Sundays With The Christianists: American History Textbooks For Your Homeschooled Imperialist
Welcome back, time-tourists, for another visit to the strange world of the past as viewed through a couple of textbooks for the Christian school market. You might recall that last week, we were genuinely impressed to see that some actual history somehow sneaked into our 11th/12th-grade text, United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2001), in its discussion of the USA's treatment of Native Americans -- it was actually critical of U.S. America! (No telling if the editor for that section has since been sent to the re-education camp.) This week, as we discuss turn-of the century imperialism, U.S. History is back to its usual place in this series: the slightly saner older brother to the completely unhinged 8th-grade text from A Beka, America: Land I Love, but still prone to weird proselytizing at the dinner table. Where Land I Love pretty much denies that there was anything "imperialistic" about U.S. expansion beyond North America -- because we were just helping, you know -- U.S. History at least makes a stab at nuance, acknowledging that
"even the history of American imperialism, probably better than average among imperialist nations, has its darker side of acquisition by conquest and duplicity."
But on the whole, both books agree that it was a pretty sweet deal for the places America took over, because we brought those folks the chance to be brought to Jesus and a bunch of other blessings of civilization, even if they were bestowed at the point of a bayonet.
U.S. History does its best to appear kinda-sorta evenhanded on this whole "imperialism" thing:
Today the word imperialism has a negative connotation. Critics of imperialism picture the practice as the ruthless conquest and brutal exploitation of people and nations for the enrichment of the imperialist nation. It is true that the imperialist movement had its abuses [Examples? Don't be RIDICULOSE! -- Dok Z] ... It is also true, however, that imperialism brought some benefits to colonized regions: better medical treatment, development of natural resources, and improvements in education. Perhaps the greatest benefit of imperialism was the opportunity it presented for missionaries to take the gospel to people who had never heard of Jesus Christ.
Land I Love goes a step further and explains that while sure, there were a bunch of territories that we had to save from Spain, it wasn't really imperialism:
President McKinley and most other Americans did not see themselves as imperialists, since the United States had no desire to rule over the Filipino people. Instead, President McKinley believed that America must stay in the Philippines to protect them from other foreign powers, improve their living conditions, and organize a unified Filipino government ... American occupation resulted in new health and sanitation programs, better education, the start of a modern economy, instruction in democratic self-government, and ultimately national independence on July 4, 1946.
It just took a little longer than expected, because Japan went and invaded in 1941. Yeah, that's it. Had to protect them and all that.
As to the actual start of the splendid little Spanish-American War, both texts agree that Yellow Journalism (does either book mention the Yellow Kid? Nahhhh) played a role in pumping up war fever, both mention the explosion of the Maine in Havana harbor (Land I Love merely says Spain denied involvement; U.S. History notes the 1974 study that suggested an accident), and both mention the interception of a Spanish diplomat's letter that insulted President McKinley -- and in one of those little quirks that kind of makes us love U.S. History in spite of ourselves, that text mentions that Theodore Roosevelt, then the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, said McKinley had "no more backbone than a chocolate eclair." Neither actually says that the war was unjustified, but neither presents a particularly compelling reason for going to war, either. Land I Love wins the chootzpah prize for mentioning on one page that journalists' accounts of Spanish atrocities in Cuba were often exaggerated, and then on the next page attributing the war in part to Spain's failure to cease its atrocities.
But both texts are pretty clear on the outcomes: America got itself a pretty cool bunch of islands, and it was wonderful for the natives, who learned about democracy and Jesus -- and not that awful papist version of Jesus that the Spanish were peddling, either. And another chootzpah prize for Land I Love, which explains Puerto Rico's wonderful status today:
Puerto Rico eventually became a self-governing commonwealth of the United States (in 1954). A commonwealth is much like a state in the Union, except that it has certain privileges not granted to the states.
You know, like the privilege of not having a vote in Congress, or for President, stuff like that. Those Lucky Duckies.
Land I Love mentions, in passing, that "Of course, some Americans had economic interests in the pacific islands," but on the whole, our imperialism which wasn't imperialism at all was pretty terrific:
the United States prepared all of her overseas possessions to govern themselves ... Most important, wherever the American flag went, it was followed by Christian missionaries, who took the gospel to the native people.
U.S. History pretty much agrees, explaining that
Some historians criticize missionaries as "agents of imperialism" who secretly made colonies for their homelands under the cloak of preaching the gospel. Actually, the opposite was often true. For example, Hiram Bingham, one of the first Congregationalist missionaries to go to Hawaii in 1820, clashed with Americans and others who were bent on exploiting the Hawaiians. When Bingham helped end prostitution among the native women, for example, outraged white sailors armed with knives and clubs physically assaulted him.
Yeah, we're not sure how Bingham's ending prostitution disproves the notion that missionaries spread imperialism, either, but hey, he was attacked, so lay off, OK?
It should also go without saying that neither text mentions Mark Twain's brilliant anti-imperialist rant,* "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" (1901), which imagined the "unenlightened" recipient of American Imperialism thinking,
"There is something curious about this -- curious and unaccountable. There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land."
But Twain was just a bitter non-Christian who thought that Christians should act a bit more like that Christ fellow. Anyway, he simply didn't recognize what an awesome job of civilizing the natives we were doing.
And finally, we hope you won't mind if we reproduce a couple of cartoons on America's imperialism; this one (large image here) actually made it onto the final page of U.S. History's section on expansionism, albeit without any comment from the editors:
And then there are the more pointed examples, like this Victor Gilliam loveliness from 1899 (large image here), showing Uncle Sam as an increasingly bloated capitalist, finally getting a welcoming handshake from other nations once he's big enough to waddle around with a battleship under his arm:
And one of our favorites (giant image here), which we're pretty sure the editors of our textbooks would look on with approval; an 1899 cartoon from Puck magazine, showing Uncle Sam schooling his unruly dusky-hued transfer students in being civilized:
The caption reads,
"Now, children, you've got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that, in a little while, you will feel as glad to be here as they are!"
And on the blackboard is a helpful reminder that "consent of the governed" is a nice sentiment, but some people are just not ready to consent until they get brought up to speed by a benevolent teacher. Who carries a big stick.
Next Week: The Progressive Era: How Teddy Roosevelt was just interventionist enough, and Woodrow Wilson was a socialist. (What, you thought Glenn Beck invented that by himself?)
* There's a nice public-domain recording of the whole essay on the YouTubes, if you're into that sort of thing.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.