[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: Tom Wolfe: The Doctrine That Never Died
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The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: The Doctrine That Never Died
January 30, 2005
By TOM WOLFE
SURELY some bright bulb from the Council on Foreign Relations in New
York or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
at Princeton has already remarked that President Bush's inaugural
address 10 days ago is the fourth corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.
No? So many savants and not one peep out of the lot of them? Really?
The president had barely warmed up: "There is only one force of
history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose
the pretensions of tyrants ... and that is the force of human
freedom.... The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends
on the success of liberty in other lands. ... America's vital
interests and our deepest beliefs are now one..." when - bango! - I
flashed back 100 years and 47 days on the dot to another president.
George W. Bush was speaking, but the voice echoing inside my skull - a
high-pitched voice, an odd voice, coming from such a great big hairy
bear of a man - was that of the president who dusted off Monroe's idea
and dragged it into the 20th century.
"The steady aim of this nation, as of all enlightened nations," said
the Echo, "should be to strive to bring ever nearer the day when there
shall prevail throughout the world the peace of justice. ...Tyrants
and oppressors have many times made a wilderness and called it peace.
...The peace of tyrannous terror, the peace of craven weakness, the
peace of injustice, all these should be shunned as we shun unrighteous
war. ... The right of freedom and the responsibility for the exercise
of that right cannot be divorced."
Theodore Roosevelt! - Dec. 4, 1904, announcing to Congress the first
corollary to the Monroe Doctrine - an item I had deposited in the
memory bank and hadn't touched since I said goodbye to graduate school
in the mid-1950's!
In each case what I was hearing was the usual rustle and flourish of
the curtains opening upon a grandiloquent backdrop. But if there was
one thing I learned before departing academe and heading off wayward
into journalism, it was that these pretty preambles to major political
messages, all this solemn rhetorical throat-clearing - the parts
always omitted from the textbooks as superfluous - are inevitably what
in fact gives the game away.
Theodore Roosevelt's corollary to President James Monroe's famous
doctrine of 1823 proclaimed that not only did America have the right,
à la Monroe, to block European attempts to re-colonize any of the
Western Hemisphere, it also had the right to take over and shape up
any nation in the hemisphere guilty of "chronic wrongdoing" or
uncivilized behavior that left it "impotent," powerless to defend
itself against aggressors from the Other Hemisphere, meaning mainly
England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.
The immediate problem was that the Dominican Republic had just reneged
on millions in European loans so flagrantly that an Italian warship
had turned up just off the harbor of Santo Domingo. Roosevelt sent the
Navy down to frighten off the Italians and all other snarling
Europeans. Then the United States took over the Dominican customs
operations and debt management and by and by the whole country,
eventually sending in the military to run the place. We didn't
hesitate to occupy Haiti and Nicaragua, either.
Back in 1823, Europeans had ridiculed Monroe and his doctrine. Baron
de Tuyll, the Russian minister to Washington, said Americans were too
busy hard-grabbing and making money to ever stop long enough to fight,
even if they had the power, which they didn't. But by the early 1900's
it was a different story.
First there was T.R. And then came Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1912
Japanese businessmen appeared to be on the verge of buying vast areas
of Mexico's Baja California bordering our Southern California. Lodge
drew up, and the Senate ratified, what became known as the Lodge
Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The United States would allow no
foreign interests, no Other Hemispheroids of any description, to give
any foreign government "practical power of control" over territory in
This Hemisphere. The Japanese government immediately denied having any
connection with the tycoons, and the Baja deals, if any, evaporated.
Then, in 1950, George Kennan, the diplomat who had developed the
containment theory of dealing with the Soviet Union after the Second
World War, toured Latin America and came away alarmed by Communist
influence in the region. So he devised the third corollary to the
Monroe Doctrine. The Kennan Corollary said that Communism was simply a
tool of Soviet national power. The United States had no choice, under
the mandates of the Monroe Doctrine, but to eradicate Communist
activity wherever it turned up in Latin America ... by any means
necessary, even if it meant averting one's eyes from dictatorial
regimes whose police force did everything but wear badges saying
The historian Gaddis Smith summarizes the Lodge and Kennan Corollaries
elegantly and economically in "The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine,
1945-1993." Now, Gaddis Smith was a graduate-schoolmate of mine and
very much a star even then and has remained a star historian ever
since. So do I dare suggest that in this one instance, in a brilliant
career going on 50 years now, that Gaddis Smith might have been
...wrong? ... that 1945 to 1993 were not the last years of the Monroe
Doctrine? ... that the doctrine was more buff and boisterous than it
has ever been 10 days ago, Jan. 20, 2005?
But before we go forward, let's take one more step back in time and
recall the curious case of Antarctica. In 1939 Franklin Roosevelt
authorized the first official United States exploration of the South
Pole, led by Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The expedition was scientific -
but also military. The Japanese and the Germans were known to be
rooting about in the ice down there, as were the Russians, the
British, the Chileans, the Argentines, all of them yapping and
stepping on one another's heels. Gradually it dawned on the whole
bunch of them: at the South Pole the hemispheres got ... awfully
narrow. In fact, there was one point, smaller than a dime, if you
could ever find it, where there were no more Hemispheres at all.
Finally, everybody in essence just gave up and forgot about it. It was
so cold down there, you couldn't shove a shell into the gullet of a
piece of artillery ... or a missile into a silo.
Ah, yes, a missile. On the day in November 1961, when the Air Force
achieved the first successful silo launching of an intercontinental
ballistic missile, the SM-80, the Western Hemisphere part of the
Monroe Doctrine ceased to mean anything at all - while the ideas
behind it began to mean everything in the world.
At bottom, the notion of a sanctified Western Hemisphere depended upon
its separation from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, making
intrusions of any sort obvious. The ICBM's - soon the Soviet Union and
other countries had theirs - shrank the world in a military sense.
Then long-range jet aircraft, satellite telephones, television and the
Internet all, in turn, did the job socially and commercially. By Mr.
Bush's Inauguration Day, the Hemi in Hemisphere had long since
vanished, leaving the Monroe Doctrine with - what? - nothing but a
single sphere ... which is to say, the entire world.
For the mission - the messianic mission! - has never shrunk in the
slightest ... which brings us back to the pretty preambles and the
solemn rhetorical throat-clearing ... the parts always omitted from
the textbooks as superfluous. "America's vital interests and our
deepest beliefs are now one," President Bush said. He added, "From the
day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on
this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they
bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth."
David Gelernter, the scientist and writer, argues that "Americanism"
is a fundamentally religious notion shared by an incredibly varied
population from every part of the globe and every conceivable
background, all of whom feel that they have arrived, as Ronald Reagan
put it, at a "shining city upon a hill." God knows how many of them
just might agree with President Bush - and Theodore Roosevelt - that
it is America's destiny and duty to bring that salvation to all
Tom Wolfe is the author, most recently, of "I Am Charlotte
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