Tag Archives: Empire

The Iron in the Blood of Our Fathers (VIAL)



“God has… made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America…. We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace. 

“What shall history say of us? Shall it say that we renounced that holy trust, left the savage to its base conditions, the wilderness to the reign of waste, deserted duty, abandoned glory?… Our fathers… unfurled no retreating flag. That flag has never paused in its onward march. Who dares halt it now– now, when history’s largest events are carrying it forward?”

–Senator Albert Beveridge, Speech from January 9, 1900.

 “Thank God for the iron in the blood of our fathers, the men who upheld the wisdom of Lincoln and bore sword or rifle in the armies of Grant! Let us, the children of the men who proved themselves equal to the mighty days, let us, the children of the men who carried the great Civil War to a triumphant conclusion, praise the God of our fathers that the ignoble counsels of peace were rejected; that the suffering and loss, the blackness of sorrow and despair, were unflinchingly faced and the years of strife endured; for in the end the slave was freed, the Union restored, and the mighty American republic placed once more as a helmeted queen among nations” (5). 

Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous Life” (1899)

“The cyclone of civilization rolled westward; the forests of untold centuries were swept away; streams dried up; lakes fell back from their ancient bounds; and all our fathers once loved to gaze upon was destroyed, defaced, or marred, except the sun, moon and starry skies above, which the Great Spirit in his wisdom hung beyond their reach.”

Simon Pokagon, “The Red Man’s Greeting” at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

“My thoughts, the thoughts of Washington, Trotter and others, were the expression of social forces more than of our own minds. These forces or ideologies embraced more than our reasoned acts. They included physical, biological and psychological forces; habits, conventions and enactments. Opposed to these came natural reaction: the physical recoil of the victims, the unconscious and irrational urges, as well as reasoned complaints and acts. The total result was the history of our day. That history may be epitomized in one word– Empire; the domination of white Europe over black Africa and yellow Asia, through political power built on the economic control of labor, income and ideas. The echo of this industrial imperialism in America was the expulsion of black men from American democracy, their subjection to caste control and wage slavery. This ideology was triumphant in 1910”

WEB DuBois, Dusk of Dawn. 

It’s easy enough to see the grounding for Beveridge’s remarks. He positions himself, and by extension the nation, at the apex of a hierarchy of races. God himself has ordained this superiority. In distinction to the “savage and senile” America and Americans are charged with a global, even cosmic, duty to propel humanity forward into the light of civilization. In the face of degeneration, the slide into exhaustion and weakness, an American Empire will vivify the world. And if this process of invigoration is violent, if the work of “adepts” and “guardians” and “trustees” necessarily entails extermination or punishment then who are we to deny the claims made upon us by a “holy trust”?

Beveridge’s speech to the senate is spoken in the language of blood, which operates in several different registers. There is the sanguinary image of “our blood and treasure”– the human and financial capital invested in the pursuit of American Empire. This project consists of a double gesture of de-colonizing the Philippines, of attempting to cleanse the trace of “three centuries of contact with a decadent race”– the Spanish– and governing “these children”– Filipinos– who “are not capable of self-government.” The outcome of this articulated process depends on a kind of magic: “what alchemy will change the oriental quality of their blood and set the self-governing currents of the American pouring through their Malay veins?”

In his appeal to the Senate, Beveridge counterposes the “precious blood that must be shed” by American soldiers against the pernicious influence of material comforts which may lead to an emasculated pacifism. The ennervation of the nation, “Mammon and the love of ease,” threaten to “debase our blood” such that “we will fear to shed it for the flag and its imperial destiny.” Blood is the thread connecting the economic and racial wealth of a republic expanding into empire. It is the currency of that struggle for glory and in turn its reward. In the brutal occupation of the Philippines “our soldiers’ blood is flowing” in order to vivify the blood of the nascent empire’s true heirs. Yet “ barbarous” Filipinos themselves– “Orientals, Malays, instructed by Spaniards in the latter’s worst estate”– are promised redemption by a transfusion of republican virtue.

Detour: The Philippines 1896- ca. 1913 and American Empire

Our screening of This Bloody, Blundering Business resurrected some themes we’ve already encountered in VIAL: blackface and satire. I’m inclined to take a short detour into the history of the relationship between the Philippines and the United States not only because of this serendipitous echo, but for the more prosaic reason that 2,364,815 people in the United States claim Filipino descent according to the 2000 census of whom 40,072 live in the beautiful city of San Francisco. (Want to see how Asian America breaks down according to specific groups? Go here, but be advised it’s a pdf.) 

Taking such a detour means that our reading schedule will change. Here’s what I propose:

Monday: Discuss Chapter 5 of Manliness and Civilization and This Bloody Blundering Business.

Wednesday: Discuss “African-American Soldiers and Filipinos: Racial Imperialism, Jim Crow and Social Relations” by Scot Ngozi-Brown in The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Winter, 1997), pp. 42-53. You’ll need to go to JSTOR, download the pdf and print it out. 

Friday: Open discussion focusing on issues of race, gender, civilization and empire from the Spanish-American War to the present.

Then next week (Nov. 3-Nov. 7) we’ll get into Thoreau.

Empire (contcult)

Characteristics of Empire:

large territory, composite units, formed out of previously separate units, diverse, unequal, a relationship of domination, core-periphery, local administration, usually by colonized proxies, creation of hybridized practices and identities, flow-counterflow of people, plants, germs, goods, ideas, etc.

imperialism: as a process and a set of ideas. first used with regard to Napoleon III (1860s) and later with the policies of Disraeli, et al, who self-identified as imperialists. 

JA Hobson’s Imperialism identified it as the pursuit of new investment spaces, an idea developed by Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, which held that monopoly capitalism and imperialism were identical. This formulation was widely influential even outside Marxist circles, and gave rise to the notion that imperialism was largely a Western phenomenon. Still, others held that imperialism simply meant the domination or control of one people over others, particularly through the mechanism of the State, which allowed for a distinction between formal and informal imperialism. If the former signified absolute physical control then the latter indicated something less direct though still powerful.

In general, most people think of the latter, informal imperialism, when they employ the term: a small group of nations dominates and exploits the rest of the world via state power, TNCs, World Bank, etc. The radical view holds that Empire is more or less synonymous with US foreign policy, which shares certain features with the formal colonialism of the 19th and 20th C. Not so direct. Instead, using client regimes, as well as economic, diplomatic, and cultural forms of control. Military action however is never as they say “off the table” as witnessed in Kuwait, Iraq, Kosovo, Panama, Grenada, Afghanistan.

Rise of the term colonialism. and its variants: postcolonialism. Colony, colonist, colonial, colonialist, colonize, colonization, etc. orig. ‘colony’ meant a farming settlement. later, a place to which people migrated (plantation). Settlement is the key in this early sense.

Late 19th and early 20th C: the meaning of colony shifts to include all distant areas controlled by mainly European states. The term colonialism was coined as a direct attack on European exploitation. links to white racial hegemony.

alternatives: Chas. W. Mills: “global white supremacy as a political system”

Colonialism and racial schemata are usually linked. 

All of this gets fairly complicated, esp. when we look to historical precedent. The Dutch colonized S. Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries and the descendants of these colonials, the Boers, in turn became the object of British imperialist aggression.  Also, Palestine, a place whose inhabitants were dispossessed by the victims of European genocide. Or even the US, a nation founded by colonizers who gained their political identity via an anti-colonialist struggle with England.

Other, non-European examples: Portugal and Indonesia in East Timor, Turkey in Kurdistan, Mongol Empire, Ottoman Empire….

From Robert J.C. Young’s Postcolonialism:

“both colonialism and imperialism involved forms of subjugation of one people by another” (15)

caravels were the key to colonization– sea-based empires no longer necessarily contiguous.

American style colonialism:

extraction of natural wealth, conversion of indigenes

“the militant Spanish drive for conversion to Christianity was an imitation of the Islamic Jihad that had been responsible for the Moors’ colonization of Spain” (16)

US: Pilgrims fled England, rather than acting on its behalf?

Empire precedes imperialism by several centuries as a category of human activity.

splitting empire into colonialism and imperialism:

the latter developed via the state for financial gain and ideological reasons, the former centered on settlement for the purpose of trade.

“colonization was pragmatic and until the 19C generally developed locally in a haphazard way”

imperalism bears scrutiny as a concept while colonialism need be thought of as a practice

Historical imperialism: Roman, Ottoman, Spanish on the one hand; late 19C Europe on the other. 

Colonialism: 1) settlement 2) exploitation

French: colonization or domination. “Mission civilisatrice”. Brits: dominions or dependencies

a 3rd possible category: “maritime enclaves” (ie Guantanamo, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Guam, Diego Garcia, Malacca)


JM Coetzee’s essay “Into the Dark Chamber” and Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Lecture.

And here’s the link to the Lucas article on US interventions since WWII.

Thinking Africa (contcult)

I’ve been reading up on Africa of late– Zimbabwe, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular. In the course of this study I came across an article by Anup Shah at GlobalIssues which addresses the issue of “Africa’s first World War”, the conflict in DRC:


The article goes as far back as Belgian colonization (1885)– when King Leopold claimed the area as his personal possesion– and covers the vicissitudes of national independence and Western neo-colonialism.  Of particular note is the reference to coltan, a very valuable mineral used in the production of cellphones. During the conflict in DRC various armed groups funded themselves by selling coltan and the money those sales generated went to the purchase of arms. It goes without saying that this telecommunications version of “blood diamonds” ended up in the United States. Your cellphone may contain some. So much for “free” minutes. The point here, at least in terms of HUM 415, is the nature of globalization: we have become increasingly bound up with one another even if we dismiss that fact as irrelevant. Yet there seems to be a paradox here: even as economic relations grow more complex and entangled, consumer technologies available in the First World work to seal us off from one another or limit our contact to a narrow range of acquaintances. If we’re intellectually curious enough, we know significant events are transpiring around the globe– we can witness them at one remove via internet, etc. At the same time ipods, cellphones and pc’s constitute a social landscape that is either purely individuated or stripped down to a micro-community. Even the nominal collectivity of the latter is strange as it is more often than not mediated through electronics. So, a contradiction: widening fragmentation in the midst of deepening imbrication.