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The actual motive for the war was expansionism and the "use of Florida as a haven by Indians and American slaves," "outrageous, from the American perspective," Weeks observes. But in this early defense of Manifest Destiny, Indian removal, slavery, violation of treaties, and the use of military force without congressional approval, Adams justified the aggression in the usual terms of self-defense. The fault lay in the machinations of England in Florida, Adams wrote, first during the war of 1812 when British agents encouraged "all the runaway negroes, all the savage Indians, all the pirates, and all the traitors to their country...to join their standards, and wage an exterminating war" against the United States; and later, when "this negro-Indian war against our borders had been rekindled" by these British criminals (two of whom were executed), so that the "peaceful inhabitants" of the United States were "visited with all the horrors of savage war" by "mingled hordes of lawless Indians and negroes." Furthermore, "from the period of our established independence to this day, all the Indian wars with which we have been afflicted have been distinctly traceable to the instigation of English traders or agents." Adams appealed to international law to justify such acts against "an inhuman enemy" as execution of prisoners. Quoting 18th century sources, he observed that "The justification of these principles is found in their salutary efficacy for terror and example."42
Like Dean Acheson many years later, Adams recognized that in such enterprises it is a good idea to speak in a manner "clearer than truth"; in Adams's version, "it was better to err on the side of vigor than on the side of weakness." In so doing, he "articulated many of the myths which have been essential to salving the conscience of a righteous-minded nation that expanded first across a continent and then throughout the world," Weeks comments.43
When base foreign fiends could not readily be found, the inferiority of those in our path could be invoked. In his annual message of 1851, California Governor Peter Burnett observed "that a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct." While we can only anticipate this result with "painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power and wisdom of man to avert." Mexican lands should be taken over for the good of mankind, Walt Whitman wrote: "What has miserable, inefficient Mexico...to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?" Our conquests may "take off the shackles that prevent men the even chance of being happy and good." The Mexicans were described by travellers as "an imbecile, pusillanimous, race of men, and unfit to control the destinies of that beautiful country" of California, which by rights belonged to the Anglo-Saxons in the racist fantasies of the 19th century -- shared, among others, by Charles Darwin, who felt that "There is apparently much truth in the belief that the wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of the people, are the results of natural selection."44
The truth of the matter, throughout, was that the real enemy has been the indigenous population of the territories from which they were driven or where they were to remain as subjects; and other powers that interfered with our right to treat these undeserving souls in accord with our wishes. The facts have sometimes been recognized, as when Wilson's Secretary of State Robert Lansing explained with the President's acquiescence that
In its advocacy of the Monroe Doctrine the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end. While this may seem based on selfishness alone, the author of the Doctrine had no higher or more generous motive in its declaration.
The central problem, Lansing went on, is to exclude European control over "American territory and its institutions through financial as well as other means." Wilson's practice conformed to this principle, for example, by excluding Britain from Central American oil concessions; from the early years of the century, control over oil has been recognized as a lever of great power in world affairs, not to speak of the rich profits that flow. Furthermore, the great apostle of self-determination broke no new ground.45
The major change after World War II is that the United States was in a position to apply these principles over a far broader range; and, of course, the Evil Empire from which it had to defend itself was no longer the Huns or the British.
To the people of the Third World, the threat posed to U.S. security by the agents of dread foreign enemies seems difficult to appreciate. When the Kennedy administration sought to organize collective action against Cuba in 1961, a Mexican diplomat commented that "If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing."46 Sophisticated Westerners, however, respond with appropriate sobriety and concern.
With the Cold War officially ended, its practices continue as before, but in self-defense against other enemies. When the Bush administration invaded Panama in December 1989, it was quite impossible to conjure up the Evil Empire. "Operation Just Cause" was therefore launched to defend us from narcotraffickers seeking to destroy us, among other pretexts.47
These continuities again reveal that the conventional understanding is more a rhetorical guise than a serious thesis.
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42 Ibid., Drinnon, op. cit., 109ff.
43 Weeks, Drinnon, op. cit. Acheson, see chapter 3, below.
44 Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny (Harvard, 1981), 279, 235, 210-11. Darwin, Descent of Man (Princeton, 1981), Part I, 179; I am indebted to Jan Koster for this reference.
45 For references and discussion, see Turning the Tide, 59, 61, 146f.
46 Quoted in Ruth Leacock, Requiem for Revolution (Kent State, 1990), 33.
47 See chapters 4, 5, for further discussion.