Chapter Three Manifest Destiny and American Antecedents

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Officially, the U.S. claimed that its administration in the Philippines was temporary and aimed to develop institutions and conditions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free, prosperous and democratic government. Therefore, U.S. officials, particularly in the 1930s and 1940s, concentrated on the creation of such practical developmental programs for the establishment of democratic government as public education, a health system and a sound legal system. In reality, the Republic of the Philippines only received its independence in the wake of the Second World War on July 4, 1946.20

There was debate about whether or not the U.S. should annex Cuba outright rather than pacify it, set up a local government and establish a Protectorate relationship. Both sides portrayed U.S. involvement as a moral issue and part of an American crusade in support of civilization. Cuba effectively was a U.S. Protectorate from 1898 to 1934 and a U.S. client state until the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The establishment of a Cuban Protectorate, under the Platt Amendment was justified by the devastation in Cuba that resulted both from Spanish repression, the Spanish-American War and the Cuban insurrection which followed.
Until 1934, the Platt Amendment mandated conditions for military and administrative intervention in Cuba and Cuba’s dependency was defined by the Platt legislation. The Platt Amendment, sponsored by Senator Orville H. Platt of Connecticut, was a rider to the U.S. Army appropriations Bill of March of 1901. It transferred Guantanamo Naval Base to the U.S. in perpetuity and stipulated that Cuba not transfer its land to any other foreign power. Cuba could not contract foreign debt without U.S. supervision and provided for U.S. intervention in Cuban affairs when the U.S. deemed necessary. The Platt Amendment was incorporated into Cuba’s “independence” constitution. The U.S. intervened several times in Cuba under the Amendment which was repealed in 1934.21
President Theodore Roosevelt, (1901-1909) defined Protectorate conditions for the U.S. and “held that the United States should prohibit incursions by foreign creditor nations into the [western] hemisphere by undertaking preemptive invasions and occupations of those Latin American countries that failed to honor their debts.”22 Following from this, the U.S. role in Central America was in part defined by the U.S. and specifically the U.S. Navy’s desire to have an isthmian canal in the area and the security needs of the soon to be constructed Panama Canal.
The U.S.’s protected areas prior to World War II, or to its critics its Empire, can be divided into three parts. There was an inner group of colonies and Protectorates that were de jure U.S. territories, a second group of countries that were de facto Protectorates where the U.S. regularly intervened and often had legislative authority to do so and a third group where the U.S. had special interests and influence.
Of the first group, the Philippines and the Pacific territories were de jure Protectorates (as defined in U.S. legislation). For many, the Philippines would be the cornerstone of a new American Empire in the Pacific. Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Canal Zone were administered as Protectorates or trust territories as well though the title and legal status differed from territory to territory and over time.23 Countries where there was significant U.S. involvement and rights of intervention and protection included Panama (from the U.S. Canal Zone), Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and in Africa – Liberia. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the U.S. intervened in Latin American countries dozens of times to protect U.S. business or financial interests.
A final group of countries where the U.S. in the first half of the twentieth century had significant interests and intermittent involvement, (and in some cases intervention privileges), included El Salvador, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Paraguay, Peru, Turkey, Persia, Siam and China. It was in China that U.S. foreign policy defined an “open door” for U.S. interests in the country.
What was different about these overseas dependencies, from the earlier expansion across the continent, was that this “conquered territory…would not become part of the Union…. [This] was unprecedented in American history.”24 The territories had no political equality with existing states and were administratively dependent upon the United States. The Republican Party under McKinley “had launched the ship of state on the crowded lanes of empire.”25 The U.S. was now a worldwide sea power and had a pride and aspiration that would define the country’s approach to the twentieth century. Except in the very narrow sense of continental Europe the country was no longer following a policy of isolation.
It’s not surprising that to America’s critics during this period, “American foreign policy had wreaked terrible damage on other countries….”26 Whether true or not, U.S. foreign assistance motives and policy had much of its origins in the American “Empire” prior to 1939 just as British foreign aid devolved out of the British Empire. It is to these historical antecedents that we now turn.
International Assistance: Historical Antecedents
From the time of its Declaration of Independence in 1776, and well into the nineteenth century, the United States was what we would call today a developing country: seeking loans, credit facilities and military assistance at various times from continental Europe and Britain. The U.S. Commissioners to France, including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, sought both financial and military assistance from France and Holland during and after the Revolutionary War.27 Loans from the Netherlands and France were particularly important.28 American leaders continued to look to Britain and Europe for financial assistance throughout much of the nineteenth century. The model of the U.S. as a developing country, because of its ethnic and racial diversity, is one which has continued to have appeal among Americans down to the present.29
In a fundamental way, foreign aid policy in the United States is as old as the Republic. As John Montgomery has noted:
The idea that America has a special mission in the world – to be the city on the hill that shows other countries how a republic ought to be governed – is old enough to be a part of the national heritage…. [The U.S. had a] special calling to save the world….30
The origins of state-supported foreign aid in the United States go back to the late eighteenth century and the first years of the new Republic. In 1793, Americans provided shelter and assistance to refugees displaced by revolution in Haiti and Santo Domingo. In 1812, a program of relief and assistance to victims of an earthquake (The 1812 Act for Relief of the Citizens of Venezuela) passed the U.S. Congress. In the 1820s the U.S. provided a modicum of aid to the Greek nationalists in their fight against the Ottoman Empire. In the late 1840s, provision was made to assist the starving families of Ireland during the Great Famine of 1847-48. Though public provision of money was debated and rejected by the U.S. Congress, private money was used to assist the victims and the U.S. Navy was used to transport this assistance to Ireland.31
U.S. non-governmental organizations were involved in a number of international crises during and after the U.S. Civil War. The first use of food surpluses for overseas market development by the United States goes back to 1896. Prior to the beginning of the Spanish-American War, President McKinley had asked Congress for money to feed Cuba and created a special fund of half a million dollars to support development activities in that country.
Throughout the nineteenth century, international assistance and foreign aid was targeted at a number of Latin American countries as well as countries in other parts of the world where the United States had a special interest. Many of the antecedents of international assistance, moreover, involved non-governmental organizations, many of which were faith based. After 1899 and the creation of the American Protectorate system, what we now call foreign aid and technical assistance, intensified within the American sphere of influence, often linked to what Patterson and his colleagues have called “financial supervision” interventions such as those in Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.32 There was a strong American involvement in the missionary activities in Africa and Asia as discussed in the last chapter. In the American context, foreign aid and international assistance contained the assumption that assistance was an act of charity or at least philanthropy.33
It was Andrew Carnegie who first made the distinction between charity and philanthropy, a distinction particularly important in the United States. Charity involves the giving of money or goods to those in need. Philanthropy provides money for structures and processes that will assist those who wish to help themselves. It was this paternalistic distinction that has defined U.S. international development practice in much of the twentieth and twenty first century.34
Major foundations such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Phelps-Stokes and later Ford and Kellogg came into existence in the early part of the twentieth century and worked both in the U.S. and internationally.35 Much overseas assistance in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was the responsibility of large private foundations: Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie. Ultimately, however, though private foundations continued to play a major role, U.S. government centered activities in support of economic and social (and political) development in lesser developed states became important after 1900 and dominated the post-World War Two world.
The Near East Foundation and the American Friends Service Committee were both established after World War I while the Unitarian Service Committee, the Brethren Service Commission and the Mennonite Central Committee were created in the wake of World War II. By the 1920s, U.S. missionaries were active in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and parts of the Middle East. They established schools, health clinics, social service centers and demonstration farms.
Humanitarian assistance remains based on the model of charity as defined in the nineteenth century. Food, temporary housing or other items are given to the poor who have been displaced from their homes as a result of natural or human made disaster. Development assistance, and in particular technical assistance, has evolved out of philanthropy, and involves the establishment of institutions (the famous Carnegie Libraries) and processes (teams of experts) to assist countries, organizations and people to help themselves. A number of private foreign advisors and consultants worked directly with foreign governments.36 They would remain active throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.37
Early Technical Assistance
In 1954, Merle Curti and Kendall Birr published a remarkable book on foreign aid covering the period, 1838-1938. In their book, Curti and Birr stated their mission:
In this study we have concentrated on American technical missions abroad which have been in one way or another government-sponsored. We have used “technical” in a broad sense of the word; as used here it includes virtually all kinds of useful knowledge or scientific information which can aid in the conduct of human affairs. We have included knowledge which is relevant to the solutions of social as well as physical problems.38
Throughout the nineteenth century, the U.S. through private and sometimes through public funds sponsored a number of scientific and exploratory expeditions in various parts of the world. Speaking of early missions in the nineteenth century, Curti and Birr have pointed out such missions were “less [than] dramatic in character, the coast, geodetic, and topographical surveys in other countries executed by American government agencies were, in a sense, technical missions.”39
Technical cooperation activities had their origins in nineteenth century patterns of involvement that combined exploration, investigation and the gathering of technical information. In this sense the Louis and Clark expedition (1804-1806) was typical.40 American Exploration began in the Western Hemisphere and expanded to Africa, Asia and the Pacific by the 1830s. One such expedition,
commanded by LT. Charles Wilkes and accompanied by several competent scientists, set out in 1838 and did not return until four years later. It surveyed some 280 islands of the Pacific and adjacent waters; it initiated astronomical and meteorological observations in the Sandwich Islands, as Hawaii was then called; and it collected rich stores of specimens in all departments of natural history. It contributed materially to man’s knowledge of the pack-ice conditions prevailing in the Antarctic region.41
Many of these missions and expeditions were technically very successful. It is important to keep in mind, however, that unlike the claims made in the twentieth century, often the motive for providing technical assistance, “was commercial rather than philanthropic, there was little or no connection between these enterprises, each of which was ad hoc in character.”42 Many times it was the overseas country that paid the costs of the expeditions and technical missions.
By the last third of the nineteenth century a number of foreign governments had turned directly to the United States for aid and assistance in solving their technical, local or internal problems. Many of the earliest requests for American technical aid came from the various countries in Latin America.43 This included European as well as Latin American and Asian countries. It was common for the U.S. to receive a request for technical mission to a lesser developed country in Latin America, the Near East or Asia. Some missions were funded by the requesting governments; some were sponsored by a third party. International technical assistance was part of a process of expansion, based on economic interest, on national pride, and sometimes on humanitarian zeal. The pattern seldom varied
During this period, there was significant competition between and among the Western powers to provide technical assistance particularly to Asian countries. This meant that over time, the role of the technical advisor was as much to promote the donor country’s products and equipment as it was to provide assistance, a forebear of later foreign assistance. By the end of the nineteenth century, agricultural and other technical missions, often tied to the sales of products, had become increasingly common. Curti and Birr make this point: “[it] cannot be overemphasized that...the technical missions were official American ventures designed to serve the needs for the American economy, with incidental benefits to the underdeveloped areas.”44 By the beginning of the twentieth century, it had become
increasingly clear...that other countries were finding it profitable to look to America for expert assistance in solving their varied problems and were finding the technical mission to be a suitable instrument.45
This technical assistance “...was, in the eyes of the one American observer, a remarkable combination of philanthropy and sound business.”46
There were a number of examples of cultural differences between those giving technical assistance and those receiving it. Often, the advisor, as a result of cultural chauvinism, assumed that he knew better than those he advised. There was a significant amount of culture clash between the overseas advisor and the indigenous leadership.47
Throughout the nineteenth century, both European nations and the United States sent such technical assistance missions abroad for specific purposes. In many ways American values mirrored those of the European powers examined in the last chapter. At the same time, nineteenth century experts, be they scientists, educators or engineers, like their twentieth century counterparts, often doubted the extent to which they contributed to a country’s development. Many experts “concluded that in comparison with western standards what had been done [in the recipient country] amounted to very little. But [one technical specialist] believed he had at least gained something ‘in the broader knowledge of world affairs’.”48
Education became a major component of early international assistance. As a result of nineteenth century technical assistance and international aid:
European and American universities became centers of instruction for foreign students. Europeans and Americans sometimes became teachers in foreign lands. Missionaries carried with them information useful for life in the here as well as in the hereafter. Engineers, colonial governors, businessmen, and philanthropic foundations all lent a hand in carrying on this trade in ideas.49
International assistance in the United States has a long history that antecedes the Second World War. The transfer of knowledge and information through the technical mission was an early development in international relations.
The remainder of this chapter will examine the processes and the values of international assistance that evolved out of this period and discuss cases of U.S. international assistance from the founding of the Republic into the early twentieth century. This period is important to understand because values, structures and processes that later became entrenched in foreign aid had their origins here. Beginning by examining Western Hemisphere incursions, this chapter then looks at U.S. involvement in the Eastern Hemisphere prior to the outbreak of the World Wars of the twentieth century.
Interventions in the Western Hemisphere
Hemispheric Technical Assistance
U.S. foreign aid developed first in the Americas. In Central and South America, the U.S. because of the Monroe Doctrine dominated the hemisphere in political terms though a number of European powers, and especially Britain, had significant financial influence. According to Walter C. Sharp:
For the family of American nations (exclusive of Canada) an evolving regional system, the origins of which date back to 1890, has long been a focus for cooperative assistance in the cultural, economic, and technical domain.50
Within North America, it was Mexico that early came to the attention of explorers and scientists. It was the U.S.-Mexican War that “occasioned information-seeking activities in countries south of the Rio Grande. Before the contest was over, two army engineers surveyed the valley of Mexico and prepared maps and reports of importance in later railway projects.”51 Expansion under manifest destiny of course led the U.S. to annex a third of Mexico. Mexico continued to attract explorers, scientists and miners throughout the last half of the nineteenth century.
In Mexico, U.S. professionals continued to serve as technical advisors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For example, during the early twentieth century, an American local government practitioner,
[Henry] Bruere, who had been director of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research and Chamberlain of the City of New York…[during his stint as financial advisor in Mexico] successfully discharged broad responsibilities for studying and improving administrative organization and procedure….52
After 1900, the majority of American international assistance missions abroad continued to go to Latin America (or to the Far East). At the end of the Spanish-American War, Cuba and the Philippines were the two anchors of the new American Empire. Nor was it an accident that American technical missions became more prominent after the turn of the twentieth century. By then the United States had become a world power and requests for American missions became more frequent.53 American motives, in some cases were not clear-cut however to recipient countries.
Prior to World War II, much of U.S. foreign aid and technical assistance coincided with periods of U.S. formal intervention in Latin America and its client states in other parts of the world. During these periods of U.S. intervention, there was often expressed concern with efficient and effective administration and especially financial management. In Central America, the United States tried to build model Caribbean republics in Cuba, Haiti, Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic), and Nicaragua. Financial management was usually at the core of U.S. administrative involvement.
U.S. interventions whether in Latin America or elsewhere, grew out of a combination of economic interests, humanitarian sentiments and, in a number of cases, strategic considerations. In a number of Central and South American countries, the U.S. found itself committed much more deeply into an occupation than it had ever envisioned and which would have been difficult to defend to domestic critics before hand.
The basis of this early version of U.S. nation-building was that Americans in their spheres of influence developed many of their plans on Anglo-Saxon middle-class standards, goals and assumptions. This search for middle class patterns of governance was never fully achieved in the Central American area but remained a long term goal of much of U. S. foreign aid not only in Latin America but throughout the world before and after the Second World War.
Cuba: The Model Protectorate
Nowhere is nation-building under the American Protectorate better represented than in Cuba. Nor have the consequences been more important and in so many ways the experiment so tragic. Cuba is worth examining in some detail since, “Cuba provides a good example of the fumbling experimental approach out of which a fairly coherent policy eventually emerged.”54 Cuba operated as a U.S. colony from 1899 through 1902 and as a Protectorate under the Platte Amendment from 1902 to 1934 and as a de facto Protectorate until 1959. Not surprisingly, the nature and parameters of U.S. administration in Cuba, one of the earliest and clearest attempts at Protectorate administration, bears some resemblance to the U.S. Protectorate in Iraq after the 2003 Iraq war.
Leonard Wood was the Military Governor of Cuba from 1899 to 1902. In order to execute his task, self described as the building of a Cuban nation, General Wood,
devoted himself to a series of reforms designed to develop a sound financial system, a prosperous nation, a healthy and literate people, a good judicial system, and a sound constitutional government. To achieve these ends he had at his command a military government and an extraordinary amount of personal energy.55
In Cuba, the occupation’s attempts to introduce locally controlled school boards, Anglo-Saxon legal techniques (such as trail by jury) and American electoral laws were not very successful.
Administrators in Cuba were a mixed bag. The occupation often used the services of a large number somewhat qualified Americans who may or may not have spoken Spanish. Some of the men trained in Cuba however in effect formed the nucleus of a growing colonial service that moved around the world. One senior official in Cuba had been a successful Nebraska lawyer and had become an expert on the legal problems arising out of the new twentieth century American Empire. He had been a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission and later became governor of the Canal Zone and minister/ambassador to Panama. Wood himself would go on to serve two terms as the Governor of the Panama Canal Zone.
Beyond political control issues, disease control was a primary area of concern for health specialists in Cuba, with physical sanitation efforts linked to this as well as other aspects of what the U.S. Army called their cleanup campaigns. Yellow fever, malaria and cholera were particular targets. The “most substantial aid to the Cuban economy was a public works program.”56 In addition, the occupation authority set an elections system, a civil service, a trained judiciary, a municipality system and an Advisory Law Commission.
In Cuba of fundamental importance to Wood was the creation of an American style education system in order to transform and Americanize Cuban culture. In the education area, the Americans found that less than half of the children of school age were enrolled in school. This was not acceptable to the Americans and administrators concluded that the existing situation failed to provide for adequate inspection in schools and that it neglected teacher examinations. The occupation government wrote a new education law based on that of Ohio, where the American appointed Director of Education had taught for several years.
In Cuba, Educational Board members “proved either incompetent or corrupt, elections were often fraudulent, teaching appointments became political footballs, and boards were often extravagant or dishonest with their funds.”57 According to the Americans, “Cubans really needed practical education designed to help them adapt themselves to their rural agricultural environment.”58 The situation was particularly difficult in light of the fact that American policy-makers concluded that literacy was a prime requisite of any kind of stable democratic government, the purported aim of the occupation.
The goal of the U.S. administration in Cuba was to try to adapt American institutions to Cuban conditions and to encourage American style local participation in and responsibility for basic education. The occupation administration purchased or accepted donations of textbooks in wholesale lots. The books were generally Spanish translations of American texts since there appeared to be few good Spanish or Cuban textbooks. The U.S. administration’s stated policy was to strongly support human resource development, and the use of U.S. educational institutions, to support social and political development. The donation of books (and health equipment), still standard fair for USAID, dates back to the Cuban experience.
The Haiti Conundrum and Latin America:

Variations on a Theme
U.S. interventions in what is now Haiti demonstrate a second pattern of U.S. involvement, more episodic than Cuba. The U.S. intervened in that poor benighted territory from its inception in 1804. While Haiti was nominally independent, U.S. influence and involvement in Haiti continued throughout the nineteenth century, intensified after the Spanish-American War and continued throughout the twentieth century. The U.S. effectively ruled Haiti between 1915 and 1934 but U.S. predominance continued through the first decade of the twenty-first century. As was the case in several countries in the Western Hemisphere, financial problems often led to the intervention.
In 1914, as Haiti edged closer and closer to bankruptcy and with each succeeding government becoming increasingly unstable, U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan under President Woodrow Wilson sought a customs receivership arrangement similar to that which had been established in a number of Central American countries. This in effect would allow the U.S. financial control over the territory.
The U.S. intervened in Haiti in 1915 after a great deal of revolutionary turmoil and the collapse of extended negotiations between the parties in Haiti. This made the U.S. a Protectorate power in Haiti and while the presence of the American Marines freed the government from the influence of the revolutionaries, it also made Haiti dependent upon American aid for its continued existence.
This U.S. intervention in Haiti lasted until 1934, and while restoring some semblance of law and order, it made the country formally a U.S. dependency for close to twenty years. U.S. influence in Haiti in the 1940s and 1950s remained deep. The U.S. intervened again in 1994 and 2004. The goal of the U.S. in Haiti has been to introduce financial reforms, establish law and order and to provide development funds to implement expanded American development programs. Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty first centuries, these hopes appeared doomed to disappointment leaving Haiti one of the poorest countries in the world and in the grips of a rigid and violent dictatorship.
Patterns of intervention were similar in Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic. In most of the Central American countries, as in Haiti, the U.S. had “High Commissions” and/or “Fiscal Agents” appointed by the U.S. to ensure financial control.59 Throughout the nineteenth century there were a number of attempts to annex Santo Domingo, now the Dominican Republic, to the United States. American experts were introduced to the island in the 1890’s, in order to help the Dominican government manage its monetary and financial problems.60 The United States formally intervened in what is now the Dominican Republic in 1904, in order to ensure the collection of its public debt. The banking community had in effect called in the country’s mortgage.
In 1916, the U.S. sent the U.S. military into the country and formally wrested control from the Dominican government by force. U.S. troops remained in the country until 1924. U.S. formal intervention, though not its influence, ended in 1930. This concluded a thirty-five year experiment in U. S. financial restructuring, rehabilitation and government reform. Formal control over aspects of the fiscus continued until 1940. A fiscal advisor effectively ruled the country during the inter-war occupation period. The U.S. intervened again to restore a pro-American leader in 1965, and remains a powerful influence in the country into the twenty-first century.
During the period of U.S. administration in the Dominican Republic, attempts were made to reform several sectors of the Dominican administration. Focus was on modernization of agriculture, health and administration. “In agriculture, for example,” according to Curti and Birr, “an American named by the United States Department of Agriculture headed the Dominican agriculture department even before the beginning of full-scale American interventions. Under the occupation, agricultural experimental work was expanded.”61 In a related area, U.S. supervision of the public works program began as early as 1908 and continued after the occupation formally ended.
As a result of U.S. intervention, the educational program in the Dominican Republic became more effective, though contemporary observers at the turn of the century concluded that there was still a good deal to be done. In this area, the Americans tried to cooperate closely with the Dominicans, and a Dominican committee developed a series of new laws that became the basis of a new Dominican educational system.”62 There was particularly heavy technical assistance involvement in the Dominican Republic during the periods of U.S. intervention.
The U.S. also administered Nicaragua for long periods of time during the first third of the twentieth century. In order to escape from what had become an impossible situation, the Nicaraguan government accepted the establishment of an American Protectorate in 1911. As Curti and Birr have wryly noted, “Whatever the reasons, American marines occupied Managua from 1912 to 1925; they were then withdrawn only to return the following year and to stay until 1932.”63 The U.S. Nicaragua Protectorate is usually defined as a twenty-two year period from 1911 to 1934. A de facto influence continued down to the Sandinista Revolution in 1979. The U.S. again intervened to support the Contra rebels from 1981 to 1990. Since then Nicaragua has been a recipient of significant technical and security assistance.
Peru is another country that often fell into financial arrears with the United States in the early part of the twentieth century. In September of 1921 the Peruvian government, which was eager to negotiate an American bankers’ loan, approached the U.S. based Guaranty Trust Company which looked to the U.S. government to guarantee its loans. In Peru throughout the inter-war period, a U.S. Administrator, was given the title of Administrator General of Finances and had complete charge of the entire financial administration of the country. He was to prepare the budget, supervise fiscal management, and no payment was to be made without the Administrator General’s written approval. U.S. political and military influence in Peru remained strong throughout the twentieth century.
Throughout Central America the U.S. had extensive involvement in highway projects in Panama, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola). In the early period, this included the use of corvee or forced labor. According to Kemp, this was part of the burden of military occupation. It was often the U.S. Corps of Engineers who provided engineers, financial managers and administrators who worked in the U.S. Protectorates in Central America, the Philippines and the Pacific and elsewhere. Educational and often training programs of one kind or another were an integral part of nearly all of the important technical assistance missions throughout Latin America during the period prior to World War II. However American administrators found that such training programs were often at best of limited success.
The above cases describe only a few of the examples of U.S. political and military intervention (including CIA incursions) throughout Latin America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Other interventions occurred in Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile, Granada and Ecuador. International aid and technical assistance often came along with the barrel of the gun in the Caribbean and Latin America. It is not surprising then that the high cost of foreign aid was often linked to periods of formal U.S. military intervention during the post-war period, whether it was Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Competition with Europe and Imperial Forms
The Prelude to U.S. Interventions
After 1800, the U.S. despite its reluctance to become involved in international affairs outside of the Western Hemisphere, developed political and financial links with a number of countries in Africa, Asia and the Near East. During the first half of the nineteenth century, there were historical links with Liberia, Turkey, Siam, and most importantly with China. The government of Persia (Iran) likewise utilized the service of numerous financial and economic advisors, American as well as British, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A number of countries in Europe also sought out U.S. professional and technical advisors.
U.S. missionary impulses begun in the nineteenth century in Africa and Asia and they continued throughout the twentieth century.64 In 1911, for example, an American missionary opened a mission in Nasir, Southern Sudan, a center that would later be identified with the long running Sudanese civil war and the conflict between Christian rebels and Muslim fundamentalism.65 American missionary and humanitarian organizations distributed food surpluses in Europe and the Near East in the wake of the First World War. Historically, there was a kind of evangelism to U.S. missionary work which one study in 1960 labeled “American cultural imperialism.”66
Privately endowed foundations, built on the fortunes of the early giants of capitalism were among the forerunners to the modern foreign aid systems that developed in the last half of the twentieth century.67 According to David Sogge, speaking of the nineteenth century origins of major foundations of U.S. capital (Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie):
From the onset of their work in the first two decades of the twentieth century, they shunned conventional philanthropy, that is, charity via small-scale, short-run activities with palliative intent. Instead, they pursued what John D. Rockefeller called wholesale philanthropy: longer term, substantial support to activities with constructive or preventive intent by way of strategic institutions, particularly those creating and transforming policy. They saw themselves in the business of applied rationality, science and public uplift through social planning.68
The U.S. was the source of numerous specialist and technical professional support missions in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As Walter Sharp has noted, a form of “technical assistance deserving brief mention…has been the practice of supplying ‘advisers’ to the governments of underdeveloped areas.”69 The rivalry with Europe was never far from the surface in terms of technical assistance in the Near East, Africa and Asia. However, Curti and Birr continue:
At the same time that the world was becoming aware of American preeminence in sanitation and public health and was turning to it for advice, it was also becoming familiar with the special emphasis that American education played on practical approaches and on training for the actualities of vocational and social living.70
In great power terms, U.S. foreign aid began in World War I much of it in the form of loans; “dollar diplomacy” was the term used to describe the loan system that developed during and after World War I. The repayment of these war time loans was a major component of all post-war negotiations on the future of Europe and one of the causes of the renewed outbreak of war in Europe in 1939.71
International aid was one of several tools in the U.S. foreign policy tool box during this period and provided a model for technical assistance after World War II. Despite this increased activity, until World War II, the U.S. had no systematic training, beyond language teaching, for overseas officials, diplomatic, technical or economic.72
Siam, now Thailand, was an early recipient of technical assistance prior to World War II. In Siam, modernization of the administrative and judicial systems was made possible largely with the aid of Western advisers. During the inter-war period, nearly all of the Siamese national ministries employed advisors of various nationalities. These included British, American, Danish, German, Swedish, and French specialists. In many cases these early technical assistance specialists acted as the de facto heads of the government departments to which they were attached.73
After 1930, with the advent of the constitutional regime and rising Siamese nationalism, the practice of employing foreign advisors had declined. By 1954, only four advisors remained out the more than fifty who had served the Siamese government during the early years of the twentieth century. In the post-war period, however, Thailand would see the return of advisors and technical assistants in large numbers.
Requests for assistance came from other parts of the world where the U.S. had special interests. In the Eastern Hemisphere, however, the U.S. had to compete with the European powers to a much greater extent than in Latin America. In Asia, U.S. leaders called for an “open door” to American influence and trade in European spheres of influence while at the same time and for a variety of reasons developed spheres of influence of its own. In practice, however, U.S. patterns of involvement in nominally independent states, such as Persia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan were similar to that which the United States used in its own hemisphere. Cases from Liberia, Turkey and East Asia follow to illustrate this point.
Liberia: America’s African Colony
Freed American slaves began to arrive in what would become Liberia in 1821. Between 1821 and 1847, the United States through the government sponsored American Colonization Society was the de facto Protectorate power in the country. One Robert Finley established the American Colonization Society in 1816 for the purpose of giving abolitionists (philanthropists and clergy) a vehicle to both free slaves and provide them, and their descendants with the opportunity to repatriate to Africa.
In Liberia, American white governors, who were also U.S. Federal Government Agents, ruled Liberia on behalf of the Colonization Society.74 In 1822, the U.S. government appropriated $100,000 to support the Colonization Society, one of a series of grants, “to assist in the purchase of land, the construction of homes and forts, the acquisition of farm implements, the payment of teachers, and the carrying out of other projects necessary to the care, training and defense of the settlers.”75 For various reasons, however, little of this money ever actually was sent to Liberia.
Liberia was handed over to the returned slave settlers, who called themselves Americo-Liberians, in 1847 when Liberia became nominally an independent Republic. Though the U.S. was parsimonious in terms of financial assistance in the nineteenth century, the cultural links between the black republic and the United States remained close. At various points in the nineteenth century, the territory suffered internal strife causing the U.S. to display its naval power off the Liberian coast.
In 1850 the U.S. government published as an official document, the report of the Reverend Ralph R. Gurley, whom it had sent to Liberia to obtain information on the territory. Gurley, who was an agent of the American Colonization Society, concluded “that Liberia lacked the financial means to develop its harbors, its agricultural resources, and its educational agencies.”76 The implication was clear. The U.S. should provide the financial support for Liberia to develop its infrastructure.
After the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. became more actively involved in Liberia. Patterns of intervention bear some resemblance to U.S. involvement in the Caribbean and Central American states. A number of U.S. investors became interested in Liberia and European encroachment on Liberia began to concern U.S. officials. As a result of increased security concerns:
Liberia’s army was created in 1907 [and] President William Howard Taft sent the first U.S. training officers to help out in 1912…. The [Liberian] army fought twenty-three brutal wars against indigenous uprisings, and the United States intervened directly in nine of them.77
Liberia was the sight of some U.S. technical assistance activity prior to World War I. “In June, 1908 [for example] when the Liberian government was convinced that…British mentorship had failed and even threatened the independence of the state, a commission was sent to Washington to urge help in maintaining the independence of the republic and in carrying on a peaceful, orderly, and efficient government.”78 Speaking of Liberia, Curti and Birr go on:
Putting its cards on the table, the Liberian government at the start made it clear what it hoped for from the Untied States: a guarantee of its independence and territorial integrity; a customs receivership comparable to that of Santo Domingo; American Aid in policing the frontier; assistance in vocational education; and a research center for the promotion of public health and for the development of the republic’s resources. The center was to be staffed with American experts.79
There were several attempts after World War I, to induce the U.S. to provide financial support for Liberia, yet actual financial support remained limited. In 1923, however, Firestone Rubber decided to intervene in the country in order to protect its investments. A U.S. guaranteed loan allowed the country to build up its infrastructure in order to support the rubber dominated mono-export economy.
It is interesting to note that during this period, there was considerable friction and racial tension between Liberians and Americans, many of whom came from the U.S. South. The coming of the Second World War, and its aftermath brought Liberia into the mainstream of international diplomacy, professionalized foreign aid workers and increased access to foreign aid. As other African countries became independent U.S. foreign aid policy in Liberia came to resemble its intervention in former French and British colonies. The country was no longer considered a preserve of the American South.
Liberia continued to be a client state throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Unfavorable comparisons are often made between Liberia and Haiti, the two American dominated “black republics.” Until the collapse of the Americo-African oligarchy in 1980, Liberia remained a U.S. client state. It became a pawn of the Cold War in the 1980s, under ruthless military leadership before collapsing into military chaos and civil war in the 1990s ending up in international trusteeship at the end of the millennium.80
The Modernization of Turkey
In 1846 the U.S. State Department received a request from the progressive-minded Sultan of Turkey to recommend two or three scientific agriculturists to him. Their role was to introduce improved cotton culture into his realm. President Polk “regarded the request as a flattering mark of confidence, and Secretary of State Buchanan went to great pains to find suitable personnel.”81 This request began a remarkable process of transformation that brought Turkey to the verge of European Union membership at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
The Ottoman Empire in the last third of the nineteenth century sought to modernize itself through the importation of Western ideas, foreign investment and professional advisors. In 1876, under a group of young leaders called the “young Turks,” the Ottomans introduced a Western style constitution and brought a number of European and American advisors to the country.
In the late nineteenth century it was technical skills that were important. Often the receiving country would pay for the expenses of the personnel, as did Turkey. Nonetheless, facilitating the provision of skilled professionals was considered a part of the diplomatic responsibility of the State Department and became a specialized function of its missions abroad. Through the end of the century, the Ottoman Empire recruited a number of experts from the U.S.
Because of the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey was largely negative during and in the immediate aftermath of World War I. However, by the mid-1920s U.S. investors had again become a significant presence in the country, and international financial managers, including Americans, provided financial advice given the massive Ottoman inherited debt.
President Muskafa Kemel Ataturk is said to have modeled republican Turkey on the U.S. in the aftermath of World War I. Ataturk made a conscious decision to Europeanize Turkey, adapting the Latin alphabet and Western clothes, and promoting a Western Educational system, utilizing centralized personal direction to impose his will on the country.
In 1928 the government of republican Turkey, invited a well known international economist, Professor Edwin F. Kemmerer of Princeton and six senior experts, together with several expert assistants, to advise Turkey. This group was known collectively as the Commission of Financial Advisors. This mission to Turkey deserves special comment, because Professor Kemmerer was associated with it and also because in its scope it was broader than most such technical missions.82
After remaining neutral during World War II, Turkey received military assistance from the U.S. and Britain and later joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The country has remained true to the secular traditions of Ataturk and looked to education and industrialization based upon Western models as it moved toward a multi-party political system in the 1950s. U.S. technical assistance continued to be a part of this process of modernization during the post-war period.83
Opening Up of East Asia
The U.S., with the intervention of Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy, on March 31, 1854 forced the opening of Japan to the West. In the last half of the nineteenth century, Japan sought out technical assistance and international access to educational techniques and professional development. To further Japan’s goals special Japanese ambassadors went abroad to observe, to pave the way for young Japanese to study in the West, and to invite specialists to Japan. The responsibility of those traveling and studying abroad was to train future leaders, to help modernize communications, administration, education, agriculture, and industry, and to advise the Japanese government.
Expatriate Americans did much to promote the U.S. educational model, U.S. legal institutions and judicial reform in nineteenth and early twentieth century Japan. In visits to Japan, expatriate U.S. representatives argued that Japan could profitably borrow almost unchanged the U.S. educational system. U.S. emissaries were appointed to promote American commercial interests in Japan. The U.S. competed vigorously with European countries to provide technical assistance, gain influence and in turn gain a commercial advantage in Japan as well as in other Asian countries.
Almost until the beginning of World War II, the U.S. served as a model for an industrializing and developing Japan. Significant numbers of Japanese went to the U.S. to study during the inter-war period and American ideas in education and agriculture were important influences. The U.S., Germany and Britain all provided technical experts to Japan during the inter-war period.
World War II in the Pacific had elements of a “cousin’s war” in the sense of a loss of friendship which many on both sides felt. The U.S. occupation (1945-1952) brought American officials back to Japan in a second opening of Japan. The development of post-war Japan, coming out of the U.S. occupation as the world’s second strongest economy, symbolized the assimilation of Western skills but within the context of an Eastern economy and culture.


American Higher Education
The American university and western education had significant influence over patterns of higher education in Asia and in other parts of the world. Walter Sharp has put it this way:
The regional influence of certain American-sponsored educational institutions abroad has been far reaching. On any list of the scores of such institutions Robert College, Istanbul; the American University of Beirut; Yenching University, Nanking University, and St. John’s University; Yale-in-China; the Booker Washington Institute, Liberia; and Santiago College, Chile, would deserve a high place.84

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