Since the first settlers arrived on America’s shores, the desire to fulfill our Manifest Destiny has brought us to war many times.
When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself. – Tecumseh
We come on the ship they call The Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hours
And sing an American tune
As we celebrated Thanksgiving this week, we were taught in school that we were celebrating the arrival and settling of the first immigrants to The New World, the Pilgrims. Except the Pilgrims weren’t the first Europeans to arrive and locate in America.
First, a little overlooked history: the initial encounter between Europeans in the future United States came with the establishment of a Huguenot (French Protestant) colony in 1564 at Fort Caroline (near modern Jacksonville, Florida). More than half a century before the Mayflower set sail, French pilgrims had come to America in search of religious freedom.
The Spanish had other ideas. In 1565, they established a forward operating base at St. Augustine and proceeded to wipe out the Fort Caroline colony. The Spanish commander, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, wrote to the Spanish King Philip II that he had “hanged all those we had found in [Fort Caroline] because…they were scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces.” When hundreds of survivors of a shipwrecked French fleet washed up on the beaches of Florida, they were put to the sword, beside a river the Spanish called Matanzas (“slaughters”). In other words, the first encounter between European Christians in America ended in a blood bath.
The much-ballyhooed arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views. Their “city upon a hill” was a theocracy that brooked no dissent, religious or political.
Some 100 people, many of them seeking religious freedom in the New World, set sail from England on the Mayflower in September 1620. That November, the ship landed on the shores of Cape Cod, in present-day Massachusetts. A scouting party was sent out, and in late December the group landed at Plymouth Harbor, where they would form the first permanent settlement of Europeans in New England. These original settlers of Plymouth Colony are known as the Pilgrim Fathers, or simply as the Pilgrims.
What we do now is far removed from the first Thanksgiving 393 years ago where the immigrant Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag Indians, who helped them survive, celebrated the first harvest in their new land. For the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving were days of worship and prayer to be joined with their new friends and their leader, Massasoit. Of course, in what would become the American tradition, these new friends would be fought and killed, removed from their homeland, and forced to live in subjugation in remotely designated areas.
I’m sorry, that’s not the romantic version of what we’re celebrating, but it is the reality. That the Pilgrims endured and survived the hardships of coming to their new land of religious freedom was exceptional. But the Wampanoag Indians welcoming the immigrants and showing the white people how to survive in the harsh environment was also exceptional. Without the generosity of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would not have survived.
It would be 154 years later that the Revolutionary War would be fought. The white settlers had expanded further in their new homeland, creating 13 colonies. There were 2,165,076 people living in the colonies. The desire to be free of the tyranny of the rule of George William Frederick (King George III) led to the demand of independence from Great Britain. “No taxation without representation” was the unifying spirit that led to the victory of General George Washington’s troops. 4,385 of these settlers died and 8,445 were injured over the next 8 years defending this land from the invading British forces. One out of every 20 members of the Continental Army died in their combined effort to obtain freedom. That the 217,000 colonist troops, army and militia, beat the better armed and provisioned British troops was an exceptional accomplishment.
The term manifest destiny originated in the 1840s. It expressed the belief that it was Anglo-Saxon Americans’ providential mission to expand their civilization and institutions across the breadth of North America. This expansion would involve not merely territorial aggrandizement but the progress of liberty and individual economic opportunity as well.
It was, O’Sullivan claimed, ‘our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.’ The term and the concept were taken up by those desiring to secure Oregon Territory, California, Mexican land in the Southwest, and, in the 1850s, Cuba. Originally a partisan Democratic issue, ‘manifest destiny’ gained Republican adherents as time passed. By the end of the century, expansionists were employing quasi-Darwinist reasoning to argue that because its ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’ made America supremely fit, it had become the nation’s ‘manifest destiny’ to extend its influence beyond its continental boundaries into the Pacific and Caribbean basins.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors
The real history of the United States is filled with conflict and death. The United States fought 5 wars in the 18th century, including the Revolutionary War. The U.S. fought 39 wars in the 19th century, 27 against Native American tribes, including two against Tecumseh’s Confederacy. The Manifest Destiny expanded from inside to outside our borders. The U.S. fought 6 wars in the 20th century. The wars became larger, international and multinational: WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq (Gulf War). These wars exacted a heavy price.
World War I : Cost: $ 32 Billion, 52%of gross domestic product at that time. In 2011 dollars: $334B Lives: 53,513 deaths, 204,002 injured
World War II: Cost: $296 Billion,35.8%of gross domestic product. In 2011 dollars: $4,104B Lives: 292,131 deaths, 670,846 injured
Korean War: Cost: $30 Billion, 4.2% of gross domestic product. In 2011 dollars: $341B Lives: 33,651 deaths, 103,284 injured
Vietnam War: Cost:$111 Billion, 2.3% of gross domestic product. In 2011 dollars: $748B Lives: 47, 369 deaths, 153,303 injured
Persian Gulf War: Costs: $61 Billion, 0.% of gross domestic product. In 2011 dollars: $102B Lives: 148 deaths, 467 injured
Overall Totals: Costs: $529 Billion, In 2011 dollars: $5619B Lives: 426,810 deaths, 1,081,862 injured
(Sources for the figures used: Costs- United States Congressional Research Service, in 2011 dollars http://www.researchgate.net/publication/235211847_Costs_of_Major_U.S._Wars
Lives- United States Department of Justice via Public Broadcasting Service
In addition to these wars, the United States was also militarily involved in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and Bosnia/Kosovo. Most are Third World countries, which will be the sources of unresolved conflicts in the 21st Century.
(If you want more information on these conflicts, go to https://wikileaks.org/wiki/CRS:_MILITARY_INTERVENTIONS_BY_U.S._FORCES_FROM_VIETNAM_TO_BOSNIA:_BACKGROUND,_OUTCOMES,_AND_%22LESSONS_LEARNED%22_FOR_KOSOVO,_May_20,_1999)
The United States is still at war in Afghanistan and Iraq/Syria. According to the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government 2013 report, these wars will cost $6 trillion, the equivalent of $75,000 for every American household. This $6T accounted for roughly 20 per cent of the total amount added to the US national debt between 2001 and 2012. According to the report, the US “has already paid $260 billion in interest on the war debt,” and future interest payments would amount to trillions of dollars.
I have no question that Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) pose threats to the world and a threat to United States’ interests in the world. But they represent a different type of threat, a threat to modernity. The previous wars fought were about establishing and solidifying our place and influence in and throughout the world. Groups like ISIL, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Kenya are not in the same century or the same world as we are. Their unique interpretation of the Islam drives them to establish a perverse religious order, a caliphate, where women are chattel, energy resources are used as barter and democratic governments are weak and evil.
They are bound to the customs and mores of the ancient past, but use present technology, like social media, to promulgate their latest exploits, such as beheadings. They represent as much of an existential threat as a real one. Because of their amorphous presence ISIL, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, and other terrorists will not go away in a short period of time just by use of military force. These terrorist groups were created in reaction to our most recent and ill-considered attempts at extending our Manifest Destiny in the Middle and Far East. They seek to redress their grievances by any violent means possible. It is the radical Islamists’ Manifest Destiny to spread their purist religious fervor throughout the world, driving out the corrupting influences of the westernized world, not dissimilar to what the Pilgrims and their predecessors did to Native Americans.
The United States populace is weary of war. These new terrorist groups have and will continue to exploit that weariness to establish a climate of fear that will take decades to dispel. At what cost in lives and money will we commit to fight an amorphous threat? These were questions that should have been debated openly and resolved during our 20th century military endeavors, but were not.
We will be forced to answer them now or cease being a democratic nation of laws and values. Our imprimatur on the world will be gone. The 393 years of history since the French, Spanish and Pilgrims first arrived will be erased because of our senescence and continued inability to learn from our past. Could the US recover from another 9/11 type attack on our homeland? What scares me most is that I’m not sure that we can or will.
We were warned of this by one of the greatest military and political figures of the 20 Century, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In his farewell address, Eisenhower said:
Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad. …
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
If we do not finally take heed of President Eisenhower’s warning, all the lives and money we have spent will have been for naught. It is not our military might that makes us great, it is the values of freedom that we represent. Our Manifest Destiny is to be the beacon of hope, not the darkness of war. If we have become so consumed by the elements of economic-military fascism, the final stanza of the American Tune will have been sung.
Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m alright, I’m alright
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
But it’s alright, it’s alright
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
Road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what has gone wrong
And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying
Oh, and it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest
Paul Simon “American Tune”
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