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Tom Wolfe zeros in on imperialism
Source Louis Proyect
Date 05/01/30/23:09

NY Times, January 30, 2005
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
The Doctrine That Never Died
By TOM WOLFE


SURELY some bright bulb from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York
or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at
Princeton has already remarked that President Bush's inaugural address 10
days ago is the fourth corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. No? So many
savants and not one peep out of the lot of them? Really?


The president had barely warmed up: "There is only one force of history
that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the
pretensions of tyrants ... and that is the force of human freedom.... The
survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of
liberty in other lands. ... America's vital interests and our deepest
beliefs are now one..." when - bango! - I flashed back 100 years and 47
days on the dot to another president. George W. Bush was speaking, but the
voice echoing inside my skull - a high-pitched voice, an odd voice, coming
from such a great big hairy bear of a man - was that of the president who
dusted off Monroe's idea and dragged it into the 20th century.


"The steady aim of this nation, as of all enlightened nations," said the
Echo, "should be to strive to bring ever nearer the day when there shall
prevail throughout the world the peace of justice. ...Tyrants and
oppressors have many times made a wilderness and called it peace. ...The
peace of tyrannous terror, the peace of craven weakness, the peace of
injustice, all these should be shunned as we shun unrighteous war. ... The
right of freedom and the responsibility for the exercise of that right
cannot be divorced."


Theodore Roosevelt! - Dec. 4, 1904, announcing to Congress the first
corollary to the Monroe Doctrine - an item I had deposited in the memory
bank and hadn't touched since I said goodbye to graduate school in the
mid-1950's!


In each case what I was hearing was the usual rustle and flourish of the
curtains opening upon a grandiloquent backdrop. But if there was one thing
I learned before departing academe and heading off wayward into journalism,
it was that these pretty preambles to major political messages, all this
solemn rhetorical throat-clearing - the parts always omitted from the
textbooks as superfluous - are inevitably what in fact gives the game away.


Theodore Roosevelt's corollary to President James Monroe's famous doctrine
of 1823 proclaimed that not only did America have the right, la Monroe,
to block European attempts to re-colonize any of the Western Hemisphere, it
also had the right to take over and shape up any nation in the hemisphere
guilty of "chronic wrongdoing" or uncivilized behavior that left it
"impotent," powerless to defend itself against aggressors from the Other
Hemisphere, meaning mainly England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.


The immediate problem was that the Dominican Republic had just reneged on
millions in European loans so flagrantly that an Italian warship had turned
up just off the harbor of Santo Domingo. Roosevelt sent the Navy down to
frighten off the Italians and all other snarling Europeans. Then the United
States took over the Dominican customs operations and debt management and
by and by the whole country, eventually sending in the military to run the
place. We didn't hesitate to occupy Haiti and Nicaragua, either.


Back in 1823, Europeans had ridiculed Monroe and his doctrine. Baron de
Tuyll, the Russian minister to Washington, said Americans were too busy
hard-grabbing and making money to ever stop long enough to fight, even if
they had the power, which they didn't. But by the early 1900's it was a
different story.


First there was T.R. And then came Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1912
Japanese businessmen appeared to be on the verge of buying vast areas of
Mexico's Baja California bordering our Southern California. Lodge drew up,
and the Senate ratified, what became known as the Lodge Corollary to the
Monroe Doctrine. The United States would allow no foreign interests, no
Other Hemispheroids of any description, to give any foreign government
"practical power of control" over territory in This Hemisphere. The
Japanese government immediately denied having any connection with the
tycoons, and the Baja deals, if any, evaporated.


Then, in 1950, George Kennan, the diplomat who had developed the
containment theory of dealing with the Soviet Union after the Second World
War, toured Latin America and came away alarmed by Communist influence in
the region. So he devised the third corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The
Kennan Corollary said that Communism was simply a tool of Soviet national
power. The United States had no choice, under the mandates of the Monroe
Doctrine, but to eradicate Communist activity wherever it turned up in
Latin America ... by any means necessary, even if it meant averting one's
eyes from dictatorial regimes whose police force did everything but wear
badges saying Chronic Wrongdoing.


The historian Gaddis Smith summarizes the Lodge and Kennan Corollaries
elegantly and economically in "The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine,
1945-1993." Now, Gaddis Smith was a graduate-schoolmate of mine and very
much a star even then and has remained a star historian ever since. So do I
dare suggest that in this one instance, in a brilliant career going on 50
years now, that Gaddis Smith might have been ...wrong? ... that 1945 to
1993 were not the last years of the Monroe Doctrine? ... that the doctrine
was more buff and boisterous than it has ever been 10 days ago, Jan. 20, 2005?


But before we go forward, let's take one more step back in time and recall
the curious case of Antarctica. In 1939 Franklin Roosevelt authorized the
first official United States exploration of the South Pole, led by Admiral
Richard E. Byrd. The expedition was scientific - but also military. The
Japanese and the Germans were known to be rooting about in the ice down
there, as were the Russians, the British, the Chileans, the Argentines, all
of them yapping and stepping on one another's heels. Gradually it dawned on
the whole bunch of them: at the South Pole the hemispheres got ... awfully
narrow. In fact, there was one point, smaller than a dime, if you could
ever find it, where there were no more Hemispheres at all. Finally,
everybody in essence just gave up and forgot about it. It was so cold down
there, you couldn't shove a shell into the gullet of a piece of artillery
... or a missile into a silo.


Ah, yes, a missile. On the day in November 1961, when the Air Force
achieved the first successful silo launching of an intercontinental
ballistic missile, the SM-80, the Western Hemisphere part of the Monroe
Doctrine ceased to mean anything at all - while the ideas behind it began
to mean everything in the world.


At bottom, the notion of a sanctified Western Hemisphere depended upon its
separation from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, making intrusions
of any sort obvious. The ICBM's - soon the Soviet Union and other countries
had theirs - shrank the world in a military sense. Then long-range jet
aircraft, satellite telephones, television and the Internet all, in turn,
did the job socially and commercially. By Mr. Bush's Inauguration Day, the
Hemi in Hemisphere had long since vanished, leaving the Monroe Doctrine
with - what? - nothing but a single sphere ... which is to say, the entire
world.


For the mission - the messianic mission! - has never shrunk in the
slightest ... which brings us back to the pretty preambles and the solemn
rhetorical throat-clearing ... the parts always omitted from the textbooks
as superfluous. "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now
one," President Bush said. He added, "From the day of our founding, we have
proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity,
and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and
earth."


David Gelernter, the scientist and writer, argues that "Americanism" is a
fundamentally religious notion shared by an incredibly varied population
from every part of the globe and every conceivable background, all of whom
feel that they have arrived, as Ronald Reagan put it, at a "shining city
upon a hill." God knows how many of them just might agree with President
Bush - and Theodore Roosevelt - that it is America's destiny and duty to
bring that salvation to all mankind.


Tom Wolfe is the author, most recently, of "I Am Charlotte Simmons."

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