Before relating the story of the America’s entry into Southeast Asia via the Philippines, let us examine the political substrate of this growing giant as she was verging upon becoming a global power.
In the middle of the 19th century, the U.S. people established military dominance on their own continent by taking Texas, the Southwest and California from Mexico. This westward expansion was really a mass migration rather than economic exploitation. While Americans displaced the indigenous population in their path, they didn’t really enslave them. This is a common historical tendency. Aggressive cultures inevitably supplant peaceful cultures.
Feeling powerful with Manifest Destiny, American businessmen began looking beyond their own borders to make money. During their Civil War, they had seen the European Company draining Mexico of its wealth. Because of Mexico’s proximity, American capitalists were able to take careful notes. Emulating their ancestral example, they first purchased large tracts of land to extract the Mexican wealth. But this just whetted their appetite.
Observing their European parents, they saw that real wealth came from owning whole countries, not just investing in them. But Europe had already established a strong presence in the Western Hemisphere. They were in control of Mexico, Central and South America. They weren’t going away anytime soon, willingly at least. What to do?
As direct descendants of the initial overseas empire of the British, America wanted to participate in the game of colonization.
America: “We want to own our own country. It’s not fair that they have everything and we have nothing. But what can we do. They are more powerful than we are. We must bide our time and wait for an opening.
Then from an unexpected direction, a window of opportunity appeared. We came up with an ingenious strategy that we had already used successfully upon the Native Americans. Promise anything, but take what you want. Honor is for weaklings.”
But we are getting a little ahead of our story.
The Spanish Empire had been fragmenting for centuries. During the Napoleonic Wars, France conquered Spain. Mexico revolted and established their independence. Each of the European countries attempted to supplant Spain as the dominant one. However, it wasn’t that simple.
Mexico is a large country with a multitude of conflicting classes. The Spanish-born favored remaining a colony of Spain. The Mexican born of Spanish descent wanted independence so that they could dominate and exploit the local population unhampered by Spanish politics. The mestizo population, those with Spanish and indigenous blood, also desired independence so that modest reforms could take place to ensure them a greater role in government. Finally the Native American population wanted independence so that land reform could occur.
Each of the groups had lots of potential power, especially when they were aligned with another group. For instance, the two groups of Spanish descent would join together to fight the growing power of the under classes, but then would break apart after they had established control. The middle class and peasant class would join together briefly to fight for reforms, but then the middle class would break away and sabotage the peasant class when their demands became too radical. This complexity of political interests was far too complicated for any of the European powers to assert complete control - especially when they were busily fighting amongst themselves for dominance.
The simple solution was for them to join together to demand Mexican independence so that each could exploit Mexico in its own way. The British especially pushed for Mexico’s independence from Spain so that they could establish economic control. America was paying attention.
America: “Hmmm. Let’s see. First support the movement for independence. Then after the combatants have worn themselves out, move in for the kill. What a great strategy! Gotta love the British. They are so clever in their ways.”
After the revolutions of the 19th century, Spain lost most of her colonial Empire in the New World - including South America and Mexico. All she had left in the Western Hemisphere was Cuba. In Southeast Asia, she still retained the Philippines, which is all she ever had.
Due to the rigid nature of her administration, revolts were breaking out in both Cuba and the Philippines at the end of the 19th century. While the Philippines were half way around the world, Cuba was in America’s back yard, just off the coast of Florida, her southeastern most state.
America: “I have never really owned my own country before, but I would sure like to.”
America now and then has a certain amount of Europe envy. She had always been looked down upon as less sophisticated, as the wilderness - so to speak. She was always competing to be given the respect that the European aristocracy had carefully withheld.
Europe: “After all, the Americans are just the nouveau riche without any royal blood - obviously inferior to the European nobility. Our gene pool has been bred for superiority. They are mutts over there, who are aspiring to be where we are. But they are just wannabes who never will be. We are the real stars. They are just the hanger-ons - our groupies.”
This perspective had certain validity. In terms of art, fashion, and music, Europe, specifically France with her capitol in Paris, was still the trendsetter. All the other countries followed her example.
Treated with such little respect by her parents, America was constantly trying to prove herself. Then she had an insight that would eventually rock the world.
America: “They might laugh at me behind my back because of my lack of sophistication, but they can’t laugh at my wealth and military might. I’ll show them. I’ll conquer a country or two. Then they won’t be able to laugh at me anymore.”
Of course, the more that America tried to impress her so-called friends, the more they snubbed and laughed at her behind her back - or across the ocean in this case. But she could sense the lack of respect. She vowed to herself: “One day I will rule this planet. Then they will have to respect me. That will certainly impress them.”
To these ends she began making plans - big ones.
Then came the opportunity she was waiting for. Spain’s remaining colonies, the Philippines and Cuba, were revolting. And Cuba was right off the coast. Further, the American people were sympathetic to their cause.
American Public: “Poor little Cuba is fighting for her independence from Spain. We must help her win her freedom. After all we are a free country and we would like them to be free. It is our Manifest Destiny to free the whole world from slavery so that they can be free just like us.”
The newspapers encouraged this sentiment so that the public would ‘feel good’ about ‘liberating’ Cuba from Spanish domination. Unfortunately, America the Government, had other plans.
America: “Hmmm. It’s time to seize the moment. The internal and external circumstances couldn’t be better. We’ll ‘assist’ the Cubans in their fight for independence. In that way, we’ll be able to chunk off the last remnants of the Spanish Empire. First Cuba, then my hemisphere - then gradually the world will all be under our control. Then those Europeans will finally have to give me the respect I’ve always deserved.”
Who is this ‘America’ that we are anthropomorphizing?
Although the entire Western Hemisphere is called the Americas, the name ‘America’ is reserved for the United States alone. This is because America became the superior military power, hence politically dominant culture, of the region. To reinforce this ethno-centric perspective, America consciously attempted, with more or less success, to exert political and economic control over every country in the hemisphere during the 20th century.
Unlike Southeast Asia’s indigenous empires, the American empire became the dominant culture of the Western Hemisphere and then eventually the entire world through force, not prestige. Ironically, they could have become the dominant political force in the world through prestige. America could have exerted a significant global influence by supporting self-determination and human rights. Instead the government chose to worship profit supported by military domination.
This was a natural progression, as American culture is an Aryan derivative, like the Europeans. Generally this means that their citizens speak an Indo-European language - English. Their agriculture is based on dairy products, such as milk and cheese, and the domestication and herding of mammals, such as horses, cows and sheep. They also cultivate grains such as wheat to make bread, rather than growing rice. Further, their ruling class with its Aryan background believes in enslaving, exterminating or just exploiting indigenous cultures or working classes, whether locally or globally, to get their way.
Western European culture spawned America. As such, American leaders tend to share the rapacious values of their European parents – the military aristocracy. Specifically American culture derived from Protestant England. In an earlier discussion we learned that the northern Protestants, as opposed to the southern Catholics, had no intention of converting the local cultures they encountered. Instead the Protestant cultures were more oriented toward extracting as much wealth as possible from their colonies. If the native population resisted, they might even resort to military force to get their way. American colonialism generally followed this pattern.
Although populated by and governed by humans, America, as a disembodied entity has a cultural momentum of its own. This momentum is somewhat independent its organic component. Humans that are born into this culture can perhaps ride this wave or even exert some kind of influence over it. They can also resist the wave. In other words, the humans that make up countries are not a homogeneous whole that move in the same direction with the same purpose. Instead, significant minorities regularly attempt to move a nation in a direction opposite to the one it seems to be inexorably headed.
For this reason, it is unfair to say that Americans, English, Spanish, Dutch or French exploited native populations. In each of these disembodied entities called countries, a significant portion of the population vigorously protested these actions. Further, as mentioned in an earlier chapter, the ruling class in each of these countries tends to exploit their citizenry in the same way that they exploit indigenous populations.
Finally colonialism inherently creates another disembodied entity that is related to but separate from its parent country. Because these colonial entities tend to be profit generators, we have referred to them collectively as the Company, after the original Dutch East India Company. Hence when America became an imperial power, its ‘Company’ first came into being. The Company tends to value profits above everything else, including culture, compassion, or even the humans that make it up. As such when we speak of America ruling the Western Hemisphere, we are really referring to the American Company along with the humans that exert some control over its actions. Another name for the American Company is Big Business, Corporate America, or International Business. Whatever it is, it is not the American public or even the American legislators. The Company has an agenda separate from the country that spawned it and is independent of the humans that make it up.
Ironically by forming a democracy, America’s founding fathers deliberately attempted to escape their cultural heritage. Many of the early colonists had risked the dangerous sailing trip across the Atlantic in the attempt to escape Europe’s military aristocracy. Indeed America primarily consisted of small farming communities during the first century of its existence. Local government in particular existed to serve the public interest.
During the course of the 19th century, America’s cultural genetics began reasserting themselves. The Aryan exploitative military mentality began reasserting itself, but in a new way. A corpratocracy replaced the hereditary aristocracy associated with kings and queens. The America government shifted from serving the public interest to serving corporate interests. Let’s see how this shift happened.
Humans have always congregated in groups for the greater good. The common expression, ‘strength in numbers’, reflects the motivation behind this behavior. Humans started grouping in small tribes for protection and mutual support. After all, it is not easy raising and supporting a family alone. These small aggregations of humans gradually grew into large nations and even enormous empires.
In these political groups, there has always been a constant battle between the rights of the few, the ruling class, and the many. Sometimes the rulers serve the entire populace and sometimes they serve the interests of their own class. Prior to the advent of democracy in Europe, the hereditary military oligarchy tended to serve the ruling class interests at the expense of the poorer elements of society. When the U.S. broke away from England, they set up a democracy to deliberately break from this tradition.
To mitigate the tendency of government to only serve ruling class interests, male property owners were given the right to vote. (It took over a century for the entire adult population to be given this privilege.) Further each individual, rich or poor, was able to cast only one vote. In this way, every American citizen got an equal say in how the government was run, at least in theory. The one-person/one vote model, while not free of abuse, was at least a step in the right direction towards serving the entire population.
In other words, America’s founding fathers set up a democracy to serve public interest, not just the interests of the ruling class. Early corporations were established for the same purpose – to serve the community. A group of individuals requested a corporate charter from a city, state or the federal government for a specific limited purpose, for example to build a canal, to construct railroads, or to set up a toll road.
The corporate charter could limit the number of owners, the size of their profits, the amount of capitol that could be raised, and the life span of these relatively small corporations (usually 20 to 30 years). After the corporation served its function, profits were distributed and the company was disbanded. Further, the individuals that ran the corporations were held responsible for the company’s actions. In other words, the community controlled the corporation’s behavior. Put another way, primary purpose of the corporation was to serve the community, not generate profits.
In contrast, the primary purpose of the Dutch and British West Indies Companies was to generate profits. Because of their direct experience with the European Company, America’s founding fathers were acutely aware of the many problems associated with these impersonal organizations. They feared that these disembodied entities ruled by anonymous stockholders could amass great wealth with which they could buy newspapers, judges, politicians, states and even countries. The lack of personal responsibility combined with the legalistic nature of the charter and an obsession with profits frequently, if not inevitably, leads to a lack of compassion for humanity and an utter disregard for normal morality. There is no Heart to balance the desire for more.
Due, at least in part, to the nefarious influence of both these companies on American politics, the government allowed communities to regulate the existence of these disembodied beings, i.e. Corporations. The community defined the terms of the corporate charter to benefit their collective good in some way. In other words, citizens controlled corporations, not vice versa.
Determining the Corporation’s life span was an important feature of this community control. Corporations were not allowed to exist indefinitely, but had to renew their charter after a few decades of operation. This legal death gave lawmakers an opportunity to check the unrestrained excesses of these non-human impersonal entities. Specifically, it prevented the accumulation of the vast wealth required to buy and dominate the planet. Humans were still in charge of corporations before the American Civil War of 1861.
After the Civil War, the pressure of corporate leaders and stockholders was relentless. Increasingly, the courts gave them what they wanted. This trend culminated in 1886 with the landmark Supreme Court decision (Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad). Congress had written the 14th Amendment to protect the rights of freed slaves. The Court expanded this amendment to include corporations. No state shall deprive a corporation “… of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” In other words due to this decision, these disembodied entities now had the same rights as the humans that made them up.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was to write 60 years later, “There was no history, logic, or reason given to support that view.” Money frequently overrides precedent. Hundreds of local, state and federal laws designed to protect humans from corporate harm were swept away by this landmark decision that gave human rights to corporations. From this point onwards, corporations could be set up solely for profit, which was frequently in the worst interests of local communities.
Initially both government and corporations were designed and regulated to serve the community. After this decision, the government began to increasingly serve the corporate world and their profits. This merger of Greed and Politics was the substrate of America’s government in the late 19th century.
The people as a whole still supported the official democratic ideal associated with equal rights for all. But the recent merger of Big Business and Government was all about serving profit, not humanity. In essence, America shifted from being a democracy to being a corpratocracy due to this landmark decision. The prime difference between the two is straightforward. One man/one vote is the rule in a democracy. One dollar/one vote is the dominant principle in a corpratocracy. Those individuals with the most shares in a company exert the greatest influence on its behavior. This is the guiding principle behind hostile takeovers. If a group or individual can purchase a majority of the stocks, they can change the way a corporation does business over night.
Giving the corporation the same rights as an individual citizen meant that those with the most money were now able to exert the most influence on government policy. Within a decade of this decision, Corporate America began to employ the U.S. Army as the enforcement branch of the company. Employing the American military as an enforcer, the consortium of capitalists and politicians sought to increase, develop and protect economic markets both domestically and internationally. Seeking out a greater market for their goods, America, in the group sense, successfully bought territories filled with humans just as they would buy another company or property.
Protecting American overseas investments ultimately justified military action. In the century to come, a common political refrain was “We must protect our overseas investments.” Of course, the ‘we’ referred to are the American Corporations run by anonymous stockholders. Included amongst those on the payroll were the politicians that were passing the legislation and making the decisions.
Lets see how this unfortunate trend first played itself out in Cuba and the Philippines.
Half way around the globe, the Philippine archipelago was not on America’s radar. Just off the coast of Florida, Cuba had interested Americans for a long time. Even before the Civil War, Southern politicians had lobbied to have the U.S. purchase Cuba and make it a new slave territory. When Spain opened their empire up to the world economy in the mid 1800s, American capitalists began investing heavily in Cuba. As well as transporting local goods, shipping interests used Cuba as a transition point for international trade.
As global shipping expanded, American capitalists began to dream of a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans located in either Nicaragua or Panama. With this growth of international commerce centered upon shipping, it became apparent that the US needed a navy to protect America’s business interests. With this intent, Congress funded the construction of a powerful naval fleet during the 1890s.
Unfortunately, it is rare when a buildup of military armaments is only used for protection or defensive purposes. The desire to test these military toys in actual combat becomes almost irresistible. The American navy was no exception to this tendency. Theodore Roosevelt, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897–98, reflected this mentality.
At the beginning of his term in 1897, he said: “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” Of course, the most convenient place to test military capabilities is close to home. As such, Teddy Roosevelt was an aggressive supporter of a war with Spain over Cuba.
It could be argued that this historical period marked the beginning of Eisenhower’s oft-quoted ‘military industrial complex’. Manufacturers made great profits providing boats etcetera to the American government. The Navy’s temptation to use these new toys encouraged armed conflict throughout the world. The destruction of these weapons through war provided manufacturers with a renewed opportunity to provide more naval supplies.
Research and development stepped in to assist the effort by upgrading military technology. Besides enhancing the possibility of success, the upgraded weaponry also provided a fresh temptation to test the military capabilities in actual battle. In other words, war was a win-win situation for all concerned (except of course the indigenous populations that were conquered and enslaved). The cycle of government-funded creation and government-inspired destruction was every manufacturer’s dream come true.
There was yet another factor that sweetened the already lucrative pot. All the transactions occurred in the public sector, not the private sector. In other words, there really wasn’t any competition due to price and quality comparisons. Who else but the government is in the market for warships? Further the taxpaying public funded the unrestrained profits. As such, the sky was the limit when setting prices. Once set in motion, it’s hard to let go of the cash cow that never dies.
Besides being a great opportunity to flex America’s naval muscles, there were multiple reasons to justify a military conflict with Spain. Of course, the driving force was business. The Cuban rebellion was disrupting trade and threatening American economic interests overseas. Something had to be done.
The moral choice from a democratic perspective was obvious. Support the Cuban rebels in their quest for self-determination. Help liberate them from colonial rule. Assist them in their quest to establish a legitimate democracy. With the Spanish gone and the Cubans in charge of their own destiny, the economic conditions would stabilize and trade could return to normal.
Well not quite normal. The economic playing field would be level. No one would have an unfair advantage over the others. Unfortunately, that is not how Corporations play the game. In their absolute obsession with profit, international Corporations attempt to set up the rules so that they don’t have to compete. In that way, economic success is guaranteed. Under this perspective, allowing Cubans self-rule would definitely be the wrong strategy. The effect upon excessive corporate profits would be disastrous. Because self-determination leveled the economic playing field, corporate–ruled America was against self-rule in Cuba, the Philippines, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Indeed Adam Smith (1723-1790), the original advocate of the free market and free enterprise in his book, Wealth of Nations, was against charter-formed corporations for this very reason. He wrote that the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market generates the economic ‘wealth of nations’ through competition. Further, the invisible hand works by balancing human passions (greed or desire) with reason and sympathy. Because these corporations are not human, they have no sympathy and reason to balance their passions. Further, because of the accumulation of vast amounts of wealth, competition is destroyed. In contrast with the usual perspective, international corporations are not agents of free enterprise, but actually undermine it.
As disembodied entities without emotion, hence compassion, Corporations have no moral compass to shape and guide their course. Specific individuals might be quite nice on an interpersonal level. But when they join the wave of Big Business, their morals are easily corrupted beyond recognition. In their desire to impress and even outperform each other, movements are made that would be inconceivable on an individual level. Accordingly, human atrocities occur regularly in the name of corporate profits.
We have seen how America shifted from being a democracy to being a military corpratocracy at the end of the 19th century. To see how America's new political substrate played itself out on the international level, specifically Cuba and the Philippines, check out the next chapter.