It Takes A Village – VNV Tuesday: Imperialism Emboldened Us 3/21/17

Columbia’s Easter Bonnet

I have to admit that preparing last week’s post on immigration depressed the hell out of me. When I do these posts, my goal is to take an unblinking look at our history, but with the awareness that while the “wars” may not have been won, battles have. While looking at our past attitudes on immigration, I had a hard time seeing our progress. So this week, I wanted something a bit more uplifting. One would think that imperialism would be the last topic I would choose, but this is one area where, as individuals, we’ve become marginally more aware, more sensitive, and occasionally more cautious. Whether or what we’ve learned as a country is an open question.

American imperialism is a racist ideology, based (more than a little) on white supremacy…

School Begins: This caricature shows Uncle Sam lecturing four children labelled “Philippines,” “Hawaii,” “Puerto Rico,” and “Cuba” in front of children holding books labeled with various U.S. states. In the background, an American Indian holds a book upside down, a Chinese boy stands at the door, and a black boy cleans a window. The blackboard reads, “The consent of the governed is a good thing in theory, but very rare in fact… the U.S. must govern its new territories with or without their consent until they can govern themselves.”

…but it’s a burden we, as a country, were only too willing to bear.

We declared expansion as our destiny and assumed its welcome throughout the world.

We chose to “spread democracy,” because we declared that democracy leads to prosperity.

“What the United States has Fought For,” in Chicago Tribune, 1914. (Wikimedia,

Never underestimate the influence and role of capitalism…

…especially when it’s couched in the language of morality and Christian principles.

And yet, some saw all too clearly the dangers and inhumanity of our imperialistic ways.

“Civilization Begins at Home,” Literary Digest, Nov. 26, 1898
“The Harvest in the Philippines.” Frederick Thompson Richards, Life, July 6, 1899.
“‘Treason’ at the White House.” Cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt upset by a quote from Abraham Lincoln. The Public, 5 (January 31, 1901).

If we learn anything from our history, it must be, “Forward together, not one step back.”

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. Good morning, DoReMI, and thank you for this impressive post! It’s a good subject for consideration, I must say, and your graphics are amazing. (Where on earth do you find them?)

    As I’ve grown older I’ve become much more aware of the misdeeds and downright evil acts committed by the white male ruling capitalist oligarchy. (I’m thinking now of how they impregnated blankets with measles and smallpox germs and gave them to Native Americans, who promptly became ill and died.) The enormous suppression of the contributions of women, black people, and Native Americans in our “history” is another source of disgust.

    However, there’s this: now that we know what we’re up against, we can RESIST!

    • In middle school, I did a paper on Lincoln’s views on slavery. The topic was chosen for sheer expedience; my parents had a massive book that was a collection of all of Lincoln’s speeches. I was able to see for myself, for the first time, that what was in my history textbooks was incomplete at best (and usually far worse.) Later, I had a high school U.S. history teacher who taught things from the “loser’s” perspective, e.g. we learned about the Revolutionary War from the British point of view and the Civil War from the Southern viewpoint.

      Those moments stuck with me, and I have found they profoundly impacted my worldview. It’s made for some uncomfortable passages in my life (try being a pre-seminary student and vocally doubting that Jesus is the Son of God as commonly understood!), but overall, I never regret learning to tilt my head to shake up perspective. It made me a kick-ass defense analyst back in the day; it makes me a pain in the ass when on jury duty. I wish teachers still had the freedom to teach like Mr. Rose taught history…and I am forever grateful for my parents eclectic bookshelves.

  2. Thnks DoReMi, I agree with Diana in NoVa about your graphics, they add so much to your thoughtful diary. My undergraduate degree is in history so I really enjoy seeing history being presented for people to enjoy. It’s important that we know our history so we can go on to break new ground instead of just repeating our mistakes.

    • I was a history major too, but my area of interest was early 20th century European intellectual history. It’s only been in the past ten years or so that I’ve dived in to American history, and it’s been eye-opening.

      • There’s so much history out there to study! My concentration was on colonial and post-colonial South America mostly because I was at the University of Texas and the Benson Library was just opening up to undergraduates and was too tempting.

  3. {{{DoReMI}}} – Inconvenient truths, uncomfortable truths – but truths. They need to be faced and not whitewashed or white’splained or blown of with “well, that wasn’t nice but past is past, we don’t do that anymore”. They need to be accepted, deplored, – and atoned. I do not know how. That’s a whole other discussion, or 50, but somehow.

    Meanwhile we need to also accept the inconvenient and uncomfortable truth that part of America still does this sub rosa and a greater wants to – and Resist.

    • I think part of the reason I’ve kept doing posts of this nature is because I am an unabashed political pragmatist. It’s easy to be a pie-in-the-sky idealist if you are blind to the realities of our history. It’s harder, but ultimately less discouraging (imo), to know that the struggle is a process where steps forward are important and achievable.

      • Same here – we can only move forward from where we are, so first we have to acknowledge where we are. And if that’s a tar pit with predators on every side, well, we still have to acknowledge it – the restraints of where we are must be addressed, can sometimes even be used, to get us out.

    • Funny thing is I was totally blocked on what to do this week. I called my daughter and asked her to “shout some -isms at me.” Thank goodness my daughter is both smart and accustomed to strange requests from me. The alternative was going to be about sewing as an allegory for politics, which would have limited appeal.

        • I might save that one for DK…you, me, and DeeQuilter can be strange together. Although we do have princesspat here, so we could be a troika of the obscure here too.

          • Go for it. I don’t know much about sewing – hemming my jeans or reattaching buttons are about it for me (although I did make tied quilts in years gone by) – but I’ve used both cooking and making quilts as analogies for community, so politics should fit right in. :)

        • I must be too because it appealed to me as well. I am off to finish a project outside. I am taking the old finish off the exposed wood on a chair I’m having re-upholstered. The fabric arrived yesterday so the rush is on. There’s not a whole lot of wood and my husband showed me how to use my Dremel tool to get after the hard spots.

  4. Morning peeps…Thanks DRM…Amazing thread…The graphics are better than great and the story line is perfect…

    • {{{Batch}}} – Don’t those old news magazine graphics just make you cringe though! The self-righteousness, sanctimoniousness, that allowed people to believe that crap would be astounding – if we weren’t seeing it to this very day only slightly “prettied up” with an orange tribble on top. The road is long, winding, and rocky – but together we will make progress/move forward. That’s the only thing that give me hope – that together we can do what we alone cannot. moar {{{HUGS}}}

  5. Well done DoReMI! It’s a subject I have limited knowledge of (I was a history major, but medieval history was my area). How minorities are portrayed in those in just awful. I’m glad attitudes have changed. There is still more work to do but at least this article shows we’ve made some progress.

    • isn’t it interesting that three of us are history majors and we all chose different areas of interest. By the time I got to law school the first year class wasn’t made up of history majors any more, I was the only one in my section. As one of my professors said history majors always have the best anecdotes for cocktail parties.

      • I was an education major – BSEd elementary and MEd secondary – but my secondary specializations were science and social studies. Don’t exactly know where my interest in WW2 came from – maybe just the last “good” war (as if any war could be good), maybe trying to figure out what shaped my parents and grandparents. I mostly know the deeper I got into the reality of American history as opposed to what I was taught in school, the less I liked what I found. To the point that I have to hang onto a basic faith that we can be good, because it’s hard to find evidence that we have been. sigh.

        • there are stunning individual acts of goodness not to mention courage and farsightedness in our history that inspired me when I was younger. Overall we’re not an improvement from our European forebears and our own additions have mostly been toxic like insitutionalized slavery. I never could bring myself to buy that American exceptionalism and have poked sarcastic fun at it most of my life.

          • Ain’t that the truth. One of my two biggest points of disagreement with Hillary were whenever she talked about American exceptionalism; it makes my skin crawl (even though I understand that it’s still a convenient, even necessary, talking point).

            For the record, the other point is capital punishment. I’m a Never-Ever on that.

          • The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with the Bill of Rights that were insisted upon before the states would ratify it, if taken in concept, are shining goals and much different from our European forebears. Taken in actuality – with all the built-in racism and sexism – not so much. We were exceptional when we started the Great Experiment. Other nations have surpassed us now. sigh.

    • Me too, me too! (Sorry for the jumping up and down. I don’t often bump into fellow medieval history folks.)

  6. This was one of the things that made me unimpressed with the so called revolutionary nature of Bernie and his followers. I found the anti-trade stances and ant-capitalism arguments tended to be a simplistic narrative which devolves into being against nations, like China, whose people enjoy a much lower standard of living than us. When speaking about economic inequality you need to start at the nature of global inequality and the ways in which we Westerners perpetuate the colonialism causing it. We are the 1% of the world.

    • I found the anti-trade stances and ant-capitalism arguments tended to be a simplistic narrative …


      The “oligarchy’ and “billionaires” incantations got a little old after a while also.

      • Really! I may be rich compared to the average citizen of most countries of the world, but I’m not in that category.

    • {{{CBD}}} – yes, only when we reach the level of homelessness do the poor in America come close to the poverty of the rest of the world. And even then, most of our homeless can get their hands on clean water and a hot meal (not daily but regularly) if they know where to look.

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