forgot that if it is not the american, maybe the british, the dutch and even the german could be our colonial master.

    to wit, the british forces actually occupied manila for a brief period of time. the british occupation of manila ended as a part of settlements that ended the “seven years war”……

  • AllaMo

    The only way to get the best of a colonial is to assimilate. The Chinoys have done it. the Mexicans are now doing it (in the USA). There is truth in the old adage, “If you can’t lick them, join them”.

  • Ommm

    “American conquest of the Philippines”…..??

    The USA could own this place in 2 hours anytime it wanted….but obviously they are not even interested….

    Be glad of the hundreds of millions you receive annually from their aid and be grateful your women are not sucking some Japanese business men and that you are not bowing down and speaking Japanese…. so many Americans died to liberate this country but unfortunately your concept of a democracy was never realized. Perhaps if Filipinos had ever sacrificed their own lives in a real war this country would have a concept of national pride…instead we have these mamas boys writing articles as this….

    • Fulpol

      Japan is also giving millions of grants and aid to Philippines.. Pilipinas who worked in Japan earned well..

      same with migrant Pilipinos in the USA.. they also earned well..

      many Americans died in Europe during World War 2.. what was their interest in Europe?.. to protect Great Britain? while Philippines is a colony of US before the war..

      US wanted to liberate the world during WW2? indeed, sacrificing millions of lives just to satisfy the appetite of few… only few hands…

      • Crazy_horse101010

        they also spent billions rebuilding countries of which only one country repaid them finland. who fought for the germans. the rest are now hoping america will go broke

    • KaEnchong

      The USA could own this place in 2 hours anytime it wanted….but obviously they are not even interested…

      Yes, in much the same way as a gigolo can always marry the prostitute who provided him with sexual pleasure the night before. Must the prostitute be thankful to the gigolo for not marrying her?

      Yes, in much the same way as a steak lover can always buy his own cow. Must the cow be thankful to the steak lover for not buying it?

      America is much the same bargain hunter as everybody else. It is wiser to pay for sex on a per session basis than to marry the prostitute. It is cheaper to buy beef by the pound than to raise cattle. It is more pragmatic to enjoy the greater pleasures without bearing the consequential responsibilities. And, we have to thank America for being pragmatic in protecting her own interests?

      …so many Americans died to liberate this country? So many more Filipinos were killed protecting these Americans from their Japanese tormentors. And before claiming that so many Americans died to liberate this country, please do not forget that so many Americans killed so many more Filipinos, too, in the process of turning the Philippines into an American colony.

      Read your history books and find out how many Filipinos died during the Second World War. Perhaps, if you do, you would no longer say “Perhaps if Filipinos had ever sacrificed their own lives in a real war this country would have a concept of national pride”.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        have fun with china they dont care about your history because this is now not 70 years ago. and if it wasnt for america you would speaking japanese now. japan would have sucked this country up just like the rest of aisa ask thailand they were a kingdom but japan took them over along with indochina and the east indies.. how many flipinos would have died in the 70 years that japan would have ruled here

      • KaEnchong

        Why would I need to have fun with China? And why would China care about our history? Are you implying that if I am not for America, then I have to be for China? Is that you, Dubya?

        I have to thank you, Americans, for my English? Thank you, then… but, I am quite fine with Tagalog. Hey, what’s wrong with Nippongo?

        Oh, and by the way… how many Filipinos would have died in the 70 years that Japan would have ruled here? Maybe, proportionally, the same number of Filipinos who died during the American conquest here.

  • tadasolo

    Colonialism is part of the evolution of human history. That is all there is nothing more. For those still blaming colonialism as the fundamental reason we are so “RETARDED” to put it bluntly are using it as an excuse for an easy way out to cover the incompetence of our national narratives. We need to move away from this and start confronting our fundamental problems head on and accept the fact we need to be more organized, better educated, better trained, better citizens for the community. We need to demand strong and good leadership and we need to control and protect our communities.

    • kayanatwo


      “amen” to that>>>>>

    • Charlotte Samaniego

      Couldn’t have said it any better!
      The Philippines is a great nation, because of its people, who against all odds have excelled in their fields and provided for their families and themselves.
      But some of our beloved countrymen need our help, and we cannot rely on our political leaders and the religious establishment to help out the slowest among us. We must do our share to make sure no one is left behind, and hopefully rub off some communitarian spirit along the way.

      Nothing is wrong with the color of our skin, with the accent of our english, nor with the mountains of rice that go with our meals. We should have unwavering faith in our capabilities.

  • josh_alexei

    But beyond the continental North America, except for the Islands of Hawaii, America did not go across the oceans to conquer other nation land. They just took the land conquered by earlier Colonizers, Notably their own Colonizers, the British Empire and Spain. Americans did not even bother much Canada (oh they wish it did) except for that little skirmish when it was still a British Colony in l812…

    • Crazy_horse101010

      .. they fought in panama when american soldiers were killed then left panama and gave them the canal. they didnt have to. most of america was bought from other countries spain france and russia.

      • Fulpol

        they helped in building the oil industry of Iran.. Iranians took it from them.. now the Americans want to take it back..

      • Crazy_horse101010

        why they have their own oil. who needs iran. just another insane nation and the jews will take care of them anyway if not the saudis will who hates them

    • Guest

      The americans didn’t need to conquer Canada, canadians will follow americans anytime. As americans love to say, Canada is not the end of the world, but they have an excellent view of it from there. In other words, “malapit na sila sa bangin”. LOL!!!

      • josh_alexei

        That’s ok as long as they are paying the world price for the Oil.. and natural gas piped in from the North of the borders. And we keep the $50 billions trade surplus year in and year out.

      • Charlotte Samaniego

        hmmm….when you say “we keep $50 billions”, does that mean you’re canadian? You have no business here, then; this is only for pinoys!

      • tadasolo

        He is a Filipino and a OFW like you except living in Canada

      • Crazy_horse101010

        are you a internet cop you let the chinese in here ever day. . im not pinoy you going to kick me out. especially when many people here attack my country and race. where in the rules does it say pinoys only. are you another racist..

      • Fulpol

        i don’t know if all us here have millions of audience…

      • Crazy_horse101010

        you dont know a hell of a lot anyway. think we cant read. besides i probably pay more in taxes here than you do.

      • josh_alexei

        I believe this forum goes beyond the border and I also believe you are not the publisher of this paper and you do not have the business to tell anyone if he has a business in this forum.

      • Guest

        As a pinoy working in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, I know that the Americans own Saudi Aramco, or the Saudi Arab-American Oil Company, which pumps out the oil from the arabian desert. So if you ask me, americans don’t really need canada’s dirty oil sands. Has Obama really approved that anyway?

      • tadasolo

        Are you kidding that is only a name inserted by the Saudis. Aramco is wholy owned by the Saudi Government. They used the American name to scare the s h i t our of those wishing to invade the oil

      • Fulpol

        and just don’t forget Iraq too, third largest oil exporter..

      • Crazy_horse101010

        they ship to china

      • josh_alexei

        Well, I also read somewhere that the biggest exporter of oil to the us is her good neighbour north of the border.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        yeah for now until america starts to produce oil shale. they said by 2020 america will be exporting oil so we will buy yours for awhile then we can sell to china. i lived near canada in montana and have family in regina.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        meant to both van sell to china.

      • Crazy_horse101010


      • josh_alexei

        Crazy horse, Montana has shale oil too going south thru the pipeline. the construction of the Pipeline is its final stages, but meet some legal obstacle. Anyway we have a NAFTA and many other treaties and agreements that both countries respect and also most have families on both sides. My kid sisters and families also Live in the US one in NYC and the other in CA. We are not only the Biggest Trading Partners. but also the closest Allies

      • Crazy_horse101010

        yeah and good friends thats why no fences on the border. i didnt know canada had much shale oil but i knew you had the sands. yeah and western canada more like the usa than canadian or the other way around except you guys talk funny.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        that will soon change according to the world news soon america will be exporting oil they said america will be producing more oil than arabia, because of the north slope and using oil shale oil production and gas production have gone up over 30 percent in the last 5 years and they will be out producing russia in natural gas. this was on bbc cnn aisa news and in the papers

      • Fulpol

        of course, a new wave of energy revolution is coming.. what is the use of your oil in the future? so extract it now..

      • josh_alexei

        There are still a lot of reserve in Alaska (and can use the pipeline down south) and in the gulf and oil sand in the US and between the two countries the estimated reserve is good for another 200 that time new technologies will be discovered or invented that fossils may just be for the lawnmowers.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        true i dont think either will suffer and both countries east of the rockies have vast coal reserves. that go for hundreds of miles. holw is the pipeline from canada going

      • Crazy_horse101010

        the real crazy horse lived in canada for awhile he should have stayed there

      • raptor_d_lonewolf

        i think the us of a will not export their oil if ever, they need it to fuel their war machines. he who controls the oil will be the real super power. unless the oil runs out, they will mass produced engines that runs on water.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        just repeating what is written they are interested in africa has it is up and coming. have you notice many of americas warship dont use oil they use nukes.he who controls the oil also controls the money. look at the arab countries. its a balance of trade.

      • Crazy_horse101010

        ps america already has oil stock piled for their military. you can only store so much oil. and i think they will sell their surplus just like everyone else. because if nothing else it will lower the national debt.

    • batangpaslit

      Canada is U.S. backyard…

      • josh_alexei

        It depends where you coming from..From the North Pole it is a Front yard. From South America, then you are right, but then there is Alaska,

  • Edgar Lores

    This essay conflates the origins of state surveillance with American external colonialism, which started at the end of the 19th century. State surveillance can be external (espionage) or internal. These are different things.

    Espionage was practiced even before Jesus was born, but the American Revolution (1775 – 1783) gave rise to Thomas Knowlton who is acknowledged as America’s first spy.

    The roots of internal surveillance in history are unknown, but systematic semi-realized state surveillance was established in the communist states of Soviet Union (1922) and the former East Germany (1949 – 1990). In the US, its origins may be traced to FBI’s Hoover, who conducted anti-communist operations during WWII and who began to keep dossiers on communists and celebrities in the 1950’s.

    The FBI (internal intelligence) was established in 1935, the CIA (external intelligence) in 1947, and the NSA (external encrypted intelligence) in 1952. All had predecessors in the BOI (1908), OSS (1942) and the AFSA (1949) respectively.

    Fully realized state surveillance –- of the NSA kind which is both internal and external — has been made possible, not with typewriters, but with the appearance of mainframe computers in the 1960’s. It is a hard sell to ascribe America’s internal state surveillance to America’s expansionism. A more reasonable explanation would be (a) the technology that has made it possible and (b) the infamous Edgar J Hoover who started it.

    • Crazy_horse101010

      and nathan hale was a american spy who was killed by the british and made a hero. spies shortened ww2.. when germany was within sight of moscow a spy in japan told russia that japan wouldnt attack them so russia was able to move its siberian divisions to moscow and attacked germany and drove them back. the battle of midway was won because america was able to break the japanese code and knew where there carriers were. the polish spies stole a german enigma machine and gave it to britian and broke the german codes that way britian knew where the german u boats were

  • tgomeziii

    Assessed with cold clinical eyes….sans emotions…..America’s coming to our islands was “premeditated imperialism.” But summa total……it worked!!! And we regained our freedom. Unfortunately, we simply employed incompetence in managing our affairs.
    BTW……the official document signed by President Truman celebrating Philippine independence does not use the word “grant”…….it declares the USA’s “recognition” of Philippine independence. After all the hair pulling and teeth gnashing, July Fourth as PhilAmerican Friendship Day is now a very apt observance of a near universal Filipino sentiment, to the eternal chagrin of our ever-whining nationalist malcontents.
    Hasn’t it dawned upon us yet that, yes, we have seen the enemy……it is US!!!…. that means tayo hindi ang Kano!!!

    • batangpaslit

      regardless, subjugating other people who did no wrong to the colonizer is evil

  • jeff

    So many english-flaunting journalists or commentators here are vindictively whining negativism against the US using the english language america taught to them.

    These people are no different from communists like joma sison, bayan, anakbayan, gabriela, or cpp/npa/ndf who are all anti-US no matter what.

    They are using nationalism as a disquise in blaming the US of all the ills happening to the lives of the masses, hoping to get for themselves a bigger share of the communist china’s loot from illegal fishing, poaching, and grabbing what belongs to the philippines and neighboring countries.

    Gun-toting communist china is already at their doorsteps yet their focus is more on how to welcome and join their communist comrades to take control not of their homes, but the homes of the filipino masses they betrayed.

    • batangpaslit

      China did not physically occupy the Philippines, neither they burned villages
      Invading and bombing of innocent countries per se like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq is an evil act.
      We take up arms to defend. We do not take arms to subjugate people who have done no wrong to the invading military power.

    • KaEnchong

      Wherever we are now, we cannot blame anybody else but ourselves. But please, do not peddle the idea that everything right in the Philippines is through the merciful benevolence of America, and everything wrong is just simple native stupidity.

      America is a great country, and Americans are wonderful people – but that does not make us, Filipinos, forever in her debt. America gave us some. America took some, too.

      Americans may be intelligent. But that does not mean that Filipinos are morons.

      So many English-flaunting journalists or commentators here are vindictively whining negativism against the US using the English language america taught to them? If we follow your logic, nobody in America should use the English language in “vindictively whining negativism” against England. Fair is fair.

  • batangpaslit

    spies are sent out to find out what the enemy is doing
    but you don’t spy against your friend.

  • Cue_Vas

    70 years of independence and still blaming US, Japan and Spain.

    • KaEnchong

      I blame no one but me… and I shall be beholden to no one but me.

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