Stephen Kinzer ─ The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire


Good afternoon, everyone. It’s so wonderful to see you. My name is Richard Locke. I am very happy to say
that I’m a professor of international
and public affairs here at the Watson Institute
and currently serve as provost. And it’s really wonderful
to be back here at Watson for this really great event. I’m really pleased to be
able to introduce my friend and colleague, Steve Kinzer,
who is a senior fellow here at the Watson Institute. Now, many of you
already know this, but Steve is a
renowned journalist who has had a very long
and distinguished career as a reporter and editor. He spent over 20 years
working for the New York Times, most of it as a
foreign correspondent. He was the Time’s bureau chief
in Nicaragua during the 1980s and in Germany during
the early 1990s, so pretty critical moments
in the history of those two regions. In 1996, he was named chief
of the newly-opened Times bureau in Istanbul. And later, he was appointed
national culture correspondent based in Chicago. In addition to the work
he’s done as a really terrific journalist,
Steven is also a bestselling and highly
celebrated author. In addition to his latest work,
which we’ll talk about today– and I actually brought
my copy, [INAUDIBLE]. He has authored a number of
other really terrific books about Central
America, Rwanda, Iran, and the history
of foreign policy. And I think in my first
year here at Brown, when I was then serving
as director of Watson, we had another event like
this on the brothers, about the Dulles brothers
and all the incredible things that they did that we’re still
trying to dig ourselves out of today. And that was another really,
really fantastic book that Steve had written. And we had a really great
session here about that. Steve has that rare
combination of attributes that provide, I think, not
only a tremendous success as an author and journalist,
but also as a teacher and a member of this
intellectual community. He has an insatiable curiosity
to understand the forces that shape the world, a commitment
to find and reveal the truth. And that’s a very good
commitment these days. And a rare storyteller’s
gift to make all of his works both compelling,
readable, but also truly, truly important. Beyond his books, Steven is
also a very prolific writer of different commentary. He writes in the New
York Review of Books, The Guardian, The Boston Globe. Every now and then, I
still am on the email list, so I get these columns. And they’re fantastic. Those of you who follow him,
it’s especially very relevant to some of the
debates that we’re having these days
in foreign policy, but maybe even also
domestic policy. I think that we’re
actually very blessed to have Steve as a member of the
Watson and Brown communities. He joined Watson in 2013, so
that was a very nice overlap, and has had a significant
presence here, both as a senior fellow and
our journalist in residence. In his roles, Steven has also
taught a number of courses on understanding foreign policy,
this wonderful course on how to be a foreign correspondent. Last time, I guess he took
students to Nicaragua. And I hear this time
it’s Cuba, which I wish I would be able to be
a student in those classes. But given the goals
and the mission of this institute,
which is part of trying to promote a just
and peaceful world, the kind of work that Steve
does in his scholarship and his commentary
and his teaching is absolutely central
to our ability to fulfill the
missions of Watson, but also the mission
of Brown University. Steve, it’s so wonderful to
have you in our community. I wish I got to see you
more often these days. And please join me in
welcoming Steve Kinzer. [APPLAUSE] We have never had a
president before who was destitute of
self-respect and of respect for his high office. We’ve had no president before
who was not a gentleman. We’ve had no
president before who was intended for a butcher,
a dive keeper, or a bully. No, those words were
not written this week. That’s Mark Twain talking
about Theodore Roosevelt. They were marvelously
matched antagonists at the end of the 19th
century, In some ways, they were quite different. Roosevelt believed that war
was the only suitable pursuit for a man or a nation. I went through a
lot of his letters while researching this book,
and I came up with great lines like “I would favor almost
any war, because I believe this country needs one.” At one point, he actually
wrote to his bosom friend, Henry Cabot Lodge,
speculating on whether it would be possible to
arrange for Germany to bombard and burn some cities on
the east coast of the US so the United States
could get more actively involved in a war. Mark Twain was quite different. Mark Twain had
traveled to places where European imperialism
was well-rooted. He had seen the results in
places like South Africa, India, the South Seas. And he had a very different view
of what the role of imperialism was. On the other hand,
in a certain way, they were well
matched and equal. They were both activists and
writers as well as thinkers. And both of them created
their own personas. They had great egos. And they invented themselves. These were people
who could never turn away from a crowd or a
photographer or an interviewer. Aware of each
other’s popularity, they never attacked
each other in public. But we know from their writings
and their comments what they really thought of each other. So Twain described
Roosevelt as clearly insane and undoubtedly the
most formidable disaster that has befallen the
country since the Civil War. Roosevelt returned the
favor by saying he would like to skin Mark Twain alive. Now, what were
they arguing about? That is the theme
of my new book. They represented two
poles in an argument that consumed the United
States 120 years ago and that still consumes us. All of our foreign policy
choices in the United States could be reduced essentially
down to one word, which is intervention. We’re always trying
to figure out where do we intervene in the
world, when, with what tools, under what circumstances,
with what goals. We imagine that we’re coming
up with new arguments, and that this is a new debate. But actually, the
theme of my book is that this debate
is actually quite old. It goes back more
than a century. All of my books are
voyages of discovery. I’m always looking
for some huge story that had a great
impact on history, but that for whatever reason,
has been lost or forgotten. The great discovery that
led me to write this book has to do with the scope of
the debate that shook America at the end of the 19th century. I teach about the
Spanish-American War, and I’m pretty familiar
with that history. But there was a huge piece of
it that I never understood, that I never knew, that’s
not in any of the books. During this period, the United
States made a huge decision. When the Senate began
its epochal debate, which I’ll talk about in a
moment, one senator started out by saying “this
is the greatest question that has ever been presented
to the American people.” It was. He was right. And it still is. But that question was
not decided easily. This huge choice– we’re not
going to stop at the borders of North America, we’re going to
project our course of military power abroad– was made by very narrow margins. And the debate consumed
the United States for several years. It was on the front pages
of newspapers every day. Every single major political and
intellectual figure in America took part in this debate. And the themes that
come up in this debate have resonated all the
way up to the present day. I never cease to
be amazed, as I was going through the congressional
record and the newspapers and magazines of that era,
with how astonishingly current all the arguments are. Every argument we make for
intervention and every argument we make against
intervention starts here. As I was reading
through these debates, I thought, this
sounds just like what we said when we were
debating Vietnam, whether to get involved in
Central America, whether to be involved in Iraq. In the history of
American foreign policy, this is truly the
mother of all debates. Although the big difference
is, of course, the senators were so much more
articulate then. It’s truly sobering to
read through these speeches and see how beautifully
crafted they are, how full of historical
references they are, how insightful they
are with references to Pliny the Elder and
the Catiline conspiracy, and things you probably
wouldn’t want to discuss with very many senators today. So the fact that this
debate shook the country, and was so profoundly
fought and was so narrowly decided, is the major
discovery of my book. The scope of this debate
doesn’t appear in history books. And so I do feel that,
again, in this book, I’ve tried to recover
an incident that was decisive in shaping
American history but that we don’t
know anything about. For those of you who were
not in my recent lecture on the Spanish-American
War, my History of American Intervention
class and might have forgotten that one class you
took in high school about the Spanish-American War,
let me just refresh your memory and set the scene for what
was happening at that moment. Cuban patriots who were
rising up against Spanish rule in the late 1890s. At the same time,
coincidentally, in New York City,
William Randolph Hearst was pioneering what was then
called yellow journalism, what we now call fake news. Hearst’s Newspapers, which
I painstakingly went through for many hours in the
New York Public Library, essentially had the same
rotating diet of stories. It was murder-suicide,
child abuse, and political corruption. And then it would start again. But with an
entrepreneur’s clever eye, Heart realized that this
cycle got a little stale after a while. The stories start to
blend into each other. And as everyone in the
news business knows, the way to get people
to tune in every day or buy a paper
every day is to have what we call a running story,
a story that’s going every day. So you need to buy the next
day’s paper to find out what’s going to happen. War is the best-running
story of all. And William Randolph
Hearst understood this. He made a point of bringing
to Americans the extremes of brutality that Cuban
people were suffering under Spanish oppression. I saw one story, for example,
that took up an entire page with some quite graphic
illustrations, truly heartrending piece
about a holding pen where suspect villagers were
being held by Spanish officers. They were not given food. They were not
given medical care. There were no
sanitary facilities. They were starving. They were sick. They were fly-covered. Rodents were feeding on them. And the reporter, at
the peak of the story, explains how he actually
watched a mother, and then a few minutes later, her small
baby, die in front of his eyes in one of these holding pens. It later turned
out this reporter had never even been in Cuba. But Hearst understood
something that’s very important to the
American character. We’re very compassionate people. Americans hate the idea that
anybody is suffering anywhere. Our leaders understand this. And every time they want
to push us into a war, all they need to do is
bring out some stories about who’s suffering there are
and how brutal conditions are. And then Americans think,
we have to go to war. Hearst fed Americans a diet
of this kind of fake news that drove them wild. His greatest coup of
fake news, of course, was the sinking of the USS
Maine in Havana Harbor. His headline was Sinking of the
Maine Was the Work of an Enemy. And he actually published
on the front page a giant drawing showing how
the Spanish sunk the Maine. You see the Maine sitting
there below the waterline. You can see the
mine that’s attached to the side of the hull. And they actually
show you the cords that are attached to
the detonator on shore. It took 70 years for the US
Navy to convene a review board under Admiral
Hyman Rickover that concluded the Maine was blown up
by a spark inside the furnace. But at the time, that kind
of news was very effective. I fear it still is. So armed with this
outrage, the United States decided we should
send troops to Cuba to help the Cuban rebels
defeat the Spanish. As we were doing this,
our military planners realized that it was important
for us to find and sink the Spanish fleet, wherever
it was in the world, to be sure that
that fleet would not attack the US mainland in
retribution for our attacks in Cuba. We discovered that the
fleet was in a place that no American
had ever heard of, and that was the
Philippine Islands. Even President
McKinley later said I couldn’t have told you where
those darned islands were within 1,000 miles. We did send a squadron
to the Philippines. We destroyed the
Spanish fleet there. But then we didn’t
know what to do. Suddenly, there were
the Philippines. We had never thought
about the Philippines. This war was about Cuba. Suddenly, we found ourselves
in a far-off part of the world. This brought Americans
to a crucial moment. In 1890, the US
Census Bureau famously declared the American
frontier closed. That meant there is no more land
to settle inside North America. This brought us to a great
crisis, to a great crossroads. What do we do now? You could argue
the United States has been an expansionist nation
ever since the pilgrims landed. But we’d finally reached the
extent of our North American continent. Should we then be
satisfied and look inward and try to devote our energies
to building up our nation? Or should we continue
doing what we have been doing since
the pilgrims landed, and that is pushing further? At the end of 1898,
the US government imposed on Spain a treaty,
called the Treaty of Paris, by which we acquired
Spanish territories. We acquired Puerto Rico,
Guam, the Philippines, for which we paid $20
million, and also had to surrender control over Cuba. So this was the
great moment for us. But that treaty,
the Treaty of Paris, had to be ratified
by the US Senate. That was the climax
of this great debate. But the debate had begun
even as the Americans were beginning their war in Cuba. A Huge force arose
in America, actually originally from
Boston, during 1898. It’s one that doesn’t appear
in your history books– The Anti-Imperialist League. This organization had
chapters all over America, held meetings in
dozens of cities, circulated hundreds of thousands
of leaflets and newsletters, and attracted some of the
leading figures in America. So the vice presidents included
Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in America, and a few people
with whom you wouldn’t expect to see Andrew Carnegie
sitting around a table, like Jane Addams, the
great social reformer, Samuel Gompers, the principal
labor leader of that era, Booker T Washington, the most
prominent African-American of that period, intellectuals
like William James, politicians like Democrat
William Jennings Bryan, Republican Benjamin Harrison,
the immediate past President, Grover Cleveland. All these people
were involved in the anti-imperialist movement. The first meeting
in American history to protest the
policy of expansion abroad was held on June 15,
1898 in Faneuil Hall in Boston. And here is a snippet from
the opening speech by Boston clergymen and theologian. “The policy of
imperialism threatens to change the
temper of our people and to put us into a permanent
attitude of arrogance, testiness, and defiance
toward other nations. Once we enter the field
of international conflict as a great military
and naval power, we shall be one more
bully among bullies. We shall only add
one more to the list of oppressors of mankind.” William Jennings Bryan,
who was the leader of the Democratic
Party at that time, was an even more vivid orator. He was steeped in
biblical imagery, and his speeches
are quite potent. How about this one? When the desire to steal
becomes uncontrollable in an individual, he is
declared a kleptomaniac and is sent to an asylum. When the desire to grab
land becomes uncontrollable in a nation, we are told
that the currents of destiny are flowing through
the hearts of men, and the American
people are entering upon a manifest mission. Shame upon the logic which
locks up the petty offender and enthrones grand larceny.” So at the beginning
of 1899, the Senate convened for its
epochal, 32-day debate over ratification of
the Treaty of Paris. But it wasn’t just
about that treaty, and it wasn’t just
about the Philippines. It was about a much
larger question. It’s a question we’re
still arguing today. And that is is it right for the
United States, a country that was a former colony that
came to being by overthrowing the rule of an outside
power, to be imposing its rule on other peoples? Is this the correct course
for the United States? We debated that
for several years at the turn of the century. The Senate took up the debate
in these important 32 days. And although a kind of
resolution was reached, we’re still struggling over
whether this is the right thing for America to do. Let me give you a sense
of that wonderful debate. As I was reading through
the congressional records of that period,
I had the feeling I might be the first
person in 50 years that’s ever looked at this debate. And I want to share some
of the fun I had with you. So here’s one of the opening
senators, Senator William Mason of Illinois. “For over 100 years,
every lover of liberty has pointed to this sentence–
all just powers of government are derived from the
consent of the governed. This sentence has been a
pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day
to the downtrodden and oppressed around the world. No, Mr. President, we will
not amend that sentence now. Not liberty, Mr. President, for
your family as I prescribe it, not liberty for you or your
children at my dictation, not Austrian liberty
for the Hungarians, not Spanish liberty for
Cuba, not English liberty for the United States, aye,
and not American liberty for the Philippines,
but universal liberty, universal liberty for
which our fathers died.” The answer then comes back
from a great imperialist figure from Indiana, Albert Beveridge,
another brilliant speaker who used rhetoric as a
way to propel himself from poverty up to power. “The opposition tells us that
we ought not to govern people without their consent. I answer the rule of liberty
that all just government derives its authority from
the consent of the governed applies only to those who are
capable of self-government.” This, of course, had a
heavy racial overtone. It meant that countries
populated by white people can rule themselves. But those populated
by anyone else need to be ruled
by white people. And that was an argument
that was repeatedly made during this debate. Two of the antagonists in
this great Senate debate were both Republican
senators from Massachusetts. One was Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge was a key member of
the imperialist triumvirate, you could call it. So he was the Mephistopheles
behind the other senators and the real conceiver
of the imperial project. Hearst was the mighty megaphone. And Theodore
Roosevelt, of course, was the public face of
the imperial project. So here’s Henry Cabot Lodge. And ask yourself if this
is not an argument we still hear today. “I do not believe that
this nation was raised up from nothing. I have faith that it has a great
mission in the world, a mission of good, a mission of freedom. I believe that it can
live up to that mission. Therefore, I want to see
it step forward boldly and take its place at
the head of nations.” To which his Republican
colleague, George Frisbie Hoar, cried back, “you have no
right at the cannon’s mouth to impose on an unwilling
people your declaration of independence and
your constitution and your notions of freedom
and notions of what is good.” This is the same debate we
have been having ever since. During this period, as the
Senate was opening its debate on the Philippines,
Rudyard Kipling wrote and published his famous
poem “The White Man’s Burden.” Actually, the full
title of that poem is “The White Man’s Burden:
the US in the Philippines.” It’s written specifically
for this moment. Take up the white man’s burden. Send forth the best you breed. Go bind your sons to exile
to serve your captive’s need, to wait in heavy harness
on fluttered folk and wild, your new caught,
sullen peoples, half devil and half child. As I was doing my
research for this book and going through a
lot of old newspapers, I discovered that
during this period, there was something
of a fad in the US where people would
write little poems, little ditties about whatever
struck them, and mailed them to newspapers. And almost every
day’s newspapers contained little quatrains
at the bottom as fillers at the bottom of columns. It’s very interesting. You can trace the political
ups and downs of the moment through these poems. Soon after the
Kipling poem appeared and fighting in the
Philippines began, somebody wrote one
that went like this. We have picked up the
burden of ebony and brown. Now, will you tell us, Rudyard,
how we could put it down? During this period,
Mark Twain emerged as a particularly vituperative
critic of imperialism. He said that Americans who
were fighting in foreign wars were using a bandit’s musket
under a polluted flag. In fact, he wanted to change
the flag of the United States to replace the stars with
skull and crossbones symbols. At one point, he lamented
it was impossible to save the great republic. She was rotten to the core. Lust of conquest had
long ago done its work. Trampling upon the
helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural
process, to endure with apathy the like at home. Other intellectuals became
leading figures in this debate. And it’s always impressive
to see brilliant college professors emerge and shape
the course of history. One of them was William
Graham Sumner, now thought of as the founder of the
discipline of sociology, and not incidentally,
the inventor of the term ethnocentrism. This is a line that he wrote
more than 100 years ago. Ask yourself how true this came. “The great foe of democracy
now and in the near future is plutocracy. Every year that passes
brings out this antagonism more distinctly. It is to be the social
war of the 20th century. In that war, militarism,
expansionism, and imperialism will all favor plutocracy. Therefore, expansionism
and imperialism are a grand onslaught
on democracy.” Now, President
McKinley had to square this difficult
geopolitical circle. It was his job to
explain to Americans why it was right for the
first time in our history to send American soldiers
to a foreign land and shoot down people who
honestly believed that they were fighting for
their own freedom and national independence. He came to Boston and made
a speech at a grand banquet. And he used an explanation
that still resonates. Did we need their
permission to perform a great act for humanity? We had it in every
aspiration of their minds, in every hope of their hearts. It takes us back to
this missionary view that the United States has
discovered a wonderful key to the prosperous,
democratic, free society. And how churlish and
selfish it would be for us to keep that secret
to ourselves. It’s our job to spread
it around the world. And the people who
need it the most are the ones so backward and
primitive that they don’t even realize they need our help. That’s the line that McKinley
was predicating in that period. And it still resonates. So the Senate debate, as I said,
went on for more than a month. During that month, fighting
began in the Philippines. It broke out just
as the vote was about to happen, leading
a number of senators to suspect that this was
more than just coincidence. As soon as news
arrived in Washington that fighting had broken
out in the Philippines, naturally, some
senators were more moved to vote in favor of
the expansionist project. I believe that the
Americans, and particularly President McKinley, truly
felt that the Filipinos would welcome us. The idea that the
Filipinos had been fighting against Spanish rule
for years and were not ready to change one
foreign ruler for another never occurred to
American leaders. We felt that since the United
States was so completely different from any
other imperial power, everyone would welcome us. But in fact, of
course, the Filipinos, like so many other
peoples, viewed us just like any other
interventionist power, just the opposite of
what we had expected. So the final vote on the Treaty
of Paris was a cliffhanger. It went down to the last day. Newspapers were speculating
how many senators on this side, how many
senators on the other side. The McKinley administration,
through Lodge and a Vice President Garrett Hobart, was
very active in, let’s say, distributing emoluments
among senators. One immediately became a
federal judge after the vote. Another one took over the
naming of all the postmasters in his home state. So normal political
means were used, among other great
philosophical arguments, to affect the debate. The final vote on this crucial
question– and I repeat, it wasn’t just on a treaty
or about one country. It was about the future
direction of the United States. The Treaty of Paris was
ratified with one vote more than the required 2/3 majority. Then the anti-imperialists took
this case to the Supreme Court. They argued that it was
unconstitutional for Americans to rule people anywhere
without granting them basic constitutional rights. The Supreme Court rejected that
argument by a vote of 5 to 4. And the Chief Justice
who wrote the opinion had also participated in
the majority in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision
a couple of years earlier, which certified
the constitutionality of segregation. It actually made sense,
since if you believe that some people inside
the United States have more rights than
others, you could also believe that other peoples that
we govern might have rights or might not. So you had a one-vote
cushion in the US Senate and then a one-vote margin
in the Supreme Court. It was a very narrowly
decided choice. It reflects the division
in the American soul that persists to this day. I believe that the American
interventionist impulse does not, as I had thought when
I began working on this book, swing back and forth
like a pendulum. That was my original perception. It was kind of
like a tide, if you want to use another metaphor. Sometimes, we become
outraged, and we’re angry at people in
Country X. They are not behaving the way we
think they should, so we overthrow their
government or we invade them. And then the sorrows
of empire become clear. Things begin going badly. We begin to realize this
doesn’t always work. And we withdraw,
become a little calmer until the cycle begins again. But I actually have now come to
conclude that this impulse does not swing back and forth. Actually, both impulses exist
within us at the same time. We are, as a nation, both
imperialist and isolationist. We want every country
to guide itself, but we also want
to guide the world. Those are not compatible views. You can’t hold both of them. But we do. We’ve never decided what
John Winthrop meant back in 1630 when he famously
said “we shall be as a city upon a hill, and the eyes
of all people are upon us.” So did he mean we should
go out into a sinful world and redeem it, make it godly? Or did he mean we should
build a virtuous society at home and hope that
others would copy it? We still want to believe
both of those things, even though they’re
contradictory. And this is a pattern that I
see all the way from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama. They all begin
their presidencies very excited about using
military power to achieve their ends in the world. Then, as their
terms proceed, they begin to see the trouble
that this brings. And towards the
end of their terms, they tend to be less
open to intervention. So Theodore Roosevelt
was a great example. Here was the greatest nation
grabber in American history. When he suddenly came to power
after McKinley’s assassination, woe to any nation on
which the US had ever cast a covetous eye. There were speculation
in the newspapers about where we’re going next. Will we annex
Guatemala or Nicaragua? Are we going to try
to take over Canada? Which slices of China
are we going to take? Could there be colonies
in Africa open to us? But Theodore Roosevelt
didn’t do any of that. After his first intervention to
take land for the Panama Canal, he never did it again. He moved on to other issues,
principally confronting big business and
working on protecting the natural environment. And later in life,
he always liked to point out that he
never ordered a single– he never ordered an
intervention in which a single life was lost. You see that all
the way up to Obama. Presidents do tend to
calm down on intervention as they spend time in
power, which is, I think, a positive thing. Although you wish
every president wouldn’t have to learn
the same lesson over again and take several years
and several wars to do so. So for me, the great
discovery of this book is that this debate
ever happened. That is the episode that
I’m trying to bring back. I think it also has a
great message for us today. I think all of us, regardless
of where we are in this debate, can take inspiration
from the titans who squared off at this moment. Only once before in
American history, at the founding of
our nation, have so many brilliant Americans
been so intensely engaged in a debate so fraught with
meaning for all humanity. During the Senate debate,
it was pointed out that this question was
even more important than the question of slavery,
Because the slavery question only affected people that
lived inside the United States. This decision was going
to shape the whole world. Those of us in particular
who are critical of some of the directions
of American foreign policy can also take from this debate
the inspiration of realizing that we’re not making this up. Actually, we’re in a
rich American tradition, which in some ways
has been denied to us by the disappearance
of this story from our history books. We’re standing on the
shoulders of titans. And it’s wonderful,
I think, for us to realize that this is a
debate that is deeply rooted in American history, and
that our position has a very rich American / So that was the great
discovery of this book. But I did make a couple of
serendipitous subsidiary discoveries, which is one of the
fun parts about writing books. One of them has to
do with Mark Twain. So I had grown up
with what I now realize is a mistaken
and partial view of Mark Twain, which may have been
the view that many of you grew up with. So I thought of him
as a gentle old guy, beloved by all, who
had curly white hair and rocked on his front
porch, and told funny jokes, and wrote lovely novels. Well, that’s a
piece of Mark Twain. But Mark Twain was vituperative. He was bitter. His writings were poisonous. And I came to
understand that many of the quotes that I use in
my book to illustrate this are not to be found in any
biography of Mark Twain, or in any anthology of
Mark Twain’s witticisms. Because they’re
not really witty. They’re too tough. And actually, Twain kept a
folder of some of the stuff that he thought was even
too tough to publish in his lifetime. So I feel now that
we’ve bleached the image of Mark Twain. We’ve made him too much into
a pleasant dinner guest. And actually, he was not a
friendly dinner guest at all, as Theodore Roosevelt
came to realize. Finally, I had a
wonderful discovery in learning about a
person who I had never heard of before who also was
a great figure in America in his time. And that is another
wonderful aspect of doing original research. I always tell my
students that when you read a history book
or an account of history, you’re reading about
two eras of history. One is the era that
the book is about. But you’re also
reading about the era in which it was written. Because that’s what
affects the author. That’s the atmosphere
that surrounds the author as he or she is writing. That’s why I think some
episodes disappear from history and others shine forever and
are taught in every school. So Carl Schurz–
anybody– just curious. Anybody know that name? Maybe you lived on the
east side of New York where there’s Carl Schurz Park? Yeah. That’s the only
answer I ever get. It’s the park outside
of Gracie Mansion. But let me ask you. You’ve been in Carl Schurz Park. Do you know who he was? Do you know any more about him? No. I knew he was
German, and I knew he was a senator from some
other state besides New York. Well, your knowledge
of him is vast, I can tell you, compared
to any other American. So Carl Shurz was one of the
most interesting immigrants to come to the United
States in the 19th century. He fought in the 1848 revolution
in Germany as a teenager. After that rebellion was
crushed, he had to flee. He came to America. He became an abolitionist, an
admirer of Abraham Lincoln. He was a Civil War general. Then he went on to become
US senator from Missouri. First German-born US senator. He was Secretary
of the Interior. And in the late
19th century, he was the preeminent American
campaigner against corruption, for good government,
for civic virtue. And he was certainly known
to every literate American in that period. I not only have a photo
of him in my book, but I have a political
cartoon in which he appears. And every American would
have recognized him. He had a curly
black beard, which made him very attractive
for a cartoonist, like Roosevelt’s buck teeth and
Mark Twain’s curly white locks. So Carl Shurz was an extremely
thoughtful and articulate anti-imperialist. His speeches are wonderfully
shaped and deeply penetrating beyond the issues of the
moment to the great themes of American life. On January 2nd,
1899, Carl Shurz was the speaker at the convocation
of the University of Chicago. In those days, convocations
at major universities were national events. Important figures were
invited and expected to pronounce themselves
on grand questions. Carl Shurz delivered a stirring,
11,000-word address in which he listed every argument in favor
of expansion and overseas wars and imperialism and demolished
them– the economic argument, the strategic argument,
the moral argument, the political argument. And he concluded with
a line from which I take the title of my book. Today, I’m not going to
do the whole 11,000 words. But let me read you, in
closing, the line that I found inspirational enough to
use as the title for my book. But I also believe this is
an admonition for today. This is Carl Shurz
speaking to us. “Let us raise high the
flag of our country, not as an emblem of
reckless adventure and greedy conquest, of betrayed
professions and broken pledges, of criminal aggressions
and arbitrary rule over subject populations,
but the old, the true flag, the flag of George Washington
and Abraham Lincoln, the flag of government of,
for, and by the people, the flag of national faith held
sacred and of national honor unsullied, the flag
of human rights and of good example
to all nations, the flag of truce civilization,
peace, and goodwill to all men. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Before I take
questions, I just want to add my voice to all of those
who have expressed gratitude to the Watson Institute, to
Rick Locke and his successor, Ed Steinfeld. Those of us who work here have
a magnificent intellectual environment dedicated to
producing written work as well as teaching. That written work is largely
scholarly and original. But the writing of
non-scholarly work is also encouraged
in this building as an important part of
contributing to Americans’ understanding of the world. And that’s not true in
very many institutes at which international relations
are studied in this country. So I’m most grateful to be here. And without that orientation
in this institution, I wouldn’t be here,
and this book probably wouldn’t have been
written, also. So I’m grateful
not just to Rick, but to the institution
that has given me the platform from which to
launch this latest missile. [APPLAUSE] We have some time. I’d be happy to pick up some
more pieces if any of you have any questions. I have a question
about foreign aid. Thank you. Hi. Great talk. This is my favorite that I’ve
been to in the Watson so far, and it’s just great. Keep coming. They have a lot of good ones. I’m taking your
class next semester. That’s for sure. But I wanted to talk
about foreign aid. Because there are easily
preventable diseases that people in
developing nations get that we haven’t seen
in the West for 50 years, diseases that our
pets don’t even get. And so I’m all for
not waging wars. But what if we wage wars against
poverty, or against diseases, or other types of
humanitarian aid causes? Then is American
intervention acceptable? The United States
is always going to be intervening in
the world, just because of our size and our power. It’s inevitable. So the key is not to
try to prevent this, but to try to shape
it in a positive way. You’re absolutely right
that the United States has a magnificent role
to play in the world as long as it’s not
confrontational, as long as it’s working
with other countries instead of against them. One of the things that I notice
as I travel around the world is that despite all of our
sins, huge numbers of people have tremendous admiration
for the United States. They admire us. They want what we have. And they want to have
a society like ours. The United States has a great
story to tell in the world. But we’re not telling it. We’ve given up,
essentially, on trying to promote that aspect of
our society, which I think is the essence of our society. All of our libraries and
America houses and consulates are being turned into
fortresses or closed. And now we are giving too many
people in the world the idea that the face of America is
night raids, drone attacks, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib,
foreign interventions. This is not who we
are, but it’s the face that we show too often. Our foreign policy has
become heavily militarized. The military is the institution
that we reach for first. One reason for that is what
makes us bad imperialists. We’re not really prepared
to be imperialists. We became an empire by accident. We didn’t set out to do it,
like the British or the Belgians or the Spaniards. And we never created any
equivalent of the British Colonial Service, people who
understand other countries, learn their cultures
and languages. The reason we didn’t do
that is because if you have a colonial service, it must
mean that you have colonies. And we were trying to
pretend that we didn’t. So when we want
to project power, the only instrument we
have is the military, which is the wrong instrument. It’s like using a meat
cleaver for brain surgery. This is not what a
military is made for. And it shouldn’t be. Because militaries
that spend their time taking little children
to vote and digging wells lose their tough edge
that you need when war comes. So they are not social
workers, but that’s the job we often put them into. I would love to see a shift
from our foreign policy away from military
toward diplomatic. Robert Gates, the
Secretary of Defense, famously told his colleague,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once– he
said I have more people in my military bands
than you have diplomats in the entire State Department. It’s true. That gives you a sense
of how imbalanced our approach to the world is. For many years, the United
States felt invulnerable. We understood that our foreign
interventions created blowback, but it didn’t reach our shores. In the modern world,
that isolation is over. We need to be thinking more
seriously about cooperating with other countries. And allies, partners only
emerge when they like you, when they admire you, when
they want to help you, when they feel a sense
of common interest. And if we don’t
project a sense that we are a country that people
want to be allied with, they won’t ally with us. How many countries in the
world are allies of China? China is not a country
that automatically makes governments
or nations or people think I want to be like you. I want to be your friend. But America is the opposite. We draw people by who we are. And that’s why we– it’s so important to show
people who we really are. Great talk, Steven, as usual. It’s great to have
you here at Watson. A couple of questions. One is could you tell us how
you chose this particular book. You’ve written books
about all over the world, religious subjects,
time periods. How did this one hit you? What was the spark
that got you on this? And second of all, since we’re
at Brown, and Brown’s most famous diplomat is John Hay– The John Jay Library. He coined the term
“splendid little war,” I believe, to describe
the Spanish-American War. And in fact, my professorship
is the John Hay Professorship. So did he play any part in
your narrative in your book? Two great questions. And thank you, Peter, for
being the first guy that I saw at the Watson
Institute who said why don’t you check out the– come to work here. As for how I came up with the
idea of writing this book, in a larger sense, it’s
what I mentioned earlier– that I’m looking
for untold stories. But how did I find this one? Well, I read a lot about
the Spanish-American War. I know a lot about it, and
I teach about it every year. And this story, to
me, is a huge part of the Spanish-American
War story. You can’t tell the
story without this. But this piece never appears. And it’s somewhere in a book. I saw a mention that somebody
made a speech at something called the Anti-Imperialist
League, which I had never heard of. Then I started reading
and began understanding the scope of this institution. And then what were the
forces that gave birth to the Anti-Imperialist league ? What was the debate? And this led me to realize
how close the debate was. Then I began plunging myself
into the original sources and realized that this was an
enormous episode that shook a nation and shook the world. People were watching the Senate
debate all over the world. Diplomats posted in
Washington were sending out reports every day. So I came to realize that
there was a big piece of the story missing. And I set out to find it. It’s pretty hidden, but not
hidden well enough for somebody at the Watson Institute. As for John Hay, he did
play a role in this. So he was Secretary of
State under both McKinley and Roosevelt, as
Roosevelt kept him on after McKinley’s
assassination. Hay, to me, is a
fascinating figure. I always talk about him. I devote at least a half a class
to a class to him every year. Because I think
if we’re not going to teach about him at Brown,
where are they going to do it? As a matter of fact, I
have to tell you the story. When I joined the Watson
Institute, as you’ll remember, there was a portrait of
John Hay out in the corridor as soon as you came in. And one day, it disappeared. And I find out it’s in a
locked conference room. And I protested. And the explanation
that came back was it’s not that we
didn’t want John Hay. It’s that the picture is dark,
old fashioned, lugubrious, and it doesn’t convey the
excitement and the color that we want to think
of the Watson Institute as representing. But I still take people into
that room to see the picture, bow down a little bit. So John Hay, of course, had
seen the entire second half of the 19th century. He’d gone from being
private secretary to Abraham Lincoln to being
Secretary of State 50 years later under McKinley. At Brown, he was known
as Hashish Johnny. I’m not going any
further into that one. But he had some interesting
aspects to his life. I’ll tell you another one. While he was working
with Henry Cabot Lodge to push the Treaty of
Paris through the Senate, he was having an affair
with Lodge’s wife. I think that Hay was one of the
more reluctant imperialists. He did support,
naturally, the project. He was the Secretary of State. But I think he also did
understand some of the problems that this might cause. I think Hay was a calming
influence on both McKinley and Roosevelt. He was also a
great writer and a great phrase maker that’s why he came up
with this wonderful phrase for the Spanish-American
War, a splendid little war. And I’ll just finish
by telling you this. You may not realize it,
but two Brown graduates came very close to becoming
president of the United States. So one was Charles
Evans Hughes, who ran against Woodrow Wilson
for president in 1912. And with the just the moving
of a few hundred votes in a couple of states, he
would have become president. He’s the only person that
resigned from the Supreme Court to run for president. But John Hay also
was very close. So John Hay was
Secretary of State under Roosevelt when there
was no Vice President, because there had
been an assassination. At that time, Secretary
of State was number two in line for the presidency. Theodore Roosevelt was on a trip
to Pittsfield, Massachusetts when he had a serious
crash in his streetcar. And a spike went through
his bodyguard next to him and killed him, a
Secret Service agent. If they had switched
seats, Roosevelt would have been
killed, and John Hay would have been
Secretary of State. And we would have
had a Brown graduate. But I always say to my
students, it’s still a vacancy. That’s still a title out there–
first president of the US from Brown. Keep it in mind. I wonder how much of the
change in our foreign policy do you think is because of the
priorities of the plutocrats? So the question
was the priorities of the plutocrats,
how much do they shape American foreign policy. I think quite a bit, depending
on how you define plutocrats. Certainly, what we call
the defense industry is a very powerful force
in shaping American policy. Every time one of these
giant procurement projects for something like
the F-35 aircraft is approved by Congress,
the first thing the defense contractors do
is slice up the contract and give pieces of
it to every district of a congressman who has an
important vote in Washington. It means that the congressmen
are then immobilized. They can’t vote
against these projects. Because otherwise, they’re
throwing people out of work in their own districts. And I can sympathize with that. But it’s a fiendishly
effective technique, especially when combined with
the campaign contributions to favored senators. In addition, the economic
motive has always been an important part of
the American push abroad. It’s too simple to say that
we fight all our foreign wars for plunder, but there’s
always been an aspect of that. During the debate
over the Philippines and the Treaty of Paris that
I talk about in my book, for example, this argument
comes very strongly to the fore. The resources of the
Philippines were a great topic during the Senate debate. In fact, Senator Albert
Beveridge, the only senator who actually went
to the Philippines and was a great
imperialist, came back and gave a list of
all the products that the Philippines
produced and talked about how rich the land was. And he actually held
up a gold nugget that he said he had picked out
of a river in the Philippines. You couldn’t have had
a more graphic image of what American foreign
policy is all about. So the resources
of the Philippines were important to us,
but also the markets. One of the things that
becomes very clear as you read through the newspapers
and magazines of that era, as I did, is that an
obsession in that period was what was called glut. So American farmers
and manufacturers were producing more than
Americans could consume. And this was causing problems
in the United States. That was the root
of labor upheaval. We had strikes. We had Pinkertons shooting
down labor leaders on the streets in many cities. There were worries about
instability in the US. And the theme of these
articles always, at the end, is we need foreign markets. And you can’t trade with
Europe, because Europe has tariff walls. You can’t trade with
European colonies, because that was the whole
point of taking colonies. You trade with them
and no one else can. So we need colonies of our own. The Philippine market
was seen as a great lure. But the big one was
the China market. You hear about this all
the time in these articles. It’s a great Fata
Morgana out there. The Philippines could
be our springboard into the China market. And there were
articles speculating on how many head of cattle we
could sell in a year in China if we could get the
Chinese to eat beef instead of rice and vegetables. Or if we could get the Chinese
to wear cotton clothing, how much cotton could
you export in a year? These were great,
fascinating prospects for American businesspeople. In the current age, I think
foreign policy is aimed at protecting our security. And that’s economic in part. I think that’s actually
a reasonable goal for a foreign policy of
any country– to protect your national economy. I like to think that the
United States should define its vital interest
down very narrowly, because vital interests are the
ones you want to go to war for. But protecting the sea
lanes, for example, on which our economy
depends is a very legitimate vital interest of
the United States. On the other hand,
we sometimes follow policies for economic
purposes, and then after the economic
purposes are gone, we still keep following them. One of the great weaknesses
of American foreign policy is its lack of agility. We don’t change when
the world changes. And a great example– talking about economics–
is the Persian Gulf. We have ships all
over the Persian Gulf. I was just there over
the winter break. And it’s a narrow waterway
just made for confrontation. We have our whole Fifth
Fleet based in Bahrain. Why are we there? Well, we’re there
for two reasons. One is to keep the
Soviet Union out. And the other is to
assure that the Saudi oil on which our economy depends
can get to us safely. But neither of those
applies anymore. Actually, the oil that
goes through the Persian Gulf, that Saudi oil that we’re
spending billions of dollars to protect, it’s going to China. We’re paying to keep the
Persian Gulf safe for Chinese and Japanese and Indian oil. So the economic motive
is always there. It’s not the one we hear about. As I mentioned earlier,
the humanitarian motive is the one that people
like to trot out when they want to promote interventions. And whatever the
real motivation is, I would always
advise a president, cloak it in some kind of
bogus humanitarian concern or real humanitarian
concern, and then you’ll get people to support it. But behind that lies much more. Thank you for a very
wonderful early afternoon and illuminating
some of the issues that we’ve been dealing
with throughout my lifetime and the lifetime
of my predecessors. So thank you. A commentary– you might think
about sending a copy of this book gratis to the
White House so that– Can I reduce it down to
like three sentences? No, the full volume so
that maybe people there understand that allies
are good for purposes other than just military. Then an observation. You used the term– I think you solely used
the term anti-imperialists. Have we substituted another
word for that term called isolationism, which
has clearly a– I think in the minds of many
people, a negative sense where anti-imperialism has
a positive ring to it. Thank you again. Thank you. Well, first of all, about
sending my book to Washington, I actually did have a wonderful
event there just last week. And it was in the
Army and Navy Club. The guy sitting next
to me on one side was the former Deputy
Chief of Staff of the Army, and the guy on the other
side was the former Secretary of the Navy. And that was the whole room. And they were very positive. They were surprisingly
willing to accept all of this. So I sometimes
think it’s a mistake to feel that the real
push for militarism comes from the military. You’d like to think that that
would make everything easier, but it’s not always the way. There’s all the chicken
hawks in Congress that are the real militarists. Your last question truly
reflects a lamentable fact. And that is that in
the war of terminology, in the lexicographical
world, we lost. So imperialism is
not really a word to be used in polite society. Isolationism, as you point
out, is a very negative word. But the other side has
all the good phrases. So they don’t call themselves
imperialists or their agenda expansionist. It’s the freedom agenda,
humanitarian intervention, liberal hegemony. We are only trying
to help people. So I think we lost
that war somehow– maybe just narrowly,
like we lost the battle for the Treaty of Paris. But you’re right. Even after the end of the
conflict that I write about, as the anti-imperialists
were sitting around glumly for what amounted to a bit of
a funeral at one of their clubs in Boston, and they were trying
to dissect what went wrong, they had a variety of reasons. The timing was off, if it
had taken another year, and there were various
other speculations. But one of the
thoughts that came up was maybe that the phrase
anti-imperialist also hurt us, because it sounds
like we’re against something. And Americans want
to be for something. And we were never
able to shape it in a way that seemed
positive enough. You’d like to think that
choosing the right terminology and coming up with the right
phrases wasn’t so crucial. But since it is,
I became a writer. Remember that the opening line
of one of our greatest books says in the beginning
was the word. And as masters of the
word, we have to campaign to find a better phrase
for our perspective. I agree with you. Steven, were there
any antecedents to this debate in the conquest
of Native American lands moving west and south? America’s progression to
empire came in phases. And I would single out three. I’d say there were three phases. The first phase,
as you point out, was what I would call
continental empire. We cleared out the Indians
or put them in reservations, we captured half of Mexico,
and we created our empire in North America. The second stage came as
a result of the debate that I spoke about today. That brought us from
being a continental empire to being an offshore empire
or an overseas empire. And then after World War
II, we took the final step and became a global empire. So you’re right that
expansionism was not anything new, as the
expansion of the United States into the rest
of North America also constituted expansionism. The Mexican War did
arouse controversy. And Abraham Lincoln
was one of the few who spoke up as a
member of Congress. It’s one of the
reasons that he lost. Abraham Lincoln served
one term in Congress and then was defeated. One of the main reasons was his
opposition to the Mexican War. In fact, that’s what got
him his first nickname. I don’t know if you
know about this. But during the famous
debate in which the White House claimed that– President Polk
claimed that Americans had been shot at on
American territory, which actually wasn’t true, and
Lincoln suspected this. He made a speech
demanding that somebody come from the State
Department or the White House and show the spot exactly on
a map where this took place. And he used this
phrase several times. He said, show me the
spot where it happened. Where is the spot? And he became known
as Spotty Lincoln. And that was used against
him as a person who undermined an American
military mission, which was the same argument that
was used against people who were opposed to
American intervention in the Philippines. I don’t think there
was much opposition to American policies
toward the Indians, largely for racial reasons. Very few Americans
would have thought that Indians were in a position
to govern themselves or have any kind of civilized life. They were barbarians
and head hunters, like Theodore Roosevelt
would have called them. In fact, he had a famous line– I don’t believe that the only
good Indian is a dead Indian. But I do think that
nine out of 10 are, and I wouldn’t argue
too much about the 10th. So that kind of
attitude, I think, prevented any sympathy for the
Indians or for the Mexicans. There was– I wouldn’t
want to say a crescendo. There was a peep. There were a few
peeps of protest. But that intervention
happened very quickly. And in fact, Polk didn’t
even run for re-election after he had accomplished it. So I think the real
debate over expansionism did not begin until we
began to expand overseas. Don’t forget that Manifest
Destiny, that phrase, was coined to mean it’s
our manifest destiny to fill up North America. Everybody in America
believed that, with the exception
of the poor victims. But it was when
we decided to push beyond our
geographical boundaries that we set off a
national debate. The Congress seemed to be at an
important place for this debate that you’ve talked about. And it seems like we’re
ripe for another debate. But what is your
sense that Congress can serve as that forum? And if not Congress, how does
our next challenge shape up? I do think that Trump
represents the same divided soul that I’ve talked about. He represents it maybe in
a less sophisticated way than many others. But he, too, has made
wonderful anti-interventionist statements, but he’s also
said exactly the opposite. So it just depends on what
tweet you want to believe. I believe his administration
is also torn by this. I’ve heard him say that– I’ve heard those
guys say we don’t want to be escalating
in the Middle East, we don’t want to
provoke foreign wars. But we’re going to have
safe zones in Syria, and we’re going to
crack down on Iran. So where are we going? Perhaps the fact that the
president is a Republican might lead some
Democrats to want to be willing to criticize. But I must say every time
I go to Washington, which is as seldom as possible,
I’m impressed with how narrow is the spectrum
of acceptable opinions on foreign policy. Our foreign policy runs
the gamut of opinions from A to B. Anything
that’s outside the consensus is treated as the beginnings
of a frightful disease that has to be stamped
out before it can affect the whole
foreign policy process. And this is a closed
box that is inhabited by Republicans and Democrats,
liberals and conservatives, nearly every think
tank in Washington. And you’ll understand why. If you don’t join
the consensus, you don’t eat lunch in that town. You don’t get invited anywhere. Your calls don’t get returned. The worst aspect of this,
to me, is that the press is such an eager participant. I understand the motives
of politicians and people who want to make their way
in the Washington world. But the press is supposed
to be outside this game. And I see the press falling
exactly into the syndrome that we were in
before the Iraq War– the over-the-top demonization of
Putin, this portrayal of Russia as a predatory enemy
about to crush us, the immediate full embrace of
the official paradigm on Syria has led some newspapers,
like The New York Times, to become even more
militant than the Pentagon. So I hope there will be some
rebellion against what’s going to happen in Washington. But before that
can happen, we have to figure out what is going
to happen in Washington. I don’t know. Remember that line from
Rebel Without a Cause? The waitress in the diner
asks Marlon Brando, so what are you rebelling against,
to which he replies, what do ya got? I’d like to see a little more
of that attitude in Washington. But I don’t see too
many signs of it now. You worked for the New York
Times as a writer for 20 years. Guilty. Guilty as charged. Could you please talk a little
more about the differences that you see from the
time that you worked there and today with the press. You touched upon
that a little bit. Do you think things are
worse, better, the same? I think there have
been great moments in the history of the American
press, but not enough of them. I was at the New York
Times during the run-up to the Iraq War. It was very disturbing to me to
see how the New York Times was beating the war drums with
aluminum tubes and uranium from Niger and all of this. In fact, it was it was
a factor in my decision to leave the New York Times. At that time, it looked like
we might be bombing Iran. That was going to be next. As a New York Times
reporter, I wasn’t able to say anything about what
I really thought about the Iraq preparations and what
nonsense it was that we were printing in our newspaper. But I thought if I were
at the New York Times, I would be allowed to say that. So that was a factor
in wanting to– leading me to want
to liberate myself. And who knew I would wind
up in the Watson Institute at the end of that string. I feel that the great change
in coverage of foreign news since I was a
foreign correspondent is that so much
foreign news reporting that you see in
the American press now is written from Washington. I always like to
look at the dateline. So if I’m getting the
analysis of what’s really happening in Mali and
it’s datelined Washington, I don’t read it. Because I know how
those reporters operate. You’ve got a story to write, so
you call the State Department. Then you call the
Defense Department. Might call someone you
know in the White House. You might call a
couple of embassies. And then you call the
think tank expert. And you say, well, I’ve
covered every base. I’ve got a full story now. That’s not correct. You’re talking to all people who
are in the same echo chamber. And that is very pernicious. So the days are gone when
it was possible to do what I used to do, for example. I can remember in Istanbul– from Istanbul, calling my
boss in New York and saying, I think I’d like to go to
Uzbekistan for two weeks. And he’d answer– the
question came back, so what’s happening
in Uzbekistan? I said, I don’t know. I got to find out. But I’ll get you
some great stories. And he said, fine. Take a photographer. That doesn’t happen anymore. Unless there’s some hard news
happening, nobody gets sent. And this is why I hate news. I can admit this now after
so many years as a newsman. Because news is a
big distraction. News is what’s happening
today, right now. But that’s not what’s important. Two other things are more
important than what’s happening today. One is what happened yesterday. How did we get here? Why is this happening? And the other is what’s
going to happen tomorrow. What does it mean,
what just happened? So I’m dedicated more to looking
at the causes and effects rather than the actual episode. When you’re so obsessed
with the daily news cycle, you never ask those questions. And that’s the whole point. So I try to break
out of that syndrome. I’m not going to write a
memoir, but I have a title. Usually, it works the other way. Sometimes you write
a book, and then you have to come up with the title. So some of you might
know that old movie called Arsenic and Old Lace. The story is that Cary Grant
visits his elderly aunts and discovers that the
rooming house they run is actually the place where
they poison the guests. And that’s the whole– it’s
a kind of a screwball comedy. And there’s a great moment
when one of the aunts says to Cary Grant, oh, the
gentleman died because he drank wine that had poison in it. And the horrified Cary
Grant looks up and says, but how did the poison
get in the wine? And that’s the question
I always want to ask. That’s going to be the
title of my memoir. How did the poison
get in the wine? One more? Just an observation– we
talked about Manifest Destiny. This country was founded on
that concept if you look at it. Here, these people
left England because of their religious
oppression, came here, and created theocracies in
every state except for this one. So it’s pretty much ingrained
in the psyche of probably all people, to some extent. And I guess the
idea is it probably comes down to an individual
assessing that and finding out how we participate
in that, basically. I think you’re right, but
I would just take exception to one thing you
said, and that is it’s the same for all peoples. I think there’s something
special about Americans. Who are the people that would
have wanted to come over here? I read Jim Webb’s great
book about the Scotch-Irish. That’s his people. These were fighters. They were fighters in Scotland. They were fighters in Ireland. They came over here. Andrew Jackson and
all these people came out of that same
fighting tradition. Americans have a desire to
win, to command, to dominate. Not every nation in the
world feels that way. Americans are brought up
with Calvinist ideals. One is the world is divided
between good and evil. Many people and many
cultures don’t learn that. They’re taught that we’re all
somewhat good and somewhat evil, and these qualities come
out in different proportions according to different
circumstances. We don’t believe that. Calvinists also
believe that it’s not enough to sit home and
hope that bad things stop happening and good
things begin happening. You have to go out in the
world and do God’s work. We have a real
missionary complex. So I do think there’s something
in our American psyche that contributes to
our instinctive desire to want to shape the world. Let me just close
with this observation. And this is the way
I close my book. It goes back to George
Washington’s farewell address. So this speech is
sometimes dismissed as quaint, and old
fashioned, and applying to an era that’s long gone. But I don’t see it that way. To me, it’s full of
great wisdom for America. So he listed in his
farewell address in 1796 the traps that
America should avoid if it wants to avoid
being dragged down like other great
nations have been. Here are some of them. Frequent collisions, obstinate,
envenomed, and bloody contests, overgrown military
establishments, excessive partiality
for one foreign nation and excessive
dislike of another, the illusion of an
imaginary common interest in cases where no real
common interest exists, and projects of
hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and
other sinister and pernicious motives. Now, in his speech,
at the end, Washington admits that he realizes
Americans are not going to pay attention to his rules. I dare not hope they will
make the strong and lasting impression I would wish. Nonetheless, he insists on
proclaiming the one principle that he says will prevent
our nation from running the course which has hitherto
marked the destiny of nations. Give to mankind the
magnanimous and too novel example of a people always
guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Can it be that
providence has not connected the permanent felicity
of a nation with its virtue? I’m going to leave you
with that one, our founder. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

8 thoughts on “Stephen Kinzer ─ The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire

  1. Meet Stephen Kinzer #author of THE TRUE FLAG #MarkTwain @TheHalliCJShow goo.gl/6MxqcK

  2. What a repulsive answer to such a repulsive question (:what if we declare war on humanitarian aid issues, will then be intervention okay?)! Even Kinzer himself speaks and acts (just like the mofo student there) fluent Imperialism.

  3. Anyone who knew the true face of US would be disgusted by it,
    the reason people would "admire" US is because the full spectrum propaganda from US is persuasive, but it is still propaganda, a mirage.
    but can you blame them? Even common people in US believe the so called values which no where to be found in US. Lest to say people looking at US from afar.

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