The Roots of American Empire and the Death of the Republic

After my divorce here in Israel at the end of 2012, I went back to the states to try to recover economically.  It used to be that American immigrants could go back stateside for 6 months or a year, make a bank roll and come back and remake their situation. However, 2013 was a new time in America.  The country then and even more now had not recovered from the 2008 crash.  My situation was so desperate in America that I came back with little to show for my trouble.

In my desperation, I ended up in Fargo, ND during the bitter cold winter of 2013-2014 doing day labor.  Tired of working on sugar beet farms in twenty below zero Fahrenheit temperatures, I investigated a temporary janitorial position at the Fargo Veterans Administration.  In the VA reception hall on one wall was a series of plaques honoring North Dakotans who died in battle for the United States.  There was one that especially piqued my interest as a historian and a veteran.  The plaque honored a young man (whose name I have forgotten) who was a private in the 1st North Dakota Volunteer Infantry.  He had died in the Philippines.  However, the date of his death was not during World War 2.  Rather, it was during the “insurrection” of the Filipinos against the imposition of American rule. The Filipinos had the temerity to stand up for their rights and protest the awarding of their country to the United States in the Treaty of Paris between Spain and America.  The Filipinos had welcomed the Americans as liberators.  Those liberators now turned into conquerors and the natives fought back as they had fought the Portuguese and Spanish invaders before them.

Over a decade later, the US had finally quelled revolts all over the Philippines, including among the Muslim Moros. Using torture, including the “water cure” (waterboarding) and superior technology such as Hollerith tabulation machines (primitive punch card machines) to parse counterinsurgency data and the new M1911 Colt 45 pistol, the Filipinos could no longer resist.

The active US Army was tiny and most of the troops were from state militias, much as National Guard units have carried the brunt of the War on Terror.  North Dakota did its part to “civilize” this new frontier.  The 1st North Dakota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was mustered into federal service at Fargo, North Dakota between May 13 and 16, 1898. At the time of its mobilization, the regiment consisted of twenty-seven officers and 658 enlisted men. It departed Fargo by train on May 26, bound for San Francisco, California, where it arrived four days later. On June 28, Company H, the private’s company boarded the transport Indiana and the remainder of the regiment boarded the Valencia from where they deployed to Manila in the Philippines.

The regiment was mustered out of federal service on September 25, 1899 at San Francisco. At the time the regiment consisted of thirty-one officers and 507 enlisted. 6 enlisted men were killed in action, and one later died of his wounds. In addition, nine died from disease, one drowned and one man killed in an accident. One officer was wounded in action as were thirteen enlisted men. Eighteen men were discharged on disability. The regiment suffered no desertions.

The 1st North Dakota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was simply one component of the new imperial America that was now flexing its muscles on the world stage.  The “splendid little war” in Cuba and the Philippines is documented with other details of American conquest by Oliver Stone in his Untold History of the United States:

What Stone brilliantly reveals is the rise of what Benjamin Franklin had called an “infant empire.”  The new country had colonized the American continent and now looked overseas for the continuation of its “Manifest Destiny,” the national myth of how America was special and was a God given instrument for the spread of civilization.  The US was behind the European powers in the scramble for overseas colonies and markets.  The Spanish American War and the Filipino Revolution catapulted America onto the stage of imperial powers with its gobbling up of most of the former Spanish Empire.  Like the recent War on Terror, the US military casualties were light, making the conflicts more palatable.  However, what Americans did not realize at the time was how they would begin to erode their freedoms, as Stone’s documentary alludes to.

What began as a fight for “freedom” to get gullible young Americans to enlist quickly degenerated into cynical interventions in “banana republics” to secure the holdings of American corporations.  As we enter the second decade of America’s longest war (yes, the US is at war in Afghanistan and all over the globe), realize that Osama bin Laden has been dead for nine years.  Follow the money trail and you will usually find the reason for continued military spending-corporate greed.  It is not enough to defund militarized police who utilize the skills of counterinsurgency suppression they learned overseas at home against peaceful protesters.  We need to defund the military that taught it to them in the first place as they fought in overseas colonial wars of conquest.  Only when money is diverted from this source to social funding will America stop its descent into being a failed state that is continually cannibalized by corporate greed.  These corporations continually feed at the public trough where they receive subsidies.  The empire that feeds them costs money.  As the old saying says, guns and butter can’t be gotten together.

The continued militarized responses to political protest in the wake of the George Floyd killing is nothing new. Donald Trump’s application of the tools of empire have simply come home again with a vengeance.

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About the Author
Akiva ben Avraham is a former community college adjunct, US Army intelligence analyst and officer, and a caregiver.
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