William McKinley - Woodrow Wilson - Spanish-American War - Cuba - World War I - Congress
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 case of the Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino war, another major idealistic reason for the US entry into war can be found in the violation of the Monroe Doctrine by the Spanish. Indeed, since 1823, US governments used to respect the three principles that had been established by President James Monroe. Those principles stipulated that the American continent had to be considered closed to any attempt of colonization by European powers from this moment on, that any intervention of a European power on the American continent would be considered as a manifestation of hostility towards the United States itself, and that in compensation, the United States would never intervene in European matters. [...]
[...] The well-known event of the sinking of the Lusitania also testifies the threats against the United States. In 1915, a German submarine caused the death of 128 Americans, by torpedoing this British liner connecting New York and Great-Britain, in the high seas nearby Ireland, under the pretext that Great-Britain and Germany were warring nations and that, as a consequence, German army was not forced anymore to respect the public international law of seas.9 That is why, even if the retaliation for such human losses or such territorial “appetites” was not the primary goal of the US entry into war in 1917, it was at least a minor factor that influenced Wilson in its favor. [...]
[...] Finally, constructivist and Marxist theories of international relations might also partly explain the US entries into war in 1898 and 1917. 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). After this study, it may appear that even if both Presidents were pragmatic, McKinley was maybe less idealistic than Wilson, if only by entering into war while the United States' interests and people were not directly threatened as they were just prior to the First World War. [...]
[...] Nowadays, one could also assert that some racist convictions of the white supremacy over the other races hid behind the Marxist view, but in that time, racism was not a receivable reason strictly speaking to enter into war. Finally, one could also assert that a constructivist reason played a part in the US entry into both wars. Indeed, following a general trend of industrial revolution in the second half of the 19th century, the US saw their factories of munitions and arms, their warships as well as their bases multiply in their territory but also abroad. Such a development was in line with the imperialist foreign policy led by McKinley and his Secretaries of State. [...]
[...] 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. Even if he was also influenced by the public opinion more or less imperialist or racist of his time, the instigator of the League of Nations was certainly much more idealistic than his predecessors. He abhorred violence and “wasting” of human lives so that he waited for three years before declaring war on Germany. [...]
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