Manifest Destiny and Mission in the 21st Century

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Mr. Janson is Instructor in Family and Emergency Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and the author of several medical and historical articles.

To understand the present it is necessary to understand the past. In this case the past is the history of Texas and the present is George W. Bush and the war in Afghanistan. Whether one agrees with the U.S. response to the attacks of September 11th or not, it must be admitted that there were several responses available and the military response was chosen. It is enlightening, I believe, to look at the historical roots of this president and the state of Texas. I think you will be impressed with the insight that the study of a history that is 180 years old will provide and its striking relevance to the current situation.

Most of our current popular understanding of Texas and its history is via the"Hollywood" rewrite of these events--John Wayne and his motion picture"The Alamo" and others of like genre. In this"Hollywood" history the Texans are aggressively attacked by the cruel despotic Mexicans and are only fighting for freedom and in self-defense, just as Mr. Bush says we were attacked and are now fighting for freedom today. The struggle the United States is involved in now in many ways is similar to the War of Texas Independence, but not the one that Hollywood has produced.

In the first half of the 19th century, the United States was dominated by two political ideas: Slavery and Manifest Destiny. Slavery was a part of the development of the United States in its very beginnings. It served as the source of the labor that built much of the country, both north and south, even after"African Slavery" had been curtailed or abolished in Britain. The United States was among the last to abolish slavery. In fact, during the American Revolution, many British were appalled by the practice and some, General John Burgoyne among them, advocated forming armies of freed African American slaves to fight the colonists.

But slavery, as we all know, became equally abhorrent to many in the Northern United States. This was in part due to immigration from Europe, particularly of Germans and Irish. History well documents the final part of this struggle, the American Civil War, but the events leading up to it are less well appreciated. The battle over slavery prior to the Civil War was largely a fight over the extension of slavery into new territory. Many felt that if slavery were not allowed to expand, it would die. Advocates of slavery likewise felt that unless it was allowed to expand it would die. (The similarity to the"spread" of capitalism is suggestive.)

From about 1830 onward the slavery question came to bear upon the question of territorial expansion. That the Americans should expand into new territory was assumed from the beginning of the country. Again, one of the principle points of disagreement with the British prior to the Revolutionary War was that the British did not want the Americans to expand into Indian Territory west of the Alleghany Mountains.

With the victory in the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the United States, expansion became a certainty, and with it the extension of slavery. Northern territories were settled by northern immigrants, many from Europe, and slavery had little chance of establishing itself there; but in the southern areas slavery was a prominent part of the expansion. Expansion into foreign territory was a prime goal. In addition to Mexico, many slavery advocates wished to annex Cuba and Nicaragua as new slave territories and ultimately slave states. These latter acquisitions were opposed largely on the grounds that northerners did not want more slave territory.

What happened in Mexico, however, was a different matter. Texas was, of course, a part of Mexico at the time that settlers from the United States began arriving and initially they accepted Mexican authority. There was a problem though. The Americans were from southern slave states and brought their slaves with them. Slavery was illegal in Mexico. The ensuing struggle by the Texans was for independence and freedom, but only independence from Mexico and freedom for white slave owners. That the goal was to be annexed to the United States as a slave state was understood from the start. Texas was ultimately annexed and joined the Confederacy at the outbreak of the Civil War. In fact one of General Lee's most valuable units in Virginia was the Texas Brigade and the final battle of the Civil War took place in Texas.

Before any of this, however, Texas had its confrontation with Mexico. The United States citizens in Texas probably always intended to be independent from Mexico. But they claimed that the reason for independence was that the Mexicans were trying to trample upon the freedom of"decent Americans." In fact the conflict arose because the Texans refused to obey the authority of Mexico.

Texas, of course, won the conflict and at this point the expansionist doctrine of the United States took form in a policy titled"Manifest Destiny": the belief that the United States was ordained by God to rule the continent; that because we knew better how to use this land, we were ordained to have it even at the expense of the legal owners, Mexicans or Native Americans.

Between 1845 and 1848, president James Polk's administration completed the annexation of Texas, resolved the dispute with British Canada over the Oregon Territory and finally launched the Mexican War, during which Mexico attempted to reassert its authority over Texas and ultimately lost California and New Mexico. These acquisitions gave the United States its current geographical shape. The war also defined its current political shape as well.

Texas was born out of a racist motive and clearly involved the usurpation of the just authority of Mexico. The initial conflict was instigated by"surrogates," U.S. citizens who emigrated to Mexico. Ultimately, they used their grievances against Mexico to justify the annexation of Texas and the rest of Mexico's western and southwestern territories.

How similar to our current policy in Israel, in Africa and in Central and South America. Instead of immigrants, it's corporations that are relocating on foreign territory. Once there, conflict follows as the corporations come under attack. The doctrine today is capitalism and freedom and, of course, the"open market." As we learned during the Persian Gulf War, we really do intend to dominate the oil producers of the world. Our foreign policy is one of domination, if not outright slavery, through economic control. This should not be surprising since slavery was always a racial and economic institution and Manifest Destiny's purpose was to dominate North America at the expense of not only of Mexico but of the Native American population as well. Today, in the name of the"free market" we believe it is not only our right to destroy any enemy we choose, it is"our obligation." We are fighting after all for"freedom." But once again, who will be free is not clear. The United States has long opposed a"World Court" partly out of concern that cruise missiles slamming into buildings might be equated with hijacked airliners. Terrorism is being defined by the technology employed as well as by the geography of the targets, but the net result is often the same.

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More Comments:

George Scarborough - 11/2/2008

Wow in response to the article, states: "So much ultra-liberal propoganda... a stinking pile of BS!"

U.S. Grant, (have any idea who he was Wow?)in his memoir had the following to say about the war: "Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the [Texas] annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them." [U.S. Grant, as an army officer, fought in the war under General Taylor] "For myself," [Grant speaking again] "I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory. The memoir was entitled: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Volume 1. Charles L. Webster, Publisher, New York; 1885, p. 53.
One other point, Wow. President Polk, at the time he was seeking a Congressional declaration of war requested five million to prosecute the war. Incidentially, the 'war' ultimately cost in excess of one hundred million dollars. Is it possible this additional 'BS' rings a bell with you regarding the Iraq war?

ougf - 9/22/2002

39 oaniis painis

Bill - 8/29/2002

So much ultra-liberal propoganda... a stinking pile of BS!