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The Age of Imperialism
Transcript of The Age of Imperialism
Alfred Thayer Mahan is one of the three most influential Americans you have never heard of. Mahan wrote The Influence of Sea Power upon history at a critical turning point in American history. America was completely introverted through the 1800's and Gilded Age, but the industrial revolution allowed us to make more goods than we could could consume. We needed to sell stuff to the world. Plus, the Progressive Era's faith in mankind made us believe we could make America and the world a more perfect place. We were entering an Age of Imperialism in which America would see to sell stuff around the world and the world a better place by spreading our democracy and "superior" culture.
Mahan's thesis was that all great powers in history had a powerful navy that could protect their trade shipping, protect an extended empire around the world and quickly influence events around the world using the bully power of the navy. The Greeks and England are excellent examples. England always made sure they had the most powerful navy and their island has not been successfully invaded since 1066. They became the most powerful nation in the Ages of Exploration through Imperialism by building an empire around the world and defeating their enemies at sea. The Industrial Revolution made England richer because they could sell their industrial goods to their empire. Richer always equal even more powerful because they could build and maintain an even larger navy.
So, Mahan said if America wanted to run with the big dogs. We needed a powerful navy and trade around the world. The powerful navy needs fueling stations around the world since the ships would be steam powered. Therefore, America needed to expand to gain islands around the world. Mahan's biggest fan was Theodore Roosevelt who was a big fan of the navy. He wrote THE history of the navy in the War of 1812 and truly believed in American power and war. So Teddy used his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to push for war. All these goals were achieved by winning the Spanish-American War.
Alfred Thayer Mahan
Alaska and Hawaii
The Age of Imperialism is all about America expanding our influence. We wanted to trade our industrial goods, which requires island bases to keep our trade and navy ships fueled around the world. Asia was a prime market place since Japan, India and China have millions of people. The Philippines gained in the S-A War were a perfect trading headquarters connected by dot islands back to Hawaii an d California. Plus we could "civilize" the people of the Philippines.
However, we were not the ONLY ones wanting to trade and control the Pacific!! (Hint...much of this unit is planting seeds for WWI and WWII.)
So as America branches across the Pacific, we also look to expand our influence in the America's. We see ourselves as an older brother country. We were the first to rebel against our colonial ruler. Mexico rebelled against Spain in 1810 and one by one all the Central and South American countries rebelled. However, like America, they struggled perfecting democracy and had problems. America felt like we needed to be the older brother and guide them down the right path. However, the felt bullied by America. Relations would be strained.
South and Central America
Another example of America expanding around the world in support of the Mahan thesis is Alaska. Alaska was actually purchased in 1867 by Lincoln's Sec. of State William Seward. The purchase was criticized and dubbed "Seward's Folly" despite the low price of $7.2 millions which is 2 cents per acre. Russia sold cheap for fear England would seize Alaska through Canada as the Russian government grew weaker in the 1800's. No one laughed anymore though when gold was discovered. The novels and shorts of Jack London such as White Fang, Call of the Wild and To Build A Fire vividly describe the Alaskan gold rushes. Later, oil would be discovered. Alaska could supply American oil needs for decades, but the danger to the environment creates an endless debate between modern Democrats and Republicans.
Hawaii is the perfect example of the Mahan thesis. American missionaries traveled to Hawaii in the 1840's to convert the native population to Christianity. Their descendents became sugar plantation owners who worked Hawaiin natives. Hawaii is near the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which is a long way from America. The transportation cost and tariffs increased the price of Hawaiin Sugar in America. Cuban sugar was much lower priced due to less transportation. However, the Hawaiin growers realized if they became part of America they would be exempt from tariffs and thus lower priced. So, they overthrew Queen Liliokalani and asked to be part of America.
Hawaii fits the Mahan thesis because it offers the perfect island naval base at Pearl Harbor. The harbor is perfect for protecting ships from attack, plus perfect for refueling and resupply, and the islands are perfectly positioned to quickly send the US Navy to Australia, the Philippines, India, China, Japan, Alaska or California if needed.
Surely you can see the seeds being planted here. Japan read Mahan and wants to expand their Pacific Empire for power and trade.
In 1853-1854 America sent Commodore Matthew Perry with the US Navy to seek trading opportunities with Japan. America was beginning to produce more stuff than we could consume due to the Industrial Revolution. Thus, even though this example goes way back, we started looking to trade out in the world, needed those Mahan gas station islands and got more involved in world problems.
The Opening of Japan
Meanwhile, America also wanted to open trade with China. China has hundreds of millions of people to buy our stuff. However, England, Germany and Japan beat us to China. They carved China into "Spheres of Influence" which were trade monopolies. England took the city of Hong Kong and only England could trade there....they did not give it back until 1997. Germany took Shanghai and only Germans could trade there.
So, Roosevelt's Sec. of State John Hay proposes that all nation's agree to "Open the Door" to China and allow free trade. Everyone said NO!!! because America had the cheapest goods and would dominate trade. We were the "Made in China" country back then producing all the cheap crap of the world.
The important part is that NOBODY cared what China thought!!! Asian countries hate foreign influence and control. They do NOT care if you are trying to help them (remember this for the Vietnam War). China is an ancient and proud empire that despises their weakness against European guns and battleships. Isn't it ironic that the nation that invented gun powder for fireworks entertainment was no being crushed by Europeans that made weapons of mass destruction out of gunpowder.
The seed I am planting here is....later, when China gains enough power to toss out Europe and America, they will turn totally against western ways...they will do the thing that America hates MOST...they will turn....communist!!!!
The Open Door Policy
In fact, China hates the foreign influence so much and their government is so weak, that a "terrorist" organization arises called the Righteous Society of Harmonious Fists...remember this is a nation that had poetry contests in the ancient years to prove who the manliest man in China was. American's are not capable of understanding the poetic beauty of Chinese culture, so we called them the Boxers. The Boxers rebelled and tried tossing all foreigners out of China. Since all foreign trade was threatened, the US joined England, France, Germany and Japan to crush the Boxer Rebellion.
Hmmmm....maybe another reason China goes opposite of America and Europe later with communism?
The Boxer Rebellion
Back to Japan...as Japan industrialized and caught up with America, they also wanted to expand their influence and power. If Asian countries were going to be abused and dominated by foreign powers, then Japan believed that power should be Asian at least instead of Europeans and America. So Japan needed bully somebody to earn some street cred. So they punch Russia right in the face with a surprise attack on the entire Russian navy at the Battle of Port Arthur. It is the first time an ASIAN nation wins a war against a European nation. Two major implications:
1. Japan realizes how powerful they are. Another almost 50 years of preparation and they will be ready to surprise attack America at Pearl Harbor so Japan can dominate the Pacific/Asia region.
2. Russia realizes how much they suck. The government is weak and corrupt and still an un-industrialized absolute monarchy. Czar Nicholas II is weak. WWI will be the straw that breaks the camels back...the Russians suffer millions of casualties and starvation. The people will turn against the government, attempt democracy which fails too....so that pretty much leaves communism.
The Spanish-American War revealed to us the weakness of having to get our navy around South America. The distance also adds to transportation cost and price of goods. So, the solution was to build a canal across Panama. Panama was owned by Colombia, though, who demanded an enormous sum of money for canal building rights. So, Teddy Roosevelt encourages Panama to revolt, blocks the Colombian navy from crushing the revolt and then builds an engineering masterpiece ahead of schedule and under-budget.
William Howard Taft tries to sooth relations between the US and our southern neighbors through Dollar Diplomacy. Roosevelt always said, "speak softly but carry a big stick." Taft felt like that was too bully. He offered money to our neighbors to encourage them to do things the American way. It is maybe as bully...but they were still offended that America is very pushy about them doing things the "American" way.
Pancho Villa is a Mexican combination of Robin Hood and George Washington. He was a true revolutionary that wanted to reform the Mexican government so that the poor had the land they needed to survive. He never wanted power for himself, just true change. However, to fund his revolution, he crossed into Texas, robbed American banks and killed Americans. Thus, the US invaded Mexico in 1916 to try to capture Pancho Villa. Mexico was QUITE offended that committed such an act of war...but what were they going to do about it? We whipped them good in 1848 and took half their country!!
World War I is the ultimate American symbol in the Age of Imperialism. We finally jump directly into the problems of Europe to "make the world safe for democracy." We were truly trying to make the world a better place. The catastrophic destruction of WWI style industrial total war will destroy America's optimism, though. We would lose 133, 000 soldiers/700 per day in our 6 months of combat. We would leave the war bitter, refuse to sign the Treaty of Versailles that was dooming Europe to another major war, and we would return to "isolationism." The Roaring Twenties would become a selfish party decade that crashes in the Great Depression. The world-wide Great Depression and Treaty of Versailles pushes Europe into WWII, but America will ignore the war for THREE years.
World War I
Spanish American War
Japan was first opened during the Age of Exploration. The Japanese learned quicker than most that Europeans were there to exploit them, take advantage of them, convert them and kill them through war and disease. So Japan kicked all the Europeans out and executed those that refused to leave. Japan was a closed society to the world from 1600-1854. This means Japans also missed the entire Industrial Revolution. Matthew Perry arrived with a model train and clocks. Japan was still in a feudal culture of warlords and samurai, which was a unique and beautiful culture in its own way but FAR behind Europe in technology. The Japanese agree to trade and catch up with the world in technology by 1905. Japanese students studied in America and Europe and brought back Western ideas and technology. It is AMAZING Japan caught up in 50 years. They caught up soooo much that they were able to defeat Russia...the largest nation on earth, although weak and corrupt by the 1905.
The seed to learn here is that Japan has the advantage of being a highly disciplined Confucian culture. They do what their leaders say with no questions asked. You should not ever ask the question, "Why would Japan attack Pearl Harbor in 1941?" The question is "why wouldn't Japan attack Pearl Harbor in 1941?" given almost 50 more years of technology improvement. Their navy was larger than ours, more advanced in aircraft and aircraft carrier technology and America was NOT advancing because WWI made us isolationist again. Japan new their weakness was long term war due to lack of resources, so they did the logical thing...attack America in one strike in an effort to knock us out of WWII before we knew we were in WWII. Then they could win the dominance of trade and navy power in the Pacific the US was building in the Age of Absolutism.
The Opening of Japan
So we invaded Mexico while the rest of the world was fighting WWI. Mexico was scared and desperate. Germany was always close to winning WWI. Half the German army held back the entire English, French and 40 other countries for 4 years. Germany could reunite their army in the spring of 1918 after Russia surrenders. The threat of America entering the war worried Germany. They did not fear America soldiers. They feared endless supplies of American bullets, food and soldiers helping England and France. So Germany sees an opportunity to keep America busy. They send the Zimmerman Note encouraging Mexico to fight America. After winning WWI, Germany promises to help Mexico gain back all they had lost in 1848. This threat is one of the 4 reasons America does enter WWI.