On examining US presence in foreign wars during the years 1898 and 1917, can we say that the decisions were based on idealistic or realist reasons? Or would some other term or category better describe the most important considerations?
On April 25, 1898, following several years of unsuccessful negotiations to mitigate the Cuban crisis and put an end to the equivocation of President William McKinley, the US Congress declared America's official entry into war against Spain, in order to free the Cubans from its domination.
Nineteen years later, on April 4, meeting President Woodrow Wilson's demand, the Congress declared war with Germany, for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its people again.1 In reality, in both cases, the US entry into war was motivated by several reasons. Some of them were idealistic in the way that they corresponded to a wish from the US government to adopt a foreign policy which would comply with its internal political philosophy: a wish to impose the American political ideology abroad or, at least, to fight against ideologies which were too different from it.
Some other reasons were realist in that they facilitated the preference of national security and interests over ideology and even ethics sometimes. Finally, constructivist and Marxist theories of international relations might also partly explain the US entry into war in 1898 and 1917.
On observing and weighing up these different reasons in each case, one can legitimately wonder if the US foreign policy has shown a radical evolution between McKinley's and Wilson's mandates or if, on the contrary, these presidents led similar policies despite their opposite political labels (since the former was Republican contrary to the latter, who was a Democrat).
Tags:Monroe Doctrine, US wars on foreign lands, 1898 war, German invasion
[...] In the end, it seems that reasons of all types led the US to enter into war in 1898 and 1917, more or less valuable depending on everyone's ethics and own interpretation of facts: trade interests, high-esteem of the country's greatness and its consequent duties regarding the world, feeling of danger, economic prospects to recover from the Great Depression, etc. However, one could assert that there has been a general shift from a very pragmatic and realist approach of American foreign relations under William McKinley's mandate towards a more idealistic approach under Woodrow Wilson's mandate. [...]
[...] Economic interests represented one of the capital motivations behind US entry into war, in 1898 as well as in 1917. In the first case, by giving a hand to the Cubans to overthrow the Spanish occupier, the US could hope to increase their control over Cuban natural resources (chiefly nickel) and agricultural output (mainly tobacco and sugar) in the long term. In 1895, American ventures established there had already totaled sales of around $50 million, so that an eventual economic agreement with Cuba could suggest even higher profits to the US.6 A victory against Spain could also allow the United States to establish a naval base there that would permit it to control the Caribbean area and make the road towards China safe, supposing that the project of building a canal in Central America to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans succeeded. [...]
[...] In 1915, a German submarine caused the death of 128 Americans, by torpedoing a British liner connecting New York and Great Britain, in the high seas near Ireland, under the pretext that since Great Britain and Germany were warring nations, the German military was not under any compulsion to respect the public international law of seas.9 Even if the retaliation for such human losses or such territorial “appetites” was not the primary goal behind the US entry into war in 1917, it was at least a minor factor that influenced Wilson in its favor. [...]
[...] Thus, the efforts implemented by the Spanish Crown to stamp out the independence movement in Cuba, by starving the insurgents and by cooping up Cubans like cattle into unsanitary camps, for instance, had undoubtedly shocked the American public and contributed to making the war conceivable for its leaders.2 In the same way, the fact that Emperor Wilhelm II had disregarded Belgium's unquestionable right to neutrality and invaded it to attack French territorial integrity, had convinced President Wilson that Germany had become an outlaw on the international stage and needed to be stopped sooner or later As told in his speech to the Congress on April 1917: world must be made safe for democracy.” 4 The self-conception of the US as the “world police” was born during that period; the feeling of duty to preserve world peace and peoples' independence is one of the idealistic reasons that pushed the US into war. [...]
[...] Maddock, Deborah Kisatskyn and Kenneth J. Hagan, American Foreign Relations : a History, Volume 2 : Since 1895, 7th edition. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning - Reynolds Wolfe, Lisa. American Business in Cuba 1898-1959 A Brief Overview. On http://ezinearticles.com. 1Dennis Merrill & Thomas G. Paterson, [...]
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