"Much has been given us . . .
. . . and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as be seen as a people with such responsibilities."
— President Theodore Roosevelt
America Becomes a World Power
— from the series America in the 20th Century
One could argue that many issues of American foreign policy in the twentieth century had their origins in the emergence of the United States as a major world power at the end of the 19th century. The Spanish-American war was the great conflict of the era, Teddy Roosevelt its great warrior. For nationalist Americans, empire building was intoxicating. The Washington Post editorialized:
“A new consciousness seems to have come upon us—the consciousness of strength—and with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength. . . . Ambition, interest, land hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle. It means an Imperial policy, the Republic, renascent, taking her place with the armed nations.”
Of course, not everyone was infected with the blood fever. Sober citizens, Mark Twain among them, vehemently opposed American imperialism in general and the Spanish-American War in particular. With the benefit of more than a century of hindsight, we know the consequences of that "splendid little war" were monumental. Indeed, its lesson endures today: "'Tis much easier to win the war than to secure the peace."
America Becomes a World Power is the inaugural installment in the award-winning video series America in the 20th Century. The program explores the debate over expansionism at the turn of the 19th century, how it inspired the acquisition of Alaska and Hawaii, war in the Caribbean and Pacific, and the opening of Japan to Western trade and the Open Door policy with China. It also examines the foreign policies of the Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson administrations.
America Becomes a World Power is presented in seven video chapters. Preview them here or log in to the members-only Streaming Room™ to access the complete videos. Not a member? It's easy to subscribe now.
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