foreign aggression

The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
Installment 52

We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.

Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.


In U.S., International Law Ranked Below Private Profit

A fascinated bird stares at a snake when, paralyzed by fear, it beholds the reptile gliding forward to devour it. A demonstration of how the devouring act can be performed was given in the case of Panama.

In compliance with the practically unanimous desire in this country for an inter-oceanic canal, Congress passed an act on June 28, 1902, popularly called the Spooner Act, which authorized the President to negotiate for the acquisition of the property of the Panama Canal Company and for the control of the necessary territory of the Republic of the United States of Colombia on which that property was situated. The act further directed that, failing to conclude with Colombia on reasonable terms, the President was to negotiate for the acquisition of territory in Costa Rica and Nicaragua for the building of a Nicaraguan canal.

Under this authority President Roosevelt made a treaty with the United States of Colombia. This treaty was approved by our Senate, but was rejected by the Colombian Senate, although the State of Panama, through which the canal was to run, favored it.

The President should then have turned to the Nicaraguan route, as directed by the Spooner Act. But he delayed. Talk of Panama's secession was in the air. And suddenly a few men, influenced, it has been charged, by the Panama Canal Company which desired to sell its partly built canal to the United States Government, got up a real or pretended rebellion against the authority of the United States of Colombia. Our President, who had been merely marking time, as it were, now started into amazing activity. He immediately recognized the independence of the State of Panama. Not alone that: he actually forbade the United States of Colombia to transport troops to Panama, and he sent warships and landed marines to enforce this command.

Mr. Carl Schurz, distinguished no less for his public spirit than for his service in President Hayes's Cabinet, makes the indictment against Mr. Roosevelt in four charges.

First: That the President violated the law directing him, failing an arrangement with Colombia, to negotiate for the Nicaraguan route.

Second: That the President "trampled under foot the principle for the maintenance of which we sacrificed in four years of bloody civil war, nearly a million human lives and many thousands of millions of dollars - namely, that principle that under a Federal constitution like ours - and the existing constitution of Colombia is in this respect very much like ours, perhaps even a little stronger - a State has no right to secede from the Union."

Third: That the President not only recognized the right of secession, but that he also recognized the independence of the seceded State without giving the Colombian Federal Government the slightest chance to enforce its lawful authority in the rebellious community - that in fact he sent our soldiers to prevent it from doing so, "thus committing what was practically an act of war against Colombia."

Fourth: That the President did all this in flagrant violation of the provisions of the treaty of 1846 with Colombia, by one of the provisions of which the United States of America "guaranteed the rights of sovereignty and property possessed by Colombia over the territory of Panama." ("An Open Letter to the Independent Voter," October, I904.)

What if the new Republic of Panama did immediately grant our Government all that we asked in the Panama canal zone and thus cleared the way for digging the inter-oceanic canal there? Is this to count for a moment against what we have lost by our outrageous highhandedness, to give the thing no other characterization? As some one has said, We gave the Declaration of Independence for a ditch.

And how can our southern neighbor Republics regard us as a consequence of our conduct? Only as a menace to them. They actually call us "El peligro del Norte," meaning, "the northern peril."

Are we not a northern peril to them? Witness what Mr. Roosevelt has said in a public letter. It is in general terms, but it has peculiar application to the southern Republics. "It is not true that the United States . . . entertain any projects as regards any other nations, save such as are for their welfare. All that we desire is to see all neighboring countries stable, orderly and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with decency in industrial and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Brutal wrongdoihg or an impotence which results in the general loosening of the ties of civilized society may finally require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the western hemisphere the United States cannot ignore this duty." (Letter to Mr. Elihu Root, read at the second anniversary dinner celebrating Cuban independence, held in New York, May 20, 1904.)

Who is to say what is for the "welfare" of other nations? Who is to be judge of what constitutes "decency in industrial and political matters," "brutal wrongdoing," "impotence," and "a loosening of the ties of civilized society"?

Certainly the southern Republics have not even been asked to pass upon such matters. Instead they have been curtly told that they must submit to it.

Does this tyranny become any the less tyranny because it is done in the name of civilization and of "benevolent assimilation"? "The worst tyrants," interjects Life most pertinently, "are those who know no law but the indulgence of their own benevolence."

How benevolent we can be we have revealed to the world in our military and civil administrations of the Philippine Islands. As the late Senator George F. Hoar of Massachusetts said in commencing a speech on the Philippine question in Congress, "We have to deal with a territory 10,000 miles away, 1200 miles in extent, containing 10,000,000 people."

In the case of Cuba, a Spanish possession fighting for freedom, we guaranteed independence, and we have made good our guarantee. In the case of the Philippine Islands, likewise a Spanish possession fighting for freedom, we gave such guarantee only in vague and general terms, while we have actually treated them as a bought-and-paid-for province. As a matter of fact, we gave Spain some $20,000,000 to get out of the islands and leave them to our dominance and government.

How have we exercised this jurisdiction? Never tired of quoting from our sacred charter of liberties, that governments "derive their just powers from the consent of the governed," we force upon the Filipinos at the point of the bayonet our ideas of what is good for them. Senator Hoar reminds us that in relation to the acquisition of Louisiana, Florida and Alaska, Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Charles Sumner maintained that there was nothing in these territories at the time of cession which could be called a people, and that if there had been, the United States would not have been willing to acquire such territories without the consent of such people.

Whereas, in the Philippines, we have undertaken to acquire by purchase from a protested outside power the privilege of governing an unwilling people as numerous as the combined populations of the States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. In the Philippines, it is true, there is a large class in much the state of poverty, ignorance and superstition characterizing a considerable number of the colored and even of the white inhabitants of our Southern States. But there is also a well-educated class, and among that class are highly cultured individuals. When does a nation of ten millions of people begin to have the right of self-government?

For the Philippine Islands, said Senator Hoar, we have had to repeal the Declaration of Independence.

Our soldiers there have been guilty of flagrant and repeated acts of deceit, treachery and wanton cruelty. We have promoted to a brigadier-generalcy an officer who by his own boastings and the testimony of his superiors and subordinates was guilty of rank baseness and perfidy in the capture of the Philippine commander, Aguinaldo. Those boastings should have brought him before a courtmartial for trial and, if there found guilty, should have caused the removal of his shoulder straps, accompanied by condign punishment, for his violation of the usages of a civilized nation in war and for making us responsible for what should be revolting to the judgment and the instincts of a just, self-respecting and gallant people. (See the articles of the Hague Convention, agreed upon by the representatives of the United States with other representatives on July 29, 1899, and ratified by the United States Senate, March 14, 1902. See also "Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field," prepared by Dr. Francis Lieber, and promulgated by President Abraham Lincoln. Tried by these instructions, Colonel Funston and his associates were heavy offenders and should have met with heavy retribution.)

That such conduct was not punished was due probably not to one but to several important reasons. First, because, shameful as it is to have to admit, our soldiers in the Philippines have been guilty of so many acts of perfidy and deliberate torture - the "water-cure" being one of the most common forms of the latter 2 that to punish one would involve and probably cause the punishment of many, which would make a terrific scandal before the eyes of the whole world. (In his recent illuminating, comprehensive and temperate hook, "Our Philippine Problem," Henry Parker Willis, Ph.D., recites the infrequency of quarter and the frequent use of torture by our soldiers (pp. 16-17). He also says that torture is used to some extent by the constabulary (p.145).)

Hence practically all who were brought to trial were whitewashed. Secondly, while this whitewashing was going on at the court-martial trials in the Philippines, the War Department at Washington was dedaring with brazen effrontery that the war was being conducted on our part with unexampled humanity!

Third: The Philippine question becoming a party question among us, most men judged it, not upon its merits, but with the prejudice and passion of party bias, which practically makes the announcement, "For my party and my party's policy, good, bad, or indifferent."

Next Week: Even the Supreme Court Embarrasses Itself When Privilege Calls

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