Being a US history buff I know the words “Manifest Destiny” became the siren call for an invasion of America. When I was in high school the term was proudly used to say it was inevitable that the US would become the great nation it is.
Let’s look at what Wikipedia says about manifest destiny:
In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across North America. There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:
- The special virtues of the American people and their institutions
- The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America
- An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty
Historians have emphasized that “manifest destiny” was a contested concept—pre-civil war Democrats endorsed the idea but many prominent Americans (such as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and most Whigs) rejected it. Historian Daniel Walker Howe writes, “American imperialism did not represent an American consensus; it provoked bitter dissent within the national polity … Whigs saw America’s moral mission as one of democratic example rather than one of conquest.”
Many, especially those of us with Native-American roots have come to think of Manifest Destiny more as a genocide than as a noble cause led by angels. It was a time that the current inhabitants of that land were termed “non-human savages”. This enabled the rationalization that if we couldn’t kill them all, it was proper to round them up and put them in a worthless piece of land to survive as long as they could.
I am just starting a long-term project of studying the actual history of Native Americans and it is shameful to see all the manipulation, lies and counter lies that were used to steal their land. The Louisana Purchase started Manifest Destiny. That was where a European power (Spain) proclaimed that they “owned” the land in middle America and it was up for sale.
Of course, Manifest Destiny did not stop there. Texas, California, and the entire Southwest from wrenched from Mexico with the same rationalization.
Looking at this from a longer-term scale, I realize that conquest and genocide have always been part of humanity. It goes all the way back to the Bible where God supposedly told the Israelis to steal land belonging to others and to annihilate every man, woman, and child who currently occupied it so they would not be tainted by their culture.
And then there was Germany under Hitler who savagely tried to make all of Europe his kingdom. The concentration camps were another example of genocide. This will be another story in the “How Did We Get Here” series coming soon.
I know this post is pretty much dark in nature, but we need to recognize that the history of the US is just not that much different from many others in the past or even today. Being an optimist, that leaves us plenty of room for improvement in the future.
One thing I find encouraging is that Germany has now come to “own” their past but we in the US have for the most part failed to do the same.