Modern US History

All the modern US history fit to print

Category: Abrahim Marquez-Burns

American Expansion and Foreign Policy Since Reconstruction

Territories and possessions of the United States after the Spanish American War


Expansion has long been a theme in American history, ever since its creation as a country, with the idea of American Exceptionalism, or that America is unique among the world’s nations. This also ties to the idea of Manifest Destiny, which was a commonly held belief by Americans in the 19th century that the nation and its people were destined to expand across North America, and spread our nation’s beliefs and ideals across new lands. Before the Civil War however, the US was almost entirely an agrarian nation, in the vision of Jefferson. This lead to much of the direct and vast territorial expansion of the continental United States, as rural farmers needed land to work and the emerging US economy needed raw resources beyond those in the East coast.

This period of rapid continental expansion would come to an end however with the Civil War, as the US reached from sea to sea. Industrialization also led to less need for land and more need for development, causing the to US begin to consolidate and encourage settling of the vast lands in the west during the second half of the 19th Century. Before the Civil War the US was a more decentralized country, with regional differences, especially north and south, preventing a more unified national identity. After the war and Reconstruction though, the US emerged a more centralised country, with the federal government supreme over state and local governments. As a result, the government began to further push for the removal of lands previously held by Native Americans, in order to be used by businesses, railroads, and other settlers, and “conquer the West,” from native tribes. With the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869,  American industry was now able to access the interior of the country, and open the vast Midwest to settlement.

In the 1880s, as memories of the Civil War began to disappear, the US had a rejuvenated sense of national identity, and a rapidly expanding economy with the onset of the Gilded Age. This would lead many Americans to advocate a new sort of manifest destiny, that not only concerned America, but the world as well. The US began to seek outside markets to its burgeoning economy, and would support this to the public with ideas of fulfilling a greater duty to the world, and spreading American values to all people. With the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, who began to advocate for an expanded navy, the US would now be able to back the Monroe Doctrine, which had previously been ignored by most European nations. The naval build up and urge to fight would directly lead to the Spanish-American War in 1898, which had the US portray itself as a liberator to both American nations, and other Pacific islands, such as the Philippines. With the direct occupation afterwards as the US won the war, conflicts such as the Philippine-American War, which lasted from 1899-1902, showed America’s willingness to fight for its overseas expansion, even as it championed freedom and liberty as rallying calls. The Boxer Rebellion was another example of these more imperialist policies, with the US joining other empires to secure private interests in China. Often times, these issues were interconnected, with the US benefiting from both spreading its values and its markets, yet struggling to maintain its image of democracy as it drew closer to other European nations in imperialist policies.

During the early 20th century the US would also continue fighting against insurrection in the occupied Philippines, which would continue until World War II. America would also seek to insure economic interests abroad, through various military interventions. Examples of this are prevalent with the Banana Wars, a series of interventions and occupations throughout Central American and Caribbean nations. These conflicts occured from 1898, with the end of the Spanish-American War, to 1934, when President Roosevelt would seek more peaceful relations with fellow American nations through the Good Neighbor Policy.

As World War I approached, the US sought to differentiate itself from the other European powers, a majority of whom were empires of some form. Because of this, it began to shift from a more aggressive policy of directly occupying territory to instead supporting local governments that were favorable to US interests, such as in Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. Most importantly though, WWI permanently established America’s presence in the world, shifting it from a regional power that occasionally intervened in issues outside the Americas, to one of the “Great Powers” at the negotiating table at the war’s conclusion. Most other countries also experienced extensive damage to their economies and population, in contrast to the US which would emerge an even more energized industrial powerhouse, eager to expand its markets abroad. Throughout the interwar period, most nations, including America, would attempt to have a more peaceful, non interventionist policies, which would only last until WWII.

As WWII began, and especially as the Cold War started after it, the US began to ramp up its presence in international affairs. As the US became the foremost democratic, capitalist country, in economy and military, in its battle against the Soviet Union. The US would economically support the war torn nations of Europe after WWII with the Marshall Plan, in order to create strong allies against communism. America would continue to finance and support governments that would combat the spread of communism, through the establishment of the Truman Doctrine as the official foreign policy. Conflicts would range from Eastern Europe, to Asia, to the Americas, and Africa, a truly global conflict. This would also begin the establishment of US military bases worldwide, that would leave an American presence worldwide to this day.

In 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it would seem that the US was the victor of the 45 year long conflict between democracy and communism. The US would have to shift its view again, from combating communism, to securing its interests worldwide in the new post-Cold War era. America would stage several interventions, mostly in the Middle East and Africa, to stabilize the area. The reasons for this would be both the geopolitical importance of the region and the economic importance, stemming from the vast oil reserves. Many contemporary scholars now argue that the US has continued its imperialist policies from the past, only now more covert, and fundamentally different from the direct territorial expansion of the early America.


Map of the five military districts established in the South with the Reconstruction Act of 1867

Reconstruction was an important step in helping America recover after the Civil War, shifting the power from agrarian elite to the urban centers. This article, “Constitution as Countermonument: Federalism, Reconstruction, and the Problem of Collective Memory,” by Norman W. Spaulding, outlines his ideas on federalism, specifically its development during the Civil War. Spaulding explains how the Civil War was, “the perfect storm,” that lead to an increase in centralized power. The US would cement the supremacy of the federal government over state governments, through broad expansion in power of all the branches, and the strong support for the Reconstruction Amendments, despite southern disapproval. He also argues that the US would come to view much of the southern states as,  “reconquered territory,” as they established clauses necessary for them to rejoin the Union. He also explains how historians and politicians painted the war as, “a battle between brothers,” rather than between to sovereign nations with fundamentally different values. This would lead to the strong cementation a national identity, that would unite the nation in the coming years. Ultimately, this would harden ideas of American exceptionalism, and revive ideas of manifest destiny, as the nation’s democratic values survived the Civil War and emerged stronger.


This is the check made by the US Treasury in 1867, in order to pay $7.2 million to the Russian Empire in exchange for Alaska. The Alaska Purchase occurred during Reconstruction, under President Johnson. Secretary of State William H. Seward who negotiated the Alaska Purchase was an ardent expansionist, but like many Republicans at the time had feared that new territory acquired would become slave territory, rather than free. After the Civil War though, many Republicans that had formerly opposed expansion began to support it. Specifically, Seward believed that this purchase could help further Pacific expansion, by providing coaling stations for military and merchant ships. Alaska would later prove to have various natural resources, such as gold, oil, but would not be discovered until the late 19th Century. Most importantly though, this was the first, large, non-contiguous territory that America would come to possess, and would be the beginning of a larger Pacific presence.

This source is an illustration by Frank Beard, published in 1869 in a newspaper, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. The image shows two outstretched hands extending from trains, labeled, “New York” and “San Francisco,” approaching each other. Buffalo and Native Americans flee in the foreground as the people on the trains cheer. The caption reads, “Does not such a meeting make amends?” echoing ideas of both physical and metaphorical unity in the country with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. As the US went through Reconstruction in order to reunify and rebuild the nation, the railroad allowed for both a physical connection between east and west, and further economic development. This would set the stage for the settler colonization of the West, and the solidification of American presence in the area.


Settling the West


Homestead Act of 1862

This is the official scan of the Homestead Act of 1862, from the Library of Congress, outlining how it would provide 160 acres of public land to American citizens, provided they lived on it, improved it, and registered for it. The Homestead Act allowed for US citizens to apply for land from the federal government, and opened up a large area of government owned, “open land,” for settlers. After its acquisition of vast empty western land, the federal government wanted to put this land to use, and could do so by encouraging western migration. This document was found in the library catalog, and shows how settler colonialism was officially endorsed by the US government. The Homestead Act was the official beginning of the US policy of encouraging migration of settlers into the undeveloped western territories. This would also lead to conflict with Native American tribes, as the federal government sought to impose its rule in the area, and changed how it treated independent tribes. Rather than treat them as independent nations, the US began to view Native Americans as rebellious people in land they lawfully owned. This would also push ideas within the public of American exceptionalism, and the ability to have socioeconomic mobility, encouraging immigration, and beginning development of the West.


“Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead. He was not a Chief, but without Kingly lineage he arose from a lowly position to the greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring.

He was an Indian with a white man’s spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions: forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies.

The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.

We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America.”

This source is an editorial by author L. Frank Baum, published in the The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, giving his views on the recent Sioux Wars that had been occurring and the general armed conflict that was taking place between the US federal government and various Native Americans in the west. Here he directly references the recent death of Lakota leader, Sitting Bull, remarking on his fighting spirit, as one of the, “greatest Medicine Man of his time, by virtue of his shrewdness and daring.” He then brings ideas of American superiority, pointing to his fall as the end of the last vestiges of glory for Native Americans, and how, “by law of conquest,” America must be the nation to spread across the continent. Again, Baum echoes ideas of both national and racial superiority among Americans, and how it is our nation’s destiny to overtake, and annihilate, Native Americans as rulers of the continent.

Gilded Age & Beginning of Imperialism

The book, “Our Country,” was published in 1885 by American clergyman, Josiah Strong, and outlines his beliefs on America’s role as a country. Throughout the book, he repeatedly preaches Protestant values, and how they’re tied to American exceptionalism. Overall, he champions the notion that Anglo-Saxon Protestants are the strongest group of people, tied to American values such as liberty, individualism, and entrepreneurship. He also brings the fact that Great Britain was the leading European empire at the time, with the US rapidly catching up, and prophesying that we will overtake Britain as an industrial power, due to our, “undeveloped resources of a new country, but more largely to our climate, which acts as a constant stimulus,” and natural social mobility (Strong 174). Though much of the book is written in mind to persuade evangelical Protestants to support missions, it most importantly changed the perspective of Manifest Destiny to a duty towards the world in general. This book would begin the dominant idea of the time that Anglo-Saxon Protestants where America’s best and strongest ethnicity, that would help propel the nation to the world stage and further its expansion.

1899 political cartoon showing countries taken after the Spanish-American War, depicting them as savage children

The article, “Josiah Strong and American Nationalism: A Reevaluation,” by Dorothea R. Muller, outlines the connection between Strong’s writings during the late 19th Century and a resurgence in national identity. Throughout her writing, Muller explains how Strong’s ideas of Christian conversion being necessary to the “savage peoples” of Central and South America, would translate to the belief of America’s duty of “civilizing” foreign countries through Anglo-Saxon values. Muller ends her writing with a quote from one Strong’s colleagues, James Ecob, who says, “ It is a matter of common knowledge, that Dr. Strong was one of the foremost pioneers in arousing the nations to the necessity of a New Internationalism.” At this time, “new internationalism,” would come to refer to the growing ideas of international duty that America had to the world, in spreading its beliefs and values. Ultimately, Muller shows the importance of Strong’s writing, that appealed to moral and religious beliefs of Americans, in pushing ideas of imperialism and expansion.

Queen Liliuokalani leaving Aliiolani Hale, 14 January 1893

The state of Hawaii was acquired through this early imperialism in the 19th Century, by overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii. La Croix and Grandy’s journal, “The Political Instability of Reciprocal Trade and the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom,” explains this, outlining how US trade policy in the 1870s and 1880s impacted Hawaii, through various protectionist tariffs that were passed by Republican politicians. These gradually decreased Hawaii’s bargaining position in trade, culminating with the McKinley Tariff, that skyrocketed import taxes on sugar, the main export of Hawaii. This would eventually lead to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, as American businessmen residing in the kingdom sought to gain more favorable trade terms with US annexation. Overall, this highlights the connections between economic interests and overseas expansion, and how the US used indirect measures to acquire these overseas territories.

This source is an illustration, author unknown, titled, “Civilization Begins at Home,” published by Literary Digest in 1898. The image depicts President William McKinley tentatively staring at a map of the Philippines, while a figure representing Justice pulls back curtain revealing a lynching and several other dead figures, suggesting they are African American. This cartoon is echoing ideas of anti-imperialists at the time, which discouraged the the transformation of the US into an empire not unlike European powers at the time. This cartoon expresses some of the hypocrisy that many Anti-imperialists saw in “expanding civilization” while the country itself was still unequal, alluding to racial violence such a lynchings. This is one of many arguments that anti-imperialists made against the expansion of the US from overseas territories. In the broader sense this was a more moralist approach against expansion, insinuating that if we can’t embody democracy within our country then how would we do so abroad. Anti-imperialism eventually fell out of favor as the US annexed the Philippines, and other former Spanish possessions, but had lasting effect on how Americans viewed these possessions as distinctly “un-American” for the most part.

President Cleveland twists the tail of the British Lion regarding Venezuela; Puck, 1895

The book, “American Empire: A Global History,” by A.G. Hopkins puts America’s expansion in a more global light, starting since our country’s beginning to the present day. At its beginning, America could not compare to the long established European colonial powers, such as France and Britain. Hopkin’s explains that the US was very much dependent and intertwined with Britain through trade and diplomacy in its early years. Later on however it would go from matching, to surpassing these countries economically and militarily by the end of the 19th century. Rather than take as much territory as possible, the US would typically only control areas, typically islands, that had economic or strategic importance. Hopkins encapsulates several actions that made US colonialism unique from other countries, such as acquiring a large amount of territory from another empire, and being a supporter of independence during decolonization.

Spanish-American War

This source is the full text from the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War. The treaty outlines how that Spain would give up Cuba, the Philippines, and several Caribbean islands that made up the “West Indies,” as well as Guam and other Pacific islands. The treaty also states that 20 million dollars will be paid in return for it.  This document was found in the library catalog database, and shows how the US began to acquire its overseas territories after the Spanish-American War ended from Spain’s colonial possessions. The Treaty of Paris marked the end of Spain as an empire, while beginning the age of America as a world power. It also lead to much debate in the US between pro and anti-Imperialists who supported and opposed this more blatant American expansionism. The treaty would also later lead to the Philippine-American War, in which the native Philippine government fought US occupation, since the Treaty effectively handed over the Philippines with little say from the local government. This established US policy in overseas expansion in the 20th Century, and would include other Pacific and Caribbean islands.

This source is an editorial in the Amador Ledger, “Ex-Minister Denby’s Views,” published 1900, by Charles Denby, Civil War veteran and diplomat. Denby worked on a commission appointed by President McKinley to examine the situation regarding occupation of the Philippines, and explains his support for McKinley handling of the situation with the war against Spain and in the Philippines. Denby also appeals to the general sense of urgency, such as, “Then was the time to have talked about the ‘consent of the governed’ and not now, when every speech he makes adds ten names to the roll of our dead and one hundred to the Filipino dead.” Here he refers to William Jennings Bryan’s opposition to the war, and how he views he should have taken more action when the Treaty of Paris and being ratified, rather than now when the US was in a state of war against the Philippine natives. In the broader sense, he is appealing any public opinions that we should not occupy the Philippines, saying now is the time for action. This would push an American view that it is our national duty to intervene in order to secure democracy in other countries.


Boxer Rebellion

This is an illustration, titled, “The First Duty,” from Puck Magazine, published in 1900. The image features a female figure representing “Civilization” that points to the background, while standing before a Chinese emperor who sits on a throne. In the background large dragon, labeled “Boxer,” climbs over a wall, as clouds of smoke labeled “Anarchy,” “Murder,” and “Riot” emit from it. The caption reads, “That dragon must be killed before our troubles can be adjusted. If you don’t do it I shall have to,” referring to the Chinese Empire’s complacency as Boxers continued to antagonize foreign citizens in China. This cartoon shows contemporary ideas of how America was viewed as a bastion of civilization, and groups the country with the other European nations that sought to pacify China and secure their interests in the area. This again shows popular sentiment that America must spread civilization, through force when necessary, wherever needed.


This source is a Chinese map printed in 1900, author unknown, showing the occupation areas of Beijing by color, with the US occupying the northern section. The occupation of Beijing was the result of the Boxer Rebellion that occurred from 1899 to 1901. Various European nations, the US, and Japan,  formed the Eight-Nation Alliance, a military coalition of countries in order to respond to the incident and secure their interests in China. This event was an early and clear example of foreign intervention against a foreign nation, as the US supported other European nations. As President McKinley sent 5,000 American troops to China, without congressional approval, it would also be a historic precedent to how the US would react immediately to foreign nations that threatened US interests.

World War I


This source is an editorial titled, “Notes from the Capital,” author unknown, published in The Nation, in 1915. This article is commenting on the impending war that President Wilson faced, and compares other foreign policy issues that prior presidents had. Specifically, it refers to the actions of former President Benjamin Harrison, and his Secretary of State James G. Blaine, and their increased expansionist policies in the 1880s. The author calls for Wilson to act strong, much like Harrison, and succeeding presidents did regarding several issues that came up in their time with other European nations in America. With the recent sinking of the Lusitania a few months, this article echoed American views on why the US had to join the war. The gradual build up of American intervention in world affairs for the past 30 years made joining the war a clear choice in the eyes of the public.


“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.”

– Smedley Butler, 1933

This is an excerpt from the famous speech, “War is a Racket,” by General Smedley Butler, given in 1933, and recounts his experience as leader of the United States Marine Corps for 34 years. During the time Smedley led the Marines they were used multiple times to intervene in several nations in the Americas. In his speech Smedley makes several claims regarding the role of the military, espousing it as a military arm of American business interests. Referring to himself, he states, “In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism,” and explains how he believed all of these military interventions were motivated by economic reasons. Many of these so called “Banana Wars” occurred in the early 20th Century, and did indeed work to secure economic interests with interventions in Cuba, Panama, Honduras, and other American nations. This policy of intervening directly would continue until 1933, when President Roosevelt announced his “Open Door Policy” to have more peaceful relations between the US and other American countries.

Early 20th Century Imperialism

This is an illustration by cartoonist Albert Shaw, created in 1905, depicting President Theodore Roosevelt with claw-like hands labeled, “Monroe Doctrine,” stretched out across the Americas. After the Spanish-American War, the US began to greatly increase its interventions in the Americas, seeing how successful they where earlier. With the presidency of Roosevelt beginning in 1901, he would pursue a much more aggressive policy regarding our involvement in other American nations affairs. The Roosevelt Corollary was an extension of the Monroe Doctrine that was already in place, outlined by President Roosevelt in 1904, which stated that America had free reign to intervene in other countries in the Western Hemisphere if European countries tried to intervene in them. Overall this would lead to many of the interventions in the beginning of the 20th century, establishing the precedent for aggressive expansion by freely intervening when a nation was deemed nonfunctional.

“Theodore Roosevelt and his Big Stick in the Caribbean, 1904”

The journal, “Rough Rider and Big Stick in the Caribbean,” by David Healy, outlines ideas over the early 20th Century American imperialism in the Caribbean, including Roosevelt and his creation of the Panama Canal beginning in 1904. Healy makes the argument that many of these actions were in fact justified, sighting economic and political stability, and the incursions of various European nations in the area. He explains how the Panama Canal not only helped the US economy, but increased Latin American countries independence from European nations. The source also explains the details behind the Panama Revolution, which many view as a forcefully made insurrection by the US in order to gain access to building the canal. Overall, the building of the Canal was another way in which the US integrated Latin America into itself, through the support governments that favored its interests.

The US fleet off the coast of Veracruz in 1914

The book, “Banana Wars: Power, Production, and History in the Americas,” by Steve Striffler and Mark Moberg, gives the background and reasoning behind the various interventions the US had in the Americas in the early 20th Century. Stiffler & Moberg state that Central and South American countries where not completely dependant, but did rely on the US business for the most part in the early 20th Century. The Banana Wars where a series of conflicts in which the US intervened in Latin American countries to secure its economic interests. Many agreements were created during this period, with countries such as Cuba and Nicaragua, that established favorable policies to allow American investment and ease of trade. These interventions and treaties would cement the Western hemisphere as being subject to the United States, if not physically, economically at least.

World War II


This is a 1946 map of the occupation of Nazi Germany following World War II, published by the United States Department of State. The map shows where Allied forces of France, Britain, US, and the USSR, split the conquered German territory. The US occupied southeastern Germany and western Berlin, with the US occupying this area until 1949. The US, like other Allied countries, was able to exert its influence on occupied territory, through economic and other policies throughout its administration of the region. This occupation would ultimately lead to the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany(West Germany), which was a staunch Western, and in extension US, ally during the Cold War. West Germany’s economic success, in comparison to its neighbor East Germany, would be an illustration of US economic policy, and its ability to help allies rebuild from the post war destruction, being a model for other nations seeking US help, and intervention.

This source is a propaganda poster for the Marshall Plan, created in 1950, showing the sixteen countries that received aid from it. The map displays the flags of the European countries as the blades on a windmill, with the blade on the back a US flag, seemingly pushing along the other countries. The caption reads, “Whatever the weather we only reach welfare together,” again enforcing the need for US intervention in Europe especially at this imperative time after the war. The Marshall Plan was created in 1948 under President Truman, and gave around $12 billion to provide economic support to the worn torn economies that were not part of the Eastern Bloc, countries under the influence of the USSR by this point. It also sought to ensure that free-market capitalism would thrive among the countries of Europe that received aid, as well as stop the spread of communism by limiting poverty and starvation. Most notably though, it would mark the beginning of permanent US intervention in European affairs, setting up the allies for a possible war with the Soviet Union, and encouraging economic expansion through trade with Europe.

General Douglas MacArthur shortly after his arrival in Japan, August 1945

This journal, “Information, Re-education and Re-orientation Policies in the US Occupation of Japan,” by Maho Toyoda, explains the efforts the US went through after WWII to rebuild Japanese society. Toyoda explains how the occupation of Japan is viewed by many as the “ideal occupation,” since it fundamentally changed Japanese society to favor American values. She also explains how American propaganda worked to create an image of, “an American lifestyle of abundance and freedom,” leading Japanese to willfully rebuild their own economy into a capitalist powerhouse. With the rebuild of Japan, the US would create a staunch Cold War ally in East Asia, that would work to counterbalance the Soviets and Chinese. The US would also establish military bases in the country that would continue in use to this day.

Cold War

This is a recording of President Truman’s 1947 speech to Congress, where he would outline his Truman Doctrine. Roosevelt’s presidency was a shift from his predecessor, FDR, appeasement and general better relations with the Soviet Union. Truman’s speech recapitulated his position of containment, and specifically encouraged intervention in Greece and Turkey, which where facing communist insurgents. This source essentially outlined Truman’s policy of containment against Soviet communism, rather than FDR’s general better relations with the Soviet ruler Stalin. Truman did not have Roosevelt’s relationship with Stalin, so when he became president relations between the US and the USSR quickly began to deteriorate. The US feared expansion of communism into other countries that were facing poverty and strife after the war, knowing that communist ideals could appeal to them. In essence the Truman Doctrine stated that the US would no longer accept Soviet expansion, and would come to the aid, both economically and militarily, of any nation facing Soviet aggression. Truman would come to agree with public opinion that the Soviets were intent on world domination, beginning the hard-line policies of the US towards the USSR, that marked the Cold War. This would ultimately set the broader US policy of foreign intervention, not just in Europe, but around the world. It would also lead to the creation of NATO in 1949, an intergovernmental military alliance headed by the US and is generally considered the beginning of the Cold War.

This source is a map of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, made in 1962, and administered by the US. This was one of many Trust Territories made by the UN after WWII, including former German, Italian, and Japanese territory. The purpose of these where to encourage independence and self-rule, while having another country administer their government. While fighting the Japanese during WWII, the US captured several Pacific islands because of their strategic significance. The islands that made up the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific where the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Northern Mariana, Palau. Most of these island nations would choose to keep ties with the US, with the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau signing the Compact of Free Association in the early 1980s, while Micronesia would become a Commonwealth. All these islands retain ties to the US to this day, showing the effect of the countries expansion during WWII.

This source is a photograph taking in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, depicting a tank being unloaded from a US Air Force carrier during “Operation Nickel Grass,” for Israeli forces. The Yom Kippur War had Israel facing its Arab neighbors, mainly Egypt and Syria, over territorial disputes. America already had amicable relations with Israel for some time, being the first country to recognize it as a sovereign country in 1948 by President Truman. By this time, the US was eager to increase its influence in the Middle East, to counterbalance Soviet support of various Arab nations, such as the increasing aid to Egypt at the time. In order to do so, the US decided to provide large amounts of aid in the form of state of the art arms supplies, including tanks, aircraft, missile systems, artillery, and other weapons. This aid would help Israel win the war, humiliating the over numbered Arab coalition, but also tying them to the US. Israel would continue to be staunch US ally through the Cold War and to the present day, essentially becoming a solid foothold for American military activity in the Middle East.

Middle East and 21st Century

This is a map of current (as of 2015), declassified, US military bases around the world, taken from various government sources over military installations. This source has a clear anti-military bias, but the information it has pulled from is unbiased, and its portrayal on maps is clear. The most bases the US had was during WWII, with over 2000 bases, and 30000 military installations overseas, the most owned by one country in human history. Currently, the US has around 800 bases worldwide, yet the map explains the difficulty in having clear data with the US government’s secrecy regarding its military locations. The general trend seems to be a decrease in military bases since the end of WWII, and the Cold War. Still, the US maintains a clear worldwide presence in regards to its military, allowing it to intervene globally whenever necessary.  


US Army soldiers in a firefight near Al Dourah, Baghdad, 2007

The book, “Proconsuls: Delegated Political-Military Leadership from Rome to America Today,” by Carnes Lord, outlines his ideas on current military leadership in the US, and interaction with foreign countries. In it, he compares America to the Roman Empire, in regards to how it conducted its foreign relations. He compares several American figures, from Leonard Wood, Military Governor of Cuba, to Ellsworth Bunker, ambassador to Vietnam, to the Roman proconsuls of ancient times. He draws comparisons by showing how various American diplomats and military leaders were given more independence by the US government to enact policies they deemed fit in the regions they looked over. Overall, this shows the historical tendency for the US to delegate power, in some ways similar to an Empire, to ambassadors and military officials as the US’ worldwide presence increased.


Map of oil pipelines in the middle east

The journal, “U.S. Imperialism, Europe, and the Middle East,” by Samir Amin, gives a broad overview to American foreign policies, and the argument that they signal imperialism. Amin makes the argument that capitalism will inadvertently lead to equality between countries, no matter what. He also analyzes the Middle East’s importance to the US, boiling it down to two factors: its oil wealth, and natural position of importance at the heart of the Old World. Through interventions in the Middle East the US continues to secure its interests, keeping large numbers of troops in the area, from Afghanistan to Iraq. Amin states that the US’ superiority stretches beyond just military might, to economic, political, and cultural domination, referring to it as a “ new collective imperialism,” that stretches beyond simple territorial acquisition. Amin ultimately brings up the fate of America’s future, questioning how long it can stay at the top, militarily, economically, and beyond.

Map of US territorial acquisitions

The book, “Dangerous Nation,” by Robert Kagan seeks to change the idea of America as an isolationist country up until the 20th century.  The author starts by explaining how our nation began as a settler colony of Britain, which cemented the expansionist mindset that began the taking of native lands. Kagan states that the idea of an America that focuses domestically until it is bothered is false, and how even before our creation as a country, colonists sought to gain land from natives. He also ties our aggressive expansion to our foundation as a capitalist country, arguing that it lead to want for more resources and markets through land acquisition. In the end, Kagan argues that throughout our history we have expanded in several kinds of ways, early on territorially and commercially, and later ideologically and politically, as we continue to expand our diplomatic influence.


Since the beginning, when the founders created our country, America has had a vision of being the best nation on earth, through concepts such as manifest destiny. The federalization, and centralization of power following the Civil War would lead to the creation of a national identity. Combined with its rapidly industrializing and expanding economy, the US would soon seek to expand its values and beliefs beyond the continental US. Incidents such as the Spanish-American War, and later World War I would bring America to be viewed as an equal among the long established European powers, as it expanded its territory and influence

Columbia’s Easter bonnet, Puck Magazine 1901

Ultimately the US would emerge stronger militarily from both World Wars as the classic European powers weakened, as well as becoming the largest economy in the early 20th Century. After WWII, the Cold War would immediately begin, with America heading the Western alliance of democratic, capitalist countries, against the USSR. Throughout this period, the US would continue to support countries favorable to its interests in order to combat and contain communism, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, the US has had to realign its focus from combating the 45 year enemy that was communism, with it left as the sole superpower. As it continues to be the largest economy and the largest military, America seems to still be at the center of world affairs. Only time will tell how the US continues its foreign policy, as other countries seem to be catching up to it, and the world continues on a trend of peace and cooperation for the time being.


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