THE MONROE DOCTRINE
It is to be doubted if so lion-hearted a policy ever was announced by so weak a people as the principle that is involved in the Monroe doctrine, promulgated in 1823. That it should have stood all the years prior to our attainment of the physical strength to make it good, is proof that its real vitality lies in the truth that it expresses rather than in the battleships we can summon to intimidate its acceptation.
Today, more than ever, the American people need to study the spirit that prompted that declaration. The United States in recent years has been perilously near to just the violation of it that we prohibited to Europe. It is certain that if we ourselves ever step over its spirit we will need all the steel and powder this resourceful nation can command to hold Europe and Asia back; whereas, if we continue to interpret it aright, the land-hungry nations may look covetously upon the Western Hemisphere, but that same vital quality that restrained them in the days of our weakness will hold them back now.
The Monroe doctrine asserted that the principle of democracy, which had sought a haven in this Hemisphere, must not be pursued and persecuted by the institution of monarchy. The phraseology declared that the Americas must not henceforth be considered a place for European colonization, but the spirit of the policy meant that two such irreconcilable systems of government as monarchy and democracy could not live side by side in the same hemisphere, and that the safety of democracy required the exclusion of monarchy.
In these latter days there has sprung up a tendency, not strongly developed as yet, to interpret that doctrine to mean that, while Europe and Asia must keep out, the United States is destined to dominate the whole situation. That instead of American or Americans, it means the Western Hemisphere for the United States.
It is certain that the nations of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea discern such a tendency in the actions of the United States. The United States looms up to them with a strength far more formidable than we are conscious of, and they fear the day when we grow conscious of that strength with a waning sense of Puritan justice.
The Spanish-American War was a revelation to them as it was to us. Far-sighted Latin Americans could read in that altruistic interference in their affairs the forerunner of interferences which might not be so altruistic. So far it substantially is true that we have not interfered anywhere in Central or South America that it was not to the benefit of the nation involved.
When the United States executed the coup that rid Venezuela of Castro it did a service of inestimable value to that nation. When it rid Nicaragua of Zelaya it did a similar service. In aiding Santo Domingo to straighten out its finances, in setting civil government upon its feet in Cuba and in other instances of interference not so important, the Americans have played the role of disinterested friendship.
On the other hand, the manner in which we acquired the Canal Zone suddenly showed Latin America that, though Uncle Sam might bear the visage of a rector, he could just as readily play the role of a strong-arm man not overly scrupulous when he is selfishly impelled.
In the early days of our own republic political controversy revolved around the relation to England, with one faction being intensely provincial, and generally successful, and the other faction rather inclined to take the European view of our affairs. The situation in the republics that fringe the Gulf and Caribbean Sea today is identical, only the factions revolve around the issue of American interference.
Our smaller Southern neighbors have grown to look upon American interference as inevitable, with the faction that can enlist our sympathy pretty well assured of success. Hence the revolutionary factions struggle for the strategic position involved in the approval of our State Department. Sooner or later such approval means United States Marines to help the favored side.
This strikingly was illustrated in the June and July Presidential elections in the Republic of Panama in 1912. Dr. Belisario Porras, the popular candidate, openly solicited American military intervention, and it was forthcoming. In Nicaragua, in August of 1912, Marines were landed ostensibly to protect American interests, but one faction had allied itself with those interests, so that our interference was in reality to aid that faction of revolutionists.
These incidents are not cited as instances of unwarranted interpretation of the Monroe doctrine. Each was justified by the facts of the individual case. The point in mind is that we are embarked upon a role, as umpire in Central and South American affairs, that will require the utmost keenness of Puritanic justice to prevent a change from a policy of altruism to one of open selfishness.
When President Roosevelt announced that if we ever went into Cuba again it would be to stay, he made just such a change imminent. There never was a declaration of policy that more widely missed the true spirit of the Monroe doctrine. It would start the United States upon a course that, in twenty-five years, would reduce every Gulf and Caribbean republic to the position of a satrapy of the United States, with United States soldiers, as in the Philippines, exercising the final powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
The lesson President Roosevelt had in mind was that the United States could not be continually troubling itself to maintain order among any people that were not capable of self-government. But, with the memory of other great nations, which undertook to manage the affairs of widely distributed peoples by the power of military might, not to mention the fundamental tenets of our governmental faith on such an imperial policy, it will be wise for the Americans to be cautious in endorsing the Cuban declaration.
Our Civil War ought to have taught us that the American people cannot live in the face of a flagrant lie to our institutions. Slavery was such a lie, and it was stamped out. The military control we exercise over the Philippines is another such lie, but so far away and vague that the Puritan conscience does not grasp its significance. The moment we begin the forcible military occupation of Cuba, Mexico, or other American republics, we will be adding other lies to the foundation of our republic, namely, "that all men are free and equal and have certain inalienable rights."
The fright of Cuba to manage its own affairs, however wretchedly, is an inalienable right. Our interference is never justified except to enable the Cubans to continue that right. Where we interfere to permanently remove that right, such as would occur in annexation or habitual military supervision, we pass the lie direct upon our own profession of principles.
God made the Americans a superior people to fulfill a high destiny, but he never made them so superior that they can trample all rights of weaker nations in the dust from a supercilious idea that we can manage their affairs better than they.
When President Roosevelt asks, Shall we forgive Cuba unto three times for its shortcomings? the answer of the American people must be, Yea, until seventy-times seven. But this does not mean that the United States must continue to bear the expense of such efforts to prevent a collapse in Southern governments. Our interference primarily is to obviate the necessity of European interference, and if we act as police of the Western Hemisphere there should be a compensation, at least, equal to our outlay in such efforts.
Whenever we go into Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, or any other republic, to
protect American and European interests, the cost of the expedition should be assessed
against the country which necessitated the expedition. Then we should retire and
allow them to try again at the task of self-government. And we should stay off from
annexation, or permanent military occupation, as we would from taking a tarantula into our
There is no truth quite so important for the American people to burn into their consciousness, as with a hot iron, to guide their foreign policy as this|: The Lord we serve is no less the God of the Mongolian, the Ethiopian, or the Latin American than he is of the Caucasian and the American. Let us beware what we do against these other peoples in His name.
the wise decision of President Taft to stay out, both of Cuba and Mexico, during recent troubles, was in accordance with the best spirit of the Monroe doctrine. It allows these nations latitude to work out their own destinies, certainly the very least that they could ask. Meanwhile they are responsible for every dollar's damage they do to our own or foreign property, and any attempt to make them pay such damage would be founded in right. Forcible interference, however, automatically cancels a claim for damages, except such as may be won by the sword. And that would mean that our young manhood henceforth would have to be enlisted to sacrifice their lives in maintaining a suzerainty radically antagonistic to true Americanism.
Aside from the turbulent characteristic of the Latin American temperament, the most prolific cause of American interference in Central and South American affairs is the American capitalist. This especially is true in Cuba and Mexico, and in the republics south of Mexico to Panama.
Your American capitalist in these countries smiles indulgently when you talk about the departure of the United States from its principles in establishing sovereignty over the smaller republics. To him there is absolutely nothing on the horizon but the dollar he has invested, and his government does not exist except to guard that dollar. But he goes much further than that. He believes his dollar will have added value if the United States were sovereign instead of the particular native government under which he operates.
The sugar-plantation owners in Cuba are more responsible for the unsettled conditions in that island than the Cubans themselves. And they almost invariably are Americans. They believe that the free trade that would follow American occupation would benefit them as well as other phases of American governmental methods. Hence they finance revolutions and assiduously work to create public opinion favorable to American sovereignty.
Native political factions, in their extremity, make alliances with the American interests of one kind or another, and so complicate the situation that it appears to be usual case of a revolution. But the American dollar, even if not the primary cause, always is a potent secondary cause, and for that reason the United States should look a long time before it leaps at annexation or military suzerainty.
So far as the Latin republics are concerned, what difference would it make to them whether a European, or the American power, dispossesses them of self-government? If the Monroe doctrine does not stand as a bulwark against American domination, as well as against European domination, what boots it to them? Would American domination be wiser or less distasteful to a proud people than European domination? To what effect was all the revolting from Spain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries if it is to be succeeded in the twentieth century by American sovereignty? And would not the American sword in Cuba be just as relentless in its autocratic sway as the Spanish sword? We cannot afford to embark on a policy of paternalism in Latin America because of the damage it would do to us through underliving our basic ideals. This generation of Americans has before it the necessity of demonstrating that self-government is possible among our neighbors to the South. If we do not prove this truth, we may build a material civilization as high as the combined achievements of Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, and still the eternal query will arise, What shall it profit a nation if it gain the whole world and lose its own soul? The Magdalena Bay incident is typical of the operations of capital in Latin America. Instead of jingoing about Japan over this Bay, why not find out what syndicate of capitalists is trying to force the United States to buy it, by spreading all kinds of rumors against a friendly power? There is no nation directing its foreign policy so wisely today as Japan, and it would as soon think of securing a naval base in the Americas as it would of attempting to annex China.
The Senate issued a warning to the world, reaffirming the Monroe doctrine as regards the securing of naval stations in the Western Hemisphere. Europe will respect the Monroe doctrine as long as the United States does. It will respect it as long as the United maintains it as a disinterested, unselfish pronunciamento. But the moment we begin gobbling up these weak republics, that moment will Europe pounce down upon Central and South America. And then we will need the biggest navy our forests and mines can supply to maintain the Monroe doctrine.
There is more than one South American republic where Germany is regarded in a more friendly light than the United States. Germany has aided Brazil and Argentina to discipline their armies along modern lines, and these republics do not have to grovel at Uncle Sam's feet. Argentina is completing one of the largest battleships in the world. The European policy will be to encourage these Latin republics on the assumption that some day they may combine to humble the United States. Napoleon sold the United States the Louisiana purchase and remarked that he thereby sold a territory that would one day humble England.
The most salutary thing that could happen in the American foreign policy would be the apprehension and execution of any American capitalists who inspire revolutions in Latin America, rather than the hounding of these republics, more sinned against than sinning. From now on it is going to be a titanic struggle with the American people to prevent the ascendancy of the dollar over principle in the interpretation of the Monroe doctrine. There is not the slightest doubt about our getting all that rightfully belongs to us. Can we restrain ourselves from taking more than our just desserts?
the Panama Canal makes us rub elbows with Latin America as never before. Secretary Knox, in his 1912 junket to Central America, assured the Latin republics that the United States does not crave one foot of their territory. Such a declaration will serve to keep the Monroe doctrine inviolate better than the largest caliber rifles, because it notified the world that we will not ourselves do what they have been forbidden to do. There is no nation in the world that will dare fight the United States when the right is on our side. We can keep it there only by loving our South American neighbors as we love ourselves.