“To the victor goes the spoils” sums up the usual fate imposed on conquered nations – except when the United States was the conqueror.
Ever since Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas in 1492 and decided to declare it the property of Spain without consulting the indigenous population, Western Europe and later the United States turned imperialism into an article of faith and a corrupting source of wealth extracted from unwilling natives.
Ronald Reagan joked when he said about U.S. annexation of the Panama Canal Zone, “We stole it fair and square.” During the Canal’s construction, Panama was a province of Colombia, which reneged on its agreement to grant the U.S. a lease in perpetuity for the two strips of land that border the waterway and bisect Panama. So the U.S. “encouraged” the Panamanians to revolt and declare independence from Colombia.
Teddy Roosevelt’s Joke About the Panama Canal Cost the U.S. $25 Million
Reagan’s crack was made with impunity, which was not the case with an earlier imperialist, Theodore Roosevelt. Pestered by reporters to admit that the U.S. had stolen the Canal Zone, he finally blurted out, “I took the canal.” Colombia used Roosevelt’s outburst as prima facie evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the federal government to pay Colombia $25 million in 1921 ($300 million today) for the Canal Zone.
Earlier, cynical politicians also said the U.S. “paid for what it stole” after winning the Mexican-American War in 1848. At war’s end, the victorious Americans annexed 55 percent of northern Mexico, or nearly one million square miles, covering today’s Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
But unique among 19th century colonial powers, the U.S. did not demand war reparations. The American government actually paid the rulers of the mutilated remainder of Mexico $18 million ($457 million today) for the purloined property. Before hostilities began, the U.S. had offered Mexico twice the final amount, which was rejected.
By 1853, the transcontinental railroad needed land in what became Arizona and New Mexico to build a southern connection to the major artery. Because of its military superiority, the U.S. could have easily seized the 32,000 square miles required for the railroad’s extension, but instead, the federal government paid $10 million ($240 million) for what is known as the Gadsden Purchase of 1853.
Undocumented Workers “Recolonize” the United State
In a satisfying case of historical symmetry, undocumented aliens south of the border have been slowly “reconquering” their ancestors’ territory by relocating north. Victory by foot.
The Spanish Reconquista (reconquest) ended with the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. A Mexican Reconquista is ongoing.
According to a 2005 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas, Hawaii, New Mexico, and California have already become “Third World” states where so-called minorities have become majorities. Not only border states have experienced this recolonization. The inflow from the south has penetrated deep into America’s heartland. Iowa and Maryland have exploding Latino populations.
Reconquering Mexican Territory in the Bedroom, not the Battlefield
The reclamation of conquered Mexican territory in the U.S. is propelled by force of demographic shifts rather than by force of arms.
Demography not tyranny or warfare is literally changing the complexion of the U.S. Besides immigration, Hispanic birth rates, which are higher than Anglos’, will also help turn the nation into a Third World state. Any readers familiar with the French epigram, “Plus ça change, plus ça même” (“The more things change, the more they stay the same”), will recognize that the French assertion also applies to the “reconquest” of former Mexican territory by Latinos moving to the U.S.
An identical demographic shift is making the Israelis very nervous because their Arab population’s higher birth rates are gradually transforming the Jewish state into a Muslim enclave. Which is one of the many reasons, rarely mentioned by historians or demographers, that Israeli politicians are secretly delighted that Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza have rejected Israel’s offer of citizenship and representation in the Knesset, the nation’s parliament.
Not only scholarly demographers realize that the Palestinians’ faster population growth will eventually give them a majority in the legislature, and the leader of the majority party in the Knesset becomes prime minister as in Britain and other parliamentary democracies.
A demographer at Israel’s University of Haifa, Professor Arnon Soffer, predicts that Arabs will achieve majority status as soon as 2020, too early for them to become acculturated and assimilated into a no-longer Jewish state. The transition of Hispanics into a majority in the U.S. will be much less convulsive, if at all, than Israel’s transformation because the transition won’t occur in America until 40 years from now. Second generation Mexican Americans tend to assimilate with much greater ease than Palestinians.
Another demographic shift may be diminishing the effects of the Mexican Reconquista of America’s Southwest. Hispanics may be ethnically cleansing themselves out of existence since just as 50 percent of Jewish Americans now marry gentiles, the same percentage of Latinos marry Anglos. This reproductive Holocaust is taking place in the bedroom, not on urban battlefields in the Muslim Uighur region of northwestern China today and Muslim Bosnia at the turn of the last century.
Unlike the U.S., all other colonial powers not only failed to reimburse conquered nations for annexing portions of the losers’ land, the winners embraced the philosophy that “to the victor goes the spoils” and made defeated nations pay reparations for what the conquerors stole.
Comparisons to other colonial powers in previous centuries reinforce the unique nature of America paying for conquered territory without monetary punishment of conquered nations. In one of history’s more egregious land grabs, Britain demanded — and got — $5 million in reparations after defeating China at the end of the second Opium War in 1860.
Adding insult to assault, Britain acquired a lease on Hong Kong as part of the war reparations. More than a century later, when the leased expired in 1997, capitalist Hong Kong was still smarting from Britain’s 19th century thefts and welcomed the city’s return to China despite fears that the country’s communist government would confiscate Hong Kong’s wealth.
Woodrow Wilson’s Failed Peace Mission after World War I
America’s unique policy toward vanquished nations contrasts in particular with the behavior of other victorious countries at the end of World War I. Alone among the Allied leaders, President Woodrow Wilson urged that a defeated Germany and Austria be spared ruinous war reparations, correctly predicting that a humiliated Germany would be back for a second round of world war. Wilson’s plea was ignored by the other Allies, who wanted revenge and demanded that Germany pay $32 billion ($400 billion today) as compensation for the victors’ loss of personnel and matériel.
It wasn’t only money that distinguished America’s treatment of vanquished opponents from the retaliation against the losers by other victorious nations. At a fractious meeting of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin urged unity…or else, warning the other delegates with literal gallows humor, “Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately.”
Franklin was not exaggerating. If the British had won the war, Benedict Arnold would have been granted lands and a dukedom. The rebel ringleader, George Washington, would have been hanged, just as 20 years later, a leader of Ireland’s rebellion against Britain, Lord Edward FitzGerald, was shot and beaten to death by British soldiers’ rifle butts despite FitzGerald’s wealth and his family’s relationship by birth to British royalty.
Sometimes the U.S. was merely incompetent and lacked persistence. In a preview of our Keystone Kommando attempts to capture Osama bin Laden, American troops also failed to apprehend Mexican bandito Pancho Villa after he massacred more than 20 civilians in Texas and New Mexico in the early 20th century.
At other times, American policy was inexplicable in its forgiveness of atrocities. After Mexican caudillo Santa Anna killed 250 defenders of the Alamo and massacred more than 350 Anglo POWs at Goliad, in Texas in 1836, the Mexican dictator was captured and sent to Washington, where instead of going on trial for war crimes, he was provided sumptuous lodgings, feted by President Andrew Jackson, and eventually allowed to return home to Mexico unpunished.
Did the war reparations America paid Mexico in 1848 represent guilt money? Unlikely. Might still makes right in many parts of the world today. The concept of guilt didn’t influence the mighty in the past and sadly still does not deter America’s current adventurism in Iraq.