Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …


Posted on August 25th, by A. Robert Johnson in Foreign Policy. Comments Off on Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …

William Appleman Williams The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. The 50th Anniversary of this work, published in 1959, occasioned a republication in paperback in 2009 by W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0-393-30493-0, which also has Bradford Perkins’ The Tragedy….”: Twenty-five Years After, that assesses the long, bitter debates stimulated in academe over contending versions of what and how American behavior influenced world events. Endless labeling was the norm. Terms of utmost approbation were used to describe historians who held views at odds with each other, and the most acerbic seemed to be reserved for Williams, even by people as supposedly upstanding reputation as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Upon hearing the news that Williams had been granted a prestigious award he wailed, “Oh no! Not Williams again!” Nonetheless, Williams got a lot right. If you follow the succinct extracts offered by Bradford Perkins, such as the one following, you wonder why anyone would try to discredit him.

“Reviewers [of “Tragedy….”] concentrated on William’s most persistent theme, that almost all Americans held ‘the firm conviction, even dogmatic belief, that…domestic well-being depends upon…sustained, ever-increasing overseas economic expansion.’ Despite the decision to annex the Philippines, the preferred strategy of economic expansion was pursuit of the open door, the globalization of John Hay’s China-oriented declarations of 1899 and 1900. As Williams phrased it, ‘When combined with the ideology of an industrial Manifest Destiny the history of the Open Door Notes became the history of American foreign relations…’ Most policies, from McKinley onward, were determined by a desire to keep doors open, by open door imperialism designed to create informal empire.

“Americans saw no contradiction between promoting their trade and improving the world by stimulating economic activity or, as Williams says, in putting ‘their self-interest to work to produce the well-being and the harmony of the world.’ But although Americans professed to believe – even believed that they believed – that every nation had a right to determine its own path, in fact they felt, and came to insist, that the American was the only one. They failed to see that the kind of economic activity they encouraged, in Third World countries at least, was exploitative, that it institutionalized dependency and discouraged socioeconomic progress. This blindness led the United States, with increasing activism, to pursue counter-revolutionary policies. Today’s policies, in this view, represent ‘the final stage in the transformation of the open door from a utopian ideal into an  ideology, from an intellectual outlook for changing the world into one concerned with preserving it in the traditional mold.’ This argument meshes with and perhaps reinforces the economic one, and both emphasize expansionism, but the motivational priorities are strikingly different.”

Perkins then goes on to an assessment of Williams by other historians that acknowledge his influence but discredit his theses as thoroughly as they can. That was in 1994. By then, concurrent activities by American corporate and business interests secured the argument in Williams’ favor, although they would not have approved of the conclusion for a moment because the confirmation came in the form of a 2004 book by another Perkins – John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man from which I will quote shortly. First however, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Williams in his own words, via his chapter titles:

Chapter 1. Imperial Anticolonialism

  1. THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE EXPANIONIST OUTLOOK
  2. THE CRISIS OF THE 1890S AND THE TURN TO IMPERIALISM

Chapter 2. The Imperialism of Idealism

Chapter 3. The Rising Tide of Revolution

Chapter 4. The Legend of Isolationism

  1. A GREAT DEBATE OVER THE TACTICS OF EMPIRE
  2. THE INTERNATIONALIZATION OF BUSINESS

Chapter 5. The War for the American Frontier

Chapter 6. The Nightmare of Depression and the Vision of Omnipotence

  1. Roosevelt and stalin confront the dilemmas of victory
  2. THE OPEN DOOR POLICY AND THE ONSET OF THE COLD WAR
  3. A NEW VISION OF OMNIPOTENCE AND A MISREADING OF HISTORY PROMPT THE UNITED STATES TO OVERPLAY ITS HAND
  4. THE DIPLOMACY OF THE VICIOUS CIRCLE

Chapter 7. The Impotence of Nuclear Supremacy

Chapter 8. The Terrifying Momentum Toward Disaster

Conclusion: The Wisdom of an Open Door for Revolutions





Comments are closed.