Tom Wolfe: What Bush and Monroe (And Some President In-between) Have in Common





Tom Wolfe, in th NYT (1-30-05):

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.

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